My Top World Travel Moments of 2016
Inspired by my friend @catehstn’s 2016 blog post, I decided to make my own list of amazing moments I’ve experienced traveling in 2016.
As I was thinking of my best moments of 2016, I couldn’t help but feel extremely lucky. I had the goal to include ten moments, but I found myself having a hard time narrowing it down to 15… To do that, I had to separate out my favorite food experiences, which I’m going to write that up in a different list! So here is the best of 2016 in no particular order…
Getting Dirty in Hawaii
I started off the year with an amazing pit-stop in Hawaii on they way to see my family in Chicago. My friend took me to hike the Maunawili Falls Trail. But when we got there, I immediately saw that right outside the entry to the trail were a ton of dirty shoes just abandoned. Apparently there was so much mud, shoes get destroyed.
Given that I’m a nomad and have only one pair of sneakers (which were brand new at the time), I was reluctant to just throw them away. That is when my friend suggested I just go barefoot… and I couldn’t be happier with the decision!
Being barefoot in the mud allowed me to let my inner child out. I was able to get really dirty, with mud everywhere without having to worry about anything. It got to the point where I was just hanging from trees like a monkey…
Watching the World Burn Like There’s No Tomorrow
I was extremely lucky to have a new friend agree to spend Diwali with me during my visit to India. In Chennai, there are no regulations around firecrackers or fireworks, so during Diwali, everyone is firing off all day and night and having way too much fun!
During the day, we went on an amazing visit to Shore Temple. On the way back, it was dark. As I was riding on the back of my friend’s motorcycle, there were fireworks all around us lighting up the night sky. A perfect moment.
Later, we sat on the beach in the dark watching the world burn as if there was no tomorrow. Complete lawlessness. Complete freedom.
A Bar at the End of the World
My mom and sister came with me to explore the breathtaking town of Portofino during a family trip in Italy. While exploring, we saw a sign for Al Faro - a lighthouse. A lighthouse sounded very exciting and beautiful, so we decided to go!
We kept walking and walking and walking (and in Italy that involves up and down hills), and even though it was a gorgeous walk, there was no lighthouse in sight and I was getting tired and thirsty and needed to use the restroom. But we kept walking, and finally we got there only to learn that the lighthouse wasn’t that great and, oh yeah, it was closed, so we couldn’t climb in it or anything…
But instead, there was a bar there… The waiter was fun, the music was incredible, the people were happy, the view was ridiculous, and the drinks were amazing. The most magical combination. I’m not a bar person, but this was the best bar in the world. Definitely worth the hike…
Just goes to show that instead of finding your destination, you might find something way better. Keep hiking!
Hiking in Heaven
Before I left for Italy, a friend mentioned that I should hike the Cinque Terre - 5 little towns. My new Italian brother-in-law confirmed and gave me a few tips of where to start, but I didn’t know much about it. My family wanted to come along for the trip.
But when we got there, we learned that it was a pretty rugged terrain up a hill (the easy way was closed)… My cousin and aunt gave up on the first climb, but my sister and mom (in high heals!) kept going up and down the hill for what seemed like forever in the heat until we reached the second town. We got food and sat there taking in the view, and then my mom and sister said they were done. I kept going… and going… and going… all day!
I’ve had a lot of stress right before the trip, so pushing my body to the limit felt incredible. I hiked between four of the cities until it got relatively late. It just felt so good! And the hikes were so intense! During one hike between two cities - I reached a little town / church and thought I made it only to learn that there was another 1.5 hours of hiking to the next actual town after my already 1.5 hours of hiking. But I kept going!
At this point I was properly exhausted and it was getting late, so I took the train over to the next town Monterosso al Mare where I took the most amazing and beautiful swim (after being dirty and sweaty hiking all day) and finally headed home. Everything about that hike was perfect - the breathtaking views, the random bar in the middle of nowhere, the sunflowers that greeted me. It was pure heaven.
Shedding Skin in Seoul
The first thing I did in Seoul was get Korean BBQ with friends. The second thing was go to the massive Dragon Hill Spa. Spas in South Korean are definitely different… it’s the Disney Land of spas… Seriously, there are 6 floors of fun!
People wear pajamas and do everything from playing video-games to eating to sleeping in hot and cold igloos to getting weird treatments. And by weird, I mean weird…
I signed up for a sampling of treatments since I didn’t know much about what any of them were. The concierge at the front desk laughed a little and asked me if I knew what one of the treatments was. I didn’t… and to this day, I still cannot talk about that one…
But the most traumatizing one was getting the most intense scrubbing of my life by this lady with gloves made up of the material from the hard side of the dish sponge. She was just chatting away with the other scrubbing lady and had absolutely no mercy - moving me and scrubbing me everywhere as she needed. All my skin shed… I was basically a snake!
