“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable.
Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart.
But that’s okay.
The journey changes you; it should change you.
It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body.
You take something with you.
Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
As I am writing this, it has officially been three years since I went on my first ever trip abroad. My first trip abroad, my first solo adventure, and my first taste of the world. In those three years, I have visited eleven countries, one of them four times, and another twice. I have traveled with friends, family, and strangers. I have had adventures that my childhood self only dreamed about. And I have no regrets. Although it has been three years, I still remember every moment leading up to it; it started with getting a second job to save the money, then with research, and finally booking my plane ticket. I remember so vividly dragging my way-too-large suitcase through SDF airport with my parents and youngest niece to see me off, and the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment when I finally settled on that plane destined for Indira Gandhi International airport- with a few pit stops in Chicago and Munich. I remember the taste of the cappuccino and croissant from the Munich Airport, the awe of seeing the city lights of Delhi from above, practically running after the two men IVHQ sent to the airport to pick me up, and the two hour drive out to Faridabad that followed. I cried that night, when I finally was alone in one of the homestay’s bathroom stalls, but not from fear- from overwhelming excitement. I had done it. A year and a half of dreaming, planning, and working my butt off, I had actually done it. Three years later, I’m still baffled that I have experienced the things that I have. Below, I have compiled a list of my favorite experiences in hopes of inspiring you to embark on an adventure of your own, and also because I wanted to reminisce.
Getting Stranded at a Market in Faridabad, 2016
To kick this off, lets start with my first official day in Delhi. I arrived at my homestay around one in the morning and pretty much went straight to sleep. The morning was filled with breakfast and official volunteer paperwork and information, but we were free to do as we pleased. My fellow volunteers and I decided we wanted to hit up a local market- until the infamous monsoon season weather hit! We waited it out before finally hitting the streets; our house-mom negotiated two tuk-tuks to take all of us out, and we were driven through knee-high water to the surprisingly-dry market. After wandering for a few hours, we returned to our driver only to find out… his tuk-tuk had water damage and wouldn’t start! The two guys that had come along with us and a few other locals tried their hardest to get the tuk-tuk restarted; they fiddled with the interior, the pushed the whole tuk-tuk down the road to give it a headstart…nothing worked. To our dismay, none of us had SIM cards yet, and none of us had the phone number for our host mom (or even the address!). We did, however, manage to get ahold of our volunteer coordinator, who then in turn got ahold of our house-mom, who then drove out to pick us up (bless her!). Somehow, the eight of us managed to pile into her van and spent the whole drive laughing about the whole experience!
The Taj Mahal Experience, 2016
At the end of the week of touring Delhi, IVHQ offers an optional day trip out to the Taj Mahal in Agra- naturally, I booked it! We all got up super, super early, piled into a van, and set off on what should have been a 3.5 hour drive- but, if you know anything about driving in India, there’s always a bunch of traffic! Upon arrival to Agra, we grabbed breakfast, then headed to the Taj Mahal to battle it out with the crowds to get that perfect Instagram snap. And I mean literally fight! There was a bench surrounded by people waiting to get that picture, and when one person was done, it was a literal elbow-to-elbow fight to get up there first. After wandering around, our group got caught up with fellow tourists that wanted to take pictures with us, not just the Taj Mahal! At first it was just a few people, then we were completely swarmed with people; I had to duck out after a few minutes and completely move away from the group. The drive home was filled with loud music, laughter, and bonding with the rest of the group. It truly was a magical experience!
London, England, 2016
Fast forward just a few weeks, and I found myself in the middle of bustling Queensway Road… completely lost and exhausted. I had managed to navigate Heathrow Airport, to the Express Train to Paddington Station, the Underground from Paddington to Bayswater, and yet I could not find my hotel to save my life… to top it off, my luggage got lost somewhere between India, Germany, and England! When I was finally ready to give up, I found my hotel and collapsed on my bed… only to find that I had the makings of a nasty stomach bug that would end up haunting the first few days of my time in England. London and I weren’t off to a great start. Little did I know, when I finally managed to work up the energy to trek back out into the streets and settle myself at Bayswater Arms, this city would become my favorite city in the world, and that little pub would become my stomping ground every evening on that trip and the next three trips to London to come!
Gotta Get Back to Hogwarts… WB Studio Tour, 2016
Whilst in London, I made the journey to the Making of Harry Potter at Warner Brother’s Studio in Watford. And I cried. I literally cried. I am, perhaps, the biggest Harry Potter nerd around, and this was literally a dream come true: I got to walk through Number 4 Privet Drive, explore the Hogwarts Express, drink Butterbeer, see the set pieces… I honestly couldn’t even believe I was there! I made a promise to myself, many years ago, that I’d never buy a replica wand unless it was from the WB Studio Tour: in 2016, I walked out of there with the replicas of Fred and George Weasleys’ wands with a beautiful stand to display them on, and they’re still sitting center-shelf on my souvenir shelves. This was a truly magical experience, and I could, honestly, go on and on about it for ages!
