When travelling, in between all the stress of getting around, the language barriers and the crowds, there are moments of pure joy. Something about the place you are in just sparks, and you have this wow moment. Sometimes it’s those bucket list places that you just know you are going to love, but more often than not it’s somewhere small and unassuming that you just happen to see and it takes your breath away. These are the moments we all travel for, and the moments that keep us coming back for more. Here are some moments big and small that sparked that joy in me. Maybe they will do the same for you.
Szimpla Kert – Budapest Ruin Bar
Budapest’s ruin bars are exactly what they sound like – bars set up in the ruins of buildings that were previously condemned. They are only a relatively new phemonoma, with the first, Szimpla Ket, opening in 2004 in the old Jewish area of the city. Since then dozens have popped up in buildings all over the place.
I have heard about the ruin bars before our visit in 2017, but I’d not looked into them a whole lot. We were in Budapest for only three nights and I was with my entire family. On the last evening there were still a few things I wanted to see but our kids were not keen, so they stayed in and my husband and I went off to explore some more. The last place we went to was Szimpla Kert.
As soon as we walked in I was in awe. The bar really is in an old, run down building. It is decorated with old, recycled bits and pieces in all sorts of different styles, with graffiti on the walls giving it an edgy urban feel. There were lots of small rooms in the two story building, each with it’s own purpose and personality, built around a central outdoor area. It was a delight to grab a drink and rest our legs, then explore all the little nooks and crannies. It was a warm summers evening, and there was a great feeling of joy as the patrons relaxed and just enjoyed the atmosphere.
Channelling Indiana Jones in Petra
Petra was one of those bucket list places that I simply had to see during our gap year. I expected it to be spectacular – and it was – but it was also so much more. We spent two days and a night exploring Petra. The first time we walked through the Siq the anticipation about seeing the Treasury appear before us was incredible. And then when we finally came to the opening, there it was in front of us! The best part was that we had entered Petra very early in the morning, so we were now here with very few people.
While I wandered around say “wow” every few minutes, it was the next morning when we started even earlier and hiked to some of the lesser known parts of Petra that really gave me joy. I will always remember standing high up in the hills above the Treasury looking down on the main boulevard as the sun was starting to come over the distant hills and light up the paths. The colours were amazing.
Floating in the Dead Sea
If one amazing site in Jordan wasn’t enough, I was also blown away by our visit to the Dead Sea. There was a whole combination or factors in play this time. After staying in budget accommodation we decided to splurge for a night in a resort, and stayed at the newly opened (hence cheap opening prices) Hilton Dead Sea Spa and Resort. This was one of the nicest places we have ever stayed in.
Our luxurious resort had it’s own beach leading into the Dead Sea and we were soon down there testing out the water – and it is the most surreal experience I’ve ever had. We all know how our bodies float in water, but this throws all the rules out the window. It is difficult to be in the water upright with feet pointing towards the bottom of the sea. Just sitting back like you are on an easy-chair is the best way to float around. All those photos of people relaxing with a newspapaer or book are totally realistic and the best way. We spent a while floating around and enjoying the sensation – and the whole time I had a silly grin on my face as I appreciated the joy of the moment!
Climbing Mt Kinabalu
Much of this experience did not bring me joy. It brought me pain, misery, lack of sleep and probably a dozen other things I don’t care to repeat. But when I stood on the top of that mountain, easily the highest I have been in my life, watching the sun rise on the morning of my birthday, I felt joy! And satisfaction and pride that I had managed to make it. This may have been one of the hardest things I have done in my life, but it’s also one of the best.
Visiting Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar
We had spent about six weeks in South East Asia before we got to Myanmar, and by now we had seen something like a million temples (or at least it felt like it!) and the last thing I felt like doing was going to yet another temple. But we had time to spare, and it was kind of on the way to where we were planning to have dinner so we decided to go to the Shwedagon Pagoda.
It was after dark when we arrived into Yangon and we saw the pagoda across the shyline as out taxi took us to our accomodation, so we knew it was big, but when we got up close to it, it was so much bigger that what I imagined. It wasn’t just that it was tall (and it is, the main stupa is 105m tall), it was that there were dozens – probably hundreds – of other little temples and stupas scattered around the base. It was such a peaceful, serene place in a city of chaos. I felt so much joy that we stayed for close to three hours, waiting for the sun to go down and the candles and other lights to make it even more magical.
