Our Favorite Travel Experiences


Well, we haven’t yet reached our goal to visit every continent, but we are nearing 30 countries.  We’ve done almost every country in Europe, a handful in Asia, and much of North/Central America.

We love “best of” articles and thought it would be fun to do one of our own with all of our favorite (and a few of our least favorite) places, experiences and things. We would love to hear your thoughts on them and what you think we are missing.

Best food:

Greece and  Thailand

We both quickly chose Greece for best food. We went to Athens as poor law school students and found we could easily enjoy a gyro and gelato four or five times a day without much money. As much as we’ve tried, we have not been able to find a gyro anywhere else that even comes close to the ones we enjoyed in Greece. The shaved meat inside the pita bread stuffed with french fries and tons of tzatziki sauce is just too amazing to describe. Finish that off with some delicious gelato and that is the best food we have ever had when the value is considered, and value always plays a big part in Brent’s enjoyment of food.

Brent also had to add Thailand in here. While Mallory was pregnant when we went to Thailand and mostly ate at McDonald’s, Brent enjoyed some amazing street food with so many amazing flavors. And like Athens, the food in Thailand was so cheap you could get as much of whatever you wanted.  Our favorite place was a little old lady cooking out of a wok at the floating market.  Once we got over the mice running around her, the food was so good, we ordered extras to eat on our car ride back to Bangkok.

Best road trip:

Transylvania, Romania

Mallory hates driving, so we may not be the best people to ask about road trips. That being said, Transylvania in the fall is amazing.  Not only are there amazing fall colors in the mountains, you get to see a variety of impressive castles and old towns.

You can also go off the main highway and see old-school farmers and some poor parts of the country (We drove through a town that still had troughs along the paths for horses that were the main mode of transportation).  Add onto this, super cheap roadside food that is decent and lots of great, inexpensive souvenir shopping and you have a perfect road trip.

Best Beach:

Thailand’s Phra Nang Cave Beach and Maya Beach; Pacific City, Oregon; Oceanside, California

When it comes to beaches, there are too many to mention. Luckily we aren’t as big of beach people as many travel bloggers. Instead, we like being very active and seeing everything there is to see in any given location.

We narrowed down our favorite beaches To three. Two amazing beaches in Thailand and a local favorite in Oregon.  Then Mallory added another local favorite in California.

The best Beach has to be Phra Nang Cave Beach, which is on the Railay Peninsula in Krabi, Thailand.  This beach features perfect water and stunning scenery.

Just a couple hours away by high speed boat is Maya Beach in the Phi Phi islands. This beach was a bit crowded for our liking, but it was a beautiful beach surrounded by steep cliff walls so the views were breathtaking and the water was perfect for a swim.  Unfortunately, we just learned that public access to Maya Beach is no longer permitted.

Our next beach is not one you will find on most travel guides, but Mallory is from Oregon and when we visit, we love to go to Pacific City.  Although the beach (Cape Kiwanda) has gotten way more crowded in recent years, it is still a super fun beach to play at.  There is a beautiful coastline with a big sea stack, tide pools and a long sandy beach. Plus there is a nice sand dune to play on. 

Oceanside, California is one we will probably get some hate for.  It is not spectacular or anything, but it is such a fun beach to just play at.  It is easy going, not too crowded and has big enough waves you can play in the water.

Best value:

Romania; Mexico; Greece

Romania has been our best value location so far. We went there when we lived in Budapest, and even that one hour flight away, the cost of living seemed to drop in half.  At one point we ate at a little roadside diner in the middle of nowhere and couldn’t read the menu, but thought it was a la carte so we ordered a ton of food, what amounted to like six full meals for two people and our total was only $13. We also  loaded up on great souvenirs that were so cheap. Even entry to the most impressive castles was only a couple dollars.

Greece was similar to Romania in that there was value due to the weaker currency.  Food was where we especially found value. Our hotel and transportation were pretty reasonable, but the food was crazy cheap for how good it was.  We basically got gyros and gelato every few hours we were there.

Mexico was a great value because of all the free stuff we got on our trip to Cabo San Lucas.  Our all-inclusive was also really cheap, but our activities were free.  If you go down to the beach and condo area of Cabo, there will be lots of people trying to get you to tour the properties and sit through a quick time-share pitch.  They all offer you all kinds of discounts and deals on activities if you will listen to the pitch. The deals we were being offered were pretty good on the activities we wanted to do so we were considering it. By the third salesman, Mallory just said, “We want to go paragliding, swim with dolphins and get a boat tour, plus some jewelry, and we want it for free.”  Surprisingly, they agreed. We spent a half hour touring a pretty cool property, enjoyed a nice, free breakfast, and then sat through a twenty-minute high-pressure sales meeting, where the price of the deal dropped from $30,000 to $5,000. We politely declined, collected our free vouchers, and enjoyed a weekend of free activities.

