Where Our Employees Traveled in 2018

Vacations not only inspire employees by getting them out of the office and into new environments and cultures, they also bring the added bonus of ramping up creativity and improving productivity.

No surprise here: At Roomkey, we’re vacation junkies. As one of the best places to work in our hometown of Charlottesville, VA, we encourage our employees to travel the world every chance we get and share our experiences with the team. Plus, we have a pretty dope unlimited vacation policy.

If you need a little inspiration planning your 2019 getaway, live vicariously through our teammates’ 2018 trips described below. You never know: you might be booking your hotel in Iceland before the year’s end.

blue lagoon iceland

Iceland

Elize Mercer, our digital marketing lead, grazed the top of the globe, spending quality time with family in one of the world’s most magical places—Iceland. This travel destination isn’t as far away as you think. In fact, it only takes about five hours to fly there from New York.

You may have heard that Iceland is one of the best places to view the northern lights – true statement. Elize was able to see the northern lights twice during her trip. “I’ll never forget it for as long as I live,” she said. If you want to increase your chances of a great show, participate in a Superjeep tour to find the best nightly view or scan the sky at one of the country’s many natural, geothermal pools.  But remember that seeing the lights is 100% weather dependent… a cloudy night can easily block your view of the dancing sky.  Download the Aurora app to stay up to date with cloud coverage and aurora forecasts in your current location.

Some describe Iceland and its landscape as remote, cold, and windswept. We say nah, it’s more enchanting than that. Despite being home to Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, Iceland has a diverse landscape able to withstand the unpredictable climate where you can experience all four seasons in one day. “Every view was so dramatic,” Elize recalled. “Even the open landscape – the lack of trees is desolate but beautiful. The cliffs were simply stunning, as were the waterfalls.” Iceland is home to farmland, volcanic wasteland, waterfalls, black sand beaches, glaciers, lagoons, and mountains.

Rent a car before leaving the airport to maximize your time in this beautiful country. Spend a day in Reykjavik to explore the many wonders of the city, including Hallgrimskirkja Church, Reykjavíkurtjörn Pond, and various shops, restaurants, and bars. Iceland can be a bit pricey, so try traveling with your own snacks in tow. Rest your head at one of the various hotels in the city, including the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel, located 10 minutes from the city’s center, Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel Reykjavik, and Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik City Centre, located within biking distance from the town.

No offense to Reykjavik, but Elize’s biggest tip was “get out of Reykjavik as soon as you can and explore everything else.” There’s plenty to see in the city, but the most stunning sights are in the more remote areas. Outdoor enthusiasts would enjoy a guided tour of the Sólheimajökull glacier, and “Game of Thrones” fans can tour filming locations at Thingvellir National Park and Lake Thingvallavatn. Relax and unwind in natural, geothermal seawater at Blue Lagoon, or snap the perfect Instagram photo at the abandoned DC plane on Sólheimasandur’s black beach.

bow bridge new york, new york

New York City

Tomas Casas, our lead frontend developer who lives in Cordoba, Argentina, took a short trip to New York City in 2018. There’s no shortage of activities in this destination. Fly into the John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens and catch a ride into the city. Whether you prefer to stay within walking distance of Broadway or in a suburb, you’ll have a ton of NYC hotels to choose from.

Catch spectacular views of the New York skyline from the Top of the Rock, 102nd floor of the Empire State Building, or the rotating restaurant at the top of the New York Mariott Marquis on Broadway. Tomas enjoyed exploring the city by bike – a travel and exercise two-for-one. If two-wheeled travel is your thing, try a bike tour of the Brooklyn Bridge and surrounding areas. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum is just six minutes away from the bridge by bike. Honor the victims of the terrorist attacks, learn about the construction of the new World Trade Center complex, examine 9/11’s impact on the world, and more. Next up? The New York public library and Metropolitan Museum of Art are home to a wealth of cultural experiences. “The Metropolitan Museum of Art was a fantastic experience, Van Gogh being my favorite,” Tomas recalled.

Swing by the Great White Way to experience a variety of plays and musicals showing on Broadway, or catch an opera at the Metropolitan Opera. Put on your walking shoes and get your shop on at Macy’s Herald Square, the largest Macy’s store in the world, where you can view the stunning displays while shopping among exclusive New York brands. Continue your historic shopping adventure at Chelsea Market, an indoor food hall full of a variety of vendors and shops. Tomas recommends grabbing a bite to eat at per se, Thomas Keller’s restaurant, where both the chef and restaurant hold multiple culinary awards. “The chef’s tasting menu was beyond description,” Tomas said, “especially the ‘Oysters and Pearls.’”

elephant safari in south africa

Potchefstroom, South Africa

Cort Spellman, backend developer, visited Potchefstroom, South Africa, to coach the USA national powerlifting teams at the International Powerlifting Federation Junior (19-23) and Sub-junior (14-18) 2018 World Championships.

“After spending several years away from the sport, it was great to return to a competition mindset,” Cort said. “My best memories of the trip were the times when I found breathing room in my competition schedule, lived each day to the fullest, observed lift techniques from the Ukranian lifters, and worked on my own deadlift with one of our juniors.”

