I’ve just started my fourth year of nomadic life. In the past three years, I’ve been to 25 countries (if not for the pandemic, it would have been at least 10 more!) and had some of the most wonderful experiences of my entire life. Here are a few of my favorite experiences in some of the countries I’ve had the privilege to visit:
1. Seeing My First Leopard In South Africa
I was deeply moved by the visceral connection I felt with the land and the people while in South Africa. However, I didn’t expect to become obsessed with seeing a leopard before I left. I went out on several safaris, including Chobe and Etosha national parks, where I missed out on seeing a leopard the first time and was robbed of seeing leopards the second time. Thus began my obsession.
It wasn’t until I got to Kruger National Park that I finally saw one. In fact, I saw five. The first was a mother and cub, but it was dark so impossible to take good photos. The next day, we stopped for one by the side of the road, stalking an impala. Its perfect, sinewy muscles quivered in anticipation, and I felt like I saw the most beautiful animal I had ever encountered. Lean, the perfect killing machine, and yet also stunningly beautiful. Eventually, she walked with a swift, confident gait, and disappeared into the tall, dry grass. I will never forget that leopard.
2. Drinking Yerba Mate And Malbec In Argentina
Last year was my first in Argentina, and it became one of my favorite places in the world. Drinking yerba mate was an experience of sharing culture, intellectual conversation, and making new friends. In Bariloche, I took a class and learned the proper way to prepare it, and that there are many different brands and flavors. I shared many cups with strangers and learned about their lives, and even developed lasting friendships. In my opinion, you cannot truly understand the culture of Argentina without trying at least one cup of this drink, which boosts many healing properties as well!
Before heading to Argentina, I was an avid fan of malbec wine. But there’s no comparison to drinking it in Mendoza. I went to the Uco Valley, famed for the best malbec wines in the world, and they were all excellent. The experience is divine -- you can take a bus, a local train, or a bike, depending which vineyards (called bodegas) you plan to visit. I had a glass most days of the four months I spent in Argentina.
3. Nail Art, Massages, And Learning Motorcycle Culture In Vietnam
Vietnam was a combination of sights, sounds, and smells. Prices were so cheap I simply couldn’t comprehend how I could make it through an entire day spending so little.
One day, a friend treated me to a manicure and pedicure with nail art. I pulled up complex nail art photos on Instagram I liked, thinking they would make a modified version. Instead, my manicurist made a perfect, highly detailed copy of the designs I showed her. In fact, they looked better on my nails than they did on Instagram. The whole process took her two hours, and cost $20 USD. It remains the most incredible manicure and pedicure I’ve ever had.
When I look back at my time in Vietnam, I still can’t believe I managed to cross a street, ever. And yet, somehow, I found the rhythm of the motorbikes and survived. Looking at my photos, I’m amazed that entire families rode their motorbikes together. The motorbike seemed to be a mode of transportation as well as a way families spent time together. One of my favorite photos is of a woman kissing her son as she drives along.
Who doesn’t love a massage? How about a really excellent, hour-long massage for less than $10? I got a few massages a week, they were so good and affordable. My favorite massage parlor was in Hanoi.
4. Eating Honey And Red Kiwifruit, Seeking Greenstone, And Learning About Maori Culture In New Zealand
Now marooned in New Zealand for almost a year, I’ve had a lot of time to get familiar with the culture. I’ve had a few surprising lessons on the food front. Firstly, being raised in America, I thought kiwifruit only existed in green. As it turns out, it comes in gold and red as well. The red is the sweetest, and perhaps one of the best, fruits I’ve ever tasted. It is only available during March and April, so you have to time your visit to New Zealand just right! The other surprise for me was honey. When I’ve gotten it at home, it crystallizes long before I finish a jar. In New Zealand, I’ve learned to use honey almost every day. Whether that be in my tea, on toast, plain, or as a skin remedy, I’ve gone through many jars.
When I first arrived, I noticed all the stores sold jewelry made out of a green stone. I learned it’s called pounamu and is found on the South Island. While, at first, it seemed like a tourist souvenir, it now seems like a rite of passage. I had no idea the greenstone came in so many shapes, colors, hues, and varieties. I’ve already bought two pieces because they represent a deeper connection to the country for me, and my time here, which I will never forget.
I didn’t realize the movie Moana was based on this area of the world. Locals I’ve spoken with believe the fictional Polynesian island of Motunui is based on New Zealand, since the story is partly based on Maori legends. Looking at the landscapes, I can certainly believe a demigod pulled mountains out of the sea!
The indigenous people came here via the sea, as Moana’s community did in the film, and their history and culture are fascinating. This is the first country I've been to where tattoos signify family and tradition and are specific to the tribe each person descended from. In fact, the Maori tattoo artists have to study the designs of over 100 tribes to do their job properly.
5. Playing With Highland Cows And Getting Heathergems In Scotland
If you’ve read any of my other articles, you may know that I love cows! I have to admit that the Highland cow stole my heart. With a crop of hair over their eyes leaving one to wonder how they see past it, and babies that look like giant blobs of fur, it’s impossible not to fall in love with them.
Scotland is also known for my namesake growing on hills. I’ve seen the Heather plant, but what’s wonderful in Scotland is that a company found a technique to color the roots of the Heather plants and make beautiful jewelry. Heathergems is located in Pitlochry, Scotland, where you can visit the factory store, but their jewelry is available throughout the country. I still treasure the pieces I bought there.
6. Seeing The Moai On Easter Island
Easter Island struck me as one of those places most people see photos of but don’t actually go. It’s a tiny island, a four-hour flight from Santiago, Chile, and seems so remote and impossible to get to from the U.S. that I’m sure I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t quit my job. On my way to Santiago, I found a round-trip flight on a Dreamliner for less than $300 USD. I snapped it up and had an incredible experience.
The island is expensive and touristy, but no matter, there are layers of intrigue to it. Most people stay only a few days, but I stayed almost a week, giving me more time to see the stone statues, called Moai, and learn about the island’s history and people. Seeing the Moai in person, you really understand how huge they are -- and that they weigh a lot. Therein lies the intrigue. They were built long before we had the modern technology to move them (and it’s still not easy, proven by the tsunami that knocked many down in the 1960s). All the statues were built in the one quarry on the island and then moved to their current resting places. But at the time they were built, there were warring tribes inhabiting the island. So not only did the statues get moved, they got transported safely. The mystery will make you believe in aliens.
7. Learning Monks Aren’t That Different Than The Rest Of Us In Cambodia
While in Asia, especially in Cambodia, I developed a minor obsession with the monks. I loved the orange color of the robes most of them wear, and the energy they carry with them as they walk. Even the young boys with shaved heads seem somehow dignified and full of purpose. Their robes provide a beautiful contrast to the aging stone of the temples they live in.
For me, it was the contrast of holy and normal life blending together that really fascinated me. Seeing a monk shop for groceries like any non-holy person was humbling. For a moment, we had something in common. I had some silly idea that monks still led more sequestered lives, so seeing them smoke cigarettes and use smartphones was a real surprise! I enjoyed their presence everywhere I went.
There are so many beautiful experiences to be had in every country. I feel lucky and blessed to have had these, and know many more await me!
Inspired? Here are the destinations mentioned in this article: