Happy new year! It’s time for my annual blog post all about my favorite (and least favorite) travel moments from the past year.
I’ve been writing this post for the last few years, and it’s such a fun way to reflect on the year that was, and all the travels I was lucky enough to have.
Just a reminder that if you’re a fellow blogger, I encourage you to copy this format and write your own travel favorites post! Share the link in the comments – I’d love to check it out!
Check out past years’ travel favorites (and least favorites)…
2018: When I moved back to the USA from England, failed at surfing, and had my first endometriosis surgery.
2019: When I took a solo trip to Nepal (my first time in Asia!) and trekked to Everest Base Camp.
2020: When Dan and I visited Sri Lanka and India for a friend’s wedding, and then the whole world shut down…
2021: The year of revisiting places and reuniting with loved ones, and my cross-country journey for my second endometriosis surgery.
2022: The year I drove Route 66 solo, worked a travel healthcare contract in California, got engaged to Dan, and quit my job to travel full time through Latin America! Phew!
2023 Travels… Where Did I Actually Go?
Just like 2022, I spent the majority of 2023 on a full-time travel adventure with Dan. That means I had a lot of material for this post, haha. Here’s a quick review of the year that was:
January started out in a remote corner of Nicaragua, before Dan and I headed north to El Salvador – a country I unexpectedly fell in love with.
In February, we traveled through Guatemala, Honduras, and back to Guatemala, before crossing into Belize.
In March, we spent a little over a week in Belize before spending the rest of the month exploring Mexico. This marked the end of our 10-month overland adventure through Latin America.
In April, Dan and I flew to Dominican Republic for our friend Bethan and Jason’s wedding, before heading to Florida to visit my family and then up to Michigan where we had lots of reunions. I returned to Florida again for a press trip in Key West.
In May and June, Dan and I flew to Singapore to start the Asia leg of our longterm travels! After a few days in Singapore we embarked on two months of traveling in Vietnam, from south to north.
In July, we said goodbye to Vietnam and headed to Japan, where we spent a month exploring and EATING.
In August, we spent a week in Sumatra (Indonesia) trekking among orangutans, before heading back to Singapore to catch a flight back to London.
September was spent in Europe, hopping between Dan’s family home in England to a trip to Hungary and Poland, with two friends’ weddings in between and a hospital visit for Dan as he recovered from food poisoning (ironically, we hadn’t gotten sick on any of our travels until then!).
In October, Dan and I said goodbye and I flew back home to Michigan, where I’ve been for November and December as well (barring a trip to Florida to see family, and some travels throughout the state, including my incredible bachelorette party over Halloween weekend!).
2023 Travel Favorites
…And least favorites. Let’s get into the adventures of 2023!
Favorite Travel Moment
In a year full of travel, one moment sticks out and that’s my time at the Kurama-dera temple, north of Kyoto in Japan.
I had a very spiritual experience here (of which I’ll save the details for another article). Only later did I find out that this temple is actually the birthplace of reiki (a form of energy healing) and that the temple is considered a “power spot.”
Of course that makes a lot of sense to me after my experience, but it still gives me chills that I felt it before I even knew.
Favorite New Place
My favorite new-to-me place I visited in 2023 is Mu Cang Chai in Vietnam.
It was a long and bumpy journey to reach these incredibly remote rice fields, where we stayed in a Hmong family homestay for $6 USD per night (for two people!) and had million dollar views.
We ate dinner alongside the family, explored the supernaturally beautiful rice fields, and spent a day motorbiking to viewpoints with our hosts.
I was in awe the whole time. What a special place.
Favorite Place I Returned To
I spent most of 2023 visiting new places. Of the places I returned to, though, my favorite is definitely Key West, Florida.
I spent a week exploring the Florida Keys in early May, as part of a press trip. I’d previously visited Key West on a cruise stopover back in 2015, but this press trip gave me a deep dive into so many aspects of this beautiful part of the USA that I didn’t experience on my first visit.
I’ve already written two articles about that trip: my gluten free Florida Keys guide, and where to find gluten free key lime pie in Key West.
Expect a few more articles in the new year!
It surprises no one who follows this blog (or my instagram) that my favorite country I visited in 2023 was…. Japan!
A big reason I loved Japan was the FOOD. I adore Japanese cuisine, and was delighted that it was easier to be gluten free there than I expected.
