Last year, I decided to publicly share my goals for the first time. You can read that post here if you’d like.
I’m all about New Years resolutions, even though deep inside I know that the first of the year is just an arbitrary date and you should never wait to make the changes you’re dreaming of. But fresh starts are exciting nonetheless, so I always take the time to plan out twenty things I’d like to achieve each year.
At the start of 2016, I guessed my themes for the coming 12 months would be change, experimentation, and stopping.
In reality, it ended up being incrementalism.
I’ve always been someone who craves immediacy. Someone who gives up if it looks like they’re going to fail. If something seems too hard. If I can’t get the hang of it within a few weeks. If I can’t see progress.
This year, I had to take a giant shuffle back and embrace the concept of slow and steady. To learn that I can achieve almost anything as long as I take baby steps.
If I want to be able to do 100 push ups without stopping, I can do it. All I need to do is get on the ground and make myself do as many as possible each and every day. If I don’t give up, I’ll get there eventually — almost anyone will — whether it takes six months or two years.
If I want the positive effects of meditation, I’ll have to fight through three months where it feels like it’s doing nothing before it all fits into place.
It’s so simple, right? You can achieve almost anything if you take small, consistent steps towards your goal. I don’t know why I’d never sat down and really thought about it. But having that reminder with me at all times has pushed me to achieve so much more than I expected.
So 2016 was the year of not giving up.
I thought I set myself some ambitious goals for the year, and now looking back and knowing that the first six months of 2016 were fraught with illness, I’m super-proud that I managed to cross off so many of the goals I set myself.
Every year, I look back and evaluate how well I did with each of my goals and decide whether that’s as far as I want to pursue it or whether I want to further it in the following year.
Here’s how I did in 2016!
To Shatter More Myths About Expensive Destinations
Much like I did with the Maldives, I’ll be spending January showing you how cheaply you can visit paradise. I’ll be travelling to the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Fiji, writing detailed guides to how you can visit them for under $50 a day.
Yep! I passed this challenge with flying colours. I spent just under a month in the South Pacific and saw so much beauty that I’m still processing it today. My posts about how to visit the Cook Islands and Bora Bora on a budget were some of my most successful last year, which gives me the motivation to hit up even more paradise islands on the cheap in 2017. Hi, Mauritius!
To Visit My Big European Oversights
It’s 90% likely Dave and I will end up making our base in Europe, which will give me the perfect opportunity to visit the places I really should have seen by now. I’ve explored a significant chunk of the continent, but there are several key destinations I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never seen.
I’ve never been to Paris.
I’ve never been to Berlin.
I’ve never been to Greece.
Check! Check! And check! Not only did Dave and I move to Lisbon, but I spent a full summer visiting all of my European oversights. I sailed around the Ionian in Greece, then finally made it to Venice, Berlin, and Paris!
My summer in Europe was one of the best trips I’ve taken in recent years and I enjoyed every second. Well, apart from all of that Airbnb drama. I can see me doing exactly the same this year and spending another couple of months bouncing around the continent I now call home.
To Take One Trip I’ve Never Considered Before
I want to get out of my comfort zone this year and try something I would normally steer away from. It could be anything from a yoga retreat to a surf instructor course; a spa holiday in a 5* resort to a camping trip. I think it’ll be fun to try something that’s not me at all and see how much I enjoy/hate it.
I smashed this one out of the park, too! While I’m not adverse to splurging on a little bit of luxury when I travel, I recently discovered I only ever do it for a special occasion, which usually means Dave’s birthday. When I travel solo? I stick exclusively to dorm rooms in hostels and opt to save as much money as possible. Why the hell do I never view myself worthy of treating? In 2016, I made up for this and spent a shit ton of money on a stay in one of the best hotels in Berlin. Not only that, but I had my first massage since Bangkokgate and proved how far I’ve come by eating solo at a two-Michelin-star restaurant.
