Since we started this blog at the beginning of 2014 (it’s coming up on a decade old!), we have done end-of-year round ups, featuring highlights from the last 365 days, lessons learned, and lows (an addition from 2020).
I always look forward to writing these, as it has become my way to reflect on the past year. I often find myself surprised by how much we fit into 12 short months.
And now that we have a child, I find that time passes differently. Yes, just like everybody warned!
It’s wild looking back at the beginning of the year and seeing how much Juniper has grown and learned. Her personality is unfolding a little more each day. It is so fun watching the human she is becoming.
While I could write an entire novel about all the ways Juniper grew and changed and brought joy to our lives in 2023, I’m going to keep this list focused mostly on travel and our blogging business.
2023 at a glance
After a jam-packed end of 2022 (traveling Scotland in a campervan, road tripping New England for fall foliage, and exploring European Christmas markets), our 2023 started out pretty slow. And that’s just how we wanted it.
But before we knew it, things picked up pace and the second half of the year flew by.
I will say that we had an overall amazing year in 2023 – we did two bucket list multi-day hikes, traveled to 5 countries outside the US, spent a lot of time in our campervan, renovated a (very ugly!) bathroom, celebrated 10 years of marriage, and had lots of quality time with family and friends.
But for some reason, things have also felt a little heavier this year.
I don’t know if that’s the best word to describe what I mean but with so many awful things happening all around the world — wars and shootings and utter disregard for human life — it’s hard to not feel a sense of heaviness, or whatever you want to call it.
Also, I had a few good friends this year that have dealt with unimaginable pain and loss, and just being a bystander has taken a toll.
All this said, one of the greatest lessons travel has taught me is that there is more good in this world than bad.
More good people than bad.
More good things happening than bad.
And while this can sometimes be hard to truly believe, it’s this conviction that keeps me going even when things seem particularly dark.
I have included a few downers that really impacted us in this list as well to give a more realistic glimpse of our year. However, I do just want to remind you that this is *mostly* a highlight reel. Like everyone, we had highs and we had lows. It just so happens that the good things are more fun to photograph and share with the world.
So without further rambling, this is what our 2023 looked like…
1. Cozy cabin stay near Mount Hood
When our daycare shut down unexpectedly for a few days, we tried to make the best out of a bad situation and booked a very last-minute getaway to a cabin near Mount Hood.
This spontaneous little trip ended up being a true highlight of the year.
We cooked, sat by the fire, listened to records, went snowshoeing, soaked in the hot tub, and stayed up late talking and dreaming about the year ahead.
I have grown to really love quiet cabin getaways at the beginning of the year so we can reflect on the past year and mindfully plan the upcoming one.
2. Portland friend reunion
Teaching English in South Korea was one of the best decisions we ever made. Not only did we get to travel a ton, experience living in a completely different culture, and save up a lot of money, but we made lifelong friends.
In March, most of our friend group from Korea came to Portland and we got to spend a few days together.
We got to see two friends we hadn’t seen in years, which was so special. We had such a great time that we’re already planning another reunion for 2024!
3. Expanding our team
Travel blogging has been a weird business to be in the last 3 years. Navigating a global pandemic, several major Google algorithm updates, as well as the advent of AI has been challenging, to say the least.
Somehow though, we have made it through these obstacles and have grown our business to a point where we found ourselves needing more help.
In 2019, we hired Amanda, which was an absolute game-changer. She has been such an integral part of Two Wandering Soles for the last several years and has taught us the importance of hiring a solid team, so adding another person to the mix was a decision we didn’t take lightly.
We posted a job description and got more than 200 applications, which was seriously humbling. I’d say that more than half of those who applied were truly strong applicants, so it was a really difficult task to narrow it down.
One of the final candidates just happened to be a dear friend of ours who we met while teaching in Korea. After doing interviews and discussing goals with Amanda, we all decided Meaghan was the perfect person for the job.
Over the past 9 months, she has fit in so well with our small team and been such a great addition to the TWS team and we are so grateful for her each day.
4. Juniper in the hospital
In the early hours of one morning in April, we found ourselves in the emergency room with a very sick Juniper.
