My 13 Best Travel Moments of 2013

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In a year of travel taking me from Austria to Australia, Boston to Bangkok, Malta to Macedonia, Kyoto to Koh Lanta, the good times have been so good. To commemorate the year, I decided to do a round-up of my best travel moments of 2013.

Rest assured, as good as the times rolled, it certainly wasn’t all good. I’ll be talking about the worst moments of 2013 momentarily. For now, enjoy these moments of travel joy and happiness.


Maiko Sighting in Kyoto

Spotting a Maiko in Kyoto

Becki and I were on the hunt for geisha, hoping that we could spot one of the elusive women on the way to an appointment in the alleys of Gion, Kyoto’s traditional neighborhood. And then we saw her — a maiko, or apprentice geisha, decked out in the beautiful clothing, her hair perfectly lacquered and ornamented, with a porcelain face and blood-red lips.

It was as if she was leading a parade — people were racing after her, taking photos. I joined in and snapped this one shot before she disappeared into a tavern.

Dolphins in Plettenberg Bay

Seeing Dolphins Breach in Plettenberg Bay

While I’ve never been the kind of girl who grew up obsessed with dolphins, I was incredibly moved by seeing them in real life. We were in Plettenberg Bay, one of the most beautiful places on South Africa’s Garden Route, and our boat veered into the surf, where dolphins appeared again and again, their fins poking above the surface.

I could have watched them all day.

Picknicking All Afternoon in Paris

Is there anything more Parisian than spending an afternoon in the shade of the Eiffel Tower, feasting on bread, cheese, fruit, meats with the occasional swig of cider and a perfectly made cake by an expert pastry chef? I couldn’t imagine anything better.

This experience was made better by the friends — Edna, Ashley, Julika, along with the many new friends that filtered in and out over the course of an afternoon. By the time we left, I realized that it was 9:00 PM — though the sun was only beginning to set — and we had been picknicking a solid six hours!

My First New York Photo Walk

In April, I purchased my first DSLR: a Nikon D5100 with a Tamron 17-50 lens. This purchase was long overdue and it improved my photography immensely.

To try it out, I decided to go for a photo walk in New York, focusing on Greenwich Village and SoHo. It was such a fun day — I loved walking around and exploring together, trying out different shots and comparing our results. I had so much fun, I did a second photo walk from Chinatown to Brooklyn Heights. From that point on, photo walks have become one of my favorite things to do!

Buley Rockhole

Swimming in Rockholes in the Northern Territory

It’s the afternoon and the blaze of the Australian sun is beating down in brutal Kakadu National Park. We’re hiking 20 minutes through the jungle, and the legendary flies of Maguk are incessant, buzzing around our ears more of less continuously. It’s uncomfortable. We’re tired, we’re hot, and we need a break — and there’s a rockhole, filled with water and absolutely no crocodiles.

Slipping into that cool water is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Swimming in rockholes along the way and finding that relief of cool water was one of the best things about visiting the Northern Territory.

Our awesome group in Cintsa

Finishing our South Africa Road Trip in Cintsa

My South Africa road trip this May was one of the best trips I have ever taken. If I could live it all over again, doing everything exactly the same, I would. (Except I’d ride an ostrich in Oudtshoorn this time.) I put together a South Africa road trip guide so that people can do this exact trip and enjoy it as much as I did!

Cintsa, a beachfront town on the wild and remote Eastern Cape, was the best possible place to celebrate the end of our journey. We climbed the soft sand dunes and toasted organic beers made in a nearby brewery without running water, acknowledging that the journey we had made had been one we would remember forever.


Wine Tasting in Chianciano Terme

Wine Tasting in Chianciano Terme, Tuscany

I’ve done a lot of wine tasting sessions all over the world, from South Africa to the US to Croatia, but my favorite tastings have been in Italy. The absolute best wine tasting of my life took place in Chianciano Terme, a lovely lesser-visited Tuscan town.

This tasting was part of the G Adventures Local Living Southern Tuscany trip, and it took place at Agricola Fontanelle, a winery run by three brothers. But what made the tasting outstanding is that it took place within their walk-in cellar and featured copious samples of their hand-cured meats. I am a fiend for cured meats and these are some of the best I have ever have. This is where I fell in love with finocchiona, a salami cured with lots of fennel. Between the finocchiona and the red wine, I was in heaven.

Katrinka, Tom, Kate and Mario in Kumkapi

Eating and Photographing Everything in Istanbul

When you bring people together who love food and photography, and you throw them into a delicious and visually interesting as Istanbul, magical things happen.

Longtime expat Katrinka made it her mission to show off the best of Istanbul to me and Tom. The three of us spent a day exploring Kadikoy on the Asian side, then we went to Kumkapi to check our the Armenian neighborhood. We photographed steep staircases, Armenian churches, bright sunsets over Sultanahmet, and veiled women gossiping in the squares. We gorged ourselves on Turkish pide, cigkofte, and the most amazing meatballs stuffed with cherries, washed down with frequent coffee and tea breaks.

