10 Years of Travel: Here’s Where I’ve Been, What’s Changed, & Where I Still Want to Go

Guys.

I cannot believe it, but it’s really been ten years since I got on my flight to Rome as a little, inexperienced 16-year-old. I’m sitting here writing this as a slightly more experienced 26-year-old, and wow time really has flown by.

Granted, you could say that my first big trip was being adopted and coming to the US. And there was also that Disney World trip when I was ten and involved a short flight to Florida.

But, I don’t count those because they weren’t trips I planned for.

No, my trip to Italy and Greece in 2008 was one I planned for. You see, every year my high school offered a trip to Italy (and my year they added Greece). You had to be at least a junior to go, and it cost around $4,000, including money for souvenirs, for a ten day trip. My parents met me half way on the cost. To make up the other $2,000, I worked two lifeguarding jobs and forwent my junior trip to Boston and my senior trip to Disney World. There was also a biweekly class to attend after school to introduce us to Italian and Greek history and culture.

It wound up being about 10-15 students with two teachers and some moms, plus our tour guide. I had two good friends, C and R, who were also going, so we made a nice trio for when we had free time to wander on our own. We walked thousands of steps around ancient cities I’d only seen in photos, and I was eating copious amounts of gelato while skipping some school. 

It was heaven.

I didn’t know then what kind of travelin’ life I’d lead, but I did know that I was ready to see the whole damn world if I could. I loved everything about that trip, and if anything I wished we’d had more freedom to go off on our own. 

Because it’s been a whole decade since then I thought I’d be a little self indulgent and look back at where I’ve been, how things have changed, and where I could possibly want to go next.

Where I’ve Been Since 2009

I know it sounds weird, but I really do sometimes have to kind of pinch myself when I remember how many cool and beautiful places I’ve been able visit since that 10-day tour. As I am now, it doesn’t phase me to say, “Oh yeah, I think I will pop over to Malaysia for 2 weeks just because.” But when I was 16, I doubt I really even knew Malaysia existed outside of it being one of Imperial Japan’s victims leading up to WWII. 

So, here’s a list!

Salamanca

College (18-21)

  • Chestertown, MD for college
  • Seoul, Korea – summer study abroad
  • San Francisco, CA – visiting friends from that study abroad
  • Key West & Miami, FL – twice for swimming training trips
  • Madrid, Spain – fall semester study abroad
  • Trips while in Madrid:
    • Spain: Granada, Cordoba, Salamanca, Toledo, Barcelona, Segovia
    • Other Countries: France, Ireland, Portugal, England, Italy
Kimchi making with Elissa & her co-teacher

Korea Round 1 (22-23)

  • Namwon, Korea – to work and live for 2 years
  • Thailand & Cambodia – winter vacation
  • Kyoto, Japan – 5-day weekend
  • San Francisco & Los Angeles, CA – summer trip with Elissa’s family before going home
  • Vietnam – 2nd winter vacation
  • Bali – summer vacation

The Random Year (24)

  • Frankfurt, Germany – long layover
  • All over South Africa – one month visiting friends
  • Santiago & Atacama Desert, Chile – about two weeks spring travel
  • New York City – more time there since it was close to home
  • Cheyenne, WY & Colorado Springs, CO – visiting my friend, Allison on my way back to Korea
  • Atlanta, GA – to visit my friend, Kate
  • Wilmington, NC – to visit Corinne & Fran (oh, and run a half-marathon!)
  • Fukuoka, Japan – visa run and a little sightseeing

Korea Round II (25)

  • Suncheon, Korea – where I lived for the year
  • Taiwan – winter vacation

And, of course, I went all over Korea in my three years there!

Now (26)

  • Finger Lakes, NY – for my first blogger conference
  • Providence, RI – to visit Corinne & Segun 
  • Vancouver, Canada – to visit my friends, Maggie & Nathalie
  • New Orleans, LA – press trip with my friend, Rachel
  • Florida – my friend, Meredith’s wedding at Disney, Universal Studios, and a press trip with Kissimmee!
  • Oregon – to hang out with my friends, Ryan and Stephanie, in their bus for two weeks
  • Washington, DC – to see Elissa and more of the city
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – 2 weeks because why not?
  • Singapore – just a quick weekend trip
  • Back to Korea for a month

And that brings us up to speed! 

