Another Year Older – 31 Things Learned and On My Mind

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Well I just turned another year older… Another year older and another year wiser, or something like that right?

I’ve never been a huge fan of birthdays. Maybe it is due to being the center of attention for the day. It may seem odd coming from a blogger, but I don’t really like talking about myself with others all that much–I’m generally a pretty private person.

This is the first time I’ve even mentioned my birthday here on the blog.

I just turned 31. I cut the ties with the 9-5 and set out on this more unconventional path back when I was a young and spry 29 year old.

Here are 31 things that have been on my mind recently.

1. Birthdays are a great reminder of time.

I’m only one day older than I was the day before, but now I’m 31 and not 30. Another year has passed. Time is probably our most valuable resource–we all have roughly the same amount of time on this planet whether you are Bill Gates or the homeless guy down the road. What you do with your time is up to you.

2. Death has become more prevalent.

With the passing of time we also encounter more death. It seems like this year it has been especially bad in my life. My Grandma passed away soon after I left for Colombia.

My cat of 14 years just died this past week.

A climbing guide friend of mine died on Rainier.

My mom’s friend’s husband died from mesothelioma–then her sister just died. It sucks.

Death will come for us and everyone we know. I don’t say that to be dark, but as a reminder that time is what really counts, and how you spend your time is what you should be worried about.

3. Travel need not be expensive.

Lots of people reach out and say they wish they could do things like I’m doing. They can. I’m going on two years of travel now.

Sure most of that was savings, but guess what, it isn’t really that expensive to travel long-term… I did it on the cheap in the States, and now I’m doing it for even cheaper in Colombia.

I managed to score a free flight and live almost rent free at times. You’ll be surprised to find that you probably spend less money when you’ve got all the time in the world versus when you were employed full-time and making good money.

4. Set goals and make them public.

You don’t have to have a blog to make them public. You can just tell your best friends or family or post updates on Facebook. But if there is something you really want to accomplish by the end of the year or on some other sort of timeline, just tell people.

That will be a huge motivation to try your best and not fail. You’ll be amazed at the progress you will make. I know I have in my quest to make more income.

5. Accountability matters.

It is hard to be entirely self driven and self-sufficient. Most of us are used to having a boss, being held accountable, and facing consequences if we don’t meet them. When you set out on your own and want to start earning money–there is really no one to hold you accountable but yourself.

This year I’ve been well served by starting up an informal, weekly accountability group with a few friends like Terry from Just being able to talk through ideas and have to tell somebody I did (or didn’t) do what I said I was going to last week has been a big help).

6. People matter.

I’ve always prided myself on being self-sufficient. Last year I spent a lot of time on the road and a lot of time solo as well.

But looking back on the experience most of my favorite memories were the times I shared with new friends at the crag, at camp, and on the mountains, or at least experiences I shared with complete strangers like hitch hiking back to my truck in Zion.

That’s not to say I don’t have good memories of times spent solo, but my most fond memories have been with others. I am reminded of that Chris McCandless quote about “Happiness only real when shared”.

7. People matter part II.

This point is apparent in online business, blogging, and everything else. The connections you make are supremely important.

I have made more connections with new readers of my blog this year, learned about what makes them tick and what they are looking for. I have made connections with other bloggers who leave comments here, who retweet my stuff, who help spread the word.

I have made new business connections that lead to new freelance opportunities. The point is, that it is the people that matter in all of these things. Invest in the people around you and they will invest in you.

8. Get rid of your stuff.

Man, I talk to my Mom and I hear just horrible stories about her friends’ kids. Like the one who racked up $75,000 in debt even though she’s just making $24,000 per year.

That’s scary. And it’s all just for things. Things that don’t really matter.

All that undue stress and anguish she will be going through in the future trying to overcome it. We are usually pretty adverse to getting rid of the things we have, but once we do we often feel incredibly liberated and don’t even miss or think about those things after they are gone.

Read More: Conquering Your Debt

9. Experiences are what you’ll remember.

You probably won’t really remember the extra couple grand you splurged on for that super fancy mattress–but you will remember that summer you spent road tripping across the country and sleeping in the reclined drivers seat.

