Our 2023 family travel recap shows the eleven countries that we visited during our year in travel with the Wandering Wagars
If there’s one thing that family travel has taught me, it’s that you never know what’s going to happen from year to year.
Ever since I started recording my family’s travel adventures with our 2015 year in travel, each year has looked more and more epic. This wasn’t by design. It was simply that our family’s appetite for travel was seemingly insatiable.
This year, our lust for travel was still strong. But there was a major change in our lives that we had only got a taste of in 2021 and 2022. The boys are older now. 2023 was the year that they were both in their double digits. Cohen turned 12 in March, and Dylan turned 10 in September. And with age comes the growth of their own passions.
And for both the boys, that passion is hockey.
This year, both boys have continued their growth in a sport they’ve come to love, and anything that you love deserves the time and energy to keep that passion alive. As parents, we want our kids to follow those dreams and become the best they can be at what they love.
Unfortunately, chasing any passion comes at a cost. And for us, the biggest challenge is time.
So, in 2023, we continued to adjust how we chased our love for travel. Christina and I had to chase some of our travel goals independently, including trips to Kazakhstan, Japan, and Peru. Between us, we still managed to visit eleven countries and create some amazing travel memories by packing our breaks full of adventures in European countries such as Greece, Belgium, Netherlands, and Turkey.
New York City, USA
Typical for me, my travel year got started in New York City. Every year, I attend a massive conference called the International Media Marketplace (IMM). This conference is where travel professionals from across the world get together to connect and discover potential projects for the coming years.
This time, the theme of the conference was Indigenous travel, something that I’m incredibly passionate about. I got to see some good friends in the Canadian Indigenous travel community talk to an attentive crowd.
While I was there, I got to connect with some amazing friends as well as take some time to explore the city on my own, finding some absolutely incredible photo stops around town.
Continuing on my professional travels, I made my very first trip to Germany. Specifically, the city of Berlin to attend the world’s largest travel conference, International Travel Berlin (ITB). This was my first time attending ITB, and to be honest, it was bigger and more chaotic than I liked at a conference.
But the conference did give me a chance to meet some amazing new people, such as Juliana Brost from Traveling Jules, as well as connect with good friends, including Mike and Ann from Honeytrek and Travel personality Jenn Weatherhead.
It also allowed me to explore an incredible city and see things like sections of the Berlin Wall, fascinating museums, and historic locations from WWI and WWII. It was absolutely humbling walking among the Holocaust memorials and stopping to see the famous Checkpoint Charlie, one of the only ways in and out of East Berlin before the wall fell.
Berlin is an amazing city, and I’ll be putting out a guide to it later this year.
After two busy conferences and traveling alone, it was exciting to get together with Christina and the boys for some family travel. And this would be another one of our epic travel journeys.
Christina had been traveling in Eastern Europe for work, and I was in Germany. The boys flew to London, England, with Christina’s parents. We all met up in the historic city for some amazing experiences that included a Willy Wonka tea time at One Aldwych and a tour of the Warner Brothers Harry Potter set.
These were combined with some exploring of the city core, where we walked across the Tower Bridge and checked out some of the city’s amazing historic sites.
As a group, we made our way from London to Athens, Greece, to start ten days of exploring one of the most amazing and beautiful countries in the world.
Over the next week and a half, we visited sites from one of the boy’s favorite fantasy series, Percy Jackson. Along the way, we stopped in Mycenae, Nafplio, Epidareus, and Corinth. We then made our way to Mystras and the beautiful walled city of Monevasia.
As we drove through the mountains, we stopped in the historic city of Delphi and then in Olympia, where the first Olympic Games were held. Our next stop was two nights in the jaw-droppingly gorgeous town of Meteora before stopping at the hill of Kolonos, where Leonidas and his 300 Spartans made their final stand against the Persian empire.
Shortly after my family returned from Greece, I was invited to visit the city of Lafayette, Louisiana, during their annual Mardi Gras celebrations. This was an eye-opening trip for me, as I had only ever been to Louisiana once before, on a visit to New Orleans with Christina.
Lafayette is nothing like New Orleans. And the Acadian roots here have influenced the region’s Creole heritage in a far deeper way.
Being in the region at Mardi Gras allowed me to witness the local customs personally, including their popular Mardi Gras parade and the wild house parties. At these raucous events, Acadians travel from house to house in full costume to chase chicken and eat copious amounts of food.
