Everyone always says to follow your dreams, but most of us don’t. We make too many excuses. I don’t have time. I don’t have enough money. I’m too afraid to risk it all. Well, 2016 was the year I finally followed my dreams. I left my boring 9-5 job back home to travel the world on my “Great Escape.”
My Great Escape has been years in the making. I worked my butt off working a full-time job I dreaded and multiple side jobs to pay off a large chunk of my student loan debt and to stuff my bank account with enough cash to last me through my travels.
My Great Escape plan has changed over the years since I first decided I was going to take a break from corporate America. I thought I would travel the length of South America before jetting off to South Korea to teach English for a year and discover the beauty and diversity of South East Asia.
Instead, I won an awesome contest that sent me to Australia for a year, but not before traveling through Central America and Europe. I’m still in Australia now. I’m working on a large Arabian and Warmblood breeding farm in the heart of horse country. While the work may be physically exhausting in the heat of the Australian summer, I enjoy the work and the money that will fund the rest of my travels before I head home in a few short months.
2016 has been an incredible year. I have grown so much as a person and have seen and experienced some unbelievable sights across the globe. While I might be turning in my digital nomad ways come summer and return to the 9-5 life, I know I still have much to see in this vast and beautiful world.
During the 12 months of 2016, I traveled to 16 different countries and two new states. I traveled by plane, train, bus, car, boat, and even camel and horseback. My freelance writing business grew, and I got to work on three different horse farms. I even had the opportunity to go to the Rio Olympics as a groom. But, I chose to go home instead.
I look back on 2016 with fond memories. It wasn’t always easy. My computer crashed in Krakow, Poland and I had to convince the computer repair shop to expedite their express service. My primary source of cash, my Charles Schwab debit card, had its numbers stolen and my credit union debit card doesn’t work overseas, so I had to use my credit card for everything. I dealt with major homesickness in August that still lingers here and there.
But, despite the negatives, the good times always outweigh the bad. I had so many incredible experiences that it is hard just to pick five, but these are my top favorite travel moments from 2016.
My Top 5 Favorite Travel Moments
Learning to Scuba Dive
I could have skipped Central America last January and February, but I went there for one reason – to learn how to scuba dive. I’m a water lover by nature. I grew up spending long summer days at our family camp on Sebago Lake or splashing around in our pool. I even swam a little in high school and then later as a competitive triathlete. It was only natural that I wanted to adventure under the sea.
Utila, Honduras is one of the best and cheapest places in the world to get your scuba diving certification. With heaps of different dive shops to choose from, you can’t go wrong learning to dive on that little slice of heaven off the coast of Honduras. So many of the instructors and dive masters come to learn to dive in Utila and then never leave.
I spent a week in Utila with Underwater Vision getting both my Open Water and Advanced Open Water certifications so I can dive around the world. The course was challenging, but I had a great instructor that made everything easy and fun. Since my certification in February, I have dived in both Australia and Fiji, and I can’t wait to dive the Great Barrier Reef in March!
Falling in Love with the Northern Territory
Most tourists and gap year students skip the Northern Territory for the cities and the East Coast. The Northern Territory is, well, hot and very remote, but one of the most diverse and incredible places I have ever been.
I knew I couldn’t visit Australia without setting foot in Alice Springs as one of my favorite books is A Town Like Alice. The history and the culture of Alice are like no other. Plus, I got to cuddle baby kangaroos at the famous Kangaroo Sanctuary!
Uluru and Kings Canyon was stunning. No photo can match the natural beauty of these unique landscapes. But, my favorite memory of the Northern Territory was my three-day tour through Kakadu National Park. I haven’t done the East Coast of Australia yet, but I think Kakadu will still top my list as the best place in Australia. The national park and its biodiversity are just out-of-this-world.
Most people clamor about the beauty and impressiveness of the Louvre, but, honestly, I hated the museum. It was just too overwhelming for my brain and my feet. Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad I went, but it is just too much. I need a personal tour guide. Any takers?
What I did love is the Musee de l’Orangerie where several of Claude Monet’s famous “Water Lilies” paintings hang from specially built oval rooms. Long ago my aunt gave me the children’s book, “Linnea in Monet’s Garden,” and a Linnea doll. I loved that book and toy. Monet’s “Water Lilies” has been a long time favorite of mine and you have no idea how excited I was to see several of his paintings in Paris. I think I shed a few tears. Or maybe it was just dust…
I love architecture. One of my favorite pastimes, especially during my European travels, is visiting and photographing churches. Some of my favorites include the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and the Vatican.
Since I was flying through the UAE to Australia, visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi became the top item on my bucket list. I had seen amazing photos of the mosque on Instagram, and I knew I had to see its beauty with my own eyes.
It did not disappoint. It’s hard to describe the mosque as it is just something that you have to see for yourself. Besides the architecture and design, the mosque was a beautiful and welcoming place to visit. I loved seeing the men, women, and children of Abu Dhabi coming together to pray in their house of worship. Not once did I feel unwelcome.
Working Around Horses Again After 12 Years
A boyfriend asked me once who my first love was – Duke, of course. Duke was my first horse that my parents surprised me with when I was just nine years old. He was and still is my first love. While I haven’t been around horses since we sold mine in 2004 before I left for college, I’m still that horse crazy girl at heart.
Australia has given me the opportunity to return to my roots and fall in love with horses all over again. I haven’t been able to do much riding while I’m here, but just being around them makes me happy. My first farm was a big learning experience and high pressure. I guess when you’re Olympic bound, things can get tough. I worked long hours with little reward. However, I don’t regret the experience one bit. I did have the opportunity to go to the Olympics as the groom, but I chose not to since I already had flights home booked.
My second farm was my favorite. The horses and dogs were lovely, and my employers are like my Australian family. I have gone back several times now and plan to visit again before I leave Australia at the end of March. I’ve been able to ride there a few times, thankfully.
The farm I’m currently on is great. The work is simple but physically demanding. It’s the middle of the Aussie summer, so the days hover right around 100 degrees. Plus, the money is good, and I have a beautiful little cottage to call home. I’ll be sad to leave in February. I look forward to returning to horses again when I get home if I can find a place that I can afford riding lessons at once I find a job.
2016 has been an incredible travel year. I’ve transversed the globe and became an expat for the first time with too many favorite travel moments. While Maine is calling my name, I’m not done traveling yet. I’m still following my dreams!