“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.”– Dalai Lama
As I recount our family travel adventures, from the sun-kissed beaches of the Caribbean to the mystical allure of ancient cities, each story is a testament to the beauty of exploration and the joy of rediscovering the world – both the familiar and the uncharted. Join me as we relive these moments, each a chapter in our ongoing adventure, each a step in our journey through 2023.
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Most of my family travel adventures throughout the year often involve delving deeper into already familiar places. That’s how I find the hidden gems and favorites that are off the beaten path. It’s not always about seeking new landscapes but about seeing the same scenery through different perspectives.
At least once a year, I consciously seek out the unfamiliar, immersing myself in environments where everything feels new and slightly unsettling. These are the moments where self-discovery truly happens, where we not only find ourselves but also understand who we really are. It’s an exhilarating experience, a testament to our innate, nomadic spirit. This instinct guides us to navigate and make sense of the world intuitively, embracing its vastness and diversity.
A good year is one in which I am able to just enjoy wandering anywhere. A great year is one where I get to wander far and often. Reflecting back on this year, I am astounded at the unique experiences as each etched a unique imprint in our hearts.
This year was not just about travel; it was about fulfilling long-held dreams, about crossing off those once distant places on our bucket list. It was a year where the world unfolded in all its splendid variety, inviting us to indulge in its vastness.
January: A New Year Celebration in Puerto Plata
It’s not hard to see that I’m a huge fan of Virgin Voyages so the opportunity to ring in the New Year on the Valiant Lady was irresistible when this last-minute deal appeared. It surely set the tone for a vibrant and magical year. The only downside was the brief and minor case of traveler’s sickness, unwelcome but sometimes an inevitable part of the journey.
This was particularly special for me, as it marked my first NYE out in the world, EVER. It was our second adults-only trip leaving our little ones in the capable hands of their older siblings.
If you’ve never experienced it, you need to know that there’s something very special about a Holiday cruise. They transform them into festive floating wonderlands, and this was no exception. Every corner of the ship from the elevators to the extra cozy spots was adorned with, “Sea you next year” themed decor perfect for your impromptu instagrammable snapshots.
The ship was hopping with lively parties and excitement in every direction but the great thing about Virgin is that it’s easy to find peace and solitude as well. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect place to be when ringing in the New Year. If you’re still thinking about whether or not a Virgin Voyage is for you, I highly recommend it. It’s an excellent blend of culinary delights and fun when celebrating life’s special moments.
February: Sunsets and Serenity in Pensacola and Charleston
We found ourselves re-visiting the charming towns of Pensacola, FL and Charleston, SC in February. Our days were filled with culinary adventures, wildlife encounters, and in pursuit of the perfect sunsets. Both cities have a bounty of natural beauty.
In Pensacola, our journey took us to the enchanting Gulf Breeze Zoo, a haven for animal lovers. Here, we had the joy of feeding giraffes and parakeets, and marveling at the Scottish Highland cows and camels. Each encounter was a reminder of nature’s diversity and beauty.
As the day waned, we made our way to the Shoreline Park Pavilion. It’s a place where sunsets transform into a captivating display of hues. The houses dotting the landscape, far from obstructing the view, added a unique touch to the horizon. Their silhouettes painted a serene picture, blending human settlements harmoniously with the natural splendor of the setting sun.
Charleston serves up its own blend of natural tranquility. Cypress Gardens was a pleasant mix of serenity and wildlife followed by some stunning sunset views at Mount Pleasant Memorial Park. Positioned just under the bridge, time stands still as you watch the seagrasses sway in the wind, boats leisurely pass, and the sky blazes with oranges and golds casting a fiery backdrop for the bridge’s architectural silhouette.
April: Whimsical Wonders at Atlanta Botanical Gardens
Our affection for botanical gardens is almost as much as our love for amusement parks. We found ourselves wandering in Atlanta’s Botanical gardens a few times in 2023. Its lush greenery and iconic Earth Goddess always call to me when I’m in the area. It’s the only place where you can chase after fairies, encounter giant trolls, discover fairy doors, and pretend to slay dragons. The gardens offer a haven where kids can unleash their energy while using their outdoor voices on a whimsical quest.
It’s also an educational journey where we can marvel at nature’s wonders, from the mysteries of ancient trees around the world to the busy world of bees. There’s an endless variety of plants and the lines between education and entertainment seamlessly intertwine.
We were thrilled to land at Atlanta Botanical Gardens during the Trolls: Save the Humans exhibition by Thomas Dambo. These enormous trolls ranged from 16 to 50 feet tall and were sculpted from reclaimed materials. Talk about a fairy tale come to life. Each one narrated a tale about the importance of listening to and caring for nature.
This was more than just a visit to a botanical garden but an immersive experience in a beautiful world where art, nature, and environmental consciousness converge.
