Hout Bay near Cape Town, South Africa

Niki Beeson has traveled the globe with a country count up to 44

When Niki Beeson, a Baton Rouge real estate lawyer, returned to the dating scene after her divorce, one potential suitor posed an incredibly rude question about her love for travel: What was wrong with her since she was obviously searching for something?

“There’s nothing wrong with you if you want to see the world, I don’t think,” says Beeson, now 47 and in a relationship with a different man who shares her love of travel. By her count, Beeson has visited around 44 countries, from western and eastern Europe to Central America to Russia and Asia. “I have spent more money on guidebooks than a lot of people have spent on rent, probably!” she says.

Beeson’s first overseas journey began when she was 16 and an exchange student with the CODOFIL program. She spent a month with one family in a Parisian suburb and another family in a town in Normandy. “When I went there, it felt like home,”  Beeson says. “I felt like I had been there before. It was a very strange deja vu kind of feeling.”

The Dead Sea in Israel

Beeson, who majored in French at LSU, has returned to France and specifically Paris many times over the years. “It’s just one of my favorite places,” she says of the City of Light.

There are plenty of memorable experiences to recount from her travels around the world. Beeson and her then husband traveled to Costa Rica in 2000 specifically to see a volcano named Arenal. The view of the volcano was normally shrouded in clouds, but one night the pair got lucky and glimpsed the erupting volcano. “All of a sudden, the clouds parted and you could see the lava rolling down the hills,” Beeson says. “It was pretty spectacular.”

Costa Rica was where she hitchhiked after getting stranded at a national park. She and her ex-husband started walking as night fell, he stuck out his thumb, and eventually a rented car with two Americans from Michigan picked them up. “That was my one and only hitchhiking experience,” Beeson says.  “That turned out to be positive.”

There was Egypt, from which she brought home a parasite-born illness. But, she says, “The pyramids were astounding. The Sphinx was astounding. When you get to see those ruins and realize how old they are, it’s just very humbling to imagine civilization existed that long ago and what they were able to do without all the tools we have available to us now.”

There were shopping excursions and desert trips in Dubai and a vacation to Sweden, Denmark and Norway to drive a brand-new Volvo. Beeson calls Budapest, Hungary, and its Hungarian Parliament Building one of “the most beautiful cities in the world with one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.”

North Iceland

Another favorite was Istanbul, Turkey, a stop on a Mediterranean cruise she took in 1999. “Istanbul was very exotic,” she says. “The people looked different. They spoke differently. It was very exotic to me, and that was what I loved about it.”

Back then, cruises didn’t offer as many excursions like they do today. Much of the sightseeing was dependent on Beeson’s homework and research beforehand. “We’d get off the ship and figure it out from there,” she says.

After all, some of the best memories happen when you don’t exactly make plans, she says. On a solo trip to Hong Kong, Beeson had a free day and decided to take a ferry to Macau. Little did she know that Macau is known as the “Las Vegas of Asia,” and she enjoyed people watching as gamblers arrived by the hundreds at the port.  “Be adventurous and let yourself venture off the beaten track and enjoy something unexpected,” she advises to other travelers.

Beeson has yet to visit South America extensively, and her dream trip would be a round-the-world cruise lasting nine months, she says. For now, however, the only trip she has planned is a 2020 cruise from Singapore to Japan lasting three weeks.

“I want to see the biggest sights, but I also want to go off the beaten track,” she says. “Something you don’t see in Frommer’s.”