Hello January 5, 2017! I never would have thought you’d arrive so quickly. It feels like just yesterday I was welcoming 2016, and looking forward to so much. Without a doubt, 2016 was the best year of my entire life.
As you will see in my prior posts, reflection has always played a huge part of my life. I feel the most gratitude when I slow down and take a second (multiple seconds) to realize how much I have to be thankful for, and how much I have accomplished. I did a lot this year: I married my best friend, I took a leap of faith, I traveled throughout Southeast Asia and Central America, I met wonderful people who taught me so much, and I fell in love with my husband over and over again. I also became more emotionally in touch with myself, and learned so much about WHO I am, and what I want to do with my life. I will no longer do anything I do not feel passionate about, and I will ONLY spend my time & energy fueling my creative passions, and making my dreams a reality. I’ve learned life is way too short to be doing anything that doesn’t make you smile from ear to ear, or nearly pee yourself from laughing. I’ve also learned to see a different side of love and happiness, and it does not include anything our Western bubble provides. It includes being mind- blowingly happy all the time, so happy no matter the situation, and so happy even when you have nothing. This is a life-altering experience to witness, and it puts so much into perspective. It is my mission to live my life the way I want to live it, and I have truly encompassed my favorite quote: “Be the change you wish to see in the world” – Gandhi
As far as New Years resolutions, I have always seemed to come up with a list in year’s past. This year I have not done that, and this year, I do not intend to. Why do you ask? Well, because I feel different. I feel like a changed person. I have a clear vision of what I want to do and how I will do it. For the first time, I don’t need a list to remind me. It is engrained in my soul.
These last 365 days have been so wonderful to me. Each and every month has taught me something, and I am so incredibly thankful! It is no secret that the best day of 2016 was the day I vowed to stand by my husband’s side for eternity. April 2, 2016, is a day that changed my life forever, a day that I would do over and over again alongside my family and friends.
I have decided to do something different this year. Sean and I traveled A LOT. We learned so much, and there are so many life lessons that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. Rather than go through each month, and state what I loved about it, I am going to post one of our favorite photos (Gosh, that will be hard) from each country we visited and what impacted us the most, or taught us to think outside of the box.
French Polynesia, April 2016: Sean and I spent our honeymoon in Moorea & Bora Bora. During our time there, we learned to DISCONNECT & truly enjoy each other. We turned our phones on twice to let our families know we arrived safely. French Polynesia showed us romance, luxury, and seclusion. We spent 8 nights celebrating our marriage, and it was pure bliss. I will cherish every day spent on our overwater bungalow laughing and dancing to country music. We enjoyed the peacefulness of silence, reminding us to always put each other first, and continue falling in love.
Singapore, September 2016: A modern, futuristic, and very tech-savvy mecca for the rich. We spent the shortest amount of time here, as we would have never been able to keep our travels going for so long if we didn’t hightail it out of there. Singapore was so cool. I hate writing with that adjective, but it truly was one of the coolest cities I have ever been to. It almost didn’t feel real. Everything is pristine and futuristic. It reminded me of walking along the boardwalk in Disney World or down the strip in Las Vegas. In Singapore, you MUST follow the rules, every single one of them, or else you will be jailed, or worse CANNED. I could go on and on about all the rules in Singapore, but if you are there, make sure to NEVER litter or spit. We were also told by a random person on the street “They don’t like PDA here, they’ll get you for that” after we shared a kiss. That was enough to put a shiver down my spine, and put a permanent holt to kissing in public! It may sound strange verbalizing this, and perhaps so “American,” but I learned there is so much more outside of the US. So many more people living the same quality of life in different places. So many educated people out there to learn from. To us, Singapore felt like another state. It felt like we never left the US, and to be honest, I felt safer in Singapore than I did walking around New York City and San Francisco.
