Travel Rocks! Highlights from 6 Years of Full-Time Travel

by Nora Dunn on June 24, 2013

After my popular article about how travel isn’t all roses and lollipops featuring the crazy mis-adventures I’ve had since I started traveling full-time, I felt it was necessary to counter-balance it with tales of pure unadulterated adventure.

 

Because, for every mis-adventure I’ve endured in my 6 years of full-time travel, I’ve had equal (if not excessive) amounts of amazing, bizarre, adventurous, and enlightening moments.

 

Here is a mere sampling (in a vague sort of chronological order, but far from inclusive of all the places I have visited):

 

Canada

Taking the train across Canada was tops (although I don’t have any particularly good posts to highlight on the topic; I was still new to (good) blogging).

And living in the rocky mountains for 7 months was a dream come true. I got to summit a few mountains, and I even delved deep (into my fears, as well as the ground) with some caving.

Disaster Point: An Ominous Caving Experience

 

 

Hawaii (USA)

Just prior to departing Canadian shores, my partner (at the time) and I landed a volunteer gig in Hawaii. Among other odd adventures like neurological disease and getting a black eye from a deaf guy, I learned to milk goats, which was surprisingly fun.

(One minute I’m a financial tycoon in Toronto, the next I’m milking goats in Hawaii. How’s that for a progression!) 

Singing Practice – I Mean, Goat Milking

 

At our next volunteer gig on the other side of the island, I got to paint pretty pictures in trade for my accommodation. No, really!

Kona: Where We Live

(In addition to the above post, you can see more of my artistic endeavours in this post).

 

I also managed to go a long way to conquer my little ocean phobia:

Conquering Fears: The Swim

 

 

…skipping a few countries (and bad experiences) to get to….

 

 

Australia

Although I got 37 spider bites and survived the country’s worst-ever natural disaster, not all my time in Australia was traumatic.

I had a kangaroo follow me around for six months (I ignored the fact that he was trying to hump me the whole time).

The Affectionate Kangaroo

 

I also learned the art of fire spinning, which I continue to practice where and when I can.

Fire Spinning

 

And I loved having my travel preconceptions turned on their side with this unexpected experience:

The Australian Aboriginal Tent Embassy: A 38-Year Protest

 

And some of my best experiences in Australia were when I returned a year later to ride the rails…and ride them I did.

I started with the 3-day trip from Darwin to Adelaide on The Ghan:

Train Travel: The Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide (part 1 of 3)

 

In my surprise at not finding boredom on that train ride, I decided to up the ante and ride 11,000kms in 11 days…straight. My purpose: to see if it’s possible to get bored on a train.

Instead, I wrote a 20,000 word 6-part series on the topic.

Boredom eluded me.

Taking the Indian Pacific Train Across Australia: Part One

 

 

New Zealand

New Zealand remains one of my favourite countries in the world, and I’m hard-pressed to choose just a few favourite experiences there. I’m quite sure I will return – again and again.

My initial quick trip there was solely to shoot a travel tv show – which is something I’ll never forget.

A Week-In-The-Life of The Professional Hobo: Shooting a TV Show

 

In that week, I did more high-adrenaline world’s highest/lowest/longest activities you can imagine. Highlights for me included the world’s longest fixed-line abseil (into a watery cave)…

Abseiling, Caving, and Spotting Glow Worms in Waitomo, New Zealand

 

…and a day of heli-sledging, which involved taking a helicopter to a remote stretch of white water and sledging down it – a sledge being a glorified boogie board designed for white water.

Helicopters, Sledges, and Jet Boats: Oh My!

 

I loved New Zealand so much that when I got back to Australia I said goodbye to my Aussie life and friends (and boyfriend), and two weeks later I was in magical New Zealand for many more months.

My soft landing came in the form of a volunteer gig at Mana Retreat, to which I returned three times in later months and years.

Living at Mana Retreat

 

And I learned (or at least tried?) the art of meditation – for better or worse!

Sister Shalom and the Art of Meditation

 

 

Spain

After randomly choosing the farthest place from New Zealand to fly to (given my having enough frequent flyer miles to do a long-haul business class trip – and my never doing anything in small measures), I landed in Spain and embarked on one of my favourite volunteer experiences – and something that is easily replicable by anybody with as little as a week for vacation:

Volunteering at Vaughan Town in Spain: A Cultural Experience

 

In two short weeks of volunteering, I met enough people who offered places to stay for my next four months of wandering around Europe. My first home-stay was just outside of Madrid, where I met Toro Bravo.