To celebrate getting back together as a family, Christina and I took the boys into Toronto to experience the latest Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, Kooza. We started taking the boys to the Cirque du Soleil shows a few years back, and they’ve always been absolutely entranced by them.
This show was just as fun and energetic as past ones. There were new and exciting displays of acrobatics mixed with an exciting and interactive cast that really kept the whole crowd engaged. Dylan particularly loved the part when I had popcorn dumped all over me!
As the spring turned into summer, I jumped into conference season again, and one of my first stops was with the reputable Adventure Travel Trade Association in the state of Maine. I joined some old friends, such as Lora Pope from Explore with Lora and Davey Sutton.
The ATTA conference is always a blast. Among the amazing meetings I had the chance to do some fishing, rock climbing, hiking, and cycling around cities, including Camden, Rockport, and Portland.
Rideau River Provincial Park
I returned from Maine and had a short two-day break with the family before I made the drive up near the Canadian Capital of Ottawa to check out a new-to-me Ontario Provincial Park, Rideau River. The project was in partnership with Ontario Parks, one of my favorite local organizations.
They had some amazing new roofed accommodations that I had the pleasure of experiencing. The park is gorgeous, with great camping, hiking, and cycling trails, all located right along the beautiful Rideau River.
One of the coolest things that has arisen from me turning my humble little family travel blog into a full-fledged award-winning family travel website is being invited to some exciting new destinations that have evaded my travel radar.
Earlier in the year, the Society of American Travel Writers had invited me down to Lafayette, Louisiana, to take part in the city’s Mardi Gras Celebrations. But that was nothing compared to the next invitation that I got from their Digital Publishers Council.
In conjunction with the country’s tourism department and USAID, I was invited to visit Kazakhstan, a country that had just recently opened its doors to tourism. On top of getting to visit an incredible new country, I’d have the chance to spend that time with some good friends, such as my business partner Chris Mitchell, with whom I co-founded the websites Ultimate Ontario and We Explore Canada. Also on the trip were Lina and David from the Divergent Travelers, Marlyn from Urban Bliss Life, Keryn Means from Twist Travel Magazine, and Lindsay Niemenen, a fellow family travel writer from Carpe Diem Our Way.
I’ll admit that I knew nothing about the country before visiting, but it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the country and its people. The Kazakhs were some of the friendliest and most wonderful human beings that I’ve ever had the chance to meet.
Exploring their fascinating nomadic history, along with the country’s ridiculously gorgeous natural treasures near the city of Almaty, was eye-opening. I learned that Kazakhstan will be hosting the incredible World Nomad Games in 2024, and I’m actively trying to see if I can get to the country to visit when they do.
Sauble Beach, Ontario
Kazakhstan was eye-opening. But the second I got home, I was anxious to spend some time with Christina and the boys again. And there was no better way to do this than at our annual escape with Christina’s family up in Sauble Beach, Ontario.
Each summer, around Father’s Day, we make the journey up to the shores of Lake Huron for a long weekend of sand, sun, and family bonding. The boys get to spend time with their cousins, and all the parents get to celebrate together with campfires and amazing food.
Every year, our time in Sauble Beach is spent exploring the picturesque town, the world’s second-longest freshwater beach, and the new restaurants that seem to be constantly popping up in the beach town.
North Bay, Ontario
Just three days after returning from Kazakhstan, I was on the road again to another conference. This time, it was just a few hours north of home in the city of Sudbury, Ontario. My family had just visited the city the year before and had an amazing time.
But before stopping in Sudbury, I got the opportunity to check out its sister city, North Bay.
North Bay is a city that I’ve never had the chance to stop in, even though I’ve made the Sudbury to Thunder Bay drive countless times. An amazing bonus was that I was going to be visiting North Bay with some of my best friends, including Chris Mitchell and Kathryn Dickson from Kathryn Anywhere. Also along for the ride was my good buddy Davindra from Goat Roti Chronicles and Steve Lyons, a fellow travel writer whom I had met in Maine a couple of months earlier.
North Bay turned out to be a pretty incredible city. We ripped some of Ontario’s best mountain biking trails, went kayaking, took hikes along beautiful rivers with gorgeous waterfalls, and enjoyed some amazing horseback riding adventures at the wonderful Von Doelers Ranch.
North Bay was more than just the outdoors, though. We enjoyed some amazing breweries and the city’s new “Cookie Crawl,” where stores throughout downtown have cookies for sale. Those who hit all the cookie stops get an amazing package from North Bay Tourism.
