With 2016 mere hours away, I was on a flight home from Guatemala and had time to think about my past year of travel with another stamp in my passport just in time. Here are my personal traveling highlights of 2015, with many other trips and stories in between.
March 2015: Chicago
Although I cannot say I fell in love with the grandeur Chicago itself, traveling in March to this city was a gateway to an inspiring weekend and ultimately, a great new part of my family. As an alumni volunteer at the Fulbright Enrichment Seminar, I was introduced to both the diversity and ambition of the Fulbright community, as well as that of Chicago’s outskirt community initiatives. The whole weekend was full of truly special, global and intimate conversations, as we experienced innovative youth enrichment activities in some of the city’s most “dangerous” and impoverished areas. The icing on the cake was the final night’s cultural talent show when it was so visible to see mutual understanding, friendship and true connection. When else would you see a Lithuanian woman helping her Azerbaijani friend to teach peers from 150+ countries a pop song? The whole weekend as a unique experience where I learned so much and in so many ways, I’m lucky to have been a part of it all.
May 2015: Delaware
Beyond the excitement of no sales tax and the arrival of spring, road tripping for a brief weekend to Delaware was exciting in that it was my first US vacation planned with friends. With 2 of us coming down from NYC and one coming up from DC, it was the first time where we weren’t visiting each other, but exploring an entirely new place together. What made it even better was how our interests of what to do in this seemingly boring state perfectly aligned for a magical 48 hours of fun! Wine tasting, chatting in the grass, cute brunches, homemade ice cream, free bike riding and huge stomachache-inducing Mexican dinners were only some of the best parts. Mainly, it was great to be together with 2 of my best friends since my first weeks of college, when the 3 of us hadn’t been together for more than a few hours since graduation.
May-June 2015: Thailand
It’s impossible to leave my big solo adventure to Thailand off the list of amazing travel memories of this year and really there are way too many amazing reasons why. I’d say my two greatest memories stem though from magical places and both unexpected and much-anticipated meetings of friends. The first was at the Ton Sai beach, where I truly was alone in the most remote place I’ve ever been and managed to meet a huge host of interesting characters and new friends within a span of a few hours. I’ll never quite know whether that big rock in the sea is a turtle or a camel or a whale…
The second was sitting on the stupa. Reunited with my two friends from Prague, we took a one-night trip to Ayutthaya to see the ancient ruins. Renting bikes, were able to ride all around and at each stop, these century-old ruins are free to roam and walk about. After a long day in the heat (and an inclination to climb things), we spent a solid 2 hours perched on top of the stupa talking. I don’t remember everything, I do remember taking the Myers-Briggs test (I’m an ENFJ), but I’ll always remember how perfect it was. There was no need to read a guide or rush to see every famous sight; it was a perfect afternoon with perfect insightful company.
August 2015: NYC
I guess it’s weird to say I “travelled” to my home city, but in a way, the week and a half when one of my best friends from the Czech Republic came to visit felt like a vacation. In a few days, we managed to cross off a number of things on my summer bucket list: visiting Coney Island, hanging out in Central Park, going to the 9/11 Memorial Museum and watching a Yankee game. Most of all, it was exciting to do these things and see them through the eyes of my friend who conquered his first ever flight to get here for his first ever trip out of Europe. Even the most casual and typical of nights for me turned into one of the most fun—going over to my friend’s apartment for dinner and playing Cards Against Humanity. It’s not always easy to see beyond your normal routine, but for one week I was reminded of all of the great and strange things about the city I currently call home.
September 2015: Czech Republic
It would be impossible not to include my reunion trip to the Czech Republic on this list. Strangely though, it’s hard to write a small summary of this “vacation” when it felt so naturally a part of my life. Through the beauty of technology and memory, I feel connected to my life in the Czech Republic constantly. Physically flying there and seeing people felt like an extension of my normal life, just an expensively, lengthy trip away. Walking around both Prague and Znojmo felt like a dream. Spending time with people felt like a reunion after a short time. A few weeks ago I had a great chat with an Uber driver who had grown up in a Foreign Service family and had traveled a lot. He was surprised to talk to me and hear my life perspective, leading to his final question, had I really changed so much from just one year of living in Znojmo? Almost 2 years since coming back, I had to say definitely yes.
November 2015: North Dakota
Visiting North Dakota brought great surprises for me to not only see a new part of the country, but also to spend time with “new” parts of my family. Especially coming from NYC, it was amazing to see the huge open landscape with flat fields going on forever. Despite the cold November temperatures, it was nice to be outside and to have so much space around me. Also, it was fascinating to learn more about the history—both official and personal—of a part of the United States, which many know little about. Between good food, conversation and card games, there was much to do and new things to appreciate. I’m grateful to have been welcomed into this new tradition of my family going into a new year.
December 2015: Guatemala
It’s hard to believe it’s been 4 years since I last visited Guatemala with my family in 2011. Since then, this country and its people has become so meaningful for my family, yet I have been absent as my travels took me elsewhere. Firstly, going to Guatemala was a much-needed vacation from the stresses of my job, NYC at Christmastime and the general gloom of winter. Secondly though, it was so special to see friendly faces again and to see the joy they bring to my entire family. More to come about my trip later, but with each different day of activities, I could see how much the connections we have there mean to both my family and those we know who live in Guatemala.
Traveling and meeting people from outside our comfort zone bring out different parts of us—sometimes for worse and sometimes for better. Coming home, it’s easy to forget what we learn and feel about ourselves when traveling. All of my best travel experiences this year came from being in places with people who inspired me to think in new ways and to continue to see my world differently. Going into 2016, my goal is to keep these lessons with me and find this inspiration all the time.