2023 Year in Review: Is Everything in Our Hands?

Pipeaway's 2023 year review; AI image created by Dall-e.

January is always an opportunity for a fresh start and ambitious resolutions. But before diving headfirst into new adventures, I like to take a moment to reflect. Looking back at events and data from a distance can be insightful, so I always use the beginning of a new year as a chance to learn about Pipeaway’s progress. How was the year behind me, or us? Let’s see if the 2023 year review can answer that.

If I were just looking at Pipeaway’s numbers (of visits or generated income), I’d have to say this was the most successful year since the birth of this travel blog in 2017.

Even if Pipeaway’s annual traffic tripled in comparison to pre-pandemic 2019, Google updates brought a 35% drop in November

I guess I should thank you, the readers, and myself, the writer, for this. The choice of consistent typing instead of constant wandering was fruitful. The lesson is that sometimes, the path to success is paved with keyboard strokes rather than passport stamps.

Significantly more than any other year before, I published 63 articles in 2023. Those, as well as some older posts, brought in a surprising amount of traffic – 40.1% of all website visits since Pipeaway’s conception almost seven years ago, happened in 2023! The amount of visits tripled in comparison to pre-pandemic 2019.

With no special backlink-building efforts, the website’s results were climbing steadily from the beginning of the year, reaching its best in June. Similarweb ranked Pipeaway at global position #415,430, which is a great result for an essentially one-man-boat in the ocean of 2 billion websites.

Screenshot of Similarweb's June 2023 report for Pipeaway.com that places the travel website among the top 500k websites in the world.
Similarweb’s June 2023 report places Pipeaway.com among the top 500k websites in the world.

But anyone working in online business knows that Google’s autumn updates had a major negative effect on many quality websites, with doubtfully helpful results for users. As if blogxiety, or blogger burnout, was not enough stressful side of this job’s nature, content creators started being punished by the largest search engine’s algorithms.

Pipeaway’s rankings for practically half of the keywords were completely cut off, resulting in a 35% traffic drop in November, and a 40% plunge in December, compared to pre-update times. So in the most successful Pipeaway year traffic-wise, this wasn’t the best year-ending.

Until we either all start using Bing, DuckDuckGo, and even Yahoo, or Google gods don’t realize the extent of the mess they did and rectify what can be rectified, travel bloggers can only try to exercise even more resilience in these post-pandemic times when they were starting to see a glimpse of a better future.

Without further ado, let’s start with Pipeaway’s review of the year 2023!



Highlights of Pipeaway’s 2023

Artificial intelligence and authentic issues

Even if search engines still didn’t learn how to deal with the influx of low-quality content, the year 2023 was definitely the year of AI hype. The artificial intelligence entered content generation on a scale that nobody could predict, ready to tackle texts, images, videos, and even music.

Queen Nefertiti taking a selfie; AI image by Ivan Kralj/Midjourney.
Queen Nefertiti taking a selfie

Pipeaway adopted AI-generated images as a way to illustrate stories that have scarce human-made visual content on stock photo sites like Depositphotos. In articles such as the one on the original 7 Wonders of the World, the hidden travel expenses, or on what to do when seated next to a fat person on a plane, the use of tools such as Midjourney and Dall-e was invaluable. Artificial intelligence helps us visualize the pre-camera world, abstract concepts, or even those topics where publishing real images could land us in a sticky ethical situation.

I also consulted large language models a year ago, to see how they can compare available data and give their travel predictions for 2023. I believe it’s fun to read that with a delay and see how accurate were the travel industry trends recognized by the AI.

One of the most common AI forecasts was the rise of sustainable and responsible travel, something many human experts would easily agree with. In the world grappling with a disappearing Antarctica, and COP28 summit starring hypocrisy as headliner, it’s time to go beyond chanting environmental slogans and start making real moves. Each of us can adopt practical ways to reduce our carbon footprint (how about a backpacking lifestyle?), but also governments should approach development with an ecological state of mind. Haneul Park in Seoul is one such project that I found inspiring.

Travel industry in 2023

The travel industry confronted the burning issues in 2023, not always in the most successful way. To stop overtourism problems, some destinations rolled out new rules for tourists. In the clumsiness Olympics, the Italian “Open to Meraviglia” triumphed as one of the greatest travel marketing campaign fails last year.

