Since I am celebrating the milestone of five years of travel this weekend I felt that it was time to look back at the past five years, but I had done that just a while ago (Looking Back: Five Years Ago I Quit My Job To Travel The World). So I decided to share the five best and worst travel experiences instead. To be honest: I find it impossible to narrow it down to only a handful experiences – there are so many things that come to mind. Some are obvious, like my four-day trek to Machu Picchu or walking over the Golden Gate Bridge, exploring the Maya and Aztec ruins in Mexico, boarding down a volcano in Nicaragua, visiting Angkor Wat, touring Bolivia’s striking salt flats, hiking in Patagonia, spending time with elephants in Thailand (not riding them!) cruising through the backwaters of Kerala in Southern India or living in a farmhouse in Tuscany. I could easily find a favorite travel moment in all fifty countries I’ve visited, but I decided to share the five things that popped into my head immediately:
Climbing an active volcano in Guatemala
I’ve climbed several volcanoes over the years, but scrambling up the rock-covered steep side of Pacaya, an active volcano in Guatemala, was the most memorable one. The closer we came to the top, the hotter the ground became, until we finally saw glowing lava and were even allowed to climb into a small hole not far from the peak, which felt like a sauna and had me fear my camera lens as well as the bottoms of my shoes would melt. When we were resting on top of the volcano before making our way back down, some people were even making s’mores over the lava heat! Experiencing an active volcano that way was an unforgettable experience, and Guatemala is still one of the most beautiful countries I’ve visited.
Read more: The day I became a volcano climber
Hiking through Israel’s Negev Desert
I was wondering why this experience popped into my head before my trek through the Peruvian Andes, even though that one climaxed in reaching Machu Picchu, the ‘lost city of the Incas‘. But while there wasn’t a wonder of the world waiting for me at the end, the multi-day trek through the Negev Desert tested me like no other hike has tested me (up to now): the almost unbearable heat, the relentless sun, nothing but rocks and sands for miles and miles. It was the first time that I slept under the desert sky, filled with millions of stars – a sight I will never forget. Walking for days through this barren and yet bizarrely beautiful landscape that doesn’t allow any life to flourish was a humbling experience and I was proud that I managed to finish the strenuous trek.
Housesitting on a Caribbean beach
Even though this housesit wasn’t always easy, it is one of my favorite housesits to date and I would go back in a heartbeat. (Side note: Housesitting in itself should be one of my five favorite travel experiences because it has been the absolute best thing I’ve started doing when I hit the road and has allowed me to live like a local in so many places around the world rather than just passing through as a tourist). The beach house was an off-the-grid house in Mexico, a few miles north of the border to Belize, and came with its own private stretch of white, powdery sand beach and the Mesoamerican Reef right in the backyard. I could literally run into the ocean right after waking up and snorkel through the colorful coral life of the world’s second largest reef. There was a local caretaker who would climb the palm trees to cut fresh coconuts straight from the tree, I made Huevos Rancheros every morning for two months straight, and the dog I was taking care of was adorable. The downsides of the housesit weren’t insignificant (escaping a hurricane, terrible wi-fi, no cell phone reception, basic living, lots of responsibility, and tears when I had to leave the dog I’d fallen in love with) and yet it was one of the most amazing experiences of my travels.
Read more: Notes from the beach house
Swimming with sharks and turtles
Had I written this post before February 2015, I would have said snorkeling in Belize was one of my all-time travel experiences – but then I went to the Philippines and swam in some of the most breathtaking snorkeling spots in the world, including getting close to several sea turtles (an experience that was equally as awe-inspiring on land, when I witnessed a turtle arribada in Costa Rica in 2012). Snorkeling off the coast of Caye Caulker, Belize, is still the best snorkeling experience I’ve had so far, simply because you get to swim with all of these ocean creatures: sharks, sting rays, turtles, manatees, hundreds of colorful fish and along the same stunning reef I mentioned above. I’d go back to Belize just to snorkel there again, but to be fair, I also loved snorkeling in the Red Sea and in Thailand, even though the marine life in Belize is unbeatable.
Read more: Swimming with turtles in the Philippines
Living in New York City
New York City is without a doubt my favorite city in the world, I love everything about it – the diverse neighborhoods, the fact that every language of the world is spoken there, the amount and variety of ethnic food jaunts, the fact that you never run out of things to do, the architecture, the parks, the hidden speakeasys, the food markets and flea markets, the summers, the fact that I can travel within the city limits and feel like I’ve left the country, the vibrant atmosphere, Broadway plays, the street art, the fact that I could never run out of things to do there and that the city is constantly changing and evolving.
After spending two months in New York in the summer of 2013, I realized just how much I loved the city and that I wanted I spend more time there – ideally on a regular basis. Last year, I initially came to New York for a 1-month housesit, and ended up spending nearly five months in the city – a dream come true. I spent more time in New York than anywhere else in the past five years, and I’ve considered shipping my moving boxes over there several times. But then I remember that New York has this thing called winter, something I’ve been successfully avoiding for half a decade now. So for now, I am hoping to continue spending the summers there and would be lying if I said that my months in New York weren’t my absolute favorite travel moments.
Now I’ve shared my favorite travel moments with you – I’d love to hear your favorite travel moments in the comments below!