20 Countries and Counting: What I Loved About Each Place
So you know, this post contains Amazon affiliate links you may find helpful.
I experienced my first taste of wanderlust at age 17 when my friend and I went to France for three weeks and loved how different everything was. The architecture, the food, and just the overall way of life was so new and exciting. At age 18, I made a goal of going to a new country every year of my life, and age 29, I’ve been able to go above and beyond with my goal! Here are the 20 countries I’ve been to in the last 12 years (in alphabetical order), what I loved about each place, and my top recommendations for you. Somethings to keep an eye out for are just ordinary things that made an extraordinary impression, but that’s the beauty of travel!
// December 2007
Looking back, I probably got scammed on this trip. I had won a “free” trip but ended up having to pay for random taxes and fees that actually came out to be kind of hefty in cost for a college student. I don’t even remember exactly where I went but two things stick out in my mind.
Mike and I had rented a scooter and drove around the island. We discovered a secluded beach with fine sand and clear water that stretched on for miles. It felt both humbling and exciting to be in a place so barren without people. I have yet to discover a beach again so empty and pure.
Also, we went to a local fish fry where we were the only tourists and had fresh fish fried (duh) and conch. Since then, I’ve been craving whole fish fried whenever I go to a city with good seafood.
// Bruges and Antwerp – February 2017
// Brussels – December 2015
Bruges is a magical fairytale-like city with canals, cobblestone streets, and architecture dating back to the 13th century. I loved just walking around this adorable little city. It’s worth visiting here just to walk around for the day and to try some craft Belgian beer! You can check out my complete city guide to Bruges here to find out helpful tips like where to eat and when not to go.
// Vancouver and Vancouver Island – August 2015
// Montreal – December 2012
When we went to Montreal in December, it snowed A LOT, but we were prepared. We brought our snow clothes with us and walked around the city in two feet (60 cm) of snow looking like we were ready to ski. We even went to a fancy fine dining establishment for lunch and peeled off our layers before sitting down. Everyone, including us, were thoroughly amused by this but they were very accommodating.
As for Vancouver and Vancouver Island, it was a trip full of loved ones! I got to see my best friend get married in Tofino, a breathtakingly serene place, and a great friend from college play with Vance Joy as an opener for Taylor Swift. So proud of how far my friends come in life spiritually, professionally, emotionally, and more!
4. Cayman Islands &
// January 2010
This trip to the Caymand Islands and Jamaica was one of the most positive life-changing experiences I’ve ever had. When I was 20, I was quite heart-broken and lost. Since age 10 when my single mother died of cancer, I had constantly been struggling monetarily and emotionally. It didn’t help in college being so far from home and having gone through a bad relationship. But then I decided to go on a Jam Cruise, a 5 day jam, jazz, and electronic music festival on a cruise ship, and it changed my life!
I didn’t know anyone on the boat except for someone I had met for 5 minutes at a music festival two months prior, I got a random male roommate because I had to buy a ticket late from someone, and at age 20, I was probably one of the youngest, if not the youngest, person on the boat. But it didn’t matter. Everyone treated me like I was part of their family, and I made friends for a lifetime.
To be accepted instantly by an entire cruise ship full of people, meet the music artists I’ve admired for years, and be surrounded by good music and beautiful scenery for a week changed the way I viewed life. Only after 5 days, I trusted the world so much more and opened my heart. Life’s only gone up since then.
6. Czech Republic
// Prague – January 2016
I was surprised by the amazing food in Prague at such great prices. For example, at Ristorante Pagana, we had two appetizers, three entrées (because the first two were so good we had to have more, two desserts, a bottle of wine, and after-dinner drinks, and the bill came out to about $70-80 USD. I want to go back to Prague simply to eat. You can find out where to eat in Prague here.
// London – August 2016
London was so much fun to just walk around and enjoy the city for eating and drinking. My favorite neighborhood was Shoreditch. It’s quite hipster and has fun street art and yummy street food courts. If you like Michelin restaurants, then Yauatcha has a great dim sum tasting menu for 15 pounds a person during Monday through Thursday lunch.
// Cannes, Nice, and Verdon Natural Regional Park – March 2017
// Lille – October 2016
// Paris – July 2016
// Lyon – May 2016
// Paris, Fontainebleau and Strasbourg – August 2005
France was the first place I ever traveled abroad to so that in itself was a life-changing experience. It’ll always have a special place in my heart. I really love Lyon because it’s the gastronomic capital of the world, but recently I went to the Verdon Gorge, which has the most spectacular turquoise blue waters I’ve ever seen before. I went here on off-season so didn’t get to go kayaking but would highly recommend doing so.
// Berlin – March 2017 and October 2016
// Cologne – December 2016
// Munich – December 2016
I first went to Berlin on a solo trip and absolutely fell in love with the city. It’s got a raw and gritty feel that reminds me of New York, but a chill and laid-back environment like Amsterdam. The food is really great and cheap too! If there’s one thing you should do to prep for Berlin, it’s to get free tickets to the German Bundestag, the Parliament building, ahead of time.
If there’s anything you should do in Ireland, it’s talk with a local. Don’t have the opportunity to? Then literally bump into one on the street because the rumors are true– Irish people are the nicest!
