- In the year that I spent travelling around the world as Business Insider’s international correspondent, I visited over 20 countries and had countless adventures.
- I decided it would be fun to highlight the best adventure I had in each country, from off-roading in the desert in Inner Mongolia to visiting one of the seven wonders of the world in Jordan and partying all night in Seoul, South Korea.
- While I hate travel bucket lists, I hope that sharing my favourite recent adventures may provide some inspiration for both travel junkies and those looking to take their first trip abroad.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
I’ll be honest: I hate bucket lists.
To me, they take what should be a freeing experience of discovery and turn it into an endless checklist where you’re constantly feeling inadequate in the face of the things you haven’t done.
I prefer travelling with less of a plan. I pick a country beforehand, and maybe a few destinations within, and trust that I’ll encounter amazing people, sights, and adventures along the way as long as I say yes.
When I left to travel as Business Insider’s international correspondent a year ago, I approached the trip the same way.
From China to Russia to Israel, I have found myself in the middle of more adventures than I can remember. There’s been off-roading in the desert in Inner Mongolia, visiting one of the seven wonders of the world in Jordan, and partying all night in Seoul, to name a few.
With my world tour completed and twenty countries visited, I decided it was time to pinpoint my favourite adventure in each place.
Perhaps you’ll find some inspiration for your next trip abroad.
The trip started off with a bang in Hong Kong, where I attended Art Basel Hong Kong, the premier art fair in Asia for millionaire and billionaire collectors to buy and sell art. The fair peaked with an elaborate soiree organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
The star-studded party was held at Hong Kong’s Jumbo Kingdom, the world’s largest floating restaurant and featured a mix of celebrities, art world big shots, artists, collectors, and — thanks to a last-minute invite — yours truly.
The party’s experiential theme evoking 1930s-era Hong Kong was designed by Burning Man veteran Jason Swamy, a cofounder of artist collective Robot Heart. Some attendees, however, found the allusions to opium bars and Asian courtesans to be tone-deaf.
After Hong Kong, I headed to China, where I spent a whirlwind five weeks traversing from Shanghai and Beijing to far-flung cities on the ancient Silk Road. In Inner Mongolia, I befriended a group of Chinese adrenaline-junkies who were part of an off-roading club.
The off-roaders invited me to join them on a two-day tour through the desert. They’d already been driving for nearly a week, but they couldn’t get enough of racing over massive sand dunes and camping in Mongolian camps in the middle of nowhere.
The adventure was not without its dangers. A number of times the jeeps got stuck crested over a sand dune and another jeep had to tow the others out. And, that’s to say nothing of how we were chased by park rangers because foreigners are only supposed to go in to the desert with official tour guides, not a local off-road driving club.
Next, I headed to Bali, Indonesia to decompress. The city of Ubud has been well-known as a spiritual and mystical center to Balinese for centuries — Ubud means “medicine” — and over the last several decades for new agey tourists.
It may sound hokey, but I did a full-day spiritual retreat that included yoga, “ecstatic dance,” a cacao ceremony, and workshops of “authentic relating.” I was very sceptical before going in. By the time it was over, I had cried twice.
The retreat ended with a dance party and a sound healing ritual. Located on a beautiful estate outside Ubud, the retreat felt otherworldly. There was no need for alcohol at this party; everyone was already buzzing.
In Singapore, I spent several days trying as much Singaporean food as I could manage to fit in my stomach. Singaporean food is known for being a tasty mix of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cuisines. It may not look pretty, but these are flavours you’ve likely never tasted before. It is the most interesting and unique cuisine I’ve ever had.
The best places to try Singaporean cuisine (and a shortcut to understanding the city-state’s culture) is in “hawker centres.” Built in the 1950s and 1960s to make street-food more sanitary, while preserving the local food culture, hawker centres are large open-air complexes of food stalls where Singaporeans eat every day. There are dozens of centres across the city, each specializing in different dishes and cuisines.
One of my favourite Singaporean dishes was rojak, a traditional fruit and vegetable salad. There are different types of rojak with Chinese, Indian, or Malay flavours, but the basic idea is that you select what you want in your salad and, depending on the items, they might fry them up or serve them fresh with sauces.
When I headed to South Korea, I knew I had to sample Seoul’s famous nightlife scene. I met star Seoul-based YouTubers Alfred “Haeppy” Leung and Alexander “Xander” Varley of WeFancy, who agreed to take me out in Gangnam, the insanely wealthy neighbourhood known for all-night parties, plastic surgery clinics, and high-end real estate. The night, of course, started with lots of soju and fried chicken.
After drinking and eating more than our fill, we headed to a nearby hookah bar in Gangnam, where Varley and Leung explained Seoul’s wild party scene. Many of the top clubs in Korea are owned by K-Pop celebrities and are just about impossible to get into unless you know someone. Thankfully, I knew someone. Or, rather, they did.
