I let my 30th birthday slip by pretty quietly. It’s been one hell of a journey thus far, and turning 30 seemed like the last thing I needed to be celebrating. After all, milestones aren’t measured in years—they’re measured by the journey.
Coincidentally, my 30th year (which just passed on the 30th of last month!) took place in my 30th country. Now, I’m not one to count countries, but when the numbers line up like that, it’s just too good to ignore. So in the spirit of 30, here are the 30 best things I’ve done in my 30 years on this planet.
1. Scuba Dive on the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest and most beautiful network of coral in the world. If there’s any place on earth go to diving, it’s here.
I’ve been a scuba diver since I was 13 years old, and it was always a dream of mine to dive the Great Barrier Reef. I finally fulfilled my dream on a live-aboard boat, where I spent eight days diving four times every day. In exchange for washing dishes and making beds, my week was entirely free!
2. Jump Out of an Airplane
Because if we can jump out of planes, why shouldn’t we?
I’ve always been one to push the boundaries, and once I arrived in Australia, one of the first things I did was jump out of a plane. I was on the Sunshine Coast, in the small coastal town of Caloundra, and I jumped from 14,000 feet! It was just as exhilarating as it sounds, and I believe it’s an experience everyone should have at least once in their life–it’s about pushing your personal limits.
3. Become a Bartender
Bartending is a) tons of fun, and b) a very productive way to fund your travels.
After two months backpacking up the east coast of Australia, I found myself completely and utterly broke. With barely enough money to pay for a place to sleep for the night, I landed a job at a nightclub, and the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve used bartending as a means to travel the world, everywhere from New York to Melbourne to Beijing.
4. Hike a Glacier in New Zealand
There aren’t a lot of places in the world where you can hike a glacier. New Zealand has two of them!
I spent 15 months living, working, and traveling in New Zealand. The landscapes are like something out of a movie (actually, they are in movies), and spending a beautiful day hiking the Franz Josef Glacier was one of the big-time highlights. Look at this place!
5. Bungee Jump Completely Naked
It doesn’t have to be bungee jumping–do something naked. It will break your comfort zone and you’ll find freedom in doing so.
For me, it was early in the morning, and the cute girls at the counter knew just how to push my buttons. It only took about three minutes to convince me to get naked, and ten minutes later I was jumping off a bridge.
6. Celebrate an Orphan’s Thanksgiving
Holidays are so often skipped when we travel. But sometimes, when everybody is seeking a little comfort from home, it’s possible to create new traditions and lasting memories.
During my stint in New Zealand I spent six-months living in a hostel. There was a whole group of us actually, from all over the world. When Thanksgiving rolled around the Americans among us decided to share the holiday with everyone. We basted a turkey in the hostel kitchen, cooked mashed potatoes and stuffing, and stocked up on $6 wine. The Americans each shared a unique family tradition, and everyone, including the Swedes, Brits, Canadians, and more, shared what they were thankful for that year.
7. Hitch-Hike Your Way Through a Country
Hitch-hiking is a lot safer that most people think, especially in places like New Zealand. You’re guaranteed to meet some interesting people along the way.
In fact, I used it as a reliable form of daily transportation when I lived in Queenstown! When New Year’s rolled around, my friend Gabe and I hitch-hiked from Wellington to Gisborne, the first city in the world to welcome the sun. We were among the first people in the world to say hello to the year 2012, and our weekend-long adventure was nothing short of incredibly epic.
8. Teach English to Kids in China
English teaching jobs are available all over the world, and they are one of the best ways to travel on a limited budget. They often include flights, accommodation, and a competitive pay package.
When I saw an offer to teach English in China scroll across my Facebook page, I quickly inquired and quickly accepted. The next thing I knew I was making my foray into Asia, a place that now feels like my second home. I spent six months teaching in Xi’an before moving to Beijing for a few months to work in the city’s best cocktail bar.
9. Go Somewhere Really, Truly Remote
Somewhere that makes you feel like you’re exploring new frontiers.
During the Chinese New Year, a period of two weeks when almost everyone in China goes on holiday, I traveled to the Yunnan province and spent ten days traveling into the far reaches of China and to the border of Tibet. Towns like Dali and Lijiang were uniquely charming, and the mountains of Tiger Leaping Gorge were the most stunning thing I’ve ever seen. Traveling north to Shangri-La, an occupied Tibetan region, I biked way out of town–closer to the border–to one of the most remote places on earth that I’ve ever been.
