2018 was a pretty busy year for me. I set foot in 24 countries, visited a whopping 42 new UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and over 20 National Park Service Sites in the US.
On the photography front, I was named Photographer of the Year for a fourth time by the Central States chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers, won seven NATJA Awards, and was named Best Travel Photography Blog at the TBCAsia Awards in Sri Lanka.
You can also check out my year-end photo essays for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
As always, I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I did taking them!
Image at the top of the page is of the Jungfrau Express, Switzerland.
 My first trip of 2018 was to New York for the New York Times Travel Show, where I was a speaker. Whenever I visit New York I try to visit National Park Service sites in the area. This year I decided to visit St. Paul’s Church, which is a Revolutionary War Era church which is located just outside the city limits of New York. It is literally about 200m away from the last subway stop in the Bronx. Very few people know about this site, including most New Yorkers. I visited with my friend Seth Kugel and we recorded an episode for his YouTube Channel “Amigo Gringo” (FYI, it’s in Portuguese).
 In February I visited Montenegro, one of my favorite countries in Europe, and one that I firmly believe is one of the up and coming destinations over the next few years. Visiting in February gave me a totally different perspective than most people get who visit by cruise ship during the summer. When I visited the Old City of Kotor, it was basically empty. I saw no other tourists anywhere.
 I was able to explore parts of Montenegro which most visitors never see. Driving up the mountains above Kotor gave me a view of the entire Bay of Kotor. You could see all the way to Herceg Novi where I stayed during my trip. If you ever visit the Bay of Kotor, I highly recommend going up the mountains surrounding the bay for the best views.
 In my quest to visit world heritage sites, I had to visit one of the newer site, the Stecci Medieval Tombstone Graveyards. They are located all over the Balkans, with two of them in Montenegro. Getting there was quite the adventure as everything in the north of Montenegro was covered in snow, the road there wasn’t plowed, and there were no signs. However, I found the GPS coordinates and we managed to find it in the middle of a snow-covered field!
 I was surpsied to find one of the most beautiful vistas I’ve seen in Europe in Montenegro. The Pavlova Strana Viewpoint is a spot which is perfectly aligned with the waters and island of Lake Skadar National Park. While it isn’t a place most people know about, it isn’t very hard to reach if you have a car.
 In February I traveled to Lousiana to attend my first ever Mardi Gras. Unlike most people, I was able to experience Mardi Gras in Lafayette and parts of rural Louisiana, not New Orleans. One of the highlights of the trip was attending a boucherie, which is a community festival where they butcher a pig and eat every single part of it. There was sausage, cracklings, and even headcheese. This photo was of one of the butchers who was waiting for the food to finish cooking.
 The Courir de Mardi Gras is the rural celebration of Mardi Gras on the actual day. It is a long parade which consists of lots of costumes, floats with porta pottys, alcohol, and occasionally chasing a chicken.
 Floats during the Mardi Gras parade in Lafayette are all created by “crews” who are clubs or organizations who get together to create their floats. As with the rural version of the parade, there is lots of alcohol and plastic beads.
 Prior to 2018 I hadn’t spent a lot of time in Louisiana. I had been there before, but this was the first opportunity I had to spend significant time in the state. In addition to the Mardi Gras festivities, I was also able to see some other sites, including canoing in Lake Martin. It is an incredibly photogenic area.
 In early March I went north up to Churchill, Manitoba to see the northern lights. I had been up to Churchill back in 2016 to photograph polar bears and it is one of my favorite places in Canada. I’d never pass up an opportunity to visit Churchill. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any luck with the northernlights, but we did have an amazing meal in Fort Prince of Wales, and I was able to go dog sledding again.
 In May I was scheduled to attend the big IPW travel show in Denver. I had some time, so I figured I’d drive there and visit some national parks along the way. One of the spots I visited was the northern section of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. I had been to the park before, but only the southern section which is located on Interstate 94. The northern section gets fewer visitors and in many ways has more dramatic scenery.
