Most Memorable Life Experiences

Why I Made a List of Memorable Life Experiences This Morning

Derek Perspectives 47 Comments

Most Memorable Life Experiences
Have you ever created a list of the first 50 or so most memorable life experiences that pop into your head when you think back over your years?

I woke up this morning and felt the urge to do just that. This is what I came up with…

Taking a shower in a small wooden closet down a tiny alley in Kabul every morning during my stay. It was a local hamam where most of the residents in the area bathed each day.

Finding everyone I met in Tirana to be so welcoming – from waitstaff to the hostel staff to strangers in the street to shop owners. Especially the shop owner who not only let me charge my phone in his shop but insisted that I go eat at his favorite restaurant nearby while my phone was charging. He even called the restaurant to let them know I was coming and to make sure they took care of me. I loved Tirana.

Being convinced by some other travelers to enter a local salsa club in Bariloche, Argentina and, despite the fact that I rarely dance, I didn’t want to leave the dance floor all night and ended up staying there until 5am.

Trying to sleep under the stars in the middle of the desert near Alice Springs, Australia, telling myself I would close my eyes after seeing just one more shooting star…and repeating this over and over again until I spent almost the entire night staring at the star-filled sky.

Eating the largest schnitzel I’ve ever seen with two good friends.

Spending a day on a private island in the Bahamas where I was really loving my job as a Tour Manager on a cruise ship.

Being kidnapped in Dhaka, Bangladesh by the most inexperienced and useless kidnappers on the planet (thankfully).

Istanbul graffiti

Meeting and becoming friends with some incredible local people in Barbados, spending days driving around the island, visiting the beaches, eating good food and enjoying the great company.

Walking around Mostar for a day with several other travelers, randomly ending up in a well-known crepe shop where we ate a lot of yummy crepes while having a superb time interacting with the locals around us for a couple of hours.

New Year’s at a house party in Sofia.

Drinking local draft beer with endless Burmese at the many local, open-air bars scattered around Mandalay, Burma. It was hard to walk by one of these bars without being invited inside for a beer by those already in there drinking.

Angkor Wat! Where it all began…spending the Millennium at this unforgettable site and realizing for the first time that a life of travel was what I really wanted to achieve in life.

Attending the wedding of one of my best friends in Vancouver, getting a chance to spend time with him, his family, his other friends as well as another good friend of mine in this beautiful city. Eating sushi everyday, walking along the water, working in some unique cafes…

A friend and I being the only people in a tiny, back lane cinema in Osorno, Chile where the woman at the counter found it hilarious that two foreigners wanted to watch the latest Harry Potter movie at this most random of theaters.

Stumbling upon the fantastic Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb.

Walking around in complete awe during my first day in Cesky Krumlov, a fairy-tale town that quickly became one of my favorite destinations on the planet.

The Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo. I could have spent several days in there.

Ending up in a dive karaoke bar for about 5 hours right in the center of San Salvador where a friend and I were welcomed with open arms by the local crowd that proceeded to ensure we had plenty to drink all evening. We then did what you’re not supposed to do there…walk back across the entire city late at night to our guesthouse.

My routine in Southampton every time the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship that I worked on would finish a voyage. The routine involved an hour walk to the center of town, a coffee in the park and an Indian buffet lunch at Namaste Kerala Indian restaurant, just me enjoying some alone time…I must have done this 20 times at least.

Ending up in a local, unnamed bar located behind a black door that led into a basement in Tallinn’s old city where I spent an evening with several extremely hospitable Estonians who wanted to show me a bit of their underground nightlife.

Tallinn Old City view

Stopping in Fiji en route to my study abroad experience in Australia, my first real night of traveling on my own. I went for a quick walk through the town of Suva that first day, hired a taxi to drive me around the main island, ordered a chicken sandwich and french fries to my room and sat on a small balcony shyly watching life go by. I had no idea what I was doing.

Staying at the Bengkstar Lighthouse, located in the Archipelago Sea some 25 kms from the coast of Finland, for a night where I enjoyed the complete isolation (I was the only guest), spent time in the sauna, ate delicious home-cooked meals and hung out with the two staff working there. This is one night I will never forget.