I have to say, Dan and I were also pretty burned out from 16 months of longterm travel, mostly in lesser developed countries with poor infrastructure. Japan was the polar opposite, like walking into the future in a hyper-organized, peaceful world.
The juxtaposition with every other country we’d visited (and right after two months in Vietnam, where even crossing a road is a life-or-death experience) was another reason Japan sticks out so much to me.
(Runner up for this category goes to El Salvador… I loved it and it surprised me so much! But we only had 10 days there.)
Biggest Travel Regret
As you can see from my favorite travel selections so far, all my choices have been in Asia! It’s true… I really do think I vibed with travel in Asia more than I did in Latin America.
My biggest travel regret, therefore, is that we only had about 3.5 months in Asia compared to our year in Latin America. If I could do it all over again, I’d spread our itinerary out differently and spend significantly more time in Asia.
Of course, I’m grateful for the experiences I did have. So it’s not a true regret, in that regard, but just a learning experience!
Scariest Travel Moment
The #1 most scary travel moment in 2023 is the time Dan and I got drugged against our will at a hostel in Guatemala.
The story’s a looong one, but the short version is that we believe the hostel owner put hallucinogenic plants in the communal meal that everyone at the hostel ate. Yep, whatever you are imagining after that sentence is probably pretty close to reality, lol.
Add to it that this hostel was NOT easy to get to (it was seriously deep in a jungle and involved both a pickup truck drive and a hike to reach).
Luckily, we got out of it all safely and promptly left the hostel at 6am the next morning. But it was very scary!
My very favorite accommodation from 2023 was our Airbnb in Mexico City. We got a great deal on an “Airbnb plus,” where we had a room in a local’s house. Our host / housemate’s name was Julian, and we lived with him for two weeks.
Honestly, after a lot of accommodation disasters in Latin America, this place was perfect. It was beautiful, sooo comfortable, had a delicious breakfast, and the highlight was getting to know Julian and going out to breakfast with him at his favorite local restaurant!
Well, this one goes without saying but the worst accommodation of 2023 is the hostel in Guatemala that drugged us!
Best Gluten Free Meal
Between my time in Mexico and Japan, I had some of the best gluten free food of my life this year. Many times over.
My #1 meal, though, has to go to the very first meal I ate in Japan – Otsuna Sushi in Tokyo!
Dan and I were fresh off the plane from Vietnam, weighed down by our giant backpacks in intense heat, absolutely starving, and walked into a sushi restaurant on our walk to our hotel.
We ended up having the most delicious (gluten free!) sushi platters, and ate them at the bar while watching the sushi chefs. It was such an immersive, authentic-feeling welcome to Japan, and immediately had us SO excited for the rest of our time in the country.
Some runner-ups for best gluten free meal of 2023:
- Huevos rancheros and enchiladas at a street-side stall in Bacalar, Mexico
- Memelas at Doña Vale’s market stall in Oaxaca, Mexico
- A gluten free spring roll cooking class in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
- Gluten free tempura, gyozas, and more at Teppan Tavern Tenamonya in Kyoto, Japan
- Gluten free okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, and a long chat with the owner about his mother who is an atomic bomb survivor
Worst Gluten Free Meal
Sadly, my worst gluten free meal of the year has to go to the food at a homestay in Sapa, Vietnam.
I was sooo excited for this homestay, and it was on my bucket list from before we even planned our trip to Vietnam. I confirmed with the owner all about gluten free food before we booked.
Sadly, when we arrived the reality of being able to get a celiac safe meal couldn’t have been further away. On my very first meal I got INCREDIBLY sick. The rest of our time there I subsisted solely on rice, and let’s just say, it was a bad experience.
Finally, my favorite landscape of 2023 goes to the absolutely stunning scenery of northern Vietnam’s Ha Giang province, which borders China.
Dan and I spent four days doing the Ha Giang Loop, which is a famous motorbiking loop along twisty, turny roads in the most unreal scenery you could possibly imagine.
2023 Travel Favorites: Final Thoughts
Wow, writing all that down feels a little bittersweet. I am so grateful for the incredible travel experiences I had this year. Even the bad times have led to great stories (type 2 fun, anyone?).
But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss full-time traveling and have some worries about the next phase of life (more news on that… very soon!).
What were your travel favorites this year? Let me know… or better yet, write your own blog post and link it in a comment below! I’d love to read it!