CNN Travel editors choose their best trips of 2018

CNN  — 

When you travel as your job, do you start to see it as just another day at the office? That’s an ongoing challenge for the team at CNN Travel as they are tasked with seeing the world while also reporting on it.

Here, the members of team travel share their highlights of 2018 and destinations where they hope to get new passport stamps in 2019:

Lilit Marcus, editor, New York City

BEST 2018 TRAVEL MEMORY: It’s not just about the where – it’s about the how. In 2018, I traveled by bus, subway, car, ferry and plane, but the most significant mode of transport was in March, when I had my first ride in a helicopter.

For 45 minutes, a friendly pilot from Anthelion Helicopters wove us above Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, pointing out landmarks and providing amazing photo ops.

Long Beach, California, pictured from the sky.

Despite some initial nerves, I had a blast – and, better yet, got to understand more about these two cities beyond what I’d been able to experience on the ground.

TRAVEL HOPE FOR 2019: I took Spanish classes this year in hopes of improving my language skills. What better way to test my knowledge than some time traveling in South America – say Peru?

Maureen O’Hare, editor, London

BEST TRAVEL MEMORY OF 2018: The land underfoot is cracked, yellow and dry, as if wrapped in shedded snakeskin. The endless sky is hazy blue, and the sun beats down on this hill without shadow.

As we climb upward, we notice the summit is flat, its crest sliced off like the top of an egg. At the peak, we gaze into the cauldron of the mud volcano, some 15 meters wide.

An otherwordly mud volcano in Azerbaijan.

The gray slurry within shifts in endless turmoil, gas rising again and again to form bubbles that swell then burst, with a greedy plop. This is Azerbaijan, mud volcano capital of the world, and it’s the closest I’ll get to a trip to Mars.

TRAVEL HOPE FOR 2019: I don’t know whether Costa Rica will live up to my technicolor fantasies – green jungles teeming with sloths and monkeys, lakes filled with frogs, skies filled with birds, and a shoreline filled with dolphins and sea turtles – but I’d sure like to find out.

Brekke Fletcher, executive editor, New York City

BEST 2018 TRAVEL MEMORY: Early last year, I traveled north to Alberta, Canada. It was my first visit to the Canadian Rockies and over the course of nearly a week, our crew battled the frigid winter to capture some of the most majestic places I have been: Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper, which are all part of Canada’s tremendous national park system.

It was our second day into the trip when we woke before dawn to drive to the Banff Gondola so the videographers could capture the sunrise. It was so cold, so very cold. And dark. And our timing was screwy so we were concerned we wouldn’t reach the peak in time to set up all the equipment.

But we did make it. And the proof is this wonderful story about Banff and one of its most beloved daughters, freestyle skier and all-around badass, Tatum Monod.

Snowy-yet-colorful Banff.

TRAVEL HOPE FOR 2019: Next year I’m going to fulfill one of my all-time travel goals by finally going to Bali.

My sister, Anne, is a majorly committed yogi for whom this will be the pinnacle of her practice, and I’m addicted to sultry weather, experiencing new cultures and maintaining my Delta Diamond status.

We’re perfect travel partners, insofar as we’re best friends who happen to be related, so I’m fairly certain this trip will be my favorite travel memory of 2019. But I’ll let you know when I get back.

Karla Cripps, senior producer, Bangkok:

BEST 2018 TRAVEL MEMORY: I was fortunate enough to take a few great journeys this year, but my top memory has to be waking up in one of the world’s highest tree houses, deep in the Laos jungle, to the sounds of endangered black-crested gibbons singing as they bounced through the trees nearby.

It was part of a three-day tour run by the Gibbon Experience, most of which was spent trekking and ziplining through the Nam Kan National Park.

Best of all, it’s a tourism-based conservation project, meaning profits go toward protecting the forest and its precious inhabitants.

A sky-high treehouse in Laos.

TRAVEL HOPE FOR 2019: More Japan! It’s my favorite destination in the world. The food. The people. The wild landscapes. I’ve traveled there more than half a dozen times, and it just never gets old.

Katia Hetter, senior producer, Atlanta

BEST 2018 TRAVEL MEMORY: I stepped onto the grounds of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, and I was immediately transfixed by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo’s sculpture of a mother with a chain around her neck, her infant in her arms.

As I walked through the memorial, I read the names of lynching victims inscribed on monuments hanging above me. Some monuments list the names of entire families murdered by mobs in one day.

I wasn’t unaware of America’s original sin, but the horror has never been more evident to me than at the memorial and accompanying Legacy Museum, the brainchild of Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson.

Equal Justice Initiative  Kwame Akoto Bamfo sculpture
A lynching memorial remembers the forgotten
04:13 - Source: CNN

“I hope people will feel like they’ve been deceived a little by the history they’ve been taught,” Stevenson told CNN. “Truth and reconciliation work is always hard. It’s challenging, but if we have the courage to tell the truth and to hear the truth, things happen.”

TRAVEL HOPE FOR 2019: I want to meet friends for my birthday in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, now more than ever Puerto Rico deserves our attention – and our tourism dollars. My Cuban genes need to swim in those warm ocean waters, and I’ll try to improve my Cuban Spanglish in the process.

Stacey Lastoe, senior editor, New York City

BEST 2018 TRAVEL MEMORY: A popular time to visit Newfoundland, Canada, isn’t March, but that’s when I went, and let me tell you: It’s an excellent time to go.

While I didn’t get a chance to forage for summer berries or sail to see fjords, I did get to eat a Jiggs dinner (traditional Sunday supper, often with guitar-playing) with locals, enjoy a wintery boil-up (fire in the woods to make tea and snacks) and drink a pint in downtown St. John’s with some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Newfoundlanders are a happy, welcoming bunch, and I can’t wait to go back.

