Each year around my birthday, I like to reflect on the past year of my life and remember what made it special. My 24th was a beautiful year, full of lots of beautiful memories. It’s so much fun to record the things I loved, so here they are in no particular order, my favourite things when I was 24.
Coffee | I didn’t drink coffee until I became an English teacher in Korea. I left Korea right before my birthday last year, but this year has really converted me into having a real fondness for coffee. I don’t need it – some mornings, I forget – but I really enjoy the ritual. I bought myself this cold brew coffee maker for Christmas which makes my coffee habit cheap & easy.
Yoga in the park | We started a free yoga class in the park here in Quito in October, but it quickly turned into one of my favourite things….ever. We have met some wonderful people, gotten some career opportunities, and most importantly created something to anchor us to the community here. It’s always a high point of my week.
Spanish | I was trying to learn Spanish while in Korea using Duolingo and Memrise but not having a ton of success. Luckily, just a couple months after my birthday I met my now-boyfriend, a born and bred Ecuadorian to practice with. After moving to Quito, my Spanish grew by leaps and bounds and I’m happy to say that I’m told I even have a Quiteña accent. I enrolled in a Spanish course at the local university just before my 25th birthday and it’s drastically helping me to refine my verbs and grammar.
1 Second Everyday | I only started using this app in January, but it still makes the list of my favourite things. It’s such a simple, lovely way to document your life and watching the video gives me so much joy.
For the last couple of years on my birthday, I’ve been making lists of my favourite moments and things from the previous year. My birthday is in April and it is now September, but in my defence on my birthday I was swimming under a waterfall in Laos. Luckily I made the list of my favourite things from my 23rd year before I left Korea, but never finished the post or published it (obviously). Let me remedy that now!
Twenty-three was a wonderful year for me. I spent both my 23rd and 24th birthdays in new countries and in between had more adventures than I can count. I made some amazing friends, visited some incredible places, and lived in a completely different culture for a whole year. You can see my 23 favourite moments from that year right here.
And I fell in love with a bunch of things too: food, activities, and objects. Here they are below, in no particular order.
Organic Cream of Earl Grey David’s Tea. A family friend gave me a few bags of this tea before I left for Korea and it lasted me through my whole year away (as much as I want to, I often forget to make tea for myself). It’s so delicious!
Gilmore Girls. I watched every episode of this show over the course of a few months and completely fell in love. It’s just so smart! There are so many hidden jokes and references! I was completely immersed in that world for a while and was so sad when it ended. Props to Katie for encouraging me to watch it.
Spotify (premium). For several months of the year I paid for Spotify premium and it was awesome. Now that I’m back in Canada I’m back on the free version, but I couldn’t access it in Korea or while I was travelling unless I paid for premium, so I did. Either way, Spotify is amazing.
iHerb. The perfect solution for all my health-nut needs while I was in a foreign country. You can’t get everything on iHerb, but you can get a lot of things. I ordered things like coconut oil, quinoa, natural peanut butter, chia seeds, chickpeas, and natural makