“Of all the places you’ve traveled to, which is your favorite?”
Uhh, whoa, talk about a tough (and rather unspecific) question!
But it’s one that has been coming up a lot lately and I’m ashamed to say I’ve never really had a good answer for it. It’s not that I had never pondered the question before–I can generalize for days (I prefer South America to SE Asia, for instance, or I can name my favorite countries)–but I had never gone any deeper to figure out which specific cities I truly loved…until now.
Of course, there can’t be just one favorite. I’ve now traveled to 17 different countries outside the US and more cities within those countries than I care to count. This may seem like a paltry number compared to other devoted travelers, but its still enough to require some serious deliberation to determine my top picks, let alone one unrivaled favorite.
Once I really thought about it (without the pressure of someone waiting for an immediate answer) I was able to narrow my list down to the top ten more easily than I expected; however, they appear on the list in no particular order, and there’s no definitive #1…sorry! They may have a number of things in common (a nice climate or lots of great restaurants, perhaps) but my affinity for each of these places extends beyond the surface.
Each of these destinations, more than any of the others I’ve traveled to thus far, have evoked strong emotions in me; I felt a distinct energy–a vibe, a pulse, a heartbeat–that gave me life. I reminisce about each of them and feel that unmistakeable pang of longing in my stomach to relive the experiences I once had there. Travel has me wrapped around its little finger, I tell ya.
So here you have it, folks…
My Top 10 Travel Destinations (So Far)
Without a doubt, Sydney will always hold a special place in my heart. Before I first met her back in 2009, I had only barely crossed US borders into Canada and Mexico, so you could even say I lost my traveling virginity to Sydney. It was my first intercontinental flight and my first real unchaperoned travel experience. And what’s not to like about Sydney? It comes with all the perks of being a major metropolis (i.e. food, nightlife, and entertainment), and it’s simultaneously crawling with curly-haired surfer types. Win-win!
New York, New York
I’m going to be really honest with you guys and let you in on a little secret…when I’m not in the US, I get more nostalgic for New York City than for ANY other place. I’ve never missed my hometown like I miss New York, I’ve never missed Berkeley like I miss New York, and I’ve sure as hell never missed Connecticut. Period. I spent one year of my life in the Big Apple and I’m still not over it. My inability to move on can only mean that it’s my life’s greatest love story, right? I don’t know if I’ll ever feel the same way about another city, and honestly I’ll be incredibly surprised if I do. If you’re not sure what I’m going on about or what’s so amazing about this city, I don’t know if I’ll be able to explain it to you. You may just have to go and see for yourself.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
This one seems like a no-brainer…how can you spend fifteen months in a city like Chiang Mai and not grow attached to it? The answer is: you can’t. The Thailand chapter of my life feels like quite a long time ago now, but I’ll never lose the sense of independence and self-confidence that I discovered by moving there. More about why I love Chiang Mai here.
This one might seem like a cliché, and it kind of is. Everyone loves Bali, or at least everyone I’ve ever discussed it with. This easy-going island has so much beauty packed into a relatively small place. I vacationed there while working in Thailand and got my Open Water Diver’s certification with my amazing friend Marlies as my instructor. Diving on a WWII shipwreck at Tulamben was the buttercream icing on THAT life-goal cake. When I returned to Chiang Mai from that trip I was glowing with happiness and a beautiful tan. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
In the handful of times I’ve been to the “other” Washington, I’ve grown to really love it. My country’s capital possesses a unique combination of rich history and youthfulness. It attracts the intelligent and the passionate, the people who are intent on becoming tomorrow’s change-makers. A trip to DC never fails to leave me feeling inspired to make my own mark on the world.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur was one of the first cities I visited as a true solo traveler, and before arrival I was in a full-on panic. After arrival, however, I felt slightly foolish for letting my fears get the best of me. The city was easy to navigate with public transportation, and after a few days I even felt comfortable walking around alone at night (gasp!). I loved the eclectic mix of cultures and that whenever I needed respite from the heat I could just duck into one of the city’s gajillion malls. I swear, that city is half mall…another reason for a shopaholic like me to love it.
Tel Aviv, Israel
Whenever people ask me what Tel Aviv is like, I respond with: “It’s like a mix between New York and San Francisco.” The Mediterranean climate is mild year-round and people are constantly walking or biking to get where they need to go. It has gorgeous beaches and palm trees. But at the same time, it has that slightly-dirty feeling that I typically think of as uniquely New York (hot garbage smell in the summer, anyone?). The nightlife is a little grungy and there are certain streets that you always avoid because they are all-too-often used as a public urinal.
If you think I’m crazy for naming Medellín one of my favorite destinations or for traveling to Colombia in the first place, I’m here to set the record straight: Colombia. Is. Safe! It’s no longer a country ravaged by cartel terrorism, and paisas (Colombians from Medellín), especially, want the rest of the world to understand that. Medellín is thriving like never before and the energy is palpable. Did I mention the temperature hovers around 75º Fahrenheit (aka perfect) pretty much all year?
After spending nearly 5 weeks in Cusco in October and December of last year, I really felt like I knew the city well. I even had people stop me to ask for directions on more than one occasion (including a few instances of other travelers asking me in broken Spanish–I must have really looked like a local??). I had my favorite cafes and restaurants (so many amazing restaurants!), I knew the quickest way to get where I needed to go, and I would always run into people I knew while out and about. It started to feel like a home away from home. I’ll always feel a close connection with this former Inca capital…and if you want my restaurant recommendations, just ask!
There’s a reason I have almost no photos from my time in Montañita, and it’s because I was too busy enjoying myself to play tourist. This little beach town on Ecuador’s southern coast has a laid-back yet high-energy atmosphere by day and a lively party scene by night. It’s definitely too small to keep a city girl like myself entertained for longer than a week at a time, but I could definitely make a habit out of visiting this lovely little spot.
Port Douglas, Australia