10. Party All Night at the Full Moon Party
The Full Moon Party is the party that every backpacker talks about.
After 10 months in China, I headed to Southeast Asia, and just in time for the Full Moon Party. It’s a monthly beach party that is known to get, well, beyond crazy. I’ll let this photo do the talking.
11. Play with Elephants
Elephants are an icon in Southeast Asia and you’ll find them just about everywhere. Though riding an elephant is high on many people’s bucket list, there are some very good reasons not to. Try your hand at volunteering with them, instead!
In 2013, I spearheaded a grassroots charity organization that raised $7,500 to buy extra land for protected elephants in Northern Thailand. A few months later I found myself in Thailand and I spent a full day at the park, up close and personal with the elephants that we were helping to rescue.
12. Explore the Temples of Angkor
Perhaps one of the most famous sites in all of the world, the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia are magical at sunrise.
I spent 13 straight hours with a local tuk-tuk driver, riding around to all of the temples, taking photos, learning about their history, and sweating my ass off!
13. Find Paradise on an Island
Southeast Asia is full of islands, but something about Koh Rong is just…special.
A very precarious boat ride from Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia took me to this tiny island, a small backpacker utopia with the most incredible beaches and a laid-back vibe that could suck you in for months (in fact, for some people, it does!). I spoke to a few people who hadn’t worn shoes in so long they actually didn’t know where they were.
14. Do a Sunrise Mountain Trek in Northern Vietnam
For a real look at rural Vietnam, Sapa is the place. The trek takes you through the mountainous, terraced rice fields which are inhabited by local H’mong tribes.
One morning during my trek, I woke up very early (at about 4:30am) and took a solo hike up the mountain and out of the village. I don’t know where I went or how far I hiked, but the sunrise that morning over the mountains was glorious.
15. Experience Reverse Culture Shock
Definitely the least enjoyable thing on this list, reverse culture shock is the most honest way to see your own culture from a different perspective.
I had spent 3.5 years overseas, more than one of them in Asia, and returning to the States was a devastating experience. I’ll never forget the unbearably isolating feeling that reverse culture shock brought with it, but I saw my beloved America in a whole new light.
16. Fly an Airplane Over the Mountains
When you’ve had enough of economy, the cockpit is calling your name.
Though, I had plenty of flights under my belt, I had never been the one driving. I flew a Cessna 172 over the mountains of North Carolina and didn’t realize, until I was thousands of feet in the air, that I accidentally left the door open.
17. Live in New York City
They say that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere in the world.
I had already made it “anywhere in the world” and I was ready to put myself to the ultimate test. I lived and worked there for six months, and still use it as a home base. While there, I was offered my dream job but ultimately turned it down to continue my travels!
18. Discover Pristine Beaches
Puerto Rico is an easy escape from the United States. Whether you’re an American or you’re just traveling in the States, flights from NYC only cost about $300 round trip.
New York got hit with one of it’s worst winter’s to date, and the numbing cold literally sent me packing. I took a week off and lazed around the beaches of Puerto Rico, drinking more Medalla Light than was healthy, replenishing my Vitamin D, and making all of my friends jealous.
19. Spend a Weekend Offline
These days, we are never too far from technology–a weekend offline would serve anybody well.
Prior to arriving in Tayrona National Park, Colombia, I didn’t realize there wouldn’t be any cell service; my first day was spent frantically looking for WiFi. I worried that my family would assume me to be dead after not hearing from me for 24 hours, which, of course, is ridiculous. Three days later I emerged feeling refreshed, and found that absolutely nothing important had happened while I was gone. Imagine that!
20. Go Crazy at Carnival!
It’s one of the most notorious festivals for a reason–Carnival is CRAZY.
Carnival de Barranquilla is the second largest Carnival celebration in the world, falling only behind the grand celebration in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We arrived in town a few days early to prepare ourselves. The party usually started in the middle of the day and it would end in the wee hours of the night. There were huge parades, there were foam fights, there was dancing in the streets…and trust me when I say that there was plenty of Aguardiente.
21. Almost Die Hiking a Volcano
Everybody hikes mountains, but we are adventurers, and should thus be hiking volcanoes.
My first taxi driver in Quito, Ecuador pointed to the tallest, cloud-covered summit in view. From that moment, I knew I had to climb it (though I didn’t know it was a volcano at the time). I ended up in the middle of an insane hail-storm and seriously thought I would die there.
22. Visit the Birthplace of Jesus Christ
We grow up learning about these places but most of us never put Jerusalem, Nazareth, or Bethlehem into a real-world context.
