12 Amazing Experiences I’m Thankful For in 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, I have to take a moment to appreciate the amazing year I’ve had. All the generosity I’ve received, the beautiful people I met, and the wonderful experiences simply can’t go unmentioned. I can’t think back to this year without a smile, as it was a marathon of priceless moments, reminding me of exactly why I keep traveling.

1. House/Catsitting in Liverpool

2016 was a busy year – I quit my job and began my voyage, volunteering and traveling around the world. As the year drew to an end, I knew I needed a little break before my next big destination. From a website I submitted several housesitting applications. I ended up in Liverpool, taking care of an 18-year-old cat for a veterinary student while she went home to New Zealand for the holidays. The gloomy cold weather in England meant long naps, catching up on reading and writing (and watching Black Mirror), while cuddling with the adorable old cat. Liverpool was just boring enough for me to feel productively relaxed, after learning enough history about the Beatles and going to the harbor.

I felt incredibly blessed by how easy-going the whole process was, not to mention enjoying the bottle of sparkly the homeowner gave me for the New Year. We happily welcomed the New Year with mimosas, and left her with a clean home, a happy cat, and some chocolates.

2. Rediscovering the Body and Mind in India

After the much-needed relaxation, I headed to India for the first time. I had booked a 200hr Yoga Teacher Training randomly found online (on sale, no less!) My previous Yoga experience had consisted only of following YouTube videos and attending free classes at the park. I had always wanted to learn more about my body, on top of gaining a skill that I could also take around the world with me.

What followed was a month of intensive 4-hours of practice per day, guided meditations, philosophy lectures, and maintaining a healthy vegetarian diet. My body was completely transformed, feeling lighter and flexible like never before. My digestive system dramatically improved, and even my monthly cramps vanished.

Teaching Yoga at a Brooklyn middle school later in March 2017.

I was in the best shape of my life, socially more open, and mentally better focused. It launched a lifestyle of practicing Yoga regularly, paying more attention to my health and surroundings, and sticking to a healthier, vegetarian diet.

The certification would also open a whole lot of new doors, later teaching in New York City, Italy, and Morocco. It was an impeccable beginning to the year.

3. Recovering in Forest Row

After the intense physical and mental boot camp in India, I returned to England as my Indian VISA expired. I found a project working for an entrepreneurial psychotherapist in Forest Row, a progressive and quaint village one hour south of London. I helped the single mom build a website, design logos, and gave basic tutorials for her to continue onward in the digital marketing world after I depart.

Doing Yoga in the living room.

Her home was beautiful, built in anthroposophical (Rudolf Steiner) style with spacious windows, a welcoming living room, and a soothing fireplace. The hours of work were flexible, and I had a rejuvenating time walking her adorable red Labra-doodle (see above) and taking Yoga courses nearby. My metabolism was also going wild after my Yoga course, and she was incredibly accommodating to my newly enlarged appetite with vegetarian food. I felt at home, batteries recharged.

4. Visiting the Magical Edinburgh

The decision to visit Edinburgh was spontaneous – I basically thought, when’s the next time I’m gonna be this close to Scotland? I wanted to visit a friend I’d made in India, a fellow young American Yogi passionate about the world.

With the help of Europe’s affordable overnight busses, I efficiently spent four wonderful days in the magical land of castles, in a lively apartment with friendly Scottish roomies. We made vegan food, did Yoga, enjoyed live music at crowded Scottish pubs, and watched Netflix until wee hours of the night. The beauty, fun, and affordability of Scotland made me seriously consider living there – it’s definitely still on my list of possible settle-down spots – though the Scottish accent will probably take some time adjusting to.

5. Volunteering at the United Nations

I had been in the network of United Nation’s Online Volunteers, and worked remotely for a few nonprofits during my downtime in Liverpool. I was offered an opportunity to attend and volunteer at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, set to happen at the headquarters in Manhattan in March.

From London I caught a budget flight to NYC. I found a project in Brooklyn to help a teacher with graphic design in exchange for free stay (and delicious croissants from the nearby Co-op), and decided to stay for a month.

