From off-roading in China to 22 hours of sunlight in Moscow: the one thing you have to do in 12 countries around the world

Harrison Jacobs/Business InsiderThe world is full of adventures.
  • This past March, I left New York to travel around the world as Business Insider’s International Correspondent. Over the course of 5+ months, I have so far visited 12 countries and had countless adventures.
  • I decided it would be fun to pick the best, most epic adventure that 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.

I’ll be honest: I hate bucket lists.

To me, they turn what should be a freeing experience of discovery – travel – and turn it into an endless checklist where you constantly feel inadequate against 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 so long as I say yes.

When I left to travel as Business Insider’s International Correspondent this past March, 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 twelve countries checked off on the trip so far, I decided it was time to pinpoint my favourite adventure in each place. Perhaps you’ll find some inspiration for your next trip abroad.

Here’s what’s gone down so far:


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 co-founder of artist collective Robot Heart. Some attendees, however, found the allusions to opium bars and Asian courtesans to be tone-deaf.


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We partied at the exclusive, sexy Hong Kong party with the art world’s elite on a 62,000-square-foot floating restaurant – here’s what it was like»


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.


Read More:
I tried to climb the ‘plank walk’ in China known as ‘the most dangerous hike in the world,’ but just getting there was the hardest part»


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.


Read More:
I woke up at 2 a.m. to hike two hours up a mountain in Bali to see the sunrise – and it was completely worth it»


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.


Read more:
Every amazing, strange, and delicious food I tried during an epic 6-week trip to China »


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.


Check out WeFancy on YouTube here»


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.


Read More:


Inside notoriously ritzy Gangnam, ‘the Beverly Hills of South Korea’ that’s home to the country’s biggest celebrities»


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.


Read More:
Much of Russia is blanketed in sunlight nearly 24 hours a day this time of year – here’s what it looks like at every hour»


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.

Ben Gilbert/Business Insider

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.


Read More:
What it’s like visiting one of the world’s greatest treasures, the 2,000 year-old mountaintop fortress Masada»


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.


Read More:
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.


Read More:
One of the 7 wonders of the world is a 10,000-year-old city hidden in the desert – and in real life, it’s more incredible than you can imagine»


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.”


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An otherworldly desert in Jordan has doubled as distant planets in movies like ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Martian’ – after seeing it myself, I can tell you it’s just as breathtaking in person»


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.


Read More:
Forget Mykonos and Santorini. I found a little-known island in Greece that’s twice as beautiful and half the price»


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.


It’s been a strange, fascinating, exhilarating, and exhausting trip so far. 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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