As I reflect on our travels over the past year, I realize that we’ve enjoyed a wide range of experiences. We’ve done road trips both with and without the camper, cruised through the Western Caribbean and even led students on an international trip. On top of that, we published our first book, USA RV Adventures.
Perhaps our one regret of 2023 is that we weren’t able to take our RV out as much as we would like. That is mainly because the places we want to visit are relatively far from home. With limited time off work, we don’t always have time to get there (and back) towing the camper.
Still, we had a lot of great adventures, increasing both the number of countries and national park sites we’ve visited. So, let’s dive in a take a look at what we explored in 2023.
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January – New Mexico (and Texas)
We rang in 2023 in Albuquerque as we wrapped up our winter road trip through northern New Mexico. Throughout the first week of January we explored Petroglyph National Monument, along with Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks.
Petroglyph NM consists of several different units that allow you to view ancient petroglyphs along several different walking trails. All areas of the park are easy to access from Albuquerque and provided us with a great opportunity to hit the trail and start 2023 off with a little activity!
After visiting several other cave parks, we weren’t sure how different Carlsbad Caverns would be. We were pleasantly surprised to discover something much more ornate than Mammoth Cave NP, much larger than Jewel Cave National Monument and much easier to access than Timpanogos Cave National Monument. It really is amazing to me how different the various caves of the national park system really are!
Just across the border, in West Texas, Guadalupe Mountains NP is best explored through its hiking trails. Many people take the strenuous hike up to Guadalupe Peak, which was most definitely NOT on our itinerary. One, it’s a bit too strenuous for us these days. Two, the wind was fairly intense while we were there, making for some rather unpleasant conditions.
Instead, we hiked into McKittrick Canyon, which was relatively easy… just about perfect for us! We enjoyed a scenic hike with several easy river crossings. And, we were able to stop for a picnic lunch at the Pratt Cabin.
We definitely hope to return to Carlsbad Caverns in the summer to see the bat flight program and, perhaps, do some hiking above ground. Additionally, we’d love to do more hiking in Guadalupe Mountains NP when it’s warmer.
February – Flying with Southwest Airlines
In February, we took two trips using our temporary Southwest Airlines Companion Pass. When I visited Paris in October 2022 for an EF Tours training, Grant spent a weekend in Waco, TX. On that trip, he earned a promotional (two-month) companion pass. We’ve long thought about leveraging credit card spending to earn the year-long pass and this was a great way to check it out.
In addition to a couple of great trips, we learned that while this pass is very easy to use having it on a short-term basis was a bit frustrating. We weren’t able to book a flight with the pass until the promotional period opened in early January. That meant the mid-January flight we originally had our eye on was out of our budget, even with the companion pass. Thankfully, we were able to reschedule for the first weekend of February.
If utilizing a promotional pass in the future, we’d probably do some workarounds to secure two seats ahead of time. With Southwest’s very lenient cancellation policy, you can purchase to full-price tickets then cancel one and use the Companion Pass to rebook it. Yes, you’ll end up with a credit rather than a refund. But, if you know you’ll be flying again, you can just hold that for a future flight.
Once the Companion Pass is active, it’s incredibly easy to use. And, the second ticket is indeed free other than taxes. For domestic flights, those taxes generally aren’t too expensive. We definitely anticipate working to earn the full Companion Pass in the future. We just need to make sure the timing is right so that we can take full advantage of it.
Now, on to the trips we did take with this pass!
A Weekend in Chicago
Interestingly, both Grant and I had both been to Chicago many years ago (before we met) for conferences but neither of us had really explored the city. We knew it was a bit of a gamble to go in the winter. But, we figured if the weather was just horrible, we could cancel or reschedule the trip.
Thankfully, the weather ended up being great! Yes, it was cold. But we have amassed some fairly good cold-weather gear, so the cold was bearable.
Our main stop was the Pullman National Historical Park. We made a point to get there for the ranger-led tour, which we thoroughly enjoyed. It was really interesting to wander around the grounds and learn about the company town that supported the building of the Pullman luxury rail cars.
We also spent a little time at Navy Pier, Millennium Park (home of “The Bean”) and the Art Institute of Chicago. And, of course, we enjoyed some fantastic food, including lunch at Al’s Italian Beef.
It was definitely a quick visit to Chicago but we had a great time! We’d love to go back when it’s warmer and really be able to enjoy walking around the city some more.
Western Caribbean Cruise
For our week-long February break, we took a Western Caribbean Cruise on the Norwegian Breakaway. When we booked this cruise, we had the option of sailing out of either Miami or New Orleans. Yes, it was different ships but the stops were the same. Ultimately we opted to sail from New Orleans, which was a rookie mistake.
Somehow, we failed to consider that we’d be sailing out of New Orleans right before Mardi Gras.
