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Top Travel Experiences of 2023

It's been an incredible year of travel and adventure, and I can't wait to share my top experiences of 2023 with you.

As a food and travel blogger based in Austin, Texas, I've had the privilege of exploring some fantastic destinations, both near and far. From road trips in the Lone Star State to my first trans-Pacific journey in more than ten years, it's been a whirlwind.

Join me as I reminisce about the places I've explored in this year's travel retrospective. I hope it sparks a little wanderlust in you for the year ahead.

International Trips


Dave and kel in front of a Buddha statue in the Marble Mountains of Central Vietnam, a top travel experience of 2023.
Dave and Kel in the Marble Mountains, Vietnam

My most extensive trip of the year was in February when I flew to Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City) via Tokyo to attend the wedding of my good friend Nick. Kel joined me, as did several of our friends from the Austin area, which made it all the more fun.

Our first week was spent sightseeing in Saigon and attending the rehearsal dinner and wedding. We then joined the bride and groom on a budget-friendly five-day tour of Vietnam.

Kel wrote about our activities in Central Vietnam, including visits to the Marble Mountains, Golden Bridge, and the ancient city of Hoi An.

Next, we flew from Da Nang to Hanoi in Northern Vietnam for an overnight cruise in Ha Long Bay. Afterward, we balanced thrifty accommodations earlier in the trip with a more luxurious stay at the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake.

I returned from the two-week trip with a greater appreciation for Vietnamese coffee, cuisine, and culture. There's still a lot of Vietnam left to see should Kel and I return.

I was, however, ready to leave after two weeks. The chaotic traffic, the constant din of motorbikes, and the air pollution in Hanoi were all getting under my skin. I wanted relief, and I knew we'd find it in Tokyo.


Dave and Kel at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo
Dave and Kel at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo

My first trip to Japan was in February 2011, so I found it fitting to return 12 years later to the month for my second.

Unlike my first solo visit to the Japanese megalopolis, where I couchsurfed to save money, we shared the cost of a comfortable stay at the Hilton Tokyo in Shinjuku. Our sky-high room afforded beautiful views of the entertainment district day and night.

I ventured out on my own for a few lunches at Florilege and Sezanne, both of which I wrote about for Feastio. The U.S. dollar was robust against the Japanese yen. In the evenings, Kel and I wandered the streets of Shinjuku in search of casual dinners.

We enjoyed creative cocktails at Bar Benfiddich, one of the world's best bars. And drinks at the New York Bar atop the Park Hyatt Tokyo, where scenes from Lost in Translation were filmed.

Another highlight was showing Kel the Tokyo subway, which we used to visit the Imperial Palace, home to Emperors since 1868. I would love to return to Japan in spring or summer to see more of the country. Autumn in Japan is also known to be quite pretty.

United States Travel

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day with my brother Jon at McSorley's in NYC
St. Patrick's Day at McSorley's, NYC

Nashville, TN

Most of my travel in 2023 was in the United States, starting with a bachelor party weekend in January for Nick, whose wedding I attended in Vietnam. It was as fun a trip as my first to Music City in 2019, when I went for July 4th celebrations.

Read more about Tennessee:

New York City

After returning from Asia in late February, I had a few weeks to overcome jetlag before heading to New York City the week of St. Patrick's Day.

While Kel was working, I caught up with friends and family while visiting NYC's oldest bars on St. Patty's Day, including McSorley's Old Ale House. The older but lesser-known Ear Inn dates back to 1817 and was one of my favorites.

We also caught a Broadway show together, the re-make of Some Like It Hot, which garnered 13 Tony Award nominations in 2023 (and won four). I highly recommend it!

Tampa, FL

Dave driving a motorboat in Tampa Bay, Florida
I am driving a motorboat.

I made three trips to Tampa, Florida. The first was in collaboration with Visit Tampa Bay and allowed me to explore downtown Tampa before joining my Dad, brother, and Kel for a Yankees spring training game.

I returned for Thanksgiving with my Dad in November and Christmas in December. I can count the times I've not spent Christmas with my parents on one hand (2007 in Queenstown, 2008 in Brussels, and 2020 in Austin).

After experiencing what Christmas was like away from home on my 'round the world trip, I've made an effort to return for it ever since.

Read more about Tampa:

San Francisco and Sonoma, CA

Dave in Muir Woods
Dave in Muir Woods

In April, I returned to San Francisco for the second time in three years. The highlight was a full-day tour of Muir Woods, Sausalito, and Alcatraz Island.

Hiking in Muir Woods, in particular, fulfilled a bucket-list experience for me to spend time among towering redwoods. It was awe-inspiring, and I wouldn't have to wait long to repeat it.

Following our time in San Francisco, Kel and I rented a car and drove up the California coast to Sonoma County.

Along the way, we saw filming locations from The Birds and The Goonies, hiked through Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, and enjoyed a free California Champagne flight at Korbel Winery.

We spent two nights in Sonoma Valley in collaboration with the destination, allowing me to taste wine in Northern California for the first time.

