As my two-year travel anniversary quickly approaches, this post was a great way to look back on my current journey and previous trips that led me here, all the moments and places from A-Z.
Thanks to Adventurous D for nominating me. I hope everyone enjoys reading about some of my experiences and that my nominees will have as much fun looking back as I did.
A: Age you made your first international trip.
I didn’t just cross a border to Canada or Mexico my first time. Nor did I go on holiday at some fancy resort in the Caribbean. No, my first trip abroad was a leap into travel. At age 16 I spent 40 days traveling across six countries in Europe as an ambassador for People to People.
To be honest, I can’t really remember whether or not I was scared, but I imagine I was. Not only was this my first trip abroad, but it was a trip I embarked on with strangers. Sure my group of over 30 high school students met a few times prior to leaving, but other than that, we all knew nothing about one another.
The trip was extremely eye-opening. I saw, not only how different the world is, but also how much fun it is to embark on a journey solo and how close a person can become with total strangers. I traveled to Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, France, England and Belgium. After that trip, I was hooked.
B: Best foreign beer you’ve ever had.
Though I must admit I’m partial to craft beers in Northeast America and not a huge beer drinker anyway, I do thoroughly enjoy Hoegaarden. I actually started drinking the Belgian beer in England. Someone ordered a shandy from the bar I was working at then. I had no idea what a shandy or a Hoegaarden was at that time. It was my first week. The managing bartender said I had to try the beer topped with a bit of lemonade. I did and I was hooked. I think that’s all I drank the rest of the year.
C: Cuisine (Favorite)
Sushi. Even I think it’s absurd how much sushi I eat and how often I actually crave it, but it’s the only type of cuisine I’ve never been sick of and constantly crave. I haven’t even eaten it in Japan, the holy land, yet.
I first tried sushi when I was 12. A new place opened in my hometown and my dad convinced me to go. After our first experience in which we ate an entire boat full of raw fish that was meant for 4-6 people, we pretty much went back 2-3 times a week. In fact, we’ve followed the chef from that first restaurant all around NJ and Philadelphia. He’s a good friend now. Weird.
I probably eat sushi at least four times a week. I’ve been to Tokyo twice just for layovers at the airport. Both times I couldn’t find sushi for sale anywhere, which was a huge let down. One day I’ll visit Japan and on that day I will probably gain 20lbs.
D: Destinations. Favorite. Least Favorite. Why.
Once upon a time I could easily answer this question, but now it’s really hard. I have a lot of favorite destinations around the world, so it’s really hard to pick just one. I’ll give three that come to mind and all of these are probably more for the experience I had there rather than the destination itself.
First is London, England. This is the first foreign destination I ever actually lived in. I fell in love with this city hardcore. Yea the people are grumpy and it’s extremely expensive, but it has a special English charm that keeps me coming back. My favorite part of the city is how you can spend months, even years, exploring it and still you’ll find something new.
Next has to be Port Douglas, Australia. I spent the most amazing summer there. It has everything; great town life, beach, sun, even rainforest. That was all amazing but what made this tropical getaway special for me was the people I met there, including my man!
Last I have to mention is Thailand in general. I just loved everything about this country. The people were so kind, there is so much to learn about the culture, the food is amazing and it’s beautiful.
Hammocks, one of the many reasons I love Thailand.
It’s really hard for me to name a least favorite destination. The only thing that comes to mind is Sofia, Bulgaria. I only spent one day there and was conned within the first five minutes. It was my first time being conned too. This was when I was 20 and very naive. I had that bad experience and for a while just said the city was terrible. Now that I’m a bit older and have traveled a lot more, I want to give the city and the country another chance.
E: Event you experienced that made you say ‘Wow’
I think every day of my travels I’ve said ‘wow’. That’s why I love the life so much and keep coming back for more. That said, I can think of two events that were especially loud ‘wow’s’. Funny enough, both of those events actually took place under water.
First is swimming with a whaleshark in Donsol, Philippines. It was an event that I’ve been looking forward to doing for years and years, but it was also the build up. I tried to see one of these amazing fish three days in a row.
Finally on my third attempt and last day in the area, spotters on my boat started seeing whaleshark shadows. Swimmers pretty much have to jump off bangka boats like Navy Seals if they want to catch a glimpse. I plunged in heart beating, but fearless. When I finally caught my first glimpse, I was absolutely stunned. They are such beautiful creatures.
My first whaleshark sighting in Donsol, Philippines.
Next involved seeing quite a few sharks under water and another one above water in Malapascua, Philippines. I had been diving on the island for about four weeks before this dive. It was a 5 a.m. dive and one that I got to go off on my own with friends rather than follow a group. During the dive, my buddies and I saw quite a few thresher sharks and one hammer head in the distance.
I came to the surface with a massive grin, looked off into the distance only to see yet another thresher shark jumping in the air. Someone on the boat actually commented on how amazed the look on my face was.
F: Favorite mode of transportation
Definitely by boat. The ride is an experience and it usually leads passengers to somewhere really unusual.
Not a bad way to travel, hey?
G: Greatest feeling while traveling
The arrival. Nothing beats that moment when you arrive at a destination with no plans and no idea what’s next. It’s scary, but it’s invigorating.
H: Hottest place I’ve traveled to
The volcano on Santorini,Greece. I’m not positive it is the absolute hottest place I’ve ever been (Cambodia was pretty damn hot). But I visited the volcano in July, which is a boiling month for Greece anyway (think 40c/110f), hungover. I literally felt like I was burning alive.
I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where
Thailand is known for its hospitality and friendly customer service. Match an already friendly culture with a high-end hotel and you get unheard of service. I visited the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok for a spa service. They were so kind. I’ve never received service that good.
