For me life is just a series of memories stitched together by time and you need to make those memories as amazing as possible.
I have picked my top traveling memories from my time backpacking – 11 memories that will stick with me forever.
#1 Leaving Home And Arriving In Bangkok
I don’t think anything could ever recreate that feeling of my first couple of days traveling. First of all the nerves and apprehension at leaving home, but then the excitement and sense of freedom I felt when I arrived in Bangkok and met my friends Ben and Mary.
I remember distinctly walking out of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and immediately being hit by the oppressive heat – the like of which I had never felt before.
The feeling of joy I felt during those first couple of days was excessive. Taking in the sights and sounds of Bangkok and the craziness of Khao San Road, my first time outside of Europe, was something I won’t forget.
On my first full day traveling Ben, Mary and I met Danni – a girl who I had met on a traveling forum and was arriving in Bangkok the day after me.
The four of us went out in the evening and did a mini bar crawl along the Khao San Road. I had my first ever whisky bucket. We chatted to numerous backpackers. It was fantastic. I had no job to worry about, all I had to think about were the days ahead of me where I was free to do whatever I wanted.
And the best part?
It was only just starting!
#2 Laos – Oh Lovely Laos
It is safe to say that when I was planning my trip, I didn’t really know much about Laos or had even give it much thought. I knew it was next to Thailand on a map and someone recommended Luang Prabang so I added it to my list.
Ten years on, having been back to Laos on a separate trip a few years after my initial trip, I can say it is probably my favorite country in the world.
Despite not having the huge coastline of Vietnam or Thailand and being completely landlocked it is incredibly beautiful – a barrage of rolling hills and forests. The people are so quiet and unassuming and it is relatively untouristy compared to its South-East Asian neighbours.
The highlight for me is Si Phan Don, also known as the 4,000 Islands, the pace of life in Laos is pretty slow, but it drops down even further on these collection of tiny islands in the middle of the Mekong River.
If you go to South-East Asia don’t forget about Laos.
#3 Monkey Trooping It in Nha Trang
By the time I got to Nha Trang I was a month into my travels and Ben, Mary and I had gradually gathered together a band of backpackers as we traveled down the Vietnamese coast.
When we got to Nha Trang there were about 8 or 9 of us in our little ‘monkey troop’ as we called it.
Amongst all the places I have seen traveling Nha Trang is fairly unremarkable. However it has a nightclub called The Sailing Club where it seemed all the backpackers would congregate each evening. Three nights in a row we went there, drinking, partying and swapping stories with other travelers.
We saw very little of the town but we certainly had a great time!
#4 Taking In The Horrors Of Cambodia
Visiting The Killing Fields and The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia is something I will never, ever forget.
Between 1975 and 1979 the Khmer Rouge killed around 1.8 million people in Cambodia – that is almost a quarter of the population of the country.
Of course those are just numbers and no matter how many figures like that you read, it is difficult to comprehend until you actually get some kind of experience of what happened.
We wandered around The Killing Fields, where more than a million people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge.
As soon as you walk in you are greeted by a huge, 30 foot high, temple filled with skulls of those killed.
Then as you walk around you see the ‘killing tree’ which executioners would beat children against and the ‘magic tree’ the tree where a loud speaker was hung to drown out the sounds of victims moaning as they were killed.
Then we went to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – a former school that the Khmer Rouge used a maximum security prison. Of 18,145 people imprisoned there 18,333 were killed – just 12 people survived.
The place is heartbreaking. The rooms, used as cells, have been left exactly as they were when they were found by a Vietnamese photographer in 1979 – photos are on the wall of each cell of what the photographer was confronted with when he arrived.
Everyone walked around the Museum in complete silence – I will certainly never forget what I saw there.
#5 Arriving in Sydney
There are very few landmarks as iconic as the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge and no matter how many times you see them on TV there is no comparison to seeing them in real life!
Walking down to Circular Quay and seeing the Bay open out in front of you with the Harbour Bridge on one side and the Opera House on the other was an amazing thrill – reminding me again of the enormity of my travels.
I remember arranging to meet a traveling friend outside the Opera House as we had both arrived in Sydney and it was an easy place to meet. It was a Sunday evening in December and if I was at home it would be cold, wet and dark and I would be thinking about work the next day. Instead i was meeting a friend in the gorgeous sunshine to go out for a few drinks with no work to worry about for a long time.
I saw in the New Year sitting on a hill in Balmain, with loads of other people watching the fireworks go off at the nearby Sydney Harbour.
