LIFE LESSONS FROM TRAVELLING THE WORLD PART 5: My Favorite Travel Destinations

After visiting more than 100+ of the world’s most famous cities and towns I’d like to share with you my favourites. This isn’t a list of the world’s ‘best’ places because there are no ‘best’ places. These are simply the places that I liked the most. Personally, I tend to like big cities with plenty to see and do and places that are super unique and different and not like anywhere else.

Depending on your personality and preferences you might not like any of the places on this list and that’s OK because I’ve come to realize:

  • No matter what you love – someone else will hate it
  • No matter what you hate – someone else will love it

I like the following places because they’re all unique and different. There is nowhere on earth like them.

New York City 

New York Statue of Liberty

New York City is probably my favorite place in the world. I’d dreamed of going to New York ever since I was 15 but it’s a long way from my home country of New Zealand and I kept delaying it year after year because I had no one to go with me and I didn’t want to travel alone.

I finally went in August 2013 and it was everything I hoped it would be. The fact that I had believed the hype and built it up so much luckily didn’t ruin it for me.

New York is BIG, intense and exciting. It’s everything I like in a city. Whatever you want to do you can do it. Whatever you’re looking for it has it. People often try to defend boring and crappy places by saying things like “you make your own fun” or “you just have to know where to go” but in New York you don’t need to know where to go. You can go anywhere or even get lost and still have a great time.

I’d always imagined New York to be the capital of the world and that’s exactly how it felt when I went there. I never felt like I should be anywhere else. It’s where it’s happening. It’s where it’s at. I think if I lived there I would never want to leave.

I spent my first week in New York doing all the touristy stuff (Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Rockefeller Center, Radio City Hall, the Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street, Central Park etc.) and I loved it.

View of Manhattan from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building

View of Manhattan from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building. Entry is $54 USD and the view is just OK.

The view from the Rockefeller Centre is the best in New York (better than the Empire State Building)

The view from the “Top of the Rock” at the Rockefeller Centre is even better than the Empire State Building and is probably the best in New York. Only $34USD

New York City Helicopter

Flying over Manhattan in a helicopter is an awesome experience and is surprisingly cheap too: Only $130 USD

One World Trade Center photo taken from Helicopter

A couple of quick observations about New York: I don’t rate American coffee compared to what we have in Australia. What Americans call ‘good’ coffee isn’t really that good. Starbucks isn’t ‘good’. However, some of the best coffee I’ve ever had anywhere in the world was at Joe Coffee, a hole in the wall Coffee shop at Grand Central Station. Great coffee, great staff and quick service.

I also liked the people. I had heard that New Yorkers weren’t friendly and that they were assholes, but surprisingly I never encountered this in the 2 weeks I was there. I found New Yorkers to be direct, but still friendly and helpful.

I did find it funny however that no one ever said “please”, “thank you” or “good morning”.  I remember saying “Good morning” to an elderly woman in the apartment block I was staying in and she walked straight past me and just ignored me as if I wasn’t there. I found it weird but somewhat amusing and kinda funny. I just quickly accepted it and adapted. I don’t mind. I’m not a fan of small talk anyway. It does seem however that no one in New York knows their neighbours and everyone is minding their own business. People are in New York for a reason. They’re not there to waste time or fuck around.

Another thing that surprised me was how safe it was. I thought New York would be quite dangerous, however in Manhattan at least, I always felt safe and never once felt in danger. I guess having a police station right in the middle of Times Square really does a lot to keep away the ‘bad guys’.

New York lived up to my expectations. I liked it a lot and I’m going back in August for another holiday. I could definitely live there. Maybe I will one day.

Book of Mormon

PS: I saw the Book of Mormon on Broadway but it sucked. Maybe they just had an off night when I went. No one in the audience was laughing. “The best 2 hours of your life!” “The best musical of the century!” Really? I don’t think so. Don’t believe the hype. Chicago and Wicked were great. The Book of Mormon wasn’t.

Tokyo 

Shibuya: The world’s busiest pedestrian crossing

Shibuya: The world’s busiest pedestrian crossing

If New York is my favorite city in the world, Tokyo is a very close 2nd. Not only is Tokyo the best city in Asia by far (sorry Hong Kong but you suck compared to Tokyo) but I think it’s the 2nd best city in the world after New York. It might even be better than New York. Seriously it’s that damn good.

I loved Tokyo so much that I stayed there for 5 weeks and I even thought about relocating to live there and I still might. The only thing that held me back was the fact I don’t speak Japanese (nor any other language), but for Tokyo, I just might learn.

