This week, I turned 26. It's an age I've never been particularly concerned about before, but when it was pointed out to me that 26 is actually much nearer to 30 than I'd first realised, a tiny bit of panic set in.
Where the hell did all that time go?!
I'm very happy with what I've achieved so far in life, don't get me wrong. But there are a number of things I've always had on the back burner – as if I've been waiting for the right moment to actually attempt them – and suddenly they have the potential to slip completely away from me.
So without further ado, here are the 26 things I would like to accomplish this year. Some are probably less achievable than others, but I still reckon I could manage most of them. They just need a bit of effort.
And probably a fair bit of birthday cake.
1-5: Life skills
1. Read more.
I used to be a voracious reader. I was the girl who could devour a book a night, who spouted Enid Blyton quotes at meal times, and who would vanish into her room each summer when the newest Harry Potter book was released and not come out until the last page was finished.
Once, on a drive from London to Scotland, I got through seven books in about 30 hours. Nowadays, I've lost the knack. Although I still love reading, that thought process of 'I have some time to spare, so I'll read a few chapters' has been replaced with 'free time? Get writing then!'.
But there's absolutely no doubt that reading makes a writer. I'm so ashamed of how little I read now, and it has to change. So I've dusted off my Goodreads account (which took a lot of research – I didn't even remember the login) and I'm challenging myself to get though at least 26 books that I'll feel proud of reading over the next year.
Any recommendations for some particularly good books wouldn't go amiss, either!
2. Educate myself.
Despite feeling up to date with current events and what's going on in the world, there's no doubt that I simply don't know enough about some things. My political knowledge is sorely lacking; I always wish I automatically knew more historical facts about the places and countries I visit; and chatting with fellow travellers would be much more meaningful if I wasn't pretending I understood particular obscure references.
It ties in neatly with my resolution to read more, too: in amongst the novels and travel writing, I can spend a good amount of this year reading up on political, historical and social issues. I might have to break them up with a cheeky Game of Thrones read, though.
3. Keep up with my Spanish.
I'm immensely proud of how far my Spanish has come over the last year. When I left for South America in February 2013 I could barely count to ten in the language, and now I spend a large portion of each day speaking in Spanish.
But I know that when I eventually leave South America, there's a likelihood that my Spanish speaking will take a backseat. And I simply cannot let that happen
So when I find myself back in London more permanently (probably this summer), I have a number of ideas to keep the Spanish on track. Language exchange programs, CouchSurfing meet up groups, and generally attempting to become a Spanish/English bilingual from the comfort of my home city.
I will most definitely be writing about the process, too. Just keep an eye out for various articles with titles like 'How to Keep Up with Spanish Once You've Stopped Travelling'…
4. Start playing the piano again.
When I was at school, my mum would demand I spent at least half an hour practicing music after I'd finished my homework. That meant a full hour plodding through scales on the piano, and attempting to hate my clarinet just a little bit less as I blared squeaky notes through it.
While playing the clarinet never became my passion, I stuck to playing piano until I was 18; a solid fifteen years of tinkling the ivories. Nowadays I really miss being able to sit at any piano and crack out a polished piece of music, so I'm planning to properly start practicing again.
5. Pass my driving test.
Despite spending most of my final year at university taking weekly driving lessons, I still managed to fail my test. I put it down to being stressed about leaving England for Asia – but the fact still stands that I don't yet have my licence.
Even though I don't really enjoy driving that much, I know it's a life skill that I really should master, so I'm resolved to get it done as soon as possible.
Although god knows the roads would probably be safer without me on them.
6-10: Expand my writing horizons
I've reached a point now where I'm writing every day, in any spare moment I have. But it's somewhat to my detriment: because said writing is directed primarily to this site and a few other side projects, I find myself getting more and more stressed when I can't find time for other priorities.
But writing is my constant, more than travel, more than anything else I can think of. If I want to create a long term lifestyle from it, and generate a feasible income, I need to put the time in. So this year I'm going to endeavour to make the following changes to the way I write.
6. Write more poetry.
My undergraduate degree had a minor in Creative Writing, and I almost exclusively wrote poetry – sometimes non fiction, often detailing stories I'd half dreamt about, or situations I'd watched unfolding between strangers and taken poetic license with.