I’d seen it so many times on TV and now I was here – it was amazing!
#6 Driving The Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is basically the opposite of the M25 – a 151 mile stretch of road running largely along the South coast of Australia.
It is known as one of the most beautiful drives in the world and quite rightly so. With Ben and Mary we bought a car and spent time slowly covering this amazing drive.
We visited some incredibly picturesque towns, saw beaches, pockets of rainforest and we did it all in the glorious sunshine.
#7 Seeing the South Island of New Zealand on the Kiwi Experience
When I told people I was going to use the Kiwi Experience to travel New Zealand I was met with a mixed reception, with a lot of people telling me that it would mainly be 18/19 year olds just wanting to get drunk.
To be fair at 30 I was one of the oldest on the bus and there was a lot of getting drunk, but it was also a wonderful way to meet people and see the gorgeous South Island of New Zealand.
I made numerous friends and absolutely loved this part of my trip. The South Island is so picturesque I struggle to see anyone not liking it, but it was more than just that it was the people I saw it with.
And the great thing about the Kiwi Experience is that you can guarantee there will always be someone on your bus you get along with really well as there are so many of you.
And don’t get me started on Queenstown – possibly my favorite town in the world!
#8 Wine Tasting In Renwick
I spent one night in Renwick and it could have been a fairly unremarkable part of my trip. Instead, thanks to a fortunate set of circumstances, it was one of the best days of my entire travels.
It had always been my plan to stay in Renwick and hire a bike to cycle round the nearby Marlborough Wine Region as I had had it recommended to me. As it was May (the wettest month of the year in the region) it could easily have been cold and wet and there could easily have been no one else there looking to do the same thing, that wasn’t the case.
There were in fact only two other people in the hostel I stayed in, however they were Caz and Ali, two great girls from England who were looking to do exactly the same thing as me and cycle round the Marlborough Wine Region.
So the next day we got up, hired some bikes and spend eight hours cycling around some of the most exclusive wineries in the world getting free tasters in the glorious sunshine! It was about 65 degrees and sunny.
We didn’t spend anything during our tour of the wine regions, Caz and Ali were great company and it was a fantastic day.
I never saw either of them again after that day – but they played a part in making it one of the most memorable parts of my trip.
#9 Fijian sunsets and sunrises (and pretty much everything!)
Is there anywhere more beautiful than the Yasawa Islands in Fiji? I saw sunrises, sunsets and night skies I have never seen the like of before there. They really were the picture postcard desert islands I remember seeing on the Bounty Chocolate Bar adverts.
What was even better was I met someone I really liked and spent my entire time there with her – drinking cocktails in the sunset, relaxing on the beach and laying in a hammock watching the shooting stars fizz across the crystal clear night skies.
10# Settling Down In Sydney
Heading back to Sydney to work was fantastic for me.
In a strange quirk of fate I ended up sharing a flat with a girl I met on my very first day of my travels, but it was the experience of living in another a city I really benefited from.
Each morning I would jump on a train at Milson Point and go over the Harbour Bridge and past the Opera House to work in Central Sydney.
Each weekend I would try and explore a different neighbourhood of the city. I made friends there, had a good job but no sense of commitment as I knew I would leave when my working visa expired.
I look back very fondly on those days.
11# The End Of A Dream
My last few days of my first ever big trip still seem quite surreal, despite the fact that they were a good few years ago now.
I hung out on the tiny island of Gili Meno, totally relaxing and feeling as far from home as I could. Then I headed to Kuta Lombok and the extent of what I had done really hit home two days before I was due to fly back to the UK.
Along with my travel companions Cristina and Lisa we were walking back through Kuta Lombok after hiking to the top of the viewpoint in the town to watch sunset.
We stopped in a warung on the way back for some dinner and got chatting to a group of eight or nine travelers – a mix of nationalities from around the world.
The conversation went round the table with each person saying how long they’d been away for and what they had done. There was a murmur of respect when someone said they had been traveling for six months, then it got to me…
I told them I was in the last week of an 18 month trip and all of a sudden I seemed like some traveling God to them as they were firing questions at me, asking about at places to see and things to do.
They seem to hang on to every word as I gave them the benefit of my experience.
I thought back to my first night out in Bangkok when I’d met someone who had been traveling for a year and was about to go back home.
At that point I could barely comprehend being away for that long, but here I was having done the same and more.
It had flown by, but without a doubt it was the best time of my life.