I recently got back from a trip that helped me towards my goal of visiting all 7 continents and all 5 major oceans. It took almost 5 weeks to visit the 5 countries and 7 cities. I circumnavigated the globe and had an amazing experience.
First off was Europe. I went back to Berlin and visited my host parents. Mostly, my time in Berlin was spent seeing touristy sites and eating all the food that I missed the most from when I lived there. My highlight was definitely visiting with my host parents again. I got to tour my host dad’s new building for his printery, and cook dinner with them while catching up. I have been wanting to do this for the last 6 years since I had left them. As far as cultural differences I did not necessarily experience many of them especially because I am used to German culture. If culture shock is something that you really want to experience, I don’t think that you’ll find much here. Overall, Germans are fairly similar to Americans in my opinion; at least until you get down to smaller changes in everyday life. The food was more of a shock than anything because I ate boiled meat at least once every day.
After Berlin, I flew to Copenhagen. This city was possibly my favorite place to visit and fit my expectations perfectly. There were green spaces in the middle of the city and it was easily walkable, the train stations were easy to navigate and organized, and the people were extremely friendly. Danes as a whole were very credit card friendly, which I thought was somewhat strange as every other country I visited was cash centric. The food was also super tasty. That being said you definitely pay a premium for food there. Denmark made my realize how much city planning and an organized culture matter to me. Definitely one of the most underrated places I have been to.
I flew to South Africa next and there I got the culture shock that I thought I would. I flew into Johannesburg, rented a car, and drove out to Kruger National Park. The drive out there was pretty bland until the Panorama Route, which was worth the extra time spent driving. I stayed at Phelwana Game Lodge for most of the time there. The grounds there were pretty and the animals roamed freely. I spent a total of 2 days driving through Kruger and got to see all of the Big Five except a leopard. South Africa was definitely the biggest culture shock to me and mostly just the driving culture. Other than the obvious difference of driving on the left side of the road, there was just general chaos that I felt like I could not get away from. There is also a huge hitchhiking culture there which was something I had almost completely forgotten about. Chaos aside, the people there were extremely trusting and friendly. They have obviously figured out how to make do with what little they had and I rarely felt as if I was being judged or looked at differently as a tourist.
Japan was the next country on the agenda. I arrived in Tokyo but also traveled to Kyoto. As most people would expect, Japan was totally different from anything else I had experienced before. There was so much thought built into everything because space was at such a premium. For example, the toilets have a sink that you can use while it is also filling up the tank. I completely realized how fortunate we are in the US with all of the room that we have. Tokyo did such a great job of incorporating nature into their city. There were beautiful quiet parks that were walking distance from enormous train stations and busy streets. Tokyo also filled my want of seeing bright neon lights, music, and revolving sushi bars. Kyoto as a city was not as appealing to me. The city itself was fairly bland and simple, but once you start venturing to the edges and outside of the city the landscape just changed. The Arashiyama bamboo grove was one of my highlights as was the hike up to the top of the mountain at Fushimi Inari. Kyoto also introduced me to okonomiyaki, which is probably the most interesting street food I have ever eaten. All this being said, I think Japan overall as a food destination is awesome but also difficult. It seemed to me like the only options to eat were heavy rich food. Ramen, sushi, okonomiyaki. All tasty and rich. I ate myself into a stomach ache more than once.
Thailand was the final stop of my journey. Bangkok was full of crazy and beautiful architecture. The street food I ate was definitely adventurous. I ate squid soup, fermented rice sausage, grilled bananas, and fruit from a street vendor. The curries in both Bangkok and Phuket were extremely flavorful. The pad thai I ate was also exactly what I expected. Thailand was a great way to end the busy trip. The hotel in Bangkok was right on the river and the resort in Phuket was two steps away from Nai Harn beach. The people in Thailand are almost overly friendly and I understand why the country is called the land of smiles. I am also thankful that I decided not to drive here because the roads were crazy. They rivaled South Africa. Mopeds swerved in between cars on the highway and speed limits were pretty much nonexistent.
All in all my trip was extremely fun and I learned a ton about myself, the countries I visited, and travel in general. I am thankful that I was able to take the time off between college and work to be able to do this. I was able to complete a trip that I have thought about for years and planned for a full year. Hopefully my next trip will include somewhere in Oceania so I can finish my biggest travel goal.