Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Top 13 of 2013

Happy 2014 everyone!!!  

Has it really been a full year since my Top 12 of 2012?? Everything seems to have gone in a blink of an eye. I distinctly remember writing the best things that happened to me in 2012, thinking to myself – “Wow… It’s been one heck of a year…” And there was a mixture of nervousness and excitement, because I knew that 2013 was going to be even better.

And what do you know… I was right!

Can I just say – and I hope I’m not coming across as boastful or self-involved – that I had SUCH a difficult time picking only 13 AMAZING things for 2013’s “Best Of” list… It’s like trying to pick only 13 of your favorite children, out of a hundred.  It’s just not possible!

I did my best nonetheless. And the 13 that made it to the list are the events, moments, or experiences that were special…unexpected…  Moments where I felt infinite. Special circumstances where I just went, “Holy macaroni. How on earth did I ever get so lucky… Thank you… THANK YOU…”

And so without further ado, here it is… The best of the best. My Top 13 of 2013!


Leaving Los Angeles was particularly special to me, because of the two send-offs I received. The one from work, and the one with friends.  At work, we all gathered at the conference room as my bosses and coworkers said all these really nice things about me, thanking me for “my services”.  I was glad to be leaving corporate, but it sure was nice to be appreciated like that. I basically ugly-cried the whole day.

Then on my last day in LA, night before I flew out, I invited my friends to come down to The Garage, this local pub in Culver City, just to hang out so I can see them before I left.  I remember inviting about 40 people or so, hoping at least 25 would show up.
Well, on that night, 53 people came. I counted. There were 53. I didn’t even know I had THAT many friends in LA! Every single person who came showed their support in what I was about to do, and they all wished me luck and sent me off with a lot of love. I was completely touched… SO touched, that it made me wonder, for a split second, if I was making the right decision to leave. 

Well, we all know that I DID leave eventually… but that night only confirmed the fact that I will always ALWAYS have a home to go back to in LA.


I planned this tattoo for a year… It was tiny, pretty simple… but just what the doctor ordered for what lied ahead of me.  I got it ON my birthday – which was crucial, because I do “something I’ve never done before” on my birthday every year… and getting a tattoo fit the bill perfectly.
The icing on the cake? IT DIDN’T HURT! :)


Thanks to Asian Eye Institute, I have brand new eyes! I CAN SEE! This PRK procedure was and still is a blessing… I never knew how difficult it’s been having to wear glasses and contact lenses all the time, until I didn’t have to use them anymore. My eyesight was so bad, I came close to being half blind… But now, I look up at the sky at night and see the entire milky way and I get emotional. Now I can see the world for its true beauty in High Definition. It’s amazing… Thank you, Asian Eye!

My post-op visit with Dr. Ang
I could not see anything yet. Haha


I was driving from Rotorua to Gisborne in the North Island, completely out of my element because I was maneuvering a tiny right hand drive car around a mountain, when I got stuck in a LIGHTNING HAIL STORM.  Having just visited Hobbiton, I was in a very Lord Of The Rings-ish mindset, and so my imagination went wild as the lightning roared and the hail hit my car like bullets.  In my frightened state, I thought I was in Mordor… about to plunge into my doom. 
I had half a mind to keep going… and thankfully I got out of it in one piece. And just as I was catching my breath from the traumatic incident, I reached the bottom of the mountain and was greeted by a full-on double rainbow.  It was quite miraculous, I couldn’t describe the joy I felt when I saw it. It was almost like a clear cut sign that everything was going to be okay… That I was going to be okay. 

As I explained in my blog post on this experience, I didn't have time to switch lenses when I saw
the rainbows. My zoom lens was attached, and I only managed to take this photo. STILL
pretty good though, right?

And as if that wasn’t a miracle enough, the next morning, I saw the firstsunrise of the world in Gisborne… before anyone else. The experience was just… MAGIC.


Ohhh definitely one of my favorite things about this year… It was just the COMPLETE Japanese experience. I was dressed up in a kimono and I felt like Mulan and Julia Roberts combined. Read my full post on The JapaneseTea Ceremony at Hotel Chinzanso here. I still dream about that Matcha Green Tea.


5 days camping in a huge farm with hundreds and thousands of people for food, love, and music… And seeing The Rolling Stones and Mumford and Sons (and a whole bunch of other talented musicians) play live? AH-MAY-ZING!!!


When my friend, Andy and I went to Liverpool, we took a quick detour on our way back to see about the Iron Statues of Crosby Beach. He’s read about them and heard they were brilliant… I had no idea what he was talking about then… but when we got to the beach, I was floored! 100 cast iron statues of men were scattered across Crosby beach, and it was sooo eerie and beautiful… I felt like I was in a movie.  I remember staring into one of them, secretly wishing they were alive and that they had a story. Some of them were even submerged in the water… and appear and disappear depending on the tide. Seriously one of the best art I’ve ever seen.