The Return to London, 2017
Fast forward a year… I spent the entire time daydreaming of good tea, the voice of the Tube station, and red telephone booths, and spent the entire time plotting my return. This time, I was joined by my best friend. I returned to my favorite spots– Kensington Palace, Bayswater Arms, the perfect spot to photograph Big Ben- but I also discovered new things that I hadn’t had time for the year before- Columbia Road Flower Market, the Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea, the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace. When the plane landed in Heathrow, it was like reuniting with an old friend: revisiting old memories, making new memories, and catching up on the latest goings on. Navigating from Heathrow to Bayswater by Tube was like riding a bike, walking the streets to familiar places was reflex, and yet the city was just as exciting as before. It wasn’t without its mishaps, of course: trying to navigate traveling with a friend, nearly getting hit by a car when I slipped on the crosswalk in the rain, evacuating Victoria Station because someone had decided to jump down onto the rails. It is an adventure I hold dear to my heart, however.
The Misadventures of Paris, 2017
Oh, Par-ee. There are many things I remember, many things I do not, but I do know that Paris was perhaps my favorite experience of 2017. Between picnicking underneath the Eiffel Tower with extra large hotdogs and fries, drinking wine along the Seine overlooking Notre Dame, wandering the Paris streets at sunset, drinking some sort of horrendous alcohol with a large group of people from our hostel, trying hot chocolate at Angelina, eating my weight in macarons, trying escargot (and not hating it!), getting lost in the Louvre, hiking the stairs of the Sacre Cœur… there are so many favorites I have from the City of Love that it would take ages to type out. Along with sight seeing and drinking my weight in French wine, there was also the misadventures: pissing in the woods with strangers from the hostel, losing my London charm bracelet while doing so, attempting to navigate the French metro while drunk on wine, the bed bugs in the hostel (I still get the creepy-crawlies thinking about that!), finding out that the arrondissement we were staying in was rife with dangerous drug deals, breaking into a building… And yet, I still find myself laughing at the memories from those misadventures!
Verona, Italy, 2017
While I did not find myself an Italian Romeo in Verona, it still remains at the top of my list for favorite experiences in Italy. Things in Verona ran at a slower pace than in London, Paris, Milan, and Rome; it was nice just to get lost in the city and sip on espresso. Our lovely Bnb hostess upgraded us to an even nicer Bnb than we anticipated, with a beyond stunning view of the city, and a lovely balcony that my friend and I spent most of our time on, just taking a breather from all the hustle and bustle we had experienced in the past week and a half.
New Year’s Eve, London, 2017/2018
Hardly six months later, I found myself in London for a third time- this time solo, and for New Years. This New Years Eve memory holds a spot in my top three travel experiences: I spent the morning wandering around SoHo, then my afternoon and early evening (finally!) seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and finally ended the year and began a new year watching the stunning firework display over the London Eye and listening to the crowd sing Auld Lang Syne. “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne.” It was utterly freezing, I couldn’t feel my toes, and I had to walk halfway back to Bayswater from the Thames river before I could find an open Tube station to take me back to my hostel, but it was probably one of the best nights of my life.
Edinburgh, Scotland, 2018
After New Years in London, I made my way by train to Scotland- Glasgow, Inverness, Loch Ness, Dores, and, finally, to Edinburgh. I spent roughly four days in the city, and it simply wasn’t enough. I wandered through Old Town, hunted down Harry Potter Locations, spent an evening with adoptable kitties at Maison de Moggy, took far too many photographs, wandered a lingering Christmas Market, went on an epic ghost/evening history tour with the most amazing guide, spent nearly a whole day in the National Museum of Scotland, wandered the same halls Mary, Queen of Scots, did in Edinburgh Castle, sought out beautiful views of the city, ate my weight in pub food… And my favorite memory from Edinburgh: going out for one drink with people I met in the hostel. Naturally, one drink turned to many, and one pub turned into three and a nightclub. The night ended with attempting to take a photo with the hostel group but being photobombed by Scottish strangers, and my phone overloaded with pictures with literal strangers!
Going International with my Sisters, Ireland, 2018
Thanks to my four different trips abroad, I somehow found myself in my favorite deli with my sisters and one of their friends booking flights to Dublin, Ireland, as well as a car to take on driving on the left side of the road and squeezing as much of Ireland and Northern Ireland in one week that we could. The road trip was not without sisterly arguments and minor disasters with the car (driving on the opposite side of the street down really tiny lanes isn’t as easy as it seemed), but it was also filled with a lot of bonding, inside jokes, and gorgeous scenery. We kissed the Blarney Stone, tasted genuine Guinness, saw many ruins, listened to a tour guide sing inside a ruined church, celebrated a birthday, attempted to squeeze into the lifeboats held on the Titanic, and saw the Cliffs of Moher with our own eyes!