Male tourist floating on water in a coffin-shaped floatie, with a message "Dear tourists, Tweet us if there is life after death"; a part of the safety marketing campaign by Croatian HGSS.
Croatian HGSS campaign for safer tourists

Laughter induced by these tourism professionals was not intentional, but the smart use of jokes in marketing can be a game-changer. Just think of Ryanair, National Park Service, TSA… They all manage to take themselves less seriously while still managing to get their messages across. Personally, I like how Uber presents lost property in their annual report.

In the year behind us, Pipeaway has written extensively about airline industry trends. We have witnessed Air Canada wrestling with disability assistance, plus-size flight attendants facing discrimination, and unruly aircraft passengers reaching new heights, sometimes by joining the mile-high club.

With so many challenges in the air, would you still consider becoming a pilot? Or could the airport transfer service be a smoother career choice?

If we have learned anything from the accommodation industry last year, it was that hotel guests could have the most extravagant room service requests, that housekeeping regularly ignores ‘do not disturb’ signs, and that hidden cameras and microphones could be surveilling you as you read this.

While there are retreats designed exclusively for those of us who experienced a breakup, I believe that sometimes taking a break can be beneficial, even if it is for participating in the world’s laziest person competition.

Personal views

Every year has its ups and downs. On a personal level, I experienced two losses that touched me deeply. One was Fathin Naufal, an Indonesian I met through Couchsurfing, and the other one was Lidija Džidara, a childhood friend from my school years. Both of them were too young to leave, but I guess they offered me another reminder of the preciousness of moments we have. Those are here and now.

Everything passes in seconds. I see writing as a tool to make those seconds echo longer. I wish I was more successful in that as I feel many important memories just fade away before I ever get a chance to grab them, pack them, and store them, somewhere with a longer expiry date than my brain.

Maybe AI could help there too. Grasping our fleeing thoughts, leading us through the darkness until, well, we remember. For instance, when I wrote the article on the biggest WTF moments of my travels, I used ChatGPT as a brainstorming tool. I demanded it ask me questions so I could recollect what I forgot or what I never even analyzed through such a prism. Of course, many questions the AI asked me never led anywhere, but on the other hand, it did manage to help me dig deeper into my memories, so I could come up with stories I had never written about before.

Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip, TikTok Traveling Grannies on a trip around the world at age 80, taking a selfie with a monkey in the foreground.
TikTok Travel Grannies posing for a selfie with a fan

Besides interviewing myself, I realized interviewing others is something I should focus on even more in the future. There are some great stories to give the stage to, and they come not necessarily through us, but through other people.

Matjaž Krivic was one of such inspiring individuals. His pictures of a white rhino and thoughts on the species extinction drew 40k eyeballs to Pipeaway and faced them with an important topic.

Tom Turcich, the man who walked around the world with his dog, also shared some thought-provoking ideas on death and privilege.

The TikTok Grannies celebrated the undying power of friendship at the age of 80, while Alexey Gubarev exposed his MadWay Rally through the modern Wasteland.

Favorite country – Croatia

In 2023, I’ve spent only 38 days abroad, which is significantly less than during the pandemic’s “stay at home” movement. I’ve been traveling only in Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, and Switzerland, or so-called closer-to-home destinations (well done, AI oracle, again!).

Sure, I could recommend you discover Italian wineries, explore the Swiss wall of skulls in Beinhaus Leuk, or even embark on a grand European itinerary that includes Spain, the country of passion. I could tell you to visit the entertainment capitals with the biggest Ferris wheels in the world, follow the world’s best coffee trail, or even dive into countries with pink lakes.

Aerial view of Bavljenac, Croatian island that looks like a fingerprint, due to a network of dry stone walls covering the island like papillary lines; photo by Boris Kačan.
Bavljenac, Croatian fingerprint island

But to be fair, the country where I spent the rest of my year, deserves a shoutout.

Many newlyweds choose Croatia for their honeymoon. It is, after all, a country with five heart-shaped islands, one of which is still available for sale (Galešnjak, anyone?). Well, as long as you are rich enough and struggle with coming up with romantic travel gift ideas.

But Croatia has many more cool island shapes, ready for you to explore. I will certainly be among these explorers, especially now that I gifted myself a brand-new drone (DJ Mini 4 Pro). Expect even more aerial footage on Pipeaway in the years to come!

Favorite town – Villages of Zagori, Greece

I’m often drawn to hidden places. Playful architects, such as those who designed the traboules in Lyon, can shape the entire identity of a place.

