Queenstown, New Zealand: the very last stop on my six month round-the-world adventure and what turned out to be my most favorite…

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I couldn’t have asked for a better place to end my round-the-world adventure than New Zealand. Though the island nation is often overshadowed by its massive Aussie neighbor located 900 miles (roughly the distance between Seattle and Los Angeles) to the west, in reality New Zealand has a super distinct kiwi culture all of its own.

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For our last few days down under we headed to the cultural and geographical center of the country to experience the authentic Australian Outback.

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Oh Australia. After eventually adjusting to the counter-culture shock of rejoining western society and moving past the subconscious need to continuously compare Australia’s beautiful east coast to my beloved American west coast, every day of our final two weeks in Australia outdid the last.

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How interesting to experience the biggest jolt of culture shock in months in Sydney, Australia of all places. After growing accustomed to the crazy crowds, chaotic traffic and constant noise of Asia, stepping into sleepy Sydney left an echoed ringing in my travel-deafened ears.

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The last leg of my solo RTW adventure was to beyond beautiful Ha Long Bay. With plans to continue traveling after meeting up with friends from home the following week in Australia, Ha Long was the perfect place to end my solo journey and take a few days to reflect on the past several months I’d spent traveling: the people I’d met, the experiences I’d lived through, and the lessons I had (and hadn’t) learned…

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Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, the little town of Hoi An tucked away on the central coast of Vietnam was a highlight of my few weeks in the country.

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Saigon was another unplanned trip destination. Besides its well known War Remnants Museum, I hadn’t heard a lot of great things about the city… in fact what I had heard led me to envision a place bordering on total madness, full of people, motorbikes, and the suffocating pollution that all too often accompanies both of those things. Well, after finding myself with a few extra days to kill and on a breezy flight from Phnom Penh, within an hour of arriving I couldn’t have been happier at my last minute decision!

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After weeks in rural Bali and Siem Reap and reading about Phnom Penh in several travel guides, I was super excited at the prospect of soon being back in a “big” city (read: the possibility of actual sidewalks and maybe even an American coffee chain!!).

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I wasn’t sure quite what was in store for me when landing in Siem Reap. Besides a vague knowledge of Angkor Wat (another of my RTW trip pillars) and having heard wonderful things about the kindness of the Cambodian people, I knew next to nothing about the country’s history or present-day culture. Over the course of the next ten days I was the (usually) willing recipient of one Cambodian lesson after another, at times thrilling, at times heartbreaking, but all for the better as they left me a different person than the one that had arrived.

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