I obviously loved the experience, because who wouldn’t? Would I do it again? Um. I mean, maybe if I was in a cheaper part of the world? At roughly $2000 for a five night stay, I just didn’t feel like the value was there to justify doing it again to that extent. After all, my apartment in Lisbon is just as nice as that hotel room in Berlin, but a tenth of the price. This trip was all about treating myself, though, and proving that I was worth the occasional splurge, so I didn’t dwell on the insane cost, but yeah. So much money!
To Visit a Country That Intimidates Other People
I love shattering perceptions when I travel, so I’m hoping 2016 will be the year I visit somewhere other people view as dangerous to see what it can offer tourists. At present, Pakistan is at the top of the list – a friend of mine lives there, and I’ve received many offers from my Pakistani readers to show me around. 2016 may just be the year I finally take them up on it. Failing that, Iran remains permanently on my list of dream destinations, as does overlanding across West Africa.
This is a tough one to evaluate, because how do you know if a place intimidates other people?
The only destination I think could count would be France, and that’s mainly because Nice intimidated the fuck out of me. The police presence was overwhelming, the locals were jumping at the slightest sound, and news reports were all about recently foiled attacks. I’m ashamed to admit I gave into fear and spent most of my time there terrified about leaving my room.
I have some American friends who have sworn off visiting France in their lifetime [?!] after the terrorist attacks, but is it really all that intimidating? Is it as intimidating to people as Pakistan, Iran, or West Africa?
I think this is probably a fail, but I’ll count it as a maybe for now. Let me know what you think in the comments! :-) I’ll most likely roll this over into my 2017 goals regardless and give it a better attempt this year.
Because when have me and danger not gone well together?
To Start Taking More Defined Trips
[I want to] spend several months writing and scheduling posts on Never Ending Footsteps so I can then spend a month offline and fully immersing myself in a destination. I’ll be able to research a place instead of just turning up and winging it; I’ll be able to take tours and do activities because I won’t be working; I’ll be able to get to know a place more than superficially because I’ll be outside exploring. All of this means more detailed coverage of destinations on the site and a healthier, happier version of me.
Did I achieve it? Yep! The vast majority of my travels in 2016 were well-defined, which was so easy to do now that I have a base in Lisbon. A trip to Girona to see friends, a trip to Evora to eat and drink, a trip to check out my European oversights, then time in Lisbon to decompress and process those destinations.
Having a base to return to meant that I greatly improved the way I travelled. I managed to do a lot of research (I own guidebooks now!), took multiple tours, explored the places I visited in greater depth, and felt that I could offer more detailed coverage here because of it. The only part of this goal I didn’t achieve was spending my trips offline, but let’s be real: was I really going to achieve that? (No.)
To Be Able to Do 100 Push Ups
Last year, I discovered my love of push-ups and have worked my way up to the point where I can do twenty proper ones without stopping. I’m giving myself a year to get to a hundred.
Guys, I got so close! I got up to eighty fucking six without stopping and then I got an infection (the real theme of 2016!) and had to take a break. By the time I got back to it, I had slid way down to only being able to do 20. I couldn’t work my way back up in time for the end of the year, but I’m totally going to carry this over into 2017, because push ups rock.
To Be Able to Do the Splits
Real-life friends will laugh at this, as being able to do the splits has been a mainstay in my resolutions list for more than a decade. I’ve always dreamed of it, but never been able to commit to enough stretching to make it happen. I got close in Mexico two years ago, but then my book happened. And then I got glandular fever/mono, and it all slipped away from me. 2016 is the year.
Nope! But it wouldn’t be a Lauren resolution list if it didn’t have me failing to do the splits somewhere in it. I was fairly dedicated to my goal this year and spent 15 minutes every evening stretching out my muscles, but I would stop every time I took a trip, then return to Lisbon to find myself back at square one again. Will 2017 be the year I finally get to do them? Probably not, but you know I’ll give it a shot anyway.
