Winter in Somerset, England.

2017 in Review

For me, last year was a devastating one as an American but in many other areas of my life it was the best year on record. It feels scary to say that, like I should keep it a secret because maybe I’m sneaking under some cosmic radar and if I draw attention to it the universe will wake up and the fairy tale will end. I’d like to start the habit of making my yearly reviews public (at least a portion of them) so I’ll try to suppress that superstition of mine.

In my yearly reviews I like to sum up the theme of the previous year and come up with an intention for the following year. In 2016 I left the U.S. That year I traveled through 13 countries, beginning in England and ending in Nepal. It was a year of new beginnings, embracing uncertainty and facing fears which led me at the end of that year, to set the following intention for 2017: to open myself up in as many ways as possible and let my life grow and flourish naturally in the way it wants. To let go of conventions and expectations and follow what feels right.1

I’m still working on letting go of conventions and expectations—particularly my own—but I have to laugh looking back at the year through the lens of that intention. How apt it seems now.

TRAVEL

It was a big, big travel year for me. I traveled through India alone for the first time, crossing the waistline of India from Nepal to the Thar Desert and back again to Nepal. I walked through the Himalayas in Nepal for the second time, this time on a much more ambitious route. I shacked up in a beach bungalow in Sri Lanka for three months of simple living, where I enjoyed world-class surf, got scuba certified and completed my second, 10-day Vipassana retreat. During the last quarter of the year I road-tripped across France for 6 weeks with friends and family and I ended the year with a long, much-needed stay at Grandma’s house in the English countryside (the featured photo above is a shot I took from her back porch).

The way I traveled changed quite a bit this year. I’ve slowed down a lot. In many areas of life it’s the transitions that demand the most from me—and travel is no different. At the beginning of last year, while still new to Asia I got violently sick twice (once while alone in Varanasi which was not a fun experience). On returning to the West I suffered two crippling infections, one in my throat and one in my leg.2 Transitions are hard on my body and my mind so I want to be respectful of that.

I appreciate the deeper sense of people and place that comes with staying still, which is missed when I’m moving every few days or even weeks.

La Roque-Gageac on the Dordogne River in France.
La Roque-Gageac on the Dordogne River in France.

This year I’d like to alternate between longer, relatively relaxed periods (staying in a region for 2-4 months for example) and shorter, more intense movement periods (trekking, roadtrips, etc.). This rhythm allows me to more fully appreciate what each style of travel has to offer. I’m able to settle into more focused work routines for several months and then when the creativity sputters and I get itchy feet I can follow fortune and serendipity out the door on more demanding and engrossing adventures.

WRITING

I wrote 36 blog posts this year, totaling 81,690 words which was a little short of my goal of 50 blog posts or 100,000 words. My goal this year is 60 blog posts or 125,000 words. Knowing how much work last year was, it feels pretty scary to say that.

One of my intentions this year is to be more personal with you on this blog. Writing publicly feels risky and I’ve realized that I tend to I hide behind perfectionism because I’m terrified of being vulnerable and opening myself up to criticism. I’m not going to hit 125,000 words that way. I’ve always been hyper-conscious about talking too much about myself and as an introvert I’m well-practiced in directing attention other places. But one thing I’ve seen this year is that being honest about how I feel (first and foremost to myself) allows others to be honest about how they feel. I believe that empathy is at the top of the list of what the world desperately needs more of and I see writing as one way it can be cultivated. When I look back on the writing I’m most proud of from 2017, it’s the times I was most open about what I was feeling.

A highlight from 2017 was being invited on two, all-expenses paid press trips to write about travel, one to the Azores islands off of Portugal and one to Mt. Whistler in Canada. I ended up declining both because I didn’t feel like they were a great match with my aims as a writer. My vision has expanded quite a bit this year and I view this blog less and less as a “travel blog” but if the right opportunity came up I’d be excited to take it.

One of the most encouraging things writing-wise for me this year was my Quora response on how I recovered my energy being read over 1.3 million times (!) Healthy living and well being continue to be a passion of mine and it felt good to contribute my experience to the conversation.

READING

My goal was to read 60 books this year and I finished 63. I remain a huge believer in the power of reading.

One thing that changed for me this year is how I read. I started my fragments of wisdom series this year to try to glean more from the books I was reading. While I’m only beginning to learn the art of how to read a book, I’m starting to become much more confident in my reading and it’s led me to more and more rewarding places. The quality of the books I’m reading is going up, as is the difficulty. More and more I find myself tracing my interests, almost obsessively, from one book to another and one thinker to the next. My reading list is swelling—as is my urgency to get to them—and I find myself tracking down odd, old books I’ve never heard of before which I think is a good sign.

