Follow me as I blog my way through 12 months of travel, 20 countries, 2 volunteer programs, 44,000 miles, over 20 flights, countless chicken bus rides and 365 wonderful work-free days.

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No matter how much you have travelled, it’s always a little daunting arriving in a country you have never been to. Navigating the airport, filling out paperwork, getting your visa, transferring to your hotel.. and doing it all after 4 flights, countless hours of stopovers and very little sleep, it’s enough to make your average person a little crazy.

Scrolling through IVHQ’s facebook page, I see a lot of questions about arriving at the airport and orientation etc, so I thought I’d share my experience and hopefully it’ll help ease some of your anxieties. And if there is anything I have missed out, feel free to ask me.

THE AIRPORT – WHERE TO GO.. WHAT TO DO

Once off your flight, if you’re unsure where to go, my advice – follow the crowd, you can’t go wrong. If that fails, and you find yourself in the bathroom or at a duty free shop with the rest of your flight, walk down the long corridor in between the money exchange and the helpdesk. This will lead you to the visa counter. Before getting in line you need to fill out 2 forms, which are located just in front of the visa counter. They ask you the usual questions, passport number, flight number that you were on etc, but they also ask the address you are going to. Simply fill in the address that IVHQ give you in your welcome pack. They won’t ask questions.

Make sure you have US $50 on you for your visa and remember that in most African countries, they won’t accept notes printed prior to 2009, or notes that are badly damaged/wrinkled/dirty etc.

If you have read your volunteering information, it will tell you to apply for a tourist visa, not a volunteer’s visa. If you are stressed about this (like I was), and think you’re going to get caught and thrown in a Kenyan prison.. don’t be. They don’t ask. But if they do, tell them you’re there to visit their beautiful country, maybe go on a safari or two.

Once you have your visa, follow the stairs down to the baggage claim.. easy.. I think there is only 1 in the terminal. Grab your bag, politely decline all offers from people offering to help carry it for you (they’ll want money), or for taxi’s and take the only exit. It’s a small airport. You can’t really get lost.

MEETING YOUR TRANSFER

My experience here didn’t go down the way IVHQ said it would but there should be someone just in front of the exit holding up an IVHQ sign.. it may also say NVS (network for volunteer services). If by chance there is no one there, head to the small brown information booth just left of the exit. The nice lady I spoke to knew NVS and rang them free of charge for me. My driver was hiding in the carpark and arrived shortly after to collect me.

ARRIVING AT YOUR VOLUNTEER HOUSE

Depending on when you arrive, your driver will drop you at a volunteer house. There are a few of these scattered around Nairobi and it’s here that they store everyone until orientation. These are owned by host families and can house up to 12 or more people. Chances are, the people you meet on your first night won’t be the people you end up volunteering with.

BUYING PHONE CARDS/FREE WIFI/GETTING FOOD/MONEY EXCHANGE

Close by to all of the volunteer houses (walking distance for some, quick matatu ride for others) is a large shopping centre with everything you need. For those wanting to buy a cheap phone, phone card or credit, you can do it here at numerous stores. They also have a few places with free wifi (upstairs in the food court or in the restaurants at the front of the shopping centre). They have a wallmart style supermarket where you can buy everything from wedding dresses to washing machines.. or just water if that’s what you need.  There are various ATMs at the front of the centre and there is a money exchange located just to the left of the entrance to the centre.. don’t forget to bring your passport with you if you’re exchanging money.

ORIENTATION

On orientation day you will be collected and driven to a college where they hold the orientation. They will go through an introduction about NVS, have various people tell you about their programs and will also tell you about safaris and other tours you can do while you are there. You can sign up and pay for these tours at the end of the presentation, and you can call and book at a later date if you haven’t made up your mind at that stage.

After a few hours you will stop for lunch, and then be put into groups based on your project. Here they will explain in more detail what you can expect from your placement. You can ask questions and talk to NVS about any concerns you have. Note that by this time NVS will have already allocated you to a project and it’s very unlikely they will allow you to change on the day.

