Identity, Self, & Relationships

This Was Me: My Travelling 20s & 30s

chain of stones in the shape of a heart

I did my first big international trip (aside from a high school exchange trip to Japan) when I was 22, and that was when the travel bug firmly took root.  From then on, each year I would take all my vacation time together in one block and do an international trip, other than the years when illness got in the way.  This post is a look at some of the trips I did while I was in my 20s and early 30s.


This photo is from my first trip, which was to Greece and Turkey.  My friend and I had done some planning, but there was also quite a bit of just winging it.  This was before the days of smartphones, and we had to hunt down internet cafΓ©s to get internet access.  We weren’t sure if bank machines would be easy to find or if our bank cards would be accepted, so we had traveller’s cheques as our main source of money.

The photo is taken in Pamukkale in Turkey.  There are these really cool pillowy-looking calcium formations and mineral springs.  To protect the surface they don’t let you wear shoes, and there was a guard who did not hesitate to blow his whistle if anyone did anything untoward.  I absolutely loved Turkey.  People were really friendly, and there are a lot of really interesting places to visit.

author with a group of Polish boys at a hostel in Gdansk

This was from my second trip, and it was a whirlwind blitz hitting up Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland.  Unlike the winging it approach on my first trip, for this one, my friend and I were super-organized so that we could take full advantage of our time in each spot.  It was great to have so many different cultural experiences all in one trip.

This photo is from a hostel we stayed at in Gdansk, Poland.  It was the one country where we encountered more locals than foreigners staying in hostels.  These Polish kids didn’t speak English, but there was an older one who’s not in the photo who was able to do some very basic translation.  Throughout my travels, I’ve always found out that language doesn’t have to be all that much of a barrier to connecting with people.

selfie taken in Paris

This was my first solo trip, which I did at age 25.  For most of the trip I was in France, plus I popped over to London for a few days to visit a friend who was living there at the time.  It made for a good first trip on my own, because I spoke enough French to get by, I felt very safe the whole time, and as a white chick I didn’t automatically stand out as a foreigner.

Unlike previous trips that were ultra-low maintenance appearance-wise, for this trip, I actually made an effort, with makeup and jewellery and all that jazz.  This photo is in the Marais area of Paris.

author beside statue of Anne Frank in Amsterdam

This trip was with my boyfriend at the time.  We visited his dad in Switzerland and then spent a few days in Amsterdam.  This was another trip when I went for presentable rather than scruffy.  Because we’d spent hardly any money in Switzerland, in Amsterdam we decided to splurge on a nice hotel, which was a pleasant treat compared to my usual ultra-low-budget hostel travelling style.

This photo is beside a statue of Anne Frank that, if I remember correctly, was right around the corner from the house where she was in hiding.  I look rather sombre in the photo, probably because I was annoyed at boyfriend over something or other, but I like the picture because of the statue.

sitting with a group of Vietnamese people for lunch

This trip was 2 years after I first got sick, and my illness was in full remission at the time.  I went to Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.  The first two countries I did on my own, and then a friend flew in to join me in Cambodia.  This was my first solo trip in an area that involved a little more effort and adventure than going to France.  Despite the occasional hiccup here and there, I felt pretty good with the solo travel thing.  This trip was full-on scruffy, and when my friend joined me she was rather dismayed at the untamed state of my eyebrows.  We went for a pedicure in Thailand, and the pedicurist was clearly very disgusted by my traveller feet, which had gotten pretty nasty from doing lots of walking in dusty/dirty areas in my Teva sports sandals.

This photo is from an ethnographic museum in Hanoi, Vietnam.  I was wandering around, checking out the museum, and came across this group of people eating lunch.  For whatever reason, they decided to adopt me and wanted me to have lunch with them.  Some of them were in charge of the museum, and they were yakking away in broken English telling me about the museum, showing me how to eat properly, and asking me questions about Canada.  It was quite the fun little party.  I’ve noticed as a solo female traveller that pretty regularly people would take an interest in adopting me.

In Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon, I was staying in a co-ed dorm room in a hostel.  I was sitting on my bed reading evening and this guy started talking to me.  It quickly became apparent that he was quite delusional.  My armchair diagnosis was delusional disorder.  He didn’t have the pressured speech of mania, but he didn’t seem to have any interest in putting an end to the rambling.  I think I had to pretend to be sleepy to finally get him to stop talking.

Ashley eating a stick of street meat in Bangkok

This is me getting my silly carnivore on while eating a skewer of street meat in Bangkok. My friend was sure I was going to get sick from it, but I didn’t. This photo is taken on Khao San Road, which is the tacky tourist drag, teeming with drunk westerners.

standing with giraffes in the background on safari in Kenya
On safari in Kenya; those are 2 giraffes in the background
selfie at Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, Peru
author riding a camel in Egypt
Camel riding in Egypt
rock temple in Petra

This is The Treasury at Petra, Jordan. The whole shebang is carved out of the surrounding rock, which has a rosy tint to it. During the day, it has a rose-gold hue, but once the sun goes down, it has more purply tones. It’s absolutely spectacular to see in person. To get to it, you walk through the Siq, which is a narrow winding canyon, and you round a corner and boom, The Treasury.

inside an ornate blue and gold-walled mosque in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

This is in one of the buildings in the Registan complex in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The intricacy of the designs on the walls and ceiling was absolutely amazing. I’ve enhanced the colour a little, but it’s pretty close to the real thing.

soldier doing a high kick in India/Pakistan border ceremony

Every evening at this particular border crossing between Pakistan and the Punjab area of India, they officially close the border with much pomp and circumstance. Legs are flying, groins are being pulled, feet are stomping, and it’s all very theatrical.

So there you have it, a look back at my travels in my 20s and 30s, a fabulous time in my life aside from my first episode of depression.  It’s funny (not funny ha-ha) that I used to be so passionate about travelling, and my illness has totally doused that fire.  I have good memories from my travels, but looking back at photos doesn’t do anything to reignite that fire.

All photos are Β© Ashley L. Peterson.

The rest of the “this was me” mini-series can be found here:

You may also be interested in My Favourite Simple Things & Other Lists.

47 thoughts on “This Was Me: My Travelling 20s & 30s”

  1. So cool Ashley! For myself, traveling amid illness has always been challenging. We mainly take road trips to see family, friends, etc. But, I would not consider going overseas at all. It’s too much of a gamble with my illness. And, I wish I could say that I was mostly symptom free while traveling, but it’s no different than my day to day now, where my symptoms are ever present. The severity of symptoms, regardless of venue, is always a crap shoot.

  2. I’m impressed by the places you’ve been to. I’ve always been too anxious to really do much travel by myself. My trip to New York a couple of years ago to see E. (when we weren’t even dating!) is the only solo trip I’ve ever made. I don’t know how much of that is general anxiety, social anxiety or autistic fear of new experiences and being outside my narrow comfort zone.

    1. I think it makes a difference starting young. If I had waited until I was older to start, I’m sure I would’ve been a lot less adventurous.

  3. These photos are wonderful!!! Between these trips and some of the trips of your youth, you are really well-traveled! If international travel ever becomes safe again, I would love to do something like the Germany/Austria/Poland/Eastern Europe trip you described. My husband has a lot of extended family in Poland, so hopefully that can give us more motivation to go someday πŸ˜€

  4. We also started traveling in our early 20s, starting with a 28-day solo trip. It was very spontaneous and uncharacteristic of us. And we got mugged on the first or second day of the trip. We had an interesting adventure overall.

    We loved travel until about two or three years ago. Now, it’s painful to travel. We had been roadtripping with family. We still try, and usually wind up in-patient after the trip. We were supposed to visit colleges this summer for Younger Child, and pandemic has quashed that, for which we feel relieved and ashamed

    1. I think it’s very valid to feel that way. Wanting to help Younger Child doesn’t mean your need for safety (or at least relatively safety) goes out the window. πŸ’•

  5. Ashley, I loved your pictures and how you shared your trips with all of us. My roomie did the same thing in her 20’s, and she shares so many stories fro way back when. I’m so pleased you were able to travel like this and experience all that you did and the people you met along the way. Very cool, indeed.

