28 Most Unforgettable Memories of My 28th Year

I am one of those strange people (at least in my circle of friends) that actually gets really, really excited about birthdays. I’ll totally be 22 forever, on the inside, and I’m scared of getting old, I’ll admit it, but I am excited about gaining another year of experience and hopefully wisdom.

I also appreciate the reminder to look forward to unknown opportunities and make goals for my upcoming year… and look back and reflect on what has already manifested in my life.

So, without further ado, the birthday present I give myself every year…

28 Most Unforgettable Memories of My 28th Year

1. Celebrating Christmas in Chicago

Eating pizza in Chicago

My husband, Ran, had his first (barely) white Christmas ever (the one time we went to Michigan for the holiday, Xmas Day was cold yet snowless). We did all the traditional American things one must do in Chicago: eating deep dish pizza (Ran said it best: Chicago pizza is good, but Jet’s is better), and even a bit of shopping. But Chicago was just a stopover en-route to somewhere and something much more exciting…

2. Back to Bangkok

Dad in Bangkok Thailand
my dad was not loving the 7baht public boat (I think it was around 100F degrees)

I returned to Bangkok (my heart home) for the first time in years, since moving away after the military coup. This time was even better than the first because I was able to see the realization of a farfetched dream I NEVER thought would come true: my entire family came with me.

3. Wedding Apocalypse

Koh Tao Thailand Destination Wedding
trying to make it to my trial hair appointment (spoiler alert: the salon was under 4 feet of water)

Our wedding will live in infamy as the Wedding Apocalypse, the Thaiphoon wedding (get that amalgamation of Thailand and typhoon there?), the wedding that happened in the supposed dry season but really was smack dab in the middle of the worst storm on the island in decades. At least every attendee knows that whatever disaster happens at their own wedding, they can always look back at mine and rest assured that their wedding hiccup wasn’t so bad.

4. Honeymoon #1

Thailand Destination Wedding Honeymoon w

Our short-and-sweet several-day honeymoon started as rained-out and dreary as our wedding week, but cleared up. We ate at the same restaurant (our favorite, and the Samui-version of the place we had our first date in Bangkok) 4 times in 3 days. no shame.

5. Galapagos animal encounters

Galapagos Sea Lions in San Cristobal

I cried when dolphins surfaced near my dangling feet, I teared up when sea lions came to play with me while snorkeling, I sniffled when I saw my first wild penguins. The Galapagos was SO emotional and so mind-blowing for an animal-lover like me.

6. TV filming… almost naked

Stephanie Kempker Edri - Galapagos Sea Lions in San Cristobal

For my second time ever, I was filmed to be in a TV show (my first time was in Enjoying Rio, a fun pre-Olympic show you can see here): Facing Waves. This was a first, though, in that a lot of the filming occurred while I was in a bikini! As someone who has struggled with my image, my weight, and my body self-talk, it was definitely a boundary-pushing experience.

7. Bye bye, fast fashion

wearing non-fast fashion brand, made by artisans in Mexico, Siempre Viva

I could no longer justify shopping at places like Forever 21 and Zara, as much as I liked their prices and style, after realizing the deplorable conditions and pay of their factory workers, along with the pollution that clothing waste causes. It’s all local, sustainable, ethical working conditions, and second-hand for me from now on!

8. Seeing Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Misadventure: How Not to do a One Day Trip to Machu Picchu

My visit was less than perfect, but I had a blast at Machu Picchu with some new friends and was completely in awe of the World Wonder.

9. Condors in Colca Canyon

Searching for Condors in Colca Canyon

While people usually think of Machu Picchu when they think of Peru, my favorite part of my Peru trip was seeing the Andean condors in Colca Canyon! You should NOT miss this.

10. Honeymoon #2

Parasailing in Belize: San Pedro, Ambergris Caye

Am I spoiled? Maybe. But after our first honeymoon was rainy (and a bit stressful), I decided we should have a re-do! Work commitments on the part of my husband cut our trip a bit short again, but we had 5 incredible days in Ambergris Caye filled with both adventure (parasailing, snorkeling, and more) and relaxation (lots of pool and drinking time).

11. Shark swim

Snorkeling in Belize: Shark Ray Alley Snorkel Site

For the second time (first was in Galapagos). The snorkeling in Belize is literally the best anywhere I’ve ever been… and yes, I was terrified of the sharks but supposedly they’re harmless. I was hyperventilating the entire time.

12. Finally: friends

I’d been hesitant to invest energy in making friends (why make friends just to have to say goodbye?) but incredibly lonely. This is the often unspoken truth of expat life. After a few months in Puebla, though, I met Sam for coffee (ya know, the friend version of a first date) and hit it off. We’ve been meeting up every week ever since (as travel and work schedules permit), and this first friendship inspired me to reach out and make more.

13. A fur-ever home for Shanti

Shanti Before Tzununa Guatemala Starving Dog
Shanti’s “Before” photo

I rescued Shanti when he was an emaciated pup dying on the streets of Tzununa, Guatemala (I found him next to the dead, starved body of his brother). A year, lots of love and food later, Shanti finally found his forever home with a lovely family just outside of Mexico City.

14. SURPRISE! 60th birthday for dad

Dad's 60th Birthday Party in Muskegon, Michigan, USA

My dad didn’t expect to see me (or my husband) for months, and instead we both surprised him on his 60th birthday with our presence… and then went out for a celebratory dinner that held another secret: a surprise birthday with some of his favorite friends and family!

15. Wanderfest speaking


Anyone who knows me knows I am PASSIONATE about women spreading their wings to take the leap to living abroad and following their dreams. So when I heard about Wanderfest, a long-weekend of adult-style, women-only summer camp in the Poconos Mountains, I jumped at the opportunity and ended up speaking about my favorite topic: expat life for women.

16. What’s my heritage?

Stephanie Kempker Edri, Expat in Puebla Mexico

My mom and dad had always told me that I was a mix of Native American along with Dutch, Irish, Swedish, Polish. My husband and I decided to take the 23andme genetic and ancestry test, which confirmed… that the stories I’d been told were pretty much wrong.

17. New job at Matador

Puebla Mexico Office
I don’t have a photo of me working, so here’s a pic of my first-ever home office 2 years ago (my husband set it up for me!)

I’ve been obsessed with Matador Network for a while. I signed up for the courses, I was on the newsletter, and when I read about an opening in layout, I threw my hat in the ring. AND I GOT IT! 🙂

18. My hardest trip yet

My hardest trip yet: Cuba

Cuba was, without a doubt, the most difficult destination I’ve ever visited. While my brother, Sarah, and I made the best of it with a lot of positive thinking, it was rough (while staying mindful that I was just a tourist and have the ability to leave). From food shortages (is tourism helping or hurting?) to getting robbed for the first time EVER in years of travel and over 35 countries visited, all 3 of us were ready for the trip to end when we finally boarded our plane back to Mexico… after only 1 week.

19. I explored more of Europe

Trying whiskey in Dublin, Ireland

I saved $800 on flights AND got a few bonus trips enroute to a friend’s wedding in Israel. One of my favorite stops was Dublin. While not cheap, I loved sampling real Irish whiskey at Teeling distillery and drinking Guiness in its birthplace. Give me some booze and an explanation, and I’m all about it.

20. I had my eyes opened in Riga

Hosteling in the Heart of Riga - Stay at Doma Hostel

Americans don’t learn much about other nations’ histories, especially outside of Western Europe. I had no idea the level of devastation and suffering that was inflicted upon Soviet-occupied countries. Touring the KGB headquarters (“the Corner House”) in Riga, with a former prisoner and victim, was an experience I could never forget and don’t have words sufficient to honor.