Tokyo was one of the biggest surprises on my round the world trip. I had no expectations of it because it had never been hyped to me, I had never thought about going and I didn’t know anyone who had been. I honestly don’t know why Tokyo doesn’t get more press. It’s unlike any other city on the planet I’ve been to. It’s incredibly unique and like nowhere else on earth.

Disneyland

Disneyland Tokyo – Getting some airtime with my new Air Jordan’s

What I LOVE about Tokyo

  • The people. I’ve never been treated better anywhere in the world than I was from the Japanese – with the exception of Thailand. 99% of the people in Tokyo are super friendly, nice and accommodating and will go out of their way to help you. I noticed how friendly the people were the moment I arrived at the airport. Lots of smiling faces and incredibly nice people everywhere you go. I also think the Japanese woman are some of the most beautiful in the world.
  • The entertainment. Tokyo has the best of EVERYTHING: Entertainment, Food, Restaurants, Shopping, Sports, Shows, Theaters etc. Whatever you want to do you can do it. You will never get bored in Tokyo.
  • The shopping. The shopping in Tokyo is some of the best in the world. I would rank it in the top 3 along with New York and India. Whatever you want you can find it and the prices aren’t too expensive.
  • The atmosphere. This is something you can’t pick up on through a photo or a YouTube video. Tokyo just feels good. It has a very nice, peaceful and pleasant energy and atmosphere.
  • NO crime. The crime rates in Tokyo are some of the lowest in the world. There is almost NO crime. I never once felt unsafe there. You can walk anywhere anytime day or night safely without getting hassled or harassed by anyone.

Exciting/Stressful vs Peaceful/Boring

When travelling you often have to make a choice:

A) You can go somewhere exciting with lots of things to see and do like New York which often comes with a lot of stress and pressure due to the higher energy and intensity and faster pace of life

Or

B) You can go somewhere quieter, more relaxed and peaceful, but with a lot less to see and do, which means that things can often quickly become boring

Or

C) You can go to Tokyo. With Tokyo you get the best of both worlds. It’s big, exciting and interesting, yet somehow peaceful, relaxing and tranquil, despite being the largest city in the world and having a population of almost 14 million.

Do you like Video Arcades? Come to Tokyo and play in 8-story video arcades!

Tokyo – The largest city in the world with almost 14 Million people

Tokyo – The largest city in the world with almost 14 Million people and also one of the safest with an approx 0.01% crime rate

Tokyo is an amazing city, or rather it’s a series of amazing cities. Unlike New York which has Manhattan as its main hub, center or ‘go to’ place, Tokyo has many different ‘Manhattans’.

Some of the main ones include:

  • Akihabara
  • Ginza
  • Ikebukuro
  • Roppongi
  • Shiba
  • Shinjuku
  • Shibuya

I don’t like it when people hype things up because I believe that hype always ruins everything, so I apologize if I’ve already hyped up Tokyo too much.

My advice to you is to ignore everything I’ve just said about Tokyo and just go and see it for yourself. You will need at least 2 weeks however. It isn’t a city that you can see in just a few days or a week.

Rome

Outside the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

Outside/Inside the Colosseum – One of the 7 wonders of the world. The Colosseum was built from 70-80 AD and could seat 50, 000 people. It was used for dramas, entertainment and executions. Gladiators and unarmed criminals were forced to fight Lions, Tigers, Jaguars, Leopards, Cheetahs, Panthers, Bears, Bulls, Hippopotamus, Rhinoceros, Crocodiles, Elephants and all kind of other wild animals to the death.

After visiting over 100+ of the world’s biggest and best cities and towns it takes a lot to impress me but Rome definitely did. If Tokyo is my favorite city in Asia – Rome is my favorite city in Europe.

There are so many great things to see in Rome:

The 255-year-old Trevi fountain

The amazing 255-year-old Trevi fountain – One of my favourite places in Rome

The Pantheon

The Pantheon is incredible. When you see it up close it’s about the size of a planet. It was built in 128AD and has been in constant use for the last 1189 years. Pantheon means “Temple of every God” as it was built out of respect for all God’s. PS: Because ALL Gods are real.

The fountain outside the Pantheon

Fountain outside the Pantheon

I loved so many things about Rome: The city, the sights, the people, the food and even the Coffee. The best coffee I had in Rome was a Vanilla Latte at the Rome Central Terminus Train Station. I have very high standards for Coffee and it was 10/10.

