03 January 2024

Five Travel Stories from 2023

In 2023, just like in 2022, I travelled outside the UK less frequently than in the beforetimes. Travel, and especially flights, have become even more expensive since COVID and Brexit, so it's been really important for me to make each trip count more than ever. It has also meant I've continued to explore more of the UK, especially Birmingham and the West MidlandsBrighton and Sussex, Margate and Oxford, but also a first (and certainly not the last!) visit to Glasgow.

I returned to Cannes for the first time in several years and continued my exploration of Portugal by visiting the beautiful island of Madeira. Towards the end of the year, I was celebrating a big birthday. I decided to mark the occasion by returning to NYC for the 33rd time for an epic family trip. So epic, in fact, that I needed two weeks in Thailand afterwards to recover! Thailand was the country that inspired me to spread my travel wings in the first place. It took me over 20 years to visit, after a couple of false starts, but it was well worth the wait.

Read on to find out the five travel stories I've picked to sum up my travel highlights of 2023 (you can also check out my 2022, 2021 and 2020 editions) and may your 2024 be full of happiness, exploration and adventure!

1. Turning 40 in New York City

Earlier in the year I spent some time thinking about where and how I'd like to celebrate my 40th birthday but there was only ever going to be one destination: New York City, my favourite city. I wrote a long post, with lots of photos and memories from my archives, outlining my 28-year love affair with NYC and why the city is so special to me. And over five days in November, I created so many wonderful new memories with my family who joined me on the trip — and surprised and delighted me with the activities they planned. We revisited favourite spots, like Brooklyn Bridge and Fanelli Cafe, caught up with old friends and enjoyed many new experiences like the Color Factory, visiting Cold Spring in the Hudson Valley and watching my beloved Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Spurs from an Irish pub near Times Square at 7:30 am! It was perfect.

2. Elephant encounters, fab food and beach bliss in Thailand

As I mentioned in the intro, my trip to Thailand had been a *long* time coming and I spent months planning and trying to work out the best itinerary for my two-week stay. In the end, I settled on four days each in the capital Bangkok and in Chiang Mai in the north, plus five days in Ko Lanta, an island in the Andaman Sea in the south. This created the perfect balance, from the energy, street food and shopping of Bangkok, to the more laid-back vibe of Chiang Mai where I got to observe the majestic elephants at Elephant Nature Park sanctuary, learn how to cook Thai food and temple-hop until I (almost) dropped. At the end, I found bliss on the beach — various beaches, in fact — in Ko Lanta, and visited a number of other Andaman Islands, including beautiful Ko Rok and the breathtaking Maya Bay, where The Beach was filmed. I snorkelled, paddleboarded and even spent a little time reading and relaxing.

3. Tropical island paradise in Madeira

Several friends had recommended the Portuguese island of Madeira as a wonderful destination for a (relatively) short haul tropical break. I spent five sunny and fun-filled days there in May, taking advantage of the extra public holiday for the coronation. Taking the cable car up to Monte and then riding down on a toboggan was a unique experience, as was the dolphin-spotting boat trip I took. Thanks to the jeep tours I took around the island, I was also able to swim in natural rock swimming pools, walk on the highest clifftop skywalk in Europe, wander through an 'enchanted' forest and watch the sunset from above the clouds at Pico do Arieiro. If Madeira isn't already on your to-visit list, it's definitely a destination to add!

4. Mackintosh and macchiatos in Glasgow

I have been very bad at exploring the UK north of Birmingham — I blame the high price of trains, internal flights and hotels in this country relative to other European destinations — and Glasgow was a city my mum and I had wanted to visit for some time. 2023 was the year we finally did! The weather was...about as good as you can hope for Glasgow in August (i.e. not great, but not terrible either) and we spent an enjoyable long weekend exploring — and trying not to get caught up in Cycling World Championships diversions! We learned a lot about Charles Rennie Mackintosh, his architecture and the Black Country origins of his artist wife Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. We also spent an afternoon on Loch Lomond, ate many delicious meals and may have had a wee dram or two at a whisky distillery.

5. Following in the footsteps of vikings on the Kent Coast

In late May, with no more travels booked in, I was starting to get itchy feet. When the sun came out for the weekend, I took an impromptu day trip to Margate and Broadstairs on the Kent Coast, which reminded me that some of the best travel experiences can be found close to home. I took the high-speed train to Broadstairs and then wandered my way along the Viking Coastal Trail, arriving in Margate in time for lunch, art, shopping and a spot of coffee-shop hopping. A sunny day at the seaside can be incredibly restorative. I am making it a 2024 resolution to take more day trips from London, especially when my travel calendar is looking rather sparse.

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