It’s that time of year again! Full Life, Full Passport’s sixth birthday (!!!) was last Thursday, and that means it’s time to take a look back at yet another year of FLFP ups, downs, client travel destinations, and other highlights.
I love doing these posts each year! It’s fun to look back and see how far we’ve come together, to look at what worked well and what fell flat, and to celebrate another year of doing something that I love so much.
So join me, won’t you? And I’d love to hear your highlights and lowlights of 2023 in the comments below 🙂
A Long-Awaited Trip to Italy
After almost ten years of waiting, it finally happened. In October, M and I jetted off (sans kids!) for eight full days in gorgeous, romantic Italy.
We had originally planned to visit Italy on our honeymoon, but ended up pivoting to a Caribbean cruise when we realized that we wouldn’t have the energy or finances post-wedding to do the trip justice. “We’ll go for our fifth anniversary!” we promised ourselves… and then E came along. Then came COVID, and the addition of S to the family and…
Well, let’s just say it was a long road to get there, but all that waiting just made the trip sweeter. We couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful vacation.
In true M-and-Gwen style, we packed a lot into those eight days: a full-day food tour of Italy’s “Food Valley,” a Ferrari drive through the hills, a detour to San Marino, two days wandering medieval hill towns in Umbria, hikes and ferry rides in Cinque Terre, and, of course, all the food and wine and scenic views we could possibly handle. It was a dream trip, and I can’t wait to share my best experiences, tips, and itineraries with you to start the year!
A Sunny Aruban Getaway
Mother-daughter trips are back, baby! After canceling our planned vacation to Aruba in 2022 due to continued COVID uncertainties, my mom, sister, and I finally got to take our third mother-daughter trip in March. (Previous trips were to Belize in 2018 and Puerto Rico pre-COVID in 2020.) Mom’s destination choice this time was sunny Aruba, that “One Happy Island” in the southern Caribbean.
Our time in Aruba included plenty of hours spent lounging on Eagle Beach, a snorkeling trip, a wild and dusty adventure along the northern coast, a day trip to San Nicolas to the south, and a swoon-worthy sunset dinner cruise on a wooden schooner. (You can read the full recap of the trip here.)
It was also a nice change of pace to stay in the same hotel for an entire weeklong vacation. Usually I’m moving between at least two destinations on any given trip (see Italy, above), but Aruba is so small and easily navigated that it just made sense to have a single home base! We loved our time at Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort and were sad to leave it by the end of the week.
I continue to be so grateful for the opportunity to spend these weeks with my mom and sister. Each trip, from Belize to Puerto Rico to Aruba, has been more special and precious than the last, and I couldn’t do it without the help and support of M and his parents holding down the fort back home.
I can’t wait to see what destination my mom picks for 2025! Stay tuned 🙂
Where Did FLFP Clients Travel This Year?
Here are some of the vacations I planned for 2023:
- La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
- Caribbean cruises
- Mexico (including Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum)
- France (including Paris, northwestern France, and a north/central France road trip)
- Alaska land and cruise vacations
- Guerra and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
- the Azores
- Lancaster, Pennsylvania
- England and Wales, United Kingdom
- Tanzania safari with Zanzibar
- Florida (including Key West and Clearwater)
- Rome and Florence, Italy
- Lisbon and Lagos, Portugal
A Partnership to Highlight My Hometown
One of the biggest honors of my year was partnering with the Juniata River Valley Visitors Bureau to showcase the community in which I grew up. The Juniata River Valley is located smack-dab in the middle of Pennsylvania and boasts miles of bucolic country roads, lovely green valleys, a river perfect for recreation, and a strong sense of community and tradition. Despite these charms, the area sees few visitors, with most tourists passing straight through on their way to more famous places like Hershey or State College.
As a lover of hidden gems, I was excited to get the chance to help change that!
Over the course of my weekend, I got to follow a fun local wine trail and take a road trip through southern Juniata County, the county where I spent my childhood. It was such fun to go back home and see the area through the eyes of a tourist as I researched my posts. And as more and more people encounter my articles online, I look forward to word spreading about what a special place this corner of Central Pennsylvania is.
Unprecedented Business Growth
2023 was huge on the business side of Full Life, Full Passport. By every metric, the year was a smashing success: website traffic was up significantly, we planned more vacations to a wider variety of places, and overall revenue increased over 200% compared to 2022. (This was largely thanks to that accreditation I earned last year, which allows me to partner more closely with brands and earn more in commission at no extra cost to clients.)
While the love of this work is what keeps me going, it’s also such a blessing to be able to help provide for my family as I do it. Thank you all for your part in keeping this business afloat!
Other Fun Stuff from This Year:
- As is our family tradition, we got to spend lots of time at the Delaware beaches this past summer.
- I got to plan my mom’s bucket list trip to Tanzania in September. She has dreamed of going to Africa for as long as I can remember and we finally got to make it happen! Their trip involved nine nights on safari in northern Tanzania and four nights on the island of Zanzibar. My mom couldn’t have been more delighted, and I was so, so happy to have been able to help get her there. (My dad seems to have enjoyed it, too.)
- I was back on Instagram with a new strategy this year, and it was less frustrating than years past.
