I’ve seen it all over friend’s Facebook posts, the media, and in conversations with friends: 2016 is the worst. Can it just be over already? Between terrorist attacks, disquieting politics, natural disasters, deaths of public figures, and just about every other nightmare you can imagine, public sentiment toward 2016 is not exactly the fondest.
For me personally, it’s been an insane year. I rang in midnight stranded outside a dark Havana, Cuba bus station after our ride failed to pick us up in time to join New Year’s festivities. This seemed to become a microcosm for the rest of the year: things never went according to plan, and 2016 proved extremely frustrating at times, but it was always, always an intriguing adventure.
After two and a half years in Sydney, in February, I left behind a fantastic job, friends, apartment, boyfriend, and lifestyle to devote the rest of the year to travel and eventually to move back to the United States. Since then, I’ve experienced some of the highest highs and lowest lows of my entire life, a genuine roller coaster. It’s been tough at times, yes, but, with the year almost at an end, I’m going to make this bold proclamation: 2016 has been the best year ever.
I spent it in 29 countries.
It’s been a whirlwind year, undoubtedly, and with much of the year devoted exclusively to travel, I managed to split 2016 among 29 countries — 20 that were new to me, bringing my total country count to 63 — and 12 U.S. states. The diversity of people, landscapes, and cultures I’ve seen this year is truly astonishing.
I took giant leaps.
In February, I kicked off my travels by leaving behind an incredibly comfortable, safe, easy life to jump into the unknown. Scary? Of course, but it’s proving to be very well worth it, and not once have I regretted my decision. Throughout the year, I’ve taken other risks, never sure of how they’d turn out, and they’ve always ultimately paid off.
I visited old friends.
My geographical freedom this year meant I was able to meet up with quite a few people scattered around the world whom I hadn’t seen in years. I learned that, even with years of distance, deep connections still remain, and I remembered just how many amazing people I have in my international circle of friends.
I met spectacular new people.
Travel means meeting new people constantly, some of whom you chat with for two minutes and others of whom become your best friends for life. I’m blown away by how truly remarkable many of the people I’ve met this year are. My new friends are immensely fascinating, intelligent, passionate, and inspiring, and I imagine we’ll be meeting up around the world for decades to come.
I loved a lot.
Between family, friends, and romances, my heart was bursting with love for a vast number of people throughout 2016. While newspapers this year may have led many of us to believe the world is a dark place filled with dark people, my life was replete with too many amazing people this year to think the world is anything but outstanding.
I had my heart broken.
Several times. And, no, that’s not usually a positive, but I’m including it in this list because it’s an essential part of life. I ached terribly, but I also felt with all my heart, and isn’t that what makes life worth living? But, beyond that, I got through pain that I never thought would end and am so incredibly happy to be on the other side.
Family joined me for travels.
My mom joined me in New Zealand in March, and my dad made last minute plans to travel through Spain, Andorra, and France with me in July, two of my favorite memories from the entire year. I’m lucky to have parents who support my dreams and share many of my interests.
I spent quality time in the U.S.
In the middle of my travels, while deciding my next step, I spent about two months in the U.S., much of it in my hometown but also bouncing around the country a bit. There, I spent valuable time with my lovely immediate and extended families, as well as with great friends from previous chapters of my life. I also had a lot of much needed down time to soul-search about what I wanted to do next.
I built this blog into a mini business.
Years of hard work on Venga, Vale, Vamos led to 2016 being a seminal year for the blog. I had previously monetized it and worked with various clients, but this year I was able to expand partnerships and collaborate with brands that allowed me to experience unforgettable things like flying into New Zealand’s Milford Sound, ziplining through Thai jungles, tasting eight course local meals, or being pampered at five star hotels.
But I also didn’t take blogging too seriously.
Time management of this blog was an important skill to learn in 2016. Prior to my travels, I assumed that this year would provide plenty of time to devote to blogging, but, in reality, at the pace I was traveling from one destination to the next, I had very little down time…especially taking into account wifi the speed of Altavista’s heyday. As the year went on, I learned to prioritize unique travel experiences over this blog, and for that I am extremely glad. Neglecting a post to observe beautiful scenery from a bus window or to accept new hostel friends’ invitations to explore a new neighborhood was always the right decision. After all, which will I remember more in fifty years?
I read great books.
Long bus rides and flights meant reading quite a lot (ohh how I love my Kindle when I travel!), and while I traveled around the physical world, I also ventured into fascinating literary worlds. Looking for book suggestions? My five favorites this year (in no particular order) were American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, various collections of essays by David Foster Wallace, First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung (a must read if you’re traveling to Cambodia), and 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.
I taught myself new skills.
I’m always eager to learn new things, and my flexibility this year afforded me time to do so. Whether it was teaching myself SQL, brushing up on language skills with Duolingo, or standing up on a surfboard for the first time in Chile, my hunger for knowledge was well satiated in 2016.
I went Disney crazy.
Okay, so this one may sound a bit trivial compared to the others, but, come on, it’s Disney. In 2016, I visited four Disney resorts (Orlando, Tokyo, Paris, and Anaheim) and seven Disney parks. Disneyland’s tagline is “the happiest place on Earth” with good reason. Yes, I may have toured ancient temples and seen stunning national parks, but I’d be lying if I said some of my very favorite memories from the year were not my Disney visits.
I honed my career goals.
It may be surprising that, in a year in which I only worked a full time desk job for a month and a half, I’d have made any career progress. However, I finished up a job I adored in February and continued improving my career skills as a digital marketing specialist through this blog, freelance work, and online courses. And with a bit of distance from the corporate world, I’m more certain than ever that digital marketing is the path I want to pursue (as much as I love being a full time traveler!), and I have a clearer idea of the specific types of jobs I’ll look for upon my return.
I realized how strong I am.
No, hopping around the world for months on end isn’t exactly a hard life, but, believe it or not, it comes with its fair share of challenges. Determining a backup plan when hostel reservations fall through, finding your way when you’re lost in a new city, communicating with people with whom you don’t share a common language, dealing with tough times when your support system is thousands of miles away, deciding which direction you want your life to take when you’re at difficult crossroads… It’s not always easy, and being in a foreign country makes these all the more challenging. But I’ve made it through every single one of these in style, I lived to tell the tale, and, hey, I kind of kicked ass.
I learned how fantastic my country is and how much I look forward to moving back.
In many ways, 2016 wasn’t exactly a year for the United States to be proud of. However, the more I travel and grow to appreciate other parts of the world, the more I adore my home country, state, and town. The five and a half years I lived abroad, plus this year of traveling, have been insanely valuable, and I’ll be sad to leave them behind, but I’m also thrilled to return to such a wonderful place and begin a permanent life in the U.S. I hope to begin it in San Francisco, and, while readjusting to the “real world” after traveling is a massive struggle for most, I’m lucky to have so much to look forward to.
An unconventional year? Undoubtedly. But when I’m 93 and sitting in a retirement home rocking chair (hover rocking chair?), reflecting on all that I’ve accomplished, 2016’s memories will shine as some of the brightest. I wish that this year had not been so difficult for much of the world, but I hope that many of you can also look back on the year and find its silver linings. And, hey, let’s toast to an even better 2017.