I feel like I say it every year, but every year it feels more and more true: the last year has flown by!
While the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t really “over,” travel restrictions eased considerably and some semblance of “normal” travel returned in 2022, especially in the second half of the year. I traveled a lot more this year than in the previous two years (combined, actually), and so I’m returning to recapping my top 10 travel experiences out of a list that includes way more than just 10 highlights.
While the majority of my travel this year was returning the places I’ve been before, I nevertheless had tons of new and memorable experiences!
Here’s my year in travel by the numbers:
Some notable things that happened this year include:
And now on to the real reason you came to read this post: the travel highlights! Some of these are entire trips, while others are parts of trips that really stood out.
As always, it was hard to narrow this list down!
In late September, I went on a work trip to the Republic of Ireland, traveling with Globus Journeys on one of their new Choice Touring trips called Green With Envy.
The tour was jam-packed with Ireland highlights from Dublin to Galway, but the real stand-outs for me were getting the chance to explore more of Westport in County Mayo (where I actually have some ancestry!) and visiting the wild and beautiful Achill Island for the first time.
Many travelers don’t like returning to places they’ve already been, but I personally love it! I always discover new things on every trip.
>> Read more: 8 Fantastic Things to Do in Westport, Ireland
As a self-professed “Horse Girl,” I’ve always wanted to visit the Horse Capital of the World, AKA Lexington, Kentucky. But for whatever reason, it didn’t happen until I was 35 years old!
I spent a long weekend in Lexington this past summer, soaking up all the horsey highlights like touring Keeneland Race Track, going to Kentucky Horse Park, visiting a thoroughbred breeding farm, and more. I snuck in a distillery tour, some great meals, and a bit of Lexington history, too – there’s a lot to do in Lexington!
>> Read more: The Best Things to do in Lexington, KY: The Perfect 3-Day Itinerary
I actually visited Washington, DC three times in 2022, but my favorite visit was the impromptu weekend Elliot and I spent there in March in order to see the blooming cherry blossom trees.
We were able to plan the trip on a whim since we live within driving distance, and spent a weekend dodging the crowds (because whew are there crowds!) and seeing as many white-pink blossoms as we could. Along with visiting the famous Tidal Basin, we also had a cherry blossom-themed afternoon tea and went to the annual Blossom Kite Festival.
This was a bucket list item for me, and I’m so glad I finally got to do it! (I’ll write a guide before the next cherry blossom season.)
Elliot and I took a trip to celebrate his birthday this year, and he decided he wanted to visit Ireland and Northern Ireland for the first time! We spent a week traveling from Dublin to Belfast to Derry to Galway and back to Dublin, with the highlight for me definitely being all the stops we made along the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland.
Filled with castle ruins, secluded beaches, and epic coastlines, this is such a beautiful (and I think underrated) place in Europe. Elliot loved getting to fly our drone a few times, and we lucked out with pretty good weather!
We also spent two nights at Galgorm, a spa resort with an outdoor thermal village that you probably would never expect to find in the middle of Northern Ireland.
One of the first trips I took in 2022 was out West with my friend Kat from World Wide Honeymoon. We flew to Las Vegas and rented a car for a week to explore places like Death Valley, Alabama Hills, and Joshua Tree. We also spent time in Las Vegas, and visited both Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire near Vegas.
I truly loved every part of this trip, but the highlight for me I think was the day we spent in Death Valley National Park. The weather was mild in February, so we were able to do all the hikes and see all the wild landscapes.
>> Read more: The Perfect 7-Day California Desert Road Trip Itinerary
One of the first things Elliot and I splurged on after getting our COVID vaccines and feeling invincible was a trip to Austin, Texas to see the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix. Elliot has been watching F1 races since he was a child, but had never actually been to a race in-person!
We ended up having to postpone the trip from 2021 to 2022, but the wait was worth it. We bought Paddock Club tickets, which meant access to a hospitality suite above the pit lane, a special behind-the-scenes paddock tour, pit lanes walks, and more.
I’m not sure we’ll ever spend that much on sporting tickets again, but it certainly was cool for a weekend.
I’ve actually been to Iceland multiple times since 2012, but I hadn’t yet checked “driving the Ring Road” off my bucket list. So when by mishap my friend Adventurous Kate had to reschedule a planned Iceland road trip, I impulsively volunteered to tag along.
She took me up on the offer (I mean, splitting costs in Iceland is never a bad idea), and we spent just over 2 weeks in August exploring all different corners of Iceland. (And yes, I will eventually publish our whole itinerary!)
Some of my personal highlights were re-visiting the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, spending a day in the adorable town of Husavik, driving through the East Fjords, chasing waterfalls along the South Shore, taking an overnight trip to the Westman Islands, and visiting as many hot springs as we possibly could.
>> Read more: 25 Epic Things You Have to Do on Iceland’s South Coast (and What You Can Skip) and 10 Essential Tips for Visiting Iceland Hot Springs and Thermal Baths
The first post-COVID (or, post-start-of-the-pandemic, I guess I should say) international trip that Elliot and I took happened in May of this year. We decided to treat ourselves to a fairly luxurious trip to London and Paris, staying in some nice hotels and splurging on some cool tours and activities.
We did lots of touristy things in London, but also indulged in some afternoon teas and spent a night at the uber-luxurious Shangri-La Hotel inside The Shard. We then took the Eurostar to Paris, where we were the ultimate tourists (Eiffel Tower? check; Louvre? check; Seine cruise? check), and took a really fun day trip to Versailles.
We mostly had excellent weather for the whole trip, and it felt incredible to be traveling somewhat “normally” again.
>> Read more: The Perfect 10-Day London and Paris Itinerary for Your Dream Europe Trip
Okay, so this technically happened during my Iceland road trip, but it deserves its own call-out because it was so epic!
As Kate and I were planning the final details of our Iceland trip, a volcano on the Reykjanes Peninsula started erupting. It was close to where a volcano erupted for months in 2021, and there was already a partially-established hiking route to get close to it. We immediately agreed that if it was still erupting when we arrived, we would have to do the hike.
We planned the hike for our first full day in Iceland, and headed from our Reykjavik hotel straight to the parking area for the hike. The hike was moderately difficult, being 8 miles total round-trip with some elevation gain in a few spots and a large, uneven lava field to hike across for about an hour. Luckily we were prepared with the right gear plus snacks and water, and the Icelandic Weather Elves were kind to us.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget cresting the final little hill to see that volcano spewing molten lava. I gasped audibly, and could not stop exclaiming “holy shit!” It was SO COOL.
We sat on a hill a safe distance away (with lots of other people) and watched the lava for about an hour. Along with the brilliant color of the lava, I was also amazed by the SOUND of lava churning in a crater; it sounded like a giant lava washing machine!
Our timing ended up being perfect, because by the time we left Iceland, the volcano had gone dormant once more.
>> Read more: I don’t have a blog post about this one, but I did make this Reel on Instagram about the hike!
Lastly, the most memorable and epic experience of my year was the one I waited the longest for. I had first booked this trip in February 2020 for that summer, and then had it canceled and rescheduled twice because of the pandemic. Well, it was definitely worth the wait!
In June, I packed up my warmest winter clothing and headed the furthest north I’ve ever been, to the community of Mittimatalik (AKA Pond Inlet) on the northern end of Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut.
I spent nearly a week sleeping in a (very cosy) tent on top of not-yet-melted sea ice, spending my days traveling via traditional sled to visit the floe edge where the ice meets open ocean. We were there to see what Mother Nature would show us, and she showed us everything from bowhead whales to a few elusive narwhals.
This expedition-style trip was incredible in so many ways. It was the easiest thing in the world to disconnect from the outside world and just soak in all the Arctic magic. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
>> Read more: At the Edge of the World: A Floe Edge Safari on Baffin Island
And that wasn’t even all the travel I did in 2022! I also went to New York City, spoke at a conference in Memphis, finally visited Franklin, Tennessee, and explored the Inner Banks in North Carolina for the first time.
What a year!
Here are a few random “bests” of 2022 that I thought would be fun to share.
Best new destination: Nunavut and Death Valley
While most places I visited this year were repeats for me, I did squeeze in a few new destinations. My top favorites probably have to be Baffin Island in Nunavut, Canada, and Death Valley National Park in California. (I can’t choose just one!) Both starkly beautiful places.
Best hotel: Shangri-La the Shard
We splurged on one night at this London hotel, where we slept in the biggest bed I’ve ever seen, took a bubble bath in the clouds (no joke, the bathroom had floor-to-ceiling windows!), and went for a morning swim in an infinity pool on the 52nd floor.
Best historical site visited: Manzanar
On my desert road trip, Kat and I spent a few hours exploring Manzanar National Historic Site in the California desert. This was the site of one of the camps that Japanese-Americans were imprisoned at during WWII. I personally never learned much about these “War Relocation Camps” in school, so visiting and witnessing the history first-hand was both fascinating and moving.
Best tour I took: Versailles bike tour or RIB boat tour in Iceland
Another tie! The first is the day-long bike tour Elliot and I took from Paris to see the palace and gardens of Versailles. It was such a great day; we saw the palace before the crowds descended, shopped for lunch at a local market, and ate al fresco along the main Versailles canal.
The second was the hour-long RIB boat safari Kate and I took in Heimaey in the Westman Islands in Iceland. We zipped around in a speedboat, seeing cool rock formations and caves and rocking out to music in between stops. It was just pure FUN!
Best hike: Mulagljufur Canyon
I’m not a huge hiker, but I’m not opposed to tackling short hikes when there are great views promised! And by far the best hike I did this year was into Mulagljufur Canyon in southern Iceland. This canyon is a bit tricky to get to (you have to drive down a very bumpy unpaved road, and then hike uphill for at least 45 minutes), and probably thanks to that hasn’t been loved to death yet.
Kate and I had the epic views all to ourselves for a while, and the hike was 1000% worth it.
Best wildlife encounter: Crack whales
While we saw no polar bears and only a couple narwhals on my “Narwhal and Polar Bear Safari” in Nunavut, we were delighted again and again by encounters with gigantic bowhead whales. The most unique encounter was when we stumbled upon a couple whales just hanging out in a large crack in the ice. They were close enough that we could have reached out and touched them.
And there you have it! Another year done, and another highlights reel published.
2023 is set to be even more travel-filled, with return trips to a few places, and several new adventures, too! I hope you’ll continue following along.