We have had an incredible year full of unforgettable travel moments, great food, wonderful people and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Each one will stay with us forever but there are some that stand out from the rest! So, each year, we keep track of those extra special experiences and, in December, sit down to determine the best of the best. The Little Grey Box Travel Awards are our way of showing our immense gratitude and a little extra love and support for the wonderful people who make these moments possible. We just want to say a huge thank you to each and every person we met and worked with this year. Without further ado, here are the Little Grey Box Travel Award Winners (and, I suppose, our travel highlights) for 2019!
If you’re a visual person and prefer to watch rather than read, you can watch the full Little Grey Box Travel Award Winners video here on YouTube or simply scroll to the bottom of this post for the embedded video.
Best Australian Destination
Winner: Yeppoon Region, Queensland
There’s a lot to love about Yeppoon, a tranquil coastal town located along the picturesque Queensland coastline a short drive from Rockhampton. Each time Matt and I visit we find ourselves falling more in love with the town and the locals, inevitably ending up on local real estate websites scoping out dream homes. The beaches in Yeppoon are absolutely stunning, offering long stretches of pristine sand and cool water as well as some epic viewpoints too. There’s an amazing local art scene, no shortage of new friends to be made and, importantly, a great range of noteworthy restaurants, cafes and bars. I’m always amazed by just how many awesome restaurants there are in a town of its size! It’s a destination we both genuinely love to visit and always feel sad to leave.
Runner-up: Fraser Island Region, Queensland
Honourable mention: Stanthorpe Region, Queensland
Best Overseas Destination
Winner: Hokkaido Region, Japan
Japan has been on our list of all-time favourite destinations for a few years now but 2019 really took things to a new level when we visited Hokkaido! Right from the moment,we stepped off the plane both of us were blown away by how beautiful the region is. We loved the friendly, quirky and sweet locals, especially those who made an extra special effort to make us feel welcome, realising we didn’t speak Japanese. The landscape was nothing short of stunning and the food was absolutely delicious. We met so many characters and came away fro the trip with huge smiles plastered across our faces and an even deeper love for Japan and the locals.
Runner-up: Los Cabos Region, Mexico
Honourable mention: Fiordland Region, New Zealand
Best Under-the-Radar Destination
Winner: Asahikawa, Japan
Hot on the heels of our time exploring Hokkaido, we decided to make the most of the winter wonderland and experience Japan’s epic snow scene. We hired a car and set about exploring Asahikawa, falling in love with the town almost immediately. Everyone we met was so kind and welcoming and we got to try some amazing food too (some of it from a local supermarket, of all places!) When we visited Kamui Ski Links, we loved how few people there were around, making it feels as though we had the mountain to ourselves! We were the only tourists there that day and felt like kids in theme park as we buzzed up and down the runs, not needing to pause for any queues.
Runner-up: Ko Yao Noi, Thailand
Honourable mention: Carnarvon Gorge, Australia
Best Luxury Accommodation Experience
As part of our #squadSQ adventure with Singapore Airlines, we found ourselves exploring Paris this year! Amazingly, we had the opportunity to stay in two gorgeous luxury boutique hotels and one of them, Hotel La Pavillon De la Reine, stood out from all the other luxury experiences we were blessed to have this year. The staggering courtyard, covered entirely in lush green foliage, felt like a hidden oasis. The staff here are absolutely fantastic, offering attentive, sophisticated service. Our room was nothing short of amazing; a huge space beautifully decorated with huge windows offering a glimpse to the world below. It was the kind of place we had only ever dreamed of experiencing and the perfect spot to stay in Paris.
Runner-up: Viceroy Los Cabos, Mexico
Honourable mention: Marquis Los Cabos Resort & Spa, Mexico
Best Budget Accommodation Experience
Winner: Milford Sound Lodge, New Zealand
We also did our fair share of budget-friendly travel in 2019 and one of those trips was our amazing RV road trip through New Zealand’s South Island with Motorhome Republic. After a few big days of skiing and snowboarding, we climbed in the RV and road tripped out to Milford Sound, a drive which will stay with all of us for a very long time. It’s here we stayed at Milford Sound Lodge, the most beautiful RV park I have ever seen in my life. It felt more like a scene out of a children’s fairytale than a budget-friendly accommodation spot! The sites were all pristine and the facilities were amazing. Coupled with our late night UNO sessions and home-cooked meals, it was the best budget accommodation experience of the year (minus the part where I left my favourite water bottle behind!).