PS: That’s not to say that Rome doesn’t have it’s downside like everywhere else. There are lots of druggies, pickpockets and street kids constantly hanging around the train stations trying to rip people off in any way they can. Often they will pretend to work for the train stations and offer to help people with their bags as soon as they arrive from another city in exchange for a tip or they will follow you to a ticket dispensing machine and try to type in your details in exchange for a tip for the ‘work’ they’ve done. Most of these people are so messed up inside that they will yell, hiss and scream at you if you ignore them like I did.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem

Jerusalem – The world’s most famous religious city and home to three of the world’s biggest faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam

Jerusalem has to one of the most intense and interesting cities on earth!

This is a city that embodies intensity and religious extremism. People don’t just ‘believe’ or have ‘faith’ in God in Jerusalem, they are willing to die for him. One of the first things I noticed in Jerusalem was the guns. You see people with guns on the bus, on the train, in cafes, restaurants and at the grocery store. There are guns to the left of you, guns to the right of you. Men have guns. Women have guns. Everyone has guns. Often they’re M-16’s too. It was a strange sight for me as a tourist to see young Jewish girls casually walking down the street with M-16s strapped to their sides. (Israel has compulsory military service for Men and Women from 18-20). It’s not just M-16’s either. I remember feeling alarmed when a guy walked onto our bus to check tickets and he had an freaking Uzi strapped to him.

As someone who read the Bible a lot growing up and who has a lot of respect for Jesus, I had always wanted to go and visit the holy sites where he and the other old testament prophets once lived. One thing that surprised me was that I didn’t see many Christians in Jerusalem. The only Christians I saw were tourists. The town seems to be divided straight down the middle between Jews and Muslims who don’t seem to interact or have anything to do with each other. Jews stick with Jews. Muslims stick with Muslims. They don’t mix. Definitely not what I was expecting and not what I’m used to. I remember meeting one young Muslim girl whose family had lived in Jerusalem for 700 years and asking her how many Jewish friends she had. She said none. I asked her if she or any of her family ever talked to Jews, she laughed and said no.

What I like Jerusalem

There are so many cities and towns around the world that are similar to each other. They have the same shops. The same foods. The same clothing. The same music etc. Not many places in the world are truly different or unique. Jerusalem is different however. Even if you are not religious I would still recommend it because it’s unlike anywhere else on earth. When you visit the 3, 000 year old city you feel like you are stepping back in time. It’s awesome. I can’t think of any place quite like it. A week spent in Jerusalem is definitely not going to be boring!

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – The church is famous because it was apparently built on the spot where Jesus Christ was crucified and buried. PS: Unfortunately the priests who work here are some of the grumpiest people I’ve ever seen. I never once saw them smiling or looking happy. They literally don’t like people. It makes me wonder why they’re representing the church because they seem to hate life and have contempt for everyone. It’s unbelievable.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Nun praying early in the morning around 5.30am.

The Wailing Wall.

Seeing the Jewish men at the Wailing Wall and their devotion towards God was a beautiful thing.

The Wailing Wall.

I will not forget this man. He cried like there was no tomorrow. It was INTENSE.

 The Mount of Olives Jewish cemetery:

The Mount of Olives Jewish cemetery: The most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen. VERY good vibes here. Very peaceful. Probably an amazing place to meditate.

The dome of the rock – A holy Muslim site built in 691 A.D

The dome of the rock – A holy Muslim site built in 691 A.D. It is believed by Muslims to be built on the place where Muhammad ascended to heaven, and according to Jews where Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice. Because I’m not a Muslim however, I wasn’t allowed inside.

Thailand 

Elephant, Thailand

I LOVE Thailand! I love the people and I love the place.

I remember hearing the lyrics to the famous Murray Head song as a kid “One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble”, yet Bangkok is one of the safest and nicest cities I’ve been to anywhere in the world.

There are so many things I love about Thailand. Let’s start with the people: The Thai people are some of the nicest, kindest and most respectful people on earth. I said earlier that people make the place and nowhere is this truer than in Thailand. Thailand is awesome and the people make it so. I don’t think I’ve been treated better anywhere in the world as well as I was in Thailand.

Thailand also has the best food in the world. I don’t eat street food normally but I do when I’m in Thailand because it’s so damn delicious. You cannot beat Thai food!

Thailand has lots to do day and night and has a very fun feel to it. The energy and atmosphere is great. Whilst I was in Thailand I decided to spend a week in Chiang Mai doing stuff I couldn’t back home: Riding Elephants, going to a Crocodile farm, and the Tiger Kingdom.