 After Denver, I headed west to visit some more parks in Colorado and Utah. One of the most surprising places was Colorado National Monument, which is just outside of Grand Junction. It easily could be upgraded to full national park status at some point in the future. I had never been in the northwestern part of Colorado before and it was interesting to see how it different it was from the rest of the state.
 Another surprising site was Dinosaur National Monument, which is located right on the Colorado/Utah border. There is an entire wall of rock with in-situ bones of dinosaurs which you can see. It is perhaps the best palentology site I’ve visited in the world, and I have visited several of them.
 I finally got to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really paying attention to the calendar, and I wound up there on Memorial Day Weekend. The park was very busy and hotels in Moab were incredibly expensive. I’d love to return in the winter when the crowds are gone and there is snow on the ground.
 About 20 miles away from Arches is Canyonlands National Park. Even though they are in close proximity of each other, Canyonlands gets significantly fewer visitors than Arches does. Oddly enough, I found Canyonlands to be the better park. There are some dirt roads you can drive in the park, but they require a four-wheel drive vehicle and more time than I had. I’d love to return to Canyonlands to photograph the park away from the main road.
 Capitol Reef was the fifth and final of the Utah National Parks that I visited. It is unually busy considering that I thought it was the least interesting of the 5 Utah parks. However, it is also the closest park to Salt Lake City, which probably explains the attendence. The park has a very odd shape, and like Canyonlands, most of it can only be explored off-road.
 Going back into Colorado, I made a visit to Mesa Verde National Park. This was my second time in Mesa Verde and this visit really was too short. Again, because of Memorial Day, I was very lucky to get a hotel room. I think I got the last available room in Cortez just because someone else canceled.
 From Colorado I drove through New Mexico to Amarillo, Texas where I was speaking the Central States Chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers. The Texas Panhandle is often overlooked as a destination, which is too bad because I’ve enjoyed my trips there the last two years. Carhenge is one of the most photographed attractions in Amarillo and it is located off the interstate just west of town.
 On the way back home I visited more national park service sites, including one that I’ve wanted to visit for several years: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. I love the prairies and there isn’t much of it left anymore as most of it was plowed under.
 In June I was back in Louisiana, this time to New Orleans. Believe it or not, this was my first ever visit to New Orleans. I was speaking at the annual travel convention for the Public Relations Society of America. This shot was taken at the Chalmette Battlefield, which was the location of the famous Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.
 My summer trip to Europe began in Eastern Europe. I was there to travel on a trip with G Adventures through the Baltic Countries. I arrived early, however, because I wanted to visit Belarus. Belarus offers a 5-day visa on arrival for anyone who arrives at the Minks Airport. I took the very short flight from Vilnius to Minks and spent several days visiting some of the world heritage sites in Belarus. This is a photo of Mir Castle, a 15th-century construction and one of the most popular attractions in the country.
 My G Adventures tour of the Baltic States began in Vilnius. I found Vilnius to be the most artistic and countercultural of the 3 Baltic capitals. This street art is a good example of that attitude.
 Vilnius is also the location of the Republic of Uzupio, which is a ficticious country in the middle of a bohemian section of the city. The “republic” has their own constitution which consists of 38 articles which is printed on metal plates in 23 languages.
 Just outside of Vilnius is the town of Trakai and Trakai Castle. It is located in the middle of a lake and gets a far amount of local visitors in the summer from Vilnius. It is a beautiful area with many cafes and restaurants on the shore of the lake. The castle itself is open to the public and is worth a visit.
 The next stop in Lithuania was the Curonian Spit, which is a large sand spit which is in the Baltic Sea, and is shared between Lithuania and Russia. We stayed in the town on Nida which was only 2km from the Russian border. We did a 20km bike trip, which wasn’t bad but was also something I haven’t done in a long, long time. Needless to say, my butt was very sore that day.
 Riga really showed the differences between the Baltic countries. Even though they are often thought of as a group, they have very different liguistically and culturally. Lithuania is predominantely Catholic, for example, where as Latvia and Estonica are Protestant. Riga, being a port on the Baltic, had a much more international feel than Vilnius did.
