Our Top Ten Destinations of 2014

We're not going to downplay it, 2014 was a big year for us; probably our best so far. We covered a lot of ground, with four beautiful weddings that enticed us across the country, a long-anticipated move to a new state, and more than one free hotel stay. Since we didn't blog about every trip, we thought another yearly roundup would allow us to share a little bit more of our travels. Here are our ten favorite places that we visited in 2014.

10. Albuquerque

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For over a year, the Duke City was our home, and we had a blast. We were lucky enough to experience the city in the midst of its transformation into a foodie (and drinkie?) destination in its own right. ABQ was recently rated the 4th best city for beer lovers in America, it boasts the sixth best hotel in the US for food lovers, Los Poblanos; and, its new weekly farmers market at The Rail Yards is impressive. It didn't hurt that we lived a 5-minute drive to prime hikes in the Sandia Foothills; we regularly wandered up there at sunset. If you're ever headed there, let us know. We've got a good list of musts!

9. Rhode Island

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Both of us spent four years living in Providence during college, and this small New England city will always hold a special place in our hearts. We were only in town for a weekend, but we loved revisiting old haunts (Brown and RISD campuses, for starters) and exploring re-vamped parts of the downtown. The trip was even more special because it reunited us with many of Kristen's best friends from Brown for a stunning wedding out at Bristol overlooking the Narragansett Bay. We were even able to spend the last day around town with one of Loren's best friends from RISD. Providence, we love you.

8. Key West & Miami

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Another wedding brought us to South Florida, where we surprised Kristen's mom on her 60th birthday, traveling incognito on a redeye from Denver to Ft. Lauderdale. After the big surprise, the whole family set off on a roadtrip down to Key West for our cousin's beautiful beachside wedding and sunset catamaran reception. Over the course of a few days in paradise, we had our fill of Cuban coffee (cortaditos, por favor!), Cuban sandwiches, and lots of fresh seafood. Just before flying out, we caught some cool street art in Miami, met up with a friend in Little Havana, and even got to South Beach to put our feet in the water.

7. New York City

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We can't ever pass up an opportunity to visit New York, so when we found out that Loren's best friend from high school would be married in Brooklyn in May, we were stoked. Aside from fun wedding festivities, our trip also included amazing pizza at Roberta's, Momofuku Milkbar cookies and cereal milk soft serve, dinner at St. Anselm, a star-studded Broadway play at the Lyceum theater (Toni Colette, Michael C. Hall and Marisa Tomei, in person!), and a late-night bacon-wrapped Crif dog.

6. LA

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To say that LA has grown on us would be an understatement. We have totally fallen in love with the amazing food, the artsy neighborhoods, and the near-perfect weather that the city offers. In April, we made it to LA to see one of our best friends get married beachside, and the next day was spent eating and drinking our way around town. After a caffeine boost at G&B Coffee in Grand Central Market, we wandered around Frank Gehry's shiny masterpiece Walt Disney Concert Hall and more of the downtown, which is in the midst of a revival. We shared a delicious lunch with a friend at Chego, and then capped off our day with boozy slushy drinks at the ultra-hip Ace Hotel.

6. Washington, DC

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When Loren won free airfare for two and a four night stay at a centrally-located hotel in DC, we embraced a revisitation to the area in which we both grew up. We acted like tourists, riding Bikeshare all over town doing as many new things as possible. Highlights include the National Building Museum, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and lots of eating and drinking with longtime friends. We purposely aligned the visit with our third anniversary, so after checking out we headed to the Inn at Little Washington for the best meal of our lives, followed by camping in Shenandoah.

4. Utah/Arizona/Las Vegas

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With two free night vouchers for any DoubleTree hotel, time to spare, and Loren's birthday as an excuse, we set off on an impromptu roadtrip with an end destination of the Tropicana Las Vegas. Our wild west adventure included first-time visits to Arches National Park, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, and Lake Powell, all of which are spectacularly gorgeous. We even got to visit one of our favorite national parks, Zion, and did one of our bucket-list hikes up to Angel's Landing, before cruising into Sin City for a reunion with most of Loren's family. Dinner at a fancy restaurant, a Cirque du Soleil show, a Blue Man Group show, and an afternoon at the Tropicana's poolside made for a fabulous way to ring in Loren's 31st year.

