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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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!


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!

Early Morning Adventure: Balloon Fiesta

shades Our morning started about two hours before sunrise. After layering up and grabbing the camera, we ventured out into the chilly dark morning and drove north. By the time we made it to the parking lot, any sleepiness or grumpiness had been completely replaced with sheer excitement. We quietly boarded our (school bus) shuttle with another 40 early risers. Our destination: the International Balloon Fiesta.

This year marks the 42nd annual Balloon Fiesta, with balloonists from 18 countries and 35 US states represented. Why Albuquerque? Turns out this high desert city is perfectly suited for hot air balloons, thanks to its unique early-morning weather patterns in the fall. There are two alternating winds that exist at different altitudes: closer to the ground, the wind blows south; higher up, the winds blow north. This so-called "box" effect gives balloonists the chance to turn back and land near their launch points simply by changing their altitude. The catch: as the temperature rises, the effect lessens...thus, the early morning wakeup.

Upon arriving, we joined a sea of people craning their necks, cameras, and iPads to capture glimpses of twenty or so hot air balloons floating quietly overhead. They were barely visible in the dark morning sky until a voice counted down to coordinate a “flicker” and then “full glow”, which lit up the balloons for a spectacular effect. It was only 2 minutes into our first Balloon Fiesta, but we were already captivated.

The crowd cheers a flicker glow

After that, we bought some hot coffees and considered breakfast, but the food vendors left something to be desired. There were even some repeat vendors from big chain businesses. Albuquerque, if you're listening, the Fiesta is a great opportunity for food trucks! This city has some fantastic food options, so why not showcase some local small businesses that offer greater variety than breakfast burritos or funnel cakes? I understand that the attention should remain on the balloons, but the event could represent the best and most unique vendors that the city has to offer, and I'd argue that the local Satellite Coffee would be far more memorable than Dunkin Donuts any day.

Leaving the vendor tents behind, we walked out onto the field, guided only by the mass of balloons that were prepping for the big event. We followed a path to a pair of almost-filled balloons that were flashing their gas fires and illuminating their colorful nylon envelopes (that's apparently what they're called).


A wall of balloons rises around the crowd

The crowd was electric with anticipation as lines of balloons began to take shape all around us. With temperatures hovering around 40 degrees, we relished in the bursts of heat that accompanied the firelight.

balloon fiesta fire

As dawn broke, the loud speakers played the National Anthem while thousands of people sang along, and the first balloon to lift off fittingly displayed the flag. Mass Ascension had begun.

Father and son, mass ascension

Within minutes, scores of balloons were ascending, displaying their brilliant colors to the wild cheers of their surrounding audience. We threaded our way through balloons in all stages of preparation - rolling out, filling up, standing up, and lifting off.

A pilot stands up his balloon

Over 500 balloons drifted into the sky during Mass Ascension, offering up a huge variety of colors and shapes that slowly flew into the distance.


Darth Vader was my favorite!

Even after much of the crowd had dispersed and only a few balloons were launching, Loren and I were laughing and pointing to standout shapes. Smiles were glued to our faces as we squinted into the bright blue sky.

Loren loved the dead cat...

By the end, we'd taken hundreds of photos. I overheard that Balloon Fiesta is the most photographed event in the world, and while that may be debatable, it certainly generated enough data traffic to cripple the cell networks. Here are a few of our favorite balloons:

Balloon Fiesta 2013 Favorites

The overwhelming happiness, wonder, and excitement I felt around the balloons transported me to my childhood. The Balloon Fiesta is amazing in the truest sense of the word.

If You Go:

Use the Park and Ride. It's cheaper, and you don't have to battle traffic getting to the grounds. Choose one of the parking sites further from the highways to avoid the lines.

Layer up. It's cold in the morning, but as soon as the sun rises, temps begin to climb quickly. We wore hats and winter jackets, but gloves would've helped.

Bring sunglasses. The desert sun is bright, and you'll be looking up a lot. Enough said.

Pack something to sit on. The morning events last a good 4 hours, and seats were hard to come by. A good option would be a blanket or some lightweight camping chairs.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is an annual week-long festival that takes place in early October.

The classic balloons were so colorful and beautiful! (Zebrahead Balloon photobomb!)

Update: Check out a video of our Balloon Fiesta experience!