NYC Snowpocalypse 2017

I worked for the Grace Foundation, filming their panel at the CSW and interviewing wonderful people dedicating their careers to improving conditions in developing countries. We were given free passes to attend limitless seminars, and put up in the UN Millennium Hotel for two nights. Lo and behold, a record-level storm snowed us all in the building and wound up canceling a day of seminars. I’d say the 34th floor in east Manhanttan is not the worst place to be stuck in a snowstorm. I spent wonderful time with my fellow volunteers, watching The Daily Show, getting career advice, and fetching late-night Insomnia cookies.

6. Spending Quality Time with Gramps

The flexibility of being a nomad also means I get to spend an extensive amount of time with family back in Indiana. In between jobs, I got to spend two months playing puzzles, taking naps, watching the History Channel, with my favorite grumpy old man. I got to be there to celebrate his 82nd birthday, Fourth of July, eat pizzas from AJs, and share endless iced teas from McCallisters. I brought him hamburgers and ice cream when he was briefly hospitalized, while he helped catch me up on the absurd recent American politics.

My grandpa has worked his entire life with his hands. Yet he is full of more wisdom than distinguished professors, having built his life from the ground up. Grandkids don’t always get to stick around so long and learn from their seniors, so I always feel blessed to have the opportunity.

7. Epic European Trip with My Sister

After refueling, I headed back to Europe, this time with my lifelong partner in crime. I had been raving nonstop about Europe, while she also wanted to go on her last vacation before joining the Navy. We booked cheap flights to Scotland (only $139!), where I became her annoying overenthusiastic tour guide. We dined at at Wetherspoons, hiked Arthur’s Seat four times (it’s “training,” she said), enjoyed vegan Haggis, and had Harry Potter-themed walking tours.

The cheap Ryanair tickets itself is enough to impress any American. We continued onto Berlin, Vienna, and Prague, where we soaked in the impressive architectures, ate delicious cakes, drank lemon beer, and nerded out to European history tours.

It was a crucial chance to spend quality time with my other-half before her career takes off and she becomes too busy for the likes of me. She will soon beat me in travel points as her job takes her around the world on massive ships.

8. Finding a Home in the German Countryside

In between projects, I received warm invitations from a friend I met in India to visit him and his family’s cattle farm near Hamburg. What followed was a wonderful time in the rich green German countryside, surrounded by forests, lush gardens, and back-dropped by the mooing of the Galloway cows. I never went hungry, with his mother’s amazing, healthy cooking, coupled with most delicious fresh fruits from the garden, and wild berries just on the edge of bike trails. I felt at ease in the cozy house, home to a family of five brothers and sisters, now all grown and moved out. Now it’s home to two black cats, one old dog, the cattle farmer, and the mother who holds it all together.

Although the farm sells beef, three out of the five siblings are vegan. The family cares greatly about the planet, and they pretty much only consume the meat from the happy cows roaming the fields next door.

Watching the cattle nonchalantly roaming the land, helps you forget about all your worries. Our days consisted of walking barefoot in the forest, doing physical training in the backyard, and eating too much homemade vegan desserts while watching Rick and Morty. The mother could always use help with gardening, and their home is now listed on Helpx. I highly recommend taking a trip there, especially in the beautiful summer!

9. Going Full-Hippie at a Rainbow Gathering

While volunteering in Vienna, I joined some people heading to the European Rainbow Gathering, a Woodstock-inspired hippie group camp-out, occurring this year in the Dolomites of Italy. I knew nothing of it, and didn’t know what to expect.

We hiked a total of six hours through the wet cold up to the Friulian Dolomites, over 2,000m above sea level. The view of the valley was breathtaking, followed by friendly smiles and hugs from strangers, calling “welcome home!” At the gathering, there were no boundaries, everyone spilled their hearts, revealing their true weirdest selves, while many walked around naked and free. People and children from all over the world roamed the area, gathering wood, helping in the group kitchen, and hiking through the mountains for food supply. We bathed in rivers, buried our shits, and lived completely in nature, without any technology, intoxicants, chemicals or waste.

Rainbow Gathering Main Fire
The Main Fire at the Rainbow Gathering

Everyday, people with different skills gave workshops to share their knowledge of astrology, herbalism, massage, music, and more. I gave Yoga lessons in the mornings as the sun rose, my announcements echoing through the valley.

Despite preexisting skepticism, I connected with others like never before, learning to trust, open up, and embrace the complexity of human emotions and the harshness of nature. It was a life-changing experience, as I continue to live working toward authenticity, minimalism, and environmental-awareness.

