Woohoo! The end of 2017 is upon us, which means it’s the perfect time to take a moment to sit back and reflect on all the amazing things that happened. I had more adventures than I thought possible in 2017 and managed to see beautiful places, eat delicious food and create some unforgettable memories in the process. Among all the beautiful moments, places and people I encountered this year, there are a few that really stand out.
The Little Grey Box (LGB) Travel Awards are my way of celebrating the people, places, businesses and moments etched in my mind and heart. These are my 2017 highlights and the very best of the best. I hope they inspire a little (or a lot) of adventure in you, I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings our way! A huge congratulation to all the travel award winners below, thank you for being so wonderful I had to include you.
Winner: Yeppoon, Queensland
We found ourselves exploring Yeppoon as part of a work trip and fell in love with the area. The coastal town, full of the genuinely lovely and friendly locals, amazing restaurants, cool cafes and great bars. The incredible beaches, golden sunsets and proximity to Great Keppel Island and all its wonder, topped off with that indescribable Queensland country charm made Yeppoon a dream destination. Matt and I rarely talk about loving anywhere more than Brisbane but found ourselves talking about moving to Yeppoon – that’s how much we fell in love with it!
Winner: Sandhamn, Sweden
This year we visited Sweden as part of a media trip with Singapore Airlines. It has always been a dream destination for both Matt and I but neither of us anticipated the sheer beauty of the Stockholm Archipelago. We found ourselves on the island of Sandhamn, a place we had never heard of before the trip. The little island is dotted with forest, wildflowers and some very friendly dogs with even friendly owners. In summer, when we visited, the days are extremely long and we took a seat on a rock at 11pm to watch the sunset – it was a magical moment, made even more special by the thought we would never have made it to that spot if it weren’t for Little Grey Box.
Winner: Labuan Bajo, Indonesia
A trip to Indonesia saw us visiting Labuan Bajo, a tropical paradise and rundown little harbour town near Komodo National Park. I had visited once before but not done it properly, if you know what I mean, so was excited to go back with Matt as part of a stay at the incredible Plataran Komodo resort. While many people visit Indonesia, not too many know about Labuan Bajo and how special it is. We spent a day on a traditional Phinisi boat, exploring brilliant blue water, gliding past islands, jumping off the boat and swimming. We sipped cocktails, had a beachfront BBQ unlike any other and witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen in my entire life – seriously.
Winner: Banyan Tree Lang Co, Vietnam
Walking into our private villa at Banyan Tree Lang Co, my jaw dropped. The lush tropical gardens, luxurious villa and huge private pool were almost overwhelming. It took both Matt and I a moment to wrap our minds around it, it was one of those ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ moments and we were so grateful to be able to experience it. As part of our Vietnam media trip, we spent a night experiencing the wonder of Banyan Tree Lang Co and loved the luxurious villa, incredible service and attention to detail. It’s the kind of place you dream of being able to stay when you travel, the type of spot you never, ever forget.
Winner: E Central Hotel, Vietnam
I visited Vietnam solo at the start of 2017, filming two television commercials for the Hanoi Tourism Board and CNN! (If you haven’t seen them, you can watch them here) We stayed at E Central Hotel in Hanoi and I fell in love with the genuinely kind, caring nature of all the staff. The hotel isn’t intended to be budget, in fact, most travellers wouldn’t consider it budget all, which is what makes it such a great find! It’s very well priced per night, the rooms are super comfortable and well located, the food is great and the service fantastic.
Winner: Long Beach (Great Keppel Island), Australia
On a work trip to Great Keppel Island, we were treated to a guided tour by Eloise of Great Keppel Island Hideaway. Ellie took us to Long Beach, a pristine stretch of white sand and sparkling blue water drenched in golden Queensland sunshine. I love the beach and instantly fell in love with the idyllic destination. It’s no surprise Long Beach has been recognised as one of Australia’s best beaches!
