sailing on

jardin des tuileries

I woke up realizing I left Paris four years ago. Four years. A (college) lifetime. Has much changed? After several solo trips abroad, my first job, and making my first apartment into a home, I feel like many things have changed. Yet many of the realizations I had that summer are still the same. Still confident yet terrified. Still alone but not lonely. Still a firm believer in the kindness of strangers. 

Since then, I’ve kept the Paris dream alive by visiting every year and taking several French classes to improve my language skills. While I still don’t know what’s next, I’m still optimistic as ever. 

16 places I traveled to in 2016

In terms of travel, 2015 was tough to beat. This year included traveling to Africa for work, planning a group trip to Peru, and returning to Paris on my annual another solo trip. A new job even led to a few opportunities for business travel. Five continents, seven countries, and 40 flights later, 2016 was quite an adventure.

1. Tokyo

“Hey mom, do you want to go to Japan in three days?” It was her first trip outside of the U.S. and Canada! We ate a lot of ramen and sushi as soon as we got there.

tokyo ramen

2. Kyoto

Beautiful temples, the bamboo park, Fushimi Inari Shrine, and my squad at the Arashiyama Monkey Park. Kyoto is my favorite city in Japan.

arashiyama bamboo park

arashiyama bamboo park

3. Hakone

Hello, Mount Fuji! What a view from the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) en route to Hakone’s hot springs.

mt. fuji - lesley siu

4. Chicago

Is your first trip to the windy city complete without this picture?

chicago - lesley siu

5. Honolulu

My annual trip to the homeland included a quick hike to Manoa Falls.

manoa falls - lesley siu

6. Malawi

A visit to the “warm heart of Africa” and fulfilling my professional goal of Snapchatting traveling abroad for work. Here’s the 5:30 a.m. sunrise at Lake Malawi.

lake malawi

7. Amsterdam

When you have a long layover here, you go into the city on a quest for stroopwafels.

amsterdam - lesley siu

8. Las Vegas

My favorite part was renting a car and driving out to Red Rock Canyon.

las vegas red rock canyon - places traveled 2016

9. Lima

The ceviche and sunshine make up for a terrifying non-taxi experience and having to purchase a new flight to Cusco (note to self: never fly Copa Airlines again).

lima peru - lesley siu

10. Cusco

We took a cooking class and made pisco sours, walked around the Maras salt mines, wandered through the markets, and met the best driver, César.

pisco sours - lesley siu

maras salt mines - lesley siu

11. Aguas Calientes

Pro tip: take the bus up to Machu Picchu. Always take the bus.

peru machu picchu -- places traveled 2016

12. New York

I always stop by Maison Kayser for a little taste of Paris, even on a 24-hour trip to NYC to shoot a video.

maison kayser new york - lesley siu

13. Paris

Then I actually went to Paris, because, you know… It’s Paris. Galeries Lafayette was dressed up for Christmas!

galeries lafayette - lesley siu

14. London

Crossed the Tower Bridge and another thing off my London bucket list.

london tower bridge - lesley siu

15. Oxford

I’ve missed the history and charm and studying in the UK.

oxford - lesley siu

16. Austin

A conference, UX class, and coffee at Dominican Joe.

dominican joe austin - lesley siu

 

Cheers to more adventures in 2017! Where should I go next?

15 places I traveled to in 2015

When work gives you extra vacation days, you take them. I was lucky to find affordable airfares and fortunate to have the flexibility to take time to travel. Six countries, two continents and 33 flights later, 2015 took me to some of my favorite destinations to date. My favorite trip? Solo traveling through Vietnam, where I perfected skills in dodging motorcycles, negotiating at markets and finding the best street food. It was a year of fulfilling travel adventures, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

1. Paris (twice)

The city I’ll travel to again and again and still be excited to return to every single time.

paris_balcony

2. Amsterdam

Wandering around the canals will never get old.

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3. Brussels

A city that feels like the European version of D.C. is even better at night.

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4. Ho Chi Minh City

A crazy and energizing city where it is 100 percent necessary to play Frogger in real life.

HCMC

5. Hoi An, Vietnam

My favorite place in Vietnam. Biking to An Bang Beach was a highlight of the trip.

Hoi An, Vietnam

6. Hanoi, Vietnam

A magical place where I discovered the French Quarter, Old Quarter, egg coffee and life-changing bun bo nam bo.

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7. Singapore

Clean and efficient, a bright city with a fascinating mix of cultures.