Religion has always been more conceptual to me, but seeing these places with my own eyes made it much more real. While traveling in Israel, I explored Bethlehem (which is actually Palestinian territory), where Jesus was born, Nazareth, where he lived, and the Holy City of Jerusalem, where he was crucified.
23. See the Conflict in Palestine First Hand
To truly understand what’s going on in Palestine would take years of study. To see it up close and personal is another experience altogether.
I spent a few days in Palestine, exploring first with a Palestinian guide, and then with an Israeli guide. They each told us their side of the conflict, speaking to locals and visiting them in their houses. I learned, first hand, what a complicated situation the Middle East is really in. Most people would never visit the West Bank, but it was one of my most memorable experiences to date.
24. Climb to the Top of the Monastery in Petra, Jordan
Actually, you shouldn’t do this. But you should break some rules once in a while 😉
After visiting Israel and Palestine, I made my way into Jordan for a few days to explore the Wadi Rum desert and the ancient city of Petra. I befriended a local bedouin and he decided to show me something incredibly special: he brought me to the top of the Monastery—a restricted area in the protected park—and I saw some remarkable views that most people never get to see.
25. Crawl Inside the Ancient Pyramids of Egypt
The ancient Pyramids are one of mankind’s greatest mysteries.
There was no way I would leave the Middle East without first visiting the pyramids. I detoured to Cairo, met a local bedouin named Rami (who I now call my brother) and we stood in awe before one of the most remarkable pieces of architecture on earth.
26. Traverse Europe by Train
It’s like the European sister of a US road-trip. Traveling in Europe by train is the only way to go. The network is vast and incredibly easy to navigate.
My entry to Greece this past summer was actually my first visit to Europe. I spent the following three months traveling from Greece to Germany. There’s no way I can describe the whole trip in a short paragraph, but despite the crazy ups and downs, it was a summer I will never forget.
27. Learn the Plight of the Refugees
We can’t ever understand a problem until we’ve come face to face with it.
This was perhaps one of my most impactful travel experiences of all time. Riding the train from Greece to Macedonia, we came face to face with Syrian refugees who were fleeing their home country. I never wrote about the experience, but my traveling partner in crime, Leah, penned an emotive piece about how it went down and how it affected us. It’s well worth a read.
28. Discover the Balkans
The Balkans are rife with corruption, war, and poverty, but they are, indeed, a beautiful and astonishing place.
I’m not sure what attracted me to the Balkans in the first place—it was a place I hadn’t read much about, and it wasn’t on the radar of most travelers I know. I spent about two months traveling in Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, and Montenegro, and I learned that the Balkans could very well be the most bizarre place on earth (excepting China, maybe). It’s rife with war, poverty, and corruption, but it’s contentious history and beautiful coastline make it a uniquely interesting destination.
29. Party Until Sunrise on a Beach in Montenegro
It’s basically what our twenties are for.
Being a huge fan of music festivals, I made my way to Montenegro with my good buddy Adventurous Kate for Sea Dance. It’s the little sister of the more famous Exit Festival, and on two of the four nights, we partied on the beach until sunrise, dancing to world-renowned DJ’s, watching the sky flicker and change colors for hours. Kate still calls it the best night of her life!
30. Buy a One-Way Ticket to Anywhere
The journey is always more exciting when you don’t know where or when it’s going to resolve.
I’ve never been one to plan my travels, and I’ve never regretted doing it that way. I usually don’t know what’s going to happen, and though my lack of planning may end up costing me a few extra dollars, it’s always worth it. I came to Belgium a month ago with a one-way ticket, and I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen next.
So how did I celebrate 30? It was the 30th of December and I was in my 30th country surrounded by the people I love. My whole family had flown to Brussels to meet our future in-laws, and together, we drank champagne, ate our weight in oysters, and literally danced in circles around the Christmas tree.
As someone who travels a lot, I don’t usually need a #ReasonToTravel. But this time, surrounded by the people who are most important to me, on my 30th birthday in my 30th country, I realized just how special it can be.
Here’s an inspiring story — Hannah quit her job at 29 to travel the world full-time, her husband Adam put together this video which highlights her first year on the road traveling. She rang in the big 30 in Chiang Mai, Thailand during the Songkran festival. The Songkran festival is celebrating the traditional Thai New Year and is marked by throwing water. It was such an amazing 30th birthday celebration she came back to celebrate her 31st birthday in the same spot!