Subjective and finite, composing a travel bucket list is an intimidating task, and one to certainly start an argument among world travelers. Telling you what your dream destination should be is an act as biased and arrogant as telling you what your favorite beer should be.
This past year, my passport has been inked more times than Chris Andersen's neck, but of all the countries I've counted and experiences I've relished, Nepal prevails as the most remarkable. One year after the earthquake that devastated the Nepalese nation, I can't help but reflect on my time hiking the most imposing mountains alongside the most modest people.
As you daydream at work today, allow me to provide some mind-wandering material on why trekking among the world's highest mountains should be highest on your world travel bucket list:
1. Anyone who is reasonably fit can trek in Nepal.
Even though I workout regularly, my trekking resume pretty much consists of trekking to the liquor store during Atlanta's 2014 snowpocalypse and hiking up the cringe-worthy granite confederate memorial carving that is Stone Mountain. Needless to say, I underestimated the difficulty of my 9-day Annapurna Base Camp trek. Any thoughts of fatigue were quickly subdued when Bernie Sanders-aged backpackers would breeze past.
Annapurna Base Camp is a moderate trek that did require strong determination and stronger knees, but there are easier and shorter treks like four-day Poon Hill trek that still offers amazing views of the mind-blowing mountains. While I shouldered my own sack, you can also hire a porter if you'd rather not carry a Tyrion Lannister-sized backpack uphill.
2. Teahouse Trekking is the glamping of treks.
Save the tent for Burning Man and the freeze-dried food for life on Mars. With Nepal's network of teahouses, I had three delicious home-cooked meals and comfortable accommodation daily on my trek, even at -17 degrees Celsius low and 4,000 meters high. The Annapurna Circuit certainly isn't known as the “Apple Pie Trek” because you're eating Top Ramen and Instant Oats at meal time.
3. All-you-can-eat is all along the way.
If you thought you'd be living off Clif Bars and shedding weight like Al Roker, have another Teahouse apple pie and think again. From fried eggs and fried bread for breakfast, to options like momos (dumplings), chow mien, pizza, fried potatoes or a bottomless buffet of dal bhat for dinner and lunch, your teahouse hosts will keep you full and fueled for hours of hiking.
4. Nepal is a knock-off North Face mecca.
It's funny how the more time you want to spend in nature, the more money you have to shell out for supplies. I've had car payments lower priced than Patagonia Parkas, and it's more economical to buy Patron than certain water purifiers. Instead of trading your soul to Sierra Trading Post, just do your shopping in Kathmandu (the city, not the outdoor store).
Touristy Thamel and Pokhara are a budget shopper's Shangri-La for outdoor gear. Ever had any luck haggling down the price of a down jacket in REI? Didn't think so.
5. You will meet people from all over the world.
With thousands of people heading to the Himalayas annually, it's basically a real life Global Guts with everyone trying to get a piece of Aggro Crag. You'll meet fellow globetrotters from every part of the planet on the trails, in the teahouses or at Sam's Bar in Kathmandu (highly recommend).
With idle time and without WiFi after a hard day's hike, you'll have opportunities to trade stories over Everest Beers, bunch up for body heat, pass the time playing poker and embracing the forgotten art of human interaction.
6. The mountain air does wonders for your skin.
Forget what you read in Cosmo, the true secret to clear skin is trekking the Himalayas, even in spite of persistent perspiration and skimping on showers. After 10 days of going au natural without any makeup, no mirrors to pick at your pimples and a diet free of artificial foods or binge drinking, my skin glowed like after pictures in Proactiv ads.
7. And the mountains do wonders for your ass.
Ever been on a stair master? Ever been on one for eight hours a day, in 3,000-meter altitude wearing a 30+ pound bag? That's the Annapurna Base Camp trek. Quit wasting your money on Cross Fit and get fit across Nepal instead.
8. The higher the altitude, the lower your tolerance.
Some days, the only thing that would get me through the trek was the thought of an ice cold, 22 ounce Everest Beer waiting for me at the last tea house. The "Taste of the Himalayas" beer is even more watered down than Coor's Taste of the Rockies, but after a long day of trekking, I would've settled for my great aunt's O'Douls and still gotten a buzz.
If you're feeling adventurous (which I'm guessing you are, considering you're hiking to the tallest mountains in the world), you can also down a dram of Raksi, a local grain alcohol, either on its own or as Mustang Coffee, the Nepali equivalent to Irish Coffee.
9. The scenery is breathtaking (literally).
If the altitude doesn't leave you breathless and speechless, the mystical mountains, remarkable rhododendron forests, astounding waterfalls, vibrant marigolds, never-ending rice terraces and impossible panoramas of Nepal will. Despite my efforts, no words or iPhone photos will ever do justice to depict the true alchemist scenery of Nepal.
10. Say "namaste" to the world's kindest culture.
The only thing more beautiful than the scenery of Nepal, are the people of Nepal. From residents of the sensory overload city of Kathmandu, to the dwellers of tranquil villages along the trails, Nepali hospitality is unrivaled. This is a bold claim from a Georgia native who prides herself on Southern hospitality.
A culture as colorful as prayer flags, Nepali will teach you their traditions, enlighten you on their geography and leave you with a heart as full as a stomach sated on Dal Bhat.
11. Help rebuild Nepal's economy.
Tourism is a life force of the Nepalese economy, and with damage from last year's earthquakes estimated at about $7 billion, there is no better time plan your trekking trip to Nepal. I booked my trek through The Umbrella Foundation, a nonprofit aimed to rescue vulnerable children and alleviate the impact of trafficking, poverty and war in Nepal.
My trekking guide, Amar, was once an orphan rescued by Umbrella Foundation, but with their help was able to earn his guide certification and ultimately earn independence and a foothold in the tourist economy. Before our trek together, Amar (who I still keep in touch with today) had been out of work for months after the earthquake kept many tourists away. He frequently thanked me for providing a lucrative opportunity for him, but I assured Amar it was I who left Nepal richer than rupees ever could.