Best walking city: Lisbon, Portugal; Boston, MASSACHUSETTS 

Most tourist cities are good for walking because they usually have some good character to see and a lot of attractions packed into a small area, but our two favorites are Lisbon, Portugal and Boston, Massachusetts.

Lisbon is awesome just because it is full of interesting colors and beautiful tiles.  Brent spent hours walking the city with one of our daughters while everyone else napped. It was so fun even without a destination to see.  Plus, there is a walk from Praca do Comercio to Praca Rossio that features an awesome arch, intricate tiles and a ton of fun little shops.

Boston is a great walking city because you really can see so many of the sites just by walking, which isn’t common for such a big city.  On top of that, Boston features the Freedom Trail, which is an awesome self-guided walking tour (with marked paths) that lead you through all the historical sites, making it such an easy vacation.  The Freedom Trail includes some great sites we enjoyed like the Paul Revere House, the Old North Church, and a couple cool cemeteries.

Best museum: British museum,  Oasis Bordello Museum

The British Museum is hands-down our favorite museum ever.  Not only is it free, but you could spend a full day there checking out so many cool things.  Some highlights included mummies, Moai statues from Easter Island and the Rosetta Stone.

We generally aren’t big museum people, but we love little quirky “museums” we find off the beaten path.  Our favorite of these is the Oasis Bordello Museum in Wallace, Idaho. This was the site of an old brothel that operated through the years until a couple decades ago, when it was abandoned during a police raid.  It has sat in the same condition since then with everything pretty much unchanged. It was quite fascinating to see how it all worked, and was just a fun hour of our day in the small town.

oasis bodello museum

Best hike: Narrows in zion national park, utah; Tiger Cave Temple in krabi, thailand

Brent‘s favorite hike is the Narrows in Zion National Park. The Narrows is a beautiful hike through a canyon where you spend most of your time hiking in the river. Although your legs will burn from hiking through the river, there’s so much to see around every bend in the canyon and it’s an awesome experience.

The tiger cave temple in Krabi, Thailand isn’t really a hike so much as a climb up sooooo many stairs. The climb is seriously brutal, but it’s one of those things where you feel really accomplished after you finish. You get beautiful views the whole way up and then get to relax at the top, plus monkeys will join you for most of your climb. Just be careful because they can be a bit aggressive.

Best hotel: Andaz Papagayo Costa Rica; Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach

We tend to fit into the budget travel category a lot more than the luxury travel category, so our best hotels are probably not amazing, but these two hotels are our favorites. We also used points for both hotels so they cost us little to nothing.

In Costa Rica, will stayed that the Andaz Papagyo Resort, which is a higher-end property. This place was beautiful and we enjoyed a really nice suite. The only annoying part was that the resort is on a steep hill so you do a lot of stair climbing while you are there. The resort has a nice restaurant with good food, two nice pools, a spa and daycare. But, what really makes this resort awesome is the private beach. It is a very secluded little beach in the bay. The water is a perfect temperature and it’s shallow for a long distance so it’s great for the kids.  The resort also has kayaks (free), snorkeling (free), Jet skis (expensive) and other fun things for you to do.

Huntington Beach is more of a local favorite because it’s only a few hours drive for us, but the Hyatt Regency there is a pretty awesome place to stay.   I do think it is a bit overpriced, for what it is, but we only use points to stay there so it’s not a big deal. It is right across the street from the beach and about a mile down from the pier. Besides the location, this hotel is awesome because it has a great pool area with water slides for the kids. One of our kids begs to go back almost every week so that means we kind of have to include it for her sake if nothing else.

Best waterfall: Panther Creek Falls, Washington; Spirit Falls, Washington

The best waterfalls come from Brent as he is the one that goes out waterfall hunting.  Both of these favorites are on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. Brent enjoyed them both so much because he got to enjoy hours at each in the morning with no other visitors.

Panther Creek Falls is an amazing waterfall that has an upper falls that is horseshoe shaped and flows down into the lower falls, which is a triple falls.  It is dicey to hike down to the falls, but it is so incredibly worth it to see two amazing waterfalls in one scene surrounded by tons of green.

