A YEAR AROUND THE WORLD

Today marks ONE YEAR of traveling together for Alec and me! A whole three hundred and sixty-five days of catching flights, making new foreign friends, staying in places we couldn’t always pronounce, lugging our massive backpacks around, and falling more in love with the world. Although I have been taking my sweet time when it comes to writing about each destination we’ve encountered (and they will come soon, I promise)... I’d like to take a moment to reflect back to all of the glorious places that the past year has taken us.

LAX, February 14, 2018

LAX, February 14, 2018

It was Valentines Day 2018 when we first began the journey beyond what we’d both known to be home. We departed with a one-way ticket to Vietnam that alternatively landed us a week in Taiwan! After sorting out the flight and visa issues (see Taiwan blog post for details), we finally arrived in Taipei. It was then that we embraced the initial jetlag, the culture shock, bustling night markets, enticing dishes we’d never heard of, temples full of tradition, and a nation celebrating the week of Lunar New Years. This place represents so much more to us now as the unplanned starting point of our journey across the world together!

After landing in the Taiwan by miscalculation, we then called the one man that can always get me out of a jam—my dad (aside from Alec and my brother who have both gotten me out of several “jams”). My dad was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on a business trip at the time, and lucky for us, that was just one cheap AirAsia flight away from Taipei! Meeting up with my dad was so great, and having my mom fly in from Texas just days after our arrival, was even better! We bartered through the local markets for souvenirs and designer goods, visited gorgeous mosques for prayer, viewed galleries and museums sharing eloquent art and history of the nation, drank cold coconut water (mom’s fav), and ate new dishes each day! Later in our trip, Alec and I also explored the Batu Caves, Malaka, Cameron Highlands, and Langkawi— each of which are absolute gems!

As an added bonus of “backpacking with my parents” aka staying at 5 star hotels and not roughing it at all... they took us to Singapore for a weekend! We walked all over the impeccable downtown, had drinks at the top of Marina Bay Sands overlooking the city, took the cablecar over Sentosa Island, and laid on our backs watching the ever-impressive Garden Rhapsody light and sound show under the Supertree Grove . This place really does have it all, and a weekend here may not have been enough! Our family reunion (without my siblings) was a blast, and I can’t thank my parents enough for all they’ve done for us!

We traveled north from Kuala Lumpur through Langkawi to Thailand. We have so many beautiful memories and adventures from this country, that words just don’t do it justice. We took our time traveling through the islands and beaches of the south, where we thoroughly enjoyed Koh Lipe, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, and Krabi. We made pitstops through the bustling cities of Bangkok and Phuket, enjoying late nights out and people watching. We worked our way up north where we completed the endless twists and turns through to Chiang Mai, Pai and the Mae Hong Son loop (plus a bit extra if you count all the offshoots we took for waterfalls and hikes). We explored the ancient Siamese capital of Ayutthaya, where the ruins of temples, monasteries and statues rest. We even did a visa-run (see next paragraph) to extend our time in the country, solely to stay for the three-day, nation-wide, water festival celebrating Thai New Years known as Songkran. It’s safe to say, Thailand has most certainly lived up to the hype, and I cannot rave enough about how much we loved our time in this incredible part of the world!

As for the visa-run, this cost us about 4,000 baht ($125USD) and a day in Myanmar. While our time here was short, we did manage to find some goods from the local market, and I scored a pineapple romper— so I’d say it was a win! This ones on the to-do list, as it 100% deserves a proper visit when the time comes.

We then took a two-day slow boat to Laos. Here we found beautiful culture with remnants of French influence, delicious food from night markets and fresh baguettes in the mornings, kind and generous locals, the most amazing waterfall I have ever seen in my entire life, and a river flowing through a mountain creating a massively impressive cave. One of our favorite experiences during our time here was the Thakhek Loop. After several buses and overpacked van rides, we landed in Thakek where we rented a motorbike, joined an impromptu backpacker biker gang, and set off for the loop. We drove through limestone mountains and rice fields, explored caves, swam in rivers, went on the world’s worst guided fishing trip, had a few minor accidents among the group, and got three flat tires on our own bike in a single day... but it was one of the best times we’ve had in Southeast Asia! We really enjoyed our time in Laos as well as the people who made it such a blast.

From here we traveled to Cambodia, where we experienced the remarkable man-made wonders of Temples of Angkor. We took three days to explore the temples, including an entire day on bicycles for sunrise at Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm (also seen in the movie Tomb Raider), as well as a day spent on motorbike to experience the not-so-nearby Beng Mealea and Banteay Srei. Each of these were glorious in their own way, yet what I found quite intriguing was the museum in which all of the temples’ statues and artifacts have been secured. The devastating history of the Khmer Rouge mass killings (1975-1979) still haunts this land, and I found it extremely humbling to be in the presence of these ancient ruins and such a resilient nation.

After four months, we finally made it to our initial destination, Vietnam! We did here what all glorious backpackers do, bought a motorbike and drove it from Saigon to Hanoi— and then some. During our two months on the bike, we drove over 5,000kms from the bottom of Vietnam to the Chinese border, we made new friends, found secret beaches that looked like postcards, discovered breathtaking waterfalls, drove through Gates of Heaven in SaPa, toured through the limestone cliff islands of Ha Long Bay and Catba, had the best pho I’ve ever had in my life (for only $1.50), and managed not to wreck or break down (not too badly at least). Our journey through the countryside, mountains, coastline and islands is one that I will forever cherish; however the most beautiful part of Vietnam is hands-down, the people.

