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Turning 30, my pre-30 Travel Wishlist in review, and 6 Guiding Principles to Live By

Tomorrow I turn 30. As soon as it happens, I’ll probably stop broadcasting that fact, but for now, I’m in full this-is-a-big-deal mode. So I’ve been reflecting a lot on the concepts of age and youth, and a month ago I wrote about the 20 essential trips or travel experiences that I think are best suited to your 20s.

      The list that’s closer to my heart, however, is one I wrote on my 25th birthday back in 2014, while living in Madrid. Although it seems crazy now with hindsight, at the time I was feeling pensive about reaching my mid-twenties and how to best spent the half-decade remaining of my “youth”. ‘Youth’ and ‘twenties’ are by no means synonyms, and my life certainly won’t end tomorrow when I enter my thirties, but I do recognise 30 as a significant milestone.

        Aged 25 I had so much energy and boundless ideas – I wanted to see and do so much, and five years seemed so long but simultaneously so fleeting, like I needed to hold onto every moment! I wrote that list with huge optimism and extremely high expectations for myself and everything I wanted to achieve in 5 years. The world was my oyster, and the adventurers I interviewed put all sorts of ideas into my head. I’d had a ridiculously fortunate start to my career with so much travel handed to me virtually on a plate, and in the midst of blogging’s heyday I had travel opportunities coming out of my ears. It was an amazing whirlwind and that exceptional lifestyle swiftly became my new normal. By traditional standards you could say that I was more grown-up at 25 than I am now, on the cusp of 30. Back in 2014 I lived in a lovely one-bedroom apartment in Madrid paid by my employer; I earned more and had more disposable income than I do now; and I travelled in luxury more often than I do now (mostly thanks to the travel writing). But I still felt so inexperienced with so much still to achieve – hence this list was born.

          In keeping with the classic millennial search for meaning in life, the list prioritised life experiences and travel, over material possessions and traditional ambitions like owning property and settling down, and it was 100% the right kind of list for me.

6 years of birthdays, from age 25 through to (nearly) 30

        Fast forward 5 years to today, and I believe that having this list in the back of my mind has been a really positive motivator and guiding light for some of the bigger decisions and steps I’ve taken, pushing me towards the personal sense of self-achievement and life satisfaction I have today. I love the stories I can tell, the skills I’ve learned, the places and cultures I now understand, the many new friends I’ve met through my travels, and all the variety I’ve had in the last 5 years. So I stand firmly by my prioritisation of life experiences over the accumulation of possessions.

          A quick glance at the list would depict a fairly typical bucket list of 20 cool things to do, but for me there’s always been more to it than meets the eye – there’s a guiding life philosophy beneath the surface which has kept it relevant to my core values.

There are 6 key principles that this list represents for me:

  1. Relentlessly learn, grow and improve
  2. Challenge myself mentally and physically to achieve my goals
  3. Have courage to step outside my comfort zone and try new things
  4. Take risks and seize golden opportunities
  5. Passionately seek variety
  6. Remember to savour the moment and live in the present too

        Do any of these principles ring true for you? Or what would add to this? It’s true that they’re are all quite self-centred, given it’s a personal list. But life isn’t lived in isolation, and most of the 20 items on my list below were done with someone close to me, whether that be summiting Alpine mountains with family, travelling to new countries with close friends, or volunteering in Nepal with a great Nepali-British team. Nepal also involved a great amount of time and energy to help the local community recover after the 2015 earthquake, and through the Athens Marathon I fundraised nearly £1,500 for the charity Plan UK – proving that travel and personal goals needn’t always be self-indulgent.

So how did I get on with the 20 items on my pre-30 wishlist?

I managed a total of 12 items in full, another 3 are partly-complete, and 1 is planned for later this year, so overall I’m very pleased! Just a year ago it looked unlikely I’d manage 5 of them, but somehow the stars have aligned to make those 5 possible!

1. Get my RYA Day Skipper Certificate – COMPLETE

This qualification allows me to sail yachts wherever I fancy in the world. It firstly involved a theory and navigation course in London, before the practical week-long course in beautiful Antigua in May 2015 with my mother and sister. I’d traditionally seen sailing as quite a male pastime, but gaining the confidence and ability to sail a yacht was really empowering, as it taught me that an all-female crew is just as competent and capable as any male crew. Subsequently finding a yacht on which a more experienced (often male) skipper will give me a proper role to play in the sailing has been a separate challenge, but at least I have the necessary credentials!

