Someone famous once said, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” (And by famous I mean a bad ’90s rock band. My b). But, since it is the end of a decade and the end of an era both literally and figuratively, let’s take a second to reflect on how this year played out and where the journey has led.
2019 brought a lot of highs and a lot of change I never could’ve seen coming. I had some epic sojourns and bucket list-worthy moments from scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef to finally making it to Havasupai, one of the hardest hikes of my life (second only to Machu Picchu). What I came to find out, though, was that the most of the memorable trips weren’t because of the places I went, but who I was with, which is a new outlook for me.
But let’s backtrack for a second to unpack how we got here. At the beginning of the year, I was a finalist to be the New York Times 52 Places traveler, which would’ve had me on a wild ride jet setting across the globe to far-flung places all 52 weeks of the year as their international correspondent. Ultimately bummed I wasn’t chosen, the world had other plans for me. Instead of ramping up my trip volume, I did the exact opposite – significantly cut down on travel this year (although it may not seem like it considering I was just on the road for five weeks straight).
Where I thought I’d be and where I am couldn’t be more different. But the world works in mysterious ways and for whatever reason, that’s exactly what I needed to be doing – building a life with my love (who could’ve seen that coming?) and finishing up my Colorado bucket list (the move is finally imminent). Here’s a recap.
At the Beginning of 2019, I Had Three Main Goals:
Get 25k blog sessions a month – This wasn’t an arbitrary number I came up with, it’s what you need to qualify for Mediavine, a highly lucrative ad network that allows you to earn passive income from your blog, which plays into goal number two. I’m not quite there yet but I’m really close (if Google ever felt like cooperating). Regardless, I did make significantly more money from my blog this year than ever before since I started prioritizing it. My blog used to be an afterthought as I chased bylines and put my best content on bigger sites because I like the notoriety and instant gratification of being published on certain titles. Blogging generally doesn’t have the credibility of journalism and is more of a long game in terms of monetization, but the payouts can be bigger and more sustainable so this year I really tried to treat it like a business and bet on myself. A lot of the time I used to spend on Instagram I’ve transitioned into growing my traffic which aside from your email list, is the only channel you actually own. It’s still something I need to work on next year, but I’m happy with the strides I’ve made thus far.
Make 100k – I’ve never been very open about finances (because quite frankly I think it’s tacky to talk about money), but I figure if I put a number out into the universe, it’d make me more accountable. And despite all the articles about six-figure and even eight-figure bloggers, there’s still a perception that writers make no money and that travel bloggers especially live a van down by the river. While I don’t necessarily consider myself to be just a writer or just a blogger, I was determined to prove I could be successful working for myself. It was only my second year freelancing full-time but seemed doable based on where I was at last year. And I did come pretty close. What I’m most happy about is that my income streams are pretty diversified from social media management to content marketing, which is ironic since social media is thought by many to be a lowly “pink collar” job reserved for interns.
Lose 20 pounds – My attempt at self-care, while I didn’t even come close to hitting this number, the underlying objective was to take steps to look and feel better about myself, which I definitely did. The mid-30s hit like a ton of bricks (hello gray hair, Botox, and fat in places I’ve never had fat). At the beginning of the year, I was working out with a personal trainer and got pretty good about going to the gym regularly when I was home (fully committing to any sort of routine is still a struggle). But as luck would have it, in what quite possibly may be the pinnacle of my influencer career, over the summer, I was offered free liposuction as a quick fix. It was the celebrity kind where you’re fine in 48 hours (no general anesthesia, no stitches) so I jumped at the opportunity. It was an interesting experiment in self-confidence (much more on this coming soon) when I’m fully healed in six months.
Florida – One of my biggest collabs to date, running a multi-influencer campaign for Visit Florida was a dream. And despite having been to the Sunshine State dozens of times growing up, this time around, I saw places and did things I never knew existed. Tampa is a great millennial city, Bradenton was a touch of old-world charm, and St. Petersburg/Clearwater had epic murals and bites. Horse surfing quickly became one of the weirdest adventure sports I can ever say I’ve done and a Segway Safari was something I never knew existed in America.
Arkansas – Midwest meets the South; Little Rock was an interesting place because it felt trapped in a time warp with the Clinton era playing on repeat. The entire city was essentially a love letter to the famous Democrats in the middle of a red state. But politics aside, the state surprised me with its beauty and history.
Wisconsin – Our northern neighbor growing up, I’ve been to Wisconsin plenty of times but never really viewed it as anything other than Chicago’s little brother or gave it the credibility it deserved. Door County is a gem and an epic summer getaway for Midwesterners. And while Green Bay is technically enemy territory, Lambeau was iconic, paint with penguins adorable, and what’s not to love about drive-through cheese?
Point Reyes – An incredible hidden gem just 30 minutes north of San Francisco, Point Reyes is truly one of California’s best-kept secrets. What felt like Big Sur without the chaos and crowds offered miles of shoreline to explore along with dozens of oyster farms and cute coastal b&bs.
Oregon – As one of the last “cool” states I had yet to visit, Oregon was just as amazing as I knew it would be (so much so that I briefly toyed with moving there despite knowing almost nothing about the state beyond Portland). We drove the coast stopping at every iconic photo op from the tide pools to Columbia River Gorge waterfall hiking all the merry way.
Kansas City – After visiting three times in five months, Kansas City is a place I got to know really well this year. You don’t hear much about it, but the City of Fountains truly impressed me and the Paris of the Plains nickname is well-deserved. The downtown Plaza is modeled after Seville, Spain and there are gondolas running through downtown (the Venice kind, not the ski kind). Houses are McMansions, the BBQ is plentiful (100+ spots still to try), and everyone is Midwest nice.
