It’s four months and a new year already! For this check-in, I’m going to do something a little special—a re-cap of my top 10 favorite moments from my 4 months of deviation. But first, I’ll give you my usual run-down of all I’ve done this past month…

What I’ve been up to:

Top 10 travel moments in 4 months of deviation

This was actually really difficult to put together. There were so many awesome experiences from which to choose! But I think I narrowed it down to my liking. To make it feel right, though, I had to list some honorable mentions at the end!

10. Learning about social justice successes in Berlin

I found out Berliners are relentless when it comes to making their city government know they disapprove of something. They threw rotten food at the Armani jackets of the O2 Arena funders forcing them to take their opening day celebrations elsewhere. They formed a human chain around the abandoned Bethanien hospital building and succeeded in preventing the city from evicting squatters and ending many other community projects there.

They stood up for a Turkish emigrant’s right to own and remain in the home he created in “no-man’s land” making it an unusual but historic landmark today. There are so many stories like these. All proved to me Berlin has something in the air that is working when it comes to social justice!

9. Attending the Rhein in Flammen

An experience is often made as a result of the company you’re with. I attended the Rhein in Flammen with two good friends, Steffi & Flo. They made this overnight trip extra fun! We saw the most spectacular fireworks show I have ever seen! They introduced me to some awesome food and wine options.

Then after camping right near the banks of the river overnight, we explored the underground mine tunnels of one of the castles nearby and went on a long hike overlooking the river. Thanks to their happy, silly spirits, I didn’t even mind the rain falling during the entire trip!

8. Participating in the Yi Peng & Loy Krathong festivals in Chiang Mai

I sent a rice paper lantern into the night sky at the Yi Peng festival to bring good luck. The lantern joined a sea of others on the thermals above Chiang Mai. I even had the chance to learn how to create a traditional krathong float. With a strand of my hair and a fingernail on board the float to symbolize the ridding of past grievances, I sent all my negative thoughts from the past away down the Ping River.

This festival had many things to do and see aside from participating in these two Buddhist traditions. But the symbolism behind them really resonated with me. I felt free and alive after participating, and I really loved the look of all the lanterns soaring above the river dotted with candlelit floats.

7. Meeting the Akureyri Backpackers

Meeting travelers in general during the last four months has been awesome everywhere I have gone. But the people I met at the Akureyri Backpackers hostel in Iceland hold a special place in my heart.

Singing together with them in the cold outside the front of the hostel, on the hilltop in the rain, and then reuniting to sing together again days later in Reykjavik are still some of my favorite memories. The song Will wrote and sang is an anthem for me on this trip. I hope to reunite with all of them again!

6. Hanging out with Thai locals for a week in Pai

I had such an amazing time in Pai—a small, mountain town surrounded by rice farms northwest of Chiang Mai. But my time there would not have been the same without the people I met at Sunset Bar through Jimmy. I’ll be telling the story of Jimmy in detail in a post sometime next week, but basically he’s the reason for Pai being such a wonderful time.

Without giving too much away before I post about it, he took me on his motorbike all over the countryside and introduced me to his coworkers, all of whom became like a family to me while I was there. We had some great moments together, even with a language barrier present. They taught me some of the Thai language and we managed to have many laughs over many-a-whiskey sodas.

5. Camping and road-tripping across New Zealand’s north island

I have seen some awesomely spectacular views on my 3 separate road trips around the north island over the last 5 weeks. This is all thanks to having the freedom to set up camp at designated free camp sites all over the country. Having a car to get us to wherever our hearts desired has been the ultimate convenience.

There truly is no better way to explore this vast country. The ability to pull over at any moment to snap photos of rolling green hills or check out a lookout point or a trail has made each trip worth every dollar spent on gas.

4. Trekking the Tongariro Circuit and Crossing

This is another experience I look forward to writing about in the coming months. I went to this location twice to experience the grueling torture of this extremely challenging trek. The crossing is a one-day trek, but the circuit is normally accomplished in 3-4 days. We were crazy enough to do the circuit in 2 days.

I experienced some of the worst pain of my life by the second day, but I still think of this trek as having THE most beautiful views in New Zealand’s north island making it almost trump the glacial lagoon in Iceland. Seriously, this photo only just scratches the surface. I cannot wait to tell the story and show you more!

3. Gazing at the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon

Although I fell and scraped up my leg pretty bad at this location, it is still pressed upon my mind as one of the most visually appealing places I have visited in the last 4 months. This location beat Tongariro on this list because it was far less painful, and took far less effort to get to, in comparison.

Just over a hill from the Ring Road, there are impressive natural ice formations left over from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. Spread across the lake and with the glacier as a backdrop—it felt like another planet. When I go back to Iceland, this spot is on my list of revisits.

2. Getting my dive certification off Ko Tao

I think I might have surprised myself with this one! Diving really was a tippy-top, favorite activity on my trip so far. It makes it to 2nd place because of the extent to which I felt so free and happy underwater.

The ability to breathe down so deep, feeling like a dolphin the whole time, and seeing fish and coral most people only see in photographs was an absolute joy. I was so elated I got teary eyed many times while down there. I really can’t wait to go diving again. I plan to make it a part of my travels wherever I go from now on so long as the conditions are good for it!

1. Visiting my Grandfather’s childhood home and connecting with family

A very personal part of my trip was getting to meet my many cousins and uncles on my mother’s side of the family in Germany. Many of them I had never met before, but they all treated me like a part of the family right away. Through them, I was given the opportunity to see where my grandfather—deceased before I was born—grew up and went to school. This included a tour of the family farm, his childhood home and birthplace.

I even got to visit the hat shop in Regensburg from which he used to purchase his hats when he’d return to Germany from America. The connections I made with the family and knowledge I gained about my family’s history make up the top travel experience for me in the last 4 months.

Honorable mentions

Looking to 2015

Ahead for me is the rest of my one-year working holiday visa here in New Zealand. I have the option to keep traveling and seeing more of this beautiful country or settle down and work somewhere. I still have the entire south island to see which most people here say is the place you want to spend the majority of your time. Therefore, for the next few months I plan to continue traveling.

My funds are doing well so I’m not worried about work just yet. I may even visit a couple other countries for short stints before I come back here to find a job. But we’ll see how the year goes! Anything can happen—that’s the beauty of traveling long-term and being open to the world!

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year!