2015 was hands down my best year on the road. Traveling to 40 countries, on 4 continents, in 12 months, I experienced some incredible parts of the world, and now it’s time to share with you the stories, photos, and videos I gathered along the way.
Start watching my blog for tons of content built around my travels this year, filled with stories of all the people, places and things I encountered, as well as advice on how to plan your own trips to these same spots.
Here’s my 2015 timeline:
- January – March: Started a three month journey from Croatia to Turkey in a car I purchased for $500.
- March – June: Once in Turkey, I sold the car for $150 and began hitchhiking east toward Iraq, where I would begin a 4 month stint in the Middle East.
- July: Ireland for a renegade sailing experience that was much more than I bargained for.
- July – August: London for the Mongol Rally – a 4.5 week, 11,000 mi (18,000km) charity road rally from London to Mongolia, through a total of 17 countries (and 23 breakdowns!)
- August – December: South Korea > Japan > Myanmar > Thailand > Philippines > Detroit to surprise my family for the holidays.
- January – ???: Costa Rica, where I’m currently writing to you now.
I’m not going too deep into how incredible this year was, how much I learned, the people I met, and priceless experiences I had…but… I’ll give you the highlights.
TOP 15 TRAVEL EXPERIENCES OF 2015
1. DRIVING MY CAR TO ASIA
In late 2014 I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Portugal without any plan… 3 days after landing in Lisbon I bought a car and started driving. After a few months cruising around Spain and Morocco I thought it would be smart to take the car to Turkey. This car had no stereo, no heat and the tires were beyond bald. But hey, the idea was to have an adventure, right? I took my car on a ferry to Africa, drove it to the end of the road in the Sahara Desert, almost got washed away in a flood in Morocco and had a breakdown in Croatia which left me stranded for 3 weeks. Over 6 months I drove 11,000 miles through 16 countries on 3 continents. It was… fun.
On March 5, 2015 I crossed the border into Turkey! It was an amazing moment. A few days later I crossed the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, which divides European Turkey from Asian Turkey, another pretty epic moment.
2. 8 DAY LYCIAN WAY TREK
Hiking, especially long distance, is one of my favorite things to do while traveling, so when I heard about the 335 mile (540km) Lycian Way Trail in southern Turkey it quickly made it onto my adventure bucket list. It’s unlike any other trail I’ve done. It has the big elevation changes and wilderness of the Appalachian Trail (USA), as well as the history and rich cultural charm of the Camino de Santiago Trail (Spain). We were physically challenged every day, but quickly rewarded with stunning coastal views and delicious Turkish food. Many stories and memories came out of that adventure. It was one for the books.
3. HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE IN TURKEY
Another experience I just had to cross off the bucket list, and I could not have picked a better location… Cappadocia, Turkey itself is an otherworldly sight to see. From it’s bright white cone-shaped rock formations to the hundreds of hot air balloons soaring over the vast canyons. It was an experience I’d been dreaming of for years… and one I’ll never forget.
4. HITCHHIKING THROUGH IRAQ
Before I left home on this big journey I had a few top destinations in mind, Turkey was up there on the list, Iraq was not. When I told my parents about my plan of getting to Turkey, they jokingly said “Please just don’t go into Iraq”. Well, sorry mom! During my stay in Southern Turkey, I met a Canadian man who was professor in Iraq. He told me how safe and beautiful it was in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. When I heard this my heart began racing, for two reasons. 1) I knew right then that I was going to IRAQ! 2) I had to somehow tell my mother.
It was as gorgeous as he said, and home to some of the kindest and most welcoming people I’ve ever met. This might well have been my best travel experience I’ve ever had in my life! Be sure to check out my blog post on How to Backpack Iraq.
5. ILLEGALLY SLEEPING IN THE PETRA CAVES
Petra, Jordan, one of the 7 Wonders of the World. It’s crowded with tourists and expensive (1 day=$65), but there’s a loophole: The Bedouin (historically nomadic Arabic desert dwelling people) who have been living within the caves of Petra for hundreds of years. These people are extremely friendly and welcoming. Within an hour of entering the park I was invited to drink tea with them. I heard a rumor that people sleep in the caves with them, so I asked… “Of course my friend! Tonight you come stay with us.”… Long story short, I did…
I spent 2 full days becoming friends with the Bedouin and stayed with them in their 2,000 year old cave homes. We ate meals, drank tea, told stories and rode horses by starlight. When the security guards went to bed we climbed atop the famous monastery, the best view in the park. I was felt as though I was given access through the backdoor of Petra, a place with rich culture and deep history, all of which were completely foreign and felt like worlds away from the life I came from.
6. SCUBA DIVING THE RED SEA IN EGYPT
For me, scuba diving is just another way to explore this fine earth. Any chance I have to do so I take advantage of, especially when it costs $20/dive. The diving was so great in Dahab, Egypt that I skipped all my plans to explore the rest of Egypt and stayed there for 2 weeks. It was worth it.