- The kids are growing and changing a little bit every day, and it’s such a joy watching them become little people. Five-year-old E loves school and sports and all things lawn care, and two-year-old S is silly and fearless and determined to be able to do anything her older brother does. I’m so grateful to be their mom and get a front-row seat to their lives.
A Delayed Website Redesign
It has long been on the docket to do another redesign of the FLFP website to make it more attractive, user-friendly, and informative. A lot of work was put into the new look in the spring and early summer, but, unfortunately, things got busy and the project was put on the back burner. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to roll out the new website at some point in 2024!
Sick in Cinque Terre
Although our Italy trip was largely the stuff of dreams, there were some parts that were decidedly un-dreamy, including me contracting some sort of stomach bug during our stay in Cinque Terre.
We arrived in Monterosso al Mare, the northern most of the five towns that make up Cinque Terre, in the early afternoon and almost immediately set off on the hiking trail to the next town of Vernazza. I felt a little off along the way, but attributed it to the heat and perhaps to the quantity of pasta and wine I had been eating. (#NoRegrets)
By the next day, though, I knew something was wrong. I barely made it through our ferry ride along the coastline to Porto Venere and back, and I ended up spending most of the afternoon and evening stuck in bed. (And… other places… but we won’t talk about that part.)
It was so disappointing to lose a day in this special place that I had dreamed of visiting for so long. (And it was doubly painful after that horrible ear infection had similarly disrupted my trip to New Mexico just a year before.) We never made it to three of the five towns of the Cinque Terre, I missed out on experiencing much of the area’s cuisine, and I didn’t get a chance to put my feet in the Mediterranean. (I never have, despite all my travels!)
I am grateful that my illness wasn’t worse than it was, that I was able to make it to Milan the next day without incident, and that I felt much better by the time I had to face the long trip home. But I still lament that most of my time in that bucket-list place was spent miserable in bed.
Other Not-So-Fun Stuff
- I struggled with the quantity and placement of ads on my site during the back half of the year. I’ll save you the boring details, but suffice it to say that the volume of ads exploded and was impacting the reader experience in a big way. Everything I did to try to remedy the situation was ineffective, which was very frustrating. Thankfully, I hired an expert in the beginning of 2024, so you shouldn’t have to battle a spammy-looking site in the new year! I apologize for the annoyance this was to some of you.
- One of my clients experienced a medical emergency while on the vacation we planned together. Thankfully, she is now ok, but it was a very unfortunate situation that not only took a large physical toll but meant that the entire trip had to be canceled.
- Not a single one of the four flights we took to and from Italy departed on time (and one was canceled entirely), which led to some very long and frustrating travel days.
Most Popular Instagram Post of 2023
Most Popular Posts from 2023
- 25 of Aruba’s Best Restaurants
- 10 of the Best Restaurants in Historic Santa Fe, New Mexico
- The Do’s and Don’ts of Aruba: Travel Tips for First-Time Visitors
- The Essential Aruba Packing List
- 15 Reasons Why You Should Make Southern Juniata County, PA, Your Next Long Weekend Destination
- Worth the Splurge: An Aruba Sunset Dinner Cruise
- How to Spend One Day in Santa Fe, New Mexico
- The Juniata River Valley Wine Trail: A Pennsylvania Hidden Gem
- How to Save Money on Food While Traveling
- The Ultimate One-Week Aruba Itinerary
Most Popular Posts Overall
- The Pros and Cons of Airbnb
- The Pros and Cons of All-Inclusive Resorts
- 20 of the Best Things to Do in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
- An Unbeatable One-Week Itinerary for Puerto Rico
- 12 Tips for Taking the Ferry to Vieques, Puerto Rico
- The Pros and Cons of Cruising
- 25 Perfect Mother-Daughter Trip Destinations
- 25 of the Best Restaurants in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
- A One-Day Driving Itinerary for Scotland’s Isle of Skye
- The Ultimate 10-Day Alaska Itinerary
Looking Ahead to 2024
Italy, Italy, and more Italy! I can’t wait to share the various pieces of our trip with you in 2024. Be on the lookout for travel guides, experience recaps, and all the tips and tricks you’ve come to love and expect from FLFP. (I’ve already published a couple on Umbrian hill towns and an amazing Parma food tour – check them out!)
Exciting new vacation planning destinations! My clients and I have a lot of great trips in the works for the year, including to places like St. Lucia, Mexico, Italy, Paris, Croatia, Switzerland, and, of course, Alaska.
A family vacation! Thanks to COVID and our selfishness in keeping Italy adults-only, it’s been years since we took the kids on a proper vacation. We’re looking to change that this summer when we embark on our first family vacation since our road trip through New England. M and I are still ironing out the details, but I can’t wait to hit the road with the kids again.
A website redesign! Here’s hoping that 2024 is the year that updated look goes live. I can’t wait for you to see what we’ve been working on.
Each year, writing this post fills me with more and more gratitude for the Full Life, Full Passport community that has made this little dream of mine possible. Whether you’re a longtime reader or you’re new around here, I truly appreciate your support and feedback! Thanks for making this job such a joy.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out via the comments or my contact form if there’s ever anything I can do to make your next trip amazing!
I’ll see you on the road <3
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