Travel in 2009 vs 20109: What’s Changed

You Can Use Your Cell Phone Everywhere

Biggest game changer ever! In 2008, the iPhone was a fancy new thing. I didn’t have a smart phone, and if we got lost… Whelp, tough cookies! I mean, all the apps I use today, I wouldn’t have used any of them then — Google Translate, Google Maps, FaceTime, Audible, WhatsApp… If I’d had music to listen to, it was on a battery-run mp3 player!

I dress a lot better and more comfortably

On my first trip to Italy, I agonized over what to wear! You wouldn’t think it either, because when I look back at some of my outfits, all I can think is, “Wtf, why?”

For example, I never planned for rain, so I just packed a bright blue and black swim jacket my mom made me put in my suitcase. Guess what it did literally our first day? Also for some reason, I wrote this white top, black pants, and dark brown riding boots. IDK either. 

A look…

Now, I’m smart enough, most of the time, to plan for the weather. I obviously messed up big time with my recent trip to Korea because a random cold front came through and I was cold for most of that trip. But I like to think I’ve gotten a bit more stylish and am wearing things that suit me vs. trying to chase trends like I did as a teen. Wear comfortable shoes, kids! Nothing ruins a vacation quite like blisters all over your feet.

Social Media makes us SO much more connected.

I literally text Corinne and Fran and FB chat with multiple friends almost everyday. My good friend, Milou? We haven’t even met in person yet! Social Media makes us feel SO much more connected than we were in 2009. I mean, I had Facebook and my teen blog (lol no one is ever getting that URL), but I didn’t have a smartphone nor did I bother. I paid to use one computer once my whole trip to update my blog with photos and maybe write something on Facebook! Now I can text my parents as soon as I get through security into an airport because, what airport doesn’t have decent wifi in 2019?  

It makes the prospect of travel a lot less lonely. You still need to meet people in person, but you’re not totally invisible or isolated than if this was 10 years ago. 

Oh, and it also makes keeping in touch with friends around the world a LOT easier.

I no longer buy souvenirs for others

When I first went to Italy, I felt like I needed to bring back something for everyone. My family, my cousins, my grandma, my friends… My souvenir budget was pretty high. Even after my first trip to and my first year in Korea, I tried to bring back beauty products and fun stuff. Now, if I bring back something, I’ll bring back a cute magnet for my parents or maybe a bottle of wine for my mom and sister. 

Otherwise, I just don’t feel the pressure to get crazy amounts of gifts. It gets kind of wasteful (literally no one used my Korean sheet masks!). I also basically travel as light as possible, so I really don’t have room for it like I may have at 16.  The way I see it, if someone really wants something, they can ask me about it or I’ll ask them if we’re meeting somewhere! 

I take much better photos now.

You know what’s kind of funny/sad. I actually don’t have most of my photos from my first trip because my laptop crashed shortly after, and I lost all my photos. I only have an album I uploaded to Facebook and all the photos my friends tagged me in. That’s it! Except, I’m not even that sad about it because most of those photos were absolute poop in every way, shape, and form. I mean, I had my dad’s digital camera, no concept of composition or lighting, and I definitely didn’t know what post-editing meant.

I really took this out of focus, blurry mess, and was like “Yeah looks good!”

I like to think I’ve come a long way in my photography skills, and now I know I have these lovely photos from each trip. I’ve always loved photography, and I used to save endless photos on WeHeartIt for inspiration. Even if I didn’t have IG or this blog, I’d probably still want to pursue photography as a passion. I was literally that friend who wandered off with her friends’ fancy DSLR at gatherings.

The world feels a LOT smaller.

Again, back to social media. When you see your favorite blogger go off to a country you’ve barely heard of, it starts to feel a lot more familiar than it once did. And think about how many bloggers, influencers, and content creators travel! I mean, I’m planning a trip to Morocco and it doesn’t even seem that unknown because I can name at least 10 travel blogger friends who have been. 