Without going too deep into details, she essentially had been coughing and vomiting so hard (likely from the flu) that her intestines had essentially telescoped in on itself, known as intussusception.
Doctors told us in rare cases, this could be life-threatening and would require surgery. This was basically the first time Juniper got sick, and ooof, it was hard on us.
It happened to be just a couple of days before a big trip to Hawaii we had planned, so I wasn’t sure how everything would shake out, but Juniper was (mostly) back to her regular old self before we left.
5. Hawaii with my parents
Our first content trip of the year was to Hawaii, and it was a special trip for a few reasons:
My grandparents lived in Hawaii for half the year, and I remember visiting a couple of times growing up. I have such fond memories of Hawaii and I’ve been wanting to go back for years. And Ben, who’s never been, has been wanting to go for as long as he can remember!
Also, my parents were there for half of our trip, and it was so nice to be able to spend time with them.
Highlights of our trip to Hawaii:
- helicopter ride over the NaPali Coast
- went to the famed Green Sand Beach on the Big Island
- attended a luau
- explored Volcanoes National Park
- stayed in some seriously cool Airbnbs
- ate lots of fresh poke
6. Hiking the Kalalau Trail
We have been dreaming about hiking the Kalalau Trail for years now, so when the stars aligned and we got a permit we knew we had to make this trip happen.
My parents were traveling in Hawaii with us and they volunteered to take care of Juniper while just the two of us did the hike.
The hike was incredible and it totally lived up to our (high) expectations.
We spent 3 days and 2 nights exploring far-flung waterfalls, traipsing through thick jungles, and sleeping on the remote and breathtaking Kalalau Beach, after which the trail is named.
If you like hiking and are up for an adventure, I’d highly recommend adding the Kalalau Trail to your bucket list.
Psst! Check out our Kalalau Trail guide for all sorts of tips and a suggested itinerary, as the logistics of this trail are quite difficult. You can also watch our Kalalau vlog on Youtube to see what it’s really like!
7. Snorkeling with manta rays in Hawaii
Ever since diving with manta rays in Komodo National Park (in Indonesia), Ben has been obsessed with these majestic creatures.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but this experience blew us away. Almost the entire time we were in the water, manta rays danced just inches from us, barrel rolling, and floating back into the depths of the sea.
8. Visiting my brother in England
My brother, Joey, moved to England in 2022, so we were really grateful to be able to visit him in his new home in May.
He lives in Bristol with his girlfriend, so we spent time there and also spent a weekend in the Cotswolds, which was dreamy.
My parents were also along for the trip, so we had lots of quality family time together, which was so nice.
9. Campervan trip around Ireland
After Hawaii, our second major content trip of the year was to Ireland, where we traveled mostly by campervan.
We had unseasonably hot weather and had to actually go shopping for new clothes because most of what we had packed was too warm!
Highlights of our trip in Ireland:
- Ring of Kerry
- Dingle Peninsula (one of my favorite places)
- Slieve League (next time, we will devote more time here as it is seriously stunning and underrated!)
- Belfast and Northern Ireland
10. Bathroom Renovation
When we bought our house in 2021, one of the first things I told Ben was, “We have to completely renovate the master bathroom”.
But, other projects took precedence, like redoing our main bathroom, decorating a nursery, doing a big makeover to the kitchen, and building a brand new campervan.
Then we had a baby and time got away from us.
So as the 2-year mark of owning our home approached, we decided we needed to fix the bathroom now or it would be another 2 years.
We took a not-very-functional (and pretty ugly) bathroom and turned it into my dream ensuite.
Ben did most of the hard work, like rerouting some plumbing and waterproofing the shower space. But we spent a good chunk of a week tiling our brand new shower together while Juniper was at daycare.
Looking back, it might have been a better decision to hire out some of the work because it took a lot longer than we expected. But we learned a lot and still got it done on the timeline we wanted so I can’t complain too much.
Whenever we’ve traveled this year, the thing I look forward to coming back to the most is our bathroom!
