Each year Matt and I are blessed with amazing travel moments, experiences, people and destinations as part of our incredible job. Rather than take any of these for granted, we love to celebrate them and recognise those who stood out from the rest and the Little Grey Box Travel Awards are our way of doing just that! Throughout the year we keep track of all those special moments that really struck us and, in December, we sift through them to choose the best of the best. It’s our way of saying thank you for all the amazing opportunities we’ve received and to give back a little love, support and appreciation. So, here are the winners of the Little Grey Box Travel Awards of 2018. We just want to say a huge thank you to each and every person we worked with this year – we appreciate it so much.
Best Australian Destination
Winner: Longreach Region, Queensland
This year we had the absolute pleasure of visiting Longreach as part of a three-day tour with Outback Aussie Adventures. We fell in love with the incredible landscape, a contrast of burnt red and never-ending blue sky that turns brilliant shades of dusky pink at sunset. We also fell in love with the people and their genuine, welcoming and kind natures. From the moment we arrived, we felt at home and throughout the trip gained a deeper love and appreciation for our country Queensland roots. Longreach wasn’t just a beautiful place to visit, it was a place so special both Matt and I left feeling inspired to be better people. That’s why Longreach easily takes the top spot as the best Australian destination of 2018!
Best Overseas Destination
Winner: Rocky Mountains, Canada
In the middle of the year, Matt and I took off to Canada for a budget DIY road trip from Vancouver to Calgary and back. We didn’t have much money to spend so fancy hotels and restaurants were out of the question. We camped the whole way, made most of our food and did as many free/cheap things as possible and we had the BEST time. It was just a reminder to us both that you don’t need to spend a lot to have an amazing time. All you really need is a beautiful destination, great company and an up-for-anything sense of adventure. The Rocky Mountains really struck both of us, especially as we blasted Eddie Vedder’s ‘Into The Wild’ soundtrack out of the hire car!
Best Under-the-Radar Destination
Winner: Wells Gray Provincial Park, Canada
When people think of Western Canada, places like Vancouver, Banff and Whistler probably come to mind immediately. As part of our budget DIY road trip, we visited many places we’d never heard of before including the Wells Gray Provincial Park. I think it was a combination of the area’s raw natural beauty and the fact we weren’t quite expecting it that made Wells Gray so special for us. We fell in love with the dense forest and incredible wilderness and wildlife all around us, including the incredible Helmcken Falls, Spahats Creek Falls and Dawson Falls. We had the chance to stay at Clearwater and were so sad we got there late and only had a few hours overnight as it was absolutely beautiful!
Best Luxury Accommodation Experience
Winner: Lion Sands River Lodge, South Africa
I’ve been dreaming of doing an African safari for many years but I kept saying to Matt I wanted to wait until we could do it really well. You only get one first impression and, when you’ve been dreaming of something for so long, you want it to be how you imagined it. As part of our #SquadSQ trip with Singapore Airlines, we got to visit Sabi Sands and do a safari with Lion Sands River Lodge. It didn’t just meet my expectations, it far exceeded them. Every single thing was incredible, from our spectacular room which was just straight out of my fantasies through to the delicious food, beautiful hotel grounds, the animals wandering in and around camp and, of course, the game drives. The thing that stood out the most though was the people. Each of the staff was so genuinely lovely, kind and attentive. They made us feel welcome and totally at-ease which made the whole experience so much more enjoyable. Lion Sands River Lodge will stay with me forever.
Best Budget Accommodation Experience
Winner: Sri Chiang Yeun House, Thailand
Not every adventure has a big budget and after hiking through the hills of Northern Thailand we found ourselves in search of great budget accommodation in Chiang Mai. The Sri Chiang Yeun House was the perfect spot! The views out our window were spectacular, showcasing one of Chiang Mai’s many beautiful temples adorned with a giant golden Buddha statue, colourful flags flapping in the wind and monks in orange robes. The room was tiny but had everything we needed and was so cosy – we ended up holing up in there for a whole day post-hike, watching movies, eating Pad-Thai and watching that big Buddha statue in the golden afternoon light. Another great reminder you don’t always need luxury to have a great time.
Best Beach Experience
Winner: Thong Tanote Beach (Koh Samui), Thailand
We visited some stunning beaches this year but it’s Thong Tanote Beach on Koh Samui that stays with me. As part of a week-long trip with Centara Hotels & Resorts we got to stay at Centra by Centara Coconut Beach in a quiet, tranquil corner of Koh Samui. As soon as we checked-in to our room we got our swimmers on and headed down to the beach. With a long stretch of sand, bright blue water and open sky, palm trees swinging overhead and ice-cold mango fruit-shakes in our hands, we were two very happy people. We spent the next few days here enjoying BBQ’s on the beach, swimming all day, soaking in the warm weather and sunshine with few other people around. It was perfect.
