As I write this post I am sitting in the Caltrain, passing through various suburbs of the San Francisco Bay peninsula on my way to the city. It’s comforting to be surrounded by so many familiar sites once again.
My wife and I have had quite a journey: 17 countries, dozens of cities, and countless airports/train stations/bus stations. We’ve witnessed both staggeringly beautiful phenomena (Northern Lights in the Yukon Territories) and horrifying moments (a mob beating up some dude in the streets of Istanbul) along the way. Fortunately, my wife and I came out the other end of our trip completely safe and with a lifetime of memories.
I’ve delayed writing this post as long as I could; it’s been taking me a while to process what I’ve learned from this trip. The short answer is: a lot.
I may not be able to cover all the lessons I’ve learned in a single post, but let me share eight things that I discovered from long-term travel:
Travel achievement: unlocked!
With this leg of our European journey, I can now say that I’ve personally visited 30 countries. I’ve been really excited to reach this milestone for quite some time.
Why 30? No reason, it just seemed like a nice round number. Now that it’s done, 40, 50, or even 60 countries seems so possible. There’s still so much to see in this world!
The past week in Croatia and Bosnia was really fun. My wife and I, along with our travel buddy Jennifer Hu, treated this journey more as a vacation. It was less about Airbnb and more about treating ourselves to resorts and cocktails. We can’t afford to do this kind of travel long-term but it’s nice to splurge every once in a while to mix things up.
Croatia and Bosnia offer a lot for the traveler to take in. Here are some of the highlights of our past seven days in Croatia:
I’ve been looking forward to Berlin for quite some time. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about Germany and the German people that fascinates me. Maybe it’s their tragic and resilient history; or the Germans’ ability to making fabulous meats in tube form; or maybe it is the incredible German language, where there is a word for even the most nuanced thing like: “walking in a forest alone thinking about how you treated your dog from childhood.” (note: not sure if that’s an actual German word)
For this leg of the journey, my wife and decided to slow down a bit and spend two weeks in the city of Berlin. We landed a cheap apartment in the suburbs, cooked at home, took public transit like Berliners, slowly explored the town, and made a few German friends in the process. It was mostly mudane stuff but some of the most satisfying travel we’ve done so far.
Here are just a few highlights from Berlin:
Krakow, Poland was described to me once as “Prague, like ten years ago.”
I have no idea what that means. But I love how pretentious it makes me sound when I say it to my friends. The truth, however, is that Krakow is way cooler than Prague.
My wife and I had low expectations when we decided to visit this city on a whim. It’s not discussed much as a European travel destination (at least in the US); but now, I would say that this city is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Central and Eastern Europe.
Some highlights from our six days in Krakow:
If you close your eyes and try to imagine the quintessential European city, then your mind will probably come up with something like Prague.
Praha—as the locals call it—is a great town full of winding alleys, beautiful buildings, and fascinating history. This place felt different from the other Central and Eastern European cities my wife and I have been visiting over the past few weeks (more on that below). Prague is a bit more touristy than I would have liked, but at least it didn’t feel too overpriced or artificial.
Here are some of the highlights from Prague:
What if you were born as this girl?
Not many people know that I am North Korean. Sort of.
My father was born in North Korea. The same day that he arrived to the world, his family had to flee to the South in order to escape the communists. The journey had to be taken on foot during the cover of night; naturally, it was extremely dangerous and risky. Capture could have meant death, or perhaps a life in a North Korean gulag.
At one point in the journey his family had to cross a river via a small boat. His mother was told that no noise could be made during the crossing. She was instructed to immediately drown her infant (my Dad) if he started to cry.
I’m getting lazy.
Before this trip I promised myself that I would write a dedicated, individual blog post for every country that I visited. Today I break that rule.
This past week and a half, my wife had a great time toeing the border between Central and Eastern Europe by visiting Budapest and Vienna.
Each city was quite pleasant yet somewhat unremarkable at the same time. I will consolidate this leg of the journey into a single post; after all, both places were controlled by the Austro-Hungary Empire not so long ago.
Here are some of the highlights from Budapest and Vienna:
“Birthdays was the worst days, now I sip champagne when I’m thirstay…”
Hustler can mean a lot of things. For many people, it’s a pejorative term.
In the 1993 rap hit, “Juicy”, Biggie Smalls talks about how he was forced to hustle on the streets in order to support his baby daughter. So for some, a hustler is a criminal.
When I was in third grade playing soccer, my coach used to scream at me to show more hustle during practice because I was so lazy. This is my personal negative association with the term, of being forced to hustle at soccer practice when I could have been at home playing video games on Saturdays (I had different problems than Biggie).
But today I love the word hustler. In fact, it is one of the greatest compliments I can give to someone. In the startup world, a hustler is someone who doesn’t let fear get in her way. Even when she’s in over her head, lacking a certain skill or network, she puts her head down, learns what she needs to learn, and succeeds no matter what. This is a resourceful character trait that I look for in all people I want to do business with.
The landmarks are unremarkable. The food sucks. And the Romanian people themselves are depressingly down on their own country (but still nice).
Bucharest was a bore, except for the one terrific evening where we re-connected with an old friend living here. Transylvania was pretty, but relatively uninteresting. If you want nice views, castles, and charming villages, I would probably go a little more west to Austria.
Glad we tried Romania, but we just weren’t feeling it. I suspect most travelers won’t find it that great either.
Next stop: Budapest, Hungary.
My wife and I had a blast visiting nine countries in Asia over the past two months. Now, it’s time for us to turn our attention West to explore Europe. It was only fitting that we made Turkey the transition point of our travels from Asia to Europe, as this country actually represents both continents within its borders.
Per usual, in this post I am going to share some pretty pictures and descriptions about our journey here. But in case you can’t make it all the way through, here is the tl;dr (too long, didn’t read):
Turkey is the best country we’ve visited so far.
I’m surprised myself to be making this statement. Before arriving to Turkey, I didn’t know what to expect largely due to the fact that I was relying on my wife, who is awesome at travel research, and I am lazy. But when we got here, holy smokes. This place has everything that the traveler could want: great food, crazy awesome sites, nice people, easy transportation, relative affordability, exotic look and feel.
Turkey is the whole package. If you need an awesome trip, spend at least two weeks here. Pick up the Rick Steves guidebook on Turkey and get lost in this place. You will walk away feeling completely whole by the experience.
Now, let’s get on to the pretty pictures and descriptions. Here are some highlights from our seventeen days of Turkish delight: