It seems like just a year ago I was proclaiming formally and publicly for all my 50 readers to see–I wanted to travel to 30 countries before I turned 30 years old, and nothing was going to stop me, damn it!
Oh, wait, I guess that WAS just a year ago!
What’s even crazier? I’ve already accomplished this goal since writing that bold public proclamation, and I only turned 28 this year! *Self-five!*
There’s much debate over whether it’s a benefit or a detriment to inform those around you of your goals, but as far as I’m concerned, telling others truly does hold you accountable. I certainly wouldn’t have felt like I owed anybody anything, but on the other hand, if I had failed, I’d be letting myself down and thus everyone who was rooting for me as well.
In any case, you can bet your ass I’ll continue rolling out lofty goals in the form of blog posts in the future, as I have yet to see any evidence that I shouldn’t.
In honor of reaching this personal milestone, I thought it’d be fun to take a little trip down memory lane and rediscover the places, the people, and the experiences that have made all these years of travel worth it. Since this blog wasn’t around for the majority of my first travel experiences, it’ll give you a glimpse into my life before The Sweetest Way and serve as a photo diary for me to cherish down the road.
Choosing just one photo for each of the countries I’ve visited was damn-near impossible; how can one image possibly sum up days, weeks, or months of incredible experiences and life-altering adventures? Well, it can’t, but any more than that and this post would never be published and/or you’d be bored to tears by the end, so here goes nothing.
I hope you enjoy reliving my adventures as much as I have. Cheers to 30 more!
Tragically, I have no photo evidence of my very first trip outside of the US; I really would have loved to show you what awkward pre-teens Addy and I were before blossoming into the bombshells we are today (har, har). I accompanied Addy and her parents on a camping trip to the islands off the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia at a time when digital cameras were just becoming a big deal (at least to us middle schoolers) and it was still commonplace to order prints of your vacation photos at the nearest drugstore when it was all said and done. It was cold, it was rainy, and let’s be honest, it was Canada. Not exactly much culture shock for my first travel experience, but one I’m grateful for nonetheless.
SPRING BREEEEAK! Yes, during my junior year of college, a few friends and I (and by friends I mean sorority sisters) headed south of the border to a little coastal town called Rosarito, a stone’s throw from the infamous Tijuana on the Baja Peninsula. Again, not a super cultural experience, unless you consider buckets of Corona, body shots of tequila, and partying with frat boys “cultural.” Good times, in any case, but these days I’m itching to return to see the real Mexico.
My first true overseas trip was my college graduation present. My best friend and original travel buddy Whitney and I took on the Land Down Under for three weeks, learning how to properly eat Tim Tams and which Australian animals can kill you (spoiler alert: it’s all of them), partying with locals in Sydney and attempting to understand the intricacies of Aussie rules football, devouring meat pies, and discovering the amazing world of scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. It was the trip that really cranked up my wanderlust and left me wanting more, more, more!
After dropping out of a master’s program, hating my life for a year in a dietetic internship, and going nowhere fast during a year living in New York, Thailand was my saving grace. I moved to Chiang Mai with Addy and somehow knew going back to the states to live wasn’t going to be an option. I taught kindergarten English and fell in love with the challenges that came with living in another country, especially one with a culture so drastically different from my own.
Before settling into Chiang Mai, I traveled with a huge group of friends from the US and Australia and basically partied our way around Southeast Asia. We hit up tubing in Vang Vieng in its true heyday, shortly before it was shut down for good. We ate insects and MSG-laden sandwiches from street vendors. During my time in Thailand, Vientiane was visited frequently for visa runs. I adored the gentle spirit of Laotian people and the natural beauty of their country.
A quick 5-day trip to Vietnam was all I had time for, sadly, but Hanoi and Ha Long Bay sure left an impression on me. I met many fellow travelers there who I still keep in contact with to this day, and although it wasn’t my favorite destination, I know I’ll be back one day to discover what else this fascinating country has to offer.
During my winter holiday from my teaching position, I flew down to Bali to meet up with a friend from Chiang Mai who’d moved there to become a dive instructor. I did an open water certification with her, explored Ubud by motorbike, tanned on the beaches of Sanur, and learned how to properly take a Vodka-Joss shot. This was during the height of the Gangnam Style craze, and the song still reminds me of that trip to this day.
My first stop after leaving Thailand was a quick 11-day trip through Cambodia. I had a few friends to visit both in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and I hit up Cambodia’s major attractions knowing I might not be back in that region of the world for some time. Angkor Wat, the Killing Fields, and the island of Koh Rong were among them.
A quick flight with AirAsia dropped me in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. I explored the city for four days, hopping from air-conditioned mall to air-conditioned mall, eating all the Indian food I could handle, admiring the Petronas Towers from any angle I could, and hanging with a fun group of expats on holiday from their teaching positions in Japan. I loved every moment of it.
My best friend from my days living in New York had recently been transferred to her PR firm’s Singapore office, so it was the perfect excuse to visit this city-state I knew next to nothing about. She played hostess and tour guide for 6 days, showing me the best places to eat, the best nightlife, and the best (strangest?) attractions.
Israel was my final stop on my way back to the US. I stayed with a friend and his family in Tel Aviv and fell in love with the city that felt a little bit San Francisco, a little bit NYC. We camped at the Dead Sea, visited the gorgeous Baha’i Gardens of Haifa, and ate hummus. So, so much hummus.
