Life Lessons from My Travels of 2012

[Note from editor: This post was originally published at]

To say that my 2012 has been incredible is an understatement. 2012 has turned way better than I imagined. The funny thing was that this was the year that I did not set specific goals yet I got a lot of things done. I traveled around ten new countries, started this blog, promoted tourism to my home country on a travel channel, finished my around the world adventure and opened myself to more opportunities.

Personally, I have spent more time with my family and relatives in three different continents and made friendships with the most incredible group of people all over the world. I’m also at my healthiest self and most of all I’m a lot happier than I’ve ever been. It’s been Anna-mazing year experimenting, discovering, learning and flowing through life’s ups and downs. I’m very grateful.

Like many travelers, I have found that each city or country holds a special place because of the places I’ve been to, the people I met and the lessons I learned while traveling. But I narrowed my list to some events in my travels this year where I learned life’s simple but big lessons. I love how simple they really are. I travel because the world has such a special way of  teaching me these lessons.

Here are my top travel experiences:

1.  Making it to Southern Philippines


The first place I visited this year was the islands of Bohol and Camiguin. When there are news about terrorism and dangers in the Philippines, they’re mostly from Mindanao region. Since I was traveling in eastern Visayas, I took the opportunity to hop on a ferry to visit Camiguin Island in Mindanao. I wasn’t surprise to see only four foreigners traveling around this beautiful island with seven active volcanoes, untouched by commercial tourism. I’ll surely be back to climb some of those volcanoes.

Lesson: Media always blow things out of proportion. Don’t be afraid to take risks and trust your own judgment. You might just surprise yourself.

2. An inspirational talk in Bohol, Philippines


The night before I gave the talk at my cousins’ school, I was listing excuses why I can’t make it. I doubted myself on what I will be speaking about. Who am I to give a talk to these kids when the school is run by Asian Nobel Prize awardees? My cousins are geniuses and I am… just a traveler. So, I went back to thinking how can I inspire instead and it went very well. Then one girl asked me what my views are with regard to ‘traveling as a waste of money’. I found my answer to be rather my simple philosophy with money: save some and spend some. But when you spend, spend it on things you love~ things or experiences that will not only make you a happy human being but will also enrich your life. One of them is travel.

Even if only that 1 kid out of the 160 kids, is inspired to hold on to her big dreams in life despite difficulties and naysayers, it already made my talk a success.

Lesson: When in doubt, take a leap of faith. Regardless of where you are in life, trust that you and your story are enough to make an impact. Everyone has something valuable to say.

3. Celebrating Songkran festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Songkran Chiang Mai

I’ve already mentioned how Couchsurfing activities changed my travel life during my time in Thailand. If you’re going to Thailand and planning to celebrate the New Year in an entirely different setting, Chiang Mai is the place to be. The Thais know what “how to open the new year with a bang” really means- with water fights. It’s too much fun!

Lesson: Adults should never forget the kid inside them who also needs time for play.

4. Traveling with my Vietnam Crew

Hoi An

I have written about my travels in Vietnam and my dislike for the country. But I admit that I had an incredible time traveling here because of the people I met. We had our share of bus from hell rides, ray bon’s bargaining moments, biking adventures through the crazy rush hour in Hue, celebrating a birthday party at a hostel, and having the yummiest cooking adventures. I will always always have fond memories of Vietnam simply because of my travel buddies.

Lesson: It’s not where you go to but it’s who you share travel experiences with.

5. Stepping foot in Europe


My flying time from Manila to New York is around 18 hours via the Pacific ocean route. Nobody will ever take the longer route via Europe especially if it involves 10 hours of layover time. However, I know people on the stopovers of the only flight I could get back home so I decided to go down to Zurich on my connecting flight even if I wasn’t sure if it will work nor did I prepare for a trip to Europe. The rest was history.

Lesson: Life gives you unexpected twists and turns. Pay attention to the signs and trust that the universe is on your side. Be present and before you’ll know it, you are simply flowing.

6. Reaching Eastern Europe


Coming to Budapest felt unreal. The moment I stepped out of the subway and marvel through the old buildings I had an “OMG, I’m in Eastern Europe” moment. Why I was there at that time, I really don’t know. All I know was that I just said yes to an invitation.

Lesson: It’s not as hard as you think. There are times when you just have to say yes to life and go.

7. Reconnecting with a travel soul sister in Amsterdam, Netherlands


You will meet a lot of people in your travels, but there are very few who will stay true friends. You will just know. That’s how I felt about my connection with my friend Wing. She and I met last year in Bandung, Indonesia then I bumped into her on my last day in Gili Trawangan. I accidentally met her a few months after in Ko Phi Phi,Thailand. Eight months after that, we were biking the streets of Amsterdam. We’re already planning on Africa for next year.

Lesson: There are no accidents. Travel connects you with people you need to meet.

8. Partying with the locals in Gent, Belgium


I don’t know much about Belgium before I step foot in this country aside from their chocolates. But after spending some time here, all I can say is that Belgian people are one of the most chill and authentic people I have met in my travels. The day I arrived in Gent, I was invited by my friend to a party. Not only was I on to some great European music, I was also with a really fun and intimate company of close friends but never for a second felt foreign in this incredible city.

Lesson: When you approach everything with no expectations but only with an open heart and an open mind, great things simply happen.

9. Finding my sweet spot in Madrid, Spain


Anyone who has been to Spain would agree how beautiful and appetizing it is to the traveler’s eyes. I spent almost a month there and reached a point of exhaustion trying to see everything. I don’t even know why I had to cram everything given my little time. So I learned to enjoy wherever I was, which was in Madrid and I had more quality interactions and experiences.

Lesson: Quality triumphs quantity.

10. Having an Eat Pray Love moment in Milan, Italy

Eat Pray Love

Ironically, I first stumbled upon Eat Pray Love the time I ended a five-year relationship. I tried to see if Elizabeth Gilbert and I had something in common but I got bored with the book and didn’t make it to the Eat part. Despite not being a fan, the book haunted me down again while I was at a grocery in Milan and I thought that maybe I do have something in common with her. After all, I made it to Italy. All I know is that we both followed our hearts and took the time to take care of the most important person in our lives, ourselves.

Lesson: The love you have for yourself is the most important quality that you possess. This is why self-love and self-care is essential. You cannot give what you do not have.

11. Celebrating my birthday in Lyon and Montbrison, France


This has been the third year in a row that I have celebrated my birthday in a different country in a different continent. Luckily this year, I had two birthday celebrations- one in Lyon and another one in the French countryside where people didn’t speak any English. Despite the language barrier, I had cakes baked for me, shared lovely meals with families and never felt more welcome in my travels. I had the warmest birthday celebration with my French family. I’ve had a good share of hellos and goodbyes but it was only in France that I cried when I said goodbye.

Lesson: There are two types of people, people who pull you down and people who lift you up. If you focus more on seeing the goodness in people despite differences, you will have more of the latter.

12. A mind blowing event in New York City


One of the best parts about living in the New York area is that most of the people whose works inspire me, either live in New York or hold conferences and book tours here. In 2010, I met a writer whose book brought out the status quo rebel in me. His name is Chris Guillebeau.

This year, after returning from my 16 month trip, I was fortunate to be invited to join a weekend conference held by one of my favorite writers and thinkers, Michael Ellsberg where he interviewed some of the most brilliant people in the planet. I could not put to words the feeling of being and learning in this event.  But I will share with you with one of the most profound learning I had which you can also use for this new year by Bryan Franklin.

He says that there are only 3 beliefs that you need:

  1. Believe that you always make the right decision… even when there is no clear answer.
  2. Believe that the people who know you, love you.
  3. There are 3 categories of things you can attempt in life: 1.Things you cannot do 2.Things you can do and 3. There’s a gray area- things you’re not sure if you can do it. And you CAN do everything in this area. There is a sequential order of way of doing this. The key is in finding the right people to help you with this gray area. Learn from them and do it.

Lesson: There is nothing more powerful than surrounding yourself with the right kind of people. You need people who will help you tackle that gray area so you can progress and create something so beautiful that you will have to share it to the world.


This new year, I wish you all things wonderful and exciting. It is also my wish that you’d be able to create adventures that you didn’t get to do in 2012. The beauty of adventure is just like success, it is how you define it. The only person that’s stopping you in fulfilling your dreams is you.

And if your gray area is travel/ solo travel/ budget travel/ <insert excuse for not traveling>, you have to trust me on this one- you CAN do it. So, choose adventure. Choose courage. Courage comes from the heart. Take heart.

You are worth it.

With New Year’s Love,


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Anna Zalazar

Anna is an adventure and nature lover, a student of life and a minimalist world traveling status quo rebel. Blogger at

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