With orientation done in the early afternoon, NVS will then allocate you a car/van which will drop you at your placement, or host family’s house.

CHANGING PROJECTS

If you don’t feel that your placement is right for you, NVS will allow you a few days to request to be moved to another project. If you have not contacted them within a few days, you will be required to stay at your placement for a minimum of 2 weeks.

SAFETY & GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

They mention it in the welcome pack but I thought I would touch on it anyway based on my experiences.

  • Don’t walk around the streets after nightfall, not even if you’re in a group. If you’re held up at gunpoint, the fact that you’re in a group won’t protect you.
  • Taxi drivers will almost certainly try to rip you off.. do some research before you go anywhere and know what the standard fare is. For metered taxi’s, make sure the driver has turned the meter on. For unmetered taxi’s, make sure you negotiate the fare before you accept the ride.
  • The same on matatu’s. Some will try and charge you more than the locals. Stand your ground and refuse to pay more. They won’t chuck you off and if they do, another one will be by within a few minutes.
  • Be careful on matatu’s. Hold your bag on your lap and don’t put valuables in your pockets.  If someone asks you to swap seats with them, for whatever reason.. don’t. Be prepared. Matatu’s can get very full so you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’re pressed up against 3 guys with your camera in your pocket.
  • Don’t be scared that something may happen. I felt pretty safe most of the time. Just be cautious and take precautions to avoid being robbed. Don’t flash your camera around, don’t leave money in your pockets, don’t wear expensive jewellery..  you know the deal.
  • Girls.. be aware you will get hollered at.. all day, every day. Majority of the time it’s harmless and can be dispelled by ignoring them or politely declining whatever it is they offer you. You will very quickly get used to being stared at and yelled at, even by women and children. They don’t mean any harm, they’re just intrigued.

Despite the above warnings, I found Kenyans to be extremely friendly and welcoming. They see it as a blessing that you are there to visit their country and they will tell you so too. Go with an open mind, be prepared to welcome whatever comes your way, and you won’t be disappointed. I promise you that.

If I have missed anything or if you have any questions, please feel free to comment below.

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Have I been doing it wrong all these years?

I don’t exactly know where my inspiration came from to volunteer. I’ve always been the type of person to watch documentaries on starving children in Africa, feel absolutely heartbroken and vow to make a donation in the next ad break. But I don’t. I continue sitting on my couch, crying into my ice cream and feeling sad. The documentary finishes, ‘The Amazing Race’ comes on and I forget all about those starving children in Africa.

A year or so ago, in typical Hayley style, I started developing that familiar itch to travel again. I’ve been an obsessive traveller since I was 21 and have travelled to over 25 countries. Now, at 29 years old, something had changed in the way I wanted to travel.  I didn’t just want to watch a country go by as I looked out the window of a comfortable air-conditioned tour bus, hopping off intermittently to snap the obligatory photo of some pretty mountain. I wanted to get amongst it all. I wanted to help people. And I wanted to stop saying “one day I will” and just do it.

When planning my trip I stumbled across IVHQ, a New Zealand based organisation with volunteering projects all around the world. I was instantly hooked and applied for projects in Kenya and Mexico, two of the countries I planned to visit on my yearlong overseas holiday. I was accepted into both. Was I terrified I’d bitten off more than I could chew? YES… but I went anyway.

First stop.. Kenya. After orientation and a few days to catch my breath I was catapulted into what felt like an alternate universe. My job for the next month was to consult with pregnant mothers, assist in births, help sick babies and provide first aid and family planning classes to those who couldn’t afford to seek help elsewhere.  It seemed like every patient I saw was suffering from extreme poverty and starvation, and most of the women were HIV positive. On my second day at the clinic I sat in a room with a pregnant mother of three while she waited for the results of the HIV test we’d just given her. It was an intense five minutes and something I will remember for the rest of my life. You don’t get that experience sitting on an air-conditioned tour bus.

