Having returned from a quarter-life crisis around-the-world trip, I often get asked: What was your favourite place?
Rather than just pick one, I thought I’d lay out a full ranking of each month, roughly corresponding to each segment, of my travels. There are nine ‘months’ because of rounding errors, i.e. Chiang Mai part deux, Italy, and Spain were each about a month and a half.
Here’s where I was over the past year, in chronological order:
1. November/December – Chiang Mai, part 1
2. January – The 2012 End Of The World Tour
3. February – Chiang Mai, part 2
4. March – India, Ashram
5. April – India, part 2
6. May – Italy
7. June – France, surfing
8. July – France, part 2
9. August – Spain, Camino de Santiago
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And now here’s my ranking of each month, based on both how much I enjoyed them, and how much feel like I grew as a person:
1. Chiang Mai, part 1
When I tap into my favourite memories of the past year, that first month in Chiang Mai always dominates. Part of the reason is that it was my first experience living abroad, in a completely foreign country, making or breaking it on my own. Few experiences in my life compare with the excitement and fear I felt in those first couple of days, once I realized the decision I’d made.
On top of that, the 45 days I spent in Chiang Mai leading up to the 2012 End Of The World Tour were, objectively, fucking awesome. I met a great group of guys and we spent half our days kicking the shit out of each other, and the other half chasing girls and building websites. Also, Chiang Mai itself is an incredible city, easily one of my favourites.
2. Spain, Camino De Santiago
The Camino De Santiago is an 800km hike across northern Spain along the route that St James and a great many medieval pilgrims took to get to the end of the world.
The obvious applies: Spain is a beautiful country, filled with beautiful women and friendly people, great wine and decent food.
The Camino itself was great, in a grueling, challenging, rewarding way. 25-30kms a day with a full pack was at least as physically demanding as five hours of Muay Thai. The people I met along the way were some of the coolest, most interesting travelers that I came across the entire year. I had lots of fun with the 24/7 party scene in SEA, the mega-hippies in India, and the gap-year teenagers in Europe, but the Camino attracts a different breed of person: Smart, interesting, and usually a little bit broken. I felt home.
Also, it was a great way to finish off the trip. Before coming home, I had to ask myself some questions like: Who am I? What the hell do I want to do with my life? What sort of person do I want to be? Nothing like six hours of hiking per day to figure all that out.
3. India, Ashram
I originally had no interest in or desire to visit India. Then I made a last-minute decision to fly Bangkok to New Delhi, and I’m incredibly glad I did.
I had fucked around with meditation a bit before, but I spent my first month in India staying at an Ashram in Rishikesh and it was an incredible experience. With the caveat that dirty hippies are wrong about a lot, they are right about one thing: Meditation is an essential practice.
4. The 2012 End of The World Tour
Not much to say about this. Buy the book for the stories. Coles notes version is, it was just a month straight of shenanigans with three of my best friends. Good fun.
Arrived in Italy in late April. Partied my way through Rome, Napoli, Perugia and Assisi on my own, then met up with an old lady friend for a month on the standard Italian tourist trail: Rome again, Florence, Cinque Terre, Lucca, Bologna, Venice, and Milan. Italy is of course beautiful, and it was beyond nice to sleep in hotel rooms with hot showers and clean sheets after three months of India and hostels. Traveling with a girl was a welcome respite from having to work for every meal as well.
This month finds itself in the lower half of the rankings, but only because the four above it were such stiff competition. I love Italy, but the month I spent there was fun, rather than life-altering.
6. Chiang Mai, part 2
After the EOTW Tour, I spent another month in Chiang Mai, training muay thai, partying, and writing the second book. Very similar experience to the first month, but without the shock and awe of a new environment, and less partying, more writing. Still a great time, and writing the EOTW Tour was a lot of fun.
7. France, part 1
One month of living in an attic with a bunch of Australians in Hossegor, France. Good group, great surf, and a fun little party town, but as in Italy – I didn’t grow much as a person, and I was starting to get antsy about money and my lack of productivity in the second half of my year abroad. Despite a bit of unhealthy, unnecessary stress of that nature, it was still a great time and I feel kind of odd giving this month such a low ranking. But, I definitely wouldn’t bump it higher than anything from one to six.
8. India, part 2
I spent my second month in India backpacking through New Delhi, Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Chittorgarh and Bombay.
I enjoyed it, at the time. I met a few cool people, I saw some interesting things, and every day was an adventure. In retrospect, I’m glad my grand tour around the world included some time in at least one “difficult” area. Relentless irrational optimist that I strive to be, I convinced myself that I really, really liked urban India while I was there
But as soon as I arrived in Rome and took my first hot shower, ate a delicious meal, got a bed in a dorm room with nice clean sheets, and spent the night with one of the first hot girls I’d seen in a month, I realized something: India is a god-forsaken shithole. It is dirty, foul smelling, broken, and full of sullen, ugly people. Spare me your exhortations that I must have missed out on the ‘real’ India or that I now lack traveler street cred because I’m willing to call a spade a spade, but there it is. India is simply not a nice place.
I will say this however: Spending a month there was an immensely valuable experience, in the sense that I had never truly appreciated how much better nice things are than not nice things, and the thousands of tiny ways that nice places are better than not nice places. India gave me a new appreciation of the western world, and a new disdain for the people doing their damndest to turn the awful west into something more deliciously vibrant like India.
9. France, part 2
To put it vaguely, I spent my second month in France traveling with an old friend and learning a valuable lesson about what happens when you grow and change in different directions than the people you care about. C’est la vie.
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So there you have it. Overall, an absolute tear of a trip. Quite possibly the best year of my life, and definitely the one in which I learned and grew the most. If you feel like you can relate to me and my values, and you’re considering taking the plunge – I can’t recommend it highly enough. If I could do it all over again though, what would I change? I’ll answer that question later this week when I post my ultimate quarter-life crisis gap year guide.