I’m back home from an incredible trip and I’ll admit I’m still catching my breath. In three of the most invigorating months of my life, I visited seven countries in Asia (three with my boyfriend and four with my sister), took a total of 20 flights, snapped over 5,000 photos, and had one epic adventure.
Sure, I returned a bit worn out from being constantly on the go, but compare my fatigue to that of my barely five-foot-tall tour guide in Sapa, Vietnam, who treks through steep rice terraces everyday (with an infectious smile on her face) to make a living. Can you imagine if that was your day job? I’m not saying it’s a bad job at all – it’s just different.
Traveling to unfamiliar places and witnessing how people live is truly eye-opening. The act of traveling in itself is also insanely fun and freeing, challenging and frustrating, and honestly, a privilege. I can’t tell you how many locals I met in Southeast Asia who have never had the opportunity to leave their village. I’m lucky I had the means to go on this adventure and expand my worldview, and I don’t want to lose sight of all that I’ve experienced.
So, I made a promise to myself: I’m going to keep traveling – abroad and in my own backyard – to learn as much as I can about our world and the people that make it go round.
I get to meet locals and learn about new cultures and customs.
One way to experience a new country is to stay at a homestay or attend a local event. It allows you to be in the mix of everyday life. One of my favorite moments was when my boyfriend Stefan and I attended a Lotte Giants baseball game in Busan, South Korea and stood arm in arm with fans as we attempted to sing along to popular chants in Korean! During the game, everyone joined in the tradition of tying a plastic bag full of air around your head in silly camaraderie. I couldn’t stop smiling.
I push myself mentally and physically.
Every time I was met with a challenge of some sort, I reminded myself that this may be my only chance to face it. This motivated me to do things like climb to the top of Baegundae Peak in Seoul and hike to Mt. Misen on Miyajima Island in Japan.
I get to try exotic cuisines.
As a woman who likes to eat, I didn’t shy away from exciting my taste buds with new flavors like baos (pork buns) in Taiwan, okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) and conveyor belt sushi in Japan, and pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and bibimbap (rice with beef, vegetables, and red chili paste) in South Korea – among many other dishes.
I have the chance to come face-to-face with nature’s creatures.
In Thailand, my sister Julia and I walked alongside wild elephants in the jungle. In the Philippines we swam with giant whale sharks (ranging from 18 to 45 feet in length). In Indonesia we saw with manta rays and fed wild monkeys. All these experiences were slightly terrifying but worth it!
I try different modes of transportation to get from A to B.
Trains, ferries, car taxis, motorcycle taxis, scooter riding, tuk tuks (three-wheeled taxis), longtail boats in Thailand, bangka canoes in the Philippines, minivans, public buses...oh yea, and planes!
I get to see magical places.
I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Every country was bursting with natural beauty and stunning landmarks.
I tap into my adventurous side.
I usually think of myself as relatively cautious, but after this trip, I’ve decided that I’m moderately adventurous. On one particularly adventurous streak in the Philippines, my sister and I went scuba diving, canyoneering and waterfall jumping, and swam with massive whale sharks.
From admiring a beach sunset to getting a $5 Thai massages to soaking in an open-air onsen (Japanese hot springs), there were plenty of opportunities to relax and enjoy life’s pleasures.
I meet people from all over the world.
It’s fantastic to meet locals and it’s equally fantastic to meet people from other parts of the world. Not only do I learn about the place I’m visiting, but I also learn about other cultures and make new friends along the way.
I’ll always have an arsenal of good stories to tell.
While exploring the narrow streets and traditional homes of Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul, my boyfriend and I stumbled into an artist’s home studio. The front door was open with a sign beckoning us to come in. So we slipped inside and stood quietly watching the artist work to the subtle beat of rap music in the background. He turned and greeted us with the warmest smile – one peek into his life as an artist turned into an hour-long chat, with the help of Google Translate, about his life and his love of art and music. He treated us to tea and lemonade and asked if he could do a sketch of us. It was one of our most cherished, authentic moments in South Korea.
And that’s just one of many great stories! I guarantee you there will be many more in the future.
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