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As travelers, we’re often pressured to quantify our travel experiences. Break down all the memories that we experienced around the world and quantify them to make our trips seem worthy and stand out. It usually looks something like this:
2018, what a year you’ve been. I embarked on 13 flights, domestic and international, and ventured more than 16,000 miles in the air. I also drove more than 25,000 miles domestically and abroad. But I can’t forget the 2,500 kilometers I spent on trains traipsing through Europe. In total, I trekked more than 42,500 miles these past 12 months.
Maybe, that’s impressive to you, but honestly, I could care less about all the miles I clocked in during 2018. What I care about are the countless memories that I had. Who are we to try to quantify our memories so that they are tangible and measurable.
Isn’t that what makes our travel experiences great? No one else in the world can have an identical experience to our own. Yet, we are encouraged over and over again to quantify them.
So, in true travel blogger fashion, I will “quantify” my travels for you, but I’ll also tell you how my trips were more than just miles clocked on the odometer.
Belize Road Trip – 800 km
In January of 2018, I kicked off the new year with a road trip to Belize. I finally escaped the treacherous Minnesota winter and visited a tropical paradise that fulfilled and even exceeded my expectations. For a week, I voyaged through the dense, jungle fronds in Belize and explored ancient Mayan ruins overgrown with vegetation. I was even brave enough to travel solo to Caracol, a remote Mayan ruin site located near the Guatemalan border.
I bounced around the mainland and stayed in hidden jungle oases where I was surrounded by the sounds of Howler Monkeys jaguars roaming at night. Though the landscape was beautiful and serene, I suffered a huge learning curve. I fell for my first Airbnb scam and also saw first hand the effects of not supporting local tourism. Five-star hotels and casinos stood guard on the brink of villages where residents were starving, had no roofs, and were unable to start their own businesses due to the imported competition based down the street. Belize opened my eyes.
Further south, I explore Belize’s St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park. I hiked humid trails in the jungle and swam in some of the most relaxing waters. With all the lush greenery around me, I was set for a tranquil, yet adventurous, visit.
Here I learned to let go and live in the moment. I spent hours basking in Belize’s smaller Blue Hole and just fantasizing about my future and the endeavors I had overcome.
I ended my trip with a short jaunt to the Cayes, small islands off the shores of Belize. Two of the largest and most well-known are Ambergris Caye, the home of San Pedro, and Caye Caulker.
With a motto of “take it easy,” I hardly knew what time or what day it was when I was relaxing in the Cayes. No, this wasn’t due to the amount of Caribbean Punch/Rum they served at all the restaurants. I embraced the relaxing lifestyle and sat for hours watching the waves disturb the reeds off the beach’s shore. There was nothing here to disturb me or my inner peace that I was slowly finding.
European getaway – 2,500 km
After a disastrous break up that ended my soon-to-be marriage, I jetted across the pond to Europe for part of my summer. For six weeks, I ventured aimlessly around Europe indulging in the finer things in life while also taking the time to love myself, even when I was in my less-than-usual-sparkly-state.
Off the beaten path in the Czech Republic
My first destination was the Czech Republic. I started first in Ostrava an industrial city that still has remnants of the Cold War lurking around numerous corners. The industrial metropolis served as my house base for a few days before I branched out and explore many of the UNESCO sites in Czech.
I headed westward towards Jihlava, Telc and Trebic, where the oppressive history of the Jews came to life. The ghettos where they lived, the synagogues where they worshiped, and their homes where they sought refuge from the terror that surrounded them, told their stories.
Then there was the chatteaus and castles that took my breath away. Sucked into a time warp, I visited a time when lords, duchesses, kings and queens ruled the land. I marveled at the ornate artistry that went into constructing their homes and chateaus where they threw lavish parties.
I returned to modern times with a relaxing massage and a day trip to Ceske Budejovice. It was enough time to enjoy some high dining before exposing myself to another unknown — rural Czech.
In the next few days, sheep, llamas, goats and horses were my closest friends. I stayed at goat farms and urban breweries deep in the Czech countryside. The city hustle and bustle was far behind me and I woke up each morning to the sounds of the barnyard. Here I hunkered down with Czech locals and drank the best slivovice, a potent Czech fruit brandy. We shouted “Nz zdravi!” (Cheers!) with each sip and my heart grew full with the kindness each local gave me.
