Since returning to the U.S., the number one question I’m asked is, “What was your favorite place?” I can’t even begin to explain how difficult that question is to answer. I loved many of the places I visited, but they’re each so different that they’re nearly impossible to compare. I love Norway for its dramatic scenery and outdoor adventures, but I equally love Spain for its relaxed lifestyle and vibrant culture. Two completely different places that I enjoy for entirely different reasons.
In addition, it’s not the destinations that stick out to me, but the specific experiences I had in each. If you asked me what some of my most memorable experiences are, I would say Oktoberfest in Munich, scuba diving in Egypt (and getting certified in Koh Tao), hiking in Norway and the Swiss Alps, Songkran in Thailand, watching the sunset over the temples of Bagan in Myanmar, and I’d even add my daily lifestyle in Manly Beach, Australia. All of these countries aren’t necessarily my favorites, but the experiences I had in them were pretty amazing.
If I were to play superlatives with my trip:
Best outdoor adventures: New Zealand
From skydiving, bungy jumping, canyoning, white-water rafting, mountain biking, jet boating, and more, New Zealand truly does have every adventure activity and extreme sport known to mankind. Now add those to a surreal backdrop of cerulean blue lakes, rolling green hills, and snow-capped mountains… adventure paradise!
Best mountains: Norway, Switzerland, and a special shout-out to Australia’s Glasshouse Mountains
If I could describe Norwegian landscapes in one word, it would have to be epic. I like to call it “New Zealand on steroids.” Plus, lying back on Preikestolen, standing on Kjerag rock and sitting on the edge of Trolltunga were three of the most exhilarating moments of my entire life.
I fell in love with Switzerland, of course, for the Alps. Never will you truly understand how high they are until you hike up 2,000m and are still only halfway up. The alpine scenery is simply stunning, and watching the sunset from a viewpoint above the clouds is something I’ll never forget.
The Glasshouse Mountains in Australia, while not particularly high, deserve a special shoutout simply because the landscape is so unique. These mountains shoot out of the flat Sunshine Coast ground in such an unnatural looking way that taking in your surroundings from the top is simply breathtaking.
Most underrated: Macedonia, Slovenia, Montenegro
I’ve never heard anyone say specifically that they want to go to Macedonia, Slovenia, or Montenegro, yet I think they should be on everyone’s list for the cheap prices, friendly people, and beautiful natural landscapes. Matka Canyon & Lake Ohrid in Macedonia, Lake Bled in Slovenia, and Kotor in Montenegro are places I’d add to any European itinerary.
Coolest city: Budapest, Istanbul, and a special shout-out to New York City
Budapest has just about everything going for it. Interesting Gothic and Art Noveau architecture, ancient hot springs, booming nightlife, and cheap prices make it an awesome city to hang out for a few days… or weeks.
I loved Istanbul as well for a variety of reasons: delicious food, cheap shopping, unique art, rich history, and stunning architecture, among many more.
Though it’s in my own country and very opposite my normal “beach” style, New York City is actually really fun! As a California girl, I didn’t want to like NYC, but I have to admit it’s actually a pretty cool place. A little out of my budget, but it turns out I’m a huge fan of rooftop bars with amazing views and watching the city light up at night. Plus, Central Park satisfied my outdoor nature craving and provided a relaxing escape from the bustling city.
Most beautiful city: Stockholm, Sevilla
Stockholm may win my vote for most beautiful city of the trip. I loved historic Gamla Stan (Old Town) with its little alleyways of beautiful buildings, parks spread throughout to keep the city green, and the fact that the city is spread over 14 islands, meaning the sea is always just around the corner.
Though I love Barcelona as well, Sevilla is more beautiful in my opinion. I loved its intricately carved architecture, rows of palm trees, and bright colors.
Biggest culture shock: Indonesia (NOT Bali) and Myanmar
Not only were the small villages of Indonesia some of the most “third world” places I visited on this trip, they were also my first stop after first-world Australia. I’d been to Southeast Asia years ago, but I’d only stayed in hostels and hadn’t really gone off the beaten track. Kalianyar, Indonesia was a whole new ballgame, where I learned to pee in holes, shower with buckets, hand wash clothes, and eat fried fish for breakfast.
Because it was closed off from the world for so long, Myanmar is a country much more “stuck in time” than other Southeast Asian countries. There’s nothing like gliding through the self-sustainable floating villages of Inle Lake, complete with floating gardens, leg-rowing fishermen, and hand-made lotus thread.