The biggest issue was that hotel prices were incredibly high. We ended up using a Hilton Free Night Certificate on a standard Hilton Garden Inn. Usually, we save those for luxury resorts that we could never afford otherwise! Still, we got about $400 out of the certificate, so it was worth it.
And, the cruise ended up being great! We really enjoyed the itinerary, returning to Costa Maya and Cozumel (both in Mexico), along with new stops in Roatan, Honduras and Harvest Caye, Belize. We had a good balance of adventure, culture and relaxation with our shore excursions.
We’ve now cruised on many different ships with several different cruise lines. We do enjoy cruising with Norwegian, mainly because you can typically get a free drink package. But, the Breakaway was not our favorite ship. It really was just too crowded.
So, we made a point to book our next cruise on the Norwegian Viva, which is a bigger ship that carries fewer passengers. That cruise is in February 2025 to the Southern Caribbean, including stops in Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao… three new countries for us! (Technically, Bonaire is a territory of the Netherlands rather than a country but we haven’t been there either.)
USA RV Adventures is Published
We wrapped up the month of February with the publication of our first book, USA RV Adventures. Thankfully, most of the hard work had long been finished. Still, after publication, we did a bit of promotion in the form of radio, podcast, magazine and newspaper interviews.
It was a blast seeing our book on the shelves of our local bookstore. And we’ve enjoyed meeting and talking to a slew of people while promoting the book.
Though we haven’t taken as many trips in the RV as we would have liked this year, we’ve continued to research for what we hope will be an updated edition in the future. Any time we travel, we are looking for good campgrounds, interesting attractions and tasty restaurants that we can include on updated or new routes.
We also published an article on RVing the USA, both a brief introduction and a companion piece to the book.
- Sinclair, Bonnie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 560 Pages – 02/28/2023 (Publication Date) – Moon Travel (Publisher)
April – London, England
For Spring Break, I led (and Grant chaperoned) a week-long trip to London, England with EF Tours. We spent the week with 37 students, parents and other teachers seeing the highlights of one of the best cities in the world.
We enjoyed visiting a new country together and exploring all the best attractions, including the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge, the Prime Meridian at Greenwich, Bath and much more!
Taking students and allowing them to see the world, develop their independence and just have fun is a part of education that you just don’t get in a classroom. Yes, traveling with a large group is stressful. And being “on call” 24 hours a day while traveling internationally is exhausting. Still, it’s worth it to see how students grow in such a short amount of time.
Grant and I had a blast seeing all the great sites of London and eating some amazing food. There are many other cities we hope to visit in the future. But, I’m sure we’ll return to London one day so we can properly enjoy the pubs 😉
June – Mid-Atlantic National Parks
For the first time in a very long time, we spent the summer doing two small trips rather than one big one. That was so that we could celebrate my dad’s birthday with him and I could be at home for professional development at the end of June.
So, we spent the first three weeks of June visiting several national parks in the mid-Atlantic. We started with a week-long visit to New River Gorge National Park. As a former National River, we made a point to do some whitewater rafting, along with several hikes and scenic drives.
We were able to partner with Adventures on the Gorge for our rafting trip, along with an afternoon on a zipline through the forest. We also did some rafting in 2022 at Dinosaur National Monument. I have to say, the rafting on the New River was definitely bigger rapids and far more adventurous than the section we did of the Green River in Utah!
From there, we headed south and visited a few park sites just outside Washington, DC, including taking in a Buddy Guy concert at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.
Following that, we spent a couple of day at Shenandoah National Park. There, we stayed at Spacious Skies Shenandoah Views, in what is, hands down, the most scenic campsite we’ve ever camped at. The park (which was previously a KOA), had some of the best amenities, including a large jumping pillow!
July – Upper Midwest National Parks
At the very end of June, we hit the road again, this time headed north to eastern South Dakota and then northern Minnesota. The Missouri National Recreational River was a great place to spend the Fourth of July. We enjoyed camping and kayaking at Chief White Crane Recreation Area, just off the river.
From there, we made our way up to the US-Canada border to Voyageurs National Park. We initially planned to visit this park at the end of our Great Lakes trip in 2019. Unfortunately, significant damage to our camper forced us to end that trip early. The park was well worth the wait, though.
While we aren’t necessarily avid boaters, we loved getting out on the water in several different ways. The highlight was certainly a day trip to Kettle Falls on a private tour.
The last stop of this trip ended up being just outside Minneapolis. From that campground, we explored two more river parks: the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and St. Croix National Scenic River.
TBEX Conference in Eau Claire, WI
We were supposed to end our summer by attending a travel bloggers conference in Eau Claire, WI. Unfortunately, just before the conference started both my mom and sister ended up in the hospital.
Of course, family comes before fun or work, so we canceled that and made a very long return trip home. Thankfully, everyone is doing well now and I am glad that we were able to be there for my family in their time of need.