Poetry was also the main way I wrote about my travels when I first went backpacking through Europe, and I really miss that style of writing. Expect to see more of it around the site this year, as I'm planning to resurrect my poetic side.
7. Write with a more journalistic eye
Traveling really opens your eyes to prevalent issues around the world: homeless, poverty, sexism, the struggle in the class system, and countless others. I've always strived to keep this site free from articles like 'The Top 10 Things to Do in Berlin!” but I'm also guilty of making most articles rather personal: how the issues I encounter abroad affect me specifically.
I want to try changing angles, so I write from a more journalistic perspective; giving the story the chance to tell itself, with much less focus on me.
8. Get paid for my writing.
I read a wonderful article recently, written by my friend Mike. He discusses multiple reasons why getting paid for your writing is wholly necessary to push your work to a different level – and I don't do half as much of this as I'd like.
So this year I plan to spend a lot more time pitching pieces and getting more of my work published professionally, rather than it predominantly appearing on Flora the Explorer.
9. Study how to write, and get criticised for it.
In the same vein as using a professional platform to broaden my writing horizons, I also feel like I've reached a point where I could really do with some criticism. So I'm applying for a Masters in Creative Writing, starting this September in London, with the hope that having my work read by professors and fellow writers will improve how I create, shape and edit a piece of writing.
10. Start writing a book.
The idea of writing something of book-worthy length has been brewing in my mind for a long time. Unfortunately, spotty internet and constant movement over the last two years of travelling has meant I've been unable to really focus on the idea.
And the final part of the Masters programme is to produce a body of work akin to a novel. What better way to start?
11. Learn to switch off.
I've reached a tipping point with the amount of time I spend online.
And when I'm travelling through places with interminably slow internet connections, it makes the obsession all the more frustrating. What should take a few minutes will consume the best part of an hour, and more and more I find myself switching off the wifi right before I close my eyes to sleep, and flicking it on again as soon as I wake up.
I get moody and irritable when things take too long to load, when I don't have enough time to do the myriad of little online tasks I feel are necessary, and – god forbid – when the internet inexplicably dies.
It has to stop.
This year, I'm making a conscious effort to limit my time online. I will avoid the internet for the last hour before I go to sleep, reading something instead; I will get myself ready for the day before I check my emails; and if South American internet is stressing me out, I'll turn it off and go for a walk instead.
12. Start climbing.
After a few hair raising encounters with heights and high edges, and realising South America is the place where all my nightmares about injuring myself could actually become reality, I've become more and more certain that the fears I have about heights and falling stem from a lack of connection with my body.
And weirdly enough, people have suggested that learning to climb (while it involves voluntarily reaching higher heights than feels natural to me) may actually be the solution.
Apparently, even though a fear of heights may set me back at first, eventually I'll learn to love putting together the puzzle of a climbing route.
That remains to be seen, but I'm still keen to give it a try.
13. Take self defence classes.
I'm not the strongest woman you'll ever meet – physically, at least. I'm not well versed in single combat, I have no idea how to punch, and I can't trip someone up to save my life.
But I once took a few ju-jitsu classes and really enjoyed the sense of power it gave me – plus there's nothing bad about training your body to listen to you a bit more. So I want to start taking some kind of self defence classes and feel confident that I'd be able have my own back, if it ever came to that.
14. Improve my health.
A life of travel has shot my health completely. Every now and again I feel like I'm falling apart: my skin breaks out, my weight fluctuates, I get bouts of dandruff and sudden pounding headaches.
Sometimes I make a half hearted attempt to cut out sugar, caffeine, or too much bread – but in South America that's easier said than done.
I need to properly face up to sorting out my health, and that means starting from scratch. I want to talk about my diet with a nutritionist, work out which foods make my body feel more alert and energised, and focus on staying healthy. During my time in South America I've already discovered the powers of ginger for travel sickness, raw garlic to clear my skin up somewhat, cranberries for thrush, cinnamon for circulation and raw aloe vera for an upset stomach.
Maybe I'll even try going vegan for a while? It works for some people!
15. Hitchhike for charity.
Apart from a few accidental episodes in some Lithuanian cars, I've never hitchhiked before. Sadly, I missed the boat on those charitable hitchhikes at university – but that doesn't mean I can't do it by myself.
