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2023 in Review: My Top 5 Travel Experiences (& Some Bad Ones, Too!)

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Another year, come and gone – and I think it’s safe to say that here in the casa de V&V, we’ll look back on 2023 as one for the history books. It was a year of balance: a lot more time at home than usual, but for a very good reason, as Mr. V and I found out we are expecting our first child in early February 2024. We’ve already nicknamed her Baby V, and funnily enough – she went on every trip with me but one this year, so she’s already a very well-traveled human!

2023 in Review Hero

At the end of each year, I like to look back on the previous year, as well as gaze forward a little bit (by way of my yearly mantra). While this retrospection has taken many forms over the 10 years (!!!) I’ve been running this blog, I’ve enjoyed focusing myself to share just five of the top travel experiences as the year winds down.

By the numbers, 2023 included:

  • Visits to countries (the U.S., Mexico, Canada, the Maldives, England, Denmark) and states (Ohio, Texas, New Mexico, Montana, Alaska (2x), New York, and Oregon) – this is the same number for both metric as in 2022!
  • 64 days on the road (40% less than 2022!)
  • 156 new and or updated blog posts published – 39 more than 2022, or one every 2-3 days all year long!
  • 2.93 million pageviews on my site (as of December 28, 2023), or about 245,000 people per month!

With that, here are the best experiences I had while traveling this year, as well as a few of the less-than-rosy ones I didn’t choose to share but are still worth mentioning here to remind you that it’s never as glamorous as it looks in the blog/social media posts!

(P.S. In case you’re super curious or love time travel, I’ve posted these recaps for 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022.)

5. Viewing the Annular Solar Eclipse in Oregon

As my last work trip before Baby V makes her debut, I was a little worried something might go wrong and I wouldn’t get to really enjoy one more time adventuring entirely on my own terms (because, let’s face it, even once she’s born, even if I travel alone I’m just going to miss her and Mr. V so much while I’m gone!). Luckily, the trip came off without a hitch – except for a decent layer of clouds trying to ruin eclipse viewing at Crater Lake National Park… but I didn’t let that dampen my spirits!

While I’ve visited Oregon many times before, this trip was a long time in the making (since 2019!) and included a lovely drive down the Oregon Coast, exploring Central and Southern Oregon including several dark sky locations and national park sites (like Oregon Caves and Lava Beds), and a bucket list stay at the Crater Lake Lodge (most Oregonians I met were jealous I got a room at all!).

Of course, the highlight was the eclipse, even if it was bitterly cold and a little bit cloudy. Combining explorations of the American West, astronomy, and a little bit of solo travel was a nice finale to my last non-parent trip for a while!

4. Snorkeling with Sea Lion Pups in Baja

While I am the first to admit I’m not a gung-ho outdoorsy gal, there is one special outdoorsy experience that made my list this year: snorkeling with sea lion pups in Baja California as part of my third trip with Uncruise.

Snorkeling generally makes me seasick, but I pulled it together long enough for an awesome dip with some playful pups in the waters of Espiritu Santo National Park. Watched over by moms and dads on the rocks above the water level, the pups love playing by way of splashing and diving, chewing GoPros, grabbing braided hair, you name it!

This trip included some other highlights too – grey whale watching in the marine sanctuary, riding burros with rancheros, and watching enough sunsets to confirm why the Gulf of California has earned its nickname as the “Vermillion Sea.”

3. An Early Opening to Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park

While my double-doozy trip to Montana and the Yukon Territory was great all around, one particular highlight was the early opening of Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. Many people – myself included – are surprised to learn that Going-to-the-Sun Road doesn’t typically open until late June or sometimes even early July depending on the previous winter’s snowfall. In 2023, it opened up super early – on June 13th, when I was there as part of a press trip with Pursuit (a company I’ve worked with in Alaska, too).

Best of all, I had snagged a three-day vehicle reservation for Glacier National Park as part of my visit (before even knowing the road would open), so was able to explore the park a bunch, including packed into a car winding up the sides of the most breathtaking mountains I’ve ever seen.

Now I don’t say that lightly: I’ve seen the mountains in Alaska and the Canadian Rockies and some other mountain ranges too… but there is nowhere on earth quite like Glacier National Park when it comes to mountain vistas. It’s a national park everyone should see once – and definitely when Going-to-the-Sun Road is open!

2. Dining at noma in Copenhagen

As the capstone to a lovely week in London and Copenhagen including plenty of sightseeing, time with friends from my MBA program, and an outrageous amount of great food (thanks to using my own Bourdain guides to each city to help decide where to eat…), Mr. V and I had a once-in-a-lifetime meal at noma, which is one of the world’s best restaurants and is slated to close at the end of 2024.