Encountering the Artist: A Random Experience in Spain

 

Paris & Nepal

A few months (and countries) of European wandering later, I arrived in Paris to start shooting another tv show (or rather a pilot episode of a travel tv show)…in Paris and Nepal.

Because of the non-disclosure nature of the show, I was unable to write about my experiences or publish pictures. But a few years on, I will say that among other things, I performed with a breakdancing troupe on the steps of Sacre-Coeur, was blessed by a panel of lamas in Kathmandu, and got stuck for three days trying to fly out of the world’s most dangerous airport in Lukla (which was much more fun than it sounds).

All of them – and more – were absolutely amazing experiences.

A year later, I ended up hanging out with some of the crew and producers in Prague.

Naked in Prague at Night

 

 

Sweden

In my short time in Sweden, I fell in love with the food there. This was surprising, as I hadn’t particularly thought the food would be a big draw. And in the name of adventure, I tried – and didn’t hate – the worst-smelling food in the world (no really, that’s a fact).

Northern Swedish Delicacies, Including Surstromming

 

 

Ultimate Train Challenge

After my Aussie train stunts, I was contacted by a travel colleague to participate in the inaugural Ultimate Train Challenge: a 30-day trip from Lisbon to Saigon…all by train. Of course I couldn’t refuse!

Among the many (many, many) highlights, I rode the epic week-long Trans-Siberian train from Moscow to Beijing:

The Ultimate Trans-Manchurian Video

(for those who prefer to read instead of watch):

A Week on the Trans-Manchurian Railway

 

I also had some of the most unexpected and paradoxically amusing experiences in the Ukraine.

The Very-Fast Train is One Hour Late, and Other Ukrainian Paradoxical Experiences

 

I also had a lovely full-circle experience in returning to the exact same spot of the Great Wall of China, 18 years after my first visit. (I may be crying in the video in this post, but believe me – they’re happy tears!)

Beijing – Then and Now

 

And I decided I love train travel in Asia.

13 Random Experiences on Asian Trains

 

 

Vietnam

As the final stop (and resting place) on the Ultimate Train Challenge, I fell head-over heels in love with Vietnam. The train ride from Hanoi to Saigon was among my all-time favourite trains.

The Ultimate Train Challenge Finale: China to Vietnam

 

And in Vietnam, I couldn’t stop walking and eating, walking and eating (sometimes against better judgement)…

Vietnam Food Culture: Coffee, Street Food, and Hygiene

 

And I did a cultural street food tour from the back of a scooter – that I recommend to anybody and everybody who will listen to me.

Back of the Bike in Saigon

 

 

Caribbean

After my first three months in Grenada (which weren’t among my best), but were good enough for me to wish to return), I enjoyed three months of sailing around the Caribbean, living on five boats spanning three countries.

Sailing the Caribbean: Video

 

I also got to chill on the most dangerous beach in the world (just sayin’).

The Most Dangerous Beach in the World

 

 

Switzerland

Between stints in Grenada (a place that will become an increasingly common theme on this site as I’ve developed a home base there), I spent a few months house-sitting in Switzerland; another country to which I expect to return.

The Swiss Life: Random Observations

 

Among other highlights, I made my first solo mountaineering attempt (really, it was a glorified hike, but “mountaineering” sounds much cooler).

Climbing Mount Rothorn in Switzerland (Plus Video)

 

 

Grenada

There are a number of things that keep me coming back to Grenada, from the weather to the pace of life to my partner who I met there. Although I’m developing a home base of sorts in Grenada), it’s also a place that is still so culturally and logistically different from what I’m used to, that I feel like I’m traveling every time I leave the house. The learning never stops!

Don’t Send Me Presents: My House Has No Number, My Street No Name

 

 

Ordinary vs Extra-Ordinary

Like I said, this is just a smattering of the amazing adventures I’ve had since I started traveling full-time in 2007. And although I’ve got some horrific tales to tell, I also have some hilarious ones, some heart-warming ones, and just plain happy ones.

 

After reading my earlier post about my mis-adventures, a friend wrote me and told me I’ve done it all, and (despite the good times) he thinks it has aged me. He encouraged me to return to an “ordinary” life.

My response? Thank you, no. For every mis-adventure I’ve endured, I’ve had exponentially more amazing experiences full of life, learning, and adventure.

And even if I did go back to “ordinary” (whatever that means), there’s no protection from life’s bumps and valleys, which tend to find us no matter where we are. It’s just a little more difficult to cope with bad things when they happen on the road.