Fast forward three months to Cuernavaca, Mexico. It was to be my home for the next two months while I volunteered with Casa Hoy, a local organisation passionate about helping the community. They offer a variety of projects including teaching English, child care, environmental, animal welfare and computer assistance.  I learned that I would be volunteering in a foster home for children whose parents were in prison or too unfit to look after them. There were 29 children at the home, aged between 1 and 5 years old. And boy did I fall in love with each and every one of them.

There were many defining moments during those two months at the home. Those secret ‘high five’ moments that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But my most memorable was Clara*. Clara is 2 years old and lives at the home. She never smiled or laughed, never played with the other children and seemed to be in her own little world most of the time. I often wondered what kind of life she had led to make her like this. So, every day I would pay special attention to Clara – lots of playing, giving her cuddles, helping her with her lunch and just generally making her feel loved. The defining moment came about a month into my project when Clara finally smiled at me. Next came the laughter, interaction with the other kids and she even started sitting on my lap without being prompted. Success. To be honest, sometimes I questioned myself about why I was here spending my free time with these children when I could be at home playing with my three beautiful nieces. This was why. These defining moments. I will never forget Clara or my time spent at the foster home.

By the time I turn 30 (in 5 months eeek!) I will have travelled to 33 different countries. Did I love visiting those countries and seeing them through the window of my tour bus? Yes I did. But my time spent in Kenya and Mexico created a whole new depth of appreciation and love for the country and its people. Feeling that sense of family and belonging. Exchanging daily “hola’s” with the laundry lady and the man at the corner store. Getting involved in the community and helping people, even if it’s just by making them smile.

Volunteering changed the way I want to travel. It took me 9 years and 33 countries to figure that out, but I got there in the end. I got off the couch.

 

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If you have stumbled across this post in hopes of finding some great packing tips, you’ve come to the wrong place. (but please feel free to stay).

To be honest I’m really tired of reading articles and tips on packing for a year-long trip that say one pair of pants is enough and to just pack for a week and wash regularly.

I can’t do that.

I’m not the most fashion conscious person out there. I don’t use hair dryers/straighteners/curlers.  I live in jeans and I rarely wear make up. A pair of pluggers and some runners is fine with me. But I can’t just take one pair of pants and 2 shirts and be happy about it and I don’t want to wear the same thing every day.

For the last month or so I have found myself lingering around my lounge room, during which time I have been gradually adding to my ever-growing pile of clothing, toiletries and electronics. And I don’t even need to mention the little extras that get secretly thrown in there by my mother on a regular basis.  And FYI, I say lingering because I don’t actually attempt to pack anything. I just stand there staring at it in hopes that it will somehow miraculously shrink in size and then pack itself perfectly into my 60L backpack.. with extra room for souvenirs of course.

Knowing that time is ticking away and that what is sitting on the floor in my lounge could potentially fill 2 backpacks, I thought it was time to do some research. I found a book on backpacking tips (that’s a lie.. my mum found a book that up until now I didn’t think I needed to read).

Sitting down to this little gem I hoped that I would find that magic piece of advice that would take all my packing troubles away.  ‘Ahhh a packing list section’ I thought.. brilliant.  Until I read it…One pair of pants.. and wait for it… two pairs of underwear.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I was reading this on my Kindle I would have thrown the book across the room. Two pairs of underwear??? She can’t be serious.

No really.. is she serious?

So I’m giving up on books and articles and I’ve decided to throw it out there in hopes of getting some useful suggestions and advice. Be brutal.. but don’t forget I’m going for a year, living in rural Africa for 1 month of that year, camping for about 5 months of it… and… yeah now I’m just making excuses.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

4 skirts, 1 dress maybe 2, about 10 singlet tops, 2 pairs of jeans, 1 pair of black pants, 1 pair of 3/4 pants (suck it pant haters), 8 pairs of underwear, 2 cardigan thingys, 1 black thin jumper, 1 hoodie, 3 scarfs, 4 pairs of socks, few bras.

Thoughts???

