For the first time in my 25 years on earth, I spent an entire calendar year traveling.
And what a year it was.
A year of traveling with a partner for the first time. A year that took me to a new continent, Asia. A year that pretty much brought me around the globe. Even a year in which I got to travel around my own country a bit.
This year has been a spectacular one. Let’s have a look back on what I did in 2011.
My year actually started with an end. On January 26, Australia Day, I said farewell to the massive country I had called my home for most of 2010. My final days in Australia were spent mainly in Melbourne, where my boyfriend Ric and I lived in a tiny apartment on Chapel Street.
It was really hard to say goodbye to such an amazing country. It was even harder to close one of the best travel experiences of my life, the work holiday visa. I met so many amazing people in Australia, but the best of them all was the hardest to say goodbye to on that last day in the country.
Ric and I bid each other farewell as I headed off to the Philippines and he stayed in Melbourne.
Hello Southeast Asia! I never thought or planned on visiting this part of the world, but after hearing how amazing it was from travelers in Australia, I just had to. The Philippines was my first stop, Donsol in particular. I visited for whaleshark season and after three tries I actually got to see one of the big fellas.
From Donsol, I headed to Cebu City where I spent some time with a friend of a friend’s family. After seeing such kindness from total strangers, I was moved to extend my visa to the Philippines by one more month. One month just wasn’t enough.
It’s a good thing I did as my next stop in the country, Malapascua, was just too hard to leave. I visited the tiny island planning to stay three days. I ended up, not only staying six weeks, but also earning my divemaster certification.
Only the most special boy in the world. Ric spent about 12 days in paradise with me as I finished up my training. Later, we kicked off our travels together in Hong Kong.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in this massive city. I thought of it as China, but people would say it’s not really China. At first glance I was just in shock over how many apartment buildings were in the city.
I really loved the place and I especially loved sharing it with my new travel partner. We visited the Big Buddha, went on a bus tour of the city, road the Peak Tram and ate lots of dim sum. It’s an expensive place to visit, so I’m hoping to go back one day with more money.
We headed to the mother of all backpacker destinations, Bangkok, in late March. There we met up with my friend Julia who flew all the way out to travel with us for a few weeks. Bangkok is the most pleasant surprise I’ve ever had traveling. I expected it to be this seedy town with nothing but ping pong shows and heavy drinking to offer.
But it’s so much more.
For starters, it’s an international city with amazing museums, restaurants, malls and more. But for backpackers, it’s something much more. I’ve never seen so many travelers bobbing around happily as I did on Khaosan Road. It made me wish I planned a few more nights in the city, but no worries, we would end up coming back three more times.
From Bangkok, we visited Ko Samet and Ko Chang, where Julia and I became deathly ill for ten days. I think it was bad eggs, but hey, I lost about 20 lbs, so silver lining. We said goodbye to Julia then spent probably more time than we should have in Lonely Beach.
We left the island to meet Ric’s mom and brother in Pattaya. It was my first time meeting them, so I was quite nervous. But they are amazing and we had a great time. There we celebrated Songkran and made a visa run to Cambodia. However, Pattaya is probably a place I’ll never return. It’s pretty much what I expected of Bangkok originally.
After another sad goodbye, Ric and I kept on traveling Thailand. This time we headed south visiting Koh Tao. We mainly relaxed here as we were gearing up for the famous Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan on April 18. We spent the next day recuperating on Koh Tao, then continued traveling south to Koh Samui.
On our visit to the over-commercialized island, we rented motorbikes, swam under waterfalls and visited Ang Thong Marine Park, the real inspiration for “The Beach”.
But we wanted more “Beach” action so we crossed Thailand to Ko Phi Phi on the west coast. A $US10 tour of the islands proved to be our best purchase and best day in Southeast Asia. Also, my best Easter Sunday ever.
After Ko Phi Phi we had to leave Thailand as our visas ran out.