A farmhouse in Wales.
A farmhouse in Wales.

I’m not going to set a book goal again this year. It’s dumb but at times I found myself finishing books I probably should have dropped just so I could count them. I also noticed myself ever so slightly favoring shorter books that would pump up my count. I intend to spend as much, or hopefully, more time reading this year but the emphasis will be on quality not quantity. I want to give myself permission to skip around and explore, study and reread and work on books that lead me to, and expand, the limits of my understanding. Annie Dillard’s warning to writers comes to mind: “He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know.”

TREKKING

This year I only did one multi-day trek as opposed to six in 2016. However my trek through the Himalayas3 was the best trek I’ve ever done for a lot of reasons. It was definitely one of the most adventurous: the first two weeks we walked through a pretty remote region of Nepal (we saw two other foreigners in two weeks) and it was also one of the most beautiful: over the last two weeks we completed the mind-boggling Three Passes circuit in the Kumbhu region, crossing three 5,000m+ passes, visiting Everest Base Camp and summiting three different, 5,500m peaks —the three highest points in the world I’ve ever climbed. We didn’t see a motorized vehicle for over a month. It was bliss.

I have my eyes on a few different treks this year, so hopefully it will be another good trekking year. At the very least, I’d like to do one significant trek this year.

Coastal Path in Wales.
The Coastal Path in Wales.
MONEY

Everything included, I spent $8,290.92 this year ($691/month) which is significantly less than last year and pretty remarkable considering everything I did which included eating like a greedy king everywhere I went. Some expenses were not travel related but most were. I attribute the lower monthly spend to three main things:

  1. I spent 8.5 months in Asia and I stayed with friends and family while in France and England.
  2. I experimented a lot this year with living and eating simply.
  3. I’ve climbed up the travel learning curve quite a bit.

Having seen so many ingenious ways people afford to travel, it’s pretty easy to imagine that one could travel more or less indefinitely while spending very little money if one wanted. At this point I suspect that reducing my travel costs much further would have to come at the expense of time or choice however. Tourism might be expensive, but it’s a myth that travel has to be. One thing that I continue to appreciate about having saved money to travel (vs. exchanges or working while traveling) is that my time is mine to use as I please—it’s afforded me a lot of freedom.

I’m not making any income and while that isn’t a problem at the moment, the uncertainty of how I will later on combined with constantly seeing money leave my account causes anxiety when I get in my head about it. It doesn’t help that in England “what will you do (for money)?” is one of the questions I’m most commonly asked. Having grown up and made my bones in a capitalist paradigm that confuses net worth with self worth, it’s forgivable I guess that I still confuse the two at times. I’m much more aware of it when I do than I used to be though.

RELATIONSHIPS

In March I met a French woman in India. We’ve been traveling together ever since. I think that’s pretty much everything that needs to be said about the happy state of my romantic life.

It was hard not seeing my brother who got engaged this year and I’m also sad I missed a couple special family gatherings back in the states4 However, on the whole, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to spend large blocks of time with family over the past few years and I’m really grateful for that. At thirty, I feel like I’m beginning to know many in my family as people, not just as relations. Road-tripping with Mom and Dad through south France this year and sitting in Grandma’s living room listening to her talk about the time Grandpa proposed while thumbing through the evidence in one of his old photo albums are not things I’ll soon forget.

This blog has also connected me with friends and family and it’s even opened up some new relationships that wouldn’t have been otherwise. This continues to be one of the biggest rewards of blogging for me.

Women in Jaisalmer, India.
Women waiting for a wedding party to pass down the street in Jaisalmer, India.
HEALTH

I suspect that diet played a huge part in making this last year as good as it was. One of the more surprising developments of the year is I’m now eating a completely plant-based, whole-food diet. It’s been a goal of mine since reading How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease back in 2016. The beginning of 2017 saw me, more or less, as a vegetarian5 but I didn’t expect the switch would happen quite so fast or in the way it did: by falling for a vegan chef from Paris. Traveling with Julie-Roxane has made the transition easy and delicious, which I suspect is probably not the experience for most novice vegans. I feel like I cheated.

