At the start of the new year, before making goals and resolutions for 2015, it seems fitting to take a look back at 2014 (and 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010). I’ve been thinking about where I want to travel this year and why, which got me thinking back to where I’ve been and what made each place stand out. So, here’s what I’ve learned from the countries I’ve visited so far. What have you learned from your travels? Let me know in the comments below, and if there’s anywhere you think I should visit in 2015, I would love to hear about it!
Jordan – Travel. Jordan is the first place I ever traveled outside of the US in 2010, and therefore the place that taught me how eye-opening and wonderful travel can be. That’s along with lots of history, a love of lamb and hummus, an appreciation for the stars, and great friendship.
Egypt – The Seven Wonders are wonders for a reason. Even cramped with tourists the massive tombs and detailed hieroglyphics leave you in awe. Being there a week before the outbreak of the Arab Spring among palpable unrest in the frenetic bustle of Cairo was fascinating.
UAE — Bigger is better? Worlds can exist inside a shopping mall, and you don’t need to find snow to ski.
Greece – Severe recession can break a population. The islands were idyllic as usual, but Athens was a mass of protests and poverty in 2010.
Turkey – Fusion, culture, and beauty. From the ancient cave dwellings of Cappadocia to the magnificent domes of Istanbul, to the sparkling turquoise coast and butterfly sanctuaries of Ölüdeniz, this country is magical.
Switzerland – That a place can be both quaint and expensive. And that the top of the Jungfrau might be one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Croatia – How to drive a boat, that this country has the most stunning water on Earth (in my opinion so far), and that medieval architecture is pretty impressive.
Cambodia –Humility, compassion, a fondness for the rainy season, and amazement at both how low humanity can go and how high it can reach. Oh, and an obsession with banana pancakes.
Laos – A lot about landmines, and an appreciation for the relaxed lifestyle and runaway elephants.
Thailand – Temples, temples, temples. Who knew you could learn so much about Buddhist temples? But most importantly, I learned that Thailand is THE best place for street food, especially sweets.
Vietnam – The beautiful simplicity of floating villages and the horrors of war.
China – That I am apparently really, really blonde. So blonde that pieces of my hair can be sold (or more likely just stolen, ripped from my head while I’m standing in line). And also that the Great Wall is 1000 times more impressive than I ever imagined.
Indonesia – The importance of ecological and wildlife preservation, that police like to party too, and that sometimes buses don’t come, or they come in the form of a cart and scoop you up without stopping.
Myanmar – Governments can be scary, and people can be incredibly brave. I was in Myanmar before Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from house arrest and the country came out of hibernation, and the resilience and courage shown by the student leaders I met was inspiring. Also, Bagan is stunning.
Italy – Italy is too hard! So much. Beauty, friendship, patience, tradition, how to critique Italian food (a blessing and a curse), that no movie or book will ever do it justice, that when people talk about Italy rooting itself in your soul they’re not exaggerating, that the early morning smell of rich espresso and fresh baked pastries wafting into the streets is one of the best scents in the entire world, that Italians really were the best at everything at some point in time, that trains are the best way to travel, that wine goes with everything, that vacations are good and work days don’t have to be frantic, how to indulge in long lunches, the quick bond between expats, that more places should invest in fountains and bridges, that delusion in the face of recession keeps people happy and healthy, and that the heartache when you leave guarantees you’ll return.
United States – There’s no place like home. And this place is huge! We really do have a bit of everything. I had also forgotten how easy everything is here (which can be dangerous).
Hungary – The Hungarian Parliament is spectacular, and they really know how to do cakes.
Austria – The hills really are alive with the sound of music. And monks make some pretty good beer. Also, traveling with your grandma is more fun than you think.
Lebanon – Mystical grottos and a unique capital city full of friendly and strong people. I hope it, and they, can be restored to their former happiness and glory in the near future.
Czech Republic – That picture-perfect places are worth visiting, but often feel like Disney World. Still, one of the most visually striking places I’ve been.
The Bahamas – Island vacations and resort relaxation are popular for a reason.
Ireland – Stereotypes are true. I took an overnight flight from DC to Dublin, only to arrive at 8am, walk into a pub looking for breakfast, and find three older men drinking Guinness. I joined in, and by 8pm I was so overtired and had had so much beer and whiskey that I cried during Beyonce (yes, I went there to see her in concert) because she was so inspiring and amazing… or something.
Germany – Efficiency! The Berlin metro system is unbelievable. Also, fascinating history and an amazing arts scene.
Afghanistan – Places are never as scary as we like to think and people are the same around the world – inherently good, strong, and joyful – even if by looking around it doesn’t seem we’re on the same planet. Also confirmed my view that Afghan food and hospitality are the best in the world.
Malta – Sometimes Valentine’s Day dates can be best friends.
Morocco – Getting lost is fun, shared taxis are…an experience, Fez is one of the most unique cities I’ve ever been, Moroccan architecture and mosaics are gorgeous, there is such a thing as too much mint tea, Marrakech’s central market is better than expected, awe in the Atlas Mountains, Chefchaouen is possibly the world’s most photogenic town, a visit to the hamam will leave your skin soft for days, if you need a cheap vacation this is the place to go, camels are uncomfortable but the Sahara is worth it, and little brothers make some of the best travel companions.
Spain – The rest of the world should get on board with €1 drinks and tapas. The Alhambra is magical, and southern Spain is somewhere I will definitely be visiting again.
The Netherlands – Legalization makes sense and tourists exploit things. And it’s important to have exact change for buses.
France – Everyone in Paris is beautiful. Seriously. And all work should be done while sitting near flowers.
The Vatican – If you live across the street, get out of town for Easter (or any exceptionally holy days).
Can’t wait to see what 2015 brings! Happy New Year!