Year in Review: My Top 10 Travel Highlights of 2023

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Like it or not, it's that time of year again: time to look back at the year and write my annual year in review post!

This post is always fun to put together, as it allows me to take a look back and remember all the awesome adventures I've had in the last 12 months. It's always a humbling task, too, as I'm reminded just how lucky I am to still be doing what I love as my job, especially after the last couple of years.

My 2023 travels took me all over the world; I visited 15 countries on 4 continents, and 9 different US states/territories. I traveled by plane, train, car, ship, and even camel, and re-visited a lot of places I love with friends. I did more road trips this year than any other (across 8 different countries!), and spent almost as much time on the road as I did in 2019 (which was my most-traveled year ever).

2023 travel by the numbers

2023 travel map
My 2023 travels mapped (via Travellers Point)

Here's my year in travel by the numbers:

  • Countries visited: 15 – USA, Spain, Morocco, Portugal, Czech Republic, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Slovenia, England, Scotland, Wales, Ecuador, Germany, France
  • US states visited: 9 – Washington state, Oregon, Arizona, New York, Washington DC, North Carolina, Michigan, Massachusetts – and also the territory of Puerto Rico
  • Total flight legs: 39
  • Days on the road: 150 (roughly 41% of the year)

Some notable things that happened this year include:

  1. I visited two new countries! – I really enjoy re-visiting places that I love to explore them more in-depth, so I actually haven't visited any new countries in the past couple of years. This year, though, I visited both Finland and Estonia for the first time!
  2. I won another award – At the SATW convention in Puerto Rico, I learned that I won a Gold Lowell Thomas Journalism Award in the “Instagram Storytelling” category for my posts about Northern Ireland last year. It's always encouraging to have your work recognized in such a professional manner.
  3. I became an auntie again! – My second nephew was born in January 2023.

My top 10 travel highlights from 2023

This is always tough to narrow down and sum up in just a paragraph or two, and to be fair I'm stretching it on a couple of these in order to fit more in… but I did it!

Here are my most memorable travel highlights from the last year:

10. Off-season in the Algarve

Ponte da Piedade in the Algarve
Ponte de Piedade in the Algarve

Just like I did back in 2019, I decided to visit Portugal after a trip to Morocco. But this time I went to a part of Portugal I skipped on my first trip: the Algarve region along Portugal's southern coast. I went to the town of Lagos specifically, which is known for its gorgeous cliffs and coastline.

I loved exploring this part of Portugal solo in the off-season – and it was even more beautiful than I expected it to be! Definitely will be back.

>> Read more: How to Spend a Fantastic 3 Days in Lagos, Portugal (Without a Car)

9. Visiting new European capitals

Helsinki Cathedral in Finland
Helsinki Cathedral

In all, I spent roughly 3 months in Europe this year, including one big 2-month-long trip over the summer. I went to 10 (I think?) different countries, and visited some new-to-me cities! Some of the most memorable new cities were 3 capitals I visited: Madrid, Spain; Helsinki, Finland; and Tallinn, Estonia. I can't believe it's taken me this long to visit all of them, to be honest!

I absolutely loved my short break in Madrid, and basically just spent my time there eating as much as possible. I fell in love with Helsinki and its green spaces and laid-back vibe in early summer, and am happy that I spent a few days in Tallinn rather than just taking a day trip there.

I enjoy visiting lesser-visited places, too, but the popular cities are usually popular for a reason.

>> Read more: 14 Essential Things to Do in Helsinki, Finland on Your First Visit

8. Re-exploring Prague

View of Prague from the Old Town Bridge Tower
View of Prague from the Old Town Bridge Tower

Speaking of European capital cities… one that I re-visited in 2023 was Prague. I was first there back in 2013 while backpacking around Europe, and I only *liked* Prague then; I didn't love it. But my second trip there was much more enjoyable!

I visited Prague with Elliot, which always makes a trip more fun. We went to a friend's wedding (also always fun!), and allowed a few days beforehand to do all the touristy things in the city. The weather was great, the architecture is just as pretty as I remember, and we even went to a beer spa!

I'm still no Prague expert, but I can certainly affirm that it's a European city well worth visiting.

