All this time at home has got me feeling so nostalgic. So I thought I’d take a moment (…or 3 days) to write down some of my greatest adventures thus far on our beautiful planet.
Over 37 experiences made this list, occurring on over 7 continents over the span of the last 10 years.
As we start to plan out future trips, I hope this list will give you ideas on where to go next — or inspire you to write out the amazing adventures you’ve had thus far, too!
Also, I’m excited to use this post to announce that I’m now a travel agent! Which means I can help you recreate these trips for yourself!
Without further ado and in no particular order, here are my life’s greatest adventures.
1. Riding in a Hot Air Balloon at Sunrise Over the Serengeti
Watching the Great Migration from a hot air balloon, high above the Serengeti at sunrise, is one of my favorite adventures. I remember the stillness of the air, and how surreal it felt to look down and see zebras, giraffes, rhino and below me. When we reached the river, the thrill of watching hordes of wildebeest running across is something I will never forget. The experience wasn’t cheap — it cost about $700 for the 1-hour ride from my recollection — but it was worth every single cent.
2. Camping in Antarctica
The first thing you should know about the time I went to Antarctica is that I had no intention of doing so. I wasn’t one of those people who really dreamed about going there, I didn’t really care about seeing “all 7 continents” (although now that I’ve done it, it is pretty cool to say). Antarctica came up for me last minute, like all great trips do, thanks to a persistent friend who twisted my arm. I’m so glad she did! Sailing across the Drake Passage was one hell of an experience, and I made friendships that will last a lifetime. Spending the night in a sleeping bag on Antarctica in a 3 foot “grave” I dug myself, is something I’ll never forget. But, not all Antarctica trips are the same. Some ships don’t even let you get off the boat, so this is a trip you absolutely want to work with a travel agent on. Luckily, now you know one 😉
3. Hiking the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
I am not much of a hiker, but making it through the 4-day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu is an experience I’ll never forget. There were so many times I was challenged physically to the point of tears. I thought again and again that I’d never make it — but I did, by slowing down and just putting one foot in front of the other. On the last day, as we hiked at sunrise to reach the platform where the clouds part and Machu Picchu comes into view, we sang “In the Jungle” and I was so thankful for my friends who I shared this (and many other travel experiences) with.
4. Jumping from the World’s Tallest Bungee in Macau, China
I had no intention of bungee jumping when I was in Macau, China. I’d never gone bungee jumping before, and I certainly didn’t want to start with the world’s tallest. But sometimes you find yourself in situations you don’t expect — and that was definitely the case with me, when I found myself standing on a plank hanging from the 65th floor of the Macao Tower. It’s a 9 second freefall from the top, and I was absolutely shaking. I couldn’t sleep for days before, but when it actually started happening it was a total BLAST. I loved it! The feeling of flying that fast was riveting and I had such a sense of accomplishment when it was over, and I was still alive.
5. Playing in the World’s Biggest Waterfight in Thailand for Songkran
Love waterfights? Then you’ll want to go to Thailand for Songkran! The world’s biggest waterfight lasts from 3-5 days to mark the Thai New Year. If you go outside, prepare to be drenched! From water balloons to buckets of water just dumped on your head, it’s one hell of an adventure for like, a day or two. Then it just starts to get annoying to always have water in your ears. But hey, that’s just me!
6. Dancing in the Streets for Brazil’s Carnival
Have you ever been to Rio de Janeiro for Carnival? It’s quite the experience! Dance lines form spontaneously, parades seem to take over entire blocks as everyone gets outside to dance, sing and enjoy life. I spent a week Couchsurfing in Rio for Carnaval with a friend I met online (and became fast friends with) and we had an absolute blast taking part in this adventure.
7. Riding a Camel in the Sahara at Sunset
I’ve been lucky enough in my life to ride quite a few camels — but there is nothing that compares to riding a camel through the Sahara desert as the sun sets and the sand turns a magnificent orange. I take a group to Morocco every single year with Damesly, and every single year, I feel like I’m riding right out of the pages of National Geographic.
8. Volunteering at a Panda Reserve in Chengdu
In Chengdu, China, at Dujiangyan Panda Base, travelers have the opportunity to be a volunteer for the day and to assist with things like making panda food, feeding pandas bamboo, cleaning the enclosures and more. When I went, you used to be able to hug a panda as well, but this practice is no longer happening. This center does amazing conservation work to help protect the panda, an endangered species. Being closer to these incredible giants is a treat I will never forget.