11. Bend in summer
We love Oregon in the summertime, and we tried to do as many of our favorite things in Bend as possible:
- Floating on the Deschutes
- Concert at Hayden Homes Amphitheater
- Weekly live music at Suttle Lake
- Hiking around Bend
I’ll be honest, it was hard to balance trying to catch up on work that we were undoubtedly behind on after our England and Ireland trip. And then we threw a bathroom renovation into the mix which took up way more time than we expected (go figure!).
Some days we felt like we didn’t have as much time to enjoy summer as we’d wanted, but looking back we still were able to squeeze quite a bit in.
12. We published a TON of content
We – along with our amazing team members, Amanda and Meaghan – have absolutely cranked out TONS of content this year.
Between Two Wandering Soles and our second website (Go Wander Wild), we published 154 new articles in 2023. Plus, we updated 98 articles.
It has been a huge year for publishing for us, which means there’s a good chance we have guides to the places you’re dreaming of traveling to in 2024 (hint, hint!). If you’re curious, you can click “Destinations” and see if the place you’re looking for is one we have already covered!
Good to know: We pride ourselves on making sure our articles are packed with tips, hidden gems, and truly helpful information. We hope you like them as much as we do!
We also created some new done-for-you itineraries that we are super proud of.
We currently have the following itineraries in our TWS collection:
- Iceland itinerary
- Scotland itinerary
- New Zealand itinerary
- Italy itineraries
- New England fall foliage road trip map
We have gotten such incredible feedback on these that we plan to create several more in 2024. Itineraries on our to-do list are: Canadian Rockies, Japan, Thailand, Ireland, Hawaii, PNW, and European Christmas Markets.
Which would you love to see first? Let us know in the comments!
13. Small campervan trips
While we spent less time in our campervan this year than we had in 2020, 2021, and 2022 (womp womp), we still took her on some pretty epic trips around the PNW and Canada.
Some of our favorite short getaways:
We spent so much time thinking about the layout of this van and what features we wanted to have that it is truly so comfortable. A lot of the time, we actually prefer staying in our campervan over a hotel room and we’re already counting down the days until we can take it out in 2024!
Psst! If you are thinking of taking a road trip in Oregon, we have a perfect itinerary!
14. Celebrated our 10-year anniversary in the Canadian Rockies
Two days after saying “I do!” in September 2013, we flew to Calgary where we embarked on a dreamy 2-week honeymoon through Banff and Jasper. Ever since, we’ve been wanting to return to the Canadian Rockies, and what better time than to celebrate 10 years of marriage!
This time was a little different, as we drove our campervan up to Canada and we had a little third wheel with us… But it was so, so good.
You know how sometimes you return to a place you once loved and it just doesn’t feel quite as good the second time around?
I was worried this would happen with Banff because it has grown a ton in popularity over the last decade. And while we certainly noticed more people – especially at certain places, like Lake Agnes Teahouse – it was still everything we remember it being (and more!).
We had the best time and already have a huge bucket list of things that we need to get back and do on another trip.
Highlights of our Canadian Rockies trip:
- Beehive hike
- High tea at the Lake Louise Fairmont
- Canoeing at Moraine Lake
- Boat trip to Spirit Island in Jasper
- Backcountry camping in the Kananaskis
- Exploring downtown Canmore
- Eating a 7-course meal (focused on foraged ingredients) at Sauvage
- Hiking to the Mount Edith Cavell Glacier
- Five Lakes hike in Jasper
- Grassi Lakes hike near Canmore
- Soaking at Lussier Hot Springs
15. Finally backpacked Havasupai
We snagged permits for this notoriously competitive hike back in February 2020 and had planned to go in May of that year. Well, we all know why that didn’t happen! So for the last 3 years we have patiently waited as our permit got pushed back again and again.
When we applied for the permit, we were childfree. However, now we have a toddler, who wasn’t listed on our permit, meaning we needed to find childcare or we’d have to try our luck at applying for a new permit next year.
Thankfully, my parents are retired and are always looking for excuses to travel (especially when that includes seeing their granddaughter). So we rented an Airbnb in Flagstaff and got to spend time with them before and after our hike exploring Flagstaff and Sedona.
