With only a week left before graduation, I’ve come to realize I’ve finally hit the end of my ‘college travels’ chapter. While I’m incredibly excited to be done with school and see what lies ahead, I want to take a moment to look back on these last few first years of traveling.
What started as a girl lugging an over-sized suitcase and losing her wallet, transformed into a confident and experienced backpacker. I’ve come a long way since my first travel experience, and hope to re-trace some of those defining moments in this post.
Below is a not-so-quick timeline of the major trips I’ve taken over the last 3 years and what prompted them (besides my obvious case of wanderlust).
Italy and Turkey
While studying Italian my first year at UW, my professor pitched a 3-month study abroad program in Italy during spring quarter. Broke but hopelessly eager to start traveling, I applied and got in. One extra student loan later, I had a passport and was off to Italy!
As pre-determined by the program, I spent the first half the trip living in downtown Rome, and the second half with a host family in Calabria. Whenever I had a free weekend, I set off with my study abroad friends and explored places like Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence and Sicily.
Read more: Highlights of 3 Months in Italy
Today, those three months are still some of my fondest travel memories. With so much time to explore a country, I really got a feel for the culture and my surroundings. Being it was my first trip abroad, I also had a lot of travel firsts - first time riding by myself on an airplane, first time losing my wallet, first time not using half the junk in my suitcase, etc.
After Italy, I kept the string of firsts up and spent a week in Istanbul. For me this was a time to prove I was brave enough to travel without a group, and show my friends and family Turkey is a safe place to visit.
Turkey was even more beautiful than I imagined, and I only wish I'd had more time to spend there. I'll be back someday soon though, and will probably gain 5 pounds from feasting on baklava...
This was my first ‘backpacking trip,’ and also my first trip I ever took with Yuting. Yuting is the greatest and closest friend I’ve ever had, and a lot of that stemmed from this first trip we took together.
We hardly knew each other, yet somehow both knew the trip would be amazing - and it was.
Not only did Yuting turn out to be the perfect travel buddy, he taught me how to travel with very little money. We bargained hard, stayed in hostels, and split things with other travelers whenever possible.
By the end of our month-long trip, we’d been on a 3-day safari, trekked through a Tanzanian rainforest, and spent a week by the bluest waters I’ve ever seen - all for less than $1000!
It was during this trip I realized travel didn't have to be expensive. If you're determined and frugal with your money, you can fly halfway across the world and experience 'bucket list' experiences most people only dream about.
Read more: Meeting the Masaai
At this point in college, it had been a year since my last trip. I was itching to go somewhere new and finally had some money saved up. After somehow finding a $430 round trip plane ticket to the Philippines, I knew this was my next destination.
What started as a country I knew almost nothing about, turned into one of my favorite trips I’ve ever taken. Never before have I been in such a diverse place. One day I was up in the mountains hiking through rice terraces, and the next day I was snorkeling through lagoons.
Besides that, this trip was also another chance for me to step out of my shell and practice solo traveling. Since Yuting didn’t join me till halfway through the trip, I spent the first week and half with two German girls I met after arriving. It was an eye-opening experience how fast one can make friends while on the road.
* This trip marked the start of my travel blog!
At this point in college, Yuting had successfully gotten his business off the ground, and needed to visit China to speak with suppliers. He had been once before for business, but decided to invite me this time. Since he grew up in China, Yuting also wanted to show me what the culture, people and food were all about.
Read more: Tips for Your First Trip to China
For the first week, we visited various factories and ate almost every Chinese snack Yuting could think of. Then during our second week, Yuting surprised me with a visit to Zhangjiajie (a.k.a. the Avatar Mountains)!
This natural wonder was the inspiration for James Cameron’s Avatar, and truly looks like the planet Pandora. As a major fan of the movie, getting to visit Zhangjiajie was a dream come true.
After my summer internship last year, Yuting and I disappeared to Puerto Vallarta for a couple weeks. While neither of us had really planned on going there, the tickets were so cheap we couldn’t resist.
It was here I finally got my first case of food poisoning (a travel first I could’ve gone without), and ended up staying in more Airbnb’s than hostels.
Our Puerto Vallarta trip marked a turning point from ‘broke college student,’ to ‘slightly comfortable college student.’ I’d worked my butt off over the summer at a competitive internship, and could finally afford slightly nicer accommodation while traveling.
While I’ll always be a budget traveler, it’s nice to know I’ve earned the ability to splurge every now and then (as long as the splurging is within reason).
While in Puerto Vallarta, we spent a lot of time outdoors enjoying the heat and jungle vibes. When the humidity got to be a little too much though, we hopped on a bus and found ourselves in Guadalajara for a few days.
Read more: The Ultimate Sayulita Travel Guide
The same summer I got my snazzy internship, Yuting’s business was really taking off. He was at the point where he had more orders than he could handle alone, and was quickly filling up every inch of space in his tiny workshop.
During those days, I’d get off work around 5 and then head to his shop where I’d help pump out orders till midnight or later. It was hard work and a little grueling at times, but I didn’t mind helping him. Yuting was chasing his dreams of being an entrepreneur and I wanted to be a part of that.
After the summer, Yuting surprised me with tickets to Morocco - holy crap, right!?
It was by far one of the hardest gifts to accept, but I could tell it meant a lot to him that we take this trip together. He truly felt grateful for my help and wanted to take this time to see another corner of the world together.
China, Hawaii, Canada and more to come!
We’ve basically caught up to the present now. After Morocco, Yuting and I made another quick trip to China, spent some time in Hawaii, and took a couple of weekend trips to Canada.
Since I’m finally graduating and will no longer be restricted to traveling during school holidays, I’m looking forward to taking more spur-of-the-moment trips whenever I find cheap flights. I’ve also started working for various companies as a remote employee/freelancer. This allows me to work from anywhere with a strong wifi connection, and will give me a lot more travel freedom than a standard 9 to 5 job would.
What’s next for me travel wise?
I have my heart set on taking a month-long solo trip sometime this summer. While it’ll be hard not to share the experience with my favorite travel buddy, I think it’s time I take a solo trip that’s longer than a week and a half (the Philippines).
Traveling solo forces you to branch out of your comfort zone, and meet new people you may not have had a reason to meet otherwise. I’m a little nervous just thinking about it, but I know only good things can come out of the experience. Whenever I come back to the states, I’ll be an even better version of my current self.
A month-long trip will also be great for my blog! I’m passionate about growing Wolves and Waterfalls to be a substantial travel resource, and see a lot of content opportunities which can stem from a solo trip.
Thank you for reading this post and learning about the first three years of my travel journey. Stay tuned for details on which country I end up visiting, and what I plan on seeing while I’m there