10. Embrace your little luxuries.

That being said, I don’t advocate for a life of asceticism. On the contrary I think you should do an 80/20 analysis of what you enjoy the most, make that a priority to have more of or have the best of, and what you enjoy least, while reducing or eliminating those things.

I have spent lots of money on top-notch outdoor gear. I’d rather invest in buying the best of those things. I travel with my awesome little coffee maker because it is a luxury I enjoy every single day. Invest in the things that matter to you, cut out the spending on the stupid stuff.

11. The end of an adventure is hard.

I recently purchased my ticket back home to the States, meaning my time in Colombia is officially winding down. I knew I wouldn’t be here forever, but that doesn’t make it any less challenging.

I try and occupy my mind with thoughts and plans for the next adventure, but at the same time, it makes me feel like I’m missing out on what I could be doing in the present moment.

It is a tough balance and one I don’t have a good answer to. I felt a similar phenomenon last year as I my road trip came to an end and I was planning for South America.

12. Writing a book is hard to do.

I never really planned on writing a book, the idea just kind of evolved into that. Then I got scared. Just saying you’re writing a book, that you want to put something on, and open yourself up to a new crowd of people, a new crowd of critics. That’s tough.

We’ll see if I follow through with it. Our mental hurdles are usually the biggest hurdles we face.

13. Learn another language.

If you’re in the States you should definitely learn some Spanish–it’ll open you up to a whole new world of travel, plus there are all sorts of mental and acuity benefits that come from learning new things.

I put off Spanish in favor of numerous other languages. But Spanish has been way more useful.

14. Adventure is relative.

Adventure should be part of everyone’s life. Your idea of a challenging adventure may be different than mine, just as mine may be different from yours. The point isn’t how challenging or significant it is to humanity, but how it challenges you. Embrace the challenge, doing hard things matters.

15. I miss Seattle teriyaki.

After 10 months overseas (the longest I’ve ever spent), I definitely have found myself longing for old, familiar foods recently.

I had a waffle for the first time in almost a year. I wish I could find real bacon. I had teriyaki the other day at a Korean restaurant, and it was a big disappointment. I knew I would be disappointed… There’s just nothing like Seattle teriyaki.

16. A lot of people are all talk.

Unfortunate but true… You know how many of my friends supposedly “love to travel”? You know how many took me up on my offer to come visit me in Medellin? Yeah, exactly.

17. Invest in yourself.

By that I mean sometimes it really pays off to pay for things… For knowledge, for information, for services. You can learn or do practically anything thanks to the Internet. And I think it’s great to learn how to do it yourself.

But sometimes, like with blogging, I’m reminded that it really does pay off in the long run to invest yourself.

I’ve recently joined courses or paid for plugins to increase the functionality of my site or a new mailing list service… All things I was afraid to shell out the money for, and yet, I’ve seriously learned a ton of new stuff or gotten great returns, which also go beyond simple monetary returns.

18. I’ll miss arepas.

Arepas are the strange fat little corn tortillas that the Colombians eat every single day. At first I thought they were pretty terrible, but now the day doesn’t seem complete without them. I’m sure I will miss them when I leave Colombia.

19. Kitchens and beds are pretty great.

I love to travel and be on the move, but earlier this year, after spending all of last year on the road, I found myself being called by the idea of settling down for awhile. My own apartment, my own bed, my own kitchen. Yeah, it was definitely nice.

20. Haters are gonna hate.

This year for the first time ever I had a good deal of troll traffic who were just ranting about me and saying all sorts of stupid things.

It’s a strange occurrence to have someone say mean and helpful things despite having no actual connection to you and not really knowing anything about you except for a few minutes on a website. Some people are just like that both on the internet and real life. The fact is, those people don’t matter.

21. Your excuses suck.

We’ve all got our excuses about why we can’t do this or can’t do that. The fact is, they all pretty much suck. Pretty much every excuse I’ve ever had or you’ve ever had has already been overcome by someone else.

Our response is usually “Oh they were lucky,” or “Oh there situation was different because of ____.” True that it was different, but the fact probably is that they just wanted it more, worked harder, and sacrificed more to get there or do it.

22. Put yourself out there.

The more you put yourself out there, the more you’ll get in return. A lot of people think that the magic of travel only comes from far flung destinations. That people are nicer, more eager to help, etc.