May: Solo Adventures and Inspiration in Puerto Rico
Embarking on a solo adventure possesses a unique charm and I wholeheartedly believe it’s an experience everyone should savor at least once. Solo travels have this remarkable way of stripping away the usual anxieties associated with new places, allowing for a deeper, more personal exploration. This May, I found myself in Puerto Rico, a familiar yet always refreshing destination, ready to embrace new adventures on my own.
My visit coincided with the WITS travel conference, a first for me. While the conference presented an array of opportunities, I must confess, it was a mixed experience. As someone who revels in solitary wanderings, finding a connection in a crowd can be challenging. Nonetheless, the experience was valuable, offering a different perspective on travel and the chance to meet inspiring individuals.
One of the highlights was participating in a unique rum tour, vastly different from any I had experienced before. This wasn’t just about tasting exquisite rum; it was about connecting with the heart and soul of a grassroots organization. Listening to the origin story directly from one of its founders added a layer of authenticity and passion to the experience. My guide, brimming with knowledge and love for her city, made the experience truly exceptional. Her infectious enthusiasm for Puerto Rico’s culture and heritage was a standout moment of the trip.
But the crown jewel of my Puerto Rican adventure was my time in Loiza. Here, I immersed myself in learning to dance the Bomba, an experience pulsating with vibrant energy and cultural richness. This wasn’t just a dance lesson; it was an interactive journey into the heart of Puerto Rico’s soulful traditions. The session ended in a visit to a local artist’s home and studio, offering a glimpse into the creative spirit that thrives here.
June: A Milestone in Travel Journalism
This was the month I set out on my first press trip. Stepping into this new role was filled with anticipation and uncertainty. It was more than just an opportunity to explore; it was a chance to delve into the realms of professional travel journalism.
We explored from the charming historic streets of Mount Dora to the scenic vistas of Clermont, showing me new places to venture out right in my own backyard. But the true essence of this trip wasn’t in the places, it was in the incredible women I met. It was in experiencing a true girls trip among journalists, bloggers, and influencers, each with their own unique story, triumphs, and challenges. The sense of community that emerged was both unexpected and profoundly enriching. Hearing their stories, sharing experiences, and continuing to witness their successes is a reminder of the vibrant and supportive community that exists within the world of travel journalism.
This month also brought a gratifying surge in website traffic, affirming growing interest and engagement from my readers. It was a reaffirmation to the value of sharing not just destinations and experiences, but insights and knowledge that empower my fellow wanderers.
To everyone that has joined me on this journey, your support is the fuel that drives my passion to keep exploring and sharing. You help shape this platform as a resource for travel inspiration, tips, and insights. Thank you!
July: A Special Birthday Cruise with Virgin Voyages
July presented another golden opportunity that was impossible to resist – a Virgin Voyages cruise to celebrate my oldest child’s 30th birthday. As avid fans of Virgin Voyages, there was only one place for us to celebrate it. The cruise was more than just a vacation; it was a celebration of milestones and the joys of family.
The voyage also reminded us about the unpredictability of life. We encountered a few medical mishaps, marking our second such experience with Virgin. Despite these challenges, the professionalism and care shown by the Virgin team were exemplary. They handled every situation with grace and efficiency, reaffirming our trust in them. This experience serves as a gentle reminder for those with dietary restrictions to be vigilant, but also reassuring that you’re in capable hands with Virgin.
Traveling with a multi-generational group like ours often calls for a delicate balance. Virgin Voyages strikes the perfect chord in this regard, offering an adult-only adventure that doesn’t sacrifice family bonding. We’ve encountered other families with young adults, and the experience of sharing space, meals, and fun events is unparalleled. It’s a unique way to navigate the evolving dynamics of adult parent-child relationships.
A practical tip for fellow travelers planning such a trip: always inform your travel agent if you wish to travel with another party. This ensures your bookings are aligned, making it simpler to schedule joint dinners, excursions, and, importantly, to celebrate those special, once-in-a-lifetime moments together.
August: Celebrations and Milestones
August was a month of festivity in our household, marked by the ninth birthday of our youngest – a significant milestone as she approached the brink of double digits. To celebrate this special year, we threw a Barbie-themed fiesta, mindful of our budget yet abundant in creativity and joy. If you didn’t catch it on social media, we shared tips on how to create your own life-size Barbie box, a centerpiece that brought delight and laughter to our gathering. It was a heartwarming sight to see everyone, adorned in pink, striking poses inside the box, embracing their inner Barbie or Ken with playfulness.
This time of year is a whirlwind of celebrations, from July to October, our calendar is dotted with birthdays and our wedding anniversary. Each occasion blending into the festive momentum that ends just as the holiday season begins. In a family as large as ours, ensuring that each member feels uniquely celebrated can be a challenge. Our solution? Personalized themes for each birthday, a tradition that underscores the individuality and significance of each family member. It’s our way of showing that each person holds a distinct and cherished place in our hearts.
