2016 in Review

To say that 2016 went by quickly would be the understatement of the century. Although things back in the States weren’t going swimmingly, Tay and I were having a ball hauling our backpacks through nine different countries and visiting nearly 45 cities throughout Asia. I have a lot of fear for what’s to become of America in 2017, as the election didn’t go as I had hoped, but I still feel that I personally had the best 2016 possible. This trip is one I will remember for the rest of my life, and it was full of some of the most astounding highs of my lifetime, and also some jarring lows.

When we decided to start saving money for our trip, it didn’t feel real. I would regularly sit up in bed and ask Taylor if we were still going to go — if it was really going to happen. The notion that we could quit our jobs and go traipsing around Asia for eight months seemed ludicrous and at times, impossible.

Indeed, there were times when our journey felt impossible. When we got food poisoning so badly that we missed buses, or when we had to lug our 30+lb backpacks around in 110 degree humid weather, or when we couldn’t communicate with airport officials in Bangladesh and were temporarily forced to separate from each other — inciting a primal panic in me that I haven’t felt since I was a child scouring my room for the boogie man.

These setbacks taught me a lesson in resilience that I would never have learned otherwise. Before, I didn’t know that I was capable of building homes in Nepal or braving wobbly, nausea-inducing, 28-hour bus rides. I didn’t know that I could go on a self-guided tour of the largest cave in Thailand, slip in complete darkness and land in a pile of mud and guano, and stand up and laugh about it.

Even more thrilling was finding out that I could do all of this with Taylor. For nearly six years, he’s been my go-to person for the good times, bad times, and everything in between. Throughout our journey he remained positive, adventurous, and clear-headed when things went awry. I didn’t need proof that our bond was a quality one, but it cemented the fact that our relationship can handle just about anything — which is something more rare than witnessing a massive elephant migration in Sri Lanka (even though, holy crap, witnessing that elephant migration was uh-maz-ing).

I feel that friends and family keep asking me how I’ve changed since coming home. Truthfully, I think it would be disingenuous of me to start spouting off about gratitude and attempting to sound worldly. Before we left, I did have moments of envisioning myself finding a greater purpose during our travels. I blame this on my daydreaming tendencies. But alas, my life is not a Julia Roberts movie. I wasn’t waking up every day having epiphanies about what makes the universe tick or realizing I should switch professions.

However, I was able to walk countless miles through foreign cities and notice all the little things that I was missing while sitting behind my desk at work the previous year. I could wave to old toothless women hawking fish at morning markets and smile at little boys chasing chickens on dirt roads. I was able to enjoy something that so few people get to in their lifetime — to experience the luxury of waking up with nothing on my agenda but exploration, all done with my best friend by my side. And explore we did. From the remote mountains of Nepal to the jagged coastlines of Sri Lanka, we explored to our hearts’ content.

I suspect that change from travel isn’t something that hits you all at once. It seems much more likely that the effects of wandering dwell inside you, like a cat curled up by the fire, and only unfurls itself in moments when you most need to find clarity, gratitutde, and strength.

Sappiness aside, I wanted to go back and highlight each country we went to, for the sake of memory. I witnessed some truly incredible things during our time abroad, and although the images of our trek will forever be burned into my brain, I wanted to offer up some photographs to show all of you just how amazing it truly was. Here’s to hoping that 2017 is able to hold a candle to this year.

Nepal

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Fearless riders outside Kathmandu’s Swayambhunath,  which is aptly nicknamed the “Monkey Temple”

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Tay channeling his spirituality outside Swayambhunath

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The bustling, dust-covered streets of Kathmandu

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A glimpse at some of the debris in Melamchi, 15 months after the earthquake

Thailand

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Thailand’s glittering Royal Palace

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Koh Tao’s natural wonders

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The intricacies of the White Temple in Chiang Rai

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Thai food made me believe in a higher power

Myanmar

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Smiling after watching the sun rise in Bagan

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One of Bagan’s many temples captured by night

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Tay lounging outside our future summer home

Laos

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The Mekong Delta during the golden hour

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Some of the most stunning waterfalls ever witnessed outside Luang Prabang

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Another shot of the breathtaking Kuang Si falls

Vietnam

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All smiles during our motorcycle trek through Northern Vietnam

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The colorful streets of Hoi An

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Hopped off our bike for a photo opp in Sapa

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Hoi An by night

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A roadside corn stand for passers-by

Cambodia

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We spent two full days exploring Angkor Wat, and it still wasn’t long enough

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Channeling our inner Angelina at the “Tomb Raider” temple

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Kindred spirits

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Tay being blessed by a monk at Angkor Wat (we still have our bracelets on)

Sri Lanka

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The most epic hat for the most epic elephant sighting

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We saw over 200 wild elephants in the Minneriya National Park

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A solitary lighthouse inside the Galle fort

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Three cheeky performers preparing for Kandy Esala Perahera

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Nbd, just the Buddha’s tooth on parade in Sri Lanka

Indonesia

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The holy baths of Bali

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Best friends come to Bali

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A cultural performance on the beach in Seminyak

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Boats, booze, and babes

Japan

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Falling in love with Japan’s vibrant colors and culture

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The Great Buddha in Kamakura

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The deer in Nara are friendly, until you withhold food from them

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Ending this with a truly spectacular image: Authentic Japanese ramen

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