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What AFAR Staffers Learned from Travel in 2015

From the special powers of Amex cards & wooden spoons to why you should consider the lunar cycle before booking your trip, here's what we learned from our travels in 2015.

As you might imagine, AFAR staffers travel a lot. Here's what we learned this year during our travels.

Some cities will always surprise you 
I learned that gourmands won’t go hungry in Belfast, a surprisingly walkable and hospitable city that is in the throes of a locavore revolution. I also learned that Grapevine, TX, is a—perhaps the—literary nonfiction capital of the United States, thanks to The Mayborn, an annual conference out of the University of North Texas’s Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism. —Derk Richardson, Senior Editor

You have to stay open to new possibilities
Last fall, my best friend moved to Cincinnati, OH. My thoughts were: Why would anyone ever want to live in OHIO?!?! She’d ask me to come visit, but I’d always decline because I wanted to go somewhere more exciting. Then, this Labor Day, flights to Cincinnati were pretty cheap, and I finally caved in. My Labor Day weekend was so fun. We went to the Cincinnati Art Museum, bought flowers at Findlay Market, ate the most amazing barbecue, and ended the weekend with an incredible fireworks display over the Ohio River. My experience taught me to take advantage of the opportunity to travel to places that don’t initially excite me, because I may be pleasantly surprised. —Erin Jeffery, Marketing Coordinator

Cincinnati, OH

Where to go
I learned about a magical culinary and cultural hotspot called Chiloe, an island just off the coast of Chile. It's on my personal Where to Go list for 2016. —Joe Diaz, Co-Founder, Chief Product Officer

People are people (I)
I was reminded that despite newsworthy geopolitical tensions, the people one meets while traveling are essentially the same everywhere: friendly and family-oriented individuals who want to smile and laugh. —Lou LaGrange, Business Development Director

 A wooden spoon is more than a consolation prize
This was my first year of traveling with a child—my daughter just turned one—and I only recently gave in to the fact that try though I might, I’ll never remember to pack everything she could possibly “need.” My toddler go-to: It turns out a wooden spoon is great entertainment on a plane or in a car. —Julia Cosgrove, VP, Editor in Chief

Homes are different around the world, and yet still the same
I learned that people, most people, live so, so differently from how we do in the United States. Walking around Ho Chi Minh City’s back alleys on a Saturday, I saw that people had the doors open to their tiny, dark studio apartments, where they were lounging in a hammock, sitting on the floor prepping food, or doing housework. Many of these homes were just a kitchen with a bed. People stared as we walked by, but they also smiled. —Danielle Walsh, Associate Editor

The terraformers are among us
I learned that much of Utah, and Canyonlands National Park in particular, looks like you’d imagine Mars would after a million or so years of terraforming. —Nick Rowlands, Guides Editor

Canyonlands National Park, UT

Consider the sky
Sometimes you need to consider the sky to have a successful trip. I went to a tropical island off Panama, where normally you’d get bitten by insects at dusk and dawn. But because we were there in the days before a full moon, we were spared. We had no idea the lunar calendar affected this—we just got lucky and had a really enjoyable time, bug-free. On our very last day, the moon was in the first phase of waning, and we got bitten unbearably during breakfast. We realized how different our trip would have been if we had come at any other time in the month. —Juliette San Fillipo, Associate Marketing Manager

Family road trips need planning
I learned that if you plan a road trip with your parents, siblings, and in-laws, they will inevitably expect you to have ALL the answers, from what to see to what to order. Next time, we’ll either go all out with a full itinerary or leave them to their own whims! —Alex Palomino, Associate Photo Editor

In fact, all travel needs planning
This year I learned that you should definitely book travel in advance—not only will you get better seats on your flight, but you also get better rates for your accommodations. I also learned that I should know where my luggage is at all times, and that leaving it with a friend doesn’t mean they won’t forget to bring it to the airport for you. Finally, I also learned to pack light but to bring all the essentials, such as a power bank and adaptor, and a warm jacket even if you are going to a summer destination—you never know what the weather will be. —Denise Hoo, Digital Ad Operations Manager

People are people (II)
I learned that no matter what our differences in culture, language, religion, or ideologies, we all love a good meal. —Jill Greenwood, Director, AFAR Experiences

Tuscany
Never lose your sense of wonder
I spent two weeks at my family’s home in Tuscany this year (my father was born there). It was my first time back in about four years, and the first time I brought my significant other to meet my family. I’ve taken this trip regularly since childhood, and it had become almost an obligation versus something to really enjoy. But that changed completely this year. I realized the shift happened because I approached the trip with fresh eyes and experienced the magic and beauty of the destination as if I had never been there. I think that is important when traveling to any destination, whether you’ve been there or not: Never, ever lose your sense of wonder. —Katie Galeotti, Director of Marketing & Special Projects

Adventure travel opens the heart
I learned that I gravitate towards adventure travel. I’ve never felt more myself than when staring at mountains in Patagonia or hiking the desert trails of San Pedro de Atacama. I enjoy selecting the right gear, too. Adventure travel has the ability to center you, opening up a space within that makes you feel even more alive than before. I also learned that a hotel on this type of trip can make or break your experience. —Michaela Trimble, Brand Manager

Amex cards have special powers in airports
I learned that if you have an American Express card, all Boingo Wireless hotspots are free. Most airports have these. No need to pay, or even to watch an ad video or sign up with your email address. —Sherry Jin, Lead Engineer

Budget travel doesn't have to mean hostels
I learned that you can travel well while still staying on a reasonable budget. Colombia, for example, is a bargain. Sitting on the beach at Playa Blanca, near Cartagena, a bowl heaped with fresh, shelled shrimp felt almost free at a whopping $8. Shared with crackers and local beer ($1.50 a can) between four grown men, we couldn’t even finish the bowl. This type of value extended to hotels, taxis, sightseeing, nightlife, and custom travel. I will be back soon, and recommend you get there, too!  —Barry Brown, Executive Sales Director

>>Next: Where to Go in 2016