Through these themed celebrations, we not only honor another year of life but also create more unforgettable memories. Each party, each theme, is a reflection of the personality and spirit of its honoree, and hopefully a cherished moment for years to come.
September: Universal Studios and Legoland Adventures
September brought us into another round of birthday celebrations, this time with adventures at amusement parks during one of the best times of the year – post-back-to-school season. This little-known secret is a game-changer: the parks are quieter, more navigable, and the lines for rides are significantly shorter, allowing us to enjoy our favorite attractions back-to-back with minimal wait.
At Legoland, staying at the Pirate Hotel proved to be a fantastic decision. Its proximity meant we could be among the first to enter the park, stepping right into a world of imaginative fun an hour before opening. The convenience of this on-site accommodation added a layer of ease and relaxation to our Legoland experience.
Universal Studios, on the other hand, offered a different kind of magic. We chose to stay at Loews Royal Pacific Resort, and it didn’t disappoint. The resort not only provided a comfortable stay but also came packed with perks like early park entry, a quick walk or ferry ride to the gates, and express unlimited passes – the ultimate win for any theme park enthusiast. This meant less time waiting in lines and more time immersed in the thrills of the park.
And speaking of thrills, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure was the undisputed highlight. This ride is an absolute must-try – it’s an electrifying and magical experience that’s well worth any wait. However, with the express pass, we were lucky to enjoy it with minimal delay. And if you have a non-rider, no worries, they can wait inside near the embarkation point until your ride is over.
A special tip for those celebrating: don’t forget to pick up a birthday pin at check-in or guest services. It’s a wonderful way to receive birthday wishes throughout the day from both staff and fellow park-goers. Sometimes, this little pin can even bring pleasant surprises like treats and special announcements, making the birthday experience at the parks even more memorable.
October: Chicago Nostalgia and Peaceful Reflections
Growing up in Chicago has its many blessings and there’s nothing like heading back to your hometown to share some of your favorite things with the family. Despite my usual aversion to cold temperatures and snow, there’s something undeniably magical about this season that rekindles warmth in my heart. Watching my family revel in the joys of fall – from savoring candy apples to partaking in the lively bustle of harvest festivals, and taking brisk walks in the forest while playfully identifying the color-changing poison ivy – these moments are nothing short of treasured.
Lately, my personal life has navigated through turbulent waters, with the past two years marked by my mother’s health challenges. Trips back to Chicago during this period were often overshadowed by a sense of unrest and business. However, this particular visit was different; there was a semblance of peace, a gentle reminder of the importance of being present and embracing change. Life, in its relentless ebb and flow, teaches us resilience – the art of adapting to new realities and finding comfort in them, even when they deviate from what we once knew.
For those exploring the South Suburbs of Chicago during autumn, I have a couple of heartwarming recommendations. Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farm is a delightful haven of fall festivities, a place where memories are as plentiful as the pumpkins. And for a taste of nostalgia, Foxes Pizza is a must-visit. Their pizza, a culinary staple of my past, stands unrivaled – with its perfectly thin and crispy crust, subtly spicy sauce, and fresh Italian sausage. Each bite is a reminiscence of the days gone by, a flavor that, for me, is unmatched anywhere else, especially here in Florida. Just thinking about it now, I can almost taste the familiar and comforting flavors.
November: An International Family Odyssey
I can hardly express the exhilaration and anxiety that preceded this anticipated journey. Amid the tumultuous world events of October, particularly the unsettling developments in the Middle East, our plans were thrown into uncertainty as our eagerly-awaited cruise was abruptly canceled. The dilemma of whether to proceed with our trip was a significant one, especially considering our destination: Egypt, a land steeped in history yet not directly embroiled in the crisis.
In the face of uncertainty, I took solace in meticulous planning – reviewing insurance policies, credit card protections, and company policies repeatedly. Despite no perfect solutions, we decided to forge ahead, a decision that, in retrospect, I am incredibly grateful for.
Our time in Istanbul and Egypt wasn’t just memorable; it was transformative. Istanbul, with its harmonious blend of history and modernity, left an indelible impression. The echoing calls to prayer provided a soothing soundtrack to our exploration, while the vibrant culinary scene was a feast for the senses.
But it was Egypt that truly captured my heart. Standing within the ancient walls of Dendera Temple, I experienced a moment of profound awe. The temple, a testament to the grandeur of the past, stood serene and majestic. The vividly colored ceiling and the architectural marvel of its winding staircase leading to the roof were more than just sights; they were gateways into a bygone era. The feeling of walking down the slanted pathway, immersed in the history that surrounded me, is something I will cherish forever. Dendera wasn’t just a visit; it was a dream realized.
