Is it just me or 2014 went by in a flash? I really thought so until I started counting all the places I’ve visited this year. While I’m no fan of checking off a bucketlist of countries visited, thinking back on this year I’ve added seven new countries to my list and had the opportunity to revisit and explore new regions in eight more.
Travelling, for me, is measured by the number of people we meet and adventures we experience, not the miles or number of countries we visit. It will always be about the experience, the local people, culture and food, all while creating unforgettable memories with the people I travel with. Afterall 95% of the time I travel with friends and family from around the globe.
So thinking back, I smile at what a great year of travel it has been. And what amazing people I’ve met and learnt from along the way. I’m not going to highlight my favourite places visited in 2014 but instead the special people that I have met who made a great impact and deeply touched me with their stories; people who I have found inspiring and have changed me in some way – a positive way.
Anthony and Angelina in Toronto, Canada
My blog is almost a year old and the two people who were there to push publish on my first post were my ten and six year old cousins one freezing cold January night in Toronto. In fact, Anthony, who has a rare form of brain tumor and had his first chemo at the age of three specifically said “if you don’t push publish right now, I will. We’re doing this together!” The bravest little boy I know with his equally sassy little sister Angelina, our cheerleader. It was my first time spending time with them, but with strong kids like that cheering me on, I knew I had to continue to do good, to inspire them and be the kind of mentor they would want me to be.
Iida and Simon in Tallinn, Estonia
I’ve always had an itch to visit Tallinn and finally had the opportunity in May – one of my few solo trips ever. Fate brought me together with Simon, an Australian whose grandmother was Estonian, and Iida, our fabulous tour guide for two random tours. They brought Estonian history to life for me. Simon was in Tallinn to trace his roots and find long lost relatives. I admire him for that. Listening to how his grandmother fled to Australia, Iida’s family history and which of their family members were banished to Siberia gave me goosebumps. From visiting an abandoned nuclear submarine base to old Soviet airplane to standing on the beach as Iida recounted her childhood when even the beaches were off limits so Estonians won’t escape, I was reminded that we need to count our blessings every single day. I for one am grateful. I will forever remember their chilling stories and thank fate for bringing us together.
The kids of Atlantic Impact in Barbados
Mentoring the kids of Atlantic Impact in Barbados for two weeks in August was such a learning experience for the seasoned traveller in me. It was their first flight, their first trip to a foreign country and being able to feed of their excitement over every new discovery not only reminded me of myself at their age, but to always appreciate the little things no matter how many countries I visit. Their thirst for learning, their desire to now see the world, to be an example to other kids in their community back in Detroit – these kids inspired me to enjoy every trip of mines as if each one was my very first.
The Turkish family in Cavusin, Cappadocia
Sometimes we meet people who remain part of our lives forever even if we may never see them again. Our driver Gorkhan and his family invited us to dinner one night. We were overwhelmed by their hospitality cooking us a five course traditional Turkish meal. I was even more impressed by the non-English speaking grandmother. We found a way to communicate but she proudly showed us the pieces of carpet she weaved by hand in 1977, leaving me in complete awe. It was as old as me (ok as young as me!). Hard times and struggles showed on her hands and face but here she was in all smiles proud of her work and how far her family have come. We all need to be like that!
The Staff of Porto Veneziano Hotel, Hania, Crete
They always say Greeks know Greeks everywhere. That turns out to be true. When we were in a bind in Hania on the Greek island of Crete, my best friend Maria in Boston called her mother who coincidentally had a friend in Hania visiting her daughter Maria who happened to be friends with Maria who worked at our hotel reception. A couple phone calls from Maria to Maria to Maria (typical Greek right?) and we were in good hands when we were ticketed by traffic police on Crete. In fact, they took such amazing care of us, their personal touch made us feel like we were home away from home and not just in another hotel. It reminded me that hotel staff do go the extra mile for their guests, the least we can do is give them the same respect.
The Staff at Phocas Cave Suites, Cappadocia, Turkey
I’m more convinced boutique hotels are my new choice of stay. We went on holiday and left feeling we were leaving family behind. That was the result of exceptional service and bond the staff at Phocas created – from serving us nonstop tea/coffee, taking the time to chat (late into the night sometimes) to teaching us to cook local foods and to dance traditional Turkish. They write occasionally to say hello and “we miss you, come back soon” show they have a passion for what they do and enjoy it, it’s not just a job and that it’s all about creating a relationship.
As I look back on my 2014 travels, I remember how these people have forever changed my outlook on life in general, how I treat people and how I travel. Every year I am inspired, every year I grow as a person, every year I learn. For that I thank the friends I travel with and the ones I make along the way on my travels.
To my friends who tagged along in 2014, a big THANK YOU! We’ve definitely learnt and had some fun times travelling with each other.
I’m now planning my upcoming trips and already look forward to all the people I’ll be meeting in 2015.
Happy New Year and Happy Travels to all in 2015!! Hope you meet similar people and are inspired by them too.