To run a 10k
I got into running last year, surprised to discover how frequent exercise puts me in a positive frame of mind. I half-ran, half-jogged a 5k race in 2015 and with a full twelve months to get in shape, I’m confident I can reach the point where I can run a 10k without stopping.
This was tough. I tried so hard to achieve this, but ended up realising that running is just not something I enjoy, or something that comes easily to me.
This year, I managed to run my furthest distance ever — 5 kilometres without stopping, ha — and it almost killed me. I had chest pains for days afterwards and it would hurt to breathe, my feet had this weird tingling nerve pain for at least a week after, and on my walk home from the gym (yes, I did this on a treadmill), I had to drop to the ground to put my head between my knees because I was so close to fainting. So that put me off attempting to push myself to run even further.
As much as I want to be runner, I don’t think it’s going to work for me. But that’s okay, because I discovered strength training this year and love it.
Take Rock Climbing Lessons
I was answering interview questions a few weeks ago and the first one had to do with my hobbies. I froze. My hobbies? I realised I don’t actually have any. I travel, I plan my travels, I read about travel, and I write about travel. And travel kind of makes it hard to cultivate other passions.
Rock climbing is something I’ve always wanted to try. With a base and a routine, I’m going to give it a go.
Fail. Oh man, I failed so hard at this, but I’m giving myself a pass, because there are literally no rock climbing gyms in Lisbon. There are plenty of bouldering clubs, but not much else. I actually signed up for a rock climbing class while I was in Seattle, but found myself with a bladder and sinus infection on the day of the class, so had to cancel. Fail, fail, fail, but I did make a decent attempt at it.
Find a Gym and Start Weightlifting
As soon as Dave and I find our base, I’m joining a gym and getting a personal trainer. It’s time to get strong.
A few days after signing the lease on our apartment in Lisbon, I joined a gym, created a strength training workout with a personal trainer, and made a conscious effort to stop working at 3 p.m. in order to work out.
I freaking love strength training and I love what it does to my body. Did you know that it also burns way more calories than cardio? I didn’t. I love that I can go to the gym, lift weights for twenty minutes, and walk out knowing I’ve had a far more effective workout than running until I get chest pains.
Experiment With the Whole30 Diet
Diets are often a bad idea, especially ones like the Whole30, which are incredibly restrictive. But at the same time, I believe it could be beneficial for my anxiety. I know that your diet can drastically affect your mental health, and when I cut out sugar for a couple of weeks a few years back, I felt incredible.
I’ve wanted to try something drastic for years, but travel — and rarely having a kitchen — has made it near-impossible. I’m excited to see if it has any major benefits for my anxiety.
Check! Doing the Whole30 was probably the best thing I did in 2016. It switched my panic attacks from daily to naught, helped me lose 10 lbs and get me back to my pre-travel weight, took away my motion sickness and allergies, ended the migraines and cramps I used to have on my period, and stopped me from needing afternoon naps. It gave me consistent energy levels, motivation, and random bursts of euphoria. Who knew that inflammation-causing foods had been wreaking so much havoc on my life?
These days, I aim to eat paleo 80% of the time, keeping as much dairy, gluten, and sugar out of my diet as possible.
Meditate Five Times a Week
I know that if I set myself a goal of meditating every day, I’ll never stick to it, but five days a week is an achievable goal. Again, it’s all about getting to grips with my anxiety and feeling stronger and healthier. I know meditation will help me; it’s just about remembering to do it on the days when I feel fantastic rather than solely on the day after I have a panic attack.
Check! 2016 was the year of Headspace, and I found so many benefits to meditation that I kept it up even when my anxiety melted away. Meditating calms me down, gives me focus, improves my productivity, and makes me happy. I fully plan on continuing with this into 2017 and am even looking up silent vipassana retreats for later on in the year!