Opening my Eyes in Dubai
I didn’t grow up travelling. In fact, apart from a trip to Bali, Indonesia, for my honeymoon, I did not travel internationally again until I was in my mid thirties. That next trip was in 2008 and it was to Dubai. My husband had been offered a job there and we were looking at things like houses and schools in preparation for our move. At this time Dubai was just one big building site, almost every building had a crane on top of it. My mind was absolutely blown when I saw the yet-to-be-finished Burj Khalifa and saw a ski slope in a shopping centre, and the absolute oppulence in more than one mall. It was so eye-opening.
It was this trip that taught me the joy of travel for the very first time. Unfortunately we didn’t end up making the move to Dubai, but I was soon planning more international travels, and fifty countries later, I haven’t found an end to that joy yet. Dubai still holds a special place in my heart, and I’ve visited a number of times now. I hope to visit again later this year, but we will have to see how things go.
Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia
Usually when I plan a trip I choose one big activity or attraction that really is a splurge and during our trip to Greece and Turkey in 2016 that one thing was hot air ballooing at sunrise over Cappadocia.
We were picked up at some ungodly hour of the morning and it was really cold (at least to us Australians who don’t deal with cold well). It was still dark once we arrived at the place we were to take off, and then had to stand around waiting while the balloons were made ready. It was all worth it though once we where us in the air, watching the sun rise over this unique landscape. Even though we were with about ten other people, the silence was just incredible as the only sound was the whoosh of the flame as our pilot added more hot air. It was so peaceful floating around, I couldn’t help but feel joy.
Seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska
In August 2019 we took an Alaskan cruise. It was my first ever cruise, and I was simply awestruck by the beauty of Alaska. I loved seeing the galciers and wildlife and dramatic scenery. One thing I had not even considered when planning this trip was that I might see the northern lights.
I had actually seen the lights before, about eighteen months earlier in Tromsø, Norway, so I wasn’t particularly looking out for them. I happened to come across something online though that said it was prime northern lights viewing all the way down into the contiguous US. So I thought we would have a look. On the first night we pulled on our many layers and went out on deck in the early hours of the morning. We huddled together hoping to catch a glimpse or two without freezing to death. We saw some shimmers or green, but it was a little cloudy and the show wasn’t all that spectacular.
The next night we thought we would try again. This time we were not disappointed. We spent more than an hour out on deck in the cold watching the northern lights dance across the sky. Not only green, this time we saw the pinks that appear when the lights are strong. For the whole time I did not feel cold at all, just enjoying every second of this incredible light show.
During our visit to France in 2018 my husband and I met up with some friends and took a road trip from Paris to Bordeaux. One of the places we stopped at along the way was Bayeux to see the famous tapestry. The tapestry is definitely worth a visit, but afterwards we took a short walk around the town.
We came to the impressive Bayeux Cathedral (or Cathedral of Our Lady of Bayeux) and I just had to look inside. Like temples above, I have seen many impressive cathedrals througout Europe. This one though, had something special. I just remember being in awe the whole time I walked through it. It is not the most beautiful church I have seen, but I defintely felt the most joy as I walked around inside.
The Colours of Riquwihr
Twelve months after our road trip to Bordeaux I was back in France, this time on the other side of the country in the Alsace region. We were again with a group of friends and decided to spend two nights in the town of Riquwihr. I had seen pictures of this cute little town on Instagram, but I’m a little cynical after seeing so many places that appear amazing online and then you arrive and realise there’s been some serious editing.
Riquwihr did not disappoint me. It truely is one of those stunningly colourful towns that is just so cute! We were there around Easter time so there were easter decorations all around too. Each time I walked through the streets I smiled. Im sure it also helped to have a beautiful sunny day after two weeks of rain, great friends and some delicious local food and wine.
So those are just a few of my most memorable joyous moments during my travels. I kept coming up with more and more, but I think that is enough. These moments are like a drug and I keep travelling to find that feeling. Hopefully it won’t be much longer before we can all be out travelling again to get our fix.
Please share with your friends and pin for later
Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.