Malaysia, September 2016: Malaysia was our first taste of real culture shock, and it really taught me a lot. It taught me how to trust myself and other people, it taught me not everyone is “bad,” and it showed me how adventurous I can be. Malaysia is primarily a Muslim country, and to uphold the honesty of my blog, I will let you know that I had a few reservations prior to going. I wanted to make sure I was respectful, and I did everything in my power to avoid offending someone. We learned to abide by cultural norms such as covering up our knees and shoulders, and absolutely no PDA (not even holding hands). I was immediately fascinated by everything we began to learn, and it wasn’t until we made it to the islands: Penang & Langkawi, after Kuala Lumpur, that I started to feel myself again. I chose the below picture because it signifies how truly proud of myself I am for stepping outside of my comfort zone and eating street food. If you know me, you know this was a very hard accomplishment. I did not like everything I tried, but I liked a lot of it! I definitely mastered how to say no spicy in Malay: TIDAK PEDAS! lol If you are on the fence about street food, I say to definitely go for it! Of course there are so many rules to it, but if you stick to the stuff that is cooked in front of you, you should be fine [said with caution].
Indonesia, September/October 2016: Oh how I loved certain parts of Indonesia. Indonesia was Sean’s favorite country on our 3-month journey throughout Southeast Asia. We started at the very northern part in Bukit Lawang, close to Malaysia, which to this day holds a very special place in our hearts. We traveled south all the way to Bali over the course of one month, and we did not come close to discovering this enormously beautiful country. Indonesia is also primarily a Muslim country, so it is very important to abide by their rules and be respectful at all times. I never covered my hair, but I did dress more conservatively with the exception of Bali, which is Hindu. We broke down a lot of barriers in Indonesia. We learned the most about the Muslim religion, and we met some absolutely amazing people. Every single person was just as curious about us, as we were about them. We witnessed a lot of unexpected events, the daily lifestyle, and culture comparable to no other. We witnessed a lot of good, bad and ugly there. Especially many differences when it comes to routines, rituals, and daily life. The most unexpected and (personally scariest) moment occured one day as we walked towards a blocked street. The sound of drumming, singing, cultural music and crowds immediately drew us in. We thought it was a pop up festival and got very excited. As we got closer, we saw many little girls between the ages of 8-10 dancing. As we paid closer attention, they started moving slower, some even crawling on the floor. They were being possessed, and slowly taken away one by one in a synchronized dance by a spiritual tribe leader or priest, as we would call it. Their eyes began rolling behind their heads and loud, high-pitched screams filled the air. We left after about 10-minutes because I couldn’t bare the site of the little girls in that manner. We then inquired about what we witnessed, and we were told spirits over came them and not to be scared, as it was considered a sign of good luck. Many locals actually chew glass when this happens to keep the spirit within them, or draw the spirit towards them. More to come on the lessons of Indonesia, but the most riveting experience was our time in Bukit Lawang, a small village in the Indonesian jungle with the most wonderful local people, and wild life, where we saw orangoutangs in their natural habitat.
Thailand, October/November 2016: We spent the most time in Thailand, a month and a half to be exact. We extended our visas, and that was an experience in itself! Just think of an Asian DMV with language barriers! It took about 6 hours, but it was well worth it! Thailand was my favorite country for a multitude of reasons, but the most being how incredibly nice the Thai people were. We arrived in Thailand on the worst possible day, the day King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the longest reigning monarch in the world, passed away. Thailand was turned upside down, Bangkok especially, where the King lived. Which just so happened to be where Sean and I initially arrived. We were told the King died by our taxi driver en route to our hotel from the airport, who pointed to the Thai Baht and stated “DEAD.” We had no idea what that meant for the rest of our trip, but we were in for a lot of education on the history of Thailand, and most importantly, how much they loved their King, who was seen as a father figure in all homes. Many stores closed, curfews were instated, alcohol sales ended, and the entire country wore black, which also meant we wore black in certain places. It was culturally fascinating, and being part of the history is something we will never forget. Sean and I learned so much about Buddhism, and we have walked away with many Buddhist lessons that will / and have changed us forever. Most encompassing the power of smiling and karma.
