Wow, 2013. The year I made a home in France, backpacked Asia solo, fell in love with yoga and suffered countless bouts of food poisoning. (Seriously guys. My stomach is so pathetic these days.)
2013 ran the gamut in so many ways; from a rat-infested shack in Cambodia to a five-star, oceanside villa in Bali to street-truck cricket tacos in Mexico and fatty tuna belly in Japan.
2013 also marked an important milestone as I began earning enough from freelancing and blogging to travel full-time, at least in cheap countries. I also made strides in my health and fitness, learned French, made lots of wonderful friends and oh yeah- had a few flings.
Overall 2013 was probably the most memorable year of my life as well as the most travel-filled- though there were still some low-points.
After I rang in the New Year with my bestie in Chicago I flew back to Paris. Readjustment threw me for a loop and Paris' constant grey skies began to wear on my sanity. But I did get to experience Three Kings' Day, or La Fête des Rois so apparently those grey clouds had a silver lining.
I also visited my cousin in Istanbul! I was warmly welcomed by my wonderful cousin, her boyfriend and friends- Turkish hospitality is seriously the best in the world. I also laid my eyes upon the Hagia Sofia and ate an obscene amount of Turkish food.
Overall Turkey was the perfect getaway from the sometimes confining lifestyle of an au pair.
February was possibly the worst month of the year- it was cold and grey, I still had very few friends in Paris, I was flashed in the street and I had conflicts with my host family. But by the end of February things started to pick up- I met a great group of girls on the commuter train who became my core group of friends in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, my town outside Paris. Gotta love random encounters, right?
In between espresso dates in the town square and frequent French classes, I made a little English-speaking escape to London! As always, visiting London was lovely- and surprise, surprise- sunny!
Another March highlight was my mom and sister's visit to Europe. I was so happy to share Paris with my loved ones as cross off a few items on my bucket list- we took road trip down the Atlantic Coast all the way to Spain!
Oh, Picnic season. How I love thee.
And it's true what they say- spring is truly a magical time in Paris. I spent many lazy Sundays wandering the Canal Saint-Martin, sipping pink champagne in the park with friends and taking early morning runs in the kings' former hunting grounds. Random fact- I kissed a French Abercrombie model on the streets of Le Marais.
I also journeyed to Alsace with Julika of Sateless Suitcase. We discovered medieval Colmar and stately Strasbourg and consumed a criminal amount of tarte flambée. We also hopped over to Germany, where Alex of Ifs Ands And Butts showed us an amazing, beer-centric time in Karlsruhe.
May was the month when life in Paris got really, really good. I attended many themed birthday parties, reflected on life as a Paris expat and hung out with Edna all the time (obviously). And okay, I partied quite a bit.
“Where are we pre-gaming tonight? Can you text me the address?”
“Um, the address is the Seine.”
In June the warm weather finally came, and we headed straight for the Seine. I made some of my best memories from this year on the river: practicing my French with strangers, munching on baguette and brie, sipping cider and catching the sunset over the rivière.
I also watched Nadal play at the French Open. Life. Made.
One of the highlights of my entire time in France was spending a weekend in the French countryside at one of my best friend's horse farms. It was probably even better than seeing Nadal play: good friends, good wine, French countryside? Bliss.
In July I had 10 whole days off! (That's a lot for an au pair.) My time off coincided with a Parisian heat wave, so I put away my computer and soaked up summer in Paris as much as I possibly could: partying the night away at the Firemen's ball, eating spicy falafel in Le Marais and tanning all day at the Jardin du Luxembourg.
I also experienced Paris Plages for the first time- why did no one tell me it was amazing?
August was a whirlwind- I found myself unpacking from France, preparing for my trip to Asia, enjoying time at my cottage on the lake, tackling a growing freelancing load and hosting my English friend Victoria. Having an English friend in America was so much fun- I taught her how to make a s'more, quizzed her on American coins and tried to show her the best of the states- we even made an impromptu visit to Nashville!
And on August 23rd I celebrated Ashley Abroad's first blog-versary.
beach day at Imperial Beach, Hollywood, volleyball in Venice beach, octopus taco in Tijuana
At the end of the month I spent some time in sunny California: I caught up one of my best friends from high school in Los Angeles, couchsurfed in Southern California and day-tripped to Tijuana– and didn't die.
And then the Asia adventures began! After tasting a too-short stint in Japan and tasting the best of Hong Kong and Macau (Macanese egg tarts, beef brisket noodles and dim sum, yes please) we flew to Phuket. And left as soon as possible- we arrived in the middle of the low season (so much rain and no people) and quickly departed for Koh Tao.