Kate on the Sydney Bridgeclimb

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Finally getting to do the Sydney Harbour Bridgeclimb was a decade-long dream come true. From the first time I saw this on the second season of The Amazing Race, I knew I wanted to do it whenever I made it to Australia someday. But when it came time to actually plan a trip to Sydney, I faltered. Could I handle it, or would it be scary?

Turns out it wasn’t scary or difficult whatsoever. I loved every minute of it. I felt powerful, standing on top of the city. I got to see the uncanny beauty of Sydney’s harbor, characterized by islets of land, one after the other. It brought an enormous smile to my face, and the sense of accomplishment will always make me remember Sydney with a smile.

Kate Turns 29 in Dubai

Turning 29 on Top of the World in Dubai

Birthdays are for doing something epic and memorable. When it looked like we would be in Dubai for my 29th birthday, I wanted to celebrate in style: on top of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. While I planned on going to the observation deck, my friend Simon, a longtime Dubai expat, suggested I skip the observation deck and go to At.mosphere, the bar on top, instead.

This turned out to be the best decision and is now my top tip for anyone planning a trip to Dubai. It’s free to go to the bar, though men have a spending minimum of 200 AED ($54 USD), which we put toward a pair of cocktails and a pair of mocktails, all made with exotic ingredients like gold leaf and camel milk. Celebrating in the Guinness-acknowledged highest restaurant in the world from ground level was the perfect way to celebrate the final birthday of my twenties.

Klong Dao Koh Lanta

Making a very happy return to Koh Lanta, Thailand.

Whenever people ask me what my favorite places in the world are, Koh Lanta is one of the first places that I always mention. This island is so wonderful and peaceful, and while it’s not off the beaten path, it’s far less a victim of tourism than Koh Phi Phi or Phuket.

When it came time to return to Lanta three years later, I was worried that it has changed. It turns out I had nothing to worry about. The island is still home to long, clean, golden beaches that aren’t remotely crowded, even during the busiest time of year. The people are still kind, welcoming, and eager to help. But the intangible thing about this island is just how much it brings me peace.

Koh Lanta is good for my soul, and I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate the holidays and bring on 2014.

What was your favorite travel moment of 2013?

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58 thoughts on “My 13 Best Travel Moments of 2013”

  1. An amazing year in travel! I loved seeing some of the moments that I’ve read about…and some I haven’t. I hope to put a few of these places, like Istanbul and Malta, on my list for 2014.

    Think you can top this next year? 🙂

  2. Great moments u got there Kate!

    Hmm since u asked…well if I had to pick one, my greatest travel moment would be seeing the majestic Niagara Falls for the first time – Toronto side. More the reason as it wasn’t even a planned trip….all these while it was just something I saw in pictures or on TV, and suddenly there it is in its full glory…simply an amazing moment.

  3. Aww so sweet of you to have included our picnic, it was such a great afternoon! So happy that you and Mario were able to join! And what a year it’s been for you, nice work 😉

  4. Hands down my best friend’s (and NYC host) husband greeting me with a pint of cold Bud Light – something I missed like crazy in Russia and hadnt had in 6 months. It’s all about the little things.

  5. Kate, I stumbled upon your blog planning for SE Asia and now I love it. We’ll be in Koh Lanta a few days after NYE and if we happen to cross paths I will try really, really hard not to gush! You’re tops in our books. Hope you’re having a great time letting your peace sink in.

  6. Kadikoy is up there for me, too! I loved just chilling out, watching the sunset over the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya and Topkapi Palace, seeing the dolphins in the river (from afar), and of course THE FOOD. All the food. I’ll hopefully be off to Japan with my brother next year, and I’d love to see Kyoto and indulge in a spot of geisha hunting myself. Did you ever read ‘Memoirs of a Geisha?’ Such an amazing book (but a pretty blah film).

    For me, my favourite moment is probably sitting on the Potemkin Steps in Odessa, after stumbling upon a free public screening of Sunrise, a silent movie from 1927. The Ukrainian National Orchestra provided the music, and the Black Sea was the backdrop. It was perfect! Pottering around Belgrade, family meals at La Bonne Cécile in Paris (my favourite restaurant in the entire world), and my days in Montreal would be up there, too. So many great memories from this year 🙂

    1. I did read Memoirs of a Geisha, Tom — I think it was back in high school, though. A long time ago.

      I still can’t believe that we saw dolphins in the Bosphorus! Talk about unexpected!

      Your inspiration might get be to Moldova and/or Odessa next year…

  7. Great to read about your travel experiences! My favorite travel moment was in the desert in Rajasthan – it was scary, exciting and enriching! It was solo in a desert with a couple of strangers. I got to learn a bit about their simple, yet charming life…

  8. My favorite moment of 2013 was probably finally seeing the aurora borealis in Iceland. What a beautiful country! I hope you did not have too many worst moments of 2013. However, I like that you will be highlighting the good and the bad of your year! Happy holidays.

