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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?