We also visited the Jack London Historic State Park, one of more than a dozen fun things to do in Sonoma Valley.

Read more about California:


Dave on Schooner J & E Riggin's yawl boat heading to shore. Cruising on a windjammer in Maine was one of my favorite travel experiences of 2023.
Dave on Schooner J & E Riggin's yawl boat

In early May, I traveled to Portland, Maine, for the first time to attend AdventureELEVATE 2023, the Adventure Travel Trade Association's North America-focused conference.

It was my first time attending this smaller regional conference after having had incredible experiences attending ATTA World Summits in Tuscany and Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

As is customary, I went on a few tours before the conference began. First, we drove up the coast to the charming coastal town of Bar Harbor. From there, we went e-cycling in Acadia National Park.

Our first outing was cycling the Schoodic Peninsula, and our second was spent on the busier Park Loop Road. On the way back to Portland for the conference, we also hopped aboard the historic Schooner Olad for a pleasure cruise.

Attending the conference led to an invitation from the Maine Windjammers Association to go on a windjammer cruise out of Rockland in July. Kel joined me for a few days beforehand to attend my friend Kate's wedding in Boston and see some of Maine's historic lighthouses.

I came away from my two trips to Maine with a great affinity for the Pine Tree State. I look forward to returning to drive the northern coast and explore the interior.

Houston, TX

In 2022, I visited Houston for the first few times and followed those road trips with three more in 2023, primarily in service of eating for Feastio. Check out my top Houston restaurant recommendations, including where to find excellent Texas barbecue.

Fredericksburg, TX

Kel and I spent a weekend wine tasting in the Texas Hill Country in what has become an annual tradition. A highlight of this trip was the chance to meet Blake, a southern white rhino, at the Rhinory.

San Diego, CA

Pretending to be Tom Cruise (photo by Kelly Lemons)
Pretending to be Tom Cruise (photo by Kelly Lemons)

In late July, I joined Kel on a short business trip to San Diego, a city I became enamored with after visiting in 2018.

I introduced her to Kansas City Barbecue, which opened in the early 1980s and was made forever famous as a filming location in the first Top Gun movie. We also had dinner with a friend and checked out some new speakeasies to update a story on Feastio.

The final scene in Top Gun was shot at Kansas City Barbecue.

San Antonio, TX

Kel and I made the first of two trips to San Antonio in October. She had to work there, and I wanted to use my AMEX Platinum credit card benefits for a night at The St. Anthony Hotel before they expired.

I also saw inside The Alamo for the first time and explored the historic Pearl District, a former brewery redeveloped into a modern shopping and dining destination.

Soon after, I was invited back by Visit San Antonio to help promote the city's first Holidays on Houston Street, a combination of events including festive lights, live entertainment, and a weekend Christmas market.

The opportunity allowed me to see the city in a new light, check out more San Antonio restaurants, and meet other travel writers and influencers from around Texas.

During some free time in our schedule, Kel and I went to see Mission Concepcion, one of five Catholic missions opened in the area during the 1700s to spread Christianity to the Native Americans. The San Antonio Missions are the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas.

New Orleans, LA

St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. Visiting New Orleans was one of my top travel experiences of 2023.
St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square

Finally, there was New Orleans, which we visited before Halloween. My parents introduced me to the Big Easy when we spent a weekend there in 2017, and I've been going back ever since.

This food-focused trip enabled me to update stories on where to find the best restaurants, cocktail bars, and beignets in New Orleans. I also added a few new spots to my article about the best jazz clubs on Go Backpacking.

Plus, I produced two new stories for Feastio about NOLA bakeries and the historic Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter. I also intend to write about the city's many museums for Go Backpacking.

Read more about Louisiana:

Wrapping Up

As I look back on my travels in 2023, I'm filled with gratitude for the incredible experiences and destinations I've been able to explore. From the bustling streets of Saigon to the tranquil beauty of Muir Woods, from the vibrant culture of New Orleans to the historic charm of San Antonio, this year has been full of adventure.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. Here's to new adventures, delicious discoveries, and unforgettable moments in 2024!

Prior Annual Reviews

Living in Texas

  • 2022 – Peru, USA
  • 2021 – The Bahamas, USA
  • 2020 – a year without travel
  • 2019 – Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Colombia, USA
  • 2018 – Peru, Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Italy, Spain, USA
  • 2017 – Mexico, USA (I didn't write a recap)
  • 2016 – Mexico, Canada, Peru, Brazil, USA

Living Abroad

  • 2015 – Colombia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Greece, Germany, Romania, England, USA
  • 2014 – Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Italy, Mexico, Peru, USA
  • 2013 – Colombia, Mexico, Canada, Panama, USA
  • 2012 South America – Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia
  • 2012 Europe and Asia – Iceland, Spain, Germany, Indonesia, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, England, Wales, Luxembourg, France, Monaco, Andorra
  • 2011 – Japan, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
  • 2010 – Rwanda, Colombia, USA

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