To Give Myself at Least One Month Offline
When I hit the reset button earlier this year, one of the best things I did for myself was to stop. No work, no writing, no social media, no emails. This year, I’m going to try and take a minimum of one month offline to do anything that doesn’t involve work. My month in Greece could be the perfect time to do it.
Yes! I achieved this in the South Pacific, where I was completely offline aside from chatting to Dave and uploading the occasional photo to Facebook. I also spent two additional months entirely offline this year, but it was because I had health problems to deal with, not because I was spending time reading and working out and doing other fun stuff. So technically, yes, I more than rocked this goal, but it just wasn’t quite how I envisioned it.
To Learn How to Cook
I used to find it was funny that the only dish I could make was a sandwich, but now it feels like a huge embarrassment and failure as a human. I can make toast and I can put things into an oven, and sometimes I can even chop vegetables without slicing my hand open, but that’s it.
Travel has opened my eyes to the joy of food – it’s now one of my favourite ways to learn more about the world – and I’m gutted to have such limited cooking abilities. With a long-term home on the agenda, one of the first things I’m going to do is pick up a handful of recipe books and start recreating my favourite dishes from around the world.
Check! I hugely improved my cooking skills this year and tried out hundreds of new dishes. Now that I have a home to put things in, I’m working my way through several cookbooks, and I even own a slow cooker. It’s reached the point where I almost feel disappointed when I go out to a restaurant to eat.
The Whole30 was huge for this, because not being able to eat out for 90 meals straight meant that I was in the kitchen all month long. Now, I make curries at least once a week. I make my own hummus, pesto, and garlic mayonnaise. I make the best roast potatoes in the world. I’m all about paleo pancakes that are gluten and dairy-free. I love herbs and spices and creating my own recipes from scratch.
I totally rocked this goal in 2016.
To Gain Confidence With my Spanish
I’d always been confident in my Spanish language skills until I spent time in Mexico and Spain. Suddenly, people were laughing at how I spoke Spanish with a British accent and asking why I don’t use a Spanish accent. And it knocked my confidence so hard to the point that I barely utter a word when I’m in Spanish-speaking countries; I’m too embarrassed to speak. These days, I stand awkwardly and understand everything that’s going on, but keep my lips firmly sealed.
Last year, I worked hard on not caring about what people think of me, and this is one of my few remaining hangups I can work on. I’ll be spending a month in Oaxaca at the start of the year, then potentially moving to Spain a few months later, so there’s no excuse.
Check! I totally achieved this while I was in Oaxaca, and I’m there with my Portuguese, too. I nailed it in my original description: it’s all about getting over yourself and stopping caring what other people think. Once I vaulted that barrier, I was more than happy to mangle a foreign language in front of anyone.
Start Regularly Making 10k a Month
I’ve come to realise in recent months that I’m unlikely to regularly make this amount of money any time soon because of my decision to turn down every form of press trip/sponsored travel, while also rejecting anything that sounds like it might increase my stress levels, like tours or consulting. The only income sources I currently feel comfortable pursuing are advertising and affiliate sales on Never Ending Footsteps, and freelance writing elsewhere.
But this isn’t a doom and gloom update — I actually had several of my best income months ever on Never Ending Footsteps in 2016! And the vast majority of it was passive income, which is even better. Given what a rocky road I had with my mental health last year, I’m throwing myself head first into passive earning these days so that if it were to happen again, I wouldn’t lose my income during the months I couldn’t work.
Write Another Book
I swore I would never write another book after the first one destroyed my mental health, but this one will be different. I’m keeping it under wraps for now, but I can tell you that it’s about travel, I’ll be self-publishing, and it’s not a memoir. I hope to release it within the first six months of 2016.
That’s a nope again! I was hoping to release a book about how to overcome your fears and anxiety in order to travel, but I managed to write so much about it that I’ve decided to turn it into a course. I’m currently hard at work on it and hope to have it launched by April. More details about that coming soon!
But yeah, no book from me in 2016. Maybe this year!