9. Hiking to Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan
The morning we were supposed to hike to the Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan, a monastery set high above the city of Paro, I woke up with terrible food poisoning. After a few hours of misery in my hotel bathroom, my stomach was tied up with cramps but I knew I couldn’t pass up seeing this incredible structure. So I did it anyway. It’s a 6-hour hike up the mountain, and I honestly went into some trance-like state from the dehydration and stomach cramps. When we got closer to the top, however, I suddenly felt better. I was overcome with the energy of the place, and while mediating at the top I heard a message that changed my life.
10. Seeing the Taj Mahal at Sunrise
You can see a million photos of the Taj Mahal, and think you know what it’s going to be like — but actually seeing it in person is a whole other ballgame. We went at sunrise right as the gates opened and it was nothing short of magical. The structure, the energy of the place, the intricacies of the design. It’s a very special monument and also one of the world’s greatest love stories.
11. Sailing around the World with Semester at Sea
In the Fall of 2012 I got the opportunity to sail around the world while working for a company called Semester at Sea. I served as their communications coordinator, leading a video and photo team to best represent the experiences of the students who were studying on a ship that was sailing around the Atlantic. The adventure took us from Halifax to England, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, the Canary Islands, then down to Ghana, South Africa, around to Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina before heading back to North America. The voyage lasted four incredible months.
12. Swimming with Pink dolphins in the Amazon
During our sail with Semester at Sea, my partner and I got the opportunity to go on a 3-day cruise up the Amazon river. It was incredible! We slept in hammocks on an open-air boat, but we got to see the merging of waters, kayak to indigenous islands, swim with pink dolphins and inadvertently, hug a sloth. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done because this corner of the world is just so vast and unique. The dolphin experience also wasn’t a sanctuary or anything we paid for. It was literally a guy, in the Amazon River (piranhas and all) who said “jump in!” This was 2012. We did.
13. Camping Overnight at Everest Base Camp in Tibet
In the second grade I did a big presentation on Tibet. It started a lifelong obsession. So when I got the chance to visit Tibet, I was beyond excited — because we also got the chance to spend the night at Everest Base Camp! Unlike EBC on the Nepal side, you just drive up to the Tibetan camp. Luckily, I don’t suffer from altitude effects, so I slept pretty soundly in a hut under a blanket made of yak fur, drinking coffee with yak butter, until the sun rose the next morning. I cannot describe to you the stillness you find at EBC in the early morning. It’s just you, that big beautiful mountain, and so many dreams.
14. Tubing Through the Glowworm Caves in Waitomo
I could so easily change the title of this category to “anything in New Zealand” or “living in New Zealand” because this island nation shaped and influenced so many parts of me. It was one of my first loves in every sense of the word — but tubing through a dark river, beneath a cave lit entirely by glowworms, is one of the coolest and most unique things I’ve done.
15. Island hopping in Fiji
Fiji is such an adventure. When I went, I was actually on my way from Los Angeles to New Zealand, and the airline offered us a free week-long stopover in Fiji. My friend Krissy and I had so much fun! We bounced from island to island, staying at different hostels and snorkeling. We took ferries to get in between islands. It was an adventure I’ll never forget!
16. Walking Along the Great Wall of China
I went to the Great Wall of China completely by accident. I was on a long layover en route to Thailand with my friend Krissy, when all of a sudden a man came running up to us saying “you want to go outside and see Beijing?” We thought we had to have a visa to leave the airport, but it turns out, if you’re in transit, you can totally go outside. So we hired a driver and he took us to the Great Wall of China. What we didn’t realize is that it isn’t free — and we didn’t have enough yen to get in. Thankfully, some Dutch tourists took pity on us and gave us the remainder we needed for our entrance. It was one of the most exciting layovers of my life! We walked the Great Wall, went to Tiananmen Square and the Emperor’s Palace.
17. Sailing the Greek Islands
I was lucky enough to win a trip for two on Azamara Cruises. I chose to sail through the Mediterranean, and I took my mom — it was always her dream to see Santorini. On our trip, we sailed from Venice to Montenegro, Croatia and four islands in Greece. Azamara is a luxury cruiseliner and the experience was absolutely fabulous. We always talk about how we’d do it again in a heartbeat! Watching the sunset over Santorini with my mom is something I’ll never forget.