Winner: Air New Zealand Christchurch International Lounge, New Zealand
Air New Zealand completely took both Matt and me by surprise this year when we stepped into their airline lounge at Christchurch International Airport. The welcome was warm and friendly and the lounge layout offered space, privacy and loads of space to spread out and get comfortable. The food was absolutely delicious and I love the lounge staff who stopped for a chat and gave me the inside scoop on which dishes to try first (their recommendations were right!) Air New Zealand offered the perfect balance of professionalism, comfort and genuine, warm service and interaction.
Winner: Scoot Airlines, Economy Class
Offering a no-frills, well-priced and reliable service, Scoot takes out the top spot for best budget airline experience. Let’s be real, budget is budget, so expectations are low and, usually, you expect one or two things to be difficult. With Scoot, those difficulties never come. Flights run on time, the staff are courteous and helpful, the seats are comfortable, the flight easy and the price affordable.
Winner: Singapore Airlines, Business Class
Where do I even begin?! I had a few Business Class experiences this year (something I never thought I’d say in my entire life – you can watch what goes in Singapore Airlines Business Class here) and while they were each special in their own way, I found nothing quite compared to Singapore Airlines Business Class. The attention to detail is unmatched, supported by the dedication of hard-working flight crew who, you can tell, are proud to work for the airline. The food is absolutely delicious, the seats are ridiculously spacious and comfortable, there’s great onboard entertainment and such a high level of care throughout the flight. For me, Singapore Airlines well and truly took out the top spot! *Note: I’m happy to fly Business Class with any and all other airlines who would like to challenge SIA for my top spot 😉
Winner: Blanco par Mandif, Indonesia
A visit to Ubud saw us visiting the hidden spot, Blanco par Mandif and experiencing a degustation unlike any other. Each course paid tribute to a regional dish from the chef’s hometown, taking us on a culinary journey around Indonesia without leaving the gorgeous Ubud restaurant. I loved the story that came with each perfectly presented dish, sharing where it was from and why it was special to that region. You could see the pride in each chef’s eyes as they presented their home, history and heart on a plate. The food, of course, was unlike anything I’d ever experienced in Indonesia and the genuine love and care put into each dish made it my most memorable food experience of the year. It’s one that will stay with me for a long time.
Winner: Spicers Hidden Vale, Australia
Waking up in the Queensland countryside is made even more special by a lazy breakfast at Homage Restaurant at Spicers Hidden Vale. Take a seat on the wooden verandah overlooking the pool and rolling countryside hills. Help yourself to a plate of freshly made croissants, accompanied by homemade jams and preserves. Sip a deliciously creamy cup of coffee and enjoy the sounds of the Queensland bush. The food is a celebration of local produce, giving it great flavour and that unbeatable local magic. The whole thing is topped off by personable, friendly service from staff who, you can tell, love where they work.
Winner: Hotell Kristina, Sweden
We ate some amazing meals on our trip to Sweden but it was our dinner at Hotell Kristina that really stood out. The owner has a huge focus on organic produce, ensuring guests dine on only the healthiest, fresh, seasonal produce. In the hands of their talented head chef, the result is food bursting with flavour, so incredibly fresh you experience food flavour unlike before. Our meal was served up by a big, brawny man with a kind and gentle nature, keeping us entertained throughout the meal, pairing each dish with great wine. We spoke about sustainable food practices and the value of eating organic and found the whole experience was unforgettable.
Winner: Cộng Cà Phê, Vietnam
In search of great coffee in Hanoi, we found ourselves at Cộng Cà Phê. The first thing to love about this spot is the fit-out, crafted using polished concrete and recycled timber, bright splashes of vibrant red, old photos and rusty pieces of nostalgia dotted around. It’s the kind of place you dream of, but could just never recreate. The Vietnamese coffee at Cộng Cà Phê is fantastic, offering a taste of Vietnam with each sip. I loved curling up in one of the window seats on red cushions, overlooking the busy streets and doing some people watching while sipping my delicious coffee.