Going sledding in Annecy, France over New Year’s and actually having an absolute blast as I tumbled and crashed for several hours despite my extreme dislike for cold, snow and any activity that involves either cold weather or snow.

Quetzaltenango. Arrived in this northern Guatemalan city and didn’t want to leave. For some reason I really connected with this town and I could have sat in the main plaza for hours and hours each day watching the life around me.

Going on a road trip from Budapest to Lake Balataon to Split to Dubrovnik to Cavtat with a local Hungarian friend in a tiny 1970s Fiat.

Standing in the town of Isafjordur in the northwest corner of Iceland, wondering how on earth I got there, talking with some local teenagers and finding the completely quiet and calm atmosphere to be quite eerie, yet quite appealing at the same time.

Somehow ending up visiting India so many times that I know it better than any other country in the world. This is not something I would have ever expected when I first started traveling.

Waking up every day for a week in a village along the Amed coast on the island of Bali, feeling as if there was nowhere else I would rather be.

Amed, Bali

Finding myself completely surprised by Venice. I thought I wouldn’t like it at all but I loved every minute I was there, especially wandering through the lanes late at night, without a plan, getting lost for hours at a time.

Smoking shisha with my good friend Anil from Foxnomad.com in a local shisha cafe in the town of Sulemainiyah, in Northern Iraq, as if this was a completely normal thing for us to do.

Walking around the Old City in Jerusalem for the first time.

Getting off the cruise ship in Ocho Rios, Jamaica where I was always greeted by the most outgoing, hilarious, crazy group of tour operators in the world who would put a smile on my face from the first second I saw them until the ship left at night.

That first glimpse of Petra.

Petra, Jordan - first glimpse

Having a chance to visit Fanning Island in Kiribati at least 20 times where I would spend the entire day on a remote, white-sand beach that was, in my opinion, as close to true paradise as there can be on this planet.

Creating an unlikely friendship with Tamara, the lovely and most generous guesthouse owner in the small, unassuming town of Tamga, Kyrgyzstan.

Smoking some local stuff with a fellow traveler, peeing my pants and then walking across an island in the middle of the Mekong River in southern Laos in order to catch a glimpse of the Irrawaddy Dolphins.

Being followed by an extremely mysterious and sketchy guy one day in Beirut, Lebanon. I’ll also never forget the knafeh that I ate at a roadside knafeh shop in southern Lebanon, where the shockingly exquisite sweet cheese pastry put me in such a trance that tears nearly fell from my eyes. No joke.

Meeting up with a family in Skopje, Macedonia that was friends with a friend of mine and having them take me into their home for several days, invite me to a huge family gathering/party and so graciously show me all over their city.

Eating some of the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten at the food stalls in Georgetown, Penang in Malaysia.

Waiting in a long line at a tiny, yet extremely popular, local sandwich shop in Valletta, Malta in order to buy their most popular sandwich – two pieces of thick bread filled with cheesy pasta in between – before sitting on a wall with some other locals, eating our sandwiches and staring out at the fortress walls across the water.

Walking through the streets of Valladolid or Izamal or Oaxaca or San Critobal de las Casas…never finding a destination in Mexico that I didn’t become quite fond of.

Dubrovnik in Croatia

Sitting in a cafe in Chisinau, Moldova only to have several people ask me why I was in Moldova and then invite me to hang out during the day and at night, giving me a better insight into the country than I could have ever imagined.

Renting a perfect little apartment with my girlfriend in Ulcinj, Montenegro and getting into one the happiest and healthiest routines I’ve ever been in, one that was very hard to leave.

Traveling by bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu only to find a landslide had blocked the road halfway through the journey. Everyone on the bus got creative, turning the bus into a makeshift guesthouse so that we would all survive the cold night, passing the time eating and drinking together and catching a few hours of sleep.

Renting a car with a friend in New Zealand and driving around the North Island for a week, sleeping in the car, using the public bathrooms and showers around the country and becoming completely fascinated by the spitting mud we witnessed all over the place, shooting straight out of the ground in the most unexpected of places.