We headed to Arena, one of the hottest clubs in Seoul, around 3 a.m. After Leung and Varley sweet-talked the bouncer, we danced until sunrise. The scene was like something out of a movie — packed to the gills and champagne bottles popping, as if it was everyone’s birthday. The partying lived up to the hype. The hangover did, too.
I headed to Russia in June to attend the 2018 World Cup, but the best thing I saw in the country was something I didn’t plan for: St. Petersburg’s “White Nights.” The city is so far north that towards the end of June there are around 22 hours of sunlight each day. This photo was taken a bit past midnight.
The White Nights peak with the Scarlet Sails festival. It’s the biggest night of the year in St. Petersburg. Everyone comes out to the banks of the Neva River to watch a grand display of fireworks, a water show, music, and the sailing of a replica 1700s-era boat with red sails.
Everyone from children to teenagers to grandparents was in the streets of St. Petersburg celebrating. Just after 1 a.m., it became clear why it is called White Nights.
Visiting Masada, an ancient fortress built atop a mountain plateau near the Dead Sea, is the highlight of many travellers’ trips to Israel. There is something undeniably powerful about waking up at 4 a.m. and hiking up a mountain in absolute darkness.
After about an hour or so of very strenuous hiking, I reached the fortress just as the sun was rising. The entire complex, a stunning set of ruins, was enveloped in golden light.
The fortress overlooks the Dead Sea. Walking through the fortress once occupied by King Herod at sunrise, it becomes apparent why the location was so attractive to the king, both from a defensive position and as a place to relax.
While visiting Israel, I felt it very important to see the Palestinian territories. I visited Hebron, the biggest city in the Palestinian West Bank and a place that some call a microcosm of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The city is divided into a Jewish and a Palestinian-controlled sector.
I visited Hebron on a “dual narrative” tour. Half the tour was guided by Eliyahu McLean, an Israeli Jew, and the other half was guided by Mohammed Al-Mohtaseb, a Palestinian from Hebron. Each told their side of the conflict in Hebron. At the center of their contesting narratives is the site known as the Ibrahimi Mosque to Muslims and the Tomb of the Patriarchs to Jews.
The experience was something like “Israel-Palestine 101.” I was deeply affected by the conflicting narratives of both sides, the many painful events suffered in Hebron, and the way in which the city feels a military camp with checkpoints, jeeps, and platoons spread across the city.
I visited the most contested city in the Middle East, where Israelis and Palestinians are separated by a gauntlet of military checkpoints – and the harsh, complicated truth of the conflict was immediately clear»
In Jordan, I fulfilled one of the few things I’ve actually put on my internal bucket list: visiting the ancient Nabatean city of Petra. Ever since seeing the rose-red sandstone facades featured in Indiana Jones as a child, I knew I had to go.
The archaeological site, now considered one of the seven wonders of the world, was as magnificent as I imagined it. Al Khazna, or the Treasury, is the first structure you see upon entering the city. At 150 feet tall and around 100 feet wide, it is the masterpiece of Petra.
The tour in Jordan was made even more epic because, after leaving Petra, I spent the night in Wadi Rum, a desert valley in Jordan. It has played the part of Mars and distant planets in countless movies, including “The Martian,” “Star Wars: Rogue One,” “Prometheus,” and Red Planet.”
The cheapest flight out of Israel was to Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean also known for its long history of division and strife. Ever since a coup in 1974 and a subsequent invasion by Turkey, the island has been divided into the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The island is astoundingly beautiful. I decided to rent a car and do a road trip to traverse both sides of the island.
About 3,600 square miles in size, Cyprus has tons of different geographical features from natural ports to mountains, valleys, and rock formations that make driving the island a pleasure. Kyrenia Harbour, on the Northern Cyprus side, is one of the oldest sites on the island.
Driving Cyprus not only gives you a window into the many landscapes of the island, but also the many cultures that have developed there. The capital, Nicosia, is a divided city, but it is easily visited. The old city looks like what I imagine a city in the Ottoman Empire looking like.
Before I went to Greece, I thought the best thing I would do in the country was party in Mykonos. I was very wrong. After escaping crowded Mykonos, I went to Tinos, an island 30 minutes away by ferry, and found a breathtaking landscape, untouched beaches, and historic Greek villages built into the mountainsides. I rented a car and did a day trip across the island.
For those looking for a taste of classic Cycladic life, Tinos may well be paradise. During my drive, I stopped in Volax, a village of 51 people (51!) built among a unique geological formation of giant round rocks.
Driving in Tinos, you feel lost in time. I could have sworn that the day I spent driving around the island lasted a week. But maybe that’s because I was terrified as I whipped up and down the mountains from village to village on the seemingly endless one-lane roads.
After Greece came a spontaneous trip to Bulgaria to visit some Bulgarian friends I had met in Bali. They had told me to meet them in Sozopol on the coast of the Black Sea. During the summer, the capital of Sofia empties and everyone heads to the beach.