Really it’s just that we’re so closed off when we’re in our bubble of familiarity and routine. We don’t talk to strangers, we don’t initiate, and we aren’t receptive. I found traveling across the US that people were on the whole quite nice and friendly. I was surprised.

23. People are remarkably resilient.

My time in Colombia has really proved how resilient people can be. This is a country with decades of violence, struggles, and terror. It has since made tremendous strides to overcome it.

There is still plenty of crime and violence, political corruption, economic inequality, racism, and much more. Yet the people here are among the happiest in the world. And we in the United States complain about so much…

24. Don’t ruin things for others.

I’m all about live and let live. It’s all good to do whatever it is you want to do so long as it isn’t impeding things for others. Don’t be the idiots standing two wide on the escalator so no one else can walk past you, don’t be the girl sharing her “art” with the world by vandalizing nature and taking away from nature.

25. Failure isn’t real.

Lots of people are afraid to even try because of the fear of failure. Here’s the thing though, it’s not even really real. Each failure is really a learning experience. Failure is actually never bothering to try.

26. You are the author of your own story.

Look back on the past year of your life, condense it into an hour and a half long movie. Is there something interesting there? Success, hardship, love, growth, achievement?

Are you living a story worth telling? It needn’t be a BIG adventure–there are plenty of great movies about relatively mundane things.

27. The destination doesn’t matter.

It’s true of anything… You start a business and the original goal is to turn a profit. Once that’s reached, the goal grows. You set a goal to climb a big mountain, then you set it to climb a bigger or harder mountain.

It just goes to show that the destination you choose doesn’t really matter–so long as it gets you heading somewhere. Once you get there, you’ll want to go somewhere else.

28. Faster is not better.

In out instant gratification culture where we are too busy to cook, too busy to read anything longer than a Tweet, and too busy to call friends on the phone, it’s more important than ever to do things that, simply put, just take a long time.

You could fly across the country… Drive instead.

You could visit multiple National Parks in a week long tour de force… Walk across one.

You could eat at McDonald’s… Barbecue instead.

It cracks me up that people complain that it takes too long to make coffee with an Aeropress… A few minutes to boil water, grind beans, and let it steep.

Doing things that takes some time will give you more appreciation for what you’re doing and what you’re experiencing.

29. Don’t confuse what you do with who you are.

If you are what you do and you can (suddenly) no longer do what you did… What happens to you? It’s important to step away from it all at times.

30. Every plus has a minus and every minus a plus.

A nomadic existence has its pros and cons. A settled, domestic life has its pros and cons. A steady paycheck and secure job has its pros and cons, while an entrepreneurial, boot-strapping job will also have its own. Just try and maximize the pros that you want at this time in your life, while minimizing the cons.

31. Don’t listen to the advice of others too closely.

Including all my advice above. We’re all just winging it at this thing called life.

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Another Year Older - 31 Things Learned and On My Mind armchair-alpinist


Head Writer and Adventurer at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West, and then across all of Central America and South America. When he isn't on the move, you can find him living as an expat in Colombia. He is also the author of the best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget that will help you travel more for less. Follow the adventures on social media or read more.

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Comments 17

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  1. Excellent post, Ryan. Just recently started following your blog but the content is excellent – especially since it seems I’m about to follow in your footsteps – quit job, road trip the u.s., head to central/south america…. but damn, that ‘first step’ is the hardest to do – even with a decent ‘nest egg’ in the bank.

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      Hey EJ! Thanks for popping by and leaving a comment–I’m excited to hear about the upcoming adventures! When are you planning to head into Central America?

      I hear you about that first step–it was what I always struggled with. I had to be pushed into it when my job came to an end… Like an any good story, a character needs his inciting incident to set him on his path…

  2. This post is awesome (and happy belated birthday). I couldn’t agree more with all of it. Those long drives instead of the quicker route is a reason to live. This world is a magical place and everyday is an adventure. Now I just need tI get rid of this 9 to 5. Super excited to stumble across your site. Cheers.

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      Thanks Diana, appreciate you stopping in and leaving a comment! I still have the go-go-go, multitasking tendencies, but I try to curb them and take things slower and enjoy the moment more. I’m always happy when I do it successfully.

