Last September, two college friends did something a lot of people dream about, but few actually do. They quit their New York City jobs to travel for more than half a year.
Over the course of their journey, Jennifer Diamond and Hilary Walke, both 26, made friends from around the world, hiked volcanoes, saw gorgeous scenery, and created unforgettable memories. In total, they visited 12 different countries in Asia.
They were just catching up on each other’s lives when the idea for the trip came up on the phone one night.
“At first it was casual — and somewhat hypothetical,” Walke told Business Insider. “We had been following The Lost Girls, three girls who were living in New York City and quit their jobs to travel the world for a year. We always felt our 10-day trips were cut short.”
Then it clicked. They booked two one-way tickets to Tokyo without a second thought.
“In terms of the itinerary, we looked at a map and checked off the countries we wanted to travel through. That was it,” Hilary told Business Insider. “You can’t plan 7 months of travel in advance, which is something that excited us.”
Both had saved money by living at home after they graduated. During the six months before they left, they saved a bit more and settled on a budget of $US20,000 for the year.
At the end of the trip, there was hardly any of the Asian continent they couldn’t say they had seen: First they went to Tokyo, then Korea, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Bali and Indonesia, and finally, the Philippines.
Staying healthy was their biggest challenge. One night Jen got an especially bad case of food poisoning.
“With my friend totally out of commission, I had to carry two 35-pound backpacks,” Hilary said. “I was trying to communicate with people who couldn’t understand me or where my guest house was.”
Most of the trip, though, was serene. Hilary’s favourite destination was the Indonesian island of Gili Trawangan.
“We were sitting in our beach bungalow with our local friends, playing cards, guitar, singing, laughing, unaware and unconcerned about where on the island our shoes were, Hilary said. “We were definitely wishing we could live in that moment forever.”
Now they’re back where they started — at least physically.
“Jen’s an accountant and I’m writing, just like before,” Hilary said. “But the trip changed who we are.”
Hilary shared the trip photos with Business Insider. We’ve put them together in the following slideshow, along with her original captions.
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Our first stop in Tokyo. This was Japanese efficiency at its best -- skip the waiters, go right to the ramen vending machine to place your order.
Tokyo arcades are as common as Chase Banks are in New York City. Kids and businessmen alike blow off steam at these overly stimulating technology playgrounds. Eye enlarging is an automatic Photobooth enhancement, but we didn't realise it until we had stared at the photo for a few minutes.
Here we are at Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, Japan, where there's a path lined with thousands of holy torii gates.
This path in the back of Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, leads through a bamboo forest.
We snapped this near the border between North and South Korea. On the near side are South Korean soldiers; those on the far side are from the North.
Next stop: China. The Great Wall of China is touristy, but it's a requisite stop on a trip to China.
One of the most strenuous treks we took was in Emeishan National Park in Sichuan, China. While walking up the seemingly endless steps on remote Mount Emei, we saw few other humans but plenty of monkeys.
There's a bridge at the start of the trek up Mount Emeishan. We asked an elderly local Chinese woman to lead us across the bridge. She led us to safety while viciously throwing rocks and jabbing her walking stick to scare away the monkeys.
After one of many long journeys on local trains in China, we're happy to be on our feet and off the rails.
On the long distance trains in China, it's best to sleep on the top bunk (third bed up) to be as removed as possible from the commotion. Anything goes when you're the only Westerner on a 21-hour train ride.
In Hong Kong, there's an elaborate laser and lights show over Victoria Harbour every night at 8pm. A total of 44 buildings participate in the synchronised Symphony of Lights show each night.
Sa Pa is a rural, mountainous area in northern Vietnam. We stayed with a family in Sa Pa. Here's our home stay mother knitting a scarf for her daughter.
In Sa Pa, Vietnam, we helped our home stay mother cook dinner using her stove. We slept on a bench covered with blankets, and woke up to chickens and pigs wandering through the hut. Her toilet is mother nature.
While driving in Da Lat, Vietnam, we ran out of petrol for our motorbikes. After wheeling our bike to a local's house, someone came to our rescue with a soda bottle full of petrol. If we could have communicated in Vietnamese, we would have said thank you. Instead, a simple bow did the trick.
Here we are in the beautiful, touristy town of Hoi An, Vietnam, where we embarrassingly fell off our motorbikes in the middle of a 5-way intersection. Luckily some kind locals came to the rescue. In this area, tailors are everywhere. You can get a custom suit -- or any article of clothing -- tailored from scratch. Jen paid $US60.
We spent New Year's Eve in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), Vietnam. The streets were packed. This is the same street where we saw Adrien Brody drinking a $US0.50 draft beer on a typical Vietnamese street stool.
We met a young entrepreneur (around 12 years old) after a long day of touring temples in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He sold some of the best iced coffee we've ever tasted out of a tuk tuk, and he'd deliver it to your house with just a phone call.
We spent one day teaching English to village kids who want nothing more than to learn at a donation-based school in Cambodia.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia, is the largest religious monument in the world. These Buddhist temples are an explorer's playground.
We watched the sun rise over a temple in Angkor Wat, and spent all day 'temple hopping' -- riding in a tuk tuk from temple to temple.
In Vang Vieng, Laos, there are zip lines and rope swings across the Nam Song River. Drunk tourists used to swing across the river on these until too many people died in one year. It's temporarily shut down.
We helped bathe rescued elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There was so much love in this elephant sanctuary.
We took an authentic Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai. The instructor taught that the way to get the most flavour into your food is to move your hips while you cook.
We visited a 'free' beach (no rules, only hippies) in Tonsai, Thailand, where we witnessed the most beautiful sunset we've ever seen.
At this enchanted forest full in Bali, Indonesia, monkeys are known to attack tourists for food -- which is why we stood far away from the guy playing with one.
A sunrise hike up Mt. Batur volcano in Bali, Indonesia. Feeling on top of the world, physically and mentally.
In the small village of Port Barton in the Philippines, our boat captain came on a raft to take us across the river. The charge: $US0.50.
During an all-day snorkelling trip in El Nido, Philippines, we feasted on a seafood lunch made from scratch.
We took a coffee break on our mountain motorbike adventure in Lombok, Indonesia, and came across this cow.
In Gili Trawangan, an island in Indonesia, there are no cars or motorbikes. The only way to get around is by foot or bicycle.
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