13 JULY 2012 UPDATE: WHAT MADE THE CUT?

1 skirt, 1 dress, 7 singlet tops, 2 pairs of jeans, 1 pair of black pants, 7 pairs on underwear, 1 cardigan, 1 hoodie, 1 thin black jumper, 2 scarfs, 2 pairs of socks, 2 sports bras and 1 normal bra.

Sorry I just won’t compromise on the underwear !!

Total weight, including clothes, toiletries, electronics, volunteer gifts.. 22.7 kilos.

The day has come.. the day I’ve been counting down to now for about 6 months.

I QUIT MY JOB

And what a weight off my shoulders. Finally being able to tell people about my plans, where I’m going, what I’m doing – my great adventure. It feels good.

But there’s always one isn’t there? That one person who can knock you so far off that happiness cloud and bring you back down to earth with a big fat thud.

Enter.. bitchface… aka a work colleague.

The conversation went a little like this:

Bitchface: “So are you really going travelling or is that just an excuse?”

Me: “Yeah of course I’m going travelling”

Bitchface: “What are you doing? where are you going? for how long etc?”

Me: “Africa, Mexico etc etc, going for a year etc etc.”

Bitchface: You know I think it’s all well and good to be going travelling and GOOD ON YOU (**fuck off**), but I really think it’s time you started to settle down. You’re getting older and the longer you wait to buy a house the harder it will be on you when you’re retired.

Me: In disbelief muttered something along the lines of “I’m 28, not 78 and I don’t need to buy a house to make me happy or feel secure”

Bitchface: “I think it’s irresponsible and (as she walks out the door) I’m going to be the one paying for you with my taxes when you retire, because you haven’t paid your house off in time and you won’t be able to afford to eat.”

Me: Gets up, tackles bitchface to the ground and….  no not really but I wanted to.

Who says stuff like that?

So here I am, still super happy and still feel awesome that I’ve finally resigned and am on the final countdown. But I can’t help but think about what she said.

Am I really irresponsible and selfish?

And more importantly, god forbid, will I really have to live off baked beans for the remainder of my years, selfishly bludging off tax payers who have worked their whole lives just to support me? I think not.

You’ve been planning it for months. You’ve made lists, and checked them twice 10 times. You dream about it and think about it everyday. You find ways of bringing it up in every conversation you have with every person you see. The trip.. the big trip.

It’s so easy to do all of these things and be blasé about it when you’re still living your ‘normal’ life. But then there is that moment when you stop.. and realise.. oh my god this is actually happening. It’s not a dream anymore. IT’S REAL and there is no turning back.

That moment for me was this morning when I got my Yellow Fever Vaccination.  I’m assuming it wasn’t the rush of a foreign substance being pumped into my veins.. no it was general excitement. I walked out of the doctor’s surgery and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. I felt free.

The reality is that in 9 weeks I will find myself in Kenya, about to take on something I have never done before – volunteering – or teaching English for that matter. Standing in a class room full of children so eager to learn and hear what I have to say.. but what do I have to say? I have no idea, I’ve never taught before.

As for my placement and accommodation, I’ve requested to be placed somewhere as rural and remote as possible so chances are I’ll be living in a simple hut with no water and no electricity. Past volunteers have told stories of only being allowed to bathe once a week in one bucket of water. As for my meals, I’ve been told I’ll be eating lots of rice and potatoes and that it’s not uncommon to have to pick weevils out of your food before cooking. Sleeping is generally on a mattress placed on a dirt floor and I’m afraid to even think about the toilet situation. I’ll live like this for a month before heading South on a camping tour.

So that’s the reality. That’s what hit me this morning while sitting in that doctor’s office. Such a huge impact for such a small needle.

How vastly different my life will be. And I can’t wait.

I’m now on the official countdown. Ok so I was technically on the official countdown about 6 months ago but now that I’m into singular digits, it’s super official.

I’m leaving in 9 weeks (oh my god) and it’s really starting to hit me. In just 9 weeks I’ll be leaving my family, my friends, my oh so comfy bed, my favourite foods, my hot shower and my clean and varied selection of clothes, and I won’t see them again for a year. A WHOLE YEAR…

So I’m working myself up for that moment… and freaking out in the process.