J: Journey that took you the longest
I’ve done 30-hour bus rides, overnight ferry trips and days driving to a destination, but nothing compares to the hell I went through on my last trip from USA to New Zealand.
The journey, which started in Philadelphia, was already long, four flights over two days, with a night in Wellington then one more flight to Blenheim the following day. But because of a freak hail storm in August, the journey ended up being six flights and at least 20 hours worth of layovers and delays.
Altogether, the journey actually went on for a little over 50 hours. Not to mention I missed my original last flight and spent way more time in LAX and Philadelphia International Airport than I ever want to again.
One perk about the journey is that it forced me to splurge on one of those fancy private airport areas for the first time. Well I tried to. The people in the front actually let me in for free. I think they saw how defeated I looked and threw me a bone.
K: Keepsake from your travels
I’m not a big souvenir gal. In fact, I never buy anything that I don’t actually need on the road these days. However, there are two items I’ve been given on my travels that I really cherish and hope to keep forever.
Funny enough, both are from Italy. The first is a glass horse I was given by a glass smiths in Murano, Italy. I visited the island in Venice to see some of the most famous glass blowing operations in the world. They were such flirts. They gave me a small, blue, glass horse. I loved it because of what it was and where it came from.
But my favorite keepsake from Italy or the world for that matter, came from a toothless artist who didn’t speak a word of English that I ended up having a conversation with on my train from Rome to Naples. At first, I have to admit, I was nervous to speak to the guy. He was older, dusty and looked worn. He sat across from me and smiled with what few teeth he had left.
Somehow we started talking about where I was going. Pompeii came up. He demonstrated from his sketch book and stencils that he was an artist. Then he pulled out a drawing. It had two kids staring up at something and a shadow cast over them. At first I didn’t know what they were staring at, then he pointed to the shadow and exclaimed, “Arghhh”. It was a monster.
He gestured for me to keep it. We shook hands at the train station and went our separate ways. I still have the drawing and constantly think about that man. Just goes to show that sometimes you should talk to strangers.
L: Let down sight. Why and Where?
Le Grand Casino in Monte Carlo, Monaco. I just build up this fantasy of Monaco in my head that was impossible to fulfill on a backpacker’s budget. I could only afford a few games of black jack that lasted about 15-minutes and that was my night spent. So the place just didn’t impress me as much.
M: Moment where you fell in love with travel
Everyone talks about the Eiffel Tower when it comes to Paris, France, but my true-love travel moment in the city of love occurred at Le Sacre-Coeur. I remember walking up the stairs and this grandeur structure appearing.
That was incredible, but what really captured me was what awaited me behind it; artists lined up around this classic French scene of cafes and creperies. It was such an idyllic scene and something I never expected to find until the moment it hit me. I fell in love with that moment and travel in general.
N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed at
Rydges in Port Douglas, Australia. I had been living in a hostel for two months, mainly in a full, six bedroom dorm. Anyone whose ever done this for more than a week, while working will know how wearing it is. I couldn’t take another night at the place, so I booked a last-minute room at the local hotel.
Rydges was my well-needed getaway from hostel life.
I arrived before check-in, lounged by the pool for ages, then went to my room and spent the entire night either in its massive tub with jets or on its feather-down bed amongst a dozen pillows. Flat screen, air-con, thick walls, heaven.
O: Obsession. What are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?
Flowers, docks, my feet, street lamps and food. I probably take about 100 photos of all these things combined on every destination I visit.
P: Passport stamps. How many and from where?
In my current passport I have a total of 66 stamps. Some places were stamped more than once for multiple entries, other places weren’t stamped at all. Some I can’t understand, but here are the stamps of the countries I can read; France, Netherlands, England, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Philippines, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Greece, USA, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Australia, Aruba, Belize, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, New Zealand, Italy and Hong Kong.
Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where.
Vic Hislop’s Shark Show in Hervey Bay, Australia. That’s all I have to say about that.
S: Splurge. Something you have no problem forking out for while traveling.
Attractions and extreme sports. I won’t eat for days just so I can afford to go bungy jumping or rent a motor bike to visit a desolate beach. That’s why I travel and I don’t mind paying lots of money for it, because I may never have the chance to be in that one place again.
T: Touristy thing you’ve done
Times Square, solely based on statistics that it’s the most-visited tourist attraction in the world.
U: Unforgettable travel memory
Too many to mention. Paddle boating on the river in Prague, three days of diving on the Great Barrier Reef, exploring Angkor Wat, eating gelato at the Trevi Fountain in Rome, an endless night with strangers in Amsterdam, sneaking into a posh house party in London. They’re all unforgettable and pop into my head randomly all the time.
V: Visas. How many of them and for where.
Four: Australia, New Zealand, Cambodia and Laos.
W: Wine, best glass while traveling and where.
I forget what kind of wine it was, but in Tuscany at a restaurant overlooking vineyards while eating spaghetti cabonara. Can’t imagine a better moment for a nice glass of wine.
X: eXcellent view and from where
Watching the sunset from on top of a white clay house in Oia on Santorini, Greece. Perfect.
This very sunset.
Y: Years spent traveling
Collectively, I’ve traveled abroad for almost three years of my life. On one trip, I traveled for a year and a half before returning back to NJ.
Z: Zealous sports fans and where
No one beats the fans from Philadelphia. Born and raised in South Jersey, I’ve always supported Philadelphia sports teams. They’re known for being a$$holes, but I love them. I love their passion, their anger and their celebrations. Best night of my life was when the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. We almost destroyed the city that night, but it was some party.
Now it’s your turn! I pass the A-Z torch onto:
Lauren from The Life that Broke
Jose and Natalia from Natalia and Jose Luis’ Travel Blog
Annie from Wayward Traveler
Lavanya and Pawel from Iced Chai
Chelsea and Kinsey from Travelin’ Chucks
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