Running through the streets of Managua, Nicaragua after finding a ‘famous’ bayonet located in a very mysterious small park (in an area that every guide book said to absolutely avoid due to extreme danger from gangs) and then, naturally, noticing a gang on BMX bicycles on a cliff above me following my every move…I took off so fast and just kept running until I eventually found a taxi, jumped in and told him to drive off as quickly as possible.

Witnessing the Norwegian fjords by boat, hiking and bicycle while also traveling all the way up to the islands of Svalbard.

Standing in the back of a jeep with a bunch of other people as we traveled for two days along a dirt road from the Pakistani town of Gilgit to the remote mountain town of Chitral, located near the Afghanistan border. Never in my life have, or probably will I, see such breathtaking natural landscapes.

Hindu Kush, Pakistan

Taking a most memorable road trip all over Romania with my girlfriend, complete with a friend’s wedding, visits to castles, old wooden churches, painted monasteries, a merry cemetery, a park located in an old salt mine, a stay in a remote mountain village and a journey across the Transfagarasan Highway.

Walking for hours around Singapore, slurping up a bowl of noodle soup every time I needed a break.

Singapore skyline

Going to the Piestany Spa in Slovakia where I ended up completely naked en route to my mud bath while a group of teenagers on a school field trip walked by. The mud bath was quite nice though.

Meeting so many wonderful people in Ljubljana that I quickly reached the conclusion that this was one city I could live in for a long time.

Attending a most memorable football championship in Durban, South Africa where the focus of the tens of thousands in attendance was much less on the game itself than on having the largest party possible. Every single person in that stadium was dancing to the blaring music all evening long, with a huge smile on their face, regardless of what was happening on the field.

Visiting a friend in Vasteras, Sweden for their Midsummer holiday and the huge festival that accompanies it.

Repeatedly extending my stay in Syria upon discovering that it was one of the most interesting countries I had ever visited, and after having made so many local friends in such a short period of time everywhere I went, from Aleppo to Homs to Hama to Damascus to Palmyra to Qamishli. (Of course, this was before all the current craziness.)

Living in Chiang Mai during the days when it was just a simple, local town with almost zero foreign influence.

Bucharest, Romania

Every visit to Istanbul involves such a long list of memorable experiences – baklava from Gulluoglu Karakoy, concerts and nightlife, long wanders through random neighborhoods, ferries across the Bosphorus, meeting up with friends, mehane dinners and endless structures and views that impress no matter how many times I see them.

Staying with a local family in the mountains of southern Ukraine.

Taking the ferry to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay and without knowing it, arriving during a major festival that turned out to be one of the best times I had during my South America travels, staying out all night in a neighborhood where people danced in the streets among vintage cars that had somehow been transformed into mini-gardens.

Traveling around the mainland of Yemen, a true highlight from all my years of traveling this world. And then flying to the ‘needs-to-be-seen-to-be-believed’ Socotra Island, whose remote and stunning existence managed to blow me away even more. This is the country that I am most thankful for having seen.

Finally, having an opportunity to organize and lead tours to various countries around the world. Never thought this is something I would ever be doing but I’m loving the experience tremendously.

This has been my life.

And when I read that list, I do feel happy. I smile widely and I feel satisfied with where my life has taken me.

I’m not saying that I’m 100% ecstatic about everything of course. I’ve done plenty of dumb things, made plenty of terrible decisions, have had plenty of issues, peed my pants more than that one time in Laos and missed out on a long list of experiences that people who have taken a different path have been fortunate to enjoy. That’s life, as they say, no matter what route you choose.

I wrote the above list because I genuinely wanted to see if the experiences I’ve been through have been sufficiently fulfilling, if the decisions I’ve made over the years have been worth it overall.

Travel itself does not equal automatic happiness. It’s what those experiences mean to each of us, how they match with what we hoped to gain from life.

There are plenty of really unhappy travelers out there in the world and there are also plenty of incredibly happy people who have never left home!

The Goal of Life

For a long time now, I’ve been a firm believer that the goal of life, regardless of what path you choose, is simply to be able to smile when it all comes to an end, when we are forced to reflect upon everything we’ve done.

