3 Continents. 18 Countries. Countless cities and natural wonders.
2016 has been one hell of a year. Probably my best yet.
From the Borneo rainforest to the glaciers of Iceland, the imposing Alps to otherworldly lava fields, this year has truly been one for the books.
This year I travelled more than I ever have before. I saw. I experienced. I ate (way too much cheese and too many desserts to count). I cried and I laughed. I made friends from all over the world. And I learned and I grew in ways that, just a year ago, I never could have imagined.
In 2016, I took risks. I challenged myself. I put myself out there and I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
This week I’ve been sorting through my photos from the past year and I couldn’t help but smile as I look back at all the wonderful adventures I’ve had.
Reflecting back on the year, I’ve compiled 16 of my favourite travel experiences of 2016. These were moments filled with laughter, moments I felt awestruck, moments that put the biggest grin on my face. Moments I felt happy.
Here are my top 16 travel moments of 2016!
Snowmobiling on a glacier in Iceland.
It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. My sister’s flight had just arrived in Iceland and we were sitting in the hostel common area at 7 am in the morning, flipping through guidebooks and deciding what we wanted to do. Snowmobiling turned out to be was one of the most fun and exhilarating experiences of my life.
Out on the glacier…
With my sister seated on the snowmobile behind me, I had tried to imitate what one of our guides had shown us.
Under the right thumb is the accelerator/gas. Under the left hand, the brake.
I still felt like I had no idea what I was doing but somehow I managed to get the snowmobile going and we followed our guides up the glacier… A white, snowy expanse as far as the eyes could see. A few mountain peaks in the distance as our only indication of direction. Surreal.
At our fastest, the odometer said that we were going at nearly 50 km/h!
We returned to the base of the glacier an hour later, our cheeks windburnt and sore from laughter.
Snorkelling in Wakatobi, Indonesia.
This had actually been one of my 2016 goals: to snorkel for the first time.
And the experience was so much more amazing than I thought it would be. It probably helped that I was in such a beautiful tropical country (Indonesia!) when I first experienced it.
Try to imagine this: your body caressed by the warm silky waters enveloping you. Countless types of coral in a vast array of colours and sizes and shapes. Hundreds of fish in every colour imaginable dancing around you.
Fumbling with languages and laughter with new friends.
I had just finished taking a shower and was wrapped in a towel when they walked into the hostel room.
Being the lovely boys they were, they apologized profusely (though they had done nothing wrong), stepped back outside the room, and closed the door. I quickly threw on a t-shirt and a pair of jeans, opened the door, and we tried greeting each other once more.
One of the guys was German and the other was Mexican. They were studying abroad in France. All three of us had just arrived in the city and the German guy asked if I wanted to join them to explore the city a bit.
This marked the first major time during my three-month solo trip around Europe I bit back the urge to simply say no thanks and stay within my comfort zone.
Saying yes led to one of the best times of my trip.
Within half an hour of meeting these two guys, I was already laughing until my stomach hurt. And even though we could only communicate through a mixture of broken French and English, ça marche. They also really helped me brush up on my rusty French skills.
Somehow, even after that slightly awkward beginning, the three of us ended up travelling together for several days through France and Italy. Meeting people and making new friends while travelling is amazing.
Misadventures and laughter at Niagara Falls.
It was my birthday and my sister and I had decided to go on a weekend road trip to Niagara Falls. To say that a few mishaps took place would be an understatement.
We got a flat tire on the first day. We somehow walked the wrong way and couldn’t find the massive, roaring waterfall. At one point, we thought we were going to die because, well, spiders. And to top it all off, we had to wing it in our car one night because all rooms were fully booked.
But most importantly, we had so much fun just enjoying the little things.
We lazed around in the grass under the shade of century-old trees, we bought bouncy ball souvenirs and proceeded to bounce them (almost into the water at one point), we saw an incredible sunrise, and we just had a whole bunch of random fun.
The jungle trek to visit the Borneo Orangutan.
Words can’t describe how incredible of an experience this was. It was like something from my wild childhood imagination — of being an explorer, of travelling through remote lands, and of making discoveries.