The northwestern corner of Greece was developing its architectural style for centuries. Hidden behind the mountain (the fact that even provided the name of the region – Zagori), this stone kingdom of bridges and pathways is a fascinating landscape where nature and humans share the stage.

Kokkorou Bridge, a one-arch stone bridge in the mountainous landscape of Zagori, Epirus, Greece, reflecting in the river beneath it, and surrounded by lush greenery; photo by Ivan Kralj.
Kokkorou Bridge, one of dozens of stone arched bridges in Zagori

Scattered around one of the deepest canyons in the world, proudly stands Zagorochoria, a cluster of 46 villages that haven’t changed much since they were built. They are the newcomers on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, and rightfully so.

My first visit to Zagori was quite short, so I hope to go back for some exciting hiking adventures.

Favorite accommodation – Star Wars-themed hotels

If the news escaped you, 2023 was the year of pink. The greatest contributor to the craze was, of course, the Hollywood blockbuster. So the popularity of Barbie hotels, motels, and any nook painted in pink, does not come as a surprise.

Men dressed as armed Stormtroopers at one of the filming sites of Star Wars during the movie-inspired tour in Tunisia; photo by Viator.com.
Star Wars shooting site in Tunisia

But the closing of Disney’s Galactic Starcruiser, made me put another hotel alternative as a 2023 favorite – the Star Wars hotels.

From the deserts of Tunisia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates, to the futuristic abodes in Spain, France, and the UK, hotels inspired by the space saga will certainly continue providing otherworldly vacation not only for movie fans.

Favorite food experience – Rapska torta

Now, let’s talk sweets, my kryptonite. From hunting Budapest desserts to scanning pastry workshops on Eatwith, I’ve been looking for mouthwatering experiences in 2023 as well. Well, to be completely honest, I even flirted with the idea of professional pastry schools, but my bank account disagreed. Are there any sponsors in the house? 🙂

Rapska torta at Kuća rabske torte in Rab, Croatia, displayed in the traditional shape of snail shell, and more modern heart-shaped cakes; photo by Ivan Kralj.
Rab Cake, as produced in Kuća rabske torte

I am happy to present the title of my favorite food experience of the year to the Croatian island of Rab, where I spent my birthday week.

This Northern Adriatic island has a special gastronomic attraction. Rapska torta is a famous Croatian cake that even the Pope bowed in front of. My article comes with a secret recipe for this traditional delicacy, so if you can’t travel to Croatia, head to your kitchen!

Pipeaway’s top articles of 2023

Some articles published on Pipeaway in 2023 especially resonated with readers. Here’s a roundup of the most popular blog posts that had the Pipeaway community buzzing:

Najin, the second-to-last northern white rhino resting on the ground, with her caretaker Zachary Mutai sitting next to her, leaning on her body, at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya; photo by Matjaž Krivic.
“The Last Two”, photograph by Matjaž Krivic

1. Extinction in Focus: Matjaž Krivic’s Photographs of the Last Northern White Rhino

Matjaž Krivic is a Slovenian documentary photographer whose photos of the last northern white rhino brought him many prizes. Besides portraying the heartwarming relationship between just seemingly invincible animal and its guard, the author also opens the topic of the fragility of the species, defenseless against human greed. Can scientists save rhinos?

FKK Kandarola Beach Rab, equipped with parasol, sunbeds and toboggan, from 2015 under the 10-year concession managed by Josip Jurešić, Boja d.o.o.; photo by Ivan Kralj.
Kandarola Beach, the birthplace or the graveyard of Croatian naturism?

2. FKK Kandarola Beach: The Naked Truth About Rab’s Shrinking Naturist Paradise

The Croatian island of Rab was a place where a British monarch took off his clothes and officially launched the history of European naturism. But Kandarola, the beach where it all began, is threatened by a variety of exploitation projects, with a frightening silence of local politicians. Can Rab protect its nature and naturists, or is that not a political priority?

A woman posing for a photo standing next to the Juliet's statue in Munich, whose breast has changed color due to excessive statue rubbing by tourists, photo by Goran Jakus, Depositphotos.
The golden attraction of Julia’s breast

3. Statue Rubbing: Good Luck or Bad Taste?

A strange tradition convinced people that rubbing statues could bring good luck. The bizarre massage ritual had poor monuments blushing from head to toe, breasts, crotches, and hindquarters included. Is the controversial practice performed by superstitious tourists utterly wrong, and what does it tell us about the society that tolerates it?

Pipeaway’s timeless hits

Among the all-time favorites, rankings changed a bit. The usual number one slipped to number three, making room for newcomers who stole the limelight. These are the timeless classics readers couldn’t get enough of in 2023!

1. Top 5 Jjimjilbangs in Seoul

2. Fat People on Planes: How to Survive Flying While Fat

3. Selecting a Plane Seat: 5 Reasons Why Last Row Should be First Choice

Social media landscape

Organic search continued to dominate in the acquisition of Pipeaway readers (78.7%). Direct visits grew to 18.1%, while social media accounted for a mere 3.3% in 2023.

As traffic generated by social media can be quite volatile, I’m still convinced that the SEO route is the one to insist on. If I should change anything with my social media approach at this moment, it is probably to focus more on those channels that do bring some traffic (Pinterest does it without me investing any special effort) and cut the time spent on designing content and strategies for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, whose policies try their best not to let their users leave their platforms to discover other online content.

The Pinterest channel continued to grow and now brings 61.4 % of Pipeaway’s social media traffic. Pipeaway’s account on Pinterest currently has 858 followers (10 % yearly growth) with 57k monthly viewers. While that number stayed similar, the number of those who have seen or engaged with Pipeaway’s pins in 2023 (505.780) more than doubled in comparison with the previous year (124 % growth). The Greek nudist hotels’ article stole Pinterest’s spotlight.

Pipeaway's Pinterest board.
Pipeaway’s Pinterest board. Average user? American male (25-34), with an iPhone.

Facebook follows Pinterest, accounting for 25.1 % of social media traffic last year. Pipeaway’s Facebook page still has the same number of followers, about 12 thousand. However, with posting automation and strategic timing, Facebook’s reach has grown by 301.5%.

With regular daily posting, ex-Twitter climbed up to the third place in the rankings (8.4% of social media acquisition came from there), which is more than doubled in comparison to the year before. Pipeaway’s X account currently boasts 1,397 followers.

Instagram sent a meager 2.7 % of social media traffic, and Pipeaway’s Instagram followers base decreased by an additional 3.6% in 2023. There are 5,589 followers at the moment. Zuckerberg knows why, but our Instagram reach has grown 27.8 %, which is still utterly insignificant.

In the fifth spot, there’s LinkedIn. This professional network brought over 2.3% of social media traffic, even if I only share new articles on a personal profile after I publish them on the site.

Pipeaway’s YouTube channel had 59k views in 2023, nearly double from the previous year. Viewers spent 1.4k hours watching our videos. The number of subscribers grew 39 %, from 178 to 248. The most popular video was again Nara Deer ParkJapan’s Bambi Heaven & Hell, raking in 50k views in 2023. I think these are cool results, especially as I don’t really focus on this channel. I published only two videos in 2023, one on making a cake, and another one on making a race.

Newsletter news

There have been 51 editions of Pipeaway’s newsletter in 2023. I only missed sending one, back in February, and now I can’t even remember why.

In any case, when the newsletter count hit three digits, I transformed it into a regular curated newsletter that’s sent out every Monday, hoping that it could one day become a strong product on its own. Let’s face it, Mondays need all the help they can get.

Pipeaway travel newsletter #111; AI image by DALL-E.
Every web edition of the newsletter now has a numbered cover image

I just uploaded this new generation of newsletters on Pipeaway too, so the readers can now easily access the archive before deciding on signing up.

The newsletter is free, and I don’t plan to change that in the foreseeable future.

As my intention with this product is to develop content for the most engaged Pipeaway readers, these days I made another big clean-up of inactive subscribers (those who extremely rarely open this e-letter).

From 696 subscribers at the beginning of 2023, the total number was cut down to 477. There were 70 new users subscribing to the service in 2023, but the end number is the result of two simultaneous processes – certain users leaving by choice, and others being removed from the list due to not opening the newsletter for months.

One really cannot do much about the accounts that seem not to be used or active, so I still find cleaning the audience list an essential part of any newsletter’s hygiene.

Join the newsletter list!


Press appearances

As of January 2024, 1,297 domains are referring back to Pipeaway. The number of backlinks almost doubled in the last year (in January 2023, there were 699 domains linking to this site.

Ubesuggest's graph showing the increase in Pipeaway.com's backlinks over time, from 879 backlinks in May 2021 to 3,692 backlinks in January 2024.
Pipeaway’s increase in backlinks over time, from 870 in May 2021 to 3,692 in January 2024, by Ubersuggest

Probably the strongest links obtained in 2023 were those generated through our story on flying while fat. After The Time linked out to Pipeaway, many other media picked it up as well.