Straight from North Bay, I made the short drive to Sudbury for the annual Travel Media Association of Canada conference. This is one of my favorite conferences of the year.
Each year, friends and colleagues from across Canada and the United States gather together for a week of networking and learning in cool locations. Sudbury is a town that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but for me, it’s the gateway to beautiful Northern Ontario, and I love the city.
Chris and I picked up the “Best Travel Website” award for We Explore Canada, which was a huge thrill. But I was very excited for a chance to revisit Kivi Park and other beautiful areas around town.
With hockey season finished and the boys confirming their places on teams for the following season, it was time to get back into family travel mode.
Northern Ontario is one of my favorite places in Canada. The landscape and nature up north are unforgettable. So when the family and I had a chance to head straight from the end of school up north to visit the city of Thunder Bay at the top of Lake Superior, I didn’t bat an eyelash.
As a bonus, my friends Kathryn, Chris, and Chris Rudder, who runs Road Trip Ontario, and their loved ones were going to join us. Kat, Chris, and Chris all co-founded a local blogger group with me back in 2018 called the Toronto Blogger Collective, and we’ve been great friends ever since.
While we were there, we had the chance to check out some incredible places, including Pigeon River Provincial Park, which sits on the border with Minnesota, and the amazing Fort Williams National Historic Site.
One of the best parts of our visit was spending Canada Day at the For William First Nation Pow Wow. This blazing community just outside of the city had dancing, music, great food, and loads of Indigenous-run shops to explore.
The biggest reason that I took on this project, though, was so that my family could take on the famous “Top of the Giant” hike in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.
I’ve been up to Thunder Bay countless times, and on every visit, this epic 21-km up-and-down hike eludes me. Not only did the kids and I tackle this hike with world-class views over Lake Superior, but Chris Mitchell and Kat, along with her two kids, did as well.
What an accomplishment!
With school and work out of the way, the summer was ours for adventure. To make up for all of the time that we didn’t spend traveling as a family during the winter, we planned an epic six-week tour through Europe.
Christina, however, had some last-minute work to do in the UK, so when we arrived in Amsterdam to start our trip, she made her way over to Great Britain while the boys and I hopped on a train bound for Antwerp, Belgium.
We spent five days kicking around Antwerp, Brussels, and Bruges, checking out music festivals, cycling the country’s renowned trails, and exploring some of the most beautiful cities in Europe before making our way back to Amsterdam, where Christina had a few more days of work to complete.
While Christina was hard at work at a conference in Amsterdam, the boys and I spent a few days wandering around the museums and alleys of this notorious city. Despite accidentally walking into the “Red Light” district at one point (which opened up some fascinating questions about the city’s focus as a “tourist town”), we had a blast.
Along with Amsterdam, we also got to take in some WWII history in Muiden and explore the historic windmills and churches of Haarlem. On our final day in Amsterdam, we reconnected with Christina for some travel fun before starting the focus of our trip: adventures in the country of Turkiye.
On our transit through Istanbul, we had the opportunity to make a quick six-hour stopover in the city of Warsaw, Poland. That was something that we simply couldn’t pass up.
Rather than spending that time chilling at the airport, we filled our visit with pierogies, World War II history, and beautiful public art displays in the city’s historic center.
Our visit to Turkiye would take up the vast majority of our summer vacation, and we were determined to make the most of it. After exploring the wonders of Istanbul, including a Bosphorus Strait cruise and visits to the famed Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, we made our way south to the town of Selcuk, home to the iconic ruins of Ephesus as well as the remains of one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis.
From there, we broke up our Turkiye travels with a Mediterranean cruise with Celestyal Cruises through the Greek Islands, but I’ll get to that after we’re finished with Turkiye.
After our cruise, we rented a car to make a road trip through southwest Turkiye, stopping at famous beaches like Patara Beach and Turtle Beach as well as loads of incredible towns, including Dalyan, Kas, and Demre. Probably one of the coolest stops was our visit to Heirapolis and the hillside hot springs of Pamukkale, home to one of the most beautiful natural areas in the country.
From the southwest, we caught a flight to Cappadocia, where we stayed in mind-blowing beautiful cave hotels, went ATVing in the desert, and floated among the stunning landscapes in a hot air balloon. This region of the country is just as beautiful as everyone says it is.
