I turned 37 last Friday.
When I turned 36 last year, I had a bit of a meltdown. Rather than celebrating with friends, I was all alone in a hotel room in Almaty, Kazakhstan, bawling my eyes out, freaked out about the future and the sudden idea that I was going to be 40 soon. Okay, maybe not soon, but someday (cue that scene from When Harry Met Sally).
I’m one year closer to 40 now, but instead of freaking out about it, I’m going to try to embrace it. I have three years until I hit the big 4-0 and that’s a lot of time. A lot can happen in three years. Heck, three years ago I had just been promoted to be a major gift officer at the law school where I worked. I was coming down from the thrill of a trip to Wimbledon and had just started a WordPress.com blog as a place to write about my travels. I didn’t know anyone who had quit their job to travel and had no more than a vague dream of doing so myself.
Three years later and I am back in Chicago after spending 13 months traveling through all 15 former Soviet states. My blog had more than 13,000 page views last month alone and in July, I appeared on HuffPost Live to talk about how I quit my job to travel. I have accomplished far more than I ever imagined possible back in the summer of 2010.
Looking back at the last three years makes me realize that the sky is the limit for the next three years. So here are a few things on my bucket list before I turn 40:
Visit the Grand Canyon. Confession: I have never been to the Grand Canyon. I’m almost a little embarrassed to admit it – it is such an iconic natural wonder in the United States that it just seems ridiculous that I have never been there. Rather than just visiting, I would love to do a rim to rim hike, taking a few days to hike from the North Rim to the South Rim or vice versa. This could be a good option over Labor Day weekend next fall.
Run the Great Wall Marathon. This has been on my bucket list for a while. The challenge of it thrills me and completely scares me. It could possibly be one of the most difficult physical endeavors I ever attempt and will take a ton of hard work and training to prepare for it. 2014 is way too soon, but I think 2015 could be possible.
Visit the Kamchatka Peninsula. The Kamchatka Peninsula is about as remote as it gets in Russia. Located on the far eastern edge of the country, you can probably see Sarah Palin’s house from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the largest city in the peninsula. With dozens of volcanoes (many active) and a huge variety of flora and fauna, Kamchatka just intrigues me like almost no other place on earth.
Hike the Lycian Way. This would be no small feat, covering 510 kilometers from Fethiye to Antalya, Turkey and likely taking almost a month. But the hike would cover so many of my favorite things: Roman ruins, Greek temples, Byzantine monasteries – in short, loads of history and nature. The best time to go is supposed to be either spring or fall, so I’m thinking this could be a great adventure for the spring of 2016.
Write (and publish) a book. I’ve had about a dozen different ideas for what this book may be. I started working on a practical guide to traveling the former Soviet Union, but ditched it. Then I started a book about traveling around Russia – a mix of stories and advice – but lost motivation. I have a book about quitting my job to travel outlined in my head, but have yet to put it to paper. And more and more, I dream of going back to Georgia or Armenia and writing a comprehensive guidebook for one of the big publishers about one or both countries. Preparing a proposal for such a guidebook is on my to-do list before the end of this year.
Find freedom and fulfillment in my career. Ah, the ever elusive dream – finding a career I love and that fulfills me – and that gives me the freedom to travel more often (or live overseas). I feel like I’ve written about this endlessly, so I won’t bore you with the details. I’ll just say this – I have no idea what I’ll be doing 10 years from now, much less 5 years. But I am confident that by the time I turn 40, I will be significantly closer to the freedom and fulfillment I seek.
Take the Amtrak from Chicago to California. I really enjoyed train travel during my Soviet Sojourn but aside from taking the Amtrak between Chicago and Minneapolis, I really haven’t traveled by train much in the United States. I just think the ride from Chicago all the way to the West Coast would be scenic and relaxing and would take me through several states that I have not even touched yet.
Attend all 2 weeks of a Grand Slam tournament. I love tennis and I love traveling to the Grand Slams. But what I really want to do is spend a full two weeks at one of the tournaments. I love the atmosphere of the early rounds but I also love watching history, which is what you tend to get during the later rounds. The US Open is probably my best bet for doing this (although that falls at the same time I’d love to hike the Grand Canyon…hmmmm….)
See the Great Migration in Africa. I absolutely love animals, so an African safari has long been on my must-do list. Even more so, I would love to witness the Great Migration, considered one of the most spectacular wildlife sights in the world. More than a million wildebeest and more than 200,000 zebras and gazelles travel across the Serengeti, stalked by lions and hyenas along the way. Since they travel across Tanzania in December, this could be the perfect trip for over the holidays next year.
Live in a city besides Chicago. There is so much I love about Chicago, but I increasingly feel like my time here may soon be up. I have spent more than half of my adult life here (and my entire post-college/law school life) and while I wasn’t ready to make a move somewhere else when I returned from my career break, I feel like it’s time to try some place new. Seattle is more and more at the top of my list of places where I could see myself ending up. But I probably won’t feel comfortable relocating until I…
Sell my condominium. Sure, I was able to rent out my condo while I traveled and I could likely do so again if I decide to move (or travel again). But I would rather just be free of it altogether. After paying off my student loans earlier this summer, my mortgage is my only significant debt and I feel like selling my place is my last step to really gain financial freedom. Yes, there are some benefits to home ownership and it is nice to have a place to truly call my own. But, it also has some major drawbacks and I increasingly long for the freedom that comes with renting.
Take my dad to Norway. We had talked about doing this last spring. I met with someone from Innovation Norway last fall and he loved the idea of a father/daughter trip to Norway to explore our roots. We tentatively planned it to coincide with Norway’s Constitution Day on May 17, the equivalent of our Fourth of July. Then I got a job that required me to work an event on May 19 and the whole thing was off. But it is still something I would love to make happen, even if we aren’t sponsored by Innovation Norway.
Hike the Janapar Trail. This is possibly the most obscure item on my list – the Janapar Trail is a hiking trail across the Mountainous Republic of Karabakh, the territory that Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over since the early 1990s (often referred to as Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh). I didn’t visit while I was in Armenia because I knew that doing so would prohibit me from going to Azerbaijan; they simply wouldn’t let me in. But now that I have been to Azerbaijan and have little desire to return, I am free to visit Karabakh on future trips to Armenia. And when I do, I want to spend two weeks hiking and staying with families across Karabakh.
Fall in love. I’ve never really been in love before. I thought I was once, when I was 30 and I met the guy I was sure I would marry. I had always pictured myself getting married at 30, so it seemed to all be falling into place. Until it didn’t and it ended and it threw me into a tailspin that lasted several years. I haven’t even come close to feeling the same way about a guy since then, but if I learned anything from my travels (and the guys I met along the way) is that I am capable of loving again – I just need to find the right guy at the right time. At the same time, I realize the decisions I have made in the last few years have likely made this harder and not knowing where I even want to be a year from now certainly doesn’t help. But, I have to hold out hope that it will happen. Hopefully before I’m 40.