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Our 13 Best Travel Moments of 2013

As another year comes to a close, we all tend to look back and reflect. We’re blessed to be able to look back upon another fabulous year of travel that took us to 21 countries in which we created countless memories we’ll treasure for a lifetime. With that much travel, it’s not the easiest of tasks to whittle it down to just a handful of standouts, but we did it. We give you our 13 best travel moments of 2013:

Northern Lights over Myvatn, Iceland

Northern Lights over Myvatn, Iceland

1. Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland and Finland

Oh, the Northern Lights. It’s safe to say we’re a bit obsessed with (addicted?) seeing them. Many unsuccessful nights hunting the elusive Aurora hasn’t discouraged us and our efforts paid off during our January visit to Iceland and again in April in Finland. Our efforts over more than 40 days spent in the Arctic also inspired our most popular post ever, 5 Things No One Ever Tells You About the Northern Lights. The post has been linked to by Telegraph, CNN, Skyscanner, Earth Photo of the Day, and countless blogs citing it as one of the best articles with practical advice for seeing the Northern Lights.

Perlan2. Ringing in 2013 in Iceland

We could have filled this list with 13 of our best travel moments of 2013 just from our trip to Iceland alone. We can say without hesitation that Iceland is our favorite country and we were thrilled to ring in 2013 from atop the Pearl in Reykjavik. We splurged, packed our finest cocktail attire, and attended the Pearl’s New Year’s Eve Gala. Not only did we get to take part in the unique Icelandic traditions at the bonfires, we had an amazing 360 view as more fireworks than I’ve ever seen light up the sky at the stroke of midnight…and for the first six hours of 2013.

Balloons over Bagan3. Hot air ballooning over Bagan

To say we’ve been waiting for a magical hot air balloon ride is an understatement. Hot air balloons always make me a bit teary-eyed. The sight makes me remember the best day of my life – the day I married Tim in a hot air balloon nearly 12 years ago. We never got our ride because of high winds on our wedding day. The wait was worth it and to say our first flight was spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe it. We arrived in Bagan, Myanmar after it was already dark so our very first view of the stunning 4000 some stupas that dot the Burmese landscape was from above as the sun rose.

You may like: Ballooning Over Bagan

Anantara Golden Triangle

Learning to command our elephants at Anantara Golden Triangle

4. Mahout training in Thailand

We got home from Thailand and hit the ground running with trips to Christmas markets in Germany, New York City, and Italy. So we haven’t even written about Thailand yet, but one of our very favorite experiences was our mahout training and working with the research team from Think Elephants International at Anantara Golden Triangle. Here, not only are elephants rescued from the streets of Bangkok from doing things like performing to beg for money, but their mahouts (elephant care takers) and families come right along with them and all live at the camp. We learned so much about captive elephants, got to take part in a research study that will eventually be published by the team at Think Elephants, and came to understand the special relationship between elephants and their mahouts.

Dolomites Alta Via 15. Hiking the Alta Via 1

The Alta Via 1 is one of the premier hiking routes in Europe. I’ve had it on my radar since we moved to Italy, but finally got up the courage and found a friend to tackle it with me. The trail covers about 80 miles and takes 8-12 days to complete. It goes right through the beautiful Dolomite mountains of Northern Italy. Each day will present challenges as you climb through valleys and up and over steep passes to get to you next night’s stay at a rifugio (mountain hut). The rifugios are possibly the best part: great atmosphere, good food, making new friends and best of all not needing to carry a tent or heavy camping gear. Read all about my adventure on the Alta Via 1 here.

Up at the O2

We climbed, we conquered!

6. Playing Bond Girl in London

It was incredibly fun researching, putting together an itinerary of Bond themed activities, and then jetting off to London with my friend Bree to channel our inner Pussy Galore. From scaling a London icon to speed-boating down the Thames to posh martinis at the exclusive Dukes Bar, we did Ian Fleming proud.

Want your own Bond Girl trip to London? Check out our Bond Girl Guide to London.