>> Read more: Going to a Beer Spa in Prague: What It’s Really Like

7. Scotland and Wales road trip

Jacobite Steam Train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland
I finally saw the “Hogwarts Express” crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland

This is kind of a big one to lump all together because it was a pretty long trip through three different countries, but I did it all in one go with my two blogger friends Keryn (from Twist Travel Mag) and Tamara (from Your Time to Fly). We started with a road trip around Scotland to see all the famous sites (Edinburgh, Inverness/the Highlands, and Isle of Skye), and then drove through England to spend a week driving around Wales.

I've been to Scotland many times, but it was still great to see some new spots and re-visit old favorites. And most places we went in Wales were new to me! My favorite stops there were St. David's along the Pembrokeshire Coast, Tenby, and Hay-on-Wye (a famous book town!).

I still haven't written much about this trip yet, but I promise the content is coming in case you want to copy any part of it.

>> Read more: 25+ Awesome Things to Do in Edinburgh, Scotland

6. Road tripping the Lofoten Islands

Reine village in the Lofoten Islands with snowy mountains
Lofoten Islands with a dusting of snow

Another European road trip I did was in Norway with Elliot after our time spent in Prague. We flew to the north of Norway to explore the Lofoten Islands, which are famous for fishing villages and seriously epic views.

The weather was pretty abysmal during this trip (it rained every day and SNOWED on June 1st), but I still really enjoyed visiting this small corner of the world. Because the Lofoten Islands aren't huge and we spent a whole 5 days there, it meant we could take things slow and enjoy ourselves without a set itinerary (which Elliot always loves!).

The landscapes were everything I had hoped for, and I have fond memories of cozy fishing cabins despite the rain.

>> Read more: 15 Things to Know Before Visiting the Lofoten Islands in Norway and 12 Awesome Things to Do in the Lofoten Islands in Norway

5. Ringing in the New Year in the PNW

Amanda in a yellow raincoat walking through mossy trees in the Hoh Rainforest
Me in the Hoh Rainforest on New Year's Day

I began 2023 in a cute motel room in the town of Forks, Washington. My friend Shawna and I have traveled over New Year's a few times now, and last year we chose the Pacific Northwest for our adventure!

We road tripped from Seattle around the Olympic Peninsula and into northern Oregon, spending New Year's Day walking the magical trails of the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park. It was a fun, relaxed trip, and I'm so excited I finally got to visit this little corner of Washington state especially.

>> Read more: Olympic National Park in Winter: Things to Do + Helpful Tips for Visiting

4. Re-visiting Morocco

Amanda and Ashley in front of a juice stand in Marrakech
Ashley and I with delicious juice in Marrakech

I first went to Morocco in 2019, and absolutely loved my time in the country. So much so that I planned to take a tour with my readers back to Morocco in March of 2020 – which of course got canceled. My friend Ashley was supposed to be on that 2020 trip, and when she decided to finally re-book it in 2023, I offered to go with her. It ended up being the BEST decision.

Ashley and I have been blogging friends for years, and we even traveled together once before. But not like this. In Morocco, we shared everything from a hotel room to meals to endless inside jokes. I have never laughed until I cried so frequently, and I think maybe we became best friends on this trip?

Not to mention that Morocco was just as stunning and fascinating and delicious the second time around.

>> Read more: 10 Things to Know Before Visiting Chefchaouen, Morocco and What to Wear in Morocco: A Complete Morocco Packing List for Women

3. Christmas market road trip

Christmas market in front of Trier Cathedral
Trier Christmas market

This trip is the freshest in my mind since I only got home two weeks ago, but it absolutely deserves this spot on the list! I met up with my friend Tamara again (I also traveled with her in the UK this year), and we spent 10 days road tripping around Germany (and a bit of France) specifically to visit Christmas markets.

I'd been to European Christmas markets before (on a river cruise), but I'm not sure I could ever get tired of them; they were just as magical as I remembered. We visited more than a dozen towns with Christmas markets, and I probably drank my weight in mulled wine.

Some of my favorite markets were the ones in Munich, Trier, Ravenna Gorge, Ludwigsburg, and Stuttgart (all in Germany). And the Christmas decor in French cities like Strasbourg and Colmar is truly next level.

>> Read more: 5 Things You Must Do at a German Christmas Market

2. Road tripping around Slovenia

Lake Bled from above
Lake Bled (and no, that water is not edited!)

