Category Archives: Inspiration

My Favorite Captures of 2015

With February 2016 nearly upon us, I wanted to take some time a reflect on the previous year and share some of my favorite photos of 2015. When it comes to photography, I consider myself to be much more an enthusiast than a professional. I thoroughly enjoy taking pictures just for fun of it. It’s definitely an added bonus when I capture a decent shot of something that means a lot to me.

2015 was one busy year, especially when it came to work. Holding down a full-time job while living in Hong Kong and finding the time to do extensive travel was pretty difficult. Nonetheless, I tried my best to plan my vacation days around public holidays in order to get more time to travel. As such, my travels in 2015 led me to Myanmar, China, Indonesia, and back home to the United States for an early Christmas. According to Adobe Lightroom, I snapped over 2,000 photos during this time so choosing my favorites certainly wasn’t an easy task, but I tried my best to narrow it down to a few from each country. Take a look!

Myanmar

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Reaching an impressive 325 feet into the sky, The Shwedagon Pagoda is Myanmar’s most sacred Buddhist pagoda. Containing various important relics related to the spiritual teachings, it is believed to be the oldest pagoda in Myanmar, dating back to the lifetime of the Buddha. As a result, thousands of pilgrims visit this site every day, making it a unique, lively and magical place to witness.

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During a two hour wait in the extremely busy Yangon Central Railway Station, I was approached by a big family who asked me to sit on their mat while I waited for my train. The mother, in broken English, told me all about her children and introduced me to her son who was more than excited to have a photo taken. You can see them here sporting thanaka, a natural paste made from ground bark that is used as a natural sun screen. These, among many others, were just a taste of the curiosity and hospitality that can be found in all corners of Myanmar.

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Bagan is Myanmar’s most famous destination and it’s easy to see why. This ancient city is home to thousands of Buddhist pagodas and temples dating back to the 11th and and 13th centuries making them nearly 2,000 years old. My friend and I spent the entire day exploring this vast landscape, wandering amongst the temples, and discovering the hidden statues found in the various temples. Bagan is truly magical and it was easily one of the most memorable places I traveled to in 2015.

China

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The Li River which traverses from Guilin to Yanhshuo is considered to be one of China’s most famous scenic areas. Surrounded by towering karst mountains, rollings hills, and hidden caves, it’s the perfect place to catch a bamboo raft and leisurely float down the river. Listed as one of the world’s top ten watery wonders by National Geographic Magazine, it’s a beautiful place to witness as it offers a quintessentially Chinese experience in a mostly natural and untouched setting.

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Named after its moon-shaped hole, Moon Hill is one of Yangshuo’s most iconic and scenic sights. Standing at over 1,200 feet high, Moon Hill offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area and valley below. The 800 step climb to the top is well worth the view and, for those seeking something a bit more adventurous, why not try one of the fourteen rock climbing routes up the the large rock. Whether you’re an amateur or a professional climber, this scenic destination offers the perfect backdrop for a challenging, yet fun adventure.

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There’s something about water buffalo that completely puts me at ease and sends me to my peaceful place. I could easily spend hours watching these majestic creatures wandering through the rice fields and munching on grass. An odd, the water buffalo have become my my favorite animals. I have witnessed these gentle giants in nearly every Asian country I have visited thus far and I have grown to really appreciate their gentle manner.

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Bali was probably one of the most surprising places I visited. Due its touristy nature, I was expecting it be highly developed, but it’s actually quite easy to find peace and quiet throughout many parts of the island. Case in point, the Jatiluwih Rice Terrace; 700 meters above sea level, this beautiful rice terrace is considered to be Bali’s oldest and most complex agricultural system. Designated a UNESCO Cultural Landscape, Jatiluwih offers a breathtaking panorama and a tranquil retreat from the island’s more developed areas.

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From vast rice fields to relaxing beaches, Bali has a lot to offer as a travel destination. This is the Yellow Bridge which connects Nusa Lembongan to Nusa Ceningan. These two islands are only a short boat ride from the main island of Bali, yet it feels as if they are hundreds of miles away from the busy shores of nearby Kuta and Sanur. The quiet shores of Nusa Lembongan are the perfect place to unwind and relax and live life the way it was meant to be.

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And what is a place without its people? During a four day stay in the palatial Alam Puisi Villa I was invited to attend a New Year celebration which included four traditional Indonesian dances. The dancers were only too happy to be captured, in fact, spectators were invited to join the dancers on stage to welcome in the new year. It was the perfect way to ring in 2016.