Riding Elephants, Tiger Kingdom and Crocodile farm

It’s fun riding an Elephant but I found it a little difficult to balance especially when we would go downhill and the Elephant would start to jog! Half the time I felt like I was going to slip off as I didn’t have anything to grab onto and that made me feel a little tense.

Riding Elephants, Tiger Kingdom and Crocodile farm

Giving an Elephant a mud bath. We’ve got mud on our faces to act as sunblock.

Next we went to the Tiger Kingdom. This was a place I’d heard about that you could get up and close with fully grown Tigers, and even pat them and take photos of them. I wondered how it was possible to do so without being attacked. I’d read rumors online that the Tigers were drugged. I was curious so I decided to go and check it out for myself.

The Tiger Kingdom

Look at the size of his head compared to mine! You’re instructed never to go past the midway point of the Tigers torso otherwise you may be attacked. So if you ever do see a photo with someone with a Tiger it’s always near the bottom half of the Tiger and looks a little strange for that reason.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the Tiger Kingdom was that the Tigers were DEFINITELY NOT DRUGGED. They were often moving erratically and unpredictably and it seemed impossible to know what they were going to do from one moment to the next. In fact they were quite free to do as they pleased!

The Tiger Kingdom

They can even start bonking if they want to

Touching a Tiger for the first time is a little scary! As soon as you’re about to touch it you think to yourself “Is this thing going to turn around and maul me?” But you have to have courage to do it anyway (or pussy out) and so I did. You also have to be careful not to make any sudden or erratic movements around the Tigers and to pay careful attention to any signals from the trainers because these are still very powerful large animals and if you make one wrong move they can kill you.

The Tiger Kingdom

Good kitty, keep sleeping… please don’t kill me!

I never once felt that the Tiger Kingdom was a tourist trap and although it didn’t feel like the safest thing I’ve ever done I’m definitely glad I did it. It was also very interesting to get into the cage with the 2 and 3-month little baby Tiger cubs, who can’t stop fighting and wrestling with each all day long.

The Tiger Kingdom

With a 2-month old Tiger cub who is looking for another cub to fight with

Next we went to the Crocodile farm and saw a Crocodile show where the Thai trainers would ride the crocs like surfboards, and even put their heads into the crocs mouths and the crocs didn’t even seem to care. The crocodiles were definitely well looked after and all seemed extremely overfed, because whenever I or the trainers would try to feed them, they would often turn their mouths away as if to say “stop bothering me, leave me alone, I’m full”.

Crocodile Farm

Giant Croc having a snooze (Crocs sleep with their mouths open)

Baby Crocodile

Baby Croc!

My time in Chiang Mai showed me that almost any wild animal can be tamed by man. Even Elephants, Tigers and Crocodiles.

Lumpinee stadium in Bangkok

Knockout! I also spent a Saturday afternoon at the famous Lumpinee stadium in Bangkok watching Muay Thai and saw 9 fights and 8 knockouts. People were being carried out on stretchers and everything. It was brutal. I wanted to train Muay-Thai myself in Thailand but I needed to get a minor arthroscopic knee surgery to heal a prior wrestling injury. Thankfully everything is cheaper in Thailand. I got it for ½ the price that it would be in Australia ($2, 500 USD instead of $6, 000 USD).

Cusco

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu – One of the 7 wonders of the world built in 1450

During my 3 year trip around the world there was nowhere that I spent more time in than Cusco. Most of my writing for lifelessons.co was in Cusco and I had an incredible time there. Some of my best memories are from Cusco. It’s like my home away from home. I will definitely be coming back.

Cusco is a mystical little city that is famous for its temple Machu Picchu but that’s not what I like about it. Cusco was my introduction to Shamanism and the psychedelic plant medicines Ayahuasca and San Pedro which were life changing for me.

I also like the relaxing and peaceful vibe of Cusco. It’s a no stress lifestyle. It’s also very transient so you get to meet many different people from all around the world who are constantly passing through. The locals are also very nice and friendly.

Note: Cusco has an elevation of 3, 400 meters so when you first arrive you might get a little altitude sickness. I myself needed a few days to acclimatize. I found myself constantly out of breath for the first 3-4 days when I was there.

Local Quechua women

Me with some local Quechua women

The following places didn’t quite make my top 5, but they’re still great places to go and I recommend them…

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Trying to smile but for some reason I can’t. I think I’ve run out of smiles for the day. Damn it I’m going to force it anyway. 