 In Estonia, our first stop was on the island of Saaremaa, which is the largest island in Estonia. While Tallinn gets most of the international visitors, Saaremaa seemed to be more of a destination for locals. The isalnd was pretty laid back and we saw Kuressaare Castle and one of the best preserved impact craters in Europe.
 Tallinn, was probably my favorite of the Baltic capitals, even though it is also the most visited. It gets many visitors from the cruise ships which stop there, as well as from people making the short ferry trip from Helsinki. Estonia was the most Nordic of the Baltic states, which makes sense given its location.
 As with my trip to Belarus, I took advantage of the visa rules to finally visit Russia. You can get a 72-hour visa if you visit St. Petersburg by ship. I took the ferry from Helsinki. Overall, the experience wasn’t really great. It was cold and raining, and I barely had 6-hours in the city before I had to get back on the ferry. I couldn’t even get into the Hermitage because the lines were so long. A longer, proper trip to Russia is still on order for me at some point in the future.
 From Helsinki, I flew to London and took the train down to Portsmouth where I crossed the English Channel to Normandy where I traveled along the Liberation Route, following the path of the Allied forces during WWII. While I was in Normandy I visited all of the landing beaches as well as most of the museums and cemeteries of the region.
 Driving up from Normandy I visited the town of Bastogne, which was made famous during the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. The museum here was surprisingly good, and the collection of WWII military equipment they had was outstanding. So much of the equipment that the United States manufactured for the war was left in Europe. Much of that today is in the hands of the various WWII museums. The military equipment museum in Bastogne, located in the old military barracks, in one of the best in Europe.
 One of the most inspiring moments I had in 2018 was doing the Sunset March across the bridge in Nijmegen, Netherlands. The bridge was the location of action during Operation Market Garden where 48 Allied soldiers lost their lives taking a bridge across the Waal River. In 2013, a new bridge was constructed with 48 pairs of street lights which turn on at sunset to represent the 48 men who lost their lives. Since its opening, every evening at sunset a march across the bridge is lead by military veterans. Veterans from all countries are invited to take part and everyone is welcome to march with the veterans. The march itself takes about 12 minutes, not including the time requires to talk back across the bridge after it is completed.
 On my way to Berlin I stopped at the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe outside of Kassel, Germany. It is a giant hillside waterworks which was built in the 18th Century. They only run the water 2 days a week (Wednesday and Sunday) in the summer and I was lucky to be there on a Wednesday. There are huge crowds which gather to see the water flow down the hill as well as the fountains and waterfalls along the way.
 After Germany, I began a trip to visit all of the World Heritage Sites in the Czech Republic which I hadn’t previously visited. One of the highlights was the town of Kuta Hora. Prague seems to get all of the attention in the Czech Republic, and towns like Kuta Hora are often ignored by foreign visitors. That is too bad because while Prague is great, there is a lot which the Czech Republic has to offer if you just get out of the city.
 Another World Heritage town in the Czech Republic which I enjoyed was Telc. The town square is what it is most famous for, but the entire area surrounding the town is captivating as well. Again, it is well known amongst Czechs, but not as much with the rest of the world.
 The column in Olomouc was high on my list of places to visit for one major reason: this is the smallest world hertiage site on Earth. Just as a test, I timed myself and it took me 54 seconds to walk around the column at a leislury pace. It was originally built as a thanks for surviving the black death.
 I ended my trip in the Czech Republic in Ostrava where I spoke at TBEX Europe. The event was held in a converted industrial facility. It was really an interesting place to hold a conference. The main stage was actually built inside and old fuel tank.
 From the Czech Republic I flew to Zurich where I started a trip where I visited all of the World Heritage Sites in Switzerland. The first site I visited was the Serdona Tectonic Area. High up in the Apls, it is a popualr hiking area. You can get a vantage point where you can see the entire country of Liechtenstein! During my day hiking here, my Fitbit told me I had climbed the equivalent of a 226 story building….and that is only the uphill part.
 I’d been to Switzerland before, but I had only visited the German-speaking areas around Zurich, Basel, and Bern. This trip I was able to explore most of the country including the Italian, French, and Romanch speaking regions. I fell in love with the Italian speaking city of Bellinzona and the entire canton of Ticino. The world heritage site was the three castles in Bellinzona, but everything in the region was amazing.