21. I explored Israel with my husband and sister

Stephanie in Dead Sea mud

While my husband and I go to Israel every year, this time was EXTRA special: my sister came to visit! We showed her the incredible deliciousness that is Israeli cuisine (especially falafel and breakfast: she LOVED shakshouka), along with a few nights in Tel Aviv, and spending a lot of time in the often-overlooked but incredible Israeli nature (the Dead Sea, hiking to waterfalls, beaches in both Tel Aviv and Haifa)

22. I fell in love with Stockholm

Stockholm, Sweden Cityscape from the Water

I love edgy cities. La Paz, Bolivia, Mexico City, Mexico, Quito, Ecuador, are just a few of my faves. I did not expect to like Stockholm, the complete opposite to any of those places, yet I absolutely fell in love. So bright! So fresh! So clean! So efficient! … and so TERRIBLY expensive (but let’s forget that for now).

23. I went to Las Vegas with my family

Hotel Birger Jarl Stockholm Sweden
this photo is not from Vegas, but it sums up our #1 activity while visiting

I have a really great and close relationship with my family. It’s just me, my sister, my brother, and my dad – but we all live pretty far apart, so getting together is a treat. My sis, dad, husband, and I spent just a few days in Las Vegas, but it was a blast!

24. I ran 10k

Vibrams in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

I have never run more than 5km in my entire life. Even when I was in the best shape of my life, even when I was running track (I did the 400m), I could never get more than 5km. One day, after a particularly great meditation the previous evening, I strapped on my shoes and ran 10k, without even planning to. The power of the mind!

25. Celebrated Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Last year, I spent Day of the Dead in San Andres Mixquic. This year, I visited Oaxaca, which has one of the biggest and bets known celebrations throughout Mexico. Along with Ashley (and her hubby), I got my face painted and dressed up in traditional clothing to celebrate Dia de Muertos.

26. I fell in love with Chiapas

Chiapas state of Mexico

Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas is the new Capital of Adventure in Mexico, and for good reason. I got my adrenaline on exploring the area with 5 days of caving, rappelling, hiking, mountain biking, and more. Aside from the adventure activities, the people were incredibly welcoming and the culture so diverse and interesting! I can’t wait to go back

27. I attended ATMEX

Atmex Adventure Travel Mexico Conference
one of the many interesting sessions

In previous professional lives as a marketing and business development manager, and as a sales manager, I went to a LOT of conferences. ATMEX, though, was in a different league of fun and interest (is that a sign I’m finally in the right career?) – I learned so much about adventure travel in Mexico, and met so many similarly passionate people. I’ve got to say, you know you’re in the right industry when there’s a booth that gives samples of fried cheese, another with chocolate samples, and another that hands out mezcal shots. Mexico tourism is the best!

28. Moved houses. Again.

I was SO excited to spend a full year in one house for the first time in 5 years… that excitement ended REAL fast as we were notified we’d need to move out at the end of our lease as the owner was selling. We didn’t move too far (staying in the same neighborhood), but the level of packing intensity and annoyance was all the same.

And that’s that! My 28th year in a nutshell. Cheers to 29 and all the adventures it may bring!

While I usually post every Monday and Thursday, I’m going to take a break these next few weeks to enjoy my favorite season: the holidays (my birthday, Christmas, New Years, AND my anniversary). My next post will go live on January 4.

I hope you take some time to disconnect from the internet (yes, even this lovely little corner of the web) and spend time with loved ones – new and old – in real life. 

A short vacation in Thailand turned into a life abroad with a canceled ticket home. Nearly a decade later and after living in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Puebla, and Puerto Vallarta, Steph is on to her next adventure and living back in beautiful, cosmopolitan Mexico City. She is living, traveling, and working (both as an expat therapist and an international health insurance representative) around the world to find the beautiful, inspirational, and interesting while sharing it with you!

Find me on: Web | Instagram | Facebook

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