Winner: Plataran Phinisi Komodo Full Day Cruise, Indonesia
We spent a day aboard a traditional Phinisi boat, exploring the waters of Labuan Bajo, as part of our stay with Plataran Komodo. I love the water and would gladly spend each and every day swimming and snorkelling. For me, it embodies the true spirit of travel and adventure. The boat was absolutely amazing and I felt totally free and wild hanging off the front of it, setting off to find hidden caves, tranquil coves and idyllic swimming spots. We feasted on delicious food, rested in the shade, jumped off the boat, snorkelled with tropical fish then curled up on bean bags to watch the sunset. It was unforgettable.
Winner: Sandhamnsguiderna R.I.B Experience, Sweden
In Sweden, we climbed aboard a R.I.B boat and took off on a high-speed adventure around the tiny islands of Stockholm’s Archipelago. The boat was so fast, jumping up and down on top of the waves, with all of us bundled up in our safety gear. We arrived to a tiny island and explored a historic old homestead, climbing the stairs to the top of a lighthouse offering unbeatable views of the island and Baltic Sea. Afterwards, we sat in the warm sunshine, enjoying Swedish Fika with coffee and cinnamon baked goodies from a local bakery.
Winner: Lady Musgrave Experience, Australia
My love of swimming and snorkelling was well and truly indulged during a day tour to Lady Musgrave Island. We spent hours in the water, snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef and it’s myriad of brightly coloured coral formations of all shapes, sizes and textures. We swam with fish, following them under the water, the sun beating through the water’s surface. I went off in search of turtles, finding them resting on coral or gently gliding along, off on a turtle adventure. We took a guided tour of the island, learning about its unique eco-system and spotting local wildlife. It was a day of fun and adventure in a picture-perfect location.
Winner: Banyan Tree Spa Lang Co, Vietnam
During our stay at Banyan Tree Lang Co we were treated to an afternoon at the Banyan Tree Spa. After a long-haul flight, domestic flights, long days in the car and lots of transit time we were well and truly ready to be pampered. The staff at the spa were kind, welcoming and attentive, offering the perfect level of professionalism. We felt totally at ease as they welcomed us with big smiles and a warm hello. The massage was amazing, leaving me feeling totally and completely relaxed, recharged and replenished. The whole experience was classy, luxurious and indulgent.
Winner: Singapore Changi Airport, Singapore
Year after year, Singapore’s Changi Airport continues to stand apart as my favourite airport experience. The airport is so well thought out, offering a wide variety of shopping and dining options to keep travellers entertained and cared for in-between flights. There are hidden pockets to curl up and nap, free movies being shown, cosy spots to sit and work, space to stretch your legs out, gardens to explore and so much more. I’m looking forward to seeing the new additions to the airport when they’re complete!
Runner-up: Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, Malaysia
Honourable mention: Portland International Airport, United States
Winner: Sony RX100v Compact Camera
This year I splashed out on a new piece of camera equipment, buying the Sony RX 100V as a vlogging camera. Since then, it has become so much more, forming an important part of my camera kit and almost replacing my DSLR. The Sony focuses incredibly quickly, using identification tech to easily lock-in on my face. It’s incredibly in low-light settings and always takes a great photo, no matter what! It’s super light and easy to use, offering reliability and convenience. I’ve been using it more and more, loving it for its insanely good quality video footage, quick focus and myriad of settings. Basically, I’m obsessed.
Runner-up: Telesin Dome Port Kit for GoPro
Honourable mention: The Joby Gorillapod Original
Winner: Uber App
Yes, I know, we all already know about Uber, but this year Uber became my go-to travel app. I remember travelling at a time when catching a cab felt sketchy and like a luxury! Most of the time, I would rely on public transport, losing valuable sightseeing time sat on trains or buses, staring at maps, trying to figure out how to speak just enough French to buy a ticket. Now, Uber has made things so much easier. In Portland, I explored the whole city by myself, seeing everything I wanted to see all by myself, with no fear or confusion whatsoever. Thanks, Uber!