Okay, back to Havasupai… The hike was good, but the destination was incredible.
But I have to say that the waterfalls on the Havasupai Reservation are perhaps the most stunning we’ve ever seen.
It is one of those places you just have to see to understand the scope and the remoteness.
We will be working on a Havasupai guide as well as a YouTube video that will be published in early 2024, so if this is on your bucket list, stay tuned for it!
16. We really celebrated fall
I grew up thinking summer was my favorite season, but after living in Miami and spending a few years after that chasing tropical destinations and basically missing fall and winter, I have come to absolutely LOVE fall.
I look forward to it all year long.
Last year, we took our dream fall foliage trip in New England (highly recommend adding this to your bucket list!); and while we were staying put in Oregon this year, we celebrated as much as we could.
Crisp air, hot drinks, bonfires, spooky movies, cozy nights in, ate all the soup, dressed up for Halloween, carving pumpkins, jumped in crunchy leaf piles, looked forward to the approaching holidays…
This fall was everything I wanted it to be.
17. Took our dream Japan fall foliage trip
For years now we have dreamed of traveling to Japan in the fall as it is famous for some of the most stunning foliage in the world.
I spent more time than I’d like to admit planning what I think is the perfect route that blends a handful of must-sees with even more hidden gems.
Highlights of our Japan trip:
- Soaking in the most beautiful onsen, surrounded by fall foliage and a waterfall
- Staying in a cozy A-frame cabin in the mountains
- Hiking the Nakasendo Trail for the second time
- Seeing snow monkeys
- Having dinner in a local family’s home in Tokyo
- Staying in a 200-year-old house in the heart of the Japanese countryside and learning to make soba noodles from scratch
We had the most incredible time and can’t wait to share more Japan content very soon!
18. We had a relaxing vacation in Thailand
Confession: We didn’t book flights for our trip to Japan until September, which was 2 months before departure. (I don’t recommend that, by the way!)
We had kind of joked about “tacking on” Thailand too because it’s in the same general part of the world.*
On the day that we booked our Japan flights we looked at each other and said, “Should we just do it?” And you can probably guess the rest of the story! We aren’t difficult people to convince to book a flight, after all.
While Japan was a major content trip for us, Thailand was more or less a vacation. We’ve traveled to Thailand many times and have even spent about a year living there, so it’s a place that feels like a home away from home.
*Tokyo to Bangkok is a 7-hour flight, so it’s not exactly close. But at least you don’t change a ton of time zones.
Koh Yao Yai
We knew we wanted to spend the first half of our time on an island. We’ve been to a lot of islands in Thailand and this time we decided to go somewhere new. We’ve heard good things about Koh Yao Yai, so we booked a bungalow at a resort for a week.
We had a really relaxing time and the hotel was really nice, but honestly, it wasn’t our favorite island we’ve been to in Thailand. We didn’t have the best weather while we were there, so that could have impacted our feelings, but overall, we thought:
- It wasn’t as beautiful as Koh Lipe
- There wasn’t as much to do as Koh Lanta
- It didn’t have a fun vibe like Koh Tao or Koh Phangan
Honest opinion… We liked it better than some other places in the south of Thailand, but if you’re looking for a Thai island rec, I’d personally choose one of the others I’ve listed above.
We spent the second half of our time in Thailand in Chiang Mai, which is the place we have spent the most time in Thailand, so it was fun going back to some of our favorite places.
Psst! If you plan to go to the north of Thailand, definitely check out our list of our favorite things to do in Chiang Mai because we have spent years adding to this list and it’s filled with hidden gems and insider tips!
We ended our time with 2 nights in Bangkok and booked a “bougie” hotel using credit card points. We don’t usually stay at places like the Park Hyatt, but lemme tell you, I could seriously get used to it.
We had a soaking tub that overlooked the city, a stunning rooftop pool, an incredible breakfast, rooftop bar, and $250 to spend on food and beverage (another perk through our credit card!).
It ended up being the perfect ending to our trip!