Spirit Falls is just a bit further east from Panther Creek Falls, and is another steep hike down to the falls.  It is also another horseshoe-shaped falls. The amazing thing about this waterfall is the incredible turquoise water.  While we haven’t been lucky enough to see it, you can also catch daring kayakers dropping over this falls.

Best dessert: PORTUGUESE egg tarts; Papa Haydn; Huckleberry Ice Cream; Crepes in Tokyo

Picking our best dessert is a tough task because we love dessert and eat a lot of it when we travel. I think the best desserts are those that you fall in love with because they were so good and so unique and you know you are not going to get them, at least as good as they are, anywhere else.

We start our list with the egg tart from Portugal. We tried these in Lisbon, where they sell them everywhere, and they are so good. We got lucky and stumbled upon Pasties de Belem, which is just outside Lisbon in Belem.  This place is world famous for their egg tarts for good reason, as they were quite a bit better than all the other ones we tried.

Papa Haydn’s is a hometown favorite for Mallory. Papa Haydn is a restaurant  with a couple locations in or around Portland, Oregon. We have to go here during most of our trips back to Portland to visit family. They are famous for their fancy cakes and desserts and the prices aren’t terrible.

Next is Brent’s personal favorite, which is fresh huckleberry ice cream. While you can find huckleberry ice cream just about anywhere, the best fresh huckleberry ice cream that we have found is in northern Idaho or western Montana. It is seriously the best ice cream you’ll ever eat.

The last one is a favorite of Mallory. It is dessert crepes in Tokyo, Japan. Specifically, Harujuku. These crepes are hot and fresh and stuffed full of ice cream and all the toppings!

Best for kids: Cabo San Lucas; Costa Rica; Paris

Cabo San Lucas was our first all-inclusive resort with the kids.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn in San Jose del Cabo. It was definitely not a high-end resort, but it was perfect for kids. They loved spending as much time as they could in the pools, on the playground, on the beach and eating all the free food.  Cabo was also great for a good boat tour and swimming with dolphins. We even got to enjoy some adult activities as we went paragliding, taking turns with one of us on the boat with the kids.

We stayed at the Andaz Papagayo Resort in Costa Rica and our girls loved it.  They beg to go back all the time. It was great because it had a little private beach in the bay that was amazing for kids.  The beach was beautiful with shallow water so the kids could play anywhere they wanted. There were also a lot of trees on the beach, which was fun for the kids to play in and for seeing the giant lizards walking through.  We also had fun seeing monkeys and butterflies around the resort and doing some fun and easy outings to other beaches and rain forests.

Paris has been another highlight for our kids.  It is such an easy city to fall in love with, and that held true for our kids.  While the long lines were brutal for kids, they loved the carousels, pigeons and the Eiffel Tower.

Cleanest: Seoul, South Korea; Washington, DC

Seoul, South Korea was like a breath of fresh air when we got there from Thailand.  Don’t get me wrong, we love Thailand, but it is not clean. Everything in Seoul was so clean and efficient.  It reminded us a lot of Japan, which would also be a good addition here.

Washington DC may not have the efficiency that we found in Seoul, but the subways were incredibly clean, but so slow and unreliable.  There wasn’t anywhere we went really in DC that didn’t feel clean.

Best day trip: Annecy, France; Auschwitz, Poland

Our day in Annecy was just one of those unforgettable days that you could never plan for.  We spent the day there while we were staying in Geneva. The weather called for 100% chance of rain and it rained the whole bus ride there and the whole bus ride home, but the weather was beautiful while we were there.  It is just such a quaint little town that you can walk and explore all of it in a day. While there aren’t many big attractions, there are some beautiful churches, canals, the old prison in a canal, and the gem, a beautiful lake nestled under the Alps.

We are both World War II buffs so it is no surprise we enjoyed visiting Auschwitz.  Auschwitz is hard to describe. It is not a happy or entertaining or exciting place.  It is incredibly sobering. It is an experience I feel like you can only experience in a handful of places in the world where such tragedy has existed.  The huge thing about Auschwitz is that it is so well done. You get to experience two camps. The first camp has all the buildings, but they have been well maintained and turned into a museum where you learn all about what happened there.  From there, you go to the second camp where it has been left in its crumbling state and you just get to walk around and ponder on everything as you look in the barracks or the collapsed gas chambers or the pool of ashes.

Best natural wonder: Moraine Lake, Banff National Park; Glacier National Park

The Canadian Rockies are an underestimated jewel.  They are truly incredible, but their popularity is quickly rising.  Lake Louise in particular is pretty crowded now, but we thought that nearby Moraine Lake was much more impressive.  The incredible color of the water sitting beneath the jagged mountain peaks is an impressive scene.

