On the wall of my office is a large world map, covering the majority of the available wall-space above my desk. I used to have one twice the size before I sold my home with the purpose of literally downsizing. In each case, the maps was/is liberally dotted with color-coded pins detailing the places I've been - a badge of honor within the travel community; a lame attempt at looking cool to everyone else. While the act of pinning my map on the safe return from a voyage abroad is a great source of joy (See my blog post: Happiness is Pinning a Giant, Oversized Map), the greater joy comes from reflecting on which experiences were had on that particular spot, and the memories each pin represents.
With so many unpinned places on my map, I'm always quite reluctant to use my precious time and resources to go back to places I've already been. But experience has shown that there are some places that are most certainly more than worth it. Below I've compiled a list of five of my greatest travel experiences (in no particular order) and the wondrous places where you too can have those same experiences for yourself.
Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey
This region in Central Anatolia is right out of another planet. With cities carved out of the soft volcanic rock and the giggle-inducing shapes of the so-called "fairy chimneys" it's hard to believe you're still on earth and not in a galaxy far, far away (See my blog post: The Witty Traveler's Guide to Cappadocia). The best and most-awesomest way to take in this surreal landscape is by hot air balloon, which will allow you to alternately soar far above and skim the surface of this otherworldly wonderland. If it weren't for parking and three-point turns, I'd say hot air balloon is the nicest way to travel, period.
Zip-lining in Jodhpur, India
I'm a fan of zip-lining in general, having done so numerous times; mostly in jungle settings. The only gripe I have about these "canopy tours" is that often there's little to see other than branches and tree trunks as you hum along a cable to the next platform. It's still an awesome experience, but in the city of Jodhpur, India, you can have the same zip-lining excitement with an entirely different backdrop - in this case the mammoth Mehrangarh Fort with the ethereal 'Blue City' lying at its feet (See my blog post: A Hyper-Inspirational Shade of the Color Blue). Starting and ending from the fort's massive stone ramparts, participants will soar over and around an artificial lake and stare out at the boxy monochrome houses right out of an Escher drawing. So if you like your adventure with a side of scenery, this is the place to do it.
Cheetah Encounter in Livingstone, Zambia
As an animal lover, some of my greatest travel experiences quite understandably revolve around animal encounters (See my blog posts: Game On! A Rundown of What to Expect on a Safari Game Drive, and The Chobe Riverfront: Botswana's Got Game). Of all these encounters, the most thrilling by far was the Cheetah Encounter excursion I had in Livingstone, Zambia (See more on the blog post: When a Cheetah Licks Your Head, Try Not to Laugh). Having the chance to pet, walk and get licked by these gorgeous giant felines was a thrill that still hasn't worn off. Located near incomparable Victoria Falls, these spotted kitties almost made me forget about that 'other' attraction in town.
Shark Diving in Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Continuing the animal encounter theme, the only thing I like more than seeing animals is seeing animals underwater. I've done a few shark feeding dives where a ribbon of meat is lowered down an anchor line to the sharks waiting below, and each time it was both thrilling and a tiny bit terrifying. What made the experience in Bora Bora so memorable was the appearance of a trio of 8-10 foot Lemon Sharks who nonchalantly snapped up a morsel of floating food just inches above my head. Being in the open water with creatures longer and fatter than I am is a humbling and exhilarating experience; so much so that it trumps my enthusiastic octopus encounter (See my blog post: To the Octopus I Chanced Upon One Early Winter's Eve) for Best Undersea Experience.
Hanging Out in Brazil's Costa Verde
I know hanging out doesn't sound all that exciting, but if you've been to Brazil's Costa Verde I'm sure you can understand. Whether it was a night out on the town in Rio de Janeiro (See the blog post: In Rio de Janeiro Save the Drama for the Scenery), a stroll through the rain forest on idyllic pedestrian-only Ilha Grande (See the Post: A Love Letter to the Island I Met a Year Ago), or an evening's exploration of the cobblestone streets of supremely charming Parati (See the post: Parati, Brazil - The Whole Package), doing something or nothing was an amazing experience either way. In a perfect world, this is where I'd want to live. I would also have less grays and a six-pack but that's a story for another time.
Insufficient Data...Sort of
To date I've visited 65 countries/territories across all seven continents. That said, according to the handy app Been (#beenapp) I've only covered 26% of total world countries (29% of Europe, 18% of Asia, 52% of North America/Caribbean, 42% of South America, 10% of Oceania and 100% of Antarctica). This means that however many pins might adorn my map, there's still the majority to go. Knowing as I do that each future pin represents an as yet unrealized experience, the above list is subject to change and the activities mentioned are by no means an exhaustive compilation of all that awaits. The fun is going out and finding those experiences that will last a lifetime. That, and pinning it on my giant map.
How About You?
Do you have a Top-Five worthy travel experience that you'd like to share? Leave a comment and share your story to inspire the rest of us