Ok, so maybe I didn’t make any groundbreaking discoveries, but I did learn a lot about the Borneo rainforest, the situation with deforestation, and the plight of the Borneo orangutan.
And I learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of as well. I spent two days in a traditional wooden boat cruising down the jungle river. No hotels, no luxuries, disconnected from the digital world.
It was just me, my boat mates, and the wild.
Nighttime explorations in Annecy.
The only reason this unfolded was because the hostel I was staying at didn’t have wifi in the rooms, thereby forcing me to stay in the common area if I wanted to go on the Internet.
It was after dinner and I had just arrived in Annecy, France. Because of the wifi issue, I was sitting on one of the couches in the common area and just scrolling through memes on Facebook (it’s so addicting!).
A while later, a guy asked if he could sit beside me to use the power outlet to charge his laptop. We started chatting and it turns out that he went to school in Annecy. He offered to show me around town which, ordinarily, I would have politely declined.
So many people are skeptical and suspicious of strangers, myself included. And while there is a reason to be and you always have to take precautions, you also have to put yourself out there. You have to talk to people. Make connections.
And so I said yes.
We drove into town and walked along the harbour and the old town. He also showed me the way to a castle and we stopped by a beautiful church overlooking the town on our way back to the hostel. Overall, it was a fun night, I got to know someone new, and I learned a few new things. Win, win, win.
Carefree nature adventures in Iceland.
Iceland is now one of my favourite countries in the world. From glaciers to volcanos, waterfalls to hot springs, geysers to lava fields, Iceland has it all.
Venturing out into the wild to experience the country’s unique and diverse natural wonders has been one of the most exciting, yet tranquil, experiences of the year. The landscape frequently left my mouth gaping open in awe.
I’m secretly already plotting my return to this beautiful country. Ring Road road trip, here I come!
Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland.
(Ok, so this might be the worst photo of the Northern Lights in the history of Northern Lights photos but it’s all I have from that night. I took it on my phone and it originally came out as an all-black sky. After exaggerating the brightness and contrast levels, you can kind of see the green colour of the lights.)
After 13 days, I finally got the chance to see the Northern Lights on my last night in Iceland. The Northern Lights were already strong enough to see from Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, but we also drove out a bit east of the city to get a better view of them without light pollution.
The sight of the Northern Lights dancing in the sky was surreal. I’m so happy I could experience this just before my time in Iceland drew to a close.
Hiking on Padar Island.
Without a doubt, the best hiking views I’ve ever seen was on Padar Island in Indonesia. It took my breath away — both figuratively and literally. That was part of what made the experience, though!
Seeing Marianas Trench live.
Ok, so I might be a little late to the concert game. I was 21 years old at the time and it was my first concert.
And yes, this might also be cheating because I only travelled an hour away or so, but seeing Marianas Trench live in concert was an absolutely thrilling experience.
The show was amazing and I loved feeling the energy of the people around me. Near the end of the concert, we even found our way to the very front and were mere meters away from the band.
Marianas Trench is also Canadian so I was experiencing local music, eh?
Waterfall moments around the world.
I believe there’s something a little magical about all waterfalls.
From the countless waterfalls I explored in the Waterfall Capital of the World, to the stunning waterfalls of Watkins Glen State Park, from tropical waterfall walks in Bali to the 8-hour hike to see the unique waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes, I loved every second of my waterfall adventures.
Speaking French in the fairytale town of Colmar.
It was past 11 pm. I had just arrived in Colmar, France after hopping across the border from Freiburg, Germany. I hadn’t booked a place to stay for the night yet and I couldn’t find wifi.
From the bus stop, I began walking and followed the signs towards Centre Ville, hoping to see a hostel along the way.
Half an hour passed.
I still couldn’t find anything and my stomach was now growling. I decided to stop at a pita place to grab a bite to eat. After getting to practice my French with two exchange students a few weeks prior, I was now feeling more confident in my French skills and I ordered completely in French. We even proceeded to have a conversation (completely in French, I might add!) as I was eating my food.