Sea Kayaking Santorini

Photo courtesy of Santorini Sea Kayak

7. Kayaking in Greece

Santorini is beautiful. So beautiful, the eight hours we had in port when we cruised to Greece just wasn’t enough. And we wanted to see more than the tourist hot spots like Oia and Fira Town. What better way to totally get off the tourist path than to kayak to beaches only accessible by boat? We paddled on by busy Red Beach and headed toward Black Beach, where we picnicked, swam, and had the beach entirely to ourselves. We also got to explore some of the beautiful caves, coves, and rock formations created by Santorini’s violent volcanic past.

You’ll work up an appetite kayaking, so why not check out these 10 Things to Taste in Santorini?

St. Basil's Cathedral

St. Basil’s Cathedral

8. Checking Russia off our bucket list

Russia sure doesn’t make the visa process remotely easy…or cheap. But it was absolutely worth it as we gazed upon the magnificent architecture from Moscow to St. Petersburg and at at least a dozen onion-domed cathedrals in between. Russia wasn’t the easiest of countries to travel in. Signs, even at museums and tourist attractions, aren’t in multiple languages, and outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg some of the towns can be hard to reach. There just isn’t a tourism infrastructure for non-Russian tourists yet and we were glad to have gone with G Adventures and have had a local guide for exactly these reasons.

Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan

9. Relaxing in the lap of luxury at Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan

After long days of travel just getting to Thailand and then Myanmar and aching bodies from mahout training and biking all over Bagan, we were thrilled to arrive at Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan for a little bit of relaxation and pampering. The Thai island of Koh Phangan is reached by boat from another Thai island, Koh Samui. As we bounced over the water and approached it island, it looked like something out of Jurassic Park with towering cliff walls, dense jungle, and secluded coves with turquoise water lapping at white sand beaches. Our time of Koh Phangan was filled with luxurious lobster dinners on the beach, snorkeling, and long massages. We even learned how to cook some of our favorite Thai dishes at a cooking class.

Iglu-Dorf Zermatt10. Hot tubbing under the Matterhorn

Apparently sleeping in an igloo once just wasn’t enough, because we put it on our 2013 travel wishlist to do again. Though the Matterhorn peeking over the Iglu-Dorf igloo village did have a certain appeal. And staying in Zermatt, one of Europe’s most exclusive ski resort towns, may have tipped the scales for us to bravely sleep on beds made of ice in a room made of snow. The weather didn’t cooperate for us to get clear blue skies and the perfect photo of the Matterhorn we wanted, but we had a great time eating fondue, sipping on Swiss wine, and sharing glasses of Prosecco in a private hot tub made for two.

Nurburgring

Tim racing at Nurburgring Photo courtesy of Nordschleife Pics

11. Driving a race car at Nurburgring

One of Tim’s favorite travel moments this year was getting to race a car on famous Nurburgring. The track is famous for it’s 24 hour races and also for auto manufacturers test out there newest sports cars. Tim got to race a Toyota GT86 courtesy of Rent Race Car. The track is 14 miles long and will certainly test your driving ability no matter what car you’re in. Featuring hairpin turns, hills, blind curves, and 15 turns it will have your hearth thumping the whole way.

Love cars? Check out our Car Lover’s Guide to Germany.

Trabi Safari

Driving our Trabi along the East Gallery

12. Exploring Berlin in a Trabi

We don’t want, or like, to follow the your-guidebook-said-you-should-do-this path. We quickly get bored (with a capital B!) with just walking around cities. We like to be doing something, where it be a food tour or something more adventurous like kayaking. Our Trabi Safari was a super fun way to explore the sights of Berlin and to other tourists, WE were the tourist attraction.

Nassfeld Skiing

Tim skiing in the Austrian Alps at Nassfeld

13. Learning to ski in the Alps

Tim has always loved spending time in the mountains. But growing up in suburban Illinois, there isn’t exactly any places to  learn to ski. He finally learned to ski this year in the Alps. His favorite place to learn was the beautiful town of Cortina D’Ampezzo, also home of the 1956 Winter Olympics. The skiing area at Cortina has over 140 kilometers of pistes and 43 lifts. With an ample amount of beginner runs and huge wide runs, it was really the perfect place to learn.

 

So there you have it. Now, tell in the comments what some of your favorite travel moments of 2013 were!

Jennifer Dombrowski

Jennifer Dombrowski is a location independent globe trotter who is based in Prata di Pordenone, Italy. She works as a social media and communications strategist and is an award-winning travel writer. She is also a travel correspondent on Traveling on the American Forces Radio Network. Jdomb's Travels was named one of the top travel blogs to watch by the Huffington Post and has been featured by top publications such as CNN, Buzzfeed , and The Telegraph. Her iPhoneograpy has also been featured on publications such as USA Today and Travel + Leisure. Google+

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45 comments

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  1. Victor Tribunsky

    This year was beautiful for you.
    My dream is Nurburgring. I’d take Porsche Cayman. :-)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Great choice, Victor! I’m a Porsche fan myself. :-)

    [Reply]

  2. Val-This Way To Paradise

    Beautiful moments! It’s my dream to see the Northern Lights….

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    We’re totally hooked on the Northern Lights and are hoping to get in a trip yet this winter season to try to see them.

    [Reply]

  3. Larry

    Your 2013 travels not only equal a lifetime of travel for most people, your experiences will never be equaled by 90% of the world. Fantastic adventures! Looking forward to the 2014 articles.

    [Reply]

  4. jenny@atasteoftravel

    You’ve had some fabulous travel moments this year Jennifer. Seeing the Northern Lights is top of my list for 2014 so hopefully we can make it happen. It was great catching up with you in both Rotterdam and London. Let’s hope we can do the same next year. Best wishes to both you and Tim for a fabulous 2014.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    I agree, it was great to catch up in Rotterdam and London! Hoping our paths cross again in 2014, maybe on your side of the world this time.

    [Reply]

  5. Erika

    Awesome cool moments Jen! Can’t wait to see where 2014 takes you!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    We can’t either! Not much is planned for the year right now, so it will be a surprise to us too!

    [Reply]

  6. Devlin @ Marginal Boundaries

    Extremely jealous of Tim and his Nurburgring run!

    [Reply]

    Tim Davis Reply:

    I want to go back and do it again, I was just talking with some friends about it this week.

    [Reply]

  7. Katherine Belarmino

    Awesome year. The picture from the hot air balloon is just incredible.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Katherine! It’s surreal to look back at our photos. Myanmar was just amazing.

    [Reply]

  8. Samantha

    Wow you guys had quite a year! What a way to start off in Iceland too. Ok now hottubbing under the Matterhorn is something I have to do. Looks cold and hot at the same time! Cheers to a great 2014 :)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    It was cold and hot at the same time! It was quite windy the night of our igloo stay. So you’d get all hot and toasty from the hot tub and then a blast of wind and snow would hit you. It was awesome though!

    [Reply]

  9. Leigh

    What a year the two of you have had. It’s going to be hard to top that. I would love to do the Alta Via hike – one day.

    Wishing you all the best in 2014 and many more adventures.

    [Reply]

    Tim Davis Reply:

    Leigh, the Alta Via 1 trail was beautiful. You won’t be disappointed.

    [Reply]

  10. Jaryd

    You had an awesome year! Happy travels for this one to come and I hope you meet even more amazing people to make even better memories with :)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    That is definitely one of the best parts of travel, Jaryd. We met a lot of new friends from all around the world! Looking forward to the new friends we’ll make and all the ones we’ll get to catch up with this year.

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  11. Heather

    I’m so glad to have stumbled on your blog this year, and not just because you directed me to that fabulous wine cellar in Budapest! I can’t wait to put your excellent Northern Lights tips into practice next winter and look forward to meeting up with you in Europe! Happy New Year and happy travels :-D

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    We’re looking forward to meeting you too, Heather! I’m sure your blog is going to be a great resource for us whenever we finally make it to China, which will hopefully be this year!

    [Reply]

  12. Lisa

    Wow, Iceland, Finland, and the northern lights are on my list of things to see. Congrats on what looks like an amazing year.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    You should definitely go to Iceland and Finland, Lisa! There is so much to do in both countries.

