What’s the best place that you’ve ever traveled to?
It’s the question that almost every traveler asks another. Where in the world is so amazing that you would call it your favorite?
I find this difficult to answer, as I’m sure you do when you get this question, because each place has its own special meaning and beauty. That said, there are some places that stick out much more than others for me. There are places where I left a piece of my heart, places that are unquestionably on the highlight reel of my life, and memories that I still hold dear, years later.
Which places and experiences, over the past nearly-six years of traveling, have stuck out the most? Though it was incredibly difficult to narrow down, these are my top 10:
1. Wild Coast, South Africa
Before, I would struggle to say which country I enjoyed traveling through the most. Now I usually say South Africa without hesitation. It’s not just because it was my first African country, which awakened a brand new love affair with my now-favorite continent, but because of the people and the variety of activities and climates.
When I road-tripped through South Africa in 2015, I was invited to stay with locals all the time, of all backgrounds. I was blown away by the natural beauty and friendliness, though one place stood out in particular – the Wild Coast. It’s where Nelson Mandela was born, and where the most beautiful part of the country is, IMHO. I could stay there forever just walking along the rural bluffs over the ocean while dogs from the backpackers come join for the walk.
2. Torres del Paine, Chile
Torres del Paine was the final stop on a 2-month journey through Patagonia, where I did my first multi-day backpacking adventures requiring that I carry all of my own gear and food. I’d previously thought I wouldn’t be capable of doing that, and now I’m pretty much obsessed, having done it in Kyrgyzstan, Alaska, and Peru! I can thank my Patagonia experience for waking up that side of me.
I’ll always love Torres del Paine for the challenge, for showing me that I could do it, and for being so beautiful. It’s hard to think of a place with heavier winds, more glaciers, better mountains, or a bigger wealth of adventures.
3. Komodo National Park, Indonesia
I’ll never forget surfacing in Komodo National Park after a night dive on the Fourth of July, near the end of my first year of traveling solo. The Milky Way was in full view and my dive buddy and I had just spent the previous hour marveling at tiny little Mandarin fish with their bright orange and electric blue markings.
The previous week had been full of Manta rays, the most impressive corals I’d ever seen, and some of the best diving of my life. It still ranks high on my list of favorite experiences after all these years.
4. The Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Reaching the Thorong-La Pass, the Annapurna Circuit‘s highest point at over 5400 meters on my 27th birthday, was an experience I’ll never forget. The trek took two weeks and was the longest I had ever attempted hiking, which had previously only been for 2 days in China’s Tiger Leaping Gorge.
I did it in running shoes and without a guide while everyone else seemed to be more prepared than I was with their hiking boots and topographical maps. Yet I managed to go for longer each day than I thought I’d be able to, and tacked on the 4-day Annapurna Sanctuary and Poon Hill treks too. After that experience, I truly felt like I could do anything I put my mind to.
5. The Ring Road and northern lights, Iceland
My Iceland camper van road trip was in a word: Magical. My friend Maksim and I impulsively bought cheap flights to Iceland for October without realizing how well we’d done with picking our time of year. We got fall foliage, super small crowds, better prices, and the northern lights three times during our trip!
The feeling of seeing the northern lights is indescribable. It seems like it just couldn’t be real, even though there you are, looking at it with your naked eyes. I’m still not over it three years later.
6. Tofo, Mozambique
Of all the places I’ve traveled to in the world, Mozambique was the biggest question mark. I was supposed to travel there with someone I had been casually dating at the time, and when he pulled out last minute I was left with a choice: Go alone to a place I’d only read scary things about on the internet or cancel my trip. Daring to go made all the difference.
I met the coolest people of all my travels there, whom I’ve met up with again in Switzerland, Bangkok, South Africa, and Indonesia. Mozambique is also where I was when this blog really started to take off, and I’ll always cherish those days where everything seemed to go right and nothing went wrong. It was the place, yes, but it was so much circumstance, too. I think that’s why I can’t return, though I’d love to. Mozambique will always be a cherished memory.
7. Solo camping in Utah, USA
Though I’ve always loved California and Hawaii, it wasn’t until roughly a year ago today that I really fell in love with my own country and came to value the beauty of it. Utah was the place where I realized I could free camp in some of the most stunning places on the planet, where I’d meet a motley crew of other camper vanners on the journey, and where I could be totally, truly alone in the desert.
I solo rappelled down a canyon wall, drove myself for over 1000 miles through four states in the American Southwest, and saw some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever laid eyes on. America, despite all of your flaws, you are beautiful and I’m grateful to call you home.
8. The sunrise at Kawah Ijen, Indonesia
I often refer to the moment this photo was taken when I talk about the ‘highlight reel of my life’ because I can still remember it so vividly. I’d had to work for this one. It was almost impossible to figure out how to visit Kawah Ijen volcano without a tour, but I was determined. It almost ended badly when after almost 48 sleepless hours on cargo ferries and buses, getting catcalled, and scammed right away, I’d started to develop a mild hatred for Java.
Then everything turned around when I hiked in with the stars, just me and one other figure 20 paces or so ahead of me, and the workers who carry sulfur up and down the volcano day and night with superhuman strength. I got up close to the bright blue flames, felt the heat while covering my face and eyes for dear life, then hiked to the top for the sunrise. That figure ahead of me ended up being a fellow solo traveler and though we only shared that moment in time I think of him often. Back then we were the only ones up there watching one of the most spectacular sunrises I’ve ever seen, though I understand it’s become more popular since then.
9. Black Rock City, Nevada
Burning Man is the one place I rarely photograph or write about, despite going to the last five burns and now gearing up to attend my sixth. I keep going back because it’s a part of my life now and it’s hard to imagine not returning to this funky city each year. It’s where I have my most profound realizations and for me, it’s like pressing the reset button each year.
It’s almost impossible to describe, but it’s safe to say, it’s a festival that has changed my life.
10. Inca Trail, Peru
Hiking the Inca Trail would have been a special experience in and of itself, but it’s of particular importance to me because it was the first tour I’d ever led, and even more importantly, a huge step forward for Be My Travel Muse. I’d always enjoyed spending time with readers but I never got to do so for more than a few hours at a meetup. This allowed me to have two full weeks!
Though it should have been scary to lead my first tour, I was just excited to finally share my passion with an amazing group of people. They blew me away with how fun, smart, and adventurous they were. I could gush all day about it. It’s an experience that meant so much to me, and I can’t wait to do more!
Out of all of these places, what I’ve come to realize is that even if a place is beautiful, famous, or both, it’s the people who make it memorable. Even though I travel alone, I can hardly begin to count all of the amazing souls who have come into my travel experience and enriched it simply by being there.
You never know who you’ll meet or what a place could mean. I never expected, prior to going, that these would be the memories that would stick out the most, but I am grateful for every single one.
What are your favorite places on planet Earth?