  9. Wow, what an amazing year! How exciting for you. I also got engaged while traveling this year – on a vineyard walk along Lake Geneva in Switzerland. But my favorite travel moment was probably snowshoeing in Burlington, Vermont, the morning after a huge snow dump. I also walked across the Charles Bridge in Prague, saw a flamenco show in Madrid and hiked up to the Acropolis in Athens, but Burlington really stole my heart. 🙂

  10. What an exciting year! And no wonder Koh Lanta was part of the highlights of the year for you. I have to say I fell in love for Koh Lanta in every sense of the word as well and can’t wait to go back.

    Let’s see what 2014 will bring!

  11. What an amazing year, Kate! So many highlights in your travel and personal life!
    I was so excited to see that our picnic in Paris made into this list too — it definitely was one of my favorite travel moments in 2013 as well!

  12. I’ve heard so many good things about Thailand. Glad it made for a good travel moment this year. I also love the photo walk in NY. I am thinking about taking a day trip there just to photograph different things in the city.

  13. I heard about Koh Lanta through blogs and we made it our island to visit in Thailand. I loved it, but I have to admit it was not quite as pristine as I imagined – there were definitely a lot of empty plastic bottles along the edge of the beach 🙁 Thailand overall saddened me for all the recyclable waste I saw lying around outdoors.

  14. Great travel highlights from 2013! I loved being able to read about some I had not caught the first time around. As a native Bostonian, it is nice to hear that Mario loved Massachusetts and New England. Santarpio’s and Modern are two of the best! My favorite travel moment was making it to Venice. It has been escaping me for so long and it a unique place!

  15. 2013 is going to be hard to top for you! Congratulations on your engagement and here’s to a fantastic 2014 for you and Mario.

    I’d have to say my best travel moment of 2013 was doing my first dive in Key Largo as a newly certified scuba diver. Definitely the start of a new obsession!

  16. Wow what a wonderful year! Malta is one of my favourite destinations though this year not on our destination list (its a biannual treat) So much to choose from as we have been lucky enough to travel to Singapore, Switzerland, Australia and Southern ireland but the highlight comes from our final destination this year…Norway. Torn between a stroll through the small town of Laerdal with its beautiful houses and a ferry ride from Gudvangen to Flam….the beauty of the fjord was breathtaking and I spent most of the time wondering why it had taken me 34 years since my first visit to return. I recommend Norway – its a must see! We are now planning our trip via the trans-Mongolian express to Beijing and then onto south east Asia. So pleased i found your blog….I spent my 20’s travelling and am lucky enough over 20 years later to re-embark on a life of travel. Comgratulations on your engagement and i look forward to following your blog in 2014!

  17. Busy year you’ve had! I’ve also had a diverse year and I guess the highlight must be… deciding to move to Bali, kinda on a whim. Let’s see what 2014 brings!

  18. Wow! You are truly my inspiration! Thank you for sharing! I hope to start my world adventure in March. Congrats on your engagement! Merry Christmas and happy new year!

  19. Those days in Istanbul really were something special. Probably one of the best weeks of my summer– I started that week in Vermont with my family, spend the middle with you guys in Istanbul, and ended it in Batumi and Tbilisi! I’m glad your trip here made the list… mission accomplished 🙂

  20. What an amazing year Kate! I look forward to hearing more of the same!

    I’d say my favourite travel moment of 2013, was going to London with my then 10.5 year old son. I’m British and I live in Germany and although my son had been to the UK many times of course, he’d only been to London once!

    In January 2013, I took him to a different London. We spent most of the time at the theatre and in London’s West End, I took him to China Town, the Docklands, the Museum of London and to many, many old bookshops. He loved it!
    To cap it all, I wanted to give him an experience he would never forget so we took the coach (bus) from Berlin to London via ferry!

    It wasn’t the cheapest way but we had an adventure together and I’m happy to say that my boy is indeed, a traveller!

    P.S. My German husband stayed at home. Not for him the discomfort of a rocking, long-distance coach (bus) LOL!

  21. Love your blog and it gave me great inspiration when organising my own long-term trip which I just completed. Just spent Christmas with the family and it was a great end to an amazing and unforgettable year! I can’t top your 22 countries but I did make it to 10 with a trip to West-Coast USA and the Caribbean planned for early 2013!

    My own personal highlights included seeing the Taj Mahal, driving through Rajasthan, spending a day at an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, eating some scrummy Thai food, seeing wild orangutans and pygmy elephants in Borneo, tobogganing down the Great Wall and spotting a geisha in Kyoto (which I see you did too!)

    Best of luck with your continued travels and upcoming nuptials!

  22. What an amazing year, Kate – congratulations! It’s been a pleasure following along on your adventures. Wishing you the best for 2014!

    Also – Koh Lanta is one of my favourite places, too. I’m dying to go back – it was actually the first place I visited in Thailand and few places have ever come close since then.

  23. Congratulations on your wedding plans! I totally relish the idea that finding the love of your life is possible even in kinda unlikely circumstances (I hope you don’t get me wrong ^^)!

  24. How good it must be to live traveling. Always meet new people and places. I loved your site too much. Thank you for sharing this wonderful content.

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