Havasupai Falls – After dedicating more time than I’d like to admit to get permits, Havasupai Falls was my first real multi-day backpacking trip where we had to fully meal prep and pack it all in. It was an epic Arizona adventure with some of my best friends but it was definitely one of those “earn those views” hikes. A grueling trip that ended up being around 30 miles total, the waterfalls were a dream and look the same shockingly blue as in the photos. I truly believe it’s the most beautiful place in America and anyone who’s physically able should make it a point to go at some point in their lifetime.
Southern Illinois – Route 66 – Despite growing up in Illinois, I’d never really been south of the Chicago (yes, I live in a bubble) so getting to drive all the way to St. Louis showed me a lot of my own state on a bonding trip with my step-dad. We photographed all the kitschy roadside giants, grubbed on diner food and corn dogs, and even toured a prison (by far one of the weirdest attractions I visited this year).
Nicaragua – I really like helping places that need promo, and since the civil war, Nicaragua is one of those countries that people are wary of for no good reason. What felt like Costa Rica 10 years ago, they have all the tourist infrastructure, yet very few people think to visit, which makes the locals that much more grateful for anyone there. The country is full of adventure opportunities (hello volcano boarding), idyllic coastlines, and colorful characters.
Australia – After being so let down by New Zealand, I was a bit nervous about spending a ton of money to go to Australia for fear the same thing would happen – be disappointed by another English-speaking country with a lack of culture. Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong and ended up LOVING Australia. The landscapes were insane and varied and both Sydney and Melbourne were great cities. Melbourne (the San Francisco of Oz) was the first place in a while that I really vibed with and could see myself living (if only). Getting to stay at the first underwater hotel in the Great Barrier Reef was about as epic as it gets and probably the epitome of my “influencer” career, but who are we kidding, I would go there just to play with the baby animals.
That said, it seemed a bit serendipitous that Australia was my last trip of the year because it really made me stop and think. The fires in Sydney shook me – like really shook me. The sky was a toxic yellow shade I’ve never seen beyond the movies and so clearly foreshadowing a foreboding sense of helplessness. I’ve never been hugely soap boxy about the environment but the writing on the wall was clear or as this guy so articulately puts it, the fallen ash like tea leaves showcasing a bleak future. Climate change isn’t years off – it’s here, it’s real, and it’s no joke. In the game of Risk, world domination generally starts or ends with Australia and it quite literally felt like the world was ending on the other side of the planet and I had no idea, which was even more disturbing.
Beyond just looking like a Blade Runner / Hunger Games dystopian world, what shook me more was how little I’d heard about the catastrophe before I got there. Besides a few offhanded articles about koalas dying months ago, I’d barely heard about the fires at all. To put it in perspective, the NSW fires are 10x worse than both the Amazon and California combined (did you even know those were still going on?), which really made me question how localized our news is, who the gatekeepers are, and why they continually show us “what they think we want to see” from some predictive algorithm that always seems to end up with mindless Kardashian gossip. Thankfully, it finally started getting the media coverage it deserved about a month after I returned, but even then the stories were a mix of fact and fiction with people randomly retweeting any fake news they saw which opened up a whole new can of worms. As a member of the media, I’m not really sure what the solution is but the system is clearly flawed and I would welcome any thoughts on where we go from here. But for now, imma get off my soapbox about the sorry state of the world. And now an awkward transition back to me.
Goals for 2020:
Every year feels like I’m adjusting to a new normal but this year feels like it is even more as I’m in such a different place in life. About halfway through 2019, I got really antsy. Campaigns started getting monotonous (go somewhere, write something, take some photos) so I started brainstorming a bunch of grandiose ideas I thought would reinvigorate me. Design a popup museum, do destination consulting to make attractions more experiential, build a gear exchange app. But they were such pie-in-the-sky ideas I didn’t know where to start which left me feeling even more stifled. Around that time, life threw me a curveball. When I set out to find a guy who liked steak as a wedding date, I had no idea it would turn into so much more.
Rather than put all my attention into a project that might fulfill me, my priorities basically did a 180. All of a sudden, I wanted consistency. For once, I didn’t need work to satisfy me because something — or someone — else did. While I was in Australia, we took the next step and he moved in with me.
Learning not just to share my space but coexist with a S/O (and wild doggo) is going to be a big change from being on my own for so long. The first challenge is surviving my tiny one-bedroom apartment until we have time to move to a bigger place. And then there’s the whole building life together somewhere new thing — learning a new city, adapting to a new place, and creating a new normal. As such, my 2020 goals are much less tangible but they’ll likely be more impactful on my future.
Optimize and Automate – Learn to let go and grow. I read a great article that said if you’re doing the same task more than twice, you either have to eliminate it, automate it, accelerate it, or delegate it which means creating more standardization and processes. I’d love to hire an agent to pitch me for projects (any leads?) and a virtual assistant so I can focus my time on more important things.
Prioritize my Personal Life – Working for yourself is a double-edged sword because you are always your toughest boss, but it’s time to take advantage of the perks of being able to set my own schedule. The relationship is something that I want to prioritize every single day because it’s an entirely different kind of work. Not only will we be moving to a new state soon, but life is moving really fast and I want to take the time to enjoy it and ensure it’s sustainable and built to last.
Pick a Passion Project – I’m still a bit antsy and toying with creative outlets. This ranges from running Airbnb’s to experiential theater companies. I want to find something that I can design and own from start to finish, but what that looks like remains to be seen.