Our 12 favourite experiences from 12 months of travel
12 months ago, as we taped up our last box of possessions in the tiny Melbourne apartment we called home, we sat down, looked at each other and asked "is this really all worth it?".
Our decision to leave our comfortable life for a nomadic lifestyle was a long time coming, and as the leaving date drew closer so too did the self doubt. It was hard to know what lay ahead of us, as anxiety and uncertainty raged in our minds.
One year on, we have an answer.
Yes. Yes, it was all worth it.
We've learnt so much about ourselves and the world around us, and had such incredible, once in a lifetime experiences. We've decided to look back at the last year and highlight a few of our favourite travel experiences; the ones which make us realise we absolutely made the right decision.
our favourite 12 experiences from 12 months of travel
#1 Road tripping Namibia
After six months of travelling by public transport, road tripping from Cape Town to Windhoek, Namibia was a delight. We could travel at our own pace, stop where we wanted, spread out and create a huge mess, and enjoy our own company - something we rarely had for the previous 6 months.
Over ten days, with the freedom afforded by our car, we saw some of the most epic scenery ever. Landscapes from the moon, sand dunes as tall as buildings, dried up rivers, animals roaming freely, deserted towns and random food trucks in the middle of nowhere. Any time we stopped to take photos or admire the view, we enjoyed complete and utter silence.
It wasn’t all fun and games. Our drive to Sossusvlei can only be described as precarious; a sandy, bumpy road full of sharp rocks, which even in a 4wd would have been seriously uncomfortable, and not a soul or car in sight for five hours. At times we thought we’d puncture a tire, or worse, crash and roll our car. But we didn’t.
We discussed world issues, sung badly to Justin Timberlake, ate crappy food and had the world at our feet - just the way a road trip should be. When it came time to hand back our car in Windhoek, we shed a small tear. Gone was our freedom, and the best fun we’d had for a long time.
#2 Exploring Chi Phat, a community based ecotourism project in Cambodia
Our search for an ‘authentic’ Cambodian experience landed us in Chi Phat, a rural, community based ecotourism project in the heart of the Cardamom Mountains.
Getting to Chi Phat was half the fun; a 4-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to the small highway town of Andoung Tuek, a white-knuckled 45-minute ride through fields of sugarcane and patches of sand on the back of a local motorbike to this pretty community of 500 families.
We spent 5 nights here, two of which were spent camping in hammocks deep in the Cardamom Mountains. We washed in rivers, learnt how to find water in vines, sourced ingredients for a ‘bush’ curry, and gained a deep understanding of the issues surrounding this area.
We also had an extremely close encounter with an Asian Elephant, which was exhilarating and scary all at the same time. While we escaped the terrifying meeting with a territorial mother, our close encounter was an amazing price to pay for Chi Phat and the Wildlife Alliance achieving an incredible zero elephant poaching since 2006!
#3 Watching the sunrise over Bagan
Our travel bucket list had one item we both agreed on - a balloon ride over the temples of Bagan.
After a little research we realised that this dream would sadly not be possible - $500USD per person was slightly out of our budget. The alternative? Watching the sunrise from the top of a temple.
After snoozing our 4am alarm twice, we reluctantly got out of bed, jumped aboard our rented electric scooter and made haste along the sandy, pitch dark roads to our secret location. We crawled through the narrow tunnels to the top of the temple, and sat and waited.
Then it happened. As the sun started to rise, so too did the balloons in the distance. With each passing minute, as the sun rose, the temples began to silhouette against the bright orange sky.
We, along with a French couple, were the only people to see the epic display in front of us.
Did it suck we didn’t get to tick off our bucket list item? Yes. Did the sunrise we experienced make up for it? You betcha.
#4 Dining with lions in Chobe National Park
Exploring the animal dense Chobe National Park, Botswana was a dream come true for us, and after a day of seeing more elephants than you can imagine, we were keen to see an apex predator - a lion! Our guide detected a noise in the distance, a barking sound we’d never heard - “it’s a lion”, he whispered.