// Pigna and Ventimiglia – March 2017
// Florence, Milan, Siena, Cinque Terre, and Turin – September 2017
Italy is my favorite country because the food is incredible, and I’m not talking about the pasta, pizza, or even Ossobuco. I’m simply talking about the ingredients like fruits, vegetables, and meat. Italy was the forefront of the slow food movement, which started in the 80s. It aims to bring quality products that doesn’t harm the environment to people at fair prices. Wherever you go in Italy, you can truly taste the care they put into growing their foods.
I loved that Italy was a trip that happened by chance. We were originally supposed to go to Israel with a layover in Ukraine, but we got our $900 flight refunded for our flights; not because of the turmoil happening in both countries but because the airline had changed the timing of our flight and didn’t tell us! We used that money and found a cheap air ticket to Milan for $700 then took a train to Florence for $30 (versus flying directly into Florence would’ve cost $1200).
// Tulum – Summer 2012
This was a trip to remember because I got the worst water poisoning I’ve experienced in my life. I was really careful about not drinking tap water or even eating lettuce washed with tap water. What got me was the damn spa at the resort! I thought I was being all healthy by going in the steam room to the jacuzzi, and well what do you know? Breathing in steam and soaking in water through your pores can get you just as sick as drinking water. It certainly wasn’t a romantic trip after that. Mike and I fought for the bathroom for the two days straight.
// Amsterdam, Utrecht, Haarlem, Maastricht, Tilburg, and Zaandam – September 2015 to present
I moved to Amsterdam in September 2015 and have thoroughly enjoyed my lifestyle here. The mix of my Korean background with my New Yorker attitude has made me feel quite at home with the Dutch culture. The people here are straight-forward, things work efficiently (like lines, you know– grocery lines, coat check lines, lines leaving a concert, etc.), and there’s overall relaxed air to this country. I see myself living here for awhile.
14. New Zealand
// Auckland, Queenstown, and Milford Sound – May 2009
I couldn’t afford to study abroad or travel much during college so what I did was stay with my friends when they were studying abroad. I loved that there was no difference between organic or conventional fruits and vegetables when I went ’cause it was all organic! I also enjoyed drinking fresh water right out of a spring in the South Island. If you only do one thing here, it’s to go to Milford Sound.
// May 2008
I found a flight to/from Peru for only $300 so naturally, I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to visit my friend and tag along on his surf trip. I really couldn’t tell you where we went, but at one point, we went to a small beach town that only had two restaurants. One of the restaurants was closed, and the only other served chicken or eggs over rice. This was the first time I went someplace so remote so found these options, or lack thereof, quite amusing!
// Lisbon – August 2016
Lisbon is a fun city to hang out in with its fresh seafood and seemingly endless sunshine. You must eat at Taberna da Rua das Flores! There is a huge wait pretty much anytime of the day, but go there an hour before you want to eat, put your name down, then hang out and people watch at the square nearby.
// Barcelona – March 2016
// Gaucin, Seville, Malaga, and Marbella – May 2015
I’ve loved every part of Spain I’ve been to but if I had to choose, I’d recommend going to Barcelona for architecture and food and Gaucin for a gorgeous village with Santorini-type feels.
18. South Korea
Despite being Korean-American, I never had the desire to go to South Korea. That is, until I became a foodie! I dreamt of kimbap, bibimbap, galbi, and all the great food I could eat straight from the motherland. Of course, I got exactly what I expected with the food, but what I didn’t expect beforehand was that I’d get a better understanding of where my parents and grandparents came from, and more specifically, why my grandma was the way she was. Seeing how different Americans and Koreans are, it made me realize how hard my parents’ move to the US must’ve been whereas my move to Amsterdam, another Western place, was quite easy!
If you go to a Seoul, you must go to a spa and enjoy all the various jacuzzis and detox rooms!
// Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ayyutthaya, Kanchanaburri, Pai, and Phuket – July 2011
Thailand was the first Asian country I’ve visited and had a proper culture slap in the face. It was so different than anything I had known before so I loved it! My favorite part was that despite being in a big city like Bangkok, you could still say hello to anyone walking down the street and have a friendly, neighborhood vibe.
If there’s one place you need to go in Thailand, it’s Pai. It’s a hippie village in Northern Thailand and so different from anywhere else I went to during my time there.
20. United States of America
// New York, Connecticut, Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Maine, Vermont, California, Nevada, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, New Mexico, Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and North Carolina – 1988 to 2016
I lived in Queens, New York until I was 7; Kansas City, Kansas until I was 8; Trumbull, Connecticut until I was 18; Orlando, Florida until I was 22; then Manhattan, New York until I was 26. Out of all the places I’ve lived in the USA, New York City is my home. Out of all the places I’ve been to in the USA, New York is my favorite. I’m definitely biased, but regardless, if you go there, please reach out to me for suggestions, or at the very least, check out these local tips on what not to do in New York City.
Overall, I am quite proud to be American and lucky that I grew up there. My parents both died by the time I was 10, and I grew up on welfare. Despite all that, I was able to rise out of my social class quickly by going to school and have amazing opportunities such as traveling. I can’t think of any other country that would’ve been so generous in enabling me to become the person I want to be.
I really loved looking back on all the countries I’ve been to and the memories they’ve brought back. I have so many more countries to see and I know I’ll find something to love about each and every one. Traveling makes me feel more at home with the world and myself.
Anyways, enough about me, how many countries have you gone to? Do you keep track like me?
Thanks for stopping by! xo.