I had secured reservations back in March when they opened for “vegetable season,” and this was what inspired Mr. V to make the trip to Europe in the first place; when you get a table for two at noma, you make sure you’re there!

The 15-course meal was weird and wonderful and something I’m so glad I had a chance to experience. Best of all, one of our servers was pregnant, which helped ease my mind about the unusual ingredients I ate (like ants, soft tofu, and mold-wrapped ice cream).

There are only a few seasons left at noma, so if you want to try and visit in 2024 before the restaurant closes permanently, here’s the place to sign up for future reservation openings.

1. A(another) Blissful Week in the Maldives

When I look back on my whole year, one of the highlights of 2023 will always be the week I spent with Mr. V in the Maldives; I was brought out (again*) for some astrotourism work and he decided to tag along to experience the magic of Milaidhoo for himself. (*This was my second trip in two years, and made the list last year too!)

Milaidhoo is a truly special resort among Maldivian properties, and made it feel more like a homecoming than a work trip; we, of course, got to relax and enjoy ourselves too – we went swimming with mantas (only a few, sadly), took extra trips to explore a nearby local island with a guide as well as the capital of Malé, ate well, made friends, and collected a LOT of treasures on the beach.

Sharing TMI, this is also where Baby V came into being – she’s a very worldly little girl, and she hasn’t even been born yet, as of writing this post!

Some of My Bad Travel Experiences This Year

It’s not all sunshine and roses, this life of travel I’ve chosen. I love the work I do – both the travel and the writing about travel – but there are lots of times things go wrong when I’m on the road, and I think it’s only fair to share those experiences too (even if you’ll rarely read about them elsewhere on my blog!). Here are some of the most notable bad travel experiences I had in 2023.

  • Detours, tight layovers, and delays, oh my! While airline travel has been tough since 2020, this year has felt like a real slap in the face: airlines are struggling for staff and to keep up with maintenance, which has resulted in so many delays and rearranged itineraries, I can’t even count them all! One notable memory is of getting routed through Dallas on my way home from Baja after learning the plane had popped TWO tires upon landing in Los Cabos and thus my original flight was cancelled. (Another bad experience is mentioned below.)
  • Discovering I was pregnant at the end of a two-week trip. As mentioned, I took two back-to-back week-long trips in June – first to Montana, then to the Yukon Territory. Both trips were fantastic, but I realized on the last night of my trip that I should maybe do a pregnancy test and … oh boy, or should I say girl! While I’m grateful both the trips were good and our girl seems to be healthy, I was not treating my body as well as a pregnant person should during those trips, which brings me a lot of guilt when I think about them.
  • A family trip to Alaska gone awry. Some of you may have been reading this site long enough to remember when I shared that I planned a trip to take my adult brother with autism to Alaska (per his request!). The trip was almost entirely an unmitigated disaster, as travel is not something he copes with well – and it resulted in almost $1000 spent to fly him back to my parents (who he lives with) halfway through the trip. Mr. V and I made the best of it with the remaining days of our trip, but I won’t be planning any trips like that for my brother again.
  • Delta being dingbats after a missed connection. On my way home from Europe in August, I missed my connecting flight to Cleveland by just a few minutes due to aircraft isues; I was four months pregnant and told that there was nothing Delta could do to help me. Begging, pleading, and a little bit of hormone-induced crying finally resulted in a comped hotel for the night, but it was really ridiculous to experience such bad service from one of my favorite airlines.

How were your travels in 2023? Any highlights to share? Or low-lights – bad experiences you (unfortunately) had too? Sound off in the comments below!

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

4 Comments

  • Rebecca

    All the best for 2024 Valerie – a HUGE change coming! My highlight of 2023 was a 3.5 month road trip around half of Australia, discovering just how amazing my own country is 🙂

    • Valerie

      Thanks s o much, Rebecca!! That sounds like an amazing road trip – I just can’t get on board with y’all’s spiders, but Uluru is high on my bucket list so I’m sure I’ll make it someday!!

  • Jenn

    2023 was wild – I had some amazing trips (taking my dad to follow the last 10 days of the Tour de France and then spending an extra week in Paris with my husband for my birthday) and some clunkers (going on too many trips to try and visit people while working during the whole trip). I do feel the strain on the airline and travel industry and hope that 2024 is a much more chill year for everyone, all over the world (which is a big ask, I know). Wishing you and Mr. V all the best with your upcoming parenthood!!

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