Create Detailed Resources on Never Ending Footsteps
This year, I want to work on sharing the expertise I’ve gathered from five years of living the nomadic dream. Like how to travel when you have anxiety. Or a detailed guide to what to pack and what to leave behind. Or how to travel long-term. Or how to work from anywhere. I’m talking 10,000+ word resources that contain everything I know about a topic. 2016 is the year where I start producing helpful content as well as narratives about my disasters.
That’s a sort-of-but-mostly-no for this one.
I actually did write way more helpful resources this year than any other year to date, and shared why I only use Osprey backpacks, how much it costs to travel for a year, as well as travel expense posts for Taiwan and Belize, my 100 best travel tips, a packing list for Greece, how I find cheap flights, how to overcome a fear of flying, and how to back up your photos as you travel.
But very few of them were in-depth guides. When I set myself this goal, I was thinking of producing enormous articles similar to my guide on how to start a travel blog, which contains many thousands of words on everything I know about that topic. Beyond my 100 best travel tips post, which was came in at almost 7,000 words, I failed on this front.
Get My Work in Big Publications
I’ve created a list of ten magazines, newspapers, and websites that being featured in would blow my mind, and another list of ten major publications I’m confident I can write for. I suck at marketing myself and actively avoid putting my words in front of another site’s audience, so 2016 will be all about growing my confidence by getting featured in new places.
Fail! My anxiety had me struggling to write posts for this site let alone anyone else’s. I actually did get my site mentioned in twenty-odd news sites around the world when a post of mine went viral, but I’m not going to include that, because I didn’t actively do anything to make it happen. I did manage to squeeze out a guest post on Problogger about how I gained a book deal through my travel blog, but that was it for 2016. I’ll do better this year.
To Switch Up My Social Media Focus
My Instagram account has been sorely neglected from the day I created it, but I’m proud of my engagement levels there. My photos gain between 150 and 250 likes from an audience of 3,000 followers, but 3,000 isn’t great. By the end of the year, I’m hoping to have 20,000. I’m excited to start sharing a mix of my favourite travel photos and what I’m currently up to!
So close! I actually managed to grow my Instagram account from 3,000 followers to 17,000 this year while still maintaining high levels of engagement.
Pinterest is another site I’ve been neglecting, but I’ve become obsessed with it over the past few months. I’m also terrible at it. I think almost all of my blogging buddies cite Pinterest as their highest referrer. Me? I get 100 visits a month. By the end of 2016, I’m hoping for 50,000 monthly referrals. Aim high!
This was definitely aiming high for me! While I experienced a huge amount of growth with Pinterest this year (growing from 100 visits a month to 3,500), this was nowhere near my original goal. One day I’ll crack it and score the huge amounts of traffic that other bloggers get from it.
Youtube is another area I’m going to focus on. After my packing video went somewhat viral, I find my channel with 150,000 views, 1,100 subscribers, and people emailing me every few weeks to tell me they found my video, was inspired to quit their job, and have been travelling ever since! All that from one video and a site I haven’t signed into for a year. This year, I want to start producing high quality Q&A videos. To put some numbers on it, I hope to get a minimum of 25 videos uploaded and grow my audience to 5,000 subscribers.
Anxiety, anxiety, anxiety. I didn’t have the mental strength to record videos this year, so didn’t even attempt it. I most likely won’t in 2017 either, but you never know. I don’t actually want to have my eggs in every goddamn social basket on the planet anymore. I grew my account from 1,100 to 1,370 subscribers this year, but it was all organic.
So, how did I do?
Pretty damn well, considering much of the first half of the year ended up being a write-off.
I killed it with my travel and health goals, did okay with my fitness ones, and failed hard at my work ones — that shows me which areas I need to focus on more in 2017. I achieved 11 out of 20 goals in total, with a couple of maybes thrown in there.
Up next: what I’m hoping to achieve in 2017!