There are plenty of adventures to be had in Potchefstroom other than the Junior and Sub-junior IPF World Championships. But be careful, South Africa has high crime rates. “We were told not to walk in the town alone, even during the day,” Cort recalled.

Shop a variety of vendors selling handmade and homemade products at Sebrines Fair Flea Market. Visit the OPM Prozesky Bird Sanctuary, home to over 200 bird species, including the black-winged stilt, African purple swamphen, pipits, and more. You can even bird watch on paths, bridges, and hiding spots along the Mooi River.

See more of the animal kingdom at the Buffelsvlei Wild Animal Park just outside of Potchefstroom. You’ll likely encounter a variety of animals, including black wildebeests, giraffes, elands, zebras, and gemsboks while exploring the reserve on horseback, bike, or foot. To see more wildlife, travel about six hours to Kruger National Park⁠—home to more than 1,100 species, including fish, trees, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals. Opt for the Park & Ride activity to spend four hours exploring the park with the chance to encounter elephants, buffalo, lions, leopards, and rhinos.

pacific coast california

California

Chris Patrick, data scientist, took a solo trip to California where he explored San Diego, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Jose, and San Francisco. For a seamless vacation full of beautiful scenery, fly to your first stop and travel along the Pacific Coast Highway to visit a variety of cities while experiencing stunning landscapes—although Chris recommends taking more than one day to do so.

Vacations spanning several cities can be a whirlwind of experiences. Hit the beach, learn to surf (or watch a competition if you prefer to stay on land), or explore an undersea kelp forest with numerous fish species on scuba diving and snorkeling adventures in San Diego. Rest your head at the Courtyard San Diego Central hotel before continuing your journey.

If the big city is more your scene, head up the coast to Los Angeles, where you can tour the city by bike or double-decker bus, stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, or play paparazzi and drive by celebrity homes. Chris recommends swinging by Donut Friend to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Movie fans rejoice! You can live out your wizarding dreams at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, flee from zombies in the Walking Dead attraction, and uncover film secrets in the studio tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. Catch some Zs close to the parks before continuing up the Pacific Coast Highway to the coastal town of Monterey. Chris recommends swinging by Hearst Castle, home to unique architecture, gardens, and famous artwork on your way.

In Monterey, you can see a wide variety of aquatic life. Head to the ocean’s edge to explore Monterey Bay Aquarium and view sharks, penguins, otters, jellyfish, and many more marine animals. Check into the Holiday Inn Express Monterey-Cannery Row and take a stroll along the shops of Cannery Row before hopping in the car for the short drive to Fisherman’s Warf for a bite to eat at one of the many local seafood restaurants. Brush up on your whale-speech a-la Dory in “Finding Nemo” before participating in a whale watching adventure with Monterey Bay Whale Watch. Depending on the time of year, you might see gray whales, blue whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, humpback whales, Risso’s dolphins, common dolphins, killer whales, Dall’s porpoises, northern white whale dolphins, and otters. Catch a glimpse of seals along 17-Mile Drive as you explore the rocky cliffs around Pebble Beach – home of the 2019 U.S. Open.

Need a pitstop? You can explore cutting-edge technology and participate in hands-on exhibits supported by premier innovators such as NASA at San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation. Grab a breath of fresh air at the Heritage Rose Garden before driving up to San Francisco. If whimsy and mystery are your cup of tea, take a tour of the Winchester Mystery House. Learn about the ghosts who haunt the property while exploring the whimsical residence – built without a master plan.

The final stop on this adventure is none other than the hilly city, San Francisco. Check into your hotel before hopping on a cable car to explore the city. Say hello to the sea lions at Pier 39 and catch a cruise to Alcatraz Island from Pier 33. While there’s plenty to do in the city, Patrick enjoyed his time hiking the most, recommending Muir Woods as a premier hiking spot. Just a short journey over the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods is home to the unforgettable, towering redwoods.

monkeys in gibraltar

Gibraltar

Doug Lawson, product, program, and technology leader, recently took a solo trip to Gibraltar. He recommends booking a hotel in Gibraltar and spending time across the border in Spain. “Gibraltar is really small,” Lawson recalled. “You can walk across the country in an hour or three, but the best food is right over the border into Spain—think tapas on the beach.” You can also find a delicious shepherd’s pie on the backstreets of Gibraltar.

While in this British territory located just off Spain, you have to visit the Rock of Gibraltar. It’s impossible to miss as its steep incline is visible from most parts of the country. Take a cable car to the top and hike down the steps, learning about the history of this landmark while viewing stunning landscapes.  Adventurous hikers can tour St. Michael’s Cave. Discover the history of the caves while hiking around stalagmites. It’s thought that the famous Barbary Macaques (apes) came to Gibraltar through Leonora’s Cave – an undersea tunnel to Africa.

Whether you plan to get acquainted with the macaques in Gibraltar or get windswept in Iceland, you can find your next hotel through Roomkey. Visit Roomkey to book a hotel you’ll feel confident about.

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