In the summer of 2013, I began my first extended solo journey through South America, starting with a one-month volunteer placement in Santa Elena de Uairén, Venezuela. I loved the program and my fellow volunteers, disorganized though it was. I experienced much of the region including a short stay with an indigenous community of people known as Pemon and climbed the country’s largest table mountain in the most challenging 6-day trek of my life.
Colombia stole my heart from day one. My first stay lasted 5 weeks and I explored everything from the Caribbean coast to the major cities to the coffee growing regions. Medellin was the city I really fell in love with, though, and I would eventually move back for a four-month stretch the following year.
Little Ecuador wasn’t on my original itinerary, but I was too cheap to fly straight to Peru from Colombia so I ended up traveling through by bus, and I can’t tell you how glad I am that things worked out that way. In fact, I fell in love in Ecuador, an important part of any solo journey, right?
I came to Peru with the primary goal of hiking the Inca Trail, but I found infinitely more things to love about this diverse nation. I stayed for three months, exploring the mountains, the desert, the coast, the cities, and the highlands. I rang in the new year in a haze of smoke, errant fireworks, champagne, and startled llamas in Cusco. Some of my most cherished memories of all time have come from Peru.
Bolivia didn’t win me over like the other countries of South America, but my trip around the world’s largest salt flat made it all worthwhile.
I spent a month in Argentina at the end of my backpacking journey. I’d done enough trekking to last me a lifetime by that point, so I focused instead on culinary tourism and wine–i.e. I stuffed my face in Argentina and couldn’t have cared less about anything else. Cycling from winery to winery in Mendoza and eating meat by the bucketful in Buenos Aires were some of my favorite experiences.
By the time I reached Nicaragua, I was blogging and beginning my journey to digital nomadism. I joined my college buddy Mak for the start of his big Latin American adventure; unfortunately, I was short on luck and spent much of my time in Nicaragua sick and frustrated. Lost baggage? Check. Food poisoning? Check. Stolen camera? Check. You can browse my Nicaragua archives for the full story.
Costa Rica, 2014
Costa Rica was a lovely change of pace from the rough-and-tumble treatment I received in Nica. I thoroughly enjoyed the natural beauty, the relaxation, and the chilled-out low season vibes.
A 10-day trip through Panama proved sufficient for me to thoroughly fall in love with the place. We visited just two destinations: Bocas del Toro, the archipelago near the Costa Rican border, and Panama City. In spite of some more bad luck (including a broken heart and a horrendous bedbug infestation), I left with mostly happy memories when I boarded a sailboat to Colombia.
The UK, 2015
You may remember this quick one-day layover from earlier this year. I frolicked around central London on my way to Barcelona and loved seeing some iconic sights in the process.
Nevermind the fact that I wanted to visit Spain my whole life and only just did so this year–it was WORTH THE WAIT! The TBEX Conference brought me over, but the Catalonian culture stole my heart. I’ll be back!
My time in Greece, if you’ve been reading for awhile now, was something of an emotional rollercoaster. So much was jammed into so little time, I don’t know if it all really sunk it. It was an enjoyable trip, but I’d love to go back and spend quality time in fewer places (I’m looking at you, Santorini).
I didn’t know what to expect in Macedonia, and even now I can’t really comprehend what I saw. It was an interesting mix of cultures and ideologies and I’m still struggling with how to put my experiences there into writing, but I promise not to keep you hanging too much longer. At least by now you know the story of how I got there.
Three days in hot and sticky Tirana, Albania were enough for me to high-tail it out of there. I’m sure there are plenty of things to love about the city and the Albanian Riviera is supposed to be lovely, but this time around the country just wasn’t for me.
Montenegro, on the other hand? World-class! Okay, so all I did was hole up in a hostel for several weeks working on my laptop, but I did make some wonderful friends, spend a few days feeling like a free woman at the nude beach, and eat lots and lots of gelato. The only two destinations I saw were Ulcinj and Kotor, and both were absolutely wonderful.
In Belgrade, I was coerced into party mode by a gaggle of blogger friends who happened to be there at the same time (but not complaining!). Nighttime was when I came alive, and days were for working and sleeping off hangovers. In spite of my inability to say no to fun all the time (and as a result, not seeing much), I fell hard for Belgrade. Later, I found a little reprieve from the partying in Novi Sad and Vršac, which I also couldn’t stop raving about!
I arrived in Budapest knowing four days weren’t going to be enough. That city was one of many I really could see myself living in at some point. I avoided the hostel scene and, with a few exceptions, kept mostly to myself, but had a great time exploring and people watching (and completely blowing my budget…oops).
Ah, Poland, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways! Seriously, keep your eyes peeled for about 100 Poland posts, because there’s about to be some serious gushing. After hitting up Kraków, Wrocław, and Warsaw, I’m dying to go back and see more.
What brought me to Sweden, you ask? Well, a pretty darn cheap flight to Thailand, for one. But I had a feeling there were better reasons to get to know Stockholm, and I was right–my week there was beyond amazing. Here are some of my best Stockholm travel tips, and a look at how Swedes manage to stay so darn happy throughout their harsh winter.
So there you have it, my first 30 countries! Any suggestions for country number 31? Any predictions? At this point, your guess is as good as mine!