Glacier National Park is a jam-packed paradise of mountain peaks, alpine lakes and waterfalls.  It is the only time Brent has walked by a big waterfall without bothering to stop. Not only are the natural scenes amazing, you have the opportunity to see wildlife such as deer, elk, moose and bears.

Best Historical Site: Aushwitz, Poland; Acropolis, Greece; Coliseum, Italy; Ayutthaya, Thailand

We discussed  Auschwitz above as one of our favorite day trips, but it would be impossible not to discuss it again as one of the best historical sites.  As probably the most famous site from the Holocaust, is hard to describe. It is not a place you go for a happy experience, it is incredibly sobering, but such a moving experience everyone should experience.  

The Acropolis is about as old as you can get in Europe.  It is amazing how well preserved it is, and it is definitely impressive.  It is the highlight of Athens and well worth the visit.

The Coliseum is another must-see place.  Overall, we weren’t very impressed with Rome and found it did not live up to the hype.  The Coliseum was the exception for sure. It was pretty awesome. It is well maintained and the history is fascinating.

Ayutthaya is our final favorite.  It is located an hour or so north of Bangkok and was definitely worth the drive out there.  There are a number of different temple sites that give a great breadth of experience. One of the temples was incredibly well maintained and awe-inspiring.  One of them was covered with wild monkeys. But out favorite was the old city site. It was a large compound with several ruins. The self-guided audio tour was very well done and made for a very enjoyable and educational afternoon wandering through the beautiful ruins.

Church: Hallgrimskirkja; Salt Lake City Temple; St. Paul’s Cathedral

Hallgrimskirkja is the gem of Reykjavik, Iceland.  It was our first church experience in Europe and remains one of our favorites.  The interior is pretty plain, but we enjoyed it because of the impressive size and minimalist style.  It is really the exterior architecture of Hallgrimskirkja that is worth the visit

The Salt Lake City Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a place we have visited many times because we went to college in Utah.  Besides being a beautiful piece of architecture in the middle of downtown, it is so well maintained and offers an afternoon’s worth of exploring, tours and exhibits.

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London was another of our favorite churches in Europe.  Besides the sheer size of the impressive building, the interior was also impressive.  We enjoyed climbing the tower and exploring more of the inside.

Best public transportation: Vienna; London; Japan

There isn’t much to discuss when it comes to good public transportation.  We like a metro system that is clean, efficient and not too expensive. Vienna, London and all of Japan have been the most impressive to us.  Vienna was the biggest surprise since it was so much newer and nicer than the metro systems we experienced in all the surrounding Eastern European cities.

National Park: Glacier National Park; Banff National Park; Zion National Park

We are blessed in the United States to have so many great National Parks.  We aren’t the only lucky ones though, and we hope to visit so many more of the great national parks around the world that we haven’t yet been too.  

In fact, our first favorite National Park is outside of the United States, just barely.  Banff National Park is about an hour or so outside of Calgary, Canada, nestled in the Rocky Mountains.  Combine tall snow-capped peaks, turquoise lakes and beautiful forests and that is Banff National Park.

Glacier National Park isn’t too far from Banff and is similar terrain.  Brent is the only one of us that has been to Glacier, but he feels like it packs a little more punch in a smaller area.  As discussed above, waterfalls all over the place, jagged mountain peaks and alpine lakes are around every corner in Glacier.

Zion National Park is more of a local favorite for us as it is only two hours from us in Las Vegas.  It is nothing like Glacier and Banff, being in the southwest. There are no forests or waterfalls (for the most part), but there are still some impressive mountain peaks, beautiful rivers and lots of red rock.  Desert Landscape is its own kind of beauty, but Zion puts it on a level above most of the desert.

Best Theme Park: Cedar Pointe; Disneyland

Brent’s choice is Cedar Pointe in Sandusky, Ohio.  We went to this theme park many years ago and it is by far the most impressive park in terms of actual rides.  As a roller coaster park, it lives up to the billing with dozens of top-notch roller coasters all over the park.  There are no frills here, no characters and no special “magic,” it is all about adventure and adrenaline. Biggest bonus, at least for our visit, was the lines were not a big deal at all.

Brent wasn’t a fan of Disneyland until we took our girls there.  We did Disneyland right with them and it was amazing!  There is so much to do there and it really is a magical place with kids.  The girls had so much fun meeting princesses and riding all the rides.  There are few places that can beat the atmosphere of Disneyland.

