I was thinking about my past New Year’s. When they are as different and varied as mine have been, they tend to stick out. And they tend to lend themselves to mini-lessons if you look at them closely enough.
Tacloban Island, the Philippines
My friends Rachel and Laura got somehow convinced (by me) to go an unknown island in the Philippines with one brand new “hotel'“ (aka: place with beds), no restaurants, and limited resources. That story is for another time but the fast version is this: it was one of the best trips in my life. And that’s saying A LOT. We met locals, we found secret hot springs where local kids found us coconuts to drink from, private waterfalls, amazing rainbows and sunsets, and my first time ever really snorkeling. I fell in love—with real adventure travel, with traveling slow, the ocean, meeting locals and letting things fall into place themselves. The last night of our trip was New Year’s Eve, and our new friend and sudo-tour guide Melo, gently suggested we stay in a resort near the airport (over an hour away from where we were) the last night. Apparently, not only do things get a bit hectic for three foreign girls on a night of drunken debauchery, but there was a tradition in the Philippines is to shoot guns in the air at midnight. It never ends well, and someone is always injured, and yet they persist. We opted for the resort stay.
It was just us and one other family in a gorgeous resort with an infinity pool and fresh fruits and warm showers. Having not had any amenities for 8 days it was glorious. We were given a private little fireworks show, we enjoyed some cocktails, and called it a night.
The moral of the story: Life is about balance. Sure sleeping on a remote island beach with just some close friends and a campfire is amazing. But sometimes you need to shower.
Panama City and the San Blas Islands
My sister, her boyfriend, my friend Jackie and I all spend New Year’s Eve partying and having a good time in Panama City, Panama. The next day, we discovered that our long, hungover 5 a.m. van ride to a boat (of all things!) to a small island with no electricity or running water was a questionable decision. We barely made it alive. No one spoke and we barely opened our eyes. Of course there was no wi-fi or cell-phone service on this tiny little island of huts, but i was unprepared for my Kindle to die as quickly as it did.
We all spent a lot of time together, playing games and snorkeling, but at some point we all needed to time for ourselves. This is how I became a pelican expert. For hours and hours I watched them dive for food, pick fights with each other, and struggle to land on delicate palm leaves (some species weight over 20 pounds). I napped a lot too. When I look back on it now, I realize I was calm on a very deep level. If I wasn’t so picky about which part of the newly caught fish I was eating, I would say I had attained almost enlightenment status…all because of this island where the only moving things were the waves, the pelicans, the palm leaves in the wind, and the slow steady sun. It’s hard in these modern times to truly have no distractions, to push through your own impatience and weakness, turn off the TV and just…stare at the birds.
I think that’s my advice for myself in 2019: go stare at birds.
The year it turned 2018, I was living in Perth, Australia. I was newly single, not sure what the heck I was doing, and missing family and friends in a way I never had before. I wanted, probably for the first time, a well-rounded life. That meant adventure and travel for sure, but maybe—just maybe—I was willing to sacrifice a little bit of that for quality time close to people who loved me. I wanted a meaningful career. I had no idea how to do those things or where to start.
As the fireworks exploded over downtown Perth, and as I dug my toes a little deeper into the sand, a word popped into my head. Purpose. I’m going to do things with forethought and discipline. This might seem very obvious to most people, but to me it was a revelation. No more drifting. Learn the skills you need, no excuses. Make a location work, no excuses. “Grow roots”. I’m not sure if that’s something I’ll ever do with a place, per se, but for me maybe it can be a sort of mindset.
I started panicking a bit. I’m so behind “everyone else” who’s been working since they graduated. How could I possibly make up for all that lost time in my career, in my relationships? There was no other answer but to try. So I just shrugged it off and reasoned with myself that, being in Australia, I’m already 12 hours ahead of the game. It worked out really well in 2018. And now it’s December 31st and a new chapter is coming— a new story for myself—and I’m not sure what the lesson is yet.