2023: The Travel Year in Review
In all my years of compiling end-of-year travel recaps, I have had a lot of good years. Like 2016, when I visited 29 countries in a single year. Or 2011, when I graduated college and moved back to Spain. Or how about 2013, when I spent the summer hopping around Europe before moving to Australia? But with the wisdom gained from nine whole days of reflection, I can confidently assert that 2023 was a year that rivaled the best of them.
As I shared in more detail in my last post, I found myself unexpectedly laid off at the end of 2022. But I quickly picked myself up and dedicated myself to making 2023 exceptional—and I succeeded! I traveled to five foreign countries (including four net new ones), planned a series of domestic trips, kept my head up while tackling the dispiriting task of job hunting, eventually found a job that was worth the wait, and made time for all the things that make life great, like eating good food, learning new things, and spending time with people I love.
Despite a rocky start to the year—recovering from my first (and so far only, knock on wood) bout of COVID—things quickly turned around. Egypt was calling! Joining an Intrepid Travel group, we kicked off our excursion in Cairo (and Giza), then we made our way to Alexandria, Aswan, and Abu Simbel, caught a Nile River cruise from Aswan to Luxor with a stop at Kom Ombo, explored Luxor (including the Valley of the Kings and Karnak), then returned to Cairo and Giza. In each destination, we roamed temples, ruins, and tombs galore, and Egypt consistently astounded me with its rich history and culture. After saying goodbye to the two-thirds of the group who wouldn’t be continuing on, I wrapped up January by catching a flight to Amman, Jordan for the next leg of my adventure.
I know I’ve spent the last few years making promises about upcoming content and then just…rarely ever posting, but I really do want to give a more in-depth play-by-play of my time in Egypt, and I have a post about the first day underway. Here’s to 2024 granting me the resolve to finish a blog post or two (or ten).
The Jordan leg of my Intrepid tour turned out to be just as—if not more—incredible than Egypt. We started February by driving from Amman to the Wadi Rum desert, where we rode 4x4s in, camels out, and slept in tents in between. From there, we thawed out in the coastal city of Aqaba, toured the absolutely incredible Petra, and made a brief stop in Madaba before returning to Amman. And on the final full day of the trip, we visited the Roman ruins of Jerash, then drove out to the Dead Sea where the waters were sadly too stormy for a float.
After a final day of free time in Jordan, I flew to Rome and reunited with my boyfriend Truman, who had been exploring Italy solo for nearly two weeks. We ate, drank, and strolled our way through Rome, then hitched a sleeper train to Palermo, Sicily. Over the next week, we traversed Sicily with stays in Messina, Syracuse (and its island of Ortigia), and Catania, plus day trips to Noto and Taormina. This was my fifth trip to Italy, and each visit has shown me a whole new layer of the country. Finally experiencing Italy on a non-student/backpacker budget proved delightful (another €4 mezzo litro of house wine? Certo!), and I absolutely loved the laid-back, quiet vibes of Sicily in the off season. I can’t wait for my sixth trip to Italy, whenever that may come.
From Sicily, we hopped aboard a pre-dawn Ryanair flight (oh the joy and heartbreak that airline has delivered me through the years!) destined for Malta. When I lived in Spain, I was fortunate enough to visit nearly every European country, but Malta was one of the few that had eluded me. We stayed in the capital, Valletta, where we unexpectedly landed smack dab in the middle of Carnival celebrations, and ventured out to the towns of Birgu, Mdina, Rabat, and Senglea. Malta was well worth the wait and proved to be the perfect destination for wrapping up an incomparable month-long journey.
Back in the U.S., we had a few days to recover from our trek before driving up to San Jose, California to celebrate the wedding of one of my best college friends (and long-time host of this blog!), Michael, to his bride Kelly.
My job hunt began in March, but I still found plenty of time for recreation. That month’s fun really started when I joined my mom for an extended weekend in Kauai, Hawaii. As a kid, I was completely smitten with Hawaii, but, before this year, I hadn’t been in nearly a decade. I relished this opportunity to uncover the island’s natural splendor alongside my lifetime travel buddy.
The other big theme of the month was college basketball: my mom and I watched the UCLA women’s basketball team compete in March Madness here in L.A., and, a few days later, we followed the men’s basketball team to Las Vegas for their March Madness Sweet Sixteen. While the men’s game was a disappointing loss for our beloved Bruins, I always enjoy a quick trip to Vegas, and witnessing both March Madness tournaments in person was pretty darn cool for a pair of college basketball fans.
Late April brought me to Dallas, Texas to visit my cousin Kyle, his wife, and their three young kids. My cousin Nicola, who joined us from Arizona, completed the family gathering. This was my first trip to Dallas, and we skipped the typical tourist attractions, but I welcomed the opportunity to reconnect with family and get a glimpse into Kyle’s new Texan life.
A few days later, Truman and I headed up to Portland, Oregon and took up residence in his parents’ home while they were away. We usually visit Portland a few times a year, but this was one of our best trips yet, as we made a point of venturing out more than usual to explore all Portland has to offer.
