As far as travel years go, I think 2013 was perhaps my best so far. Even though I spent the first half of 2013 finishing up my master's degree, I still ended up traveling for about 4-5 months out of the year. That's A LOT of travel!!
My 2013 travels took me from festive Scotland to balmy Belize. From springtime Ottawa to the humid Old South. From the canals of Venice to the jungles of Costa Rica. I re-visited some old favorites, but mostly explored completely new destinations — including nearly a dozen new countries!
Choosing my most memorable moments from the past year wasn't easy — I had to edit out some great things, like eating waffles in Bruges, exploring Montmartre in Paris, and going behind the scenes at the Colosseum in Rome (along with countless other things I did while traveling around Europe for 3 months this year).
In the end, I narrowed it down to these 13 memorable travel moments from 2013:
13. Being in London for the Royal Birth
I'm not really a Royal Family fangirl, but it WAS pretty cool to be in London when Prince George was born. I headed over to Buckingham Palace the day after to stand in line with everyone from tourists to London businessmen to see the Royal Birth Announcement, and then watched the 41-cannon-salute to the new prince at Green Park. There was a palpable excitement in the city surrounding the Royal Birth. And, while it didn't compare to the atmosphere in London last summer during the Olympics, it was still pretty cool to be there for.
12. Taking a “Third Reich” tour in Berlin
I was SO excited to finally visit Berlin. And the city did not disappoint — it now ranks up there as one of my favorite cities in the world. While I enjoyed all 5 days that I spent in Berlin, by far my most memorable experience in the city was taking a Third Reich-themed walking tour with Insider Tour Berlin. As a big history nerd, I found this tour beyond fascinating. I think it also really helped me understand Berlin a bit better.
11. Getting up-close with sloths in Costa Rica
It's official — sloths are my favorite animals!! I got to get up close with these adorable-if-slow critters twice in Puerto Viejo, first at the Sloth Sanctuary and again at the Jaguar Rescue Center. Escaping to Costa Rica for a week in March was in itself a great experience. But the sloths were definitely my favorite part of my time there.
10. Camping in the jungle at Tikal
Back in January, I went to Belize for a week. This trip also included a hop over the border into Guatemala to visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal. In order to make the most of our time at the national park, we camped in the middle of the jungle that night. While it's not something I think I'll ever do again, being awoken by screaming howler monkeys at 4 a.m. in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle is something I will never, ever forget. It was both terrifying and really cool.
9. Tracing Julie Andrews' “Sound of Music” steps in Salzburg, Austria
Ever since I was a little girl, I've loved the movie “The Sound of Music.” I know all the songs, and can recite most of the lines in the film, too. So, when I decided to add Salzburg to my Europe itinerary, I knew I would be spending my time in the Austrian city tracing Julie Andrews' steps. And that's exactly what I did. And it was SO much fun.
8. Biking around the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa
I visited Ottawa for the second time in May, and spent 4 lovely, sunny days enjoying the Canadian Tulip Festival. My favorite day was the one when I rented a bike and cycled to Dow Lake to take hundreds of photos of tulips of all shapes and colors. It was the ideal solo travel experience for me — good weather, a beautiful destination, a fun event, and some outdoor activity.
7. Exploring Oia, Santorini
I spent 2 weeks this year island hopping around the Cyclades in Greece. While the whole experience was memorable, I think the part I will look back on the most fondly will be exploring the iconic cliff-top town of Oia on the island of Santorini. Filled with sweeping views of the Aegean and postcard-perfect scenes starring blue-domed churches (not to mention incredible sunsets), Oia is a place I think I will always daydream about.
6. Visiting Auschwitz
I titled this post my most “memorable” travel moments instead of my “favorite” travel moments for a reason — not all of my memorable travel moments from the past year were happy ones. The visit to former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland was incredibly depressing and still haunts me to this day. Yet, visiting Auschwitz is a travel moment that I will NEVER forget. I think it's important to visit places like this in order to better understand history and to fully realize what the human race is capable of.
5. Getting lost in Venice, Italy
I honestly wasn't expecting to love Venice. But love it I did. From the moment I first set foot on the island, I knew Venice was a place that I was going to really, really enjoy. My favorite part was definitely just wandering through the narrow streets and along unmarked canals. Getting lost in Venice truly is the best way to experience it.
4. Swimming with sharks in Belize
I'll admit it — I can be a bit of a daredevil by most people's standards. I've been bungee jumping multiple times, and the number one thing on my travel bucket list is to cage dive with great white sharks. So, naturally, when the opportunity arose in Belize to get in the water with stingrays and sharks, I was super excited. In fact, I was the first one in the water. The experience (even though they were just relatively harmless nurse sharks) was amazing!
3. Road tripping through the Old South
I've maintained for a few years now that the best way to discover America is by road tripping through it. This year, my sister and I tackled the Old South on a weeklong road trip from Ohio to Florida. We got our history on in Virginia, visited the site of the first powered flight in the Outer Banks, took a carriage tour in Charleston, visited an old plantation, and spent a few days soaking up the southern charm in Savannah. It was a short(ish) trip, but a memorable one. This part of the U.S. is so interesting — and also absolutely beautiful.
2. Ringing in the New Year at Hogmanay in Scotland
I started 2013 off right — with a massive celebration in Edinburgh, Scotland. As the clock struck 12:01 on January 1, I was singing “Auld Lang Syne” along with thousands of other people in the Scottish capital as fireworks shot off from behind a castle. YEAH. That happened. Then, later that day, I put on a bikini and jumped into the freezing River Forth as part of the Loony Dook. It's a New Year's that will be really hard to top.
1. Seeing the Northern Lights in Churchill, Manitoba
After Hogmanay, I doubted that any other experience in 2013 would be able to surpass it as my most memorable moment of the year. But then March rolled around and I found myself in Churchill, Manitoba, bundled up in about 17 layers and standing outside in the dead of night, staring up at the sky and watching the Northern Lights dance and shimmer above my head. It is an indescribable thing to actually see in person — and the movement literally cannot be captured on film. Seeing the aurora borealis was on my bucket list before I even HAD a bucket list. So to actually cross that off this year… it still gives me goosebumps to think about it.
Wow. Looking back, I can't imagine that I fit that much travel into just one year! Here's to an even more epic year (if that's even possible?!) in 2014!
And thank YOU so much for following along.
What was YOUR favorite travel moment from 2013?
Amanda Williams is the award-winning blogger behind A Dangerous Business Travel Blog. She has traveled to more than 60 countries on 6 continents from her home base in Ohio, specializing in experiential and thoughtful travel through the US, Europe, and rest of the world. Amanda only shares tips based on her personal experiences and places she's actually traveled!