My Top 10 Travel Moments of 2015

Over the past year I had countless incredible experiences in eight diverse countries. From Jordan to Hong Kong, here are my top 10 travel moments of 2015. Thanks for being part of the journey!

10.  Cycling among karst mountains in southern China

Flooded rice paddies backed by dramatic karst mountains. [Yangshuo, China]

Flooded rice paddies backed by dramatic karst mountains. [Yangshuo, China]

I learned about karst topography a decade ago and have been fascinated by it ever since. I made a point to visit China’s Guilin/Yangshuo area, which is famous for its karst mountains. The landscape was every bit as remarkable as I’d imagined, and spending a day alone (a miracle in itself) cycling along rice paddies with those crazy mountains rising up around me like prehistoric gumdrops was something I’ll never forget.

9.  Floating in the Dead Sea

Floatin' like a cork! [Dead Sea, Jordan]

Floatin’ like a cork! [Dead Sea, Jordan]

Sure, I’d heard that people float like corks in the Dead Sea, but nothing could have prepared me for the sensation of it. Ryan and I braved cold, windy weather to take a dip in the sea from the Jordanian side, and spent the next half hour laughing ourselves silly. Floating like that was ridiculously fun!

8.  Seeing the Terracotta Warriors

The sculpted terracotta faces of ancient warriors. [Xi'an, China]

The sculpted terracotta faces of ancient warriors. [Xi’an, China]

It’s a shame the warriors weren’t discovered until the 1970s, because Richard Halliburton would have loved them. Thousands of warriors, each with unique features, guard the tomb of an emperor who ruled more than 2000 years ago. The statues are hauntingly beautiful and utterly captivating. I’m so glad we took the trip out to see them.

7.  Trekking through the Simien Mountains

A male gelada monkey checks out his ladies. [Simien Mountains, Ethiopia]

A male gelada monkey checks out his ladies. [Simien Mountains, Ethiopia]

Ethiopia was a wonderful surprise, and the highlight of my trip there was hiking in the Simien Mountains. This rugged range rises up to nearly 14,000 feet, providing incredible views and awesome wildlife encounters. Definitely an unforgettable experience. (Click here to learn how to trek the Simien Mountains independently.)

6.  Climbing Mount Fuji

Enjoying an amazing sunset by myself on Mount Fuji's flanks. [Mount Fuji, Japan]

Enjoying an amazing sunset by myself on Mount Fuji’s slopes. [Mount Fuji, Japan]

Everyone and their mother has climbed Mount Fuji, but that didn’t make the experience any less special for me. Of course, it helped that I climbed it in the off-season and spent a night completely alone camped on the flanks of the peak. Watching the perfect triangle of Fuji’s shadow race hundreds of miles eastward as the sun set behind me was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen.

5.  Exploring Petra

The Monastery at Petra, backed by snowy hills. [Petra, Jordan]

The Monastery at Petra, backed by snowy hills. [Petra, Jordan]

Really famous places make me nervous because there a chance they could be a huge letdown. Petra was not one of those places. Ryan and I explored the ruins for four days just after Winter Storm Huda passed through. We weren’t bored for a second, and the snowcapped mountains made for incredible views. There’s no other word for it: Petra is just really, really cool. (Click here for a two-week Jordan itinerary.)

4.  Living in Beijing for nearly three months

Dragons guard the Altar of Heaven at the Temple of Heaven. [Beijing, China]

Dragons guard the Altar of Heaven at the Temple of Heaven. [Beijing, China]

I’ve traveled an awful lot, but I’ve never really lived anywhere overseas.  I’m still not sure if my three-month stint in Beijing counts as “living abroad”, but it certainly was a different experience than just passing through. It was difficult at times, but in the end I’m glad I stayed as long as I did because I learned so much about the city and about China.  Oh, and because I had ample time to indulge in all the awesome food!

3.  Returning home after three months in China

No, that's not fog. A smoggy day overlooking the Forbidden City. [Beijing, China]

No, that’s not fog. A smoggy day overlooking the Forbidden City. [Beijing, China]

Yeah, it was educational and all, but never before have I been so glad to reach the end of a trip and come home! There were many things about China that I simply did not like (e.g. air pollution, public spitting, and endless crowding), and while I learned how to cope with those things, it was a big relief to leave them all behind.

2.  Sailing around Hong Kong Island on a junk

The view over the bow of the junk. [Hong Kong, Hong Kong]

The view over the bow of the junk. [Hong Kong, Hong Kong]

Richard Halliburton’s last adventure was to sail from Hong Kong to San Francisco aboard a traditional Chinese junk. The ship went down halfway across the Pacific, and he and his whole crew were lost. Richard was just 39 years old. In December I sailed around Hong Kong Island on a junk, and it was simultaneously an exhilarating and heartbreaking experience.

1.  Getting engaged on the Great Wall of China

A girl couldn't ask for a better proposal! [Jinshanling, China]

A girl couldn’t ask for a better proposal! [Jinshanling, China]

Walking along the Great Wall of China would have been incredible in and of itself, but the fact that Ryan proposed to me there made it easy to name this my #1 experience of 2015! We got engaged at a beautiful and peaceful section of the wall, then spent the next few hours walking along the wall top together in giddy bliss. D’aw!

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What were your most memorable moments of 2015? Do you have any planned for 2016? Let me know in the comments below!

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