Whenever I am asked about my favorite places in the world, it is often too hard for me to choose. I have fallen in love with every place I have visited, so narrowing down the vastly different places I have seen is impossible task. I seem to like every place I have been, all for different reasons.
Still, there are certain places that have held my heart, and even after years of not returning, I dream about them on a daily basis. Some places are more special than others either for the experiences I had while there, the people I met, who I was with, or what I saw or learned. Narrowing it down to my five favorite places was hard, but these were the ones that had the most sentimental value.
The Okavango Delta, Botswana
Africa has always held a place in my heart, but that spot grew deeper with each day I spent on the continent. I had no idea what to expect of Botswana, but as soon as we arrived at the Okavango Delta, I felt a connection that drew me closer to the land.
Here, I spent two days completely immersed in nature, one night bush camping and the other on a house boat. We soaked up each sunrise and sunset, watched hippos eat their dinners from boats only a few feet away, took a bush walk and watched elephants enjoy their breakfast, and connected with the local people over dinner, s’mores, songs, and dancing around the campfire. It was such a magical experience, one that I will never forget, and one that easily makes the Okavango Delta my favorite place in the world.
The North Island, New Zealand
My maternal grandfather’s brother is a priest in New Zealand, and so the desire to visit him in the country was always there. Growing up, I had met him a few times and always promised to visit him, not knowing when it would happen. Then in 2010, when my Irish cousin, Michelle, decided to head there after visiting Thailand and Australia, I asked if I could tag along.
She flew into the South Island, and I met her in the North Island where our uncle lived. There, he let us borrow his car, and we drove all over the island ourselves. It was my first time driving on the opposite side of the road, and her first time driving an automatic, so it was entertaining to say the least. We got lost and had plenty of adventures, but after that trip, we were bonded in a way we had never been before. Having that experience together and exploring the North Island at the same time, makes this country one of my absolute favorites. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
Croatia was a place I long dreamed of visiting because it is the birthplace of my paternal grandfather. Even though my grandpa never spoke of the country he left at the age of 18, I always had the desire to better understand the place I was from; Croatia was a mystery.
Then in 2006, my family took a trip to the island my grandfather was born on, Cres, and I immediately fell in love. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever been, and it was untouched compared to other places I had traveled to. The best part was that we got to stay in the home my grandfather grew up in, so the connection to the country was almost immediate.
Having previously been to Spain, I didn’t expect to have such a strong connection to Barcelona. After wanting to visit the city for years, I was finally able to for my first solo trip.
Because I experienced it all on my own and for myself, I quickly fell in love with each and every aspect of the city. I felt home, even though I was alone and miles away from anyone I knew. Something about the city just clicked, and the fact that it was the first city I had ever traveled to by myself made it even more special.
Of all the places I have been, Vietnam was the most challenging, yet rewarding. I remember setting foot in the country after Thailand and feeling an enormous difference; I was unprepared for just how overwhelming the country would be. Often, the beauty of travel lies in the challenges we face, and those hardships we overcome. Travel isn’t meant to be easy, it’s meant to take us out of our comfort zones, and in so many ways, Vietnam did this for me.
When we first got there, it was all too much for us: the sights, the smells, the sounds. In many ways, my trip to Vietnam was my first case of culture shock. But, I pushed myself to fall in love with the differences, and eventually, Vietnam worked its way into my heart. Once I had fallen in love, there was no going back, and even when I had returned home, I dreamed about it almost every day.
Picking five favorite places was extremely difficult, as I have so many other places I would love to write about, yet these five all worked their way into my heart for different reasons. Some were easy to fall in love with, while others took time. Some challenged me, while others opened up my mind to the world. This is the beauty of traveling, and the reason why I want to see it all; I love falling in love with the world.