Runner-up: Highgate Apartment (Airbnb), Australia
Honourable mention: El Faro Beach Hotel, Costa Rica
Best Beach Experience
Winner: Pumpkin Island, Australia
We visited many beautiful beaches this year, including some spectacular spots in Thailand and Mexico! But it was an incredible 24-hours spent on Pumpkin Island that really stood out from the pack. Approaching the island by boat, I felt my jaw drop! The picture-perfect island kind of took my breath away, quickly replacing my shock with a huge smile. We had the island to ourselves and made the most of it by visiting as many different spots as we could before cracking a few cold beers around the beachfront fire pit. Pumpkin Island is a magical spot and easily the best beach experience I had all year.
Runner-up: Poda Island, Thailand
Honourable mention: Playa del Amor (Lovers Beach), Mexico
Best Food Experience
Winner (Tie): Bún chả Hương Liên, Vietnam & Uocchi, Japan
When we talk about the best food experience of the year, it isn’t about how fancy the restaurant was or how much the food cost. It’s about the experience of eating there and how memorable the meal way! For the first time ever, we had a tie this year. First up is a Bun Cha Huong Lien in Hanoi, which you may know as the place that Obama and Bourdain ate Bun Cha together. I thought it would be inundated with tourists and, as a result, overrated. Turns out, I was wrong! The restaurant still has an authentic, local vibe and the food is nothing short of deeeeeeeeeelicious! I mean, I wasn’t even that hungry when we went (I’d maxed out at the hotel breakfast – don’t judge me) and I still ate every bite of my meal. The food was incredible fresh and flavoursome and if I close my eyes, I can almost taste it now.
The second spot is Uocchi, a tiny little ramen bar hidden in the back of a market in Japan. If you didn’t know about it, you’d never find it! Turns out, the guy who runs Uocchi is somewhat of a ramen master, having perfected the dish over many, many years. The noodles are cooked to perfection and the broth is so very flavoursome. It is, without a doubt, the very best ramen I have ever eaten in my life and the whole thing was a food experience that I’ll never forget.
Honourable mention: Los Tamarindos, Mexico
Best Breakfast Experience
I really didn’t expect to have the best breakfast experience of the year at a hotel but that’s exactly what happened! Luxury resort, The Viceroy, in Los Cabos, Mexico, is home to one heck of an a la carte breakfast that knocked the socks off both Matt and me. The service was fantastic and the menu stacked with so many options it made it difficult to choose what to try first. I ate the most delicious breakfast burrito which sounds really basic but was so delicious I even asked the chef for the recipe. Matt tucked into eggs on day one and the super fluffy Japanese pancakes you see above on the second day. Not only was the food great but the coffee and smoothies were delicious too.
Runner-up: Emeraude, Australia
Honourable mention: Club Lounge @ InterContinental Hanoi Landmark72, Vietnam
Best Restaurant Experience
Winner: Cloudstreet, Singapore
The most outstanding restaurant experience of the year happened at the wrap dinner of #SquadSQ in Singapore! The amazing team at Singapore Airlines took us all out for a group dinner at Cloudstreet which just so happened to coincide with my birthday. The restaurant is visually stunning with incredible attention to detail that you’ll notice if you look closely at each element, even things like floorboards and tiles. We were lucky enough to enjoy a degustation with matching wines and it was just sensational. Every course was perfection, showcasing a broad range of flavours that took us on a food journey. I think what really made it so amazing though was the staff! The guys behind the restaurant were so passionate and proud, it shone through in every moment they spent with us explaining each dish and matching wine. It took what was a great meal and made it an unforgettable one.
Runner-up: Cielomar @ Viceroy Los Cabos, Mexico
Honourable mention: SKAI, Singapore
Best Cafe Experience
Winner: Emeraude, Australia
Emeraude is easily my favourite cafe in Queensland and probably all of Australia (I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather eat!) So, it’s no surprise that it is taking out the top spot for best cafe experience of the year. The food at Emeraude is absolutely delicious and if you ever find yourself anywhere near Toowoomba in Queensland, you should absolutely make the effort to visit Emeraude. I hear lots of chat about ‘farm to table’ and ‘local produce’ but, for me, Emeraude embodies this in an exceptional way. Owner, Amanda, develops close relationships with locals and has an uncanny ability to not only find the very best fresh ingredients but to take them and turn them into a mouth-watering meal you’ll enjoy to the very last bite. When we visit, I never even look at a menu…. Amanda always says, “I’ve got a dish you have to try!” and she whips up a plateful of local, delicious goodness. To me, eating at Emeraude is like eating Queensland on a plate and that’s what makes it so special.
Runner-up: Natural Sisters Cafe, United States
Honourable mention: Cong Caphe, Vietnam
Best Bar Experience
Matt and I have been making an effort to do more things we wouldn’t normally do when we travel. Usually, after a big day of filming, we’d finish our day with dinner and head back to our hotel to rest. In San Diego, we decided to expand our experiences and head to a local bar for some live music and drinks. Exhausted, we thought we’d stay for a little bit then duck out but Prohibition had other plans for us! The bar is a hidden, speakeasy-style spot so you have to know what you’re looking for to find it. Once inside, we tucked into some absolutely fantastic cocktails crafted by the talented, passionate staff and settled in for the music. It was nothing short of wonderful! The musicians were so talented and, in the small space, the music kind of moved through us. We couldn’t tear ourselves away and ended up staying for hours, enjoying more drinks and more music. It was an unexpectedly wonderful moment!
Runner-up: The Rooftop @ The Cape Hotel, Mexico
Honourable mention: Diamond Sky Bar, Vietnam
Best Unique Experience
Winner: Okuno-in Cemetery, Japan
As part of our trip to Japan, we got the chance to visit Koyasan, a very special and beautiful destination. I was a bit nervous to visit the Okuno-in Cemetery, fearing it would be eerie or inappropriate in some way. It turned out to be the best unique experience of the year! We walked along part of the same route used by thousands as part of an ancient pilgrimage to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan. The cemetery was staggeringly beautiful, the final resting place of devotees wishing to be eternally near Kobo Daishi, including samurai and royalty. I can’t quite describe the energy we felt, it’s something you have to experience to understand but when we reached the mausoleum it felt anything but eerie. It was a truly enriching and unique experience I’m so glad I got to have.
Runner-up: Lady Musgrave Experience, Australia
Honourable mention: Drive between Queenstown and Milford Sound, New Zealand
Best Adventure Experience
Winner: SkyDive Wanaka, New Zealand
Just looking at the photo above makes me smile! While in New Zealand on our amazing RV road trip, we spent a few nights in beautiful Wanaka, my favourite place in NZ. As a surprise, I organised to do a skydive with the guys at SkyDive Wanaka for Matt, Laker and me. Matt and I somehow managed to keep the secret, filming the big reveal and Laker’s total shock and excitement about 30 minutes before the jump. It set the tone for an incredible day! The staff were absolutely amazing, taking care of every detail expertly and making us feel equal parts safe and EXCITED. The flight up to the jump height was a treat, affording us unbelievable views over the Southern Alps, Wanaka and even out to Queenstown. Before we knew it, it was time to jump and I was hanging out the side of the plane then, suddenly, freefalling, laughing, smiling, cheering and whooping with joy. It was a life experience I will cherish forever, especially being able to share something so special with my two best friends in one of the most beautiful places on earth. If you ever get the chance to do a skydive, I cannot recommend doing it with SkyDive Wanaka highly enough!
Runner-up: River Tubing (with Hotel Catarata Rio Celeste), Costa Rica
Honourable mention: Skiing/Snowboarding (at Kamui Ski Links), Japan
Best Day-Tour Experience
Mexico has long been on my travel bucket list and toward the end of 2019, we got the opportunity to visit picture-perfect Los Cabos and it did not disappoint. On one particularly gorgeous day, we boarded a luxury sailing boat with Cabo Adventures and set off along the stunning coastline, drenched in the warm sunshine. The crew were attentive, funny and personable, taking care of our every need and serving up fantastic cocktails. We visited the world-famous Arch, spotted a whale and stopped in at Santa Maria bay for snorkelling. If all that wasn’t enough, the crew prepared and served up the most delicious food, taking the whole experience to another level. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment and most definitely the best day tour experience of the year.