Runner-up: Netflix App
Honourable mention: TripIt App
After watching quite a few documentaries on the damage plastic is causing to the environment, Matt and I decided to make a bigger effort to cut down on our plastic use. For his birthday, I made Matt a travel kit aimed at reducing our plastic consumption. We’ve switched to bamboo toothbrushes, carry our own water bottles and refill where possible, bring our own reusable cutlery and straws with us, say no to plastic bags, avoid travel minis and always ask for paper over plastic. Our favourite travel accessories this year have been anything that helps travellers cut down on single-use plastics and contribute to a better environment.
Runner-up: Noise Cancelling Headphones
Honourable mention: USB Multi Charging Device
Winner: Katie McKnoulty (www.thetravellinglight.com)
I’ve known Katie for quite a few years now and have to say, 2017 has really been her year. If you haven’t heard of The Travelling Light, Katie’s gorgeous blog, you’re in for a real treat. Katie combines intuitive living and travel, blending them together with her warm, intimate and magical photography style. Each photo of hers takes you to that time and location, like a portal into her world. Moving to Paris this year, her journey has become the stuff of dreams, but never in a cliche way. Her honesty, passion and love of life shine through in every aspect of what she shares and you’ll fall in love with her quirky cool style.
Winner: Andy C (@andy.c.photography)
I met Andy as part of my trip to Portland this year and had no idea he was a well-known photographer, with a huge Instagram following. That’s how you know someone is a genuinely wonderful person, they don’t brag or lead with all the things that make them so important. Andy takes exceptional photographs and it was so great watching him work, seeing how he looks for a shot and picking up a few tips and tricks along the way. Not only was Andy a down-to-earth, lovely person and talented photographer, he was open and willing to share whatever he could with others. Take a moment to check out his Instagram and you’ll see for yourself, there’s so much to be learned and inspired by.
Winner: Casey Neistat (YouTube)
As I’ve started my own Vlogs this year I’ve been working hard to learn as much as I can about what works and what doesn’t, to help me develop my own style. I’ve watched a lot of vlog episodes (seriously, so many!) and found myself going back to Casey’s time and time again. He has a great ability to make the ordinary entertaining and I’ve learned a lot from his filming and editing style, as well as the way he is in front of the camera too. Watching his confidence, vlogging in social situations has given me more confidence too.
Winner: Wandering the Portland Japanese Garden, United States
I almost didn’t visit the Portland Japanese Garden as I was worried about time, but I am so glad I did because it turned out to be the most beautiful garden I visited all year and one of my favourite moments from 2017. Travelling solo, I found my anxiety a little crazy but found instant peace upon stepping inside the gorgeous Japanese garden. Words cannot describe how beautiful it is, with an aura of tranquillity that cannot be replicated. The sheer size of the trees and beauty of the intricate, perfectly manicured gardens made it a feast for the senses. I thought I’d only need an hour but ended up spending far longer wandering hidden pockets, sitting quietly and just letting it all soak in. My only regret is Matt wasn’t there to experience it with me, which means I’ll just have to take him back.
Runner-up: Experiencing a Sandhamn sunset, Sweden
Honourable mention: Watching the sunset in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia
I’ve always dreamed of visiting Bora Bora and have also always been a fan of the gorgeous photos posted by Instagram superstar and bad-ass boss, Sincerely Jules. But, her photos from Bora Bora really kicked things up a notch for me. I loved each and every shot shared from her trip, inspiring a deep sense of wanderlust within me and a desire to get myself to Bora Bora, pronto!
Just a quick note to confirm the LGB Travel Awards are based solely on my experiences. None of these spots has been paid for or requested by any of those included, it’s all legit love for the homies!