The United States

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New York City is a truly unique and unrivaled destination. From the city’s Great White Way to its five distinct boroughs, there a few cities like it in the world. Not to mention, Gotham has one of the most iconic skylines around. There is no better place to catch a glimpse of this glistening skyline than the Top of the Rock. Whether you call it the Big Apple, the Capital of the World, or the City that Never Sleeps, you’ll certainly never run out of things to do.

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Christmas in New York City is a magical experience. From ice skating in Central Park, viewing the windows along 5th Avenue, or taking in the sights of the world’s most famous Christmas tree, the city certainly goes all out for the holidays as it transforms itself into a twinkling winter wonderland, making it one of the best of times to visit the Big Apple.

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The September 11th memorial is an unusual one for this list, it’s not exciting, it’s not a major tourist attraction but it is a picture I hold in high esteem. This image depicts the beauty of the memorial and the importance of such a space in the city of New York to both its citizens and its visitors. The tone of the memorial is hardly morose, but pensive, a reminder of what so many have lost and what we must never forget.

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I’ve Been Nominated for the Liebster Award!

Thanks to my dear friend Erin over at Quarter Life Wanderings, I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award. Thanks Erin, it’s greatly appreciated! You should definitely check out her site when you get a chance, her stories and photos are amazing!

So what exactly is the Liebster Award? The Liebster Award is an opportunity for bloggers with less than 200 followers to get discovered and promote other bloggers in the blogosphere. While not an award in the literal sense, the Liebster is a great way for up and coming bloggers to interact and promote each other while meeting like minded people online. I personally find idea to be genius!

First, I’ll answer 11 questions that were given to me by Erin. Then, I’ll create a new list of questions for my own nominees to answer. So here we go:

1. What was the first place you visited and why?

After graduating university, I decided to treat myself to a holiday outside of the States. Like most graduates, I was pretty strapped for cash so my options were quite limited. Thankfully, Mexicana Airlines was still operational at the time and I scored myself a cheap ticket to Costa Rica. It was my first major trip aboard and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. From learning how to surf to hiking an active volcano, I was living la pura vida and didn’t ever want to leave.

2. What is your worst/funniest travel experience?  

If you’re a reader of my blog, you’re probably quite aware that I’m a big fan of the Philippines. I love it so much that I have visited the country on four separate occasions. The Palawan region is a place that is particularly untouched and dear to me. Unfortunately, there is one place in the Philippines that I won’t ever return to and it’s called Puerto Galera. Just the name of it alone brings a plethora of emotions, all of which are negative. I won’t get into too many details, but let’s just say my friends and I had our belongings stolen, were overcharged, and pretty much lost our dignity for reasons that probably shouldn’t be shared. It was one island I couldn’t wait to leave.

3. What is/was your dream trip and why?

My current dream destination is Nepal. I hope to explore it sometime soon especially after the devastating earthquakes to help give back. I’m a big fan of the outdoors and Buddhist culture and I think Nepal will offer the perfect mix of my two favorite things. From Annapurna Circuit to the Everest Base Camp hike, I hope to fully explore and enjoy Nepal’s grand landscape.

4. If you could retire in a country other than your own, what would it be?

This is a tough one as there so many places that come to mind, but if I had to just choose one I’d probably pick Costa Rica. It offers a bit of everything that I enjoy the most, rainforests, beaches, volcanoes, wildlife, good food and a laid back atmosphere. Not to mention, Costa Rica is an environmentally friendly country with more than 25% of its land either a National Park or a protected area.

5. Have you ever lived in another country or wanted to? Where?

Before coming to Hong Kong, I lived in South Korea for a year where I spent the weekends exploring as much of the country as I could. Living in Korea made me realize that it is easily one of the most underrated countries in East Asia.

6. Why did you start a travel blog?

I’ve been living in Asia for more than four years now and I’ve been loving every minute of it. I started this blog in order to have an avenue to write about the amazing places I’ve been to and to share my own thoughts and insights about them

7. What is the weirdest thing you have eaten during your travels?

While I try to immerse myself in the local culture as much as I can, I’m not that adventurous when it comes to outrageous eats. I’ve passed on opportunities to eat scorpion, silk worms, and fried bugs in the past, but I have tried chicken feet. While it’s not that extreme, that’s about the weirdest thing I have eaten so far.

8. How many countries have you visited so far?  

So far I have traveled to a total of 17 countries, most of which lie in Asia. Here’s the list in order of when I visited them, Poland, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, South Korea, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Macua, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, and Myanmar.