I'm not sure what route I'd take yet, who I'd go with or what charity I'd raise money for, but I know I can't get to 30 without having hitchhiked properly before.
Any suggestions on where I should try and get to?
16. Overland travel.
During my travels this year, I've taken quite a few flights. Getting to South America, obviously – but I also flew from Brazil to Bolivia, caught return flights to the Galapagos, and indulged in four internal flights in Colombia because the price for an hour long flight was the same as a long haul bus journey.
But I know that taking so many flights when it's not actually necessary isn't good. Quite apart from braving the adventurous elements of South American bus rides, I've recently learnt a lot about climate change in regards to the aviation industry, and its made me overtly aware that I shouldn't be flying if I can help it.
So this year I want to actively attempt to take less flights, and to consider the overlanding options instead. Plus I don't really love flying so it's good for my nervous system! The aim is to completely overland to somewhere and back again to London. Maybe somewhere in Eastern Europe? Maybe Morocco?
17. Compete in The Rickshaw Run.
One travel challenge I probably won't manage to overland to (as it'd probably take at least 9 months or so) is located in India.
The Adventurists Rickshaw Run is a race across India, with various teams driving auto-rickshaws highly likely to fall apart at any given moment.
Plus if you throw in my clearly not-wonderful driving skills, you clearly have a recipe for success. At least it gives me an extra incentive to pass my driving test!
18. Host Couchsurfers.
While I've long been keen on the CouchSurfing concept, I've never actually done it. But if I spend any prolonged time in London this year, I'd love to host surfers on their way through the UK's capital.
Not to mention it'd give me an opportunity to practice more Spanish, as well as letting me be a bit of a tourist in my own city.
19. Spain exploration.
With my newfound language skills, I'd love to spend some extensive time exploring Spain and attempting to converse with Spaniards properly.
Although I'm slightly terrified of attempting to use the 'vosotros' form which I know absolutely no conjugations of…
20. Walk the Camino de Santiago.
It would challenge for my fitness, my endurance levels and my Spanish, but walking this famed route would be an amazing challenge to complete.
And just for fun…
My final set of resolutions are things I've always wanted to be able to do, but had never found the time. There are plenty more buried in my mind, but these are the five I actually think are feasible over the next year.
21. Do more work in the homeless sector.
It's not like I haven't been volunteering my time this past year, but while I'm travelling I don't give a huge amount of focus to homelessness. It is, however, something I'm very passionate about, making the effort whenever I'm in London to work on some type of project.
Whether it's with Crisis at Christmas, handing out warm clothes with the Sock Mob, or simply making time to chat to the homeless people on London's streets, I aim to spend a large amount of this year speaking out about homelessness, and perhaps even find some kind of work within the sector.
22. Take a massage course.
Self explanatory, really – after multiple massages around the world, I'd love to learn how to do it myself!
23. Learn sign language.
I reckon this one might need a course or evening classes of some kind, but I've always been interested in learning sign language.
24. Give blood.
I've never donated blood before, but I need to make it a regular habit. Hopefully I won't suddenly discover a fear of needles.
25. Learn to knit.
In preparation for the long, cold English winters, knitting some chunky scarves and jumpers wouldn't go amiss.
Of course, I'll probably only be able to manage a thin string of knots, but you've got to start somewhere, right?
26. Be happy.
My 25th year has been full of ups and downs. I've spent the entirety of it making my way through South America, sometimes with incredible people, sometimes with strangers, and sometimes by myself.
Throughout it all, I've struggled with opinions of myself that really don't have a place in my life anymore. One of these overarching traits is being self-deprecating, and frankly I've had enough of it.
This is the year I focus on being happy inside, and surrounding myself with the things that make me happier. One of which is finally coming back to London for a while, and spending some intensive time with the people I love. I realised on my impromptu flight home last month that, much as I love it, I can't let travel be the sole factor in my life. People and friendships are equally important.
This is the third birthday in a row I've spent in another country, though, and it's a tradition I'd now rather like to uphold. I certainly never expected to be back in Ecuador again a year later…
I wonder where in the world I'll be when I turn 27?
Do you make resolutions for your birthday? What tips do you have to help me achieve mine?