3. Australia

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It turns out that Loren's many hours spent making travel videos weren't a complete waste of time. An international hotel brand, DoubleTree by Hilton, sponsored him to travel around Australia for three weeks in January to share videos, photos and blog posts along the way. Thankfully, Kristen was able to come along for the adventure. Throughout six cities, we cuddled koalas, scuba dived at the Great Barrier Reef, toured the Outback, and fed huge saltwater crocodiles. We loved the country so much, every once in a while we find ourselves searching for apartments Down Under.

2. New Zealand

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Since we were going to be flying halfway around the globe to spend twenty itinerary-packed days "working" in Australia, a personal vacation to New Zealand was in order, so right after Melbourne we flew to Auckland, rented a car, and spent two weeks roadtripping throughout both islands, booking each night's hotel or hostel as we went along. It's difficult to express how utterly gorgeous the views are; almost everywhere you set your gaze, it's breathtakingly beautiful. Plus, the cities are full of craft coffee shops and delicious restaurants. Our last hoorah before flying out of Queenstown was bungee jumping off the third tallest jump in the world. (Watch the video if you haven't!)

And our number one place this year is...

1. Colorado!

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After years of talking about it, we finally moved to Colorado! June marked the first time that we were able to unpack our belongings in two years. We're now situated in a cozy 1940's era duplex in one of Denver's best neighborhoods, West Washington Park, and could not be happier. It's been a busy six months of exploring the restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, libraries, galleries, and parks in Denver, not to mention scoping out good camping and hiking spots in the mountains. Now with winter upon us, we are eager to put our Epic passes to use and hit the slopes as much as possible. Life in Colorado is everything we wanted and more, which is why we are proud to put Colorado at the top of our 2014 list!

We hope you were able to get out and explore this year too! Wishing you a 2015 that's happy, heatlhy and filled with adventures!

Our Top Ten Experiences in Australia

Narrowing down three weeks of Australian adventures into just ten favorites is not easy. We tried to make the most of our waking hours in Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns, Alice Springs and Darwin, and could've easily made a Top 20. The trip was lavish (to us) and would’ve been a total splurge, but DoubleTree by Hilton provided my airfare (not Kristen’s), all accommodations, breakfast, and even a few special experiences like riding camels, surfing, and two fancy dinners. The rest of the itinerary was up to us, and we made sure to do as much as we could. So without further ado, here are our top ten favorite experiences from down under:

10. Surfing on the Gold Coast

Though a cyclone offshore made for rough surfing conditions, we were in the surfing capital of the country, determined to catch some gnarly waves. We had been swept away by a limousine in Brisbane and dropped in Surfers Paradise (that's really the city's name) for a private lesson. Craig, our rad instructor, got us riding in no time, but towards the end I struggled to even stay upright in the choppy ocean. Afterwards, he gave us a lift to the main drag in the hip town, where we found some Aussie food, coffee and sunshine, glad to be back on stable ground. Hopefully next time we'll have better weather.

Surfers Paradise, Australia
Surfers Paradise, Australia

9. Bondi Beach

I almost included all of Sydney as one of these top ten experiences - that’s how much I loved the city. But to be fair I narrowed it down to Bondi, the hip beachy neighborhood rivaling Venice Beach in LA. We happened to arrive on a blustery day when the sandswept beach was nearly empty, so we paid a tiny fee and went for a swim in the saltwater pool right on the ocean at Bondi Icebergs, where the cold water actually made my wedding ring fall off. Thanks to a local who lent us goggles, we found the ring, recharged in the sauna, and then went for superb Thai food and gelato. Not only was it an epic day, we felt like we'd uncovered a hidden gem, and connected so well with locals that we started seriously considering a future in Sydney.

Bondi Icebergs
Bondi Icebergs

8. Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory

Not only is this place free, it's awesome. An art gallery and museum in one, it boasts gorgeous Northern Territory aboriginal art, an eerie exhibit about Cyclone Tracy (which destroyed tropical Darwin in 1974), and a fascinating room devoted to Australian wildlife and evolution. Besides the 5.1-meter-long stuffed saltwater crocodile, there are hundreds of preserved specimens like a box jellyfish, the most venomous creature known to science. Two hours was barely enough time to scratch the surface. Next time, we’ll spend a full day there, enjoying the illuminating exhibits while basking in the free air-con.

NT Museum and Art Gallery
NT Museum and Art Gallery

7. Alice Springs Reptile Centre

After meeting Ruby, the friendly and curious meter-long goanna lizard who freely roams around the Reptile Centre, our hearts were forever opened to the scaly but soft reptilian creatures. With dozens of fascinating lizards, geckos, and venomous snakes on display, it is an excellent place to learn about the hardy native animals that have somehow managed to adapt to the harsh Australian outback. Since our visit coincided with a 3:30pm show, we even got to handle a blue-tongued lizard, a scary but somehow cute olive python, and an adorable bearded dragon. When our time was up we really didn’t want to give "Beardie" back, and the thrill of holding a (rather large) snake for the first time had us feeling energized and empowered long after we left.

