As a suggestion from my most loyal reader (my dad!), I’ve decided to compare all of the places I visited and rank them from my favorite to least favorite.
But since it’s been awhile, here’s a short recap of each place I visited:
I never intended to visit the islands, but having a two week layover on Oahu was the cheapest flight option. I had visited Oahu as a child, but it was nothing like I remembered! I escaped the chaotic tourism of Honolulu and stayed on the North Shore. I spent my days hiking, swimming, and enjoying the incredible mountains. At the time, the muddy hikes totally intimidated me, but looking back at the photos, it was so worth it. Definitely the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. The food was also incredible. From poke bowls to fresh papaya and huli huli chicken – the food was unique and so tasty. The islander pride also created a colorful cultural experience. The only downside was that it rained for an entire week and I was trapped inside!
I spent the most time in this country and I love it dearly, but it was very similar to America. I hiked, swam, saw waterfalls, boated on a lake, went kayaking, and went off-roading! New Zealand really is the land of adventure and the landscape is so diverse and gorgeous. The food has a strong focus on local, healthy, and sustainable, but there aren’t any unique local delicacies like other countries have. The locals were incredibly kind and welcoming and the history of the Maori culture was interesting.
I was only here for a day, but it was a whirlwind! The country is a modern metropolis that shocked me with its extravagance. I walked 15 miles and still felt like I barely scratched the surface. It’s a small city, but so dense with culture. It’s more of a mixing pot than America! The food was a disappointment. With so many cultures, there are so many options, but nothing stood out as amazing.
When I arrived in Vietnam, I was intimidated. Hanoi is not a beautiful city! It looks dilapidated and run down, but once I got to the country, the landscape was stunning. The real star of the trip was the food! From Bun Cha to street meat – everything was incredible. Probably the best food of the trip! We learned a little bit about Vietnamese history and culture, but it was such a touristy spot, it was hard to feel immersed.
Oh boy. Most of my memories of Italy make me cringe. All of the locals I encountered were rude, flaky, and scatterbrained. The food was lackluster. The cities had plenty of beautiful architecture, but were dirty, crowded, and unpleasant. If I went to Italy and stayed in hotels, went to fancy restaurants, and had a tour guide, it would have been a much better experience. Italy on a budget is just not fun.
I really enjoyed Thessaloniki, Athens, and Santorini. Mykonos was a bit less exciting than the other locations, but was still as interesting and beautiful. All of the white houses, winding alleys, and gorgeous cliffs are different from anything else I’ve ever seen. And the sunsets were perfect! The food was great at the beginning, but it becomes monotonous since most restaurants serve the same Greek specialties. The Greek culture was evident in their food and slow service, but otherwise it felt like any other island.
I expected more from a popular Scandinavian capital. It didn’t feel like Europe but it didn’t feel like Scandinavia, either. It just felt like a regular, concrete city. I don’t think I saw a single thing I would classify as “beautiful.” The food was expensive and mediocre, but I appreciate how they have so many paleo options and salad bars. I didn’t see an ounce of local culture other than going to Christiania, the commune that rejects the Danish government.
Maybe I’m biased, but I love this country! Even having already explored Amsterdam for a week in 2017, I never got bored during my second visit. The canals are dreamlike and seeing the blossoming tulips was unreal. Utrecht was like a mini-Amsterdam but with more hipster inhabitants. Rotterdam was the only letdown, but only because it lacked the historical buildings and canals. The food all over the country was fresh, local, and delicious. I love Dutch culture – the bikes, the environmental concern, and the friendliness!
I was pretty burnt out by the end of my trip, but meeting an amazing host in Antwerp and two hostel friends in Brussels really made the experience better. However, the country just didn’t impress me. Antwerp only had one impressive cathedral and Brussels only had the Grand Place. Bruges was very pretty, but didn’t offer anything to do for more than a day. The food was extremely bland – the only saving grace was the beer! Who can pass up authentic Belgian beer? The culture is a mix of Dutch and French with the country split between speaking either language. If you didn’t tell me I was in Belgium, I’d have no clue. There’s no distinguishing culture.
I’ve been to Paris before and it is stunning, but this time I only went to Northern France, so my review reflects that. Le Havre and Caen are unremarkable cities. Bayeux was the only city that impressed me with its architecture. The beaches were stunning, as well. The food in France was terrible and the difficulty in ordering and paying was even worse! On top of it all, French culture lived up to the stereotype: rude and smelly, but full of history.
I took the ratings into consideration, but ultimately went with my heart to rank them. So here it is! The final list of the favorite countries I visited:
1. New Zealand
Overall, it was a great trip with so many diverse places. I’m still surprised I completed it! I was so close to giving up and flying home after I was sick the entire 14 hour flight to Italy. But I’m glad I didn’t. As with everything, the trip had its ups and downs and I powered through.
I feel a bit silly listing Hawaii so high. Why did I have to travel so far when one of the top places is so close? But the mix of stunning landscape, unique and delicious food, and immersive culture distinct from America made it top the list. If I didn’t know Hawaii was in the US, I’d never guess. The trick is getting away from Honolulu and to the more relaxed and remote areas of the island. If I had only stayed in Honolulu, then I’d definitely rank Hawaii much lower.
New Zealand is a no brainer for #1. It has it all – volcanoes, glaciers, jungles, beaches, mountains, rolling green hills, caves, and the bluest lakes I’ve seen in my life! Visiting New Zealand for only a couple weeks and only seeing a few places or staying on only one island is a major mistake. I almost made that mistake last fall! Thankfully I realized there was no way to get to all the places worth seeing in such a short amount of time. That’s honestly what inspired this trip! I wondered when I’d be able to go on an extended vacation and the reality of having a career and only getting a limited number of days off hit me. I knew I’d have to go during a time when I wasn’t working… and that would be easiest while I’m still on my parents healthcare and I’m not dependent on a job for coverage. The trip came together so quickly, but with perfect timing.
So now what? I’m back in Portland and reestablishing my routine. I technically don’t have to get a job by a certain deadline, but I do have to get my own health insurance by the end of July, so having a job would certainly help cover part of that. Right now I am taking it day by day. My plan is to enjoy unemployment for as long as it’s enjoyable. Im an active person, so I know I’ll get bored sooner or later. When that day comes, I’ll take it as a sign to start finding a job! Hopefully that’s something in the food/fitness/health realm, but I’m open to whatever brings me joy.