Best Food Experience
Winner: Smithy’s Outback Dinner and Show, Australia
The best food experience of the year was also the most unexpected! After a sunset cruise on the Thomson River in Longreach, the boat docked and we were escorted up to Smithy’s Outback Dinner and Show. We found our seats beneath gum trees and enjoyed a traditional campfire dinner while listening to stories and songs from locals. One bloke rode in on a bull then proceeded to share the funniest story and accompanying song that had everyone in stitches! It was truly a food experience, showcasing the heart of Outback Queensland from the setting and entertainment to every bite of our delicious meals, including freshly made damper and billy tea. We left with full hearts and tummies.
Best Breakfast Experience
Winner: The Tree House Boutique Hotel, South Africa
If I’ve learned one thing from Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson it’s the importance of breakfast foods. In South Africa we found ourselves staying at The Tree House Boutique Hotel in Cape Town as part of our #SquadSQ trip. On our first morning, we wandered downstairs to the most incredible breakfast spread I’ve ever seen, not because of the size of it but because of the quality! Freshly baked bread and pastries, beautiful fresh fruit, yoghurt and muesli lined the breakfast bar. Perusing the a la carte menu I was struck by the description of a dish so good it probably shouldn’t be legal. It was the holy and most blessed union of a pancake and a crumpet topped lavishly with berries, Nutella, maple syrup, crunchy stuff some sort of chocolate in powder form. It was love at first bite.
Best Restaurant Experience
Winner: Lion Sands River Lodge, South Africa
When we talk about an incredible restaurant experience, we take into consideration all the things that make visiting a restaurant enjoyable. Lion Sands River Lodge met and then exceeded each of them! The outdoor setting showcased the African landscape, allowing us to watch wildlife graze while we enjoyed our meals. The staff were kind, attentive and so thoughtful, evidenced by the head chef who came to greet us as we checked-in, confirming our dietary requirements and devising personalised menus for each meal. The food was flavoursome and fresh, introducing us to things we’d never tried before and treating us to some of our favourites too. Keep in mind, Sabi Sands is in the middle of nowhere so it’s not as though the local supermarket’s just a short drive away for fresh food daily. A lot of effort and hard work has been put into the dining experience at Lion Sands River Lodge and I can confirm, it has all paid off!
Best Cafe Experience
Winner: Truth Coffee HQ, South Africa
After flying for a very long time from Singapore to Cape Town, also as part of our #SquadSQ trip with Singapore Airlines, a very tired version of Phoebe and Matt met their local guide, Warren. A man with keen senses, he suggested our first stop be a coffee stop. He then offered to take us to the ‘best coffee shop in the world’, a statement which sounded like a joke and totally impossible but really tempting. Turns out, he was right! Truth Coffee has won many awards and serves some of the best coffee in the world! The coffee was fantastic but what made it so good it has to win the best cafe experience is the staff! They were so funny, upbeat and charming and looked incredible in their steampunk-inspired uniforms. We left there feeling perked up in many ways and won’t soon forget Truth.
Best Bar Experience
Winner: Tippling Club, Singapore
The Tippling Club in Singapore doesn’t just offer amazing cocktails, it offers a truly unique and unforgettable experience. When we visited, the menu revolved around the concept of dreams and desires. You could choose something you have, aspire to or want more of like lust, happiness, success and even revenge! The menu came with a bag of gummy bears to line up with the corresponding cocktail and to be used as a marker of what you’ve tried or, quite simply, a tasty sweet treat. I love tequila and ended up enjoying three rounds of happiness! I really enjoyed hearing about the concept behind the menu and the conversations it started among us as well as, of course, trying little bits of everyone else’s cocktails too.
Best Unique Experience
Winner: Lion Sands Game Drive, Sabi Sands, South Africa
Every now and then I have a travel experience that impacts me in a very deep and real way. This year, I was lucky enough to have one of those experiences in South Africa. While staying at Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sands we had the privilege of enjoying four game drives. From start to finish, the whole experience was special. Our guide, Morné was so kind-hearted, passionate and genuine we instantly connected with him. Our tracker, Rector, was connected with the land in a way I’ve never seen before and we loved watching him spot things we’d never see in a million years and learning through him. I thought we’d be lucky to spot one or two amazing animals but we got to see every single animal we wanted to see and many more we didn’t know we could. We got up close and had animal encounters that were humbling and transformative. In those moments I felt so truly grateful to be alive and for every single thing that had led me to that moment. It reminded me who I am and how connected I am to the world around me. It felt like home.