Best Under-the-Radar Tourist Attractions: Wieliczka Salt mine; Corvin Castle; Winchester Mystery House

Our favorite attractions are the less well-known spots that haven’t been fully discovered and inundated with people.  The first of our favorites is the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which is located a short bus ride from Krakow, Poland. This UNESCO World Heritage Site  is by far the best of the many different underground mines or caves we have toured. The sheer size of the caves, the beauty of the carvings and the interesting history make this a truly awesome tour worth doing.

Second on our list is the Corvin Castle, located in the small town of Hunedoara in Transylvania, Romania.  This castle has become a lot more popular in the near decade since we visited it, at least if Instagram is a good indicator.  When we went, there was basically nobody else there, it cost about two bucks to enter and they let you explore anything you wanted.  All that was simply incredible with how impressive this castle was.

Our final under-the-radar tourist attraction is the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.  We have to get out of the way first that this place is ridiculously overpriced. If you can get over that, it is actually a lot of fun.  Mallory loves the macabre and this place is just a giant house where the widow of the inventor of Winchester rifle lived. She believed the ghosts of all those killed by such rifles would only leave her alone while she built the house  The result is a crazy maze of hallways and staircases that make no sense.

Worst line: Versaille; Notre Dame; St. Peter’s Basillica

Unsurprisingly, the worst lines we have ever suffered through were in Paris and Rome.  Even with all the lines, we loved Paris and thought Rome was okay.

First up, the worst line by far was in Versailles, France.  We spent 3.5 hours waiting in the frigid cold to see the palace at Versailles, which was not even impressive.  Definitely felt like a wasted day when we could have been enjoying Paris.  If you are set on going to Versailles, get there early!!!!  Just look at that line-everyone in this picture is waiting in line.

Second on our List is Notre Dame, also in Paris.  Unlike Versailles, we loved Notre Dame. Note the line is only for the tower tour.  The church had almost no line to access. The tower tour was worth the line though. Especially since we were saved after about an hour in the cold.  One of the workers walking the line noticed we had a stroller, and moved us up to the front! The same thing happened at the Louvre, but no such luck at Versailles.

Finally, the line to get into St. Peter’s Basilica was seriously brutal.  While the wait was probably only an hour, we were then shuffled through a mass of people that made it impossible to enjoy the experience.  And then, we got to wait in another long line and get shuffled through the Vatican Museum to see the Sistine Chapel. While it was a cool experience, the lines…not so much.

Most Overrated: Rome; Washington, D.C.

Rome was someplace so hyped up and one of the first big international destinations we did as a married couple.  We didn’t know what to expect, but expected more than we got. The Coliseum was amazing. The Pantheon was really cool and we had fun at the Spanish Steps.  There wasn’t much more that we enjoyed. We were too broke to get good food, and what we had was lackluster, other than the gelato. The Vatican was underwhelming, which was the most disappointing part.  Last of all, it was hot and dirty and we dealt with the most rude people from any of our travels.

Washington DC is a place where Brent had always wanted to visit.  We were looking forward to all the memorials and the museums, but they disappointed.  The memorials didn’t have the wow factor we expected, the museums were boring compared to the British Museum, which we had recently been to at the time, and there wasn’t much else to do.  We did really enjoy Arlington Cemetery and it was great to see the friends we were visiting. The airport was also surprisingly efficient, but the metro system was one of the worst run systems we have ever dealt with.

Worst Food: London

When we go back to London, we will be sticking with Indian food, as that is what is actually good in London.  We tried various pubs and tried to get some traditional food. It was all pretty bad. It lacked flavor and all the food was soaked in way too much grease.

Worst Airport: LAX

The LAX airport in Los Angeles is brutal.  We have never had a good experience there. On one particularly tough layover, we had to leave the airport, walk outside to a different terminal, wait for hours to go back through security and nearly miss our flight.  The airport is always packed, and the people, including the workers, have been quite rude.

Best Airport: Budapest

The Budapest Airport in Hungary is a smaller airport for a big city, but is still bigger than you would expect for how clean it is.  We actually spent a night there due to weird flight times, and it was perfect. They even turned the lights down and we found a quiet, clean and comfortable spot for a snooze.

Bonus

It’s impressive if you made it this far.  Hopefully you enjoyed learning about some of our favorite and least favorite travel experiences. We look forward to updating it often.

If you want some advice on all our favorite gear we always travel with, check out our recommended gear.  Also, join our Facebook group and share you favorite travel experiences!

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