2. Visit Oceania & Antarctica – HALF-COMPLETE

By adding Antarctica to the list, 25-year-old me clearly thought I’d be rolling in money by age 30! So Antarctica may have been a little over-ambitious… but my dream to visit Oceania eventually came true this year in April-May 2019, when I embraced the 36-hour door-to-door journey for a 3-week adventure through New Zealand and Australia, on a brilliant, escapist road trip with my sister and our housemate. The seventh continent, Antarctica, still eludes me but otherwise I’ve now visited every inhabited continent in the world.

3. Run a marathon abroad – COMPLETE

A marathon is a favourite on many people’s lists, so yes, this one was initially driven by societal pressure more than a personal passion for running. After lots of training, fundraising and a frustrating injury, in November 2015 I finished the original Athens Marathon in just under 4 hours and raised £1,400 for the global children’s charity Plan UK. Definitely one of the more emotional and challenging items on this list, that marathon turned me into a runner; showed me that we really can learn anything as long as we try hard enough and don’t give up; and taught me to dig really deep to find inner resilience and the mental strength needed to push through the universally horrendous “wall”. Whenever I feel self-doubt or lack self-esteem, I think back to that marathon and remember how strong I can be when I apply myself to a goal.

4. Do a sky dive – COMPLETE

For some people, jumping out of a plane from 13,000 feet is an enormous, literal leap out of their comfort zone. When the day arrived for me in Slovenia in July 2018, however, I was actually more excited than scared, and I absolutely loved it! It combined my love of heights with my love of adrenaline to give me a high like nothing else, which I would 100% do again. So rather than expanding my boundaries, this item on the list made me savour the present and say ‘yes’ today rather than postpone indefinitely until ‘one day’. This is why the deadline of 30 proved a healthy catalyst for me to finally research and organise this skydive I’d been dreaming of for so long: who knows how long I’d have waited without a deadline!

5. Do a bungy jump – COMPLETE

New Zealand is the home of bungy jumping and our trip there in April 2019 arrived in the nick of time. Shortly after arriving in Queenstown I promptly threw myself off a 47m high drop, located 400m above the city. It was far more terrifying than the skydive, but equally invigorating! At its core it’s another tactic in the pursuit of much-loved adrenaline, but it’s also a fantastic way to banish any other worries you hold in your head and put things into perspective. Like skydiving, it dragged my thoughts out of the future and into the present. Although it’s a shorter rush than skydiving, the adrenaline kick feels much more intense and I’d love to do another even higher one!

6. Live for at least 6 months outside of Europe – IN PROGRESS

Before 25 I’d lived mostly in comfortable, nearby Europe and, while I’d loved my experiences living in Spain and Italy, I’d seen glimpses of how much more extreme and exciting it could be to live outside of Europe. The 3.5 months I spent living and volunteering in Nepal made a big contribution to this goal, but ultimately I’m still 7 weeks short of reaching this one. I considered adding my 2 weeks in St Petersburg in 2016 to the record, but I believe you need at least a month in a place before you can be considered as ‘living there’. And backpacking outside of Europe doesn’t count either, as travelling keeps you inside a bubble, quite separate from the reality of those living consistently in one place. I want to truly push myself into new experiences, as I draw most energy from being in new environments and surrounded by variety, so this one stays on the list for my 30s!

7. Go heli-skiing – INCOMPLETE

Ever since I first heard tales of heli-skiing in Canada from my parents and my skiing-legend aunt, I’ve wanted to try this. The expense and my recent skiing trips all being inside Europe has made this one trickier, as helicopters really come into their own in the vast expanses of untouched mountains of North America, more than in the Alpine valleys of Europe, within easy reach of picturesque resorts, ski lifts and ski-touring huts. This is another goal to keep me focused on the present, and one to stay on the list for my 30s!

8. Climb a mountain – COMPLETE

Despite my wildly unrealistic standards at times, I was never aiming to summit Mt Everest with this one! I’ve reached a few peaks in the UK: Snowdon and the Welsh 3000s in 2015, and Ben Nevis in June 2019, and Scafell Peak is planned for next month) but I fancied something more. Climbing Mont Blanc doesn’t just require the fitness and stamina of a long hike, like the UK summits. On top of that, it also requires an experienced mountain guide, altitude acclimatisation, equipment like crampons and ice axes, and technical skills on snow. I convinced my adventurous mother to join me and in June 2017 we arrived in Chamonix with the Mt Blanc summit in our sights. The weather sadly wasn’t in our favour for the roof of the Alps itself, but we did summit Gran Paradiso, the highest mountain in Italy at 4,061m. It was a comparable physical and mental challenge for us both, and the feeling of achievement at the summit was every bit as immense.