 

For me, I choose an extra-ordinary life, even if it means sporting a few more lines of experience on my ageing face. (I’ll just call them laugh lines).

 

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

 

 

 

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Hogga June 24, 2013 at 4:43 pm

love the kangaroo pic

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theprofessionalhobo June 25, 2013 at 9:20 am

Thanks! He did like to pose… :-)

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Monica June 25, 2013 at 7:33 am

Wow, I can’t believe what an incredible 6 years you’ve had! I wonder what the next 6 uears will bring…?

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theprofessionalhobo June 25, 2013 at 9:22 am

Monica – And as I review what I’ve written, I am recalling so many more adventures I should have highlighted! So the next 6 years….let’s see! :-)

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Nicole @ Suitcase Stories June 25, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I love this post Nora. You are an inspiration to me, and many others! My hubby and I have been full time since March 2012 and love hearing stories of those who have been on this trip for far longer than us because thats exactly what we aspire to do. We love our new life and love the way it makes us feel. And as you said, with every mis-adventure there are many many more wonderfully amazing experiences :)

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theprofessionalhobo June 25, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Thanks, Nicole – Woohoo! You’re over the hump of one year! Where to next?

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Brendon @ Nerd Travels June 25, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Wow Awesome post, You’ve truly done some amazing things in the last 6 years. Goat milking sounds… interesting haha. Your time in Paris and Nepal sounds amazing as well. Wishing you an even more awesome travels over the next 6 years :D

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theprofessionalhobo June 25, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Thanks Brendon! I amazed myself at how much I actually got into the whole goat milking deal. I guess it was my reconnection with nature!
And shooting a tv show in Paris & Nepal? Don’t get me started… ;-)

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Tiffany June 25, 2013 at 8:20 pm

I just love all the pictures. They are so beautiful and fun. I love, love, love both reading post like this and doing my own. I find sometimes I can be somewhat focused in the present and future thinking of all the places I still want to go, but when I make a list and look back, I remember all the amazing things that happened. Thanks for writing this inspiring and encouraging post!

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theprofessionalhobo June 26, 2013 at 8:59 am

Thank you, Tiffany! I like reflective posts; I think they’re as illuminating for the writer as they are for the reader! :)

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Marie (aka bigtravelnut) June 25, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Way to go Nora! Who could return to an ordinary life after doing all that! :)

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theprofessionalhobo June 26, 2013 at 8:59 am

And really – what IS ordinary?! :-)

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Shane Todd June 26, 2013 at 8:59 am

Man, I’m so jealous of you, wish I could just pick everything up and go travelling like forever!!!

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theprofessionalhobo June 26, 2013 at 9:01 am
Rob S June 27, 2013 at 10:34 pm

It seems to me that travel is mostly a matter of attitude. I always marvel at how 2 travellers can react so differently to exactly the same circumstances. For example:

“I hate the rainy season in SE Asia. You get stuck indoors and can’t go to the beach.”

“I love the rainy season in SE Asia. The air is so fresh between rains, the beaches are not crowded, and the sunsets are spectacular.”

You obviously have the right attitude.

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theprofessionalhobo June 28, 2013 at 8:33 am

Thanks, Rob! I’m certainly a glass-is-half-full sort of person; life is too short to focus on shortcomings. :-)

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Davide travel photographer June 28, 2013 at 9:11 am

After a long trip it’s always nice to organize your memories to understand what you most enjoy of your trips. I did that for my last trip, hitchhiking for 954 days in Europe, and came out with a selection of 46 photos that gave me good ideas of how to modify my traveling style to enjoy even more next trip! There is a clear switch from city and monuments to nature and adventures!

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theprofessionalhobo June 28, 2013 at 11:27 am

Hi David,
Those are some beautiful shots from your trip – I especially like the one of the rainbow in Hungary! Indeed; reviewing our highlights is a great way to relive the trip and figure out which experiences are replicable and how.

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Tim Horgan @ On and Off the Gringo Trail July 1, 2013 at 12:28 am

Wow, good to see you had a pretty thorough experience in my home turf Australia. It’s strange learning about your own country through a travel blog, isn’t it?

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theprofessionalhobo July 1, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Hey Tim – It’s funny how it often takes outside eyes to appreciate our own backyards.
I’m currently compiling many of my train journeys into a book, so I’m reliving the experience…what a journey it was!

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Tim Horgan @ On and Off the Gringo Trail July 2, 2013 at 3:03 am

Cool, youll have to let me know when you’ve done the book

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theprofessionalhobo July 2, 2013 at 8:33 am

No worries, mate! :-)

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