2014 was the best year of our lives. We left New York on February 1st and have been on the road ever since, visiting one incredible country after another, and doing so on a minimal budget.
We have taken 10 planes, 7 trains, and 36 buses on our journey through 19 countries. We launched Just a Pack from a hostel kitchen in Cozumel, poured countless hours into it, and watched it grow. We are both incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to travel this year, for the inspiring people we have met along the way, and for the support of our friends, family, and followers.
Our year has been filled with countless wonderful experiences but there are a few that stand out more than others. Here is our list of favorites from our travels in 2014.
One of the many magnificent sunsets in Phuket, Thailand
Our Favorite View
Randi – Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. The massive limestone cliffs cropping up out of the water and shooting into the sky like verdant giants are absolutely breathtaking.
Michael – Sunsets in Phuket. I’ve borne witness to so many incredible views this past year that I fear I might be getting a little spoiled. The rolling hills of Tuscany, sunsets in southern Thailand, arid plains in Spain, or the rooftops of Prague, it’s almost fool hardy to try and pick a favorite. Gun to my head, the brilliant bleeding sky that is a sunset in Phuket takes the prize.
Stunning Prague, Czech Republic
Randi – Prague – I’ve wanted to visit Prague for ten years and finally got to do so this summer. It was even better than I had imagined it might be. Prague has everything a great city should have; night life, beautiful architecture, cool people, great food, and it’s cheap in comparison to a lot of places in Europe. I loved every minute there.
Michael – I very much enjoyed visiting Paris, Barcelona, and Seville for the first time ever this year. However, like Randi, I’m picking Prague. I don’t think I’ve ever visited a city I enjoyed as much. Old Town Prague feels like a living breathing modern fairy tale. The city oozes ambiance and begs exploration.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Randi – Cambodia. I have felt a pull to Cambodia ever since I decided to go to southeast Asia. It is the country I wanted to visit the most and it’s the one that left the biggest impression on me. The people, the poverty, the natural beauty, Angkor Wat…it was a moving and emotional time there. It’s a special place for me.
Michael – Cambodia as well. I didn’t know what to expect from Cambodia, to be honest, and was surprised by how much I ended up loving it. The country possess a grace that is hard to describe. Stunning natural beauty and a resilient population juxtaposed onto a recent history filled to the brim with atrocity. I was fascinated and awestruck. I am doubtlessly returning to Cambodia in the near future.
Beach in Tulum, Mexico
Randi – Bocas del Torro, Panama had the best selection of beaches. Zapatilla Island in particular is the winner. The sand is white and soft, the water is clear, calm, and warm, and there is so much colorful marine life to see there. I can remember standing half immersed in the water and thinking to myself that it can’t get any better than this.
Michael – Tulum Beach, Mexico. White sands, crystal blue water, and ancient Mayan ruins. Spectacular. I also very much enjoyed the peaceful tranquility of Star Fish Beach, located on the northern end of Bocas Island in Panama.
San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico
Randi – San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque. My image of Mexico before this trip was beaches and deserts so these two places really surprised me. To see rainforests in Palenque and discover the chilly, European-feeling town of San Cristobal was rfreshing and interesting.
Michael – The aforementioned Cambodia, and my love affair with it, is probably the biggest surprise of the year for me.
Delicious dishes from Thailand
Country With the Best Food
Randi – As far as local food goes Mexico was my favorite but the food in Prague wins because there were so many vegan restaurants to choose from. After spending a few months in countries with very limited options I was suddenly able to get vegan versions of any cuisine I could imagine. This was a huge surprise considering traditional Czech dishes usually involve roasted meats and dumplings filled with animal products.
Michael – While I’m not the foodie that Randi is, I’m going with Thailand. Amazing stir fry, I think I could eat chicken with cashews and hot peppers with jasmine rice every single day. Vietnam’s Pho comes a close second.
Yummiest Street Food
Randi – Probably the veggie pot stickers I had in Pai, Thailand. I didn’t expect much but they were little pockets of deliciousness.
Michael – Mexico. I can eat those street tacos every day. Just hold the lettuce and load the up with chili peppers please! Delicious.
Mad Monkey Hostel – Kampot, Cambodia
Our Favorite Hostel
Randi – Oasis Hostel in Seville, Spain. The hostel and rooms are beautiful, the kitchen is great for someone who wants to cook for themselves often, there are so many organized activities to choose from, the staff is super friendly, and the atmosphere couldn’t be better. I had a lot of fun there.
Michael – Mad Monkey Hostel in Kampot, Cambodia. We spent a lot of time at the Mad Monkey in Siem Reap and loved their bar and their staff, but the Kampot Mad Monkey is probably the best hostel I have ever stayed in. Brand new building, awesome swimming pool, super staff, great restaurant/bar. What more can you ask for out of a hostel?
Best Night Life
Randi – Barcelona, Spain. I got to experience a night club in Barcelona that had my favorite kind of music to dance to. It was the first time in my life that I literally danced the night away.
Michael – Prague, Czech Republic. Not so much for the bars and clubs, even though there are certainly some really cool ones, but for the ambiance of the city at night. I loved walking around old town Prague, beer in hand, and soaking in the architecture. Charles Bridge is also great at night. Barcelona is a close second.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Tourist Attraction Which Most Lived Up to the Hype
Randi – Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It lived up to the reputation and the trees of Ta Prohm were as incredible as I imagined them to be.
Michael – Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. Probably one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
Costa Rica to Panama Border Crossing
Best Border Crossing
Randi – Costa Rica to Panama. It was a long day crossing the border from Costa Rica to Panama but when we finally got past immigration we walked over an old rickety and rusty bridge with broken boards, exposed nails, and gaping holes in the pedestrian pathway. When we got to the other side I felt like I had accomplished something and the walk prepared me for what I was about to experience in Panama.
Michael – Belize to Guatemala. Easiest border crossing I’ve ever done. Took about 20 minutes.
Well, that wraps up our first ever Best of the Year column. We hope to write many more. 2015 is set to be another epic year. After a month in New York City we will set out for South America in February, starting with Colombia. After that we have plans for Europe and a return to Southeast Asia. We hope to see you all on the road. Happy New Year and may 2015 be filled with amazing travel experiences for all of you!