  3. Hi Ryan,

    I dig your take bro, and happy belated birthday! I turn 40 in 3 months. I look forward to it because I took so long to mature, to gain faith in self, and to make bold decisions. At 31, I was lost. Totally lost, cruising through life. Nearing 40 I vibe with each lesson. Time is what we have, so SLOW down. Don’t rush. Be social. Make friends. Travel slowly, to experience more. Peeps who rush through trips never see all that much, because they may be able to check more sites off of their lists yet they experience little. What’s the point?

    We spent the past 4 months in Fiji and we’re doing Bali for a month now. We do travel slow, both because we prefer it, and because we’re full time digital nomads. We only go back home to NJ to visit family for the holidays. Other than that we’d travel 12 months out of the year. NJ rocks as does the US but I have a whole world to see and time waits for no one indeed. Slow it down folks, dive into freeing yet uncomfortable situations, and follow Ryan’s list. You’re an inspiring dude, and I wish you all the best….and hopefully we can meet up on the road one day, because I’d really dig that.

    Thanks! Tweeting from Bali.


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      Thanks Ryan for the insightful comment. Yeah, our culture of fast food, instant gratification, multi-tasking, and ADHD has really taken away from our ability to just be present and in the moment. I’m guilty of it myself–reflexively checking my phone for new updates and notifications and such. I’m trying to be more conscious of it and trying NOT to do it while I’m with others. Smartphones are relatively new here in Colombia, but it makes me shake my head to see a table of four friends at the bar all using their cellphones simultaneously (which has been common in the States for awhile).

      We can fondly recall our memories and adventures from the past, we can daydream about the awesome things that lie ahead in the future, but all we ever *really* have is this present moment, right here, right now.

  4. This is some top quality stuff Ryan and it resonates a lot with what I believe in and how I feel about things. Keep on keeping on. All great points, but 16, 21 & 22 were particularly good and insightful.

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  5. Your experiences are encouraging for me, a fellow nomad. I love to read stories and get ideas from people on a similar path as me. I had an astrology reading last week that confirmed my nomadic life is truly part of my path. As she looked at my chart she said, wow, you don’t have any big “lessons” here. You can just be. And that is how it has always felt. I can just be here and explore and enjoy and carry peace and love with me as I go. It also helped me to realize that this is not the path for everyone. As much as I encourage travel and freedom, for some it is their path to settle down with a career. I am so happy that I am just here to be here. 🙂 and I am happy you are too. Perhaps I will see you in Seatlle. I’ll be there in the spring! Maybe. 🙂

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      That’s an awesome perspective, Anna. Yeah, there is definitely no one path for everybody, the most important thing is just to make sure YOU are on the right path for you and you keep pushing forward. You just don’t want to wake up in 40 years and realize you’ve been heading down the wrong road this whole time… Glad to hear from a fellow nomad.

  6. Great list! And if you’re headed back to Seattle there’s a pretty good arepa vendor at the Fremont Farmers Market! Perhaps you can get your fix there. Or day trip down to Portland to Teote – great arepa’s there too.

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  7. “You know how many took me up on my offer to come visit me in Medellin? Yeah, exactly.”

    Ha! Yeah. I had a cousin visit me in Cozumel (though he was already in the area on business) and my brother and brother in law came to visit in Turkey, but that’s all in the past 2+ years. The people for whom travel is important are already out traveling. Everyone else has other things as higher priorities.

    What’s the plan after Colombia?

    Dude, don’t give up on the book. I will refer you to your point #21. There’s no reason why you can’t write a book. It’s easy. Don’t be a pansy. What are you struggling with? Email me about it.

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      Yeah, I know I’m just laying down my own excuses at this point. Thanks for calling me out on my own lame excuses. I was writing every day, but have kind of taken a step away from it for a few weeks. Maybe that’s not a bad thing in and of itself, as I can come back to it with fresh eyes. I’ve just been procrastinating about coming back to the project which needs to change.

      Plan after Colombia will be to return back to Seattle for the holidays for a bit and then set out on another road trip it looks like. Plans are still being solidified, but if all goes well, I’ll be hitting you up for recs and advice about Mexico. 🙂

      1. Awesome. I love Mexico. I spent time in Mexico City (2 months), San Miguel de Allende (1 month), Cancun (1 month), Playa del Carmen (1 month), and Cozumel (3 months). So if you have specific questions about any of those places, ask away.

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