The journey also included a brief but enchanting stop in London, a city that instantly felt like it was calling me back. Navigating the Underground was a breeze, and the vibrant life pulsating in even the seemingly smaller neighborhoods was a delight to experience.
This odyssey taught me an invaluable lesson: Travel with curiosity, take sensible precautions, but most of all, follow your instincts. There’s a time for seeking approval, and there’s a time for trusting your own judgment. Life’s too short to constantly seek validation for your desires. Sometimes, it’s about embracing the experiences the world has to offer, growing from them, and finding your own path in the vast tapestry of global exploration.
December: A Heart Full of Memories
As we wind down to the end of 2023, I am immersed in a sea of memories. Each moment etched deeply in my heart and more precious than the previous one. This life, with its surreal blend of adventures and everyday moments, never ceases to amaze me. Each year has unfolded with more opportunities than the last, allowing me and my children to explore further, delve deeper, and grow closer. This journey, once a mere figment of my dreams, has blossomed into a reality that fills me with immense gratitude.
My hope extends beyond merely sharing these stories; it’s about sharing the ways and means that could inspire others to craft their own adventurous life well-lived, regardless of the challenges they face.
As I write this, my 2024 plans are a blank canvas. It’s scary and kind of thrilling at the same time. It’s a reminder that the future, with all its unknowns, is also a realm of endless possibilities. Opportunities have a way of revealing themselves when least expected, often at the most opportune moments. So, stay ready, stay hopeful. Your next great adventure is just around the corner, waiting to be discovered.
Florida Local Family Travel Adventures: From Miami to Orlando
Exploring Florida, especially its vibrant cities like Miami, is always an adventure. I’ve heard many express disappointment with Miami, and I understand. My initial visits left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed. However, I persisted, determined to uncover the Miami that would resonate with me. Now, my trips to this dynamic city are filled with anticipation and excitement, as I’ve discovered the spots that truly speak to my heart.
For those looking to navigate Miami with ease, here’s my personal cheat sheet – a blend of favorite places to stay, dine, and explore. South Beach is an iconic must-visit, but timing is crucial, especially for budget-conscious travelers; Miami’s allure comes with a price tag. On a budget? Consider staying in areas like Doral or near the airport for more affordable options, such as Hilton Miami Airport Blue Lagoon, Hyatt House Miami Airport, or DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Miami Airport & Convention Center.
When it comes to activities, Miami bursts with options. Wander through the colorful murals of Wynwood Walls, immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, or explore the interactive experiences at Jungle Island and Miami Beach Botanical Garden. Don’t miss the serene Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, the engaging Frost Science Museum, and the historic Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.
For culinary delights without breaking the bank, some of my go-to places include Limonada Bar + Brunch for their happy hour specials, Chef Sucre Cafe for cozy ambiance, Diced for healthy options, Say Tea & Smile for a relaxing tea break, Macondo Coffee Roasters for a caffeine fix, 100 Montaditos for a taste of Spain, and Ono Poke Shop for fresh poke bowls. Each of these spots offers a unique taste of Miami’s diverse food scene.
Beyond Miami, don’t overlook the charming small towns nearby. Hollywood Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Boynton Beach each offer a distinct vibe and a plethora of attractions, perfect for those seeking to experience the full spectrum of South Florida’s charm.
This year has left us amazed and astounded with what we have accomplished and how tiny that is in this big wide world of adventures. This year’s journey took us across four continents, including a brief foray into Asia by ferry to Istanbul’s Asian side. It’s ignited a desire in us to delve deeper into the rich cultures and landscapes of more Asian countries. The dream is vast, yet the constraints of time and resources are real. Nevertheless, we remain undeterred, fueled by the belief that these dreams will unfold in their due time.
Now, turning to you, our fellow wanderers: What are your travel aspirations for 2024? Remember, no dream is too small or too grand. Every journey begins with a vision. To bring these visions to life, consider diving into the world of points redemptions. I often recommend starting with Hilton – it’s been a game-changer for me, making travel more accessible and enjoyable. Once you discover a path that works, embrace it wholeheartedly.
Begin by setting flight alerts for your desired travel periods. Keep an eye on what platforms like Google Flights or Skyscanner have to offer. The key is to start your research early, so when a true deal emerges, you’re ready to seize it. Remember, ‘ideal’ travel times vary for everyone – what may not appeal to one might be perfect for another. For instance, London in November was a delightful experience for me, contrary to what some might expect.
I encourage you to play with dates, times, and destinations. Experiment with different ways to make your 2024 travel dreams a reality. And please, share your travel aspirations with us in the comments. This is a community where dreams are nurtured, and wanderlust is a shared language. Let’s dream together in this safe haven we’ve created for dreamers like us.