7. THE ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT: A BACKPACKERS PERSPECTIVE
This was an experience I’ll never forget. Though I only spent a few months in the region, I had some very real and rare opportunities to observe this conflict in depth. I joined a journalist friend of mine on her assignment to speak with Palestinian residents, and had the opportunity to reconnect with my long lost cousins who live in a settlement. I went on tours to some of the most tense regions within the West Bank with a Palestinian guide and a tour of Jerusalem with an Israeli guide. I went to Jordan to stay with my Palestinian friends and stayed in northern Israel with my Israeli friends. I really took it all in. It was powerful, emotional and at times downright disturbing. I’ve written about it a few times now, talked it over with many people, and I’ve yet to find the right way to tell the many stories I have to share… However, I am chipping away at the task, and will have some great stuff to share with you this year!
8. 10 DAYS OF SILENT MEDITATION IN ISRAEL
A 10 day silent meditation retreat in Israel. No electronics, no pen and paper, no communication with anyone, only you and your thoughts for 10 days. If you’re interested, read about my thoughts and experience here… Vipassana Meditation Retreat
9. LEARNING TO SAIL IN IRELAND
I’ve wanted to become a sailor for years now. This was one of my main objectives when setting out on this big journey… I found Yacht Agus on Findacrew.net, Captain Paul offered to teach me to sail in exchange for splitting food costs and helping him sail up the western coast of Ireland. For 2.5 weeks we sailed up nearly the entire west coast. The first day of sailing we went 20 hours straight, we were joined by a pod of dolphins at sunset, I saw the moon rise and sailed by starlight until sunrise. Sooooo cool!
One day I’ll buy a sailboat and sail around the world. Mark my words…
10. CHARITY DRIVE FROM LONDON TO MONGOLIA: THE MONGOL RALLY
There are only three rules in The Mongol Rally: 1) You must drive from England to Mongolia in a 1.2 liter engine car or less. 2) You must raise at least £1,000 for charity. 3) You are totally and absolutely on your own… This was an adventure I’d been eyeing ever since I saw a video on it years ago. I can’t believe I did it, and now that it’s over, I can’t believe I survived. IT. WAS. INSANE.
I still haven’t gotten around to writing about it, but I will, I promise. In the meantime read an awesome article my teammate recently wrote about it… The Mongol Rally: the Greatest Motor Adventure on the Planet.
11. TINDER SKI DATE IN BOSNIA
I arrived in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina at night after a long drive up from the Mediterranean coast. Quickly found a hostel and hopped into bed. I began cruising through Tinder (dating app) to meet a nice local and perhaps get some good tips on what to do in the city (I honestly don’t use it for hookups). After a few minutes I matched with a friendly local who asked if I wanted to go skiing in the morning. My answer was of course, “YES!” It was an amazing experience for a few reasons: A) I LOVE skiing – I spent some time as a ski instructor in Colorado B) I had a local guide to teach me about the mountain, culture and language. C) It was completely spontaneous and unexpected – and it left my friends wondering what the hell happened to me when they woke up.
12. CLIMBING MOUNT FUJI IN JAPAN
I climbed Mount Fuji, at 12,389 ft (3,776m) it is Japan’s highest mountain… Another adventure ticked off the bucket list.
13. 3-DAY TREK IN MYANMAR
Talk about money well spent… The trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake took 3 days/ 2 nights with guide, food, accommodation aaaand after the 30 mile (48km) trek we took a long boat ride across the lake. Total: $30…The landscape looked fake, like a painting. It was really unlike anywhere else I’ve seen. Just look at those greens!… The locals were extremely kind, giving us free beers and even inviting us to be a part of their random rain dance around the local temple… My favorite memory from Myanmar.
14. CLIMBING AN EPIC MOUNTAIN IN THAILAND
I always try my best to climb the biggest and baddest mountains in whichever country I’m in. That is, as long as it’s not outrageously overpriced. Doi Chiang Dao, at 7,300 ft. (2,225m) is Thailand’s 3rd highest peak, I chose this mountain because the 1st and 2nd highest are drivable. This 2 day hike wasn’t too difficult, but it got the blood pumpin’ and the views were the best I’ve seen in Thailand, a country that will always be one of my favorites. Here’s the full story with pictures… Hiking Doi Chiang Dao.
15. MOTORCYCLE ADVENTURE IN THE PHILIPPINES
My first goal when I arrived in the Philippines was to rent a motorcycle, strap my tent to the back and go on an adventure. When I failed to find a bike to rent in the north I was a bit bummed, not gonna lie. But down south on the island of Palawan I found one right away and we were off! My friend Liz and I (also a travel blogger, Moxie and Epoxy) cruised the island in search of beautiful views and secluded beaches. We were not disappointed. We managed to find a trail ended right on a massive secluded beach! We camped, swam and basked in the silence, away from the mass of tourists.