I’m also a believer that it pays to stop often and make sure that we are indeed following a path that will ensure that final smile. It’s so ridiculously easy to veer off course, to end up in a rut, doing things that don’t make us happy at all, and if we don’t pay close attention, that rut can drag on for a long, long time.

Taking a few moments to check on ourselves is truly vital if our goal is indeed happiness. Again, that’s why I made that list above.

Are you ready to check on yourself?

If you were to make a list of the 50 or so experiences that pop into your mind when you stop to reflect about where your life has taken you…

what does that list look like and how do you feel when you finish reading it?

Do you smile? Is it time for a change? Or is it full speed ahead for now?


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Comments 47

  1. Pingback: Best of the travel blogs: January 2016 | Nat Geo Traveller (UK)

  2. David

    For me, I’ve seen and done enough over the past five years that I feel comfortable with slowing down on the travel. Establishing a home base, but will still travel to new countries when time permits. Overall though, building relationships in my new home is my new priority.

  3. Ray

    Great post idea, and I will have to write one of my own at some point!

    But for now, here are my Top 5 travel experiences:
    (1.) Going to Brazil for World Cup 2014 and watching all the madness around me during the Ecuador vs. France match in Rio. This trip is inspiring to go to at least two more tournaments (maybe more) in my lifetime.

    (2.) Befriending a resort worker in Ocho Rios & coming over for dinner to her house and dancing the night away with her family on my last night in Jamaica.

    (3.) Staying overnight in a Mayan village in Southern Belize with one of my best friends. It was here that I saw the most beautiful starry night in my life. I couldn’t quite capture it perfectly on camera, but the vision has been ingrained into my memory forever.

    (4.) Watching the sunset in Santorini, Greece, and ripping around the island with a couple of my buddies on ATVs during our three day stay there. For the first time in my life, I felt a complete sense of freedom as that trip was more of a “coming-of-age” moment personally.

    (5.) Playing soccer/football on the Inca Trail with some of my tour group and the Porters. When my tour group got tired of playing, I continued on as goal keeper for the Porters. They had a “friendly” bet of 3 Sols (about $1 US) between them on who would win the match. Both Porter teams were evenly matched, but I helped the one team win 1-0 with some astonishing saves. All of a sudden I was a Hero to them for the rest of the hike. They would always bow and smile at me or give me a high five at each camp we set up along the hike or during the hike itself if they were walking past me at all. The money may not be much to us, but to them, it was a lot and just reinforced the lesson that you should be grateful for what you have in life instead of being disappointed in what you don’t. But, I guess this was the point of your post, right Earl? 😉

  4. Alice

    The images of the blog are extraordinary! I believe that life experiences are very important part of our life, they just remain in our mind. But I never thought of listing down all the memorable experiences together. Anyways, nice post.

  5. Luke Mitchell

    This list has galvanized me to want to create one of my own that is filled with so many rich and soul expanding experiences. It seems like life can get very dull and ordinary when one doesn’t stretch those creative muscles and get out of our comfort zone, and maybe extensive travel and leaving that very comfort zone is exactly what needs to happen, going to places I’ve never been and deliberately placing myself in situation that I won’t be cool with initially, because I’ll learn something!

  6. Victoria@ The British Berliner

    I love your list Earl! You’re an inspiration to many people and to us all LOL! I find that the more one travels, the more it’s easy to forget the achievements and challenges that we have overcome.
    Every now and then, I look backwards to see how far I’ve come and every single time, I am utterly grateful of that very first step when a company I had been hassling for 6 months, finally gave me the call and asked me to go to the Czech Republic. This was 1995 and they wanted me to go the very next day! At that moment, I saw my opportunity and took it. I went! They also told me that this particular project would last 6 weeks. I came back 2 years later and I never looked back!

  7. Nicole

    Great list, you have been some really amazing places.
    I’d have to completely agree on Yemen being the country I am most grateful to have seen as well (especially when I did), with Socotra of course being the highlight. So sad what’s happening on the mainland due to the fighting and then seeing Socotra be ravaged by back to back cyclones.

