2011: A Year of Travel Firsts

Happy Holi from Dhaka!
Caught up in Holi celebrations in old Dhaka, Bangladesh

Often, when people hear that we’ve been traveling for five years, they think we’ve “done it all.” This could not be further from the truth – the more we explore of this world of ours, the more we realize how big and diverse it really is. This is something to be celebrated.

When we began 2011 we could not have even imagined where this year would take us. Not only has 2011 been a year of activity and reflection, but it has also been a year of many firsts.

Having never visited the Middle East, we traveled through three countries (Jordan, Iran and Egypt) this year. Having dreamed of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for over a decade, we made it to the top. Having regretted skipping Bangladesh on our previous trip through South Asia several years ago, we promised ourselves to return and visit this little known country; this year we did. And when we were invited to speak at a tourism conference in Egypt at the end of the year, we decided this was the right time to begin sharing our knowledge of the tourism industry while taking the opportunity to see a few pyramids along the way.

So without further ado, here’s a look back at 2011 and all the people and places we were able to experience and learn from during the year.

Koh Samui, Thailand

We began this year on Koh Samui, an island in the Gulf of Thailand known more for its resorts and partying than a peaceful retreat. But we found a little beach house to get the year going with a view. Not a bad way to begin.

Low Tide at Sunset - Koh Samui, Thailand
Never got tired of these Koh Samui sunsets.

Jordan

Our maiden journey to the Middle East began with Jordan. While the big sights on our trip included Petra, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea, our hearts were touched by learning about Bedouin culture and Zikra Initiative’s tourism exchange program.

Looking Down on the Monastery - Petra, Jordan
Looking Down on the Monastery – Petra, Jordan

Bangladesh

We met a grand total of five tourists in almost six weeks in Bangladesh. If you want a place that’s “off the beaten track,” it’s hard to beat Bangladesh. And the people – all 150 million of them in the size of the state of Wisconsin – will be thrilled to meet you, take your photo with their mobile phones and ask many, many questions. It’s intense, crazy and wonderful all at the same time.

University Student at Varendra Museum - Rajshahi, Bangladesh
University Student at Varendra Museum – Rajshahi, Bangladesh

Bali, Indonesia

We went to Bali to catch our breath, relax and do a bit of yoga, but found ourselves scuba diving, climbing volcanoes and taking cooking classes before too long. While we enjoyed our few weeks on Bali, we realize we need to return with A LOT of time to explore the rest of Indonesia.

Sunrise at Mt. Batur - Bali, Indonesia
Sunrise at the top of Mount Batur, Bali

Tanzania

Tanzania marked Dan’s first visit to Africa and also his seventh continent. More importantly, we had an opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, a shared dream of ours for over a decade. The journey to the summit was physical, emotional and epic, even more so since everyone in our group made it to the top.

Getting Closer to the Top - Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Getting Closer to the Top…

Our travels in Tanzania continued with a safari through the Serengeti, Lake Manyara and NgoroNgoro Crater where we couldn’t believe our luck (or more like, our guide’s and driver’s skills) at finding the big cats–cheetahs, lions, and even a leopard.

Berlin, Germany

This was not our first visit to Berlin, but it was the first time we had stayed in one place for more than three months since we began this journey around the world. We so enjoyed catching up with old friends, making new ones and exploring more of this city we love.

Base Flying at Alexander Platz, Berlin
Dan hangs at 37-stories above Alexander Platz, waiting for his base flying jump to begin.

As for more firsts, we did base flying from the top of a 37-story building for our 11th wedding anniversary, went to the Dachshund races, felt the delightful burn of hot sauce tasting and learned more about Berlin’s changing and eclectic food scene.

Crete, Greece

We visited Crete during an interesting time as demonstrations were full on in Athens. However, life on Crete carried on much as it always had on this southern Greek island. From ancient Minoan cities to Venetian ports to endless mountain terrain, Crete pleasantly surprised us by what it had to offer to the independent traveler (we’ll be writing more on this soon!). But what really won our hearts on Crete was the food – fresh, full of fragrance and just hearty goodness (more coming on this soon, too!).