But the next day, my skin was soooooo soft. To this day, I want another perfect scrubbing like that. Western scrub spa treatments don’t come even close to how it should be done…
Accidentally Getting My Arms & Legs Tied in Japan
So I innocently signed up for an exercise class in Japan that I thought was some sort of weight lifting, but turned out to be Kaatsu…
Well, turns out Kaatsu is an exercise done while cutting off blood circulation . My trainer tied bands around my upper arm, very tight, and then I had to do things like 3 sets of pushups (30 then 20 then 15!), stretch a resistance band, and other exercises! My arms were starting to turn blue, but the trainer seemed to know what he was doing and indicated that this was normal (he didn’t speak much English)… so I just went along with it… He later did the same for my legs, tying the band around my upper thigh.
Afterwards, I felt completely euphoric (yay endorphins!) and energized. I laughed at the absurdity of the situation all the way back home. Later, I asked the instructor how often I should come back, and he said once per week. I worked up to two times a week and can’t wait to go back the next time I’m in Japan!
Riding the Gondola in Venice
Yes, it was even better than it looks…
Getting a Tattoo in India
As a first-time tourist in India, getting a henna tattoo, which I learned is actually called mehendi, was high on my list! I didn’t really know much about mehendi, except that it left a pretty pattern on the hands. I thought it was just drawn on by some type of marker.
Turns out, mehendi is actually a way of dying your skin via an herb that cools down your body. Luckily, I had ginger tea before getting it, which heats up the body, so things evened out. More about it here!
I couldn’t help but admire my hands for days afterwards. I can’t wait to get it again!
My hands are so boring now 🙈
Trapped in a Yellow Cage
When my friends and I visited the Island of Elba in Italy, we made sure to get on top of Monte Capanne, the highest peak on the island. To get up and down the mountain, you’re put into the weirdest chairlift - a yellow cage!
While you can share the cage (and all the couples we saw did), my friends and I all decided we wanted to have our very own cage! Going up the mountain was breathtaking, and I was distracted, but going down after taking in all the heavenly views, my mind was calmer and something weird happened. I saw a shadow of myself in this cage:
This triggered some type of existential crisis in my head. Isn’t this life - we’re all going down the path of life all alone trapped in the cage of societal expectations with strings controlled by someone else?
I knew at that moment that that’s not what I wanted of my life. I was already living my life differently, but I was determined to continue going on this path - my path. The other path is way too depressing.
One of my other friends also had some deep thoughts - I don’t remember what they were exactly, but they were just as dark. Just something about going down a mountain in a yellow cage…
Getting a Manicure in Japan
Getting a manicure in Japan is very Japan-like… way more advanced than anywhere else in the world! It involves amazing patterns, custom colors, and accessories, yes accessories!
The Joy Ride in India
I got to ride in an auto rickshaw for the first time with friends in Bangalore traffic. It was definitely a joy ride!
The Joy Ride Part 2: Water Edition
Speaking of joy rides… we got completely soaked by a head-on wave riding this Indian catamaran in the ocean…
Contemplating the Beauty of the World on Elba
I hiked up to a spot on Elba that was so beautiful, there was a rest stop to write a poem. Yes - poem!
While I didn’t write a poem, I did stop there to sit and was completely overwhelmed by the beauty of the world.
It’s really not a surprise to me that there are so many famous Italian artists and poems. Italy is truly heaven on earth.
A Casual Flood in Venice
My friend and I were completely caught off-guard when we returned to St Mark’s Plaza in Venice to find it completely flooded and everyone just going about their business like there’s nothing wrong…
Turns out it was acqua alta, a normal seasonal phenomenon… It was just so absurd, we couldn’t stop laughing the whole time. Oh, and we got cool water boots so we could have fun with the water!
Facing My Biggest Restraining Fear
So I have some fears that I don’t care too much about to get over them (most of them involve animals), but there was one fear that I was upset about. Scuba diving! The ability to scuba dive opens up an entire new world that we cannot be a part of otherwise. It was a fear that was truly holding me back from exploring the world the way I wanted to.
I tried to learn once in a pool in a resort, but I just felt like I couldn’t breathe, and stopped. This was a while ago. But finally, in Italy, the circumstances lined up just right to make me comfortable enough to go for it.
The difference was that it was in the sea (not in a boring pool with chlorine) and scuba diving was optional. It was also not very deep by the rock we were exploring - only 10ft tops. My friends and I went snorkeling first, and then decided whether we wanted to add on scuba diving, so it was a very relaxed atmosphere.
Oh, and one other big thing - I learned a lot more about breathing through yoga and some meditation since the last time I tried, so I felt ready to handle my “not being able to breath” fear. Also, we got a private instructor to take each of us. And there was a family with us, and the little kids were doing it, so I felt like I could do it too!
And I did it!!
I’m still not ready to dive super deep and would need a lot more training / practice to get comfortable. But this first step was the biggest. I know I can do it in the future!
The Most Beautiful Moon
Ok, I’ve mentioned Venice a few times already, but I can’t help it. It’s one of the most beautiful and magical places on earth! As I finished a sunset gondola ride with a few friends, I walked by the water and was shocked to see the biggest yellow moon so close, it almost looked like the sun! It’s hard to take a proper picture of it with my phone camera, but hopefully you can see some of the magic of that moment:
There are many more amazing experiences that I’ve had in 2016 that I didn’t include. But all of these remind me of the beauty of the world and the people in it 💜 Happy New Year!