Runner-up: Baja Jeep Tour (with High Tide Sea Expeditions), Mexico
Honourable mention: Lady Musgrave Island Day Tour (with Lady Musgrave Experience), Australia
Best Multi-Day Tour
This year we managed to visit some brand new destinations and one of those was Costa Rica! After dreaming of visiting for years (and very nearly going there for our honeymoon) we finally got the chance to visit as part of a 15-day tour with Intrepid Travel. Our tour leader, Edgar, was absolutely fantastic! He had so much good, local knowledge and was so patient with all of us, ensuring we had a great day, every day. Our tour took us to different corners of Costa Rica, showing us everything from the bustling city of San Jose to the beaches of Manuel Antonio and the jungle of Rio Celeste. We experienced local culture, amazing food and got to meet some pretty special people too, as well as spotting an abundance of wildlife, including sloths. It was a real highlight and a trip we thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.
Best Airport Experience
Winner: Changi Airport, Singapore
We roamed the halls of many an airport in 2019 but nowhere else quite came close to Singapore’s Changi Airport. It really has become a destination all of its own which, if you think about it, is kind of genius! Changi Airport is, as always, a fantastic place for a layover. There’s great food, shopping and entertainment, including a movie theatre, butterfly garden and food courts reflecting local Singaporean cuisine. But just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, they unveil Jewel which is, honestly, even better in real life than the photos and videos you see on social media. I wrote this detailed guide on visiting Jewel as it’s located at the airport, not within the airport.
Runner-up: Perth Airport, Australia
Honourable mention: Brisbane International Airport, Australia
Best Airline Experience
Singapore Airlines continues to dominate the best airline experience year after year and with good reason too! What I love most about Singapore Airlines is the service and that’s something I took for granted until I started travelling more. In my opinion, it’s what sets SIA apart from other airlines I’ve experienced. It doesn’t matter where you sit on the plane, the service from economy and up is always fantastic! We were very grateful to fly Business Class with SIA a few times this year and it was just phenomenal. The seats are spacious and comfortable, the cabin products are all well-thought-out, the food is delicious, there’s always a great selection of movies and entertainment and, as I mentioned already, the service is second to none. I’m yet to experience better!
Runner-up: American Airlines, Business Class
Honourable mention: Delta, Comfort+
Best Airline Lounge Experience
We had quite a few great airline lounge experiences this year, with special mentions needed for the Air New Zealand Lounge at Brisbane Airport’s International Terminal and the fantastic SilverKris Lounge at Singapore’s Changi Airport. But it was a brief jaunt at the Emirates Lounge at LAX that really knocked our socks off! The lounge is beautifully designed, with a modern, bright, clean design that’s equal parts comfortable and functional. It felt like a very fancy restaurant, more than anything, featuring a terrace-style area overlooking the airport. You can’t help but feel like you’re at the top of Galleries Lafayette in Paris! Most importantly, the food was absolutely delicious and, as we happened to be there on Thanksgiving, the special festive feast impressed us both. Our only regret is that we didn’t have more time there. Well played, Emirates.
Runner-up: Air New Zealand Lounge BNE, Australia
Honourable mention: Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge, Singapore
Best Day-Spa Experience
We only visited one day spa in 2019 so it may seem like it was easy for Dii to take out the top spot. But had it not been amazing, we simply would’ve discarded this category from the LGB Travel Awards altogether. Thankfully, there was no need for that because our experience at Dii was absolutely wonderful! Located in a very high-end mall in Bangkok, Thailand, we were impressed by how tranquil the day spa is when you step through the doors to the treatment rooms. Everything was luxurious and so well thought-out, including the stunning crystals hanging from the ceiling that makes you feel like you’re floating through space! Most importantly, the treatments were fantastic. We each had a dreamy massage with perfect pressure that relieved all our aches and pains from exploring Bangkok like madmen. We staggered out of Dii refreshed, recharged and completely relaxed.
Best Bucket List Moment
Both Matt and I have a love affair with America’s National Parks and plan to see as many of them as we can in our lifetime. We have long dreamed of visiting Joshua Tree NP so when we found ourselves heading to San Diego for a shoot, we decided to add a week onto our trip and head out to JTree on a road trip. It was an adventure that did not disappoint and a real bucket list moment for us. We loved clambering over rocks, exploring the NP at different times of the day and listening to U2’s Joshua Tree album at full blast the whole way! The landscape was dramatic and awe-inspiring, completely unlike anywhere else we’ve ever visited and we loved every moment. I hope we get to tick a few more National Park’s off the bucket list this year!