18. Lhasa and the Potala Palace in Tibet
Ever wondered what it’s like to walk in the footsteps of the holiest men on Earth? I found out at Potala Palace, which will forever be one of the most interesting buildings I’ve visited. Lhasa itself is so interesting. Despite the restrictions on traveling here that prevent so many from coming (you have to get a special Tibetan visa), this small capital city is bustling and full of incredible different restaurants and stores.
19. The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem
I have to preface this by saying I was not expecting to feel any kind of way about visiting Israel. I wasn’t raised religious, I knew nothing about the stations of the cross prior to coming here, and religion really isn’t my thing. But I was so overcome at the Wailing Wall that it still haunts me. Seeing so many messages and prayers and desperation stuffed into the tiny crevices of the wall, and so many prayers being spoken at once. It is a powerful place that I’ll never forget.
20. Floating in the Dead Sea
I loved Israel so much I came home and instantly started googling “how to convert to Judaism” just so I could live there forever (note: it’s not that easy). One of my favorite experiences in the country was of course floating in the Dead Sea. It’s just such a weird feeling to be that weightless and suspended. I loved it!
21. Kayaking in El Nido, Palawan
When people ask me where to have island adventures for less, I always point them to the Philippines, and specifically to Palawan. With crystal clear sand and turquoise water, friendly people and affordable and delicious eats, the islands of the Philippines are kind of the best.
22. Being Tattooed by a 100-year-old woman in Philippines
This adventure, too, came kind of by accident. When my friend Jay and I went to the Philippines for a month we had a very loose itinerary, and absolutely no plan of going north of Manila. I’m so glad someone told us about Apo Whang Od, because the journey to be tattooed by her is one that I will never forget. In short, the journey involved a 12-hour car ride, an earthquake, a haunted hotel, a 2-hour hike in the dark and then sitting on an overturned bucket while chickens roamed at my feet and a tiny little lady with a thorn, a hammer, and a bucket of soot pounded ink into my skin. It’s an honor to have met her and to have been tattooed by her, the oldest female tattoo artist in the world.
23. Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland
I went to Iceland with less than 24 hours notice. I had been wanting to go for a while, happened to look up flights, and saw a RT flight for less than $200 — leaving the next day. At the time, I was working at a bar and could pretty easily swap my shifts around. So I jumped on a bus, went to the airport, and the next day I was in Iceland. While I was there, I of course wanted to see the Northern Lights — but they’re finicky. As my guide said “the lights only come out for the people who deserve them.” I was sure I didn’t. We spent several hours in the cold hoping for a glimpse only to go home bummed. But on the ride home, my guide suddenly spotted them in the distance. He drove at breakneck speed, taking corners with only 2-wheels of the car until we were in prime location to stand outside and watch the Aurora Borealis dance above us. What an adventure! Also related: Swimming in the Blue Lagoon. Just WOW.
24. Going on a Safari in Tanzania
I never really thought much about going on a safari — mostly because I figured I could never afford it. So when the opportunity to go on safari in Tanzania for work came along, my mind was completely blown. There is something both magical and sad about sitting in a car in the wild, watching lions and elephants in their natural environment. The power. The majesty. I saw a family of lions feasting on the body of a wildebeest and heard the sounds of their jaws. I was zebras in the wild — and giraffes, and rhinos and cheetahs. It was magical and also luxurious, as I was staying at an Asilia camp. If you’re going to shell out the money to go on safari, book with Asilia. Their properties define luxury and they make a wonderful positive impact on their surroundings and communities.
25. Driving the Carreteral Austral in Chile
In 2009 I was traveling through Argentina and Chile with some of my former roommates from New Zealand. One of my friends heard from another backpacker about this drive, the Carreteral Austral. It didn’t take us long to want to go. Though we could barely afford it, we rented a rental car, camping in it for the next week. We lived on crackers and dulce de leche. We saw some of the most incredible scenery I’ve ever seen in my life, ranging from fiords to glaciers — all along this wild, unpaved “highway.” It was a grand adventure and one of my favorites to date.
26. Volunteering with Sea Turtles in Uruguay
For a full month I lived in a tiny wooden shack on the ocean, with a group that helped to care and rehabilitate sea turtles in northern Uruguay. I learned a lot about sea turtles, a lot about Spanish, and even more about myself. It was one hell of an adventure, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
27. Cruising Milford Sound in New Zealand
If you asked me what I thought were the top 5 most beautiful places on this Earth, Milford Sound would be #1 or #2. Even now, more than 10 years later, I struggle to put into words the majesty of this place. This fjord quite simply takes your breath away. There are many different ways to see Milford Sound, from scenic flight to hiking and kayaking tours. I opted for a cruise as it was offered in conjunction with a job benefit I had while working in New Zealand (I used to work for a company that did Lord of the Rings tours!). It was absolutely stunning. I’m still not over it and I don’t know that I ever will be.