After our epic trip to Morocco, Ashley and I decided we need to plan another trip together ASAP. We settled on a June road trip around Slovenia, a country I'd been to only briefly 10 years before, and a place Ashley really wanted to visit.

True to form for us, the trip was filled with tons of laughter, incredible scenery, and one or two misadventures. We drove all over Slovenia on this trip, visiting Ljubljana, Lake Bled, Triglav National Park, Piran, the karst region, Maribor, and more. We went on hikes, ate cream cake, slept inside a beehive, and marveled at scenery around every corner.

Slovenia is seriously one of the most beautiful places in the world.

>> Read more: 12 Fantastic Things to Do in Ljubljana, Slovenia (& Why You’ll LOVE This City!)

1. Cruising the Galapagos Islands

Amanda and Dad in the Galapagos
Dad and I in the Galapagos

While I had so many truly incredible adventures this year, choosing my #1 on this list was actually easy: it had to be the cruise I took with my dad to the Galapagos Islands. Going to the Galapagos has been on my bucket list for years, and I'm so glad my dad wanted to go with me – it was fun to share this once-in-a-lifetime trip with him.

This cruise was everything I dreamed of and more. We saw giant tortoises up close, swam with sea lions, hiked in some insane landscapes, and even saw penguins!! (Who knew there were penguins at the equator?)

The Galapagos Islands are an absolute must-visit for any wildlife lover.

>> Read more: 11 Things to Know Before Going on a Galapagos Cruise and Pros and Cons of a Galapagos Small Ship Cruise

This isn't everything, either! There was also a romantic weekend in Scottsdale, Arizona with Elliot; a couple visits to Washington, DC; a solo trip to the Brunswick Islands in North Carolina; exploring Ludington, Michigan in the summer; and a trip to Puerto Rico for a couple days with Elliot.

All in all, an incredible year of travel!

2023 adventure recap collage

My “bests” of the year

Here are a few random “bests” of 2023 that I thought would be fun to share.

Best new destination: Probably has to be the Galapagos Islands! Though the Lofoten Islands, Olympic Peninsula, and Helsinki are all places I loved, too.

Best place I stayed: Again, this is tough. But I think the luxury camp we stayed at in the Sahara Desert in Morocco has to win for sheer uniqueness (we even arrived by camel!). I also loved the historic fisherman's cabin Elliot and I stayed in at Nusfjord Arctic Resort in Norway, and checking out the newly-opened Bracken Hide on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

Best thing I ate: I'm not sure I'm properly remembering every single thing I ate this past year, but my most recent trip to Christmas markets in Germany certainly comes to mind. The Flammlachs (flamed salmon) sandwich I had in Munich was definitely a favorite, as was a particularly crispy Käsewurst (cheesy sausage) in Freiburg.

Best historical site: I visited plenty of historic sites this year, but perhaps the most impressive new-to-me one was St. David's Cathedral in Wales, which dates back to the 1180s. It was declared an official pilgrimage site by the Pope, with two pilgrimages to St. David's equalling one to Rome. The Cathedral is beautiful, and even has some medieval tile preserved inside.

St. David's Cathedral in Wales
St. David's Cathedral

Best tour I took: The “Ultimate Spanish Food Tour” I took with Walks/Devour Tours in Madrid still makes my mouth water to think about. It's definitely one of the best food tours I've ever taken, both in terms of content/context and the amount of food included.

Best wildlife encounter: Swimming with penguins in the Galapagos! I didn't even expect to see penguins there, let alone expect that I'd be swimming close enough to reach out and hug them (which of course I did not do!).

Best photo I took: I'm probably forgetting a few photos here or there, but these are two I'm definitely proud of: one from a misty Cape Flattery in Washington State, and another of a blue footed booby bird diving to catch fish in the Galapagos.

Cape Flattery in Washington State
Blue footed booby diving in the Galapagos
Blue footed booby diving in the Galapagos

I hope you also had a memorable 2023, and here's to an even better 2024! I have a lot already in the works, including visiting Peru, taking my mom on a river cruise, seeing Taylor Swift in Sweden, and much more! I can't even imagine what next year's wrap-up will look like.

How was your 2023? What was your top travel highlight?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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