My favorite month of the year! Maybe that’s a bit self-centered of me, since the primary reason I love May is because it’s my birthday month. I also love the festive feeling of summer being just around the corner, and I always try to pack my Mays with memorable trips and activities.
Our Portland trip continued into the first few days of May. Then, the weekend before my birthday, my dad and I flew up to the San Jose area to visit my sister in Los Altos and see John Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival perform. The concert was at a beautiful winery in Saratoga, and we felt like truly fortunate daughters singing along with CCR’s hits as a family.
A few days after that, Truman and I embarked on a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where I celebrated my birthday. I went to Puerto Vallarta a handful of times as a child (and it’s honestly probably one of the big reasons I became interested in Spanish, which led to me moving to Spain, which led to a lifetime of travel), but I hadn’t been in decades. It’s certainly touristy, and there are several Mexican destinations I prefer, but it was a beautiful, relaxing place to commemorate turning 34.
The first weekend in June, my mom, Truman, and I met my sister and her boyfriend in Paso Robles, California in honor of my mom’s birthday. We spent the weekend in a lovely Airbnb and sipped our way through the area’s scenic wineries. All in all, a fantastic family weekend.
Later in the month, we returned to Portland for Truman’s mom’s birthday and Father’s Day. Despite snow in June (?!), it was yet another ideal trip with loads of quality family and friend time.
We started July by joining our friends John, Selina, and their dog/our beloved dog nephew Milo (RIP) on a day trip to Julian, California and nearby spots like Lake Cuyamaca.
The following week, I returned to the San Jose area for a sendoff game for the U.S. women’s national soccer team, who were heading to the World Cup the next day. While the World Cup didn’t turn out as we’d all hoped, seeing the team play in person and then watching their games throughout July (including some at 3am!) turned out to be one of the highlights of my year.
Oh, and I almost forgot the biggest news of July: after months of job hunting, I finally landed and started a new job! As a result, I wound up skipping Truman’s annual family trip to Lummi Island, Washington, but I’d say I had a pretty cool excuse for doing so.
I spent August settling in to my new job, so I ventured no farther than Orange County that month. But I still enjoyed the end of summer with friends, family, a visit from our dog nephew, and cozy nights at home.
In September, my mom, sister, aunt, uncle, and I met up in Basye, Virginia to celebrate my grandma Nana’s birthday. We had a wonderful time reconnecting over wine, board games, and rural scenery. The trip also included a turbo tour of Washington D.C. on the way back to the airport.
Otherwise, I stuck close to home in September, though highlights included a few UCLA football games and Knott’s Scary Farm’s opening night.
My cousins and I met up for a family weekend in Scottsdale, Arizona in October. While Scottsdale may not be the most exciting destination in the world, it was the perfect meeting spot for the three of us, and I had a ball catching up with my cousins. I can’t wait for our next trip together.
In non-travel news, I really got into the Halloween spirit this year with tons of festivities around L.A., like attending Halloween parties, visiting a pumpkin patch, seeing Halloween lights, reliving old traditions by going to a Rocky Horror screening with my high school friends, experiencing Olvera Street’s Day of the Dead procession, and doing a North Hollywood ghost tour. My friends from Australia, Jo and Ari, were in town for some of the fun, making this spooky season all the more memorable.
In November, Truman and I returned to Mexico for a trip we’d been looking forward to for years. Our friends John and Selina were getting married in Guanajuato, giving us a fabulous excuse to visit what turned out to be one of the cutest towns I’ve seen. The wedding was beautiful, and the company was impeccable.
From there, we caught a bus to Mexico City, where we first spent a few days working remotely in a swanky Roma Norte Airbnb while discovering the neighborhood’s culinary scene. Then we took advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday by embarking on a street food tour, venturing out to the city’s famed Estadio Azteca for a women’s soccer game, cruising on the colorful boats of Xochimilco, and eating some of the best food in the world. My expectations for Mexico City were sky high before the trip, and reality easily surpassed those expectations. I could honestly go back to Mexico City every year.
I stuck close to home again in December, though who can complain after having spent so much of the year traveling? It was a wonderful month with visits from family, good times with friends, great meals out, and a delightful family Christmas. Truman and I said farewell to 2023 in the best way we could imagine: lounging on our couch, donning fluffy robes, and sipping wine.
A year that began with discouraging challenges transformed into one of my best years yet. I am immensely fortunate to not only have escaped unemployment relatively unscathed but to have used that period to amass a treasure trove of new memories. From the mesmerizing wonders of Egypt to the vibrant streets of Mexico City and quiet moments at home, each month brought new adventures I’ll be looking back on for years to come.
As I enter my 17th year of this blog, I want to thank all of you who have accompanied me on my roaming reveries through the years. While I may not be as active on here as I once was, I continue to find endless fulfillment in sharing my reflections, and it just wouldn’t be the same without you. I hope 2024 showers you with love, joy, peace, and the all the travel you dream of.