Back in 2009, everything outside of my hometown bubble felt foreign. NYC was a huge trip, and we were worried about traveling too far out of the boundaries on the map our teacher had drawn for us. Blair and Serena jetting off to Paris in “Gossip Girl,” seemed like a fanciful getaway. 

The way I travel is much slower.

Not always, but I used to romanticize the idea of flying somewhere new weekly, and now the thought of that sounds exhausting (and, also, incredibly wasteful). I’d much rather live somewhere for a few months and get to know the region inside and out rather than try to fit in a whole country in two weeks. Obviously, my work allows me to do that a lot easier than someone who’s tied to an office schedule. But that’s also why I’m pursuing location independent work.

I don’t travel with a money necklace

You really don’t need to either. There are so many new inventions to avoid those stupid things. Clothing with clever pockets, cute and secure bags, and so MUCH more. However, on my first trip, I was scared of being pickpocketed, so I kept all my money in a pouch I wore around my neck. I had this very cute pink gingham dress I wore in Florence, and in almost every single photo I looked pregnant. Why? Because that dress was fitted up top and not built to accommodate a freaking money pouch!

Honestly, for the most part I travel with a regular zip top purse. Be smart about your surroundings and how you carry your bag, and you should be fine in most places. Just be smart, and if you even remotely sense something fishy, get out of the situation. Cross the street, move train cars, etc.

Where Could I Still Possibly Want to Go?

You know, I think my ultimate goal is to explore every inch of the planet within reason. (I’m obviously, not going to try to go to islands where the tribes have been isolated for centuries like an eejit).

On my current shortlist:

These are places I know for sure that I’m going go to in the next year at least!

  • Portland, ME – going last minute for a conference 
  • Key West, FL – press trip this May with Fran (I’ve only been for training trips!)
  • Cinque Terre in Italy – going this June!
  • Morocco – also going this June with Autumn
  • Mexico – planning on setting up shop here for a few months towards the end of the year
  • Korea’s Gangwon-do – one of the provinces I’ve explored very little of! On a return trip, I’m hoping to spend more time here.

Overall List:

  • Cuba – I’ve wanted to go here since I was 12. This may have started with inspiration from watching Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (which, I know, was filmed in Puerto Rico).
  • Puerto Rico – Speaking of, I really want to visit Puerto Rico.
  • India – Rajasthan, Karnataka, the norther regions near Darjeeling… SO many cool places I want to go! I started mildly planning an itinerary last year that’s in my files somewhere.
  • Namibia – I’ve been wanting to go here for a while, but it’s somewhere I’d want to go with a friend as I want to road trip.
  • The Rest of Malaysia — Penang, Langkawi, Ipoh… I didn’t see a ton of places, so I’d love to go back and spend time in a different region
  • English Countryside – Literally everywhere outside of London (but also more of London).
  • Scotland – Because why not? Also, yes, “Outlander” Season 1 influenced this a bit… *cough*
  • The rest of Ireland & Northern Ireland – I’d really like to go with my mom since it’s her half of the heritage. Maybe sneak in some Game of Thrones filming locations while I’m there ;)
  • California’s PCH – I’ve wanted to drive this for at least 4+ years now, and I just haven’t had the chance to!
  • New Zealand – I mean, have you seen photos of New Zealand? Also my friend, Nic, has always been quite up on his high horse about how amazing NZ is, so I want to see if it’s true haha
  • Southern half of Taiwan – It’s kind of diagonally split in half of what I’ve seen and haven’t see just yet. My plan has always been to return for another two weeks to see the other half I didn’t see on my first visit. Cross fingers I figure out a way to go when it doesn’t rain most of the time!

Really this list could go on, but those are the places I’ve researched in a bit and could at least tell you specific cities or landmarks I want to see. There are so many more that I haven’t researched into… I mean basically all of South America, more of Canada, more of Africa (heck even just South Africa, I have a growing list!), and definitely more of Central Asia. I mean let’s throw Laos in there because it’s always kind of been on my list!

How about you guys? How long has it been since your first trip abroad? Where do you still want to go?

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