The City of Dreams, New York City, New York, 2018
As a Mother’s Day + Birthday + Christmas present combo for my mother, I treated her to a long weekend in New York City– both for her and myself! New York was a magical place in my head, one that I had always dreamed to live in as a child, and this long weekend proved that was just as magical in my head in real life. In truth, we did the touristy things mostly: the MET, the MoMA, Central Park, the Top of the Rock, the Statue of Liberty, a Broadway show… we tried to squeeze as much as we could in such a short amount of time. And, truly, I never wanted to leave! We ate well: dinner three times at a tiny Italian restaurant with amazing food, a lovely little lunch place in the Rockefeller Center, drinks and appetizers at the Plaza Hotel, a little tea/brunch place near our airbnb… I could have stayed for the food alone, honestly.
Chasing Autumn, Asheville, North Carolina, 2018
My love for autumn is about as strong as my love for Harry Potter, if I’m being honest, and we don’t get much of an autumn in my hometown. To remedy this, my roommate and I embarked on a roadtrip to North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains for a bit of hiking with a hipster-small town flair. At the time we went, it was right at the edge of autumn, but also at the time of breaking out Christmas decorations; I got to see my favorite season and favorite holiday mashed into one weekend, and it was seriously amazing. Besides walking around the Biltmore Estate in Asheville to enjoy the autumn leave, my roommate and I decided to, in the words of Jack Kerouac: climb that goddamn mountain. Hiking Mount Mitchell was perhaps one of the most personally satisfying experiences I’ve had in my travels thus far!
New Years Eve in London, again, 2018/2019
Once again, my best friend and I boarded a flight to London, this time so she could experience London for New Years Eve as well! And… it was a bit of a misadventure. We both drank too much wine at a Beauty and the Beast-themed Tea Party and ended up watching the firework show in our hotel room… whoops! However, any trip to London will always make it to my favorites. We spent our few days there doing new things: wandering Portobello Road Market, admiring the colorful houses in Noting Hill, eating Sunday Roast for the first time… and something not very new but close to our hearts: drinking Rekorderlig cider any chance we got because it’s far too complicated to find that amazing drink in the States!
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Hohenschwangau, Germany, 2019
From London, we headed to Germany for snow, and we couldn’t miss out on seeing the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle while there. After taking trains and buses, we headed up on a 40 minute hike in the snow to see the castle before the sun went down, and it was probably one of the most beautiful mini-hikes I’ve been on. Between the forests of the Alpine foothills, the snow, the fog just slightly masking the castle, and the castle itself, it was something out of a fairy story. We tackled the walk back down, which actually proved harder than going up because of the snow in the dark… and I nearly fell. I’m not the graceful type, obviously!
Adventuring in the Swiss Alps, Switzerland, 2019
On our first trip together abroad, on the train from Paris to Milan passing through the Alps, my best friend and I promised that at some point we’d return to the Swiss Alps to go skiing; with our New Years trip taking us to Germany and Austria, it only made sense for us to finally fulfill that promise. From Zürich, we headed north to Mt Titlis and embarked on a Narnia-esque adventure. We didn’t go skiing, however, both of us deciding that we were far too clumsy to attempt it- which was probably for the best, since we both face-planted and barrel-rolled down the kiddie-sledding hills and nearly slipped in the igloo-ice skating area. We avoiding any serious injuries besides bruises and general soreness, but, one day, I’ll return to properly learn how to ski!
The Lockhart, Toronto, Canada, 2019
I somehow manage to find Harry Potter experiences of some sort nearly everywhere I go, and on my second trip to Toronto, I discovered a Harry Potter-themed bar with the most delicious drink- Betterbeer, not Butterbeer, but essentially the same thing- and the coolest artwork in the bathrooms! Honestly, if I could have gone here each evening, I would have! The staff was fantastic, the decor was gorgeous, and the cocktails were amazing. The fact that this little hole-in-the-wall existed only made me love Toronto even more than I did when I first went!
Beaches, Best Friends, and Beers, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 2019
And to wrap up this post, my most recent trip: Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I had a job interview in the city, and it was an eighteen hour drive… so I grabbed my roommate and my best friend, and we made a long weekend of it. We spent hours relaxing on the beach or wandering the Broadwalk… but also most of the time driving there and back. To be completely honest? The long drive was absolutely worth being able to sit on the beach for the first time in two years! And, as per usual, I face planted into the sand, thanks to a wave, and ended up with quite a bit of sand and seaweed in very uncomfortable places…
Thank you for reading my rambles, if you’ve made it this far! I hope that any of these little tales have inspired you to book either your first trip or you next trip. If it has, let me know in the comments below! Have you been to any of these locations?