Mexico, December 2016: Our first stop in Central America! We visited Cabo San Lucas and Acapulco! I have always wanted to visit Cabo, and it over exceeded my expectations. I mean those arches, that water, and all those beautiful fish?! Oh my God! As for Acapulco, I had no idea what we were getting into! I did not expect much (and heard horror stories to be frank), and it completely blew me out of the water! No wonder the Kennedy’s vacationed there so frequently. This beautiful Mexican town reminded me so much of California. From the deep blue waters crashing into the sky-high cliffs, to the windy, curvy roads with endless ocean views, it was absolutely stunning. Fun Acapulco Tip: TALK TO THE LOCALS! We met a local guy outside of our boat terminal who took us around all of Acapulco for $20 USD each. We had such a great time, and we ended our day at his favorite local beach over Coronas and Carne Asada.
Guatemala, December 2016: We visited Antigua, my dream town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Mayan ruins throughout the city and preserved Spanish colonial buildings from the 1700s. The people, the food, the culture, it all made us swoon. I loved Antigua, which is a popular backpacking spot along the trail in Central America. Many students study abroad there to learn Spanish. I also noticed the locals loved practicing their English with me as I brushed up on my Spanish. The town is so colorful, and the cobble stone streets make you feel like you are walking through a real life storybook.
Nicaragua, December 2016: Sean and I went to Corinito and Leon while traveling in Nicaragua, and started our journey at the base of the San Jacinto volcano. We observed the bubbling mud-pots, and extremely hot terrain. The most impactful part of our time in Central America occurred in Nicaragua. Our car was swarmed by children begging to escort us through the mud-pots the second we pulled in with our taxi. These children live at the base of the volcano, and ask for donations as they accompany you along the mud-pots. They are essential in your safety as there is no “clear path” to walk through. The walkways are marked by yellow rocks, and they scream at you if you misstep in fear of burning yourself. Being a Spanish speaker, they were overwhelmed with curiosity and loved educating us about the pots. The children poured bottles of water on various hot spots to show us the steam. I will never forget the looks on their faces as we got back in our car. I wish I could have taken every single one of them with me to provide them an education like they deserve, rather than walking travelers through the pots during prime school hours. This memory is one that will pull on my heart strings every time I think of Nicaragua.
Colombia, December 2016: Beautiful Cartagena, where the old world meets the new world. We unfortunately only made it to one city in Colombia, but we have so much unfinished business here, it’s remarkable. I am counting down the days until I can go back. The bright colors, the alley-ways, the music that fills the streets, the food vendors, all vying for your attention. It is sensory overload, and I love everything about it. If I could describe Cartagena in one word, I would say brilliant. The colors of the buildings are magnificent, and to think the city dates back to the 1500s, is truly mind-blowing. I loved walking through the colonial walled city and fortress, which is also another UNESCO World Heritage Site. I could spend hours getting lost, and I would never have to worry as there is so much good food everywhere. Not to mention the drastic clash of the modern downtown area, and the old city.
I feel so blessed knowing that we have had the opportunity to travel so much in our short lifetime. It has molded us into the people we want to be, and given us the foundation to work hard and go for what we believe in. I am not kidding when I say 2016 has big shoes to fill. I mean I married my best friend and traveled two totally different parts of the earth. 2017 will be filled with love and more adventures. I can promise you that.
There is so much more to share on the Traveling Love Bug, and I will be posting weekly about each city we visited, crazy things that happened to us, tips/tricks, and most importantly everything and anything COUPLES TRAVEL. I will also be posting my GREAT HOTEL ROUND UP. After multiple inquiries from friends, family, and acquaintances, I have decided to put a list together of each hotel we stayed at to help inspire others to create their own journey around the world. If I have inspired one person to step outside of their comfort zone, my mission is complete.
Thank you 2016, you gave us one hell of a ride and I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store. CHEERS, my friends! Wishing you the happiest New Year! What are some of your resolutions? Any plans for 2017? Comment below!