Despite our constant “off the beaten track” mantra, our next destination was purely touristic. We spent a few days in Hong Kong playing tourists and disregarding our typical shoestring budget for a change! Exploring the massive street markets, watching the cityscape light up at night from across the harbor, taking the cablecar up to take in the glorious view of the entire island and discovering the rich history embedded here made it easy to fall in love with this place. We will definitely have to come back to Hong Kong for a proper visit, as I have a list of hikes, beaches, and islands on my to-do list for next time!

Alas, after five months in Asia, we took our backpacks to Australia. As y’all know, I studied in Sydney for a semester prior to this and had traveled much of the east coast, so this time we began our travels on the west coast. We settled down in Perth, where we lived and worked for nearly three months at a spot a minute away from the ocean in Scarborough Beach. We then took off for a month long cross-country road-trip to Melbourne. The drive was painted with pristine beaches and crystal blue waters along the WA coast, beautiful desert lands through the Nullarbor, countless wildlife, small towns, big cities, miles of vineyards, and epics surf spots—each pulling us more in love with this country at every turn. (Refer to the previous blog post on the site for more details on this epic adventure) !

After we made it to Melbourne, once again, we took off— this time, to meet up with some friends from home (California) in the Philippines. The islands and beaches here are beautiful, the water is the perfect temperature, and the food is on point (except the pizza— that ones a hit or miss). However, what made the Philippines my all time favorite experience was the absolutely amazing diving! I got my open-water scuba certification here, but by the end of the trip we’d already done twelve dives! El Nido introduced me to the underwater world, Coron took us deep into sunken World War Two shipwrecks, Malapasqua took us diving with thresher sharks and through an underwater cave, and we spent the rest of the time on Boracay having a good time with friends, getting henna tattoos and cornrows, and crashing a foam party!

From the Philippines we returned to Australia and spent some time touring around before we were off to our final destination for 2018— home! We first flew into Dallas, where we visited my family, ate the best home cooked meals that we’d missed so dearly, celebrated my younger brothers college graduation, and took a roadtrip to Austin, San Antonio, and Houston just to see each of my friends! We then celebrated Christmas in Portland with Alec’s brother and the dogs. We enjoyed foodtrucks in the city, the famous Powell’s bookstore, Multnomah Falls and its entourage of tourists, Bridge of the Gods, and even an impromptu roadtrip into Washington with a cute lunch stop on the Columbian River. Alas we returned to where we first met and fell in love two years ago, California. Here we spent time with friends, visited the beaches that we’d missed, finally got the Bear Flag salmon poke I’d been craving for a year, went by our favorite old spots, and celebrated a New Years Eve wedding with close friends! We even stuck around a few extra days to celebrate Alec’s birthday with our buddies in Orange County. We had such a great time ringing in the new year back home, and it meant so much to be able to spend the holidays with our loved ones!

Once we flew back to Melbourne, we instantly hit the road and made our way to New South Wales. Alec has a family friend that owns a farm in Leeton, where they were kind enough to let us stay and work for a few weeks. Here we embraced a heatwave with a high of 47C, the difficulty and low wages of hands-on farm work, and the hospitality of our network of friends across the world. While it may not have been the most glamorous part of our journey, this was a very unique experience for me. I believe that diving into new and challenging experiences that push you out of your comfort are the most valuable; so for me, this was an opportunity to learn and grow. We’re grateful for the chance to be a part of something like this, and we are already missing our little family of backpackers at the Fruitshack!

After a few weeks of farm life, Alec and I set off for New Zealand. This place has been on my list for far too long, and so far it has been just as epic as I’ve always imagined! We spent a few days in Auckland where we acquired our new home-on-wheels, Goldilocks. This is the third vehicle we’ve purchased together on this trip (motorbike->SUV->van) , and we are beyond excited to travel through this gorgeous country in it! We’ve just taken her up to the northern tip of Cape Reinga where we enjoyed the views from the lighthouse, the gorgeous coastline, and the giant Te Paki sand dunes that, quite literally, blew us away! We encountered the glorious Tāne Mahuta— the largest known Kauri tree, estimated to be between 1250- 2500 years old. We explored the dark, wet caves that are home to a galaxy of glow worms only visible in complete darkness. While the glow worms may look like a beaming night sky, they’ve got nothin on the bed of stars that shine over the northland region! We’ve just parked ourselves in a small surf town known as Raglan, where I am spending the week relaxing on beach and Alec is finally getting a chance to surf the notorious left breaks of Manu Bay. Although we’ve just arrived here and we know we will be leaving soon, at this moment, this little part of paradise feels like home to us.

The past year has been an incredible journey for the two of us. We have grown and learned more about ourselves and the world around us. We have seen beautiful parts of the world, and we have seen beautiful people in less fortunate parts of the world. We have gained a stronger appreciation for the land we live on and the freedom we have been given. There have been amazing moments that we hold dearly, and there have been challenging times that we grow from. I have always been a huge proponent of throwing yourself, head first, into new experiences far, far away from your comfort zone. Our year was all about brilliant, new experiences, accepting new challenges in unfamiliar territories, and always being willing to go with the flow deep into the unknown. To be able to move from place to place and still feel at home together is something amazing, and we’re grateful for every moment that has brought us to this point. We have had a hell of a year, and we consider ourselves very lucky for all the memories we have made along the way.