9. See the Northern Lights – COMPLETE

Besides requiring patience and financial resources, adding the Northern Lights to this list was a purely indulgent goal. That feeling of awe that we often get when confronted with the beauty and enormity of nature has proven mental health benefits, and the topographical wonders of Iceland will surely give you buckets of awe! I was lucky to visit Iceland twice in 2015, seeing hints of those magical lights on both occasions. Standing patiently outside in the middle of the night, staring expectantly into the starry sky above you, is something that as an adult I don’t often have time for like I did as a child or teenager. But it’s humbling to realise our tiny footprint on this planet compared with the vastness of the universe.

10. Work on a yacht in the Caribbean – HALF-COMPLETE

The original goal had been to spend a summer season working on a yacht, but somewhere along the last 5 years I decided I’d grown up and no longer wanted to slum it as a deckhand or waitress on a yacht, working for other people. So I strategically switched this goal to “sail” in the Caribbean instead, and thus declare this one complete with our week’s sailing in Antigua in 2015. I’m dying to return though, as sailing is an escapist treat that I simply adore!

11. Do Ibiza in style – IN PROGRESS

This goal hasn’t yet happened, but is booked for a friend’s birthday in September 2019, just 2 months after my 30th birthday deadline. Why include Ibiza in this list of otherwise quite adventurous or unusual travel experiences? Partly because it looks incredible fun, but partly because I do believe there’s an age limit on this one – as I’m unlikely to be found raving on the White Isle aged 40 with small children in tow! I also want to see if I like Ibiza-eque holidays, to make sure I’m always experimenting with new things instead of always staying inside my comfort zone with my favourite destinations.

12. Volunteer in a developing country – COMPLETE

I added volunteering to this list with the guilty realisation that I’d hardly ever ‘given back’ through my travels. I’d instead been a very selfish traveller up until that point. I’m so grateful to my previous employer for allowing me an unpaid sabbatical, in which I spent 3.5 months volunteering in Nepal with the charity Raleigh International, in spring 2016. The whole experience was far outside my comfort zone in terms of location, culture and language; was a huge learning curve in terms of valuable decision-making and leadership skills through looking after my team of 13 volunteers; and I gained a new compassion and empathy for people in developing countries.

13. Walk a long trail – INCOMPLETE

I first envisioned this being the famous month-long Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. I’d heard it could be quite spiritual and meaningful for the ‘pilgrims’ who attempt it, rather than just a long physical challenge – thus neatly fulfilling two of my guiding principles for my late 20s. As the Camino has grown in popularity I’m now less attracted to it and more tempted by lesser-known trails, such as the Via di Francesco through Italy. I think it’s the appeal of slow travel, relying on my own two feet to carry me and learning to live a much simpler existence with all my essentials on my back. As I haven’t yet completed it, it’s staying on the list for my 30s!

14. Backpack around South America – INCOMPLETE

South and Central America have fascinated me for years and years, ever since I started learning Spanish and Portuguese. 2 months in Chile and Cuba aged 18 whetted my appetite for a much longer trip, and my aborted plans of moving to Mexico in 2017 were a step in the right direction. My desire to go is a combination of stepping outside my comfort zone again and seeking that much-loved variety, which I crave when stuck here in the UK for too long. Two main things have stopped me from achieving this goal: firstly I want to go with someone (preferably a man for safety); and secondly I’d need up to 6 months off work, which hasn’t been possible recently but could be in a year or so.

15. Do the Inferno ski race – COMPLETE

Not just once, but twice! It was a dream from childhood, inspired by my aunt’s prolific love of this 15km ski race in Switzerland – the longest and oldest in the world. Partly out of a desire to follow in my aunt’s (ski) tracks, partly for the physical challenge and partly for the adrenaline rush of racing at 70mph, the Inferno has become more than just a one-off achievement. I first competed in 2017 and returned in January 2019 to attempt the full trio of races: nordic, slalom and downhill. And I love it, so hope I’ll continue skiing the Inferno long into my 30s and beyond.

16. Sail across the Atlantic – INCOMPLETE

Another fairly ambitious goal from 25-year-old me, as it’s not only very time-consuming (circa 1 month) but can also be very expensive as a paying customer (c. £4,000). My mother had the luck of crossing the Atlantic for free on a family friend’s yacht and you can read about her experience here. It sounds more mentally challenging than anything else, to keep your sanity and maintain harmony with your fellow sailors in close quarters, cut off from civilisation and surrounded by nothing but ocean for weeks on end. Which makes it exactly the kind of challenge I think I’d learn and grow from. For that reason it too stays on the list for my 30s!