19. Celebrated Juniper’s 2nd birthday with elephants
If there’s one thing to know about Juniper it is that she is absolutely obsessed with animals. So after booking our flights to Thailand, one of the first things we did was book an experience at an elephant sanctuary on Juniper’s birthday.
Not only does Chia Lai Orchid do incredible things for the elephants that have been rescued from hard labor and other awful situations, but it provides meaningful jobs for the local community as well.
We had such a good day celebrating Juniper turning two, and I have a feeling we’re going to have a hard time topping that birthday!
20. Spent time with friends
One of the highlights of our time in Thailand was spending a week with two of our best friends. They’re from Wisconsin and even though we grew up just hours apart from each other, we met while living in Thailand.
We had game nights where we stayed up until 4 am (a serious feat when traveling with a toddler!). We had a girls night, went on a food tour, went to yoga, and had deep conversations.
It was everything our hearts needed, and more.
21. Layover in Seoul
Being that we spent a year teaching English in South Korea, we never pass up the chance to have an extended layover in Seoul.
We’ve done it 3 times now, and I’m sure it won’t be our last.
With 12 hours to work with, it’s easy to leave the airport and get into Seoul.
- We wandered the picturesque Bukchon Village, a street with historic architecture
- Took photo booth pictures
- Had the best cookie that I’ll be dreaming about for months
- Went to the traditional Gwangjang Market and had noodle soup at a stand featured on Netflix
- Had bingsu, our favorite Korean dessert
- Got back to the airport in time to use the free showers and get food at a lounge
I was a little worried if this 12-hour layover was a good idea (we also had the choice of a 1.5-hour layover but chose the longer one). But it really helped break up some very long flights and gave Juniper (and us!) the chance to walk, get outside, have non-airplane meals, and kind of reset before getting on a plane again.
On the flight from Seoul to Minneapolis, Juniper slept almost the entire time, so I’d say the layover was a good choice. To date, she has been on 45 flights, so we’ve got lots of tips for flying with a baby too!
22. Google update
A business low of the year is that Google did a major algorithm update that negatively impacted just about every travel blogger we know, including ourselves.
Without getting too nerdy about it all, Google has started prioritizing AI responses and crowd-sourced forums, like Reddit and Quora, in search results. This, in turn, pushes blogs down the page when someone searches for something, meaning basically all travel bloggers have seen a pretty significant drop in traffic (and therefore income).
This is just one of the many parts of this industry that we have to continually keep up with. It seems like lately as soon as we have something “figured out” and are doing really well with it, the algorithm shifts, or a travel ban is enacted, making us have to start completely from square one again.
If nothing else, the last few years have taught travel bloggers to be incredibly resilient and not to get too comfortable in any one strategy.
23. Christmas with family
There were a handful of years when we were traveling that we spent Christmas by ourselves – in random hostels and far-flung places. While we made those Christmases special, we did miss celebrating with family.
We decided that whenever we’re able, we will prioritize spending the holidays in Minnesota (where we’re both from) so we can be with our favorite people.
This year we had a whole 3 weeks, though with all the craziness of the holiday season it has been jam-packed and has flown by.
I never expect these round ups to be as long as they are but once I start typing it’s hard to stop. I keep remembering moments – both little and big – and it’s pretty wild seeing it all written down.
It’s also a good reminder that sometimes a year can sound like a short amount of time, especially when you’re trying to work towards a goal or make a dream come true. But writing these year reviews also reminds me how much we can fit into a year and how much life can change, for better or worse.
If you’re still here reading ’til the end, thank you. Truly, we are so honored that you’re here and grateful for your support.
Whether this year was one of your best or one that you are looking forward to wishing adieu, we hope you find joy in this fresh beginning.
May your 2024 be full of laughter, memories and time spent with people you love.
Wanna see how this year compares to years past?
We’ve done these round-up articles each year since 2014, so you can dig in deep!
- 22 Moments from 2022
- 21 Memories from 2021
- Highs & Lows of 2020
- 19 Highlights of 2019
- 18 Memories from 2018
- 17 Highlights from 2017
- 16 Stories from 2016
- 15 Memories from 2015
- 14 Lessons Learned in 2014