Best Adventure Experience
Winner: The Adventure Group’s RZR Tour, Canada
One really weird thing about me is, when I’m doing something adrenalin based liked riding rollercoasters or driving really fast on ATV’s, I laugh hysterically! I’m just having so much fun and I love it so much that the only reaction my body can summon is to plaster a huge grin on my face and make me laugh. Well, that’s exactly what happened on our RZR Tour with The Adventure Group in Whistler, Canada. It was like real-life Mario-kart, whizzing through the stunning Canadian forest, spraying mud everywhere and giving no craps about anything in our way. I laughed until my cheeks and whole body hurt! It was so much fun and easily my favourite adventure experience of the year.
Runner-up: Ziptrek’s Zipline Eagle Tour, Canada
Honourable mention: Queensland Helicopters River & Heartland Scenic Flight, Australia
Best Day-Tour Experience
Winner: Monster Day Tours ‘After Dark’ Tour, Singapore
Given I used to live in Singapore, it takes a pretty special tour and an even more special guide to impress me. Well, Monster Tours served up both when they sent their amazing guide, Yap, to take us on an ‘After Dark’ tour of Singapore. Yap’s infectious energy set things off to a great start, lighting up the night with his big smile, genuine passion and love for Singapore and its culture, food and history. We learned things we didn’t know, visited new places and felt like we were being shown by an awesome friend!
Best Multi-Day Tour
Winner: Trek America’s Mountie Tour, Canada
While we enjoyed quite a few amazing tours this year, it’s TrekAmerica’s Mountie Tour that stays with me the most. I did the tour as part of an annual #iTrekHere trip, hosted by TrekAmerica, and loved it. I think what made it so special was our two amazing tour guides, Heather and Will, who just made every single day packed full of fun, great information and many laughs. As we made our way from Calgary to Vancouver, each day seemed to be packed with more beauty and wonder than the last and I took so many photos I thought my camera would just give up at some point! The whole experience was fantastic and it reminded me just how much fun you can have on a group tour (even when you’re an introvert who hides in their tent reading books a lot).
Best Airport Experience
Winner: Samui International Airport, Thailand
Changi Airport has taken out the prize for best airport experience for the last few years of our travel awards but, this year, we have a new winner! Samui International Airport was an unexpectedly awesome airport experience for both of us because it was like being at a resort, rather than an airport. The whole open-air layout of the airport combined with a fantastic bar pumping out cold drinks and great music made for a great start. Add to that the airport design looks like a picture-perfect resort, minus the beaches, and the free food and drink station and you’ve got yourself something pretty special. It’s definitely the most fun I’ve had before a flight!
Best Airline Experience
Winner: Singapore Airlines, Business Class
It’s going to take something very special for another airline to clinch the crown from Singapore Airlines. They’ve won the best airline experience for a few years in a row now and I just want to say, if any other airlines out there read this and want to try – we welcome it! But, you’re going to need to come with the desire to win because SIA isn’t easily beaten. Each year they consistently serve up incredible customer service, comfort, entertainment and great food. We’ve had the pleasure of flying Business Class with them this year but, I have to say, the core of what makes them so good is found in each flight class. Each time we fly, no matter which cabin class, we have a fantastic experience and that high standard combined with the consistency is what makes them oh so good.
Best Airline Lounge Experience
Winner: Singapore Airlines SilverKris First Class Lounge, Singapore
We were lucky enough to get to experience the incredible Singapore Airlines SilverKris First Class Lounge at Changi Airport and it was everything dreams are made of! Walking through the entryway to the First Class Lounge is something I never thought I’d get to do and Matt and I just felt so special being in there. It’s a beautiful lounge area and the staff are so lovely, I noticed that they tend to employ staff who are a little older and I really love that – it’s nice to see a huge brand respecting older people who are still in the workforce. Of course, it’s absolute luxury in there from the incredible shower and bathroom facilities through to the delicious food, drinks, snacks and cocktail bar. It was easily the lounge highlight of the year for both of us!
Best Day-Spa Experience
Winner: One Wybelenna, Australia
I never really treat myself to visits to the day spa so I was thrilled when I won a gift certificate to One Wybelenna! My visit came at just the right time and I loved every moment of it! Sometimes fancy day spas can be intimidating because they’re so high-end but One Wybelenna was the perfect combination of opulent and indulgent while still being really welcoming and enjoyable. I felt totally at ease and my beauty therapist was just so lovely and attentive. My treatment, a facial, helped me to relax and de-stress while also treating my poor, tired skin to much-needed pampering. I left feeling refreshed and relaxed with glowy skin to boot!