And, we are extremely excited (and thankful) that we were able to transfer our registration to the 2024 TBEX conference, which is in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We previously visited San Juan for just a couple of days before and after a Southern Caribbean cruise in 2017. We’re excited to return to Puerto Rico and are planning to spend additional time exploring the entire island after the conference.
September – Montana
In September, we finally used the last of our flight credits from our canceled Summer 2020 trip to Hawaii. Keeping track of all the credits we had from a 5-week, 4-island trip with three different airlines wasn’t easy. And we still sometimes question whether we forgot about something. But, I’m pretty sure we did keep it all straight and made use of everything we could.
For this trip, we flew to Billings, MT and then spent nine days on a Montana road trip, roughly following the Best of Montana loop in our book. From Billings, we made a quick stop at Bear Paw Battlefield, a unit of Nez Perce National Historical Park, and then continued to Glacier National Park.
A two-day visit to Glacier isn’t nearly enough to see everything the park has to offer. But, it was a great “refresher” to our first visit, which was more than 10 years ago. We are excited to finally have an itinerary to share with you to help you plan your trip to this iconic national park.
From there, it was a quick stop at the Bison Range, before reaching our final destination of Yellowstone National Park. Again, three days wasn’t nearly enough to see and do everything we wanted to. But, Yellowstone is (thus far) our favorite place on Earth, so any chance we have to visit is special.
And, we were extremely excited to finally meet fellow Moon author Becky Lomax in person. Becky writes the USA National Parks book, along with Glacier National Park and the Best of Yellowstone and Grand Teton books. We have personally used several of her books to help plan our travels and she helped us get our gig with Moon.
This was a great trip, despite winter weather altering our plans to drive the Beartooth Highway on our return to Billings.
- Lomax, Becky (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 784 Pages – 10/18/2022 (Publication Date) – Moon Travel (Publisher)
- Lomax, Becky (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 280 Pages – 03/28/2023 (Publication Date) – Moon Travel (Publisher)
- Lomax, Becky (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 376 Pages – 03/30/2021 (Publication Date) – Moon Travel (Publisher)
December – Texas
We spent Thanksgiving with Bonnie’s family and then Christmas Eve with Grant’s family. So, on Christmas Day, we headed out on our final trip of the year: a road trip to eastern and central Texas.
As I write, we’re closing in on the final hour of our 13-hour drive from Atlanta, GA to Galveston, TX. It’s a long drive, but it will be worth it tomorrow to wake up to sunrise views over the Gulf of Mexico right from our room.
Nearly three years ago, we visited the Texas Gulf Coast in February and ended up caught in the “great Texas freeze” of 2021. We managed a quick visit to Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, just outside Brownsville but the next day conditions deteriorated quickly. By that point, many hotels were without water, electricity or both.
Of course, we hope to have a better outcome this time around!
We are excited to finally visit Padre Island National Seashore, which we missed on that trip. Other stops on this year’s itinerary include San Antonio, Austin, Fredericksburg, Waco and, possibly, Fort Worth. Along the way, we’ll be visiting (and revisiting) national park sites and researching for a potential second edition to USA RV Adventures (no official word yet, but we’re hopeful).
Starting in January, we’ll have articles on all the fun that we find throughout the Lone Star State.
What’s in Store for 2024
As previously mentioned, we already have a couple of trips planned for 2024.
For Spring Break, we are returning to the Washington, DC area with our camper. We plan to camp at Prince William Forest Park for about a week. From there, we will travel into the city to visit (and revisit) some of the many national park sites in and around Washington, DC.
There are almost too many parks to keep up with in that area, but we’re going to do our best to visit as many as we can. And, hopefully, we’ll catch some of the amazing spring cherry blossoms.
Next summer we’ll leave the camper behind and spend three weeks exploring the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico before and after TBEX North America.
Way back in 2011, we visited St. Thomas and St. John before spending a week sailing the British Virgin Islands with Grant’s dad and stepmom. We are excited to revisit those islands and add on a stop in St. Croix. Of course, we plan to visit all of the national parks in the Virgin Islands and will publish in-depth guides for you.
Following our conference, we plan to drive around the entire island of Puerto Rico, spending time in as many of its wonderful cities as we can.
We are still in the planning stages for both of these trips but are very excited about them. The summer trip, in particular, is taking some careful budgeting. So, we’re not sure what else we’ll squeeze in next year. But I’m sure we’ll come up with something.
I’m hopeful we’ll finally make it to Congaree National Park, which is just a few hours from our home near Atlanta. Of course, I think we’ve said that for the last few years, so I won’t promise anything.
As always, stay tuned to social media to follow along with our adventures and learn how to plan a trip for yourself!
What do you use to find a flight?
We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.
What do you use to find a hotel?
We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.
We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.
What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?
We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.
Who do you use for rental cars?
How about booking a cruise?
What if I want to rent an RV?
We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.
What do you use for booking tours?
Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?
We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
Click here to get a AAA membership.