My whole experience with the Isle of Skye tour with MacBackpackers was  sooo awesome, but there was one day in particular that stood out…  On the third day… We started out the day storytelling by the Sligachan Bridge, then we dunked our faces in the water for 7 seconds because legend says it will give you eternal beauty… Then we headed over to Faerie Glen, a place so green, so beautiful and so special, that apparently the fairies of the glen whispers responses to your life’s unanswered questions. I don’t know if that’s true, but I definitely felt a different energy vibrating from that place.  Finally, we ended up at the Faerie Pools, which are the most beautiful little rock pools that are dotted along the path going up to the mountain. The waters were so clear, so fresh, and so beautiful… we dove straight in even if it was freezing. Even jumped off a cliff!! (A tiny one) This day did it for me. It sealed the deal. It is because of this experience that I decided that Scotland still is my favorite country, ever! :)


I’ve written about The Shanti House numerous times. It is my first Help Exchange Experience… a rustic B&B that attracts only the best people in the world. There was glorious and fresh food, constant music being played, and the most amazing Italians you’ll ever meet…. And while I was there, I was able to take a day trip to Cinque Terre (A MUST DO!), and somehow ended up in a documentary about Voluntourism! Italy will ALWAYS be special to me… and I have The Shanti House to thank for that.


While I was working at La Preghiera in Umbria, the other volunteers, Richard, Eduardo, and I, went to Gubbio on our day off, just to get out of the hotel and hang out. At this point, the three of us have already become very good friends, having very similar reasons for traveling. As we were walking around the old town, we came across a wall with a view and just sat there. We sat, we talked about how grateful we were… About how happy we were about the decision that we made to travel… And about how great it was that we met and became friends. We shared beautiful moments of silence where we just sat there with our eyes closed, basking in the sunlight… 

“And in that moment, I swear… we were infinite.”  - Stephen Chbosky

I love that wall…


I never got the chance to write about this… I’m not sure why… BUT YES. I am one of the lucky ones. I got to hear mass with – currently one of my favorite people – Pope Francis, Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, at the Vatican.
I never actually got myself inside the church… I was with thousands of other people in the crowd OUTSIDE The Vatican, hearing his mass via the speakers, and seeing him through those huge monitors.
STILL… I consider myself quite fortunate to have experienced being within his presence. I’m not going to win any Catholicism awards, not having practiced the religion for years… but I really like and admire the pope. He just gets it… you know? He’s special, and open minded, and both his head and his heart are in the right place. This guy is the type to move mountains… And I’m proud to have breathed the same air as him. :)


OK… I know a lot of my Jewish friends might not appreciate this, but I am not the biggest fan of Israel. Let’s just say that it isn’t my taste when it comes to places to visit. Like… for example, I’m not a big fan of olives either… but it’s a perfectly good fruit! Tons of people can’t get enough of it… It’s just not my thing.
HOWEVER… I did enjoy the experience of staying and working at The Overstay Hostel in Tel Aviv. I don’t think I’ve ever worked as hard as I did over there… Cleaning, cooking, managing some of the events and some of their social media… But I learned SO MUCH from the experience, and I have met the most amazing people… some of which, I’m sure, will be my friends for life.
I also had the opportunity to visit Jerusalem, The Dead Sea, and take a 2 day excursion to Petra -- which is definitely a highlight of this year as well... I went with new friends I never would have met, had I not worked at The Overstay. I had a really good time there… made me think that maybe I have what it takes to run my own hostel one day. :)


And by, “The Fam”, I mean my UK family… 

Because of these guys, I can proudly say that The UK is my official third home. I visit them so often, they’re getting sick of me, I think. But in a good way, I hope.
It was always my plan to spend the holidays in the UK with my friends… I think it’s a fitting end to a year of traveling, and jumping from one place to the next, to end up in one place that is comfortable and familiar, with a whole group of great friends all together. We didn’t do anything crazy or fancy… Really, as long as we had some food, booze and a few fireworks to keep us entertained, we were all pretty satisfied. Me especially… knowing I’m gonna have to get a move on pretty soon, it was really special having the gang together for the year’s end. 


AAH! Best Year Ever!!! It has truly been a remarkable year... And my year of travel isn't even over yet! There are still so many things to look forward to.... and I'm so excited to see what 2014 has to bring.

To those of you guys who have gone through my journey with me, and are still reading this blog... THANK YOU. It's nice to know people are listening to what I have to say... and I hope I inspire you somehow... not just to travel, but to do something with your life if you're stuck or feeling unhappy. I hope that through my story, you'll be encouraged to take a leap of faith yourself... and trust that if you are in the pursuit of your own happiness, the Universe does conspire to make things happen for you.

It won't be easy... but it will be worth it. I promise.

Start with today. :)

All my love to you guys, and have a great 2014!!!