Luck was with me that night — the pita place had wifi and I found a hostel five minutes away. I left the shop feeling very proud of myself and sauntered towards the hostel.
It was 11:55 pm by the time I arrived at the reception.
Bonsoir. Puis-je réserver un dortoir pour ce soir? I asked.
Oui, bien sûr. The receptionist continued in French, You’re lucky — reception closes at midnight so you just made it in time.
We had a good laugh.
The rest of my stay in the fairytale town of Colmar included me speaking a lot of French and I left two days later feeling very proud of myself.
Learning how to surf in Bali.
While the notion of surfing always seemed really cool, it hadn’t ever been high on my list as something I wanted to try. When I was in Indonesia, I even turned down the first opportunity to try surfing and opted to try some other water activities instead.
Then, near the end of my time in Indonesia, a second opportunity to try surfing came up. A friend recommended this surfing school that I could take surfing lessons from and I said yes this time.
Surfing was so much fun!
It was exciting. It was invigorating. It was strangely relaxing and exhausting at the same time.
And it was humbling. Out in the water, you get a glimpse into the sheer power of the ocean.
Seeing the Eiffel Tower.
As cliché as it sounds, I really love the Eiffel Tower.
I was on the metro when I saw it for the first time and, I swear, my heart nearly skipped a beat. I felt this excitement bubble up from inside me and I began grinning from ear to ear.
This past year, after dreaming and planning all the places I wanted to see while on my three-month Europe trip, Paris had slid down the list and it wasn’t that high of a priorty anymore.
And yet, when I saw the Eiffel Tower, it was like the little kid inside of me came out. I couldn’t believe that I was actually there, in Paris, in one of the top places of my childhood dreams.
Paris was absolutely breath-taking and I can’t wait to return!
Playing with the kids in Indonesia.
While I was in Indonesia, I had the privilege of visiting several small villages, including the Bajo Village. It was a humbling experience to walk around the villages and meet the people and children who called them home.
The kids, especially, loved to have their photos taken and loved to see photos of themselves. They were some of the sweetest and friendliest children I’ve ever met.
Seeing a palm tree for the first time. And then again.
The First Time:
It was around midnight. After an 18-hour travel day, I had just arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia.
As I stepped out of the airport and headed to the van taking us to the hotel, I saw it. A whole line of palm trees across the street.
I felt giddy with excitement and I couldn’t help but let out a few muffled giggles.
Although the concept of palm trees was familiar, it was such a strange feeling to know that I could now go up and touch them for myself. Apart from that time I was a baby (which I have no recollection of), this was my first time outside of North America and in a tropical country.
The sight of palm trees made it concrete that I was really in a different part of the world.
And Then Again:
Fast forward a month later and I was on a solo trip around Europe.
It was the morning after a 4-hour overnight bus from Zagreb, Croatia to Split. Yes, I was probably sleep-deprived but I felt it only from time to time — probably due to the excitement of travelling and all the new sights and sounds around me. I had been sitting in a coffee shop by the bus stop, chatting with a friend back home until the sun came up.
Just as the sun was beginning to peek over the horizon, I decided to head out to explore for the day. I stepped outside and there I saw it.
Palm trees again! All along the harbour in Split. In just 4 hours of driving, we had gone from a place without palm trees to one with them.
And then I let out a giggle.
For some reason, it was so exciting to see palm trees again. When I realized that I felt just as excited at the sight of them as that first time in Indonesia, that realization made me feel even more excited and happy.
The novelty of palm trees hadn’t worn away!
And so I skipped along the waters that morning and continued giggling to myself and taking photos. People might have thought I was weird, but who cares? I was happy.
Well, there you have it — those were my top 16 travel moments of 2016. I’m incredibly happy and thankful for everything that’s happened in this past year and I’m so excited to see what 2017 brings!
Now, I challenge you to make 2017 your best year yet!
Put yourself out there. Talk to people you normally wouldn’t. Try something new every day. Step outside your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to get out and see the world.
Say yes to new adventures.
Bring it on 2017. Let’s do this!