Audrey in the Hills of Crete
Enjoying the fresh air and open speces on Crete.

Iran

This had been a dream destination of ours for years, but we finally found the right opportunity this year to actually make a trip to Iran happen. What we found on the ground regarding the reception from and warmth of Iranian people shattered stereotypes and helped us understand better their challenges. Not to mention, we were stunned by the depth of Iran’s history and ancient sights like Persepolis and dazzled by Iran’s Islamic architecture and design like the sort you see in the photo below. What a trip.

Audrey in the Pink Mosque - Shiraz, Iran
Audrey taking in the Pink Mosque.

Egypt

Our trip to Egypt at the end of the year was not only our first time visiting this country, but our first experience speaking about blogging and what we do at a tourism industry conference. What we learned: we would like to do more of each.

Great Sphinx at Giza - Cairo, Egypt
The mighty sphynx.

Although our time in Egypt was short, we still managed to visit three different pyramid sites, stroll down the streets of old Alexandria and visit Coptic (Old) Cairo and other sites in a city that’s currently all over the news. Safety, perhaps surprisingly to many, was a non-issue. We also know that our Egypt experience is just a drop in the bucket for this huge country, so we look forward to returning and seeing more.

—-

We’d like to give a huge thank you to all our readers and friends who have supported us and joined along in on our travels throughout the year. We look forward to continuing to sharing our journey with you in 2012, and we wish you all the best for a peaceful, fruitful new year!

2011 Travel in Photos If you don’t have a high-speed connection or want to read the captions, you can view the Best of 2011 Travel photo set.

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Comments

  1. says

    @Steph: Grabbing lunch together at that outdoor place in Koh Samui seems so long ago :) So much has happened for both of us since that time. Hope you continue to enjoy South America and I also hope our paths cross again in 2012!

    @Erin: I was just leaving a comment on your end of the year post when your comment here came in. Great minds think alike :)

    The theme of 2011 seemed to be diversity and fulfilling some long-standing travel dreams. Not sure if you’ll be staying in Asia for a while, but hope we have a chance to meet in person this year!

  2. says

    It has been a real privilege following your adventure this year. Your stories are wonderful and I cannot wait to see where you go in 2012. Stay well, and keep sharing this beautiful journey!

  3. says

    What a great year of firsts! I found myself in a Persian restaurant earlier this month talking to the owner about tourism in his home country of Iran and brought up reading about your visit there. Maybe this is the beginning of a growing trend for traveling to the region?

  4. says

    @Amanda: Thanks. It was an amazing year, with a lot going on. These recaps are necessary if only to reflect. 2011 was deep, heavy at times. Definitely looking forward to 2012…and wishing you the best.

    @Roxanne: Thank you for an exceptionally kind and thoughtful comment. We are currently working plans for 2012. Should be another interesting year. I hope it is for you as well!

    @Laura: Regarding more travel to Iran, let’s hope. Whatever it takes to get people talking, discovering and off the big media narrative — am all for it. Happy 2012 to you!

  5. Sutapa says

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blogs this whole year. I don’t remember when I started. You guys are just awesome!

    Here’s to a wonderful 2012 and another great year for you two! And if Dan meets up with new barbers in new countries, the better that is! After all, one learns a lot about the country from barbers, right?

  6. says

    Great post, as usual. It’s nice to hear your perspective on how despite all the travel you have done, there is still so much left to do, so much left to explore, and so much left to learn. Best wishes for the new year!

  7. says

    @Jim: Really glad you enjoyed our Iran articles – we have a few more planned for the new year, so keep checking in! And, we may indeed be coming through Mexico City sometime in the next year – we’d love to take you up on your offer to go for tacos!

    @Andrea: Thanks! We have a few ideas of what 2012 will bring in terms of travel and there are some fun and exciting places in there. Look forward to sharing it with you!

    @Sutapa: And we think you are awesome! We love your thoughtful – and thought provoking – comments that you write here and on our Facebook page.

