A life less ordinary
When I left New Zealand, I had just turned 19 and had a return ticket booked for around 3 months from my date of departure.
I was filled with (false) bravado and a madly beating heart at the thought of seeing the world, so off I went.
Coming from a small town in North Canterbury, anything was bound to be a culture shock but arriving in the big cities of the USA was exciting enough to start with.
After my first three months of travelling I ripped up my return ticket and just kept on going.
It took me 5 years to return to New Zealand, but almost immediately I realised I was not finished with my wanderlust and so I put my head down and saved my money, to hit the road again.
Many years and 74 countries later, I can honestly say I that I have seen a little snippet of what the world offers. There will always be more to explore.
I loved the challenge of the language barriers, meeting new people and somehow being invited to stay with strangers, almost every step of the way.
I stayed with a single mum and her three daughters in a small village in Venezuela, was invited to a Turkish breakfast with a girl from Istanbul that I had sat next to on the flight over and shared meals with Indian families on the back-breakingly slow trains around the sub-continent.
By the end of my "backpacking" years I could say hello and thank you in about 15 languages (many of them now forgotten) and had my photo taken with people I will never see again.
Some of my favorite places were the most natural places; a deserted beach in the British Virgin Islands; mountain biking a live volcano in Costa Rica; and the Salt Planes of Uyuni, Bolivia. Some were extraordinary man made relics; Angkor Wat in Cambodia; and Mount Nemrut in Turkey.
New Zealand is so new compared to the rest of the world and I couldn't really comprehend how something that was built 2000 years ago (or earlier) could still be standing, while there are cities in the modern world that still have open sewers and lack running water.
Just writing this piece has started a flickering, high-speed, internal video, with flashes of memories presenting themselves. Some make me cringe, others make me laugh, but they are all part of the experience of travel.
I have been shot at, inadvertently been in the middle of riots, had food poisoning, been robbed (only once) and had beach worms in my feet.
I have been to an Indian wedding, full moon parties, music and cultural festivals and have thrown a party for the kids at an orphanage. The life experiences are endless.
I learnt to be humble, to be tolerant and to watch and listen before forming my own opinion. I learnt to keep my mouth shut and my mind open.
I learnt to try things I had never thought would be available to me; sailing across oceans, diving tropical reefs, hiking snowy mountains, eating guinea-pig, drinking fine champagne and jumping out of planes (not at the same time).
I learnt to save my money - I never had a credit card to rely on. And I learnt compassion and kindness (sometimes to my own detriment).
I met the most amazing people. Some of them were a fleeting moment in time, some made a lasting impression and some became life-long friends. I met my husband and together we have sought a life less ordinary. We now live in Costa Rica and own an adventure tour company, with two little bilingual kids.
We are teaching them to love life, be curious and brave, and to want to try new things.
My 6 year old recently completed an "about me" poster at school and on it he wrote, "when I grow up I want to be an explorer". I couldn't have been more proud.