Much to our disappointment, we didn't spot the lion. Discussion on the way to back to our camp revolved around whether lion’s really DO bark? Our trusty guide assured us they do, and who were we to question?
As our group sat around the campfire, excitedly talking about the day, Mim heard a faint bark in the distance. Mark, who was at the bush toilet at the time came running back to confirming he too had heard the same sound.
The lions were close. Really close.
At that moment dinner was served and while we all enthusiastically tucked in, we nervously kept a close eye on the perimeter of our camp, taking note of any noise or glowing eyes. Fortunately, the barks got fainter and fainter before we no longer heard a noise, but that didn’t make our night amongst the African bush any easier.
Our dinner guests were probably the best we’ve ever had, but it’s unlikely we’ll be inviting them around again any time soon.
#5 Feeling like celebrities on the canals of Venice
We stepped off our Venetian boat taxi feeling slightly tipsy yet incredibly grateful; “how good is our life?”, Mim uttered. We’d just lived like a celebrity, albeit for an hour.
When Urban Adventures asked if we’d like to participate in their “Canal and Aperitivo” tour, our answer was immediately yes. A complimentary ride through the canals of Venice was exactly what our backpacker budget needed. We didn’t realise how awesome it would be - an afternoon aboard a shiny boat taxi, sampling beautiful, fresh Italian food with free flowing champagne and wine, all while learning the secrets of Venice’s past. As the prosecco flowed and the sun started to set over this medieval marvel, we couldn’t help but look at each other and smile, shocked at what our life had become.
It’s not everyday you live your dream, but on this day we did.
#6 Summiting Thorong La Pass, Nepal
In 2014, we attempted to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. For the both of us, it was a lifelong dream to summit Africa’s highest point and unfortunately, only one of us did. Mim contracted HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema) as we attempted the summit, and despite her muddled mind, she knew she couldn’t risk her life just to conquer a stupid mountain.
It took months of for her body and mind to recover, but before long we were out hiking again. While planning our trip to Nepal, we knew we wanted to trek in the Himalayas, but we weren’t sure whether her body would hold up.
We decided to throw caution to the wind and booked to hike the Annapurna Circuit. With a steely determination, our experience from Kili and a lot of chocolate, we set off. Sure, it helped we had 11 days to acclimatise this time, but we dominated the Annapurna circuit and summited all 5,416m of Thorong La pass. Together.
There may have been a few tears yet the feeling of relief and pride from completing the challenge together will stay with us forever.
#7 Watching local women's football in the Malawian mountains
We were invited to a local women’s football game in Manchewe village, high in the Nyika Mountains of Malawi, by the wonderful owners of The Mushroom Farm, Maddie and Cam.
We hiked up to the village football field - half grass, half dust, and saw the most magnificent sight. Two teams of eleven, all women, with a huge crowd of villagers singing and dancing in support. Talent was on show with skills Mark could only dream of, although each touch was met with laughter from the children, struggling to comprehend their mums/sisters/friends/teachers playing football.
Due to our cameras, we were the centre of attention and we spent the whole game taking photos of the kids, then showing them the results. Having 20 children doing anything for their portrait to be taken was completely foreign to us, but we’ve never seen so much happiness. The game ended one-nil and the enthusiastic crowd gathered to hand out food and water to the participants and sang songs to the supporters; to us.
In a country with a pretty horrible past record of human rights abuse towards women, seeing the support of the villagers towards the women proved that the times here are changing.
#8 Spending 10 days on a deserted island in Cambodia
Have you ever wanted to escape life and live on a tropical island, doing nothing more than sleeping, swimming, eating and drinking? Well, we got to do just that on Koh Ta Kiev, and it was everything you’d imagine it to be.
Our days consisted of the following: wake up with sunrise, read until breakfast time and then head to the beach. Lunch, then relax, read or snooze, then an afternoon swim. Watch the sunset with a passionfruit mojito, enjoy a Cambodian curry then head to bed, listening to the sound of water lapping the rocks below our wooden, open fronted bungalow.