  8. Pingback: 50 memorable travel (and other) experiences | A Brummie Home and Abroad

  9. Katie

    What a great exercise to help with practicing thankfulness. During a 13 month trip my fiance and I did through the Americas two years ago we were having a run of bad luck including a stolen passport, food poisoning, a card being cloned, money being stolen and days spent on rough seas that had left us exhausted and cynical. We lay in bed one night and reminisced about all of the amazing experiences we had had during our trip so far instead of focusing on the bad, and it helped to put us back in a more positive mindset. I think it’s about time I did it again

  10. Pingback: From Armenia to Zimbabwe: A Guide to Creating Memorable Travel Experiences | Karsten Aichholz

  11. Nathan (Two Drifters)

    What a crazy, awesome list. It’s also a great idea–I’ll have to make one of these to reflect on all that I’ve done. Things seem to blur as time goes by, and it’s good to remind oneself of what one has been through. Thanks for the inspiration!

  12. Zascha

    Earl, I love how inspiring your posts always are and how you always make me sit and think and ponder about my life when I’ve finished reading it.
    You’re one of the only bloggers out there who can make me do that!
    All of your memories sounds lovely and obviously very important to you. I liked the one about the shooting stars, the one about Venice and the one about the first glimpse of Petra a lot 🙂

  13. Luisa

    Hi Earl,

    I loved this post 🙂 It inspired me to think about my memorable life experiences and it was an amazing journey into great memories.
    I thought it was going to be harder to find as many as you, but – big or small – I realised I have a lot of great things to look back to (and hopefully a lot more to look forward!)

    Most of my moments are unsurprisingly from my first RTW trip. And thinking about to those initial moments when I was developing the idea and trying to figure out how I could do it, I couldn’t help but think back to you and this blog. I got so may inspirations and helpful advices from you! Now it all seems obvious but at the time it wasn’t, and finding someone with your experience and humble atitute, who was willing to share everything so easily, was really inspiring!

    I’m actually sorry we never met (we could have in India, as I was there at the same time as you at some point and even emailed you about it, but in the end my plans changed. Such is life and more specifically travelling!) but perhaps one day we still can 🙂

    Happy travels and all the best!

  14. Jee Ann

    You know, Earl, this is probably the most beautiful post on life goals I’ve ever read. Months ago, I used to do this via lettermelater.com where I’d send myself “updates” on what I’d accomplish after 1-2 months or so. Then, I forgot…

    This is such a beautiful reminder and I think a more poignant way to look at our lives. Instead of the bucket list, scratching off things to do, I’ll do this! Thank you, Earl!

  15. De'Jav Speller

    You have a very interesting list of memories. Some that I’d say would probably frighten most but a learning experience. I’ll have to put my list together definitely would make me smile. When I speak with friends, I’ve met along the journey there are always memories that make us laugh and smile. Thanks for having me think about this.

  16. Marie

    I might as well try doing this. For sure I’ll have a great laugh when my list are done. So many memories to write down and you’re are great examples. Thanks! 🙂

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Fabian – That was a great visit, very cool that you were just thinking about it! Please tell Rudi I say hello!

      And good call with the list of positive memories. That certainly works. Talk soon!

  17. Christina Kottmann

    Today I woke up and read this blog post, as it was the first on my Facebook feed. I just now compiled a list of my own on my blog.

    http://teachertravelerck.blogspot.com/2015/10/my-memorable-travel-life-experiences.html

    It was actually a really nice exercise, thinking back over the memories that have stuck with me. To answer your question, I felt nostalgic looking back on the memories. I also felt a bit of pressure since I haven’t been writing on my blog as much as I’d like, and if I don’t write about these memories in more detail soon, I’m afraid I’ll forget them. Anyway, I liked the idea, and I’m definitely full speed ahead with continuing my life as is. Thanks!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Christina – Glad you rolled with it and compiled your own list! I actually had a smile on my face when I read “Valentine’s Day in Lorne” as I’ve spent a couple of New Years there and it brought back some great memories 🙂

  18. Aleta

    i so much enjoyed reading of your experiences.. some small, some big.. all so memorable.. You are a man after my own heart..
    Thank you Earl again for sharing these important moments of your life..

