Exactly 11 months after setting out on the goals below, I’m updating my progress on them. I’ll take 21/27.
Today is my 27th birthday! The past year has been really challenging. In all honesty, I spent a lot of it pretty miserable — hating the NYC cold, grieving the loss of my sister, lacking motivation in my career, and really, really restless to take this trip. That said, it’s also been extremely formative. I learned to play a new instrument, picked up a new hobby (camping), and, obviously, set off to travel the world.
While my early twenties were all about establishing the professional adult I wanted to be — graduating college, moving to New York, finding a job I loved (and stayed at for almost 4 years), marrying the most supportive/adorable husband a woman could want — the past year has very much been about pushing boundaries and figuring out who I want to be beyond those milestones. I think the next year will be a lot more of that. Among other things, I hope this trip will expand my perspective on what it means to live a full and happy life. To that end, I’m giving myself some goals I hope to achieve on the road:
- Get scuba certified: Back in college I was about 90 percent of the way to being certified and I just never got around to doing my last dive or two. (What can I say, I was irresponsible.) While traveling in Cambodia, we plan to get fully certified so that we can dive during the rest of our trip. DONE: Completed in February, and also finished our Advanced Open Water certification in December.
- Housesit: I’m really eager to stay in an actual home in order to have a more authentic experience someplace we’re traveling. The free lodging is pretty compelling, too… DONE: Twice. Newcastle, Australia and Mollina, Spain.
- Get over my fear of talking to strangers: Ugh, it makes me cringe to even think about this. But yeah, I really hate talking to strangers. I don’t think I’ll ever be the most gregarious person, but it would be really nice if the thought of asking for directions didn’t strike fear into my heart. Progress. As predicted, I will never be the most gregarious person. But I am getting better.
- Spend enough time somewhere to get to know a city well: This could very easily happen while housesitting, if that comes to fruition, but either way, I’d really like to spend some time putting down roots (a month-ish, perhaps?), in order to really feel like I know a place. DONE…ish: Budapest this summer. On the one hand, yes, we definitely did spend awhile here (2 months). On the other, spending time in a place doesn’t necessarily make it feel like home. While we figured out the ropes on some things, Budapest still felt very foreign in a lot of ways.
- Make friends: Much like talking to strangers, the idea of trying to befriend people on this trip is really scary to me. I want to make it happen, though. DONE: It took working full-time in one place again, but I am happy to stay that I have found someone who I would consider a friend beyond the end of my stay in Morocco.
- Learn to drive on the left: Eep! Australia, here we come! DONE: Australia and New Zealand.
- Couchsurf: Couchsurfing combines all the things I’m terrified of — making friends, talking to strangers, having other people all up in my business. Regardless, I want to give it a shot and see what all the hype is about. Nope. Tried in Amsterdam, but it was just too competitive…not to mention, the people who open their home to couples can be…questionable.
- Ride an elephant: As a present from my mom, I should be checking this one off just a couple days after my birthday. DONE: February in Thailand
- Travel without an itinerary: Thus far, our entire trip has been 100% planned in advance; zero spontaneity. While we’re motorbiking the Mae Hong Son loop, we’re thinking we might go itinerary-less. Depending on how that goes, we may do the same in Vietnam. DONE…ish. Will I ever go totally itinerary-less? Probably not. We did manage a few 2-4 days stays in individual cities where we more or less woke up in the morning and just decided what seemed like fun. This is wayyyyy easier in Europe where there’s a lot more tourism infrastructure and info on the web than Asia.
- Maintain balance: I’ve been really happy with how the travel-work balance has gone so far, but it’s definitely a challenging balance that requires attention and readjustment each day. I’m gonna say it’s done. In the end, I’ve had nice stretches where I took off from work completely, and others where I’ve worked full-time. In the end, it’s been all for the best.
- Practice yoga in every country we visit: So far, I’ve been terrible about actually doing yoga as often as I’d intended. I’m giving myself the bar of at least once in every country (which is a very low bar). LOL. Absolutely not. Missed: Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, and Spain. (In short, missed more countries than I succeeded.)