    Barbers are a great way to learn about a place and culture. And although it’s usually a man’s world, I find that I am allowed into it for a short period because I am a foreign woman (while a local woman might not be welcomed or not interested). This allows me to ask lots of questions of the barbers and the other customers while Dan gets his hair cut. It’s a win for us both!

    @Caz: It would have been wonderful to have met you in Egypt, but I do hope our paths will cross sometime in 2012. The world is big and small :)

    And, if you do end up going to Iran or Mt. Kili, be sure to get in touch if you have any questions. Both are fantastic destinations!

    @Elise: Thank you!

    @Ellen: And we also find ourselves wanting to go back to some places because we only realized once we were there the first time how much there was to see and explore. And it’s not just about learning about the differences, but also the similarities. It’s a big and beautiful world out there :)

  8. says

    You two continue to be an absolute inspiration! I love the way you paint your stories and top them off with amazing photos.

    Congratulations on making so many dreams come true in 2011, and I look forward to hearing more of them in 2012!

  9. says

    Congrats to both of you for such a wonderful and amazing year. It is a real pleasure to follow your adventures from home (even though it would be much more fun to share them). If I had to choose someone to travel with I wouldn’t doubt :)
    I would also like to thank you for your pictures. I have just gone through your ‘Best of 2011 Travel’ set and I am speechless.
    I can’t wait to see/read what 2012 has prepared for you!

  10. says

    I don’t often comment, but I look at all your posts. I’m in awe of your life experiences and your generosity to share them via photos and words here. All the best in 2012.

  11. kourosh says

    thank you for sharing your wonderful experiences and those amazing photos with us. wishing you both a wonderful and even more picturesque new year ;)

  12. says

    Hey guys,

    Five years on the road… I don’t think that’s easy to achieve at all but wow, the pictures and places are simply beyond words.

    If you achieved all this in such a short amount of time, I can’t even imagine what you guys are going to do with the rest of your lives.

    All the best from Mexico! ;-)

    Sergio

  13. says

    I wish you all the best and I must say that many of your 2011 destinations are also on my very first list, especially Iran and Bangladesh. I hope 2012 will be even better for you, full of new experiences and challenges. All the best from Romania. Alex

  14. says

    @Bessie: You and Kyle are a continued inspiration to us! I’ve been loving your personal and insightful stories about living and working in Myanmar this past year.

    We’re still putting together plans for 2012, but we hope it continues to be a year of learning, exploring and sharing stories!

    @Sandra: Thanks so much for your kind comment and we really appreciate your support and following our journey from home. And, we’re honored that you’d consider us worthy travel mates…although we do have bad directional skills :)

    We plan on highlighting photos even more in this next year with our redesign, so stay tuned for more imagery!

    @Joan: Thank you for your continued support and for commenting here on this post – it means a lot to us. Wishing you all the best in 2012 as well!

    @Kourosh: Thanks for your kind new year’s wishes! Wishing you all the best in 2012!

    @Sergio: What a wonderful comment – thank you! We have seen and learned so much over the last five years exploring our world of ours and hope we can continue to do so, not only for ourselves but for others who are learning through us. We’ll be headed next to Mexico for a few months!

    @Dudian: I definitely understand why Iran and Bangladesh are on your travel wish list. They are both fascinating places with really rich cultures and super hospitable people. Hope you get to visit them soon! Thanks for your new year’s wishes!

  15. says

    What a year you guys had. Amazing tours. So fortunate enough to have visited round the year to so many nations. I wish someday i can follow your footsteps guys. You guys have been an inspiration to me. Hoping for a bigger 2012 and hope you continue to inspire with more travel stories. Thanks!

  16. says

    I just love your photographs especially of the people you encounter. So real and so open. I find I’m always afraid to stick a camera in someone’s face. You seem to have a knack for doing it so flawlessly and setting them at ease.

  17. says

    You have posted some amazing photos!! They are so real so touching! It seems like you had a great year and I am wishing all your next years will be like this one! You are always welcome to mykonos island, greece:)

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