How Do You Celebrate Your Birthday While Traveling?

The savage heat of the jungle hung heavily in the air as Lee and I scrambled down an incline and between two enormous boulders in Bako National Park in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. We squeezed through the space between the mossy rocks, finding ourselves in a surreal landscape of soft sand and twisting mangrove trees. Our local guide stopped in his tracks, motioning to us with his outstretched hand.

Only a few meters away from us, a large brown and hairy female Wild Bearded Pig was galumphing through the sand, followed by a half dozen tiny two week old striped piglets. We slowly wandered into the mangrove forest and stood quietly next to a tree. The mother seemed not to care about our presence, but her young babies were curious. We stood frozen still as they wandered closer on their tiny hooves, sniffing the air with their little snouts. For the longest moment, the group of wild piglets stood within touching distance just looking at us, until the slightest change in the direction of the breeze caused them all to turn tail and run, scattering into the underbrush. Our guide, who had lived his entire life in that very jungle, said he had never seen anything like it.

That is how I spent my 26th birthday.

Wild Bearded Piglets
Wild Bearded Piglets!

Celebrating Your Birthday While Traveling

Back when we lived in one place, birthdays were usually associated with get-togethers with family and friends. But how do you celebrate your birthday while traveling? When you are on a long term trip, you will find that when your birthday rolls around you are in a totally foreign land, somewhere far from everyone you have ever known.

Lee and my birthdays are less than a week apart and we have spent our last four birthdays in four different continents. (We have celebrated those birthdays in New Zealand, the UK, Canada and Southeast Asia.) When that special day comes around Lee and I are not always near our friends and family.

It can be difficult to celebrate a birthday while traveling as we can’t have a birthday party, a meal with our family or go out for a drink with our mates. This can be one of the sad parts of traveling, because it reminds you of how far away you are from the people you love. However, it is also exciting to celebrate your birthday while traveling because you get to have a unique celebration in a different country that you will never have again, such as my up close and personal experience with the wild piglets in the jungles of Borneo.

Bako National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia
Bako National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia

I remember having a similar conversation about Christmas with my friend Katy, another Canadian traveler who I met in New Zealand. Christmas is another one of those times of the year when travelers wish they could be at home with friends and Katy was telling me about her strategy for managing her homesickness during Christmas in New Zealand. She planned to spend it hiking one of New Zealand’s gorgeous trails so that she could unzip her tent flap on Christmas morning and give herself the gift of an amazing view. She explained that if she couldn’t have a familiar family Christmas, she wanted to create an extraordinary experience for herself instead.

During our birthdays on the road, we have done the same. On Lee’s birthday while traveling in Borneo this year we went kayaking in the rain-forest, saw Orangutans in the wild and visited a traditional village where headhunters used to live.

Lee's Birthday Orangutan
Lee’s Birthday Orangutan

On my birthday while traveling last year across Canada we were in Toronto and we visited Niagara Falls and then stayed up until the early morning enjoying Nuit Blanche, an all night art festival.

We rode the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls on my birthday last year
We rode the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls on my birthday last year

We couldn’t spend those times with family and friends, so we made sure that we spent them having a truly memorable experience wherever in the world we were.

Also, when we are on the road for long periods of time and living out of our backpacks, buying each other presents becomes quite impractical. We don’t want to buy a lot of stuff, because we will only end up having to carry it around. Instead of things, we treat each other on our birthdays to experiences such as expeditions, tours, special dinners, events and drinks. We can carry around the memories of these days forever without any extra weight in our backpacks!

Kayaking in Borneo for Lee's Birthday
Kayaking in Borneo for Lee’s Birthday

Have you ever had a birthday while traveling? How did you celebrate?

Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.

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  1. Belated but sincere: Happy birthday to You! We wish you lots of adventures and endless energy to carry on exploring the World. I see you had a lovely time celebrating your birthday. I hope we will meet one day on our travels. Enjoy!

  2. I still remember the trip to Ireland when i was in 12th standard. Me and my family members had been there for family holidays and it was one of my best family holiday. It was the month of December and my birthday comes on 9th December. I celebrated it with my loved ones so it was the best birthday ever. By reading your blog I am memorizing the day of my birthday, it was quite lovely to have such a wonderful day.

  3. I’ve had birthdays abroad, but never while travelling per se – I’ve always had a homebase and friends to celebrate with. I’ve even scheduled my travelling next year so that I’ll be back in the UK to celebrate my birthday with my family (it’ll be the first time I’ve done that since 2010). Special events are one thing that I never like to be on the road for – I always need to be with family or friends, but I do like your idea here of using birthdays to enjoy super special experiences while on the road, rather than treat them as just another day travelling.

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