Best lifestyle: Australia, Spain
Hands down, Australia has the best lifestyle in the world. Especially coming from the US, work-life-balance in Australia seemed much more “life” focused than I was used to. They get a higher salary, minimum four weeks vacation, and the fabulous weather makes for a very outdoors-focused lifestyle.
Despite Spanish economy not having the best track record, the lifestyle hasn’t taken a hit at all. Judging by the amount of people going out to eat, flamenco dancing at bars, and relaxing by the river or beach, you’d never know Spain’s economy has suffered. And about that traditional two-hour siesta… when’s the U.S. adopting that custom again?
Friendliest people: Myanmar
Because they aren’t yet accustomed to tourists, Burmese people are genuinely curious, welcoming and don’t just see tourists as sources of money. In my experience, the kids would always wave and say “Mingalaba” (hello), while other locals would ask to have a conversation just for the sake of meeting and practicing English.
Again, these superlatives are all based on my specific experiences in each location. You may go to a place I loved and totally hate it, or vice versa. Let me know in the comments if you have different places to add. Oh! And best food goes to Italy and Thailand.
I’ve also compiled answers to a few other FAQs that I’ve received:
Did you get lonely traveling solo? Believe-it-or-not, I never once felt lonely. I was lucky to have many friends to meet up with along the way, and even when I was “solo” I was always either in hostels (generally in the largest/cheapest dorms) or Couchsurfing and hanging out with my host and his/her friends. If anything, it took serious effort to get some alone time!
How do you afford it? Well, I’ll start out by saying that travel can be a lot cheaper than you think. On a two-week vacation from work, sure you’ll probably stay in a hotel, go out to nice restaurants, and indulge a bit. After all, it’s a vacation. But long-term travel is different. I travel to experience the local culture, to open my eyes to the world, and to go on fun adventures, not just to treat myself because I think I deserve it. I have no problem with cutting back on luxuries and living off simple necessities if it means I can travel longer. In 10 months of travel, I actually spent under $10k (detailed post on this later, but for now you can read some of my tips on how I afford to travel).
Did you ever get homesick? I wouldn’t call it homesick, but of course I missed my family and friends, and sometimes wished I could fly back quickly for a special event or just to say hi. But even in the U.S, I often go awhile without seeing people since everyone’s so spread out across the country.
How did you plan everything so perfectly? Another thing I learned on the road is that travel is easier than everyone thinks. I used to travel with a full itinerary (flights, accommodation, transportation, even backup transportation methods in case I missed something). You would laugh if you compared this year’s Europe “plan” to 2013’s detailed 2-week Peru/Brazil itinerary done by my perfectionist self. By the end of my round-the-world trip, I was only planning flights in advance (such as Amsterdam to Dublin, which I got for $19 a month in advance, and Barcelona to NYC, which I got for $200 two months in advance), but in general I learned to go-with-the-flow, and found that things generally work out. (The once exception would be Laos, of all places, where Cam and I arrived during a festival to find every hostel AND hotel booked, and ended up sleeping in a local family’s spare room, which had underwear hanging in the shower… But even then, I guess you could still say it all worked out).
Are you ever going to settle down? Yes, absolutely! After all that traveling, I think when I’m ready to settle down permanently, it’ll actually be back in my own hometown of San Diego, which is still one of my favorite places in the world. I could see myself staying in Manly Beach for a few more years as well, but maybe a bit too far from family to live there permanently.
So, what’s next? I’m currently visiting family and friends in North Carolina for the holidays, enjoying home-cooked meals and an unpacked suitcase (ok, that’s a lie. I haven’t unpacked yet). It’s great to be back seeing everyone, but once you’ve caught the travelbug, it’s hard to stay put for very long. Plus, I received an email saying my airline miles were going to expire in a few months (and that would be devastating), so in the New Year I’ll be slowly heading back to Australia, where I’ll see if I can find work again. Without a working visa (since everyone only gets one year, and I’ve used mine up), it’ll be pretty tough, so if it doesn’t work out, I’ll head over to New Zealand to work there for a bit.
As usual, traveling has made me realize how much more there is to see in the world, and though I crossed many things off my bucket list, I now have a million new things I want to add. Plus, looking at my itinerary just REALLY makes me want to add some red to Africa and South America!! Potential future trip? Who knows.
Traveling messes you up, but in all the good ways. It leaves you always craving more, and addiction that can never quite be met. Every place, every trip, every person is a new adventure; pulling you deeper into the love of wanderlust. Your heart begins to hurt when you’re standing still, and your mind begins to itch over the idea of new places you haven’t been. Fill your soul with adventure and traveling and you will live a fulfilled life.”
As always, keep on livin’ pura vida ✌