Bloggers love top ten lists. They are easy and fun to write, they do well in search engines, and they get good responses. So recently, as I was flipping through my passport in anticipation of my upcoming trip to Spain I realized I had hit my 10th foreign country! Maybe not such a celebratory number for Europeans who can take day trips for new passport stamps, but pretty good for someone from the United States suburbs, where travel across the border takes lots of money, lots of time, and lots of airport transfers.
So, as I’m about to enter England for the first time, I figured I better get up my list of Top Ten Countries, before I have to pick one to cut! In chronological order:
My first foreign country, and the one I am heading back to right now! I traveled to Spain when I was just 11 or so, visiting my beloved cousin Kirsten who was studying abroad there (and who was featured on this blog previously when she came to visit me in Grand Cayman last summer). We spent a day in Madrid before moving onto Grenada and Costa Del Sol. I recently found my “travel journal” from this trip which I’m planning to share in another post, as I’m now convinced I was meant from a young age to be a travel writer!
Spain taught me that great riches are waiting for those who leave their borders.
Belize! What a special place this country holds in my heart. And not least because at the very mature age of 14, my parents let me plan and book our entire family vacation! While I loved our yearly trips to Martha’s Vineyard, I had seen an ad in a travel magazine for Francis Coppola’s resort and after some light pleading (have I mentioned my parents used to call me The Bulldozer?) I was booking us in for four nights in the jungle in San Ignacio and four nights on the coast at Placencia.
The trip was absolutely magical, and the perfect balance between beach and jungle. We saw ancient ruins, rode horses through the rainforest at sunset, and I discovered my love of snorkeling during a boat trip to the pristine barrier reefs. I’m sure next time I make it back to Belize it will be on a much more modest budget, but for now I have happy memories of adventure and luxury!
Belize taught me that every great trip has variety.
My first trip to the Bahamas was a long weekend with my family to the Atlantis resort, just months after we had been to Belize. While we had fun being together, we found it all a bit Disney-ish and overcrowded for a vacation, after sleeping in open air thatch roof bungalows not long before. We also took a snorkeling trip that had way too many people and not enough fish.
Luckily I got a second chance at the Bahamas not too long ago, when I went to visit my boyfriend Mark on his liveaboard dive boat through Eleuthera and the Exuma Cays. This time around I had a whole new appreciation for the ocean, the people, and the natural beauty the Bahamas has to offer. Hell, we even went back to Atlantis. And I loved it. See my posts about the Bahamas here.
The Bahamas taught me that every place is worth a second chance
4. Costa Rica
Costa Rica also holds a very special place in my heart (are you sensing a theme here?) I traveled here as part of a student exchange my senior year of high school, and it was my first time traveling out of the country without my parents. While the freedom was certainly exhilarating, nothing could compare to the hospitality I felt being scooped up by my host family. For two weeks we explored the far corners of the country from our home base in San Jose, and every day I fell in love with Central America, and my new host family, a little more.
Costa Rica taught me that there is nothing like local hospitality to make you fall in love with a place.
Oh, Canada. One New Year’s Eve before turning 21, a group of my friends descended upon Montreal in order to take advantage of the subzero weather (ha!) and 18 year old drinking age. We were there for three days. I remember 1.5 of them, most of which involved trying to chase down a lost passport. Does this even count?
Canada taught me, um…. that the United States has a stupid drinking age. Sorry. That’s all I’ve got.
My trip to Thailand was a major turning point in my life. I was meant to be traveling with a friend, but when she backed out I soldiered on and at age 19 got on a plane headed for Bangkok. It was here that I fell in love with travel, Thailand, scuba diving, and my scuba diving instructor. My life changed in Thailand, as I began finding answers to questions I hadn’t even yet articulated out loud. See my posts about Thailand here.
Cambodia was Part II after Thailand in my big Southeast Asia trip. Joined by my father, we traveled from the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap to the bustling city of Phnom Penh to the sleepy beachside town of Kep. It was not an easy place to visit in light of the country’s brutal recent decades, but I couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate travel buddy than my wise and history loving Dad. Read my posts about Cambodia here.
Cambodia taught me how unbelievably lucky I am to have so much, and yet how little is necessary for happiness.
Malaysia was the unexpected Part III of my Southeast Asia trip. Mark and I came here after another week in Thailand. We had a rough outline of a route for our two weeks there, but no accommodation, transport, or activities were booked. And it was fantastic. We zipped around Kuala Lumpur, cooled off in the highlands and spent a week blissing out on the most beautiful beaches I have ever laid eyes on. Read my Malaysia posts here.
Malaysia taught me that spontaneity doesn’t have to be scary!
9. Cayman Islands
After Mark moved to New York for three months, the US said bye bye and so he landed a job on Grand Cayman. I visited for my spring break from University and as soon as the school year was up I moved down for the summer. While the island grew on me slowly, I loved my job working for a photographer and underwater videographer. This was the summer I realized there was no going back: it’s island life for me. Read my (many!) posts about the Cayman Islands here.
The Cayman Islands taught me not to rush to judgment: there is something to love everywhere.
Honduras was our “vacation” from Grand Cayman. Mark and I spent a week whitewater rafting in La Ceiba and diving and exploring in Roatan before heading to Utila to meet my girlfriends from home. It was not easy coordinating a trip for six people with different budgets, expectations, and comfort levels, but the result was unforgettable. We had a fantastic week culminating in a 24 hour rave on an uninhabited island… how’s that for a story to reminisce over with friends? You can read my posts about Honduras here.
Honduras taught me that despite the challenges, it is a joy and a privilege to travel with friends!
Although I’ve been in Scotland for three weeks I feel like I’m just starting to scratch the surface of what this country has to offer. I can’t believe when I see people devoting just two and three days to see the entire country! Scotland will always be dear to me as the first stop on my Great Escape!
Scotland has taught me that the greatest way to see a place is slowly and thoroughly.
So, Apparently there is a reason I went to art school and not math school. Because that was actually country 11 right there in my top 10 list. I must not have been counting Canada? But ten sounds so much better right? So we’ll just call that last one a “bonus country.” Because every place I’ve been has shaped who I am, and I’m not ready to cut any one of them.
As I said, my focus is to travel slowly and thoroughly, so I’m in no race to double this list. And yet, within a month I’ll add England, Greece, and Turkey to the roster! Perhaps within a year or two I’ll be writing about my top 20 countries.
So, now that I’m finished bragging, can you put me to shame with how many countries you have you visited? Do you keep track like me, or are there too many to count?
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