17. Visit 50 countries – COMPLETE

At age 25 I’d been to 39 countries but I had a huge desire to push myself outside of my Western Europe comfort zone and experience more of the wider world. In the last 5 years I’ve visited 26 new countries: Malta, Denmark, Iceland, Tanzania, Antigua, Sweden, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Russia, Netherlands (my 50th country in August 2016), Norway, Poland, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Serbia, Hungary, Estonia, Finland, Slovenia (my 60th country in July 2018), the Philippines, Romania, Israel, New Zealand and Australia. It’s easy to criticise country-counting, as it doesn’t tell the full story of how much a person learned or experienced those countries. For example, I lived for 4 months each in Nepal, the Netherlands and Sweden, yet I spent as little as 2 days in Estonia. But having a quantifiable target of 50 countries kept my mind focused on exploring new countries far off the well-trodden tourist path, like the mind-blowing Western Balkans, instead of always returning to the easier places in Europe that I know and love. I would possibly never have gone to Israel without that target in the back of my mind, but visiting those new countries has improved my understanding of different cultures, different political, religious and historical backdrops and contributed to my much rounder appreciation of the world we inhabit.

18. Learn to surf – COMPLETE

Another goal focused on learning a new skill, I decided to learn to surf, quite randomly really, and unrelated to any social pressure. I took a couple of one-to-one lessons in Sri Lanka and then dedicated a week in Siargao, the Philippines, to daily lessons too, reaching the point that I (probably) don’t need any further lessons – I just need more practice. I can stand up, I can steer, I can surf all the way to the beach! Proving that you’re never too old to learn a new sport.

19. Visit the Middle East – COMPLETE

The Middle East has been a gaping hole on my world scratch map and, as the 30th birthday deadline approached, I thought it would be a hard one to achieve. I’ve no interest in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but I do want to experience the landscapes of Jordan and Oman. Then a friend and I stumbled across the half-marathon in Israel – so in March 2019 we visited Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, mind-boggled by the amount of history we discovered there. I certainly want to see the Arab Middle East that populates most images of the region, so I will have to keep that on the list for 30s.

20. Get my PADI Open Water Certificate – COMPLETE

Quite by chance through my blog, I found myself presented with the opportunity to learn to scuba dive in Malta in September 2015, so I seized it! Similar to my sailing qualification, I needed to pass a theory test in a classroom before doing the 5-day practical course in the sea. At times it’s felt fairly terrifying to be 18m deep underwater, but ultimately it’s been really empowering to be able to rock up to a diving centre in the Philippines and  explore the underwater world of sea turtles, millions of sardines and a reef, or to explore a WWII shipwreck in Valletta harbour. Diving hasn’t become a passion of mine, but it has certainly taught me to believe in my own power to learn a new skill and has shown me another side to our planet.

___________________________________________

But of course life isn’t solely about travel!

There are a handful of other big developments in the past 5 years: I’ve bought a flat in London with my sister, which we’ve renovated and expanded with a loft conversion, I’ve (nearly) finished a Master’s in European Politics, I’ve lived in 5 different countries and I’ve made a big career change from private to public sector. On a smaller scale, I’ve organised conferences on issues like disinformation and illicit trade, I’ve volunteered and fundraised for various charities and causes I care about, I created a podcast and I’ve even appeared twice on TV.

So what will I be getting up to in my 30s?

Good question. Who knows! I have some ideas, but my first priority is to celebrate my 30th birthday and savour the moment without thinking too relentlessly about the future beyond that. Tomorrow night I’ll be hosting a black-tie birthday dinner in Surrey for 30 of my closest family and friends, with a murder mystery twist!

Another pertinent question is… what’s next for this blog in my 30s?

With the declining popularity of blogging and the crowding of my time with work and other commitments, my blogging output has also reduced, and I’m undecided about the future direction of The Well-Travelled Postcard. Should I invest more effort into podcasts than blogging for example? I feel like this blog works best for me when I’m living abroad, and less so when I’m based in busy London. If I have the opportunity to move abroad again in future (fingers crossed!) then I would certainly like to have the blog ready and waiting, so I certainly won’t be shutting shop anytime soon.

What would you like to see from The Well-Travelled Postcard in future? Please do send suggestions or comment below if you have any thoughts on what next for the world of travel blogging.

I’d love to hear your views on turning 30, on writing travel wishlists, and any particular ways you’ve chosen to mark big milestone birthdays?

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