I’d heard so many great things about Amsterdam before going so my expectations were high, but thankfully it turned out the hype was justified!

I like Amsterdam. It’s a small little city and seems more like a town, but it’s fun and the people are friendly and it has a nice and relaxed chilled vibe about it. It draws in tourists from all over Europe who are there to drink, party, smoke weed and have a good time. Amsterdam taught me that just because a city legalizes drugs and prostitution, it doesn’t necessarily lead to a bad or a dangerous atmosphere. In fact, Amsterdam is about as safe as it gets.

I think that Amsterdam is a great place to be if you’re in your twenties, but probably not so much if you’re in your thirties and looking to start a family. Still, I liked the city and rated it highly. 9/10 for me. Good vibes. Good atmosphere. Good people. Good place.

Note: Sadly Malaysian airlines MH17 was shot down by a missile over the Ukraine about 4 days into my stay and 193 Dutch people lost their lives.

Istanbul, Turkey

Blue Mosque

At the awesome Blue Mosque one of my favorite places in Istanbul. So peaceful here. It was constructed in 1616.

If you’re in Europe, it’s definitely worth spending a week in Istanbul. It has a good vibe, good people, good food and lots of great attractions too.

Basilica Cistern – Built in 53 A.D.

The very cool underground Basilica Cistern – Built in 53 A.D. 

Epic upside down Medusa statue inside the Basilica Cistern

Epic upside down Medusa statue inside the Basilica Cistern 

My favorite place and number one recommendation in Istanbul is Topkapi Palace, a former harem turned museum. It’s one of the most beautiful and peaceful places on earth. Unfortunately, I don’t have any good photos of it.

The Hagia Sophia

PS: The number one tourist attraction in Istanbul The Hagia Sophia (meaning “Holy Wisdom”) is boring and overrated. I would put this last on your list of things to do in Istanbul. 

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Downtown Madrid. My favorite City in Spain. I liked Madrid a lot and preferred it over Barcelona. It has a fun and happy vibe, great food, coffee and nightlife and the people are friendly. 

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark

Let’s pretend the upside down guy is me 

Copenhagen is full of good looking people who really look after themselves. I’ve never been to any other city where health and well-being is as important. Everyone seems to like working out, eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle. I also don’t think I’ve ever seen so many 6 pack abs!

Stockholm, Sweden

Sweden

Stockholm is a cool little city but not very photogenic. I’d heard that Swedish people were quite clicky, standoffish and hard to get to know, however that wasn’t the case in my experience. The Swedes were friendly to me everywhere I went and lots of people struck up conversations with me. Like the rest of Scandinavia though, Stockholm is very expensive.

Oslo, Norway    

The Holmenkollen ski jump in Oslo

The Holmenkollen ski jump in Oslo – first opened in 1892 and used in the Winter Olympic Games and for zip lining during the summer. I would have taken a ride but flying foxes freak me out.

Oslo is nice but it’s also one of the most expensive cities in the world. Scandinavia is expensive in general. Neither Denmark nor Sweden are cheap. But in Oslo the prices are scary:

  • Mars bar – $4 USD
  • Can of Coke or Pepsi – $8 USD
  • Good Coffee – $11 USD
  • The Babes – Priceless

I would really have liked to have spent some more time in Oslo, because the people were nice and friendly and I thought that the women were some of the hottest I’ve seen anywhere in the world. But those prices were just too damn high for me. I’ll go back when someone sponsors me.

Shanghai

Shanghai

Shanghai – The largest city in China. Super rich, ultra modern and lots of things to do. I liked it here probably even more than my time in Hong Kong due to the fact it hadn’t been overly hyped up to me. It’s worth checking out and spending a few days in if you’re in China.

Vienna, Austria

Vienna

Beautiful and classy – that’s how I’d describe Vienna. Everything about Vienna is classy, including the buskers. This guy was incredible and was giving a concert level performance in the middle of the city on a Friday night. Vienna is a great little city with good food and great people. Everyone I met in Vienna was very polite and respectful. Vienna is also ranked 2nd in the world for liveability behind my home of Melbourne, Australia.

This is part 5 of a 9 part series: Life Lessons from Traveling the World

Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 1: Don’t believe the hype

Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 2: Wherever you go, there you are

Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 3: Things that surprised me

Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 4: Highlights of the trip

Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 6: My least favorite travel destinations

Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 7: Travel tips – Part 1

Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 8: Travel tips – Part 2

Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 9: Why you should travel the world

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