  6. Wow! I love that you were so adventurous and comfortable traveling by yourself! I would have never done that and still wouldn’t! Must have been amazing to see all those places and to experience their cultures. We have had 4 exchange students – Spain, Poland, Mongolia and Norway! It was fun learning about their cultures! Thanks for sharing 😊 Tanya

  7. I absolutely love it when people show me photos from trips or anything else. Those snapshots hold so much that I find fascinating to wonder about. Thanks for sharing these stories of your travels, Ashley!

  8. I love travelling too! Now being ill, it sucks that that isn’t possible. Even if I could, corona would not let me. I’m glad you enjoyed your trips. Greece/Turkey seems so fabulous! My first travel abroad (except for Poland) was to Greece. It’s a safe step. I loved it so much that I returned quite some times more.
    I’m also glad you enjoyed Poland. In Amsterdam you were so close to me! And I do believe that the Anne Frank statue is around the corner of where she lived in hiding.
    I’ve been in Thailand too, one time also solo-travelling. I would like to go to Cambodia.
    As for travelling now, I guess life changes also, maybe it’s the illness or ‘old’ age (LOL) but I’m also happy to stay at home. Looking forward to the next part!

    1. Cambodia’s an interesting place. A lot of good stuff, but some very painful history.

      Ah, old age. I’m totally there πŸ˜‰

  9. My 20s were my best years too thanks to a different kind of illness, so I sympathize. Hopefully we have more good years ahead of us!

  10. Well this is kick ass! Love the photos and stories πŸ™‚ So glad you were able to experience so much of the world and you encountered kind people. I understand looking back and not feeling old flames reignited.

  11. It’s great you got to travel so much. I also love travelling, but find it hard due to illnesses. I do want to use the rest of my 20s to travel more, where was the favourite place you travelled?

  12. Very cool! You are well-traveled. I was in Turkey very briefly, matter of hours as part of a cruise stop. Our cab driver made sure to take us to every family-owned business he could in conjunction with out own interest to see and shop the Grande Bizarre (am I saying that right). It was a very interesting place no doubt.

    It sounds like you got your traveling done when it was good for you and now you are content to stay closer to home? Is that accurate? I don’t travel anymore, not that I did much, and I’m okay with that. There’s plenty to do at home and around it. πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for sharing these parts of your history. πŸ˜€

      1. I’m sorry to hear it was depression that drained you. How lucky you were to see what you saw though, especially then as things seem a lot more dangerous now. My dad was telling me today about skateboarding in Afghanistan and Iran when he was a young man…Times have changed.

        It was bizarre. (Thanks for spelling that right. πŸ˜‰ ) We had almost no time after going to our cabby’s uncle’s cafe, his cousin’s leather shop, the palace…um…he drove like a wild man through the streets, down the wrong way on one ways to get us back to the ship on time. I believe my mother recorded the experience back. But it was beautiful in its own way. πŸ™‚

        1. It’s sad that places like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria will take many, many years before there’s the level of safety there used to be.

  13. Came across your blog while searching for “female solo traveller” on WordPress and what are the odds that the first paragraph is exactly how I got introduced into travels as well! Japan during high school as an exchange student, then at 22 when I went for my Master’s abroad and I started solo travelling across Canada and to Peru. Got hooked ever since. Wishing you more memorable years ahead even if it doesn’t involve much travels!

  14. You’ve visited so many places during your 20s!! That’s awesome. I never caught onto the travel bug until a few years ago so I’ve been looking forward to solo trip every year. Although you mentioned you don’t feel the same fire for travelling anymore, but thank you for sharing your past experiences because they are inspiring πŸ™‚

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