 Prior to this trip, the site I was looking forward to visiting the least was the watching making town of La Chaux-de-Fonds. I left Switzerland thinking that this was the most interesting world heritage site in the country. I was really unaware of the history of Swiss watching making and just how much of it was centered around this community. Every major watch manufacturer I’ve ever heard of has offices and/or a factory here. The museum of watchmaking museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds was fascinating and I could have spent several hours more there.
 In September I flew down to Barbados for the SATW annual convention where I was a speaker. I had been to Barbados previously, but it was a short trip and I didn’t get to see Bridgetown properly. This time I was able to do a proper tour and learn more about why Barbados was so central to British colonial efforts in the 17th and 18th Centuries.
 In October I drove down to Chicago for the Visit Europe Media Exchange where I met with several European destinations. I was also able to do a bit of exploring and took a boat tour on the Chicago River, something which I had never done before. In my opinion, Chicago has the best architecture in the United States, easily beating New York. I also visited the Pullman National Monument in Chicago, which is one of the newer additions to the National Park Service.
 I made a last minute decision to drive to St Louis rather than go directly back home. That took me through Springfield which was the home of Abraham Lincoln and the location of the other National Park Service Site in Illinois. In addition to Lincoln’s Home, I also visited his tomb, which is where is photo was taken.
 I hadn’t visited the St. Louis Arch in almost 20 years, so I wanted to return so I could photograph it. The arch had been closed for renovation and when it reopened, it was also renamed Gateway Arch National Park; the newest and smallest national park in the United States. The new visitor center under the arch is well done and it is a worth place to visit, even if I don’t think it should be called a national park.
 I was invited to speak at a blogging event in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Having never been to Sri Lanka, I jumped at the chance to go. I was able to visit the region around the central Sri Lankan city of Kandy. This is the entranct to the Temple of the Tooth, a temple which is believed to hold a tooth of the Buddha.
 The central region of Sri Lanka is very moutntainous, which can make getting from place to place rather time consuming. However, it also makes for beautiful landscapes. This photo was taken in the Knuckles Mountain Range, which is one the 8 World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka.
 In Kandy, we visted the Royal Botanical Gardens which had an excellent collection of trees and flowers from Sri Lanka. It also had quite a few monkeys, some of which took the time to pose for the camera.
 Considering how far I had to come to get to Sri Lanka, I figured I might as well go to the Maldives while I was there. It is only a 90-minute flight from Colombo. I stayed at a Cinimon Hotels Resort on the island of Ellaidhoo. I was able to play with my drone, read, and relax. It was the closest thing I had to a vaction all year (traveling is not necessarily a vacation).
 Late November brought me to Spain. I have been to Spain many times before, but this trip took me to Extremadura, a region which is west of Madrid and north of Andalucia. It doesn’t get nearly as many visitors as other parts of Spain, but it is one of the richest regions in terms of culture, history, and food. My first stop there was the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria of Guadalupe. I took this photo of the monastery from the balcony of my hotel at night.
 I didn’t know much about the city of Merida before I had arrived, other than it was one of the world heritage sites in Spain. I left thinking it was one of the best sites for Roman ruins and history in the world. It is on a par with other Roman towns you can visit today such as Jerash, Ostia Antica, and Pompeii. The museum of Roman history in Merida might be the best museum of Roman artifacts I have ever visited.
 The town of Trujillo is not a world heritage site, but perhaps it should be. It was one of the important centers of early Spanish colonization and the home to many of the first Spanish Conquistadors.
 My 2018 travels ended in a place I was not expecting to visit: Saudi Arabia. I was invited to attend the inaugural Formula E race which was held in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia has been a notoriously difficult country to visit in the past because they never offered tourist visas. They have just started offering tourists visas and opening up the country to the rest of the world. We took a side trip to the north of the country to visit Madin Saleh, a site I never thought I’d actually be able to visit. It is a site built by the Nabateans, which are the same people who built Petra in Jordan.