The vibe is like a Bulgarian Jersey Shore. It’s probably not a place you would end up at unless you knew a Bulgarian, but it’s a ton of fun. There are clubs and bars all along the beach where people party day and night. It’s not uncommon for people to arrive at the beach bar Bash on Friday night and not leave the bar until Sunday, sleeping in the sand when they get tired.
Due to zoning restrictions, there aren’t really hotels on the beach. Instead, the beach is lined with campsites, RVs, trailers, and tents. It makes for one big communal party. I “glamped” in one of these tent-huts.
If you drive a bit away from Sozopol down the coast, you can easily find beaches that are practically empty. Veleka Beach in Tsarevo is known for having the Black Sea on one side and the Veleka River on the other. You can swim on both sides.
After Bulgaria, I hopped a flight to Portugal. It was August, so peak beach season for a country known for having some of the best beaches in the world. I rented a car to explore them.
Over the course of a week, I drove all over The Algarve, the southern region popular for beach holidays, and Alentejo, a region known for its many wild and hidden beaches. Like this one.
My favourite beaches were the wild ones in Alentejo. The small submerged rocks teem with sea life. But the Atlantic Ocean water is brisk, even during the summer.
Ibiza has a reputation as one of the top places to party in the world, so I had to give it a try. I stopped by for the end-of-summer “closing” parties.
The part of the island that I really loved, however, was the vast and quiet countryside on the north of Ibiza.
There’s nothing quite like a riding a motorbike down the small winding streets of the Ibizan countryside. The island is dotted with hippie villages that date back to the 1960s and 1970s, when artists, writers, and other bohemians moved to the island.
The last leg of my trip started in the United Arab Emirates. After spending close to two weeks in Dubai, I took a day trip to Abu Dhabi to wake up at dawn and watch falconers train their falcons. Falconry has a central role in Emirati culture, where nomads have long used falcons to hunt for food.
It was fascinating to watch the complex way that the falconers train their falcons to race at hundreds of miles an hour, using both modern and ancient techniques.
While most people visit Egypt to visit the Pyramids, I found the most fascinating sights in the country to be the abundance of ancient Egyptian ruins, burial sites, temples, and hieroglyphs in the south.
In particular, the city of Luxor is home to the Valley of the Kings, a valley of over 60 rock-cut royal tombs filled with colourful hieroglyphs and cave paintings, the temple of Karnak, a complex built over the course of 1,500 years, and dozens of other tombs, temples, and statues.
When I got to Morocco, I knew that I needed to visit Erg Chebbi, possibly the most iconic way to see the Sahara Desert. Erg Chebbi is one of Morocco’s many ergs, or seas of sand dunes. It is often used for films because of its stunning expanse of iconic fire-orange sand dunes.
The sunrise and sunset were unforgettable, as was shivering under the star-filled sky late into the night. But the thing I will most remember is trading songs with the company of Berbers who hosted us.
After Morocco, I flew into Lagos, Nigeria for two weeks of meetings with entrepreneurs. Learning about how the tech industry is changing the country was fascinating, but after ten days in office buildings, I needed to get to nature. The best place to see Nigeria’s nature, without venturing out fo the city, is the Lekki Conservation Centre, a 193-acre nature reserve filled with jungle, monkeys, crocodiles, and various birds.
Source: Lekki Conservation Centre
It’s also one of the best places to see how Lagosians relax and blow off steam. There is a large family park attached with picnic areas, floor games, and a canopy walkway. The suya, or traditional Nigerian barbecue, served up at the barbecue joints in the park tasted incredible.
I didn’t get a ton of time in Kenya, but what time I did have I spent exploring Nairobi and the surrounding areas. I loved visiting the Giraffe Centre. For $US10, I was able to feed giraffes and learn about the center’s conservation and breeding efforts.
Feeding the giraffes was a blast. As one of the caretakers explained, giraffes spend sixteen to twenty hours per day eating — and they consume as much as 75 pounds of food. You don’t have to be worried about how many pellets you are feeding them: They have a nearly insatiable appetite.
It is perhaps fitting that the most mind-blowing experience I had travelling occurred last. In Tanzania, I went on safari for five days to the Serengeti; Ngorongoro, a 3,202-square-mile conservation area with a volcanic crater filled with wildlife; and Tarangire, a national park typically filled with thousands of migrating elephants.
While seeing lions, giraffes, and elephants up close was cool, it was nothing compared to witnessing the Great Wildebeest Migration — 1.5 million wildebeest travelling across Tanzania’s grasslands to give birth. The ground shook as they stampeded past us.
It was a strange, fascinating, exhilarating, and exhausting trip. And these adventures only scratch the surface of what I did, and what you could do, in these countries. I find that the more I travel, learn, and experience new worlds, the more I want to do it. I suppose that’s the beauty of it.
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