Best Bucket List Moment
Winner: Spotting the ‘Big 5’ (and more) on Safari Game Drive, South Africa
Our safari experience this year wasn’t just the best bucket list moment of the year, it was one of those incredible life experiences I’ll never forget. Spotting cheetah, lions and lionesses, leopards, elephants, rhino, buffalo and so many more stunning animals was just a dream come true. I never thought I’d get to see them all during our visit, let alone to get that close to them and have a passionate expert tell us all about each one. It was a life bucket list moment come true and something I’m so thankful we got to experience this year.
Best Travel Tech
Winner: Sony Alpha 6500 Camera
In need of a new camera for filming our YouTube videos, Matt purchased a Sony Alpha 6500 and it has fast become our go-to camera and favourite piece of travel tech this year! It’s so light and compact compared to our DSLR and takes amazing photos and video throughout the day, even in low-light settings like a dark restaurant. When we need to get the shot and can’t afford to mess it up or only have a split second to get it, the 6500 is the camera for the job! It has become a real staple for us and made our professional lives so much easier. If you’re thinking of buying a new camera, I have to say the entire Sony range recently has really impressed me and I’d recommend looking into them. Powerful, reliable and light it’s perfect for travellers.
Best Travel App / Website
Winner: Maps.me App
When we were planning our Canadian road trip one of the biggest concerns was how we were going to navigate without an in-car GPS, map or sim-card to access Google Maps on our phones. That’s how I came to find Maps.me! You download the app and then specific area maps for the place you’re visiting and they’re free! On my phone, I downloaded all the maps for western Canada and marked all the places we were visiting/staying so I could find them easily. It made navigation easy and reliable, ensuring we didn’t get lost as we drove around. It was a real life-saver and something valuable to travellers as we don’t always have internet access to use maps.
Best Travel Accessory
Winner: Lojel Cubo Small Suitcase
Now I’m officially in my 30’s, my days of lugging around a super heavy backpack as carry-on are done! My back just can’t take it anymore! So, I tried out a few different cabin-size suitcases but kept running into the issue of how annoying it is to open up a little suitcase in a small space. You know, you have to unzip it in the middle and then both sides have to lay flat and it’s just annoying. Well, the Lojel Cubo solved that problem! The suitcase has one entry point on the front, which you unzip to gain access to the entire contents, like a hatch. It took the annoying aspect out of having a cabin-size suitcase, saved my back and has made travelling so much easier for me.
Best Travel Blogger
Winner: Luke Marlin (www.backstreetnomad.com)
I’m lucky enough to have met Luke a few years ago on a travel blogger press trip to Indonesia. He’s an amazing father, husband and friend and an all-around great human too! Luke was also on the #SquadSQ trip we took this year and we had the best time with him, he’s so fun and a genuinely lovely guy who’s so great to spend time with. Luke makes the most of every opportunity and is always so grateful for each moment. He creates insightful, useful content he’s passionate about and really connects with the people and the destination. Both Matt and I love and admire Luke’s approach to travel blogging and making the most of every moment and that’s why he was a very easy first choice for the Best Travel Blogger of the year!
Best Travel Instagrammer
Winner: Jackson Groves (@jackson.groves)
Funnily enough, I also met Jackson on the same Indonesian press trip as Luke and have been watching his following grow over the last few years. Rather than using his large follower numbers for his own personal gain, Jackson has used it to start The Adventure Bag Movement and make a real difference in the world. Every time he goes on an adventure he collects one bag of trash, the epitome of ‘leave it better than you found it.’ Not only does he do it for himself, but he’s also now arranging meet-ups so others can join him. The result is, more rubbish is collected from beautiful beaches and waterways around the world but, more importantly, people learn why it’s so important and, hopefully, spread the message. He’s affecting real change and using his platform to do so.
Best Travel Vlogger
Winner: Lost LeBlanc (YouTube)
This year we decided to commit to and focus on building our video skills and developing our YouTube channel. Part of that was trying to find other YouTube creators who we looked up to and could learn from. We watched a lot of videos but none really clicked with us in the same way as Lost LeBlanc. Christian has a fantastic videography and editing style that captures a destination beautifully while still adding value to viewers through information and insight. We’ve loved watching his videos, learning from them and feeling inspired to create our own. By far, Lost LeBlanc has been our favourite Travel Vlogger of the year.
Just a quick note to confirm the Little Grey Box 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!