2013 was a much busier travel year for me than I expected it to be. At the beginning of the year, I only had three trips confirmed. By the end of the year, I’d gone on seven—thanks to four serendipitous opportunities. I never left North America, but I was able to visit four new destinations, experience a new cruise ship, and revisit some old favorite cities, too.
Don’t let anyone tell you solo travel is always lonely. If there was a theme to all my travels this year it was “social solo travel.” I had meetups with friends old and new on every trip I went on this year (including one trip where I brought a friend and another trip where I met up with family). Talk about shaking up my usual travel style!
Here’s a recap of the highlights:
This was my first trip to Texas and hopefully, it won’t be my last. I loved the gracious hospitality of the people of San Antonio. And the temperatures in January were pretty pleasant, too.
Prettiest tourist attraction: The Riverwalk
Best meetup with a long-lost friend: My friend Lorna, whom I met six years ago and have only stayed in touch with via email and Christmas cards ever since, happens to live in San Antonio. We caught up over lunch at the Tower of the Americas—great company and great views are a winning combination!
Best new friend made: Teresa, a reader of my blog, contacted me before my trip to meet up for lunch. We hit it off and spent an afternoon hanging out at the Japanese Tea Garden and Museum Reach of the Riverwalk. I would see Teresa again in Toronto later in the year.
Coolest thing I did in Texas: Visiting all four missions along the Spanish Mission Trail.
Most surreal moment: Walking on the grounds of the Alamo, in the footsteps of legends like Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie.
Way to impress, San Antonio.
I had a terrific time on this new cruise ship’s 2-night inaugural cruise out of New York. Norwegian Breakaway continues Norwegian’s commitment to solo travelers with Studio cabins and Studio Lounge, but the ship also has a really beautiful design and layout.
Favorite Ship Feature: The Studio Cabins and Lounge, of course, since they’re solo-friendly.
Favorite NEW Ship Feature: The Waterfront. This on-deck neighborhood of restaurants and bars is a fabulous new addition to the Norwegian family.
Best meetup at sea: This cruise was my first opportunity to meet in person my long-time online friend and occasional guest blogger, Tracy Antonioli (The Suitcase Scholar). It felt more like a reunion than a first meeting. Sadly, we neglected to mark this historic occasion with a photo. #bloggerfail
Happiest moment: Realizing that, after failed attempts with sea bands and the scopolamine patch, I finally found something that prevents seasickness: Bonine. My seafaring travels are back ON.
Thanks to the TBEX Travel Blogger’s Conference, I was able to check some items off my travel bucket list—namely, visiting Niagara Falls and the city of Toronto, Ontario.
Favorite thing about Toronto: This city embraces sci-fi like no other city I’ve visited. It has a terrific blend of celebrating its past, while looking to the future. I could live there.
Most mind-blowing natural wonder: Niagara Falls, of course. There’s nothing like standing next to such an enormous and powerful force of nature to make you feel insignificant in the scheme of things. Mother Nature rules.
Best days-long travel blogger party ever: TBEX. 🙂 The conference was fine, but what I loved the most was the opportunity to catch up with so many travel blogger friends—and make new ones. Not to mention meeting another good online friend, Lisa Egle (Chickybus) in person for the first time. I love the power of social media for connecting us to one another, but nothing beats face-to-face interaction.
Best thing I ate all year: Sasseh. Sasseh is sugar-on-snow (maple syrup poured over snow to harden it) wrapped around a cube of cheddar or blue cheese on a skewer. Oh. My. God. It was so good. I will be dreaming of this treat for the rest of my life. (The blue cheese was the best.)
My cousin’s wedding provided me the opportunity to visit the quaint New England seaport of Mystic for the first time.
Best Mystic Tourist attraction: Mystic Seaport, of course. It’s historically interesting and very picturesque.
Greatest travel challenge of the year: The 10-hour solo road trip to and from Mystic was brutal. I don’t enjoy driving long distances by myself. I had carpal tunnel syndrome for weeks after this. But I met the challenge head-on, and I did it. Go me.
Most serendipitous moment of the year: After a week of nonstop rain, the skies cleared and the sun came out just long enough for my cousin’s wedding in the park. The weather gods were certainly smiling on them.
I am so lucky to live just 2 hours south of Montreal. I love this city! It’s the perfect weekend getaway for me, and I never get tired of strolling the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal.
Favorite activities: It’s a tie. I was very lucky that two fantastic exhibits were going on in the city during my trip: The Chihuly blown glass exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art and The International Mosaiculture at the Botanical Garden. They were two of the best examples of creativity I saw all year.
Best example of shaking up my travel style this year: This was not a solo trip: I brought a friend, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. Don’t worry, it hasn’t convinced me to give up solo travel, though.
Las Vegas (Times Two)
I didn’t intend to go to Vegas twice in one year, but since I did, I had the opportunity to experience twice as much as I normally do in my favorite city, including lots of new restaurants and attractions, and some new shows.
Best social experiences of the year: When it comes to my travel social life, Vegas is special. I’ve been to the city so many times, I’ve become friends with people who live there, and with other Vegas visitors who love the city as much as I do. This year, I was able to meet up with many of them, usually in small group settings or one-on-one for meals or drinks. For an introvert like me, that’s my preferred social setting. And the Third Annual Vegas Solo Meetup drew a really fun crowd this year. Thanks to everyone for coming! As long as you keep coming, I’ll keep hosting them.
Best new show: Michael Jackson ONE (a Cirque du Soleil show at Mandalay Bay). This is a multimedia show using Michael Jackson’s music, dance styles, fashion, and even his image and voice. It is so well-choreographed, it blew me away.
Best new Broadway import: Rock of Ages is an infectiously fun show. If you were into big hair bands of the ’80s, you might get a kick out of it, too. I love the humor and the way the cast interacts with the audience.
Best Vegas tour: The Neon Boneyard. After three years of trying to get in on a tour of the Boneyard, I finally made it happen! Woohoo! This is one of the best tours you can take in Las Vegas. You learn a lot about the history of the city from its neon signs, believe it or not.
Favorite new Vegas attraction: Springs Preserve. Springs Preserve isn’t new, per se. It’s been around for several years. But this was my first time visiting. I loved the many walking trails in this desert setting. My friend Brian and I visited when it was all decked out for Halloween, which made it even more fun. If you want to enjoy the great outdoors in Las Vegas without having to go too far afield, this is a fine choice.
Favorite new photo opportunity outside of Las Vegas: Again, this is not a new destination, but it was new to me. Bonnie Springs Old Nevada is kitschy fun. It’s an old Western town that badly needs some refreshing, but the desert setting is just beautiful. If you’re a photographer, it’s worth a drive out for the interesting photo opps, including the desert landscape.
Most Relaxing Experience: Canyon Ranch Spa. It’s been several years since I’ve taken the time for a spa day, and it reminded me how important relaxation can be. I could have died happy in the salt grotto here.
Best Adult Beverage of the Year: The Smoked Whiskey at Rx Boiler Room.
I had to save the best for last:
Most Adventurous Activity: Without a doubt the most adventurous–and fun–thing I did all year during my travels was the Richard Petty Ride Along Experience. I got to go three laps in a stock car around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a professional race car driver. Our speeds got up to 160mph. With the beautiful Las Vegas mountains as a backdrop to the racetrack, it was breathtaking in more ways than one.
For these reasons and more, 2013 is definitely going to go down in my personal history as a very good travel year. But. . .it definitely left me wanting to go a bit further afield in 2014. Can I make it happen? Stay tuned. . . .