We had no reception, no wi-fi, no electricity and no showers (okay, we did have fresh water buckets) and plenty of time to do what we wanted! We also spent Christmas and New Years on the Island, making it the most amazing festive period.
We'd totally recommend it!
Note: It wasn’t completely idyllic - King Cobra’s and vipers roam the island, so for people with snake phobias (US!), each walk through the jungle to our accommodation was frightening. As was getting into bed!
#9 Getting off the beaten tap in Prague
Beer, and lots of it was the order of the day in Prague. We were lucky again to enjoy an Urban Adventures tour, this time the “Beer and Czech Tapas” tour with our wonderful guide, Niki. To understand the Prague and its people, you really have to get under the skin of their beer culture.
Our tour went from local bar to local bar, sampling the most incredible beer, or ‘Czech Water’ as the locals call it, and tasting incredible food. While doing this, we learnt a heap about Czech culture and why beer is so important to them.
They have been brewing beer for over a thousand years, which means they’ve developed a great thing, stuck to it, and become extremely proud of it. It’s part of their national identity, and they’re as loyal to their beloved ‘liquid bread’ as the English are to football.
We both agreed, this ‘hands on’ way of learning is the only way! Another beer please, we’ve gotta learn about SEO.
#10 Meeting amazing new people
Despite missing home, and our friends and family daily, we were fortunate to meet some amazing people on our journey. Whether it was locals, backpackers, bloggers or instagrammers, the amount of wonderful humans that crossed our path enlivened us. It also made us better people.
The transient nature of travel forced us out of our comfort zone, and had to learn to adapt. We had become very comfortable with our lives in Melbourne, especially with the people we spent most of our time with. Giving up that support network forced us to look elsewhere, to the people we’d meet. Being bold and speaking to a stranger became part of our routine. Every. Single. Day.
No longer will we ignore that backpacker on the corner of Flinders St in Melbourne; they could turn out to be a friend for life!
Ps. This is a good opportunity to shout out everyone that's supported us over the year; from family, old friends, new friends and randoms. We heart y’all.
#11 Spending a month in Cape Town
“If you’ve never lived in Cape Town, you’ve never lived” - The Common Wanderer, 2016.
You might baulk at this quote and you’d have every right to, but in our humble opinion, Cape Town is one of the best cities in the world. There’s just something about the way Table Mountain gently rolls down to the bay, decorated by the sprawl of the city and the pulse of a vibrant, multicultural melting-pot society that is totally awe-inspiring.
This city is basically a traveller’s mecca: in one day you can hike up Table Mountain, float through some of the best beaches in the world, sip wine at Stellenbosch, and watch pastel colours streak the horizon at sunset in Camps Bay – and before your head hits the pillow there’s world-class cuisine, or gin cocktails to sip in a secret gin bar hidden behind a chocolate shop on Wale street. We did all of it, and for a month, it was OUR mecca.
We became locals, made friends, business acquaintances; went to gallery openings, house parties, instagram missions, and met the Mayor. Even the coffee and street art was as good as Melbourne. We also had the pleasure of spending a month with family, which made it really feel like home.
We lived and breathed this city and its incredible people for a month, and we left feeling more than a tinge of sadness.
#12 Hiking Adam’s Peak in time for sunrise
Ever since watching the Sri Lankan episode of the travel show ‘Departures’, Mark’s held a dream of climbing the pilgrimage mountain of Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak. The journey happened to occur right in the middle of Sinhalese new year (Sri Lanka’s new year), so the journey to Dalhousie, the trek’s starting point, was crowded, long and sweaty.
Despite the 2am departure time and 5500+ stairs in front of us (yes, you read that right, 5,500 stairs), we made it to the summit in time to watch Mother Nature’s version of heaven; the most beautiful orange/blue/red/purple sunrise. At the summit, we were joined by hundreds of our Sri Lankan friends to ring in the new Sinhalese year. It. Was. Epic.
On the way down we walked like injured Giraffe’s such was the pain in our legs, but we didn’t care; we’d just experienced a huge bucket list item and it was everything we dreamed, and more.