9. Name your three top destinations you’ve been to.  

Another tough one, but I’d have to say my top destinations (in no particular order) are Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam. I found Indonesia to be quite magical, from the rice fields of Bali to the temples of Borobudur, there is something unique in the air that is hard to describe. I think the Philippines is easily one of the most beautiful and friendliest countries I have visited. The Palawan region is so stunning and untouched, it’s one of the few remaining unspoiled tropical paradises left on Earth. Finally, Vietnam was the most surprising destination I visited. It’s super cheap, the people are gracious, the food is amazing, and the landscapes are unique.

10. What are your top five things you never travel without?  

I often travel light, but the first thing I can’t ever travel without is my Nikon D7000. While it usually takes up the most room in my bag, it’s often the first thing I think of and the one item I use the most. And of course, I never travel without my pad and pen, Kindle, passport, and wallet!

11. Is there a place you would never go back to and why?  

I’m a big believer in second chances. While I wasn’t a very big fan of Singapore, I hope to return sometime soon and give it a second chance. However, as explained earlier, Puerto Galera is one place that I definitely won’t go back to.

Here are my 11 questions:  

1.What was the hardest adjustment you had to make while traveling or living aboard?

2. What was one of your best moments traveling or living aboard?

3. Has anything gone wrong while traveling that seems funny now?

4. What’s the best meal you’ve ever had traveling?

5. What’s the one thing you cannot travel without?

6. What artists or songs would you include on your ideal playlist for a trip?

7. When traveling do your prefer city life or being in nature?

8. How do you afford to travel?

9. If you could move anywhere in the world where would it be?

10. What’s your favorite city?

11. What is your favorite travel quote and why?

Now, for my nominees!

1. Liam & Tyler at Translated Tourist

2. Liam at L.A. Murphy

3. Atreyee & Jesse at Bespoketraveler.com

4. Albatz at Elizabatz.com

5. Belle at Thattravelingnurse.com

6. Kirk at Theworldisnotthatbig.com

7. John at Pursuitoflife.net

8. Constance at Foreignsanctuary.com

Sorry if any of you have done this before, you don’t have to do it again! Make sure you comment the link to your answers in my blog so we can read it!

All Aglow at Seoul’s Lotus Lantern Festival

Every year, one of Asia’s biggest celebrations takes place in the months of April and May. This major celebration is known as Buddha’s birthday. Buddhism plays a dominant role in many Asian countries including Korea, where every spring the country turns aglow in honor of the birth of Buddha. This also happens to be one of my favorite festivals.

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There are few places in the world that can match Korea’s love for Buddhism and bright lanterns. Nearly fifteen percent of the Korean population practices Buddhism which makes up the largest spiritual group in the Land of the Morning Calm. The celebration is one of the biggest of its kind in the world and they call it the Lotus Lantern Festival.

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Depending on the time of year, Buddha’s birthday can fall any time between the beginning of April to the end of May. At this time, the Korean peninsula magically transforms as it prepares for the celebration. From city streets to mountaintop temples, lanterns begin to appear just about everywhere. The displays are charming and intriguing and the capital city of Seoul pulls out all the stops to make sure it’s a celebration Buddha would surely approve of. For two weeks, the city becomes a mecca of everything Buddhist. The city’s streets, parks, and temples become even more special during this time of year as hundreds upon hundreds of lanterns are hung throughout the city.

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According to Buddhist beliefs, lanterns symbolize wisdom and light in the world. The hope is to bring more prosperity and peace to the world. It is an important ritual in Buddhism that honors the founder of the spiritual teachings. The lantern lighting in Korea began more than a thousand years ago and still continues to this day. The festival attracts people from all over Korea and the world. There are an array of festive programs scheduled throughout this two week period, everything from a luminous parade to traditional lantern making.

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The festival begins with the Lighting Ceremony on the first day in Gwanghwamun Square where various large sized lanterns are lit. The next major event is the Buddhist Cheer Rally which take takes place at Dongguk University. This event is an exciting celebration that is full of songs and rhythmic beats. Later that day, the main thoroughfare of Seoul is shut down to make way for the festival’s oldest and largest event, the Lotus Lantern Parade.

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The parade is considered by many to be the highlight of the celebration as tens of thousands of lanterns are carried by various Buddhist congregations. It is truly a magical thing to witness as all the lanterns are being paraded down the streets of Seoul. You can expect to see brightly lit lanterns in the shape of dragons, pagodas, white elephants, lotus flowers, and more. All this lasts for nearly three hours and concludes with a festive celebration on the streets which I found to be inspirational and a lot of fun.