  19. Alana

    This is a wonderful list! I heard a sailor once say that he’d been to so many places and done so many things that everything was a blur and nothing stood out as remarkable anymore. It made me realize how remarkable the small things can truly be.

    I think my favorite moments in life have involved other people and church experiences.

    Driving my friends at 3 am to another state for no reason at all, stopping to take a picture at Farm Road 1 and the state sign.

    Cooking lunch as my “adopted” little siblings played rambunctiously on the floor above.

    Playing Nerf war with my friend and her fiance. I won’t tell you how old we actually were.

    Bedtime stories with my dad and sister.

    Bringing out hay bales for the family cattle.

    Being there when my grandmother took her last breath.

    Making and wearing “Stalker” shirts with my bestie because her crush called her a stalker.

    Teaching kids.

    Receiving the Holy Ghost and speaking in tongues and feeling that indescribable joy and peace and fulfillment that forever changed my life.

    Prayer time with friends.

    Standing in the open window of a hotel in Nuremberg, listening to the sounds of German language being spoken below and watching the moonlight kiss a church steeple nearby.

    Falling in love.

    Well I’d better stop before this becomes a mile long. I enjoyed reading your cherished memories.

    Happy trails.

    P.S. Still loving the Kyrgi shoes.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Alana – I was just thinking about you and those slippers the other day! When I put my own slippers one I stopped for a second and thought, “I wonder if Alana is still using them.” Glad to hear you are!

      And thank you for sharing your list as well 🙂

  20. Jennifer

    This is a lovely idea and your stories reminded me of some of my own favorites. Thank you for sharing, it brightened my day.

  21. Galina

    I love how many of these experiences involve eating or drinking 🙂
    This is a wonderful list. How lucky you are to visit all these places and meet so many amazing people!

    ..For some reason, that picture of Petra gives me goosebumps.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Galina – That moment when I first saw Petra is one I’ll never forget, which I’m sure happens to many people who are in that spot. We were just walking along with our guide, not paying attention and suddenly, there it was. We all froze as if we didn’t even want to go farther, to just stay in that one spot and stare in awe.

  22. TJ

    I have been doing some reading lately, and the most meaningful takeaway I have gotten from one of the recent books is that everyone has the same destination in life. Death. We all are heading there sooner or later, it is inevitable. Yet if we all have the same endgame, then where does the uniqueness of our lives happen? And that is in the journey. The path we travel is what sets us apart, it is what defines us as people. It is in life that we make a difference.

    To be apathetic in life is to be nothing more then a blank slate, open to the scribbling of others, whom write their own stories in place of yours.

    I look at your list and it makes me really happy to see that you are scratching the story of your life into your slate with vigor, intent, and meaning. But more then that, you are inspiring others to do the same.
    You are making a profound, and beautiful change to the world, one scratch at a time. And for that I commend you.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey TJ – I appreciate that comment very much and I agree with your take on the inevitability of death and the journey being the the important part of life. It’s also amazing what we each have the ability to achieve if we do focus on that journey and what we can gain from even the smallest of experiences if we simply appreciate the fact that we are able to create our own journey every single day.

      Great stuff and thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  23. Chris Getchell

    You forgot stogies at Ames Pond and nights spent laughing at the dumbest things with the people you grew up with. I loved reading your list. You are one of my oldest and dearest friends despite taking very different paths. No regrets. Love you man.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Chris – Ah, man…I would need another 20 pages to list all of my most memorable pre-travel experiences, most of which would feature you and the gang! Stogies at Ames would be right up there!

  24. Claudia

    I think your list is quite memorable. I never thought of compiling one. Funny enough, some of my most memorable experiences have also been in Istanbul, where I wandered the streets endlessly to finally get to a bar to hang out with a bunch of random people and then all go to a club together. And in Nicaragua, where I crashed some family’s Christmas party in Balgue.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Claudia – Seems like you already have plenty of positive experiences in your head! If I didn’t write them down, with my memory, they would be forgotten quickly.

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