Five Favorite Foreign Cities

As the friend who is “always gone somewhere,” a lot of people ask me where my favorite place is (or what city I enjoyed the most).  The truth is that after visiting 20 countries abroad, I can’t pick “one favorite.” So instead, I have five!

I put this in chronological order, not in order of preference:

Aix-en-Provence, France (2014)

  • At this time, this was the longest period I’d been away from the United States.  I spent three weeks in Germany when I was 18 (two years prior) but this felt different, because it WAS!
  • I was truly immersed in the culture.  I lived with a host family as well as someone from New Jersey (who is now one of my closest friends) and learned more about how the French saw world issues, like the Holocaust for example.  Aix will never be Paris, but on the same note, Paris will never be Aix…think about it…
  • My mother’s side of the family is predominantly French.  Although they weren’t from Southern France, I felt close to my roots here.  The experience of living in Aix for two months was something I wouldn’t trade for the world, no matter how insane my host mother was!!

Amsterdam, Holland (2014)

  • My boyfriend and I visited Amsterdam together once my two months in Aix was over, and boy was I pleasantly surprised!  There is such a bad reputation of Amsterdam here in the United States (sleazy, dirty, etc.) and although some of that can be found here, Amsterdam was one of the greenest, cleanest, beautiful cities I’ve visited!
  • Amsterdam is such a melting pot of cultures, languages, and lifestyles.  Hearing Norwegian, Spanish, French, German, and British accents all on the same street is something you can’t experience in Michigan very often!
  • There is absolutely no judgement here!!

Kiruna, Sweden (2016)

  •  On a school trip during study abroad round two in Sweden, we visited Lapland (in the Arctic Circle).  As a third grader, I wanted to visit the ice hotel SO BADLY and my dreams finally came true in Sweden!  It was more breathtaking than I imagined…
  • Being in Lapland was one of the best weeks of my life.  Still is two years later.  I was in love with every aspect of the trip, from dog sledding to seeing the Northern Lights (twice!!) and everything in between – it was perfection.

Bergen, Norway (2016)

  • I visited my mom’s family’s foreign exchange student, Kjell, after studying in Sweden for one semester.  My mom and Kjell haven’t been able to physically see each other once he returned home in the 80s, but they have been able to talk on the phone and write each other letters ever since.  Meeting Kjell, his wife, children, and basically all of his immediate family was something I’d been wanting to do my whole life.  Bergen itself is beautiful, but the sentiment behind my visit made it even more memorable.
  • Um, well…Bergen is absolutely stunning!  I think the photos above speak for themselves…

Bangkok, Thailand (2017)

  • Although I volunteered in Chiang Rai for one month, Bangkok was the best possible way to end my Thai adventure!  I had previously booked a room for myself to explore Bangkok, but then my friends Kaila, Karl, and Hee Cheol decided to join.  I’m beyond thankful that they did because I know I wouldn’t have had as much fun without them!
  • On our first night together, we ate at one of the best restaurants I’ve been to!  And right after, we had drinks on a rooftop bar, which was the perfect way to end our volunteering and begin our weekend together!  I think Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai were places I’d rather be long-term; however, because of the people I was spending my weekend with, Bangkok (and its memories) make the list for me!
  • And aside from what I’ve just mentioned, WE HAD A ROOFTOP POOL!  People, it doesn’t get any better than this!  For a month, I was taking cold bucket showers, squatted down to pee, and had mosquito spray on me 24/7.  This 180 was exactly what I needed 🙂

Where are YOUR favorite places?!

My Travel Timeline

One major flaw of mine is that I compare myself to others – I can’t be happy and reach my full potential if this nasty habit continues…

Loved ones around me are “progressing at faster rates”: moving into new places, getting engaged/married, are more financially stable than me…

Rather than getting bitter, I want to get better!

And let’s face facts here: I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t traveled and seen the incredible things that I’ve seen!  So what if I’m carrying a bit more student loan debt because of study abroad?  Who cares that I’m not living with my boyfriend at the moment?  I knew that travel would alter my life’s course, and that’s fine.  Why do I care what others around me (family, “friends”…) think?!?!

img_1440-1

In honor of my choices, that I am VERY proud of, here’s my travel timeline:

Canada (as a baby several times and again in 2011)

*no photo from Canada unfortunately…*

Germany (2012 – one month)

IMG_0245

France (2014 – two months)

IMG_3840IMG_3012

England (2014 and again in 2016)

IMG_3500IMG_3523IMG_3638

IMG_6044

IMG_6063IMG_6195

Italy (2014 and again in 2016)

IMG_4235 (2)IMG_4419

IMG_6879

The Netherlands (2014)

IMG_4529IMG_4480

Iceland (2014 and again in 2016, also visiting again May 2018)

*no saved photos of Iceland unfortunately…more to come this spring!!!*

Denmark (a few times in 2016)

IMG_5301IMG_5305

Sweden (2016 – five months)

IMG_7032IMG_6540

Czech Republic (2016)

IMG_6134

Norway (2016)

FullSizeRender (3)

Estonia (2016)

IMG_6263

Russia (2016)

IMG_6332

Finland (2016)

IMG_6342

Ireland (2016)

IMG_6519

Scotland (2016)

IMG_6778

Hungary (2016)

IMG_7014

Spain (2016)

IMG_7231

Thailand (2017 – one month)

img_0861-6img_2810-2

Macau (2017)

img_1270

I hope this inspires you to live your OWN life!

“Do your thing and don’t care if they like it,” – Tina Fey

img_4524

The Luxurious Side of Thailand

While volunteering at an orphanage in Chiang Rai, Thailand this April and May, I lived in village-like conditions. With that said, I was able to travel during weekends because our foundation did not allow volunteers to stay in the grounds in order to clean, etc.

I visited downtown Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok during my weekends off. Below are some of my favorite photos of my “vacay time,” which was full of affordable three-course meals, rooftop bars and pools, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences! 

Volunteering Abroad: Life in Thailand

I’ve been here since April 17, and I can already tell you that my life has changed for the better.

I’m living in a camp/”commune” like setup.  I have been living in a room with a mosquito net above my bed, have been taking cold bucket showers, and have been eating a low-protein, high-carb diet (opposite from home given that I’m a celiac). 

This experience has been humbling, and to say that is an understatement. 

I am currently teaching English at a local orphanage. The children are so grateful to have us there, teaching them and playing with them of course. I have always wanted to adopt children, and my time here has shown me that I’m meant to do this one day. 

I will be volunteering until May 13, and I am beyond thankful that I have made this decision. I will aim to not take things for granted when I come home on May 21. I want to live like the villagers here: having less and making the most out of life (always having smiles on their faces)! 

Chiang Rai, Thailand 

I have been struggling these past few months, post-graduation. I had been through the ringer with job applications, interviews, and other miscellaneous drama that needs no further explanation. Rather than sulking and doing the same things day in and day out, I decided spur-of-the-moment to volunteer abroad.

I have been living in a “commune-like” setting in a village in northern Thailand. This experience is very much different than home: cold bucket showers, mosquito bites like no other, and copious amounts of sweat. 

When you think of Thailand, you think of beaches and tourist destinations, right? But take a moment to consider the poorer side of the nation; I have been teaching in an orphanage and playing with young village children, who barely know English at all. Thailand is more than tourism: it has personality and it truly is “the land of smiles.”

Thank you to all of my friends and family who supported, and continue to support, me through these major life decisions! 

Message of the day: always be grateful for what you have. There are others who have less than you, but may be more likely to give more because of it!