And what a good decision that was- on Koh Tao I spent two weeks falling into a perfect routine: sweating it out at the muay Thai gym, indulging in banana pancakes with peanut butter, having breakfast in front of the sea while watching colorful longtail boats bob in the surf. Oh, and I completed a huge bucket list goal of learning to scuba-dive. Rough life.
And is there anything better than a night out in Thailand? Cheap beer, fire-dancing, the waves lapping at the shore, the 70-30 male-female ratio… ah, take me back.
Good times in Cambodia
After five days of partying and kind of sight-seeing in Bangkok, we endured the dreaded, scam-ridden, 12-hour border crossing to Cambodia. What we found was a poor, pot-hole ridden country filled with so much beauty, from the crumbling temples of Angkor to the pristine beaches of Koh Rong.
In many ways, Cambodia was the best of times and the worst of times. It was a country full of magical moments: from feeling like Indiana Jones at the temples of Angkor to swimming in phosphorescent plankton-filled waters in Koh Rong and dancing until the dawn in Siem Reap. But it was also where I started to feel disillusioned, fretful and alone- and frankly, asking myself what the hell I was doing in Asia.
After a few weeks of beaching I was ready for civilization which Phnom Penh debatably delivered. At the end of October, my solo travels began– and I began to fall in love with Vietnam, my favorite country in Southeast Asia.
Confession- when I first broke off from traveling in a group, I checked into a four-star hotel in Saigon- budget be damned- where I spent the next few days ordering room service, catching up on a massive freelance work and taking baths in hot water. I won't lie- after two months in hostels I relished my alone time. And um, hygienic living quarters.
My month in Vietnam was ruled by spontaneity and freedom- I loved how solo travel allowed me to do exactly I wanted. Adventures included motorbiking across the countryside with a Dutch stranger, canyoning down 80-foot waterfalls and DIY-ing a trip down to the Mekong Delta. I also loved the chance to dig deep into Vietnamese food- by far the best food in Southeast Asia, in my humble opinion.
I also headed to Singapore for three days where I sampled dishes from hawker centers, tasted durian for the first time and learned so much about the fascinating city-state.
December led me to beautiful Bali. Burnt out from so much travel, I spent three of my weeks there camped out in Ubud. I fell in love with the incredibly kind and beautiful Balinese people as well as their rich culture- can you believe they leave out offerings to the gods every single day?
Bali was truly a retreat for me: I did yoga once or twice a day, enjoyed an organic, vegetable-based diet and spent a lot of time in silence. I also tried lots of new things: reflexology, Tibetan bowl meditation, capoeira, yin yoga, Ayurvedic food among other healthy initiatives.
And okay, I took another break from budget travel- this time by staying in the Samabe, a five-star seaside resort in which I had a personal butler. Oh, and there was tea service on the beach, a complimentary four-star meal and an infinity pool. I could go on but it's too depressing.
I rounded out my four months in Asia with a final mini vacation- a week on Gili Trawangan! Okay, maybe not a typical vacation- my hostel was filthy, infested with bedbugs and spouting brackish water from the showerheads- but between the faroff, mist-covered mountains to the jingling horse carts, it was truly one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.
I think back on Gili T and wonder if it was just a dream- was it less than a month ago that I was snorkeling with sea turtles?
And then I was home for the holidays!
Looking back on 2013, I'm filled with gratitude and awe- how is it possible to cram so many once-in-a-lifetime experiences into one year? I'm so thankful for all of the incredible people I befriended, all of the delicious food I tasted and how much of this beautiful earth I was lucky enough to see.
And I'm grateful 2013 gave me so many opportunities to push myself, to learn about myself and ultimately, to grow- in 2013 I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone so many times (scuba-diving with sharks, dirty hostels for four months, solo travel through Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia, becoming less afraid of rats by necessity, among many others).
And finally, I'm so, so grateful that you read my blog. Receiving your comments makes my day and it's been such a joy to connect with so many of you. Thank you so much for following along with my journey- I wish you an adventure-filled 2014!
What's up next?
Well, I'm not quite sure. The ambitious travel plans I prematurely announced in November have changed- they in no way accounted for my travel burn out and desire to spend time with friends and family.
Your turn! Tell me about what happened in your 2013!
. . . . . . . . . . .
If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it! Also, I’d love to keep you updated on my adventures in Asia and beyond, so feel free to subscribe to Ashley Abroad by email in the sidebar or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook or Bloglovin.