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8. Honolulu

Annual trip to the homeland.

ala moana

9. Haleiwa, Hawaii

Driving to the North Shore and around the island is one of my favorite things to do.

matsumoto shave ice

10. Charleston, South Carolina

The architecture. The history. The charm. The food!

charleston city market

11. London

Even in a quick 36-hour trip, there’s always time for tea.

tea in london

12. Reims, France

Santé to Veuve Clicquot for teaching me how to properly open a bottle of Champagne.

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13. Virginia

Just your average day trip to the vineyards with great friends.

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14. San Antonio, Texas

Congrats, grad!

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15. Washington, D.C.

Traveling and discovering new places within your city counts, too. There’s no place like home, right?

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on instagram: paris

instagram_paris_lesleysiuI fell in love with Paris on my first trip in November 2011. Exactly three years later, I returned on a second solo adventure (and am still reliving it through Instagram). I will never get tired of visiting my favorite places like Place des Vosges, Merci and Du Pain et Des Idées. Good thing solo trip #3 is already booked…

paris: one year later

paris one year later eiffel tower

“I can’t believe it, but I can,” I wrote on my flight to Paris. On this day last year, I embarked on a crazy solo adventure that I had meticulously planned for months. I refrain from deeming it a cliché “life-changing” adventure, even though it very well changed my goals, my spirit and my perception of the world.

Few things are as exciting and terrifying as being completely alone in a foreign country for nearly three months. It was strange, having no one to call and nowhere to be. In the most touristy city in the world, it’s funny how I was surrounded by people yet felt so alone.

Alone, but not lonely (put the tissues away because this is not a tear-jerker).

I’ve always been pretty independent and self-sufficient. I thrive on being my toughest critic and prefer to figure things out on my own. But put me in a totally foreign place and and stick a huge language barrier in front of me? The challenge was on.

First, I had to figure out what in the world I was going to do in Paris. So many options, so much time, so little money. When I got lost, I couldn’t whip out my smart phone and rely on the Google Maps safety net. For a while, I didn’t even have a phone. Communication was a major issue. I whole-heartedly believe that half of the French language is mastering the accent—being able to both speak and understand it. I embarrassed myself on the reg, moved on, and eventually acquired enough to get by. I’m still studying the language and hope to be fluent someday.

Beyond the logistics and self-improvement side of the journey, my belief in the kindness of strangers was verified over and over again. I’ll never forget the old man who spoke to me for a good 30 minutes in French and showed me Oscar Wilde’s grave in Père Lachaise, the French couple that happily wrote a list of recommendations on a receipt while I was eating at a bistro alone, the guy who gave me free gelato and the American expats who insisted on letting me keep the €35 change, telling me “enjoy it, you’re only 22.” My Airbnb hosts, flat mates and friends of friends were nothing but nice. People really are inherently good.

So I look back on the magnifique experience, still thankful and inspired. A lot has changed since then: first job, more travels, new goals. Overcoming the personal and cultural challenges that come with traveling alone makes you overly optimistic, in a good way. It’s a story that sticks with you forever. While the learning experience fuels your curiosity and ambition, it helps you focus and keeps you grounded as well. I’m fully content with life at this moment and excited for the opportunities ahead. If you tell me that all of that Parisian goodness really happened a whole year ago, this is what I say: I can’t believe it, but I can.

my best advice for recent graduates

paris window view

I remember this time last year so clearly. I had no idea where I would live, what I would do or when I would inevitably enter the real world. The one thing I was sure of? I was going to travel for the next few months.

Some thought I was crazy (and they probably still do). Others were mildly supportive, saying things like “I wish I could do that” or “you’re so lucky.” Let me tell you—luck had nothing to do with it.

It takes time to discern what you want to do and what you think you’re supposed to do. There’s no right answer. You may have friends doing everything from killing it at their dream jobs and prepping for grad school to drowning in job applications and wallowing on their parents’ couch.

The first thing you have to do is stop comparing yourself to your peers. After fighting for the best grades, the most notable internships and the busiest social calendar, you’re constantly checking to see where you stand. And for what? During a period of unemployment, I felt like I was behind. So many people seemed to have it together. Success has different meanings—it doesn’t look the same to everyone, and the amount of time it takes to get to (your idea of) it varies.

So, after you do that, this is my best advice:

Follow your passion.

So cheesy, yet so true. The most exciting, liberating time of your life is when you’re fresh out of college. No one’s telling you what to do next. You are risky enough to succeed and smart enough to learn when you fail. Identify your passion, and throw yourself into it. If you stay focused, work hard and be nice to people along the way, you’ll find that doing what you love and success, however you choose to define it, aren’t very different at all.

My passion was living in Paris. I didn’t throw myself into it, but I did take a plane.

 

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