Out of other interesting write-ups that referred to Pipeaway, I’d like to mention the article by Tanja Praske on Münchner Stadtbibliothek blog, which discussed the background of the #JulietToo art installation by Tamiko Thiel, and pointed to Pipeaway’s post on the controversial practice of statue rubbing.

The graph showing the growth of Pipeaway.com's domain authority in 2023, from DA 24 to DA 38.
Pipeaway’s domain authority growth in 2023, by MOZ

Besides some activity in certain Facebook groups, I must say I wasn’t as actively engaged in building backlinks as the year before (writing for other websites, responding to HARO requests, etc.). Despite the laid-back approach, Pipeaway’s domain authority grew; according to MOZ, the DA is now 38, while in January 2023, it was 24. Before Google’s updates that cut half of the ranking keywords, DA was 39.

Thank you

Even if I hadn’t been traveling as usual in 2023, I still did see the world nearby. For some of these trips, I have to thank my own wallet, but for others – the generous hosts who put up with me for some (or more than some) time. In the year behind me, Mladen in Switzerland deserves all my thank-yous.

Where to next?

If I would follow my advice, the best places to travel in 2024 would be Morocco, Turkey, Hawaii, and Mexico.

While some of these destinations do call my name, I think the major thing I should do in 2024 is actually to hit the road again. Anywhere and everywhere. Not just local travels, but some that require longer wanderings.

Unless the cosmos throws a curveball in my private or global affairs, I don’t want my 2024 travel plans to stay just a list of wishes

I understand the benefits this website had from my focus on regular writing and publishing, with increased traffic and income from sponsors and affiliate marketing. But I’m also aware I have to find the balance between the two. I’m sure many bloggers struggle with establishing this fine equilibrium between traveling for content and delivering it on their sites.

I was hoping that my investment of more time would even more significantly raise the revenue, which would enable me to possibly engage virtual assistants. But Google’s updates served as a bitter reality check. It’s hard to predict when some of the lost traffic will resurrect from the digital graveyard. Until then, the solution calls for more and more content production.

However, this time I don’t want my travel plans to stay just a list of wishes. So unless the cosmos throws a curveball in my private or global affairs, Asia beckons in 2024. Some plans in this direction last autumn fell apart, but now I’m even more determined to go.

Realistically, where could that be? I assume, South Korea, and some countries in Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia). In Europe, I want to see some friends in Ireland and Switzerland at least and explore more summer destinations in Croatia and Greece.

Now, what could be a more dreamy version of a trip, but still an option? Add Mexico, Japan, Maldives, and more of Eastern Europe, if the situation in Ukraine and other growing boiling zones allows it.

What about you? How do you plan to outshine your 2023? Share your travel resolutions, maybe I steal some.

Wherever you are, stay safe!

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There were quite a few turbulences in 2023, in the world in general, as well as in the world of travel blogging. Is the solution in our own hands? Read Pipeaway's 2023 year review!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you click on them and make a purchase, Pipeaway may make a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting our work!
Ivan Kralj


Award-winning journalist and editor from Croatia

  1. Great job not only in growing your site/platform but in how you presented said growth. I’m sorry to hear of the passing of your friends. I also found your use of AI for photography VERY interesting. I love the way you title your articles and bring out some of the most interesting topics!

    1. Heather, thank you so much for your kind words!
      I truly appreciate your condolences for the loss of my friends. Their passing has indeed been a poignant reminder of the preciousness of moments.
      So in a way, 2023 was truly precious.
      I’m glad you enjoyed Pipeaway’s storytelling through text and visuals. Your support means a world!
      Hopefully, the year ahead will bring even better relevant content. I wish you a lot of success with your blog too!

  2. This is very good article. Thank you for sharing details you are very passionate writer and traveler! . There are always ups and downs! But the passion and consistency will fix it all. Good luck with it. And follow your passion 🤩

  3. You’ve done quite a deep dive into what makes a travel website run, and how to thoughtfully use technology to help out. Best wishes for more travel in 2024!

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* pipe away ['paipǝ'wei] (vt, mar) = to give
the whistling signal for the ship about to
leave the harbor

Mapping the extraordinary since 2017.


Pipeaway is a travel blog mapping extraordinary people, places and passions.
Founded and run by Ivan Kralj, Croatian award-winning journalist and editor.
Read more and find out how to contact us on About page.