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The following day, various traditional and cultural events take place along the main street in front of Jogyesa Temple. Here visitors can learn more about Buddhism by participating in an endless amount of cultural experiences. With more than one-hundred booths set up by Buddhist Monks and Nuns; there is something for everyone, whether it be traditional lantern making or learning proper meditation techniques. My friend and I really enjoyed crafting traditional lanterns of our own.

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Seoul’s Lotus Lantern Festival is a unique cultural experience and one of the most beautiful festivals I have witnessed yet. I highly recommend visiting Seoul during this magical time, you’ll surely enjoy taking in all the whimsical sights and sounds that the celebration has to offer. For those interested in checking out the festival, this year’s festivities will take place from May 15th to the 17th. The festival’s program can be found at Korea’s Official Tourism Website.

All Abloom at the Jinhae Gunhangje Festival

Spring has officially arrived in the Northern Hemisphere which means temperatures are warming up. Trees and flowers are beginning to bloom and landscapes are waking up all over the region, giving travelers the opportunity to see the vibrant delights that nature has to offer. When you think of Japan at this time, you may think of the famous Cherry Blossoms that people in the masses travel too see. What many are not aware of however, is the popularity of the Cherry Blossom festivals in South Korea, with the largest of these festivals being the Jinhae Gunhangje Festival.

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Every year between late March and early April, thousands of visitors travel to the southern port of city of Jinhae to witness the beautiful pink blooms that envelop the entire town. Jinhae is home to thousands of cherry blossom trees that can be found in nearly every nook and cranny of this tranquil little place. I loved strolling through the town and taking in all its beautiful scenes.

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It’s possible for travelers to walk around for hours and see the blossoms from many different locations, for example the view from Jehwangsan Park allows visitors to enjoy panoramic views of the town and allows you to witness some of the tallest trees in the area. Located in the center of Jinhae atop Jehwangsan Mountain, the 365 step climb to the top is well worth it. I really enjoyed the views from here and was quite impressed by how tall some of the cherry blossom trees were.

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Another popular spot is Gyeonghwa Station. This 800 meter-long stretch of railway is considered one of the best places to witness the cherry blossoms in Jinhae. The area has been featured in various Korean movies and TV shows. Walking along the tracks and watching couples taking their wedding pictures under the backdrop of the trees was a unique experience.

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While I found both Jehwangsan Park and Gyeonghwa Station to be beautiful locales, I favoured the Yeojwacheon Stream. The path along the stream measures nearly one mile long and is covered by an extensive canopy of cherry blossom trees from beginning to end. I found this area to be quite magical with the water rushing down the stream as the pink petals fell gently from the leaves.

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The cherry blossom festival is an all day and all night sort of event with the trees transformed and illuminated with the use of various colored lights that only further the beauty of the blossoms. The festival becomes even more romantic at this time as couples wander hand in hand amongst the beautiful trees and the moonlit sky.

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Besides relishing in all the cherry blossom trees, the Festival offers a plethora of events and activities, including an extensive market, a cultural parade, and various art and traditional performances. I really enjoyed wandering around the market and savoring the vast array of traditional Korean dishes and teas.

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If you’re a fan of springtime and cherry blossom trees, I highly recommend visiting the Jinhae Gunhangje Festival. It was a beautiful and tranquil trip. This year’s festival will take place from April 1st to the 10th. Jinhae is located in Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do which is only a short bus ride away from Busan.

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For more information regarding this year’s festivities please visit Korea’s Official Tourism Website.

The Great “Wild” Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is easily one of the most famous and recognizable landmarks in the world. Known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it has become China’s most popular attraction. People from all over the world travel to the People’s Republic to experience the ancient grandeur and beauty of the wall resulting in many parts of this historical attraction being inundated with tourists. Thankfully, the Great Wall of China is 5,500 miles long with Beijing covering only 342 of these miles. Thus, there are parts of the wall that can still be explored on a more personal basis. One of these sections is Jinshanling.

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While Jinshanling is a bit of a trek from Beijing, about a three hour drive from the center of the city, the end result is well worth the extra time. I absolutely loved this section of the wall. Jinshanling is isolated and stunning. I found the scenery to be quite extraordinary and unforgettable.

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I really enjoyed trekking along this portion of the Great Wall. The vistas of the surrounding landscape were truly impressive and I found the area to be authentic and natural. It offers an organic mix of restored and untouched wall and, most surprisingly, I didn’t see a single tourist while exploring this area.

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I spent nearly three hours climbing up and down parts of the Jinshanling section, which measures nearly seven miles in total. The hike was rather challenging as the varying depth of steps and sheer steepness made it feel like quite the workout, especially in the summer heat. While the steps and elevation changes can be difficult, the rewards are magical and it is totally worth the pain. Hiking up this remote part of the wall made my experience at the Great Wall even more memorable.