First stop in Laos was Vang Vieng for its famous tubing. We spent a week in the tiny town on the river and never actually completed the tube route on the Nam Song River. But we had loads of fun, drank lots of buckets and watched an absurd amount of Family Guy.
After Vang Vieng we needed a serious detox, so we spent another week in 4,000 Islands. In this quiet area of Laos, we spent a lot of time lounging, but also did quite a bit of exploring. We rented bikes and visited the largest waterfall in southeast Asia. I also got to see Irrawaddy dolphins. I saw them alone as Ric broke his bike and was too defeated to walk any further.
The trip from Laos to Cambodia involved two intense bus journeys. It took an entire day, but we finally reached Siem Reap in mid-May. The biggest attraction here is Angkor Wat, which is stunning, but I actually really enjoyed the town itself. We spent about a week there watching football and drinking cheap beer.
It was time to fly our tan selves to the US of A, my homeland and Ric’s dream destination. It was Ric’s first time visiting the States, so the trip home was a really special one for me.
We landed in California, where I surprised a friend. There we drove the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to Hermossa Beach. We also visited Hollywood and ended up on the set of our favorite show, Entourage.
No one from the east coast knew I was in the country at that point, except my Uncle. I had been secretly planning a trip home with him since October, so I could surprise my dad for his birthday. Everything went as planned. We spent one day hiding out at my Aunt and Uncles, that night my dad opened their garage door to see Ric and I standing there with ribbons around our necks.
But we didn’t sit still for too long. After about a week, we were on the road again. We drove from NJ to Alabama for a wedding in which Ric was best man. On the road trip I showed Ric around Washington D.C. and made a lot of fast food stops. He couldn’t get enough of America’s burgers and sandwiches.
It was my first time visiting Alabama and it was good to see the southern comfort side of the States. We spent most of our week there playing on a lake located behind the house we were staying at. We jet skied, tubed, kayaked, even jumped off a ridiculously high bridge. That really hurt.
The wedding was beautiful, the party was wild. We left Alabama extremely hungover en route to St. Augustine, Florida, where I showed Ric around my first real travel destination.
The rest of my time in the States was spent in NJ and Philadelphia. Erin, a friend I made studying abroad in London came out to visit, Ric climbed the Rocky steps and we celebrated the Fourth of July at the Jersey shore. But the highlight of my trip home was welcoming my gorgeous nephew Jake into the world. I love my life and all the traveling it entails, but it means missing out on some really spectacular occasions at home. I’m just happy I didn’t have to miss this one.
Add another farewell to my 2011 of goodbyes, as Ric and I left the States to go back down under, this time for a work-holiday visa in New Zealand.
We arrived in snowy Queenstown in July, but didn’t stay for long. We spent two days driving up to Blenheim where Ric already had a job sorted. Then a real twist came when I had to go back home for an emergency. I came back to New Zealand two weeks later and we were on the road again, this time only a short journey to Wellington.
After quite a hectic first half of the year, Ric and I were exhausted and broke. So we made a home in Wellington, got proper jobs, worked loads and saved up for our next adventure, the South Island in 2012.
We’ve been in Wellington for four months now and I’ve grown quite attached to the small city. We held back a lot during our time here as we were saving, but we still managed to accomplish quite a bit.
In September we rented a car and visited Lord of the Rings’ film locations in the area. October was all about the Rugby World Cup, so we went to see USA vs. Australia at Westpac Stadium. I got to see the All Blacks parade Wellington after they won. In November I celebrated yet another Thanksgiving abroad. In December we bought a car and started road tripping to nearby beaches and towns. Oh, and I met a good portion of the cast of “The Hobbit” through work.
We didn’t just get to know Wellington, we pretty much became a part of the city. I’ve even started saying “mean”.
It’s been another year packed with adventure and it’s only going to get even more intense in 2012. January and February of the new year will be dedicated to traveling New Zealand. However, February is depending on whether or not I survive the Nevis Jump, so let’s hope for the best.
What did you do in 2011? Have you visited any of the same places? Do share.