It was in Czech where my heart began to truly heal. After months of living in an apartment that was tainted with memories of my past love, I craved an oasis. Czech was that oasis. It wasn’t the copious amounts of alcohol that I drank with the Czech locals that made my visit jolly, it was their kindness.
When I wandered the streets of Jihlava, a local baker emerged from her shop with freshly baked blueberry muffins. It was dinner time and she didn’t want a visitor to be left unfed. She graciously offered me the best of her muffins so I would enjoy her lovely city and remember it kindly.
Over and over again, surreal kindness from strangers blessed me. The woman whose goat farm I stayed at took me out early one morning to feed the goats with her. It was then that I met her pride and joy, Rosie, a white, milking goat that gave your hand the softest nips and kisses.
By the time I finally ventured to Prague, the crowned jewel and center of attention of Czech, my heart overflowed with all the gracious acts I witnessed during my visit.
In Prague, I allowed my heart for the first time to really yearn for love again. I walked the cobblestone streets alone and was content with the love that I had cultivated again for myself. I toyed with the idea of letting someone back into my heart, and for me, that was a marvelous revelation.
Chugging onward, Slovakia
After Prague, my time was up in Czech. I drank enough Czech beer to qualify myself as an expert in the art and taken enough sips of slivovice with good company. I boarded the train, which I discovered is now one of my favorite forms of transportation, and chugged onward to Bratislava, Slovakia.
Bratislava brought about a feast of unique concoctions. It was a paradise for cheese lovers because many of the cultural dishes were just that. I feasted on bryndzove halushky, potato dumplings with goat cheese and crispy bacon, and schnitzel. Though my days in Slovakia were few, I fell in love with Bratislava’s Old Town and loved meandering the streets admiring the beautiful architecture.
In a few short few days, I relaxed and avoided the crowds. I disguised myself as a local and emerged to experience the city around me. I stopped rushing from tourist attraction to tourist trap and just took a moment to truly feel what Slovakia had to offer.
Indulging in Budapest
From Slovakia, I whirled off to Budapest where I pampered myself to my heart’s content. After walking 12 miles a day for many weeks, my body was starting to ache with fatigue. My journey in Budapest began with a sunset river cruise where I dined by myself and stared out on the beautiful Buda and Pest skylines as the cruise ship sailed up and down the Danube River. I watched the Budapest Castle erupt into a sea of diamonds. Then watch the dusk sky melt into an ink black.
The next day I took luxury to an entirely new level. I spoiled myself with an all-day pamper session at the Széchenyi thermal baths. I ventured from pool to pool cleansing myself of my worries and reacquainting myself with peace.
Igniting with passion in Austria
Before I knew it, I was boarding the train once again to my last country — Austria. Little did I know, that this rusty tin can carried a handsome stranger who jolted my heart awake.
After a lovely train ride together, I had no intention of pursuing this relationship further. I was accustom to telling the world no over and over again. It was too good to be true because who makes a connection offline these days? I pushed away love because every dating guru would tell me I wasn’t ready. Or so I thought.
As fate would have it, I stumbled — literally — into my mysterious, handsome train companion days later. Though I had no intention of letting feelings blossom or allowing myself to be whisked away by passion, it happened.
And soon after that passion, I suffered from the worst food poisoning of my life. How romantic. Yet, I learned that I could rely on others to take care of me, especially in the feeble state that I was. I promised myself to remain vulnerable and let others in. Whether that meant romantically or in a practical way.
A year full of lessons
I have jetted across the globe and ticked off numerous new countries off my bucket list. Yet, what’s even more memorable is the joy that each of these destinations gave me.
Belize gave me the courage to always remain independent. I should constantly strive to make myself happy and not sacrifice my happiness for the sake of others.
The Czech Republic gave me rejuvenation and reacquainted me with my true love — travel. I found the courage to stand alone and truly let go. Worry slipped from my mind, and I found joy in the wonders around me.
In Slovakia, I stripped myself of the pressure to live up to everyone’s expectations. I finally found compassion for myself and promised to never forget it.
Hungary was a country of decadent delight. It was another type of love that I found in pampering oneself. In the days that I spent sipping wine on the Danube and soaking in the Széchenyi thermal baths, I developed the mantra, “you are worthy to indulge.” That in itself was a miracle to say aloud.
And as fate would have it, Austria brought me back my spark. Austria made me trip back into love. I also learned that in order to continue to find love, I needed to be vulnerable. I had to bare it all for those who cared for me.
When I started 2018, I thought it would be a year by the numbers. I never imagined it would be a year that amounted to so much more than that.