My decision to embrace this lifestyle has been based on five things:

  1. The scientific evidence we have so far (much of it new) suggests, overwhelmingly, that eating meat, dairy and eggs is harming our bodies and producing it is harming the environment.6 The evidence also suggests that eating a mixed diet of beans, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, herbs, spices and fruit not only protects our body from disease but can heal it.
  2. I feel much better eating this way. Over the past couple years, I’ve experimented pretty rigorously with my diet by isolating and reintroducing different foods and my experience is that I feel a lot better when I’m not eating animal-based products.
  3. I want to be a steward of life. I don’t think the prevalent attitude that animals are here to serve us makes sense, nor do I think it will make sense to posterity.
  4. The behavior of the meat, dairy and egg industry disturbs me.
  5. The influx in diet-related disease in places that have adopted a western diet is alarming. I believe a large factor in my own autoimmune disease was my diet, which at the time was had been a fairly typical western diet (Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is not uncommon but is rare for males my age).

I expect—especially when traveling—that I will deviate at times, but I feel alright about that if I’m aware of the consequences and I make the choice consciously.

Healthy vegan fridge.
Our fridge for two during the winter holidays.

I also spent most the year alcohol-free but then seriously fell off the wagon in France and England near the end of the year. This year I’d like to keep watering down my alcohol habit (while not forcing myself to be a teetotaler about it) and also experiment more with reducing my caffeine intake.7 We’ll see how it goes.

As I mentioned earlier, I completed my second, 10-day Vipassana retreat (I sat through my first during the last 10 days of 2016) and I’m currently meditating for an hour most days. I also began a gratitude practice which has been really rewarding. I’ve done at least one meditation retreat each of the past three years now and I’d like to keep that streak going in 2018.

NEXT YEAR

The new year finds me off to Aljezur, Portugal where Julie-Roxane and I have accepted an invitation to live with a Portugese couple and their month-old newborn. We’ve offered our help preparing healthy meals and managing some of their day-to-day so they can spend more time with their baby and the business they are building (brewing beer apparently). It’s a new way of traveling for me so we’ll see how it goes but I’m excited about it.8 The husband is a surfer so I’m hoping we’ll squeeze a little surfing in…when the baby’s asleep of course.

In July I’ll be standing at my brother’s side as he marries his fiancé, Emily. It’ll be Julie-Roxane’s first time in California so I’m planning an epic road trip up and down the West Coast to visit friends and family while we’re there. After that anything could happen but if I were a betting man—and I often am—I’d put my money on finding myself on a plane back to Asia.

I don’t have many new goals this year really, most of them are just iterations on what I’m already doing: write more, read more, trek more, meditate more and keep eating vegan. In a lot of ways, 2017 felt like the pay off of a lot of hard work and tough decisions in years past. Right now I mainly want to stay focused on what’s working and see where it leads me.

The things that stand out most from last year are those that took me completely by surprise. Walt Disney is attributed with having said “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I’m not sure that’s always the case, but I do believe Walt was on to something. We have barely begun to imagine what’s possible. All great adventures begin in some foolish person’s imagination. And all great adventures are, inherently, uncertain affairs. So this year my intention is two-fold: keep feeding my imagination and keep a space open for the uncertainty that has allowed this great adventure to unfold.

Daydreaming in Wales.

 

 


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  1. Earlier this year I wrote about my practical, process-driven way I follow my intuition.
  2. The second of which led to an interesting situation when I was asked to drop my pants in the living room by Julie-Roxane’s dad and stepmom (a doctor and nurse, respectively), who I had just met.
  3. I documented some of it on instagram: #awalkinnepal
  4. My dad rented a stretch limo to surprise my Mom on her 60th birthday which broke down on the freeway to the restaurant with my whole family inside drinking champagne. The police were called.
  5. In Asia where refrigeration is not common and hygiene is often questionable being vegetarian is often just common sense. I’ve seen dead chickens slung over motorcyclist’s backs and cuts of beef hanging in sweltering temperatures in shops on the side of dusty roads where it’s someone’s sole job to swat away the swarms of ravenous flies.
  6. If you want to do your own research I am a big fan of the nonprofit organization nutritionfacts.org.
  7. If you are wondering, I have been inspired by Elaine Aron’s work around high sensitivity and caffeine’s reported contribution to overstimulation in people with highly sensitive traits. Also, I harbor a suspicion that I write better on low-to-no doses of caffeine.
  8. Someone referred to Portugal as the California of Europe which was enough to have me looking up land prices and property laws.

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Hello. I’m Alasdair.

Hello. I’m Alasdair.

I believe that being aware of who I am and mindful of who I am becoming is the best investment I can make in my life —and that when we focus our efforts within, the rewards naturally flow outward to those we love and through the communities we belong to.