Alice Springs Reptile Centre

Alice Springs Reptile Centre

6. The Blue Mountains

An easy two-hour train ride west of Sydney, the Blue Mountains are as accessible as they are beautiful. The area’s namesake hue, which exists because of eucalyptus oil droplets in the air, made for stunning views at every opportunity. Our escape from the city featured plenty of wandering hikes with glimpses of exotic birds and countless waterfalls. When we missed our evening train back to Sydney, aka the “big smoke,” while relaxing with a cold beer, we weren’t all that upset; we didn’t mind staying a little longer.

A snapshot of the skyrail through the greenery
A snapshot of the skyrail through the greenery

5. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane

Words can’t describe how happy it made us to cuddle a koala like a baby, pet lounging kangaroos, and feed wild lorikeets. Among the other treasures in residence at Lone Pine: emu, cassowary, dingo, and wombat, just to name a few. And just when we thought we’d seen everything in the park, we stumbled into the platypus aquarium and stood mesmerized, watching the adorable duck-billed monotreme diving over and over to catch a prawn. Even though it's technically a sanctuary for animals, it's most certainly a haven for animal-lovers like us.

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

4. Uluru & Kata Tjuta

Learning about the vast history surrounding the iconic red monolith in the middle of the outback added a much deeper layer to our understanding of Australia, but nothing could prepare us for experiencing the powerful presence of these sacred rocks in person. Apart from their infamous beauty, Uluru and Kata Tjuta practically radiated with significance, having been woven into aboriginal culture for tens of thousands of years. Just being near the rocks felt more meaningful than any other place we’d experienced. Our favorite part of the day was sipping champagne and watching the sunset paint the classic rock in oranges, reds and purples.

Uluru, Australia
Uluru, Australia

3. Crocosaurus Cove in Darwin

Saltwater crocodiles, or "salties," are some of the largest and most dangerous creatures in Australia, and normally best avoided. But at this Darwin fixture, I was offered the rare chance to interact with these lethal giants. I got to hold a baby croc, feed juvenile crocs, and swim inches from a massive, full-grown croc named Chopper from the safety of the plexiglassed Cage of Death. And as if that weren't fun enough, they also have a menagerie of impressive fish and reptiles. We got to hold another (smaller and much cuter) snake, cradle another beardie, and witness a python eat a rat whole, which was weirdly captivating. Our time at Crocosaurus Cove was a total thrill ride start to finish.

Crocosaurus Cove
Crocosaurus Cove

2. The West Macs

Amid our day of touring gorgeous sights like Simpsons Gap, the Ochre Pits and Standley Chasm, we took relaxing dips in several stunning swimming holes in the West MacDonnell Ranges with our guide, Ben, and a group of six others. The recent summer downpours had transformed this part of the Red Centre into a green paradise, leaving the natural outdoor pools filled to the brim. We jumped in the water at three fantastic spots including the idyllic Ellery Creek Big Hole (pictured below). It was a casual day spent in good company, soaking in the many surprising splendors of the outback.

Ellery Creek Big Hole
Ellery Creek Big Hole

1. Diving at the Great Barrier Reef

The most amazing experience in Australia, hands down, was our day exploring the world’s largest living organism. This was no park or sanctuary or aquarium - this was the real deal, a wild and colorful underwater wonderland that won't be around forever. On our full day aboard the Calypso, we snorkeled and then completed our first-ever scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef. After descending a thick rope with our guide, Jenny, we spotted clownfish, sea turtles, and gigantic clams that flinched when we touched them. We even knelt down on a patch of sand ten meters down and passed around a slimy sea cucumber. Our minds were so blown that we paid extra for a second dive, just so we could do it all over again.

Stinger suit scuba at the Great Barrier Reef

Stinger suit scuba at the Great Barrier Reef

Those 21 days definitely lived up to a "DTour of a Lifetime,” and I can't thank DoubleTree enough for giving me (and by proxy, Kristen) such an amazing opportunity. The trip was jam-packed with adventures, and ultimately added up to one of the most unforgettable vacations of our whole lives.

Disclosure: My Australian DTour of a Lifetime was sponsored by DoubleTree by Hilton.