    [Reply]

  13. eemusings

    Dang! St Peterburg is still on my bucket list – Russian visas were just too pricey to manage during our European trip. Isn’t Iceland amazing?

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Russian visas are expensive, but it was worth it. We only wish we had applied for the 3-year visa so we could go back. We’d love to see Siberia.

    Iceland is incredible. It’s our favorite country and we’d go back again in a heartbeat.

    [Reply]

  14. Naomi

    I dream of visiting Russia someday! The place is awesome and am glad it made it to your list. Would love to see the Northern Lights too. :)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    The architecture is just more beautiful than you can imagine. We’d love to go back and visit Siberia!

    [Reply]

  15. Karla

    What a fabulous year you had!

    Ringing in 2013 in Iceland must have been extraordinary. I dream of seeing the Northern Lights, it is very high on my bucket list.

    I’ve to add Bagan, Koh Phangan and Trabi Safari after seeing your awesome photos!

    I’d definitely love to go kayaking in Santorini after my 1st experience :http://travellersoul76.com/2013/07/30/how-a-kayak-adventure-helped-me-conquer-my-biggest-fear/ I’m sure It will be a breeze this time.

    Have a sensational 2014!

    Many blessings to you and your loved ones

    Karla :)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Great post, Karla! There are definitely some things I would have missed out on had Tim not pushed me to do them. The lesson is you never know what you’re capable of until you give it a try!

    [Reply]

  16. whywasteannualleave

    Oh my goodness – that photo of the balloon ride over Burma is a brand new addition to the “must see” list – it looks spectacular, you’re so lucky to have done this!!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Definitely spectacular! I think everyone should add ballooning over Bagan to their must see list. It’s incredible.

    [Reply]

  17. Sharon @ Wheres Sharon

    Wow!! What an awesome and very varied year!! I think 2014 will struggle to measure up!! :)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    That’s what we said about 2012, but this past year gave it a run for its money! We’re sure that no matter where we end up this year, we’ll make even more special memories.

    [Reply]

  18. Rhonda @ Travel? Yes Please!

    Wow! What a busy and fun filled year you’ve had! If I could pick from this list, I think I would choose to see the northern lights. We see them now and then here in Alberta, where we live, but nothing like what you see in the Arctic. We saw a short film this week at our local science centre about the northern lights, and I learned that the aurora at the south pole and the north pole are always mirror images of each other. Amazing!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    How awesome you see the Northern Lights from Alberta! You should take a trip up to Manitoba or the Northern Territory. We’d love to visit both!

    [Reply]

  19. Sam | Travelling King

    Great year guys!!
    Loving the look of the Austrian Alps at Nassfeld, Hot tubing under the Matterhorn and Russia!!
    SO envious!!

    [Reply]

    Tim Davis Reply:

    Anytime you can go see the Alps in snow you must do it. Austrian, Italy, Swiss, French it doesn’t matter they all look amazing.

    [Reply]

  20. Freya

    Looks like you had an incredible beautiful 2013. This article gives me quite some travel inspiration especially hot tubbing under the Matterhorn sounds great to me. Happy 2014 !

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Glad to hear we could inspire you, Freya! You had a pretty fantastic year yourself and we enjoy following along. One of these years we’ll make it to South America!

    [Reply]

  21. Andrea

    Happy New Year you two! You’ve made me feel very boring, haha. Great year and wonderful photos – looking forward to more of your adventures in 2014 =)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Happy New Year to you too, Andrea! You’re not boring at all! We’d especially love to do that New England road trip you guys did. Mmmm…lobster! :-)

    [Reply]

  22. Corinne

    Wow! It looks like you had a fabulous 2013. I still have to get to Borobudur…it’s high, high on my list. Love your photos.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Corinne! We’ve been hearing great things about Indonesia and it’s on our bucket list too.

    [Reply]

  23. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot

    Looks like an amazing year! Can’t wait to see how you top that in 2014 :)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Mostly we have no idea what’s in store for us for 2014, but our first big trip is a safari in Tanzania so things are looking pretty great already!

    [Reply]

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