- Bungee jump: Sky-diving holds very little appeal to me, but I think bungee jumping would be sweet. Nope.
- Travel with friends: New friends or old friends, one way or another, I’d love to mix up the roles and routines Alex and I have fallen into by bringing along some more friends. DONE: Croatia in July and Barcelona in August.
- Travel with family: We’ll be traveling with my mom for about two weeks in April-May, and I can’t wait to see how it goes. This will be my first experience as the primary travel planner, so that could definitely make it interesting. DONE: And a huge success I would say, since she agreed to join us again in the Canary Islands in December.
- Introduce ourselves to the friends of friends whose contact info we’ve been offered: I think these introductions have the potential to really enrich our travel experience … but only if we do something with them! Nope. We did email a couple people but never heard back and never followed up.
- Take a local cooking class: Alex and I both love to cook, but we have no idea how the amazing street food we’ve been eating so far comes to be. I want to get the low-down so I can recreate these amazing meals when we settle down. This is another one to be crossed off the list shortly after my birthday. DONE: Chiang Mai and Bali.
- Visit 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites: 20 is a totally arbitrary number, but I love UNESCO World Heritage sites. I think it’s fascinating what gets chosen and why — and I love that it often helps save places that might otherwise fall into disrepair. Nope! Only managed 16 since my birthday – can’t believe it!
- Surf: I probably have not gotten on a surfboard since high school, so I think I could safely call this “learn to surf.” Regardless, I’d love to get back on a board to experience the rush of catching a wave. DONE: In Bali and in Morocco.
- Spend a day living luxuriously: There’s a lot of unglamorous stuff happening behind the scenes here, which makes me very curious how slipping into luxury travel might feel now. Awkward and wasteful or totally worth it? I’m gonna call this one done, since I’m currently living in a resort.
- Watch the sun rise on the beach: In high school, a couple friends and I used to catch the sunrise on the beach every couple of weeks, and it’s amazing how refreshing it can be. To this day, it’s my favorite way to center myself. We’ve seen some amazing sunrises so far, but none on a beach yet. DONE: Back home in Stuart, FL.
- Watch the sun set on the beach: OK, so this seems like a gimme… but since you can’t typically see the sun rise and set over the water from the same beach, I think it counts as a separate point. DONE: So. Many. Times. 🙂
- Stay in an ashram: I really want to make it to India on this trip, and the yoga ashram lifestyle really appeals to me — vegetarianism, living minimally, practicing yoga and meditation, and all with a very strict schedule. I think I would really love it. Not done. 🙁
- Go somewhere alone: Whether it’s an overnight trip or just for a few hours, Alex and I haven’t really split up yet on this trip. (I think the longest was when he went to get a haircut.) I really want to challenge myself to be self-sufficient and manage the “work” of traveling on my own. DONE: I don’t know if visiting NYC on my own really counts, since it feels like home, but I did also spend a night in Spain on my own since Alex and I flew out a day apart. I also came here to Morocco by myself for 6 weeks and spent a night in Amsterdam on my own en route.
- Go 1 day without spending money: This just seems like a fun challenge — can I go a day without using cash or card to make a purchase? DONE: Almost every day here in Morocco is money free. I’m sure there were also several cash-free days in Budapest and Mollina.
- Get through an entire conversation in another language: While I love that everyone speaks English, I do recognize that we’re very, very privileged to go wherever we want and know that people will speak our language. I would love to get through just one transaction where I speak the other person’s language. DONE: Happens pretty often here in French
- Teach someone something: I would love to teach yoga somewhere along the way, but if not that, maybe I can just teach someone a few words of English. DONE: Yoga in Gili T, Budapest, and Morocco.
- Find somewhere magical: One of the toughest things about traveling in Southeast Asia is that everywhere we go feels like a tourist destination. It’s really difficult to force yourself off the beaten path to simply wander and find the amazing places that seem to be yours alone. DONE: So many really amazing places, but a few faves: Gili T, Koh Rong Sanloem (where we got dive certified), our beach walks in Newcastle, walking the dogs in the olive groves in Mollina.