From Cappadocia, we made our way to the far east of the country, not far from the borders of Syria. This area had been on Christina’s radar for years; I initially didn’t understand why. But once we arrived and saw the sunrise from atop Mount Nemrut and wandered among the 12,000-year-old ruins of Gobleki Tepe, we were all convinced that this region of Turkiye is one of its most underrated and incredible.
After our visit to mainland Greece back in March, having the opportunity to take a Celestyal Cruise through some of the most beautiful Greek Islands was not to be missed.
Our island cruise began in the town of Kusadasi, Turkiye, and visited six locations in Greece, including Crete, Santorini, Mykonos, Milos, Athens, and Thessaloniki. Christina and I enjoyed an Alaska Cruise before the kids were born, and our family did an incredible “cruise-ish” tour of coastal Norway on the Hurtigruten Ferry a few years back, but this was the closest that they’ve ever come to “resort-style” cruise life, and they enjoyed it quite a bit.
The moment we arrived back home, it was back into hockey season for the boys. In fact, Cohen had to begin training the day after we arrived home from Turkiye!
But that didn’t mean that we couldn’t do some local exploring, including a visit to Toronto to stay at one of our favorite hotels in the city, the Chelsea Hotel. During our little “staycation” in the city, we checked out some of our top things to do in Toronto, including the Hockey Hall of Fame and a stop at the incredible Canadian National Exhibition.
As the fall season began, the boys and I had the opportunity to enjoy a road trip north of our home to the township of Mulmur, Ontario. Before we made the one-hour drive north of our home in Brampton, I knew nothing about Mulmur. But all it took was one day for me to love it.
First of all, this was one of the most scenic fall drives that I’ve ever enjoyed. The rolling hills and autumn colors were spectacular. Once we were there, we enjoyed the season to its fullest with a visit to a farm shop, exploring a corn maze, enjoying a hike in the hills of Mulmur, and a visit to a small-town museum that completely defied expectations. You can read about that here.
Ontario Science Centre
As November came to a close and the boys were fully-emerged in their 2023/24 hockey season, we took a day off of school to head into Toronto to visit the Ontario Science Centre. This amazing science museum is the biggest of its kind in Canada, and its new “Dinos in Motion” exhibit offered a chance to combine a love of art and dinosaurs.
In December, I was invited to visit one of my favorite countries, Peru, for another Adventure Travel Trade Association event. These events always combine incredible meetings with unforgettable adventures. For this visit, I was invited to be one of the first 200 people to hike a newly discovered section of the Royal Inca Road.
The hike itself was a learning opportunity both for the experienced trekkers who were involved and the trekking company that ran the three-day excursion. Mistakes were made, but luckily, everyone made it through the hike without permanent damage. I’ll be launching an article on what exactly happened shortly.
But even though the hike wasn’t the dream experience that I had hoped, it was still unforgettable. And I got to experience new areas of the country that I had never seen before, including the oldest ruins in South America, Caral, and the oldest ruins in the High Andes, the city of Chavin.
When I look back at my travel experiences of 2023, it seems that Chris Mitchell and I spent as much time together as I did with my family. He and I worked together in Kazakhstan, again in North Bay and Sudbury, in Thunder Bay, and our final trip of the year was a visit to the beautiful Quebec City in partnership with the local tourism board, Quebec Cite.
Quebec City is the most beautiful city in Canada and, quite possibly, the most beautiful city in North America. Our four days in the city were spent eating at some of the city’s finest restaurants, doing some winter hiking in the beautiful Parc National Jacques Cartier, and enjoying mulled wine at the wonderful Quebec City Christmas Markets.
This is one of my favorite cities in Canada for family travel, and I can’t wait to come back to Quebec City with my kids.
European Christmas Markets
In December, Christina also enjoyed some Christmas markets of her own! She visited Paris, Prague, Budapest, and Munich on a whirlwind trip with her sister for some serious bonding time. Keep an eye out for her articles on tips on visiting Christmas markets.
Looking Forward To Family Travel In 2024
It’s hard to believe that in 2024, Cohen will officially be a teenager. As the boys continue to follow their own passions and dreams, there’s no doubt that our family travel schedule will become more complicated.
But if there’s one thing that I understand, it’s that if you are truly passionate about something, you will find time for it, and I know that 2024 will bring some amazing and unforgettable adventures of its own. Some of them might be just by myself or with Christina. But we will all set aside time to enjoy some adventurous family vacations together as well.
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