A lighthouse in Newfoundland, Canada.

TRAVEL HOPE FOR 2019: I recently posed this question to my Travel team colleagues: Is it weird that “Narcos: Mexico” has me wanting to visit Guadalajara? They said it wasn’t odd at all, but, either way, Mexico’s second-largest city would’ve still made my list.

Barry Neild, global editor, London

BEST TRAVEL MEMORY OF 2018: Some hikes are simply an are-we-nearly-there-yet stretching of legs in the countryside. Others, like the relentlessly cinematic climb to Upper Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park, northern Montana, make you wish they could go on forever.

The path switchbacks up, up and up above Lake Josephine, traversing stomach-flipping steep-drop ledges, passing through cascading waterfalls and scrubland teeming with furry critters. Then, after cresting a final ridge, the big reveal: a bright blue expanse of water with icebergs swimming incongruously in the high heat of August.

Magnificent, even through the haze of nearby wildfires.

A rainbow at Glacier National Park.

TRAVEL HOPE FOR 2019: Returning to the most beautiful place on the planet — the English Lake District — for another attempt to cycle the grueling but magical 112 miles of the Fred Whitton Challenge.

Marnie Hunter, senior producer, Atlanta

BEST 2018 TRAVEL MEMORY: Pristine, nearly deserted Caribbean beaches star in many a daydream. A screensaver staple, their aquamarine waters entrance workers the world over.

But remote locations often make getting to these coastal stunners in real life a bit of a white-knuckle adventure. Such is the case with Bonefish Point on Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Bonefish Point in Turks and Caicos.

The uneven, unpaved, rocky road leading out to its calm waters and the neighboring Split Rock landmark is no picnic – especially in an economy-sized rental car. But having some laughs and taking it very easy (you’re on island time, after all) yields those screensaver rewards and a bonus thrill to anyone willing to gingerly trek across the sharp limestone terrain for tip-top views.

TRAVEL HOPE FOR 2019: Venturing to Vietnam for a fresh bowl of bún chả in Hanoi.

Francesca Street, writer and associate producer, London

BEST 2018 TRAVEL MEMORY: I’m still daydreaming about Lisbon’s coral-colored buildings, intricate tiled walls, views stretching out across red roofs toward the Atlantic and, of course, the delicious custard tarts.

Lisbon was vibrant, colorful and (mostly) sunny – unsurprising, then, that I quickly fell under the Portuguese capital’s heady spell. Days were spent drinking rich port outside cafes on the sloping cobbled streets, walking the medieval ramparts of Castelo de São Jorge and wandering the spectacular Mosteiro dos Jerónimos – a World Heritage site featuring stunning brickwork, centuries of history and cloisters to explore.

It's hard to find a bad view in Lisbon.

Lisbon’s lesser known gems were equally as enticing. We were enthralled by the floor-to-ceiling book shelves at Livraria Ler Devagar. Surely the most beautiful bookstore in the world, this Lisbon institution doubles up as a printing press, exhibition space, bar, café and meeting place, complete with moving sculptures of bicycles and ladders leading up to more reading material.

TRAVEL HOPE FOR 2019: Many of my favorite travel memories involve hurtling around country roads in tiny cars in Scotland with my closest friends.

Next year, we’re hoping to swap one Celtic country for another and hop across the Irish Sea and road trip through Ireland. I can’t wait to see the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway, but I’m also excited for the time spend chatting, laughing, singing and catching up in the car with my closest friends.

Forrest Brown, SEO specialist and editor, Atlanta

BEST 2018 TRAVEL MEMORY: In January, I unexpectedly found myself in the role of caregiver for my mother. While that has meant no traditional vacations, it didn’t mean travel was off-limits. I just had to redefine the word for my new circumstances.

So one lovely spring day near Augusta, Georgia, I took an hour off from working and caregiving to take a “journey” to Savannah Rapids Park – five miles from my motel and yet a world away.

This beautiful escape is situated where part of the Savannah River is diverted to form the Augusta Canal. Built in 1845 for industrial purposes, recreation is now the order of the day. I’ve taken classic strolls along the Seine, Thames, Tagus and St. Lawrence rivers, but none matched the serenity and promise of a spring day here.

South Carolina's Congaree National Park.

TRAVEL HOPE FOR 2019: I need to always be within a few hours’ drive from my mother, but that still leaves the swampy mysteries of Congaree National Park south of Columbia, South Carolina, open to me.

Channon Hodge, video producer, New York City

BEST 2018 TRAVEL MEMORY: on vacation in September, I sorely needed some crowd-free time. On one blissful afternoon, I found myself totally alone for nearly an hour in one of the most crowded tourist spots in Vienna, Austria – Schönbrunn Palace.

Originally, I went intending to drink in all the décor and dresses. After breezing through the rooms tour, however, I bypassed the free trolley and wandered the public park behind the main gardens.

Austria's Schloss Schonbrunn is known as Schonbrunn Palace in English.

The park is on a massive hill that few seemed to want to brave on a hot day, and so I found myself sitting under a canopy of old trees in near absolute silence. I found my own little spot shrouded inside a quiet, cool forest in the middle of bustling Vienna.

I started to remember how to daydream, and wondered what it would be like to walk those paths a century ago, a feathered hat on my head and a long gown trailing the ground. As an African-American woman, that dream is quite a stretch, but I have a very healthy imagination when I find the time to let it run.

TRAVEL HOPE FOR 2019: I’m aiming for a trip built solely around food and for that, I’ve got to head to China. Every daily travel decision will be prioritized by breakfast, lunch, second lunch, snack, dinner and dessert. The sightseeing will have to go somewhere in between.