10. Dancing in Food Jungles at a Permaculture Farm

While at the Rainbow, I was recommended to a sustainable farm in Belgium that embraced nature, sharing, openness, and produced zero-waste. As I returned to civilization, I looked for the farm in search of an alternative way of life – a transition between the ultra-hippie and urban life.

Plukrijp is a not-for-profit permaculture farm run by volunteers, just between Antwerp and Brussels. The farm is completely sustainable, recycling every bit of its waste and living off of unwanted leftovers from nearby supermarkets. Even the shit is collected in compost toilets, and then trampled on by the chickens to become fertilizer.

It produces organic produce in hectares of “food jungles,” worked on by volunteers, many of whom come to take a break from the city life and work with soil. Other than it’s own harvest, the never-ending supplies from the over-consumed supermarkets meant big, nutritious and luxurious meals everyday, prepared by whoever felt like cooking.

Beyond the work, the evenings were spent in deep discussions about society, expectations, politics, conspiracy theories, or whatever was on people’s minds. We watched documentaries, hung out around bon fires, and danced like no one’s watching.

11. Experiencing Valencia

After Belgium, I headed to Spain for the last leg of Europe’s summer warmth. I met up with some friends I made at the farm, architecture students at the University of Valencia, who welcomed me to their home. They showed me around the beautiful city, including a few architectural tips, and proved to be some of the most mature university students I’ve ever met.

The most delicious veggie paella.

With their help, I quickly fell in love with Valencia and its rich artistic scene, young yet civilized nightlife, and tasty affordable food. I also received the privilege of being driven around to sunbathe at the chillest beach and hike at the nicest national park. It’s an unbeatable privilege to be shown around a city by locals so proud of their hometown. Valencia was quickly added to my list of possible future settle-down spots.

The family would then make the most delicious vegetarian paella I’ve ever had, and share with me their knowledge of Spain and Morocco (my next stop).

12. Hitchhiking in Morocco

I had no idea what to expect from Morocco. It was my first time in the African continent, first Muslim country, and first time in the desert. With little money, but a burning desire to see the country, we stood on the highways and held our fingers up.

What followed were two months of incredible hospitality from the locals, who squeezed us into their 2-seater trucks or moved their deliveries to fit our backpacks in. We were invited into homes, provided with water, even given some money. The generosity we received from the commuters heavily outweighed the accosting and aggression you get in the city’s touristy areas. It reassured me about cultures unknown to me, and that there is always so much more than what you hear and see on tourism guides or newspapers. The world is full of people who are proud of their homes, and want foreign visitors to enjoy it too.

Honorable Mention: Delicious Buddhist Thai Food

With nothing planned, we took a cheap flight to Thailand. My goal for this winter was to avoid the cold, which even Morocco couldn’t provide (the desert was FREEZING at night). Like many tourists in this season, we came for the affordable beds, cheap eats, and sunny weather, all of which rewards spontaneity.

At first, it was a bit difficult to find vegetarian options in Thailand, as we felt surrounded by food stands selling questionable lukewarm meats on sticks. But then we found “Jay” food, a type of vegetarian eateries marked by yellow flags and red Chinese characters symbolizing the Buddhist diet.

Now, I’m not just mentioning this just because the food is delicious and affordable ($1/meal). Instead it’s because of the kindness and generosity we’ve received from the workers. On multiple occasions, we have received random discounts or even free bags of food given away near closing time. On Christmas Eve, we went to an eatery just expecting some noodles, only to be given a huge feast of everything they had left for only $1.

It’s like these Buddhist eateries are not just businesses, they seem to exist to simply – feed. The delicious variety of food is worth much more than the price corresponding, on top of the smiles and warm welcomes from the shop owners despite the lack of common language.

This seems like a mundane experience in comparison to others, but my experience in Thailand has been completely made by these places, which keep me healthy and well fed without breaking my bank. It’s simple things like this which remind me that the more I receive, the more I should give back.

Good sleep and some good food, that’s all I need to be the happiest. Everything else is just the icing on the cake.

To many more experiences to come! Welcoming 2018 with plans to go to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan, followed by super-rough dream plans to go to Hawaii and San Diego, and then wherever else life takes me. 🎉 Happy New Year! 🎉

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