28. Camping on a Houseboat in Lake Powell
I visit Lake Powell at least once a year for our Damesly Cameras + Canyons tour and every year, I fall that much more in love with it. It’s basically the Grand Canyon, but on water — full of nooks and crannies and swimming holes. One of my secret dreams when I strike it rich is to buy a houseboat here, so that I can spend full summer’s just camping and swimming throughout the hundreds of slot canyons on Lake Powell.
29. Visiting the Top of the Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, and you can ride to the top of it if ever you’re in Dubai. The ride up is an adventure — expect your ears to pop in the elevator – and from the top, you’ve got a view of almost all of Dubai.
30. Staying on a Private Island in Tanzania
Zanzibar is incredible, but if you REALLY want to take it to the next level in paradise, consider staying on Thanda Island, a 5-room luxury property that rents for $10,000/night. This boutique experience includes your own personal chef, who will source locally-catched seafood and prepare exquisite meals during your stay. Spend your days on the water, playing with a set of luxury toys, or read through the house’s impressive collection of original Hemingway’s.
31. Hiking through Antelope Canyon, Arizona
My family are 3rd generation Tucsonans — so the desert has always had a place in my heart. Still yet, it’s amazing how many people live in Arizona and don’t travel to Northern AZ, where you find Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, all within a few hours of each other. Antelope Canyon, with its red, wavy walls and interesting curvature is every bit as impressive in person as it is in photos. But it does tend to get quite warm and quite crowded later in the day, so go early!
32. Dancing My Heart Out at Burning Man
It’s a concert, it’s a party, it’s a cookout, it’s a festival, it’s an art show — Burning Man is so many different things and all of them are completely unique. Tens of thousands of people descend upon a piece of land in the Nevada desert every year to experience Burning Man, creating their own city for five full days. I was lucky enough to go to Burning Man in 2007, with a group of people who are experienced Burners with impressive camps. It was a total blast and such a unique experience.
33. Shopping Along the Silk Road in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is one of my favorite countries, because of its silk road history as the crosspoint between the East and West. Cities like Bukhara are colorful and enchanting, with gorgeous turquoise madrasas that were built centuries in the past. Shopping in Bukhara means walking in the footsteps of conquerors, past corners where camels and horses have been tied up, and negotiating with sellers who are descendants of original Silk Road merchants. It’s a very special place in the world, and has made me want to see every “Stan” in the world!
34. Swimming with Whales and Dolphins in the Islands of Loreto, Mexico
We were on an island-hopping trip in Loreto in Baja, when suddenly the boat driver stopped. Surrounded by whales and dolphins, we were in the middle of a pod. “Jump in!” he screamed. I thought he was crazy, but then he himself was in the water. Terrified, I got in. I was thinking a whale might pick me up and inadvertently pull me under, but instead, they just kept going. I put my head under the water to hear the clicking of dolphins talking to each other, with a smile across my whole face.
35. Exploring the Badlands at Sunrise
When I moved to Portland, I went on a cross-country road trip with my dad. We decided to take our time and go on the northern route, through South Dakota and the Badlands. I’ll never forget waking up early to be the first to arrive. We were so excited, and the landscape totally blew us away! With painted hills and interesting formations, the Badlands fueled our wanderlust and we loved exploring this park and its many different trails.
36. Turning 30 in a Nightclub in a Cave in Cuba
For my 30th birthday, I rounded up some of my best girlfriends and went to Cuba. It was one of the best trips of my life, and the start to what has been a very deep and intense love affair with this island nation. Cuba is one of Damesly’s most popular tours, and is one of the places I find myself returning over and over. For my 30th birthday, we went on a tour of the country, ultimately landing us at the Ayala Disco Cave — a nightclub set within a cave — where we danced beneath stalagmites and stalactites until the morning hours.
37. Being Scrubbed Raw in a Hammam in Turkey
Because I have never, ever in my life, been more clean or had smoother skin. You go into a hammam a dirty, sweaty, somewhat shy person. But after you’ve spent hours having your skin rubbed clean by a naked old lady with a brush, you just change. Modesty goes out the window. You have no choice but to submit and laugh your way through it all.