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If you’re planning to visit the Great Wall, I highly recommend taking the time and making the effort to visit the Jinshanling section of the wall, you won’t regret it. Very few portions of the wall can compare to the natural beauty and authentic quality found at Jinshanling. Here, you won’t have to worry about battling through crowds of tourists or dealing with ruthless vendors. It’s simply the Great Wall in all its natural splendor, the way it was meant to be experienced.

Vertigo Atop Mount Hua

I consider myself to be a big hiking and outdoor enthusiast. I love being challenged, especially when it’s within nature’s playground. I often plan my travels around the amount of outdoor activities a destination has to offer. I love adventure, but even I have moments when I second guess some of my more adventurous decisions. A few years ago, I traveled to Xi’an, China where I hiked Mount Hua’s insane cliff path. I learned about the hike while reading an article in Travel and Leisure magazine; “World’s Scariest Hikes.” Their website had a video link of the hike and after watching it, I knew it was something I had to do one day. The hike became the inspiration for my trip to China in 2011!

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Mount Hua is known as “The Number One Precipitous Mountain under Heaven.” It’s one of the five sacred mountains in China and has a long history of religious significance. Various Taoist temples dot the mountain’s five peaks. It’s a place where many local tourists travel to as part of a spiritual pilgrimage. My friend and I boarded a bus near the Xi’an train station and two hours later arrived near the base of the mountain. Since we were limited on time, the cable car took us halfway up, but we were able to hike the rest of the way. The view from the top was stunning.

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The mountain’s cliff path was our ultimate destination. After hiking for about three hours through the clouds and in the rain, we finally arrived. It was an incredible sight to see. The path appeared even more intimidating in person, to the point where I was doubting my ability and talking myself out of attempting it. It looked scarier than I imagined; a straight descent along small metal bars that were built into the mountain.

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The fact that it was raining and everything was wet, thus slippery, made the situation seem even more precarious. For a very lengthy moment, the thought crossed my mind to back out of the whole thing. Meanwhile, my friend had strapped right in to his harness and started on his way. After about 15 minutes, I gave the cliff path one final look and thought to myself, “I came all the way to China for this moment; I can’t back out now”. I put my stuff down, strapped myself in, and made my way down to the path. I would have truly regretted it had I not. I was surprised how safe and at ease I felt once I started making my way down. It looked much scarier than it actually was.

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The experience was truly amazing. It was quite the rush, almost spiritual like. Every thought and worry I ever had seemed to disappear for a moment as I took in all the beautiful scenery around me. There’s just something indescribable about nature when you see it on such a massive scale. It made me feel so small, yet, on top of the world.

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It was easily one of the most impressive natural sights I have ever seen. The whole experience was breathtaking and one that I highly recommend trying while in Xi’an.

A Place Called Home

There’s a popular quote that says, “home is where the heart is.” If so, my heart must be scattered about several different places. I tend to agree more with the phrase, “home is where the head lays.” It’s simple and just makes more sense to me. For I have the tendency to fall in love with nearly every place I visit or live.

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As travelers and expats living abroad, we’re constantly seeking the new and unfamiliar. We’re always dreaming of our new next destination and big adventure. Our homes back home (where we’re born and raised) no longer challenge or excite us. Thus, we travel and live abroad to experience something new, to lay our head down in someplace strange and foreign. We travel to seek knowledge and to immerse ourselves in the local culture. To imagine it’s our home even just for a day. The more we wander the more we realize home can be just about anywhere. We realize that most people around the world are genuinely kind and want the same things out of life.

Yet, there are still moments even in our lives when we seek the familiarity and comfort of our own beds, whether it be Hong Kong, South Korea, or the United States. The place where the majority of the things we currently own reside. In reality though, we know these places won’t be home forever and we’re okay with that. As long as we can live, love, laugh, and explore, home is possible anywhere.

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However, we often need to remind ourselves to stay in touch with our family and friends in their homes back home. In the end, we may travel far and wide, but it’s important to stay connected with our loved ones because family and friendship is more than a home. What’s the point of having experiences if you don’t have anyone to share them with. Even though our heads may lay in different places and where we call home is not the same, we must take the time to say hello, exchange our thoughts, share our experiences, and say how much we care.

I’ve been living in Asia for nearly four years now and I’m still loving every minute of it. Hong Kong is currently where I lay my head. It’s the place I call home at this moment in time.

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I started this blog in order to have an avenue to write about the amazing places I’ve been and to share my own thoughts and insights about these incredible places. I hope you enjoy!