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Yellowstone bison, Indian origami, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: AFAR staff share their most memorable travel experiences of the year

Van the Man
On August 31, with rain pouring down from a gray Belfast sky, my wife, Robin, and I sat in folding chairs on Cypress Avenue as Van Morrison took the stage to perform the first of two back-to-back 90-minute concerts to celebrate his 70th birthday. The tree-lined, upscale Cypress Avenue was where the young Van used to wander, up from his working-class neighborhood of brick row houses, to ponder the mysteries of life and compose poetry and songs in his head. We organized our trip—to Dublin, London, Belfast, and Galway—around this concert as the centerpiece, and the Man did not disappoint. The rain let up during the second song, and Van kept 1,400 devoted fans in rapture through songs ranging from “Brown-eyed Girl” and “Moondance” to “Ballerina” and “In the Garden.” —Derk Richardson, Senior Editor

Oysters in Charleston
Shucking and eating oysters at Bowens Island, with chef Mike Lata providing both tasty treats and musical entertainment, was the capstone of our AFAR Experiences Charleston, a fantastic weekend that made me love the city. We learned fascinating history, saw beautiful art, met great people, and enjoyed wonderful food and drink.  —Greg Sullivan, CEO/Cofounder

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
had the experience of a lifetime sitting above pit row at the 2015 Formula 1 Etihad Airway Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The race fell on the UAE's 44th anniversary, while Lewis Hamilton (number 44) went for his 44th career win. He was edged out by Mercedes teammate Nico Rosenberg in a fantastic finish to a thrilling day. My ears are still ringing. The following day I explored Abu Dhabi's Mina Fish Market and got a sneak peak at Saadiyat Island, where the Louvre will open a new branch in 2016.  I capped the trip with the best Indian food I’ve experienced outside of Mysore, at Lazzeez Indian Restaurant, before hopping one of the inaugural flights of Etihad's A380—now flying direct daily from Abu Dhabi to JFK. —Bryan Kinkade, Associate Publisher

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The Sea Ranch, California
Since AFAR’s launch in 2009, I’ve had the tremendous privilege of traveling to numerous cities and countries all around the globe. This year was my first with a child—my daughter just turned one—and I’ve stayed closer to home than I have in years. In January, I spent a week with my parents at the Sea Ranch, a coastal community 100 miles north of San Francisco. I’ve been going there since I was a child myself, and the time I spent with my baby and folks in the midst of endless rainstorms, listening to my dad’s jazz collection, and eating long meals together—all while figuring out how to be a parent myself—was truly unforgettable. —Julia Cosgrove, VP, Editor in Chief

All about the people
From arriving in Cuba the day after Obama announced the United States was easing travel restrictions, to talking with the mayor of Montreal about how cities are the new countries during our AFAR Experiences Montreal event, to landing in Paris a day after the terror attacks, this year was full of memorable travel experiences. I rediscovered my love of Switzerland and its diversity. I spent a day on a boat in Bermuda, watching rugby on television with Emirates Team New Zealand while they waited for the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series race to get underway. I stood at the podium in the White House Press Room courtesy of my friend Chris Jansing, and had three of Charleston's top chefs (Mike Lata, Jeremiah Bacon, and Frank Lee) at my apartment as a result of AFAR Experiences. The golden thread that connects all of my travel experiences in 2015 is the incredible people I met along the way and who helped make those experiences possible. There are a million beautiful places in this world, but it's the ones where you connect with interesting people that you keep going back to. —Joe Diaz, Cofounder, Chief Product Officer

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Origami in India
Sitting on a filthy floor in the train station of a small Indian village while waiting for the long-overdue train, we passed the time by captivating the locals with origami. I’ll never forget the interactions with other weary travelers who apparently had never seen anyone fold paper into art.  An impromptu instructional session ensued as the hours went by. — Lou LaGrange, Business Development Director: Content Licensing

Yellowstone bison
I was hiking alone along a trail in Yellowstone National Park one September morning when I sensed movement on a hill just up the trail to my right. I looked up, and a bison emerged from the trees. It turned out he was the leader of a herd of about 30, and I stood and watched as they descended the hill, single file, and joined the trail I’d just walked, heading the other way. I was struck by how quiet they were. I don’t know why it surprised me that all I heard was the swish of the long grass as they walked through it, punctuated by the occasional crack of a twig. It seemed as though such a parade of life force, all that muscle and fat and fur, would do more than merely whisper. 

Then a chipmunk skittered right by me and startled me so much I almost wet my pants. —Jeremy Saum, Executive Editor

Stay tuned for part II, coming next week!

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