Runner-up: Luxury Day Sailing, Cabo Adventures, Mexico
Honourable mention: Watching the Singapore National Day Parade from the Swissôtel The Stamford, Singapore
Best Travel Tech
Winner: DJI Osmo Pocket
As our business grows, our camera kit becomes increasingly important and when looking for great travel tech, we’re looking for things that are reliable, do a great job and don’t totally break the bank! This year, our DJI Osmo Pocket has been something of a revelation. It’s tiny, compact size has made it perfect for travel and it captures high-quality, cinematic footage that takes our videos to the next level! Best of all, it’s an affordable piece of kit for us too so it really did check all the boxes. I would just say, if there’s one piece of feedback I could give DJI as a brand, it would be to improve their customer service as it’s the one area they seem to be lacking in.
Runner-up: GoPro Hero8 Black
Honourable mention: Sony Alpha 6400
Best Travel App / Website
Winner: Maps.me App
If you watch our YouTube videos regularly you will have heard me talk about Maps.me a lot. Well, there’s a good reason why! The app is totally free (always a very good start) and it allows you to download and use maps offline. You just have to make sure you download the map for the region you need while you still have internet access. I like to download the map before we leave home and star or favourite all the places we plan to visit, just to make it easier. You can search and navigate offline too so it’s perfect for navigating a brand new city on foot, by public transport or car! It has helped us out on so many occasions, it’s become our go-to travel app.
Runner-up: Uber App
Honourable mention: Adobe Lightroom App
Best Travel Accessory
A neck pillow seems like a really basic accessory, right?! Well, this year I realised I was using my travel neck pillow all wrong and since I started using it differently, it has become my must-have in-flight essential. Instead of placing the u-shaped pillow behind my neck, I started place it on the front or side (watch a full demo in our YouTube video version of this post!) My pillow of choice is a memory foam one but Matt found himself with one that looks kind of like a space-age neck brace, which suits his preferred in-flight sleeping position better. We never used to travel with neck pillows but now we’ve found two that work for our individual needs, we can’t imagine flying without them.
Runner-up: Lojel Voja Suitcases
Honourable mention: Crocs
Best Travel Instagrammer
Winner: Karl ‘Shakur’ Ndieli (@karl_shakur)
Social media is a tricky thing. There are so many talented, wonderful people but there are also those that can leave us feeling ‘less than,’ if that makes sense? The last few years I’ve made an effort to only follow people who make me feel uplifted and inspired. One of those people is Karl ‘Shakur’ Ndieli. He’s an incredibly talented photographer and creative and what he creates has a positive, uplifting energy to it. Both Matt and I follow him and always love to see how he captures a new destination! He always goes to a lot of effort and his photography skills are amazing, resulting in beautiful photos that leave you feeling great after you see them.
Best Travel Vlogger
Winner: Flying The Nest (YouTube)
Just as I described above, we’re selective about who we watch on YouTube too! 2019 has been an incredible year for Stephen and Jess of Flying The Nest. It has been a genuine joy to see their channel continue to grow and, honestly, it couldn’t be happening to two better people. Their videos are always so much fun, combining the best of a destination with their keen sense of adventure and passion for connecting with locals. Matt and I have been so inspired by their journey and, when we have those overwhelming moments, we think of them and feel inspired again to keep pushing!
Just a quick note to confirm the Little Grey Box Travel Awards are based solely on our experiences. None of these spots has been paid for or requested by any of those included, it’s all legit love!
Useful resources to help you #TravelWell
As always, our guides are completely free. If you found this post (or anything we do) useful, we’d be grateful if you considered using the affiliate links below. We’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Rest assured, these are the services we love and use ourselves. Thanks for your support! XO Phoebe and Matt.
Agoda – for booking hotels
Airbnb – for booking apartments
Booking.com – for booking hotels
Motorhome Republic – for booking RVs
RentalCars.com – for car rentals
SCTI – for travel insurance
Skyscanner – for booking flights
Surfshark – for online security and VPN
TourRadar – for booking tours
Uber – for ground transport