I find myself going to bed at night and wrapping myself in the clean sheets, sinking into the comfy mattress and drifting peacefully to sleep. I’m embracing every moment of it knowing that for the next year I’ll be sleeping on god knows what, swatting my mosquito net out of my face every time I roll over and chucking a hissy fit in the middle of the night because something is crawling up my leg. I don’t want to go.

I find myself standing under the shower for a lot longer than I should. Loving that hot water comes out and that I have no chance of being electrocuted by live wires hanging above me. And loving that I’m behind a locked door and I don’t have to wear shoes in case I get a fungal disease. I don’t want to go.

I find myself consuming sushi by the bucket load, craving Thai food and fish and chips. Cooking Sunday roasts on weekdays and eating chocolate like it’s going out of fashion. I miss food from home when I’m away. Does Africa have sushi? I don’t want to go.

I find myself longingly staring into my wardrobe, agonising over what to take with me. I should take 2 pairs of jeans because they always stretch if you wear them for too long and they don’t fit properly and then you have that saggy arse thing going on and you look a bit like you have a penis because the front goes all pouchy.. but I can’t take 2 pairs because my mother has packed my bag so full of useless items that I’ll never use and I don’t even have room for underwear. I don’t want to go.

I find myself spending more and more time with family. The hugs are longer, the laughs are louder and more frequent. I feel like I want to hold on to them and never let go. And I’ve begun questioning myself why on earth I would choose to leave them for a whole year. I don’t want to go.

So here I am.. 9 weeks to go and I’m clearly in the freaking out stage of my countdown. I’m sure next week will be different. I’ll move on to the totally unprepared stage or something, but for now, I’m not ready, time is going too fast. Help!!

Having gotten somewhat used to the “what the hell for?” and the “are you insane?” comments when telling people about my upcoming adventures, every so often someone will catch me off guard and tell me how inspirational I am and how excited they are for me. Thank you. These comments help to ease any doubts or insecurities that may rear their ugly heads from time to time.

What surprises me the most however, is the number of people that tell me I’m brave and that they wished they had the courage to do what I do.

I don’t understand this. I don’t know what people are so afraid of.  So below I have listed a couple of things that people have touched on and hopefully it may encourage some of you to take that leap of faith, and just DO IT. It’s not scary.

  • Safety

Don’t put your life on hold for the ‘what ifs’.

Of course you have to be careful and use your common sense. Don’t walk around at night alone, don’t accept a lift from someone you don’t know, don’t leave your drink unattended in a bar etc. Basically just take the same precautions as you would at home and be alert.

Information is power.. or so they say…DO YOUR RESEARCH. There are so many websites that you can check out regarding safety, and I list some here on my planning page.

If you’re a first time traveller or really worried about safety, think about doing an organised tour. They are great for meeting new people and you’re never alone (if you don’t want to be). One of the things I love most about organised tours is that you’ll often be taken somewhere you would have never considered going, and you’ll end up falling in love with the place. Some companies that I can recommend are:

www.intrepidtravel.com

www.kumuka.com

www.contiki.com

For me, safety has never really been a big concern. I live in Australia which is a pretty safe country and yet you still hear stories of people getting shot, murdered, kidnapped etc. I pay about as much attention to these stories as I would about stories in Mexico or Brazil. Am I naive? Probably. But I’m a big believer that if something bad is going to happen, it will happen, and that you shouldn’t put your life on hold for the ‘what ifs’.

  • Leaving it all behind

Do you stay for them or do you go for yourself?

Some of you may have more to leave behind than I do, or have had to in the past, and you have to consider each aspect of your life and decide, when all is said and done, can you leave it behind?

Whether it’s your job, your house or your family and friends that are holding you back, you have decide what’s more important to you. If the desire to travel means more to you than everything else.. I think you have your answer.

I have a wonderful, loving mother and father, two awesome sisters and some amazing friends. While I’m overseas I miss them everyday. To make it even harder I have 3 beautiful nieces who even now as I write this, bring tears to my eyes just thinking about not seeing them for a year. I’m afraid they’ll forget me or that we’ll lose our close bond with each other. But there came a time when I had to decide, do I stay here for them, or do I go for myself?

  • Being lonely

You’ll get lonely, no doubt about it, but it will pass.

What I love so much about travelling is the incredible people who you meet along the way.  Before every trip I worry about the same thing. What if I don’t meet anyone? What if no one likes me? and it usually takes about 30 seconds after arriving or meeting a new group that those thoughts are gone out the window. I’ve made lifelong friends throughout my travels.

Yes you will miss your family and friends. I think every traveller has that problem somewhere along the line. But it passes. You’re sad for a day or two and then you remember where you are and what an incredible opportunity this is, and you gradually forget about being sad.

  • Not knowing where to go/getting lost

I think it’s all part of the adventure.

I’ve gotten lost and stranded many times but I’ve never come across a local who isn’t happy to help you, and I’ve always been able to find my way. Open your mouth, speak to people, ask questions. Even in countries where you don’t speak the language there’s always an option. Look at the signs, ask taxi or bus drivers. Ask enough people and you’ll eventually find someone who speaks your language. Or my strategy – just keep walking until you see something that looks familiar.

Don’t be put off by the thought that you may get lost. Who cares??? you’re travelling so chances are you’re not late for anything. Enjoy the adventure. And hey, you may even end up stumbling across something wonderful that you wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

Is there anything I’m missing?

I’d love to hear what else worries you when thinking about travelling solo. Let me know by leaving a comment below.  

When telling friends, family and random strangers about where I am headed during my year of travel, the reaction, 9 times out of 10, has been somewhat like this…

Hayley: “well I’m starting in Africa and then heading to Mexico and…”

Them: (a look on their faces like I’ve just told them I’m going to join the fight in the Afghan war), followed by “are you insane?/what the hell for?/it’s so dangerous/I saw on the news/a friend of my neighbours uncle went there and…”

Hayley:  (rolls eyes, shakes head, and bangs it up against a wall for the tenth time that day)

Have you noticed there’s always that story of someone’s friend who went there, got kidnapped and held for ransom or was robbed by a syringe wielding junkie? Now I know these things can happen, but is it going to stop me from going? No.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for taking advice from people who actually know what they are talking about. But after hearing the above scenario for the hundredth time, from people who have never even left the State, let alone travelled overseas, I have developed a motto of sorts. It goes a little something like this:

IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN THERE, YOU LOSE YOUR RIGHT TO GIVE ME YOUR OPINION ABOUT IT.

…unless your opinion is “great, that’s so exciting”.

I highly recommend developing a similar motto when planning a holiday or RTW trip, or feel free to steal mine. It’s completely universal.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that maybe I need to add a #11 to things I have learned while travelling, and that is to accept that not everyone is going to be as excited about your trip as you are. And I’m ok with that.

Is it just me, or is this a common thing among other travellers? Please feel free to leave a comment, share your stories or put me out of my misery.

For me, travelling is so much more than seeing the sites and getting photo’s of yourself in front of something cool. Amongst other things, food ranks very highly on my to do list while abroad. Mainly, eating it.

I love food. Who doesn’t? but for me it’s about discovering food that you don’t get at home. It’s the condensed milk pancakes, or the pizza slice as big as your head (or your arse depending on how many you eat), it’s the spices and the flavours, and sadly so it’s the discovery of bulk bags of peanut butter cups.. a good thing they don’t sell them at home. 

So you guessed it, this Top 10 List is about food. As mentioned in a previous post, these 10 foods I would happily chop off my arm to be able to eat again.   

10. Coconut Shrimp (Las Vegas, Nevada) – Enough said really. Try it.  

9. Burrito with chips (Lyon, France) – I have to explain this one. It wasn’t just any burrito, this was the king of burritos. Big, tasty and loaded with chips and aioli on top. yuuummmm.  

8. Cashew Chicken (Bangkok, Thailand) – We have this in Australia, but nothing compares to the real thing.

7. Fat Burger (America) – Fat Burger is actually the name of the restaurant. It’s very similar to a regular McDonald’s or Burger King burger, but SO much better. Try one, or ten, I won’t judge.

6. Cheese Pizza (New York City) – Who goes to NYC without trying pizza? Not me. I love cheese pizza but there is a shop on every corner offering an endless amount of toppings. mmmm cheesy goodness.

5. Traditional Sunday Roast (London, England) – Maybe it’s because this dish reminded me of home, but I used to love the traditional pub roasts, and it didn’t even have to be a Sunday to eat one.  

4. Gelati (anywhere in Italy) – We found a quaint little shop in Venice that sold the best gelati, although they sell it all over Italy. Careful, it’s addictive.  

3. Condensed Milk Fried Pancakes (Luang Prabang, Thailand) – Not only do these taste great but you get to watch them make them in front of you. I loved these and think about them often, like a long lost friend.

2. Hurricanes (New Orleans) – Not a food exactly, well not a food at all, although by the time you’ve gotten through one, you won’t need dinner. This drink has something like 5 different types of alcohol in it so you only need one. Can you say hangover? 

1. Food (China) – We call it Chinese food, though I’m sure in China they just call it food. Without a doubt, anything I ate in China, I LOVED LOVED LOVED. I would go back just for the food alone.  

So in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m big on lists, and as I haven’t yet started my big adventure, all that’s left to do is dwell on previous adventures… ahh memories.  

Which is precisely why I have started a series of Top 10 Lists. Everything from the food I would chop off my right arm to be able to eat again, to things I’ve learned about myself while travelling (a riveting read I must say ;)).

So in light of the above, here lies my Top 10 bucket list moments that I am proud to have ticked off…so far.

10. See the Terracotta Warriors in Xian, China – Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to visit the Terracotta Warriors. That dream became a reality when I visited China in 2010.  

9. Swim with sharks – While I actually didn’t do this when travelling, I still think it’s worth a mention. I completed this crazy task in 2002 and I didn’t die, or pee in my wetsuit from the sheer terror.

8. Held a snake – though probably not on my original bucket list at the time, I mean, what sane person would intentionally make a plan to do this? I held this baby (not a baby) in Vanuatu in 2005.

 7. Kiss an alligator – The lucky fella was a resident of the Everglades in Florida. Oh and this one was a baby. I’m not insane.  

6. Go hiking… like real hiking. Possibly not what ‘real’ hikers would consider a ‘real hike’, but for me it was as good as. One of the best experiences I’ve ever had was a 3 day hike in Thailand in 2011, where on our third day we got to ride elephants the rest of the way. Probably the prouder moment was that I didn’t pass out, more so than the actual hike itself.

5. Visit Miami Ink Tattoo Studio in Miami – Not afraid to admit this. I was so excited when I stumbled across the famous studio in Miami in 2008. Unfortunately we didn’t get to spot any of the guys on the show but getting a photo of me in front of the sign was good enough.

4. Go to a baseball game in America – I love baseball and something I have wanted to do since I can remember was go to a game in America. We went to a game in Washington 2008, and it was everything I imagined it would be, and more. High 5’s from random strangers, fanatical fans and Budd Light. What more can a girl ask for?    

3. Jet Boating in Montreal – Imagine splashing water over your face and it being so cold that it hurts when it hits your skin. That’s an understatement. I described this experience at the time as feeling like I was going to die one minute and feeling so invigorated the next. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.    

2. Eat a grasshopper in Thailand – definitely another one that wasn’t on my original to do list. I’m not usually the type to participate in such shenanigans (ie. eating weird food) but when our tour guide presented a group of us with a bag full of deep-fried grasshoppers, I had to do it. FYI, it tasted like chicken, and I’m not kidding.

1. Climb the Great Wall of China  – Not only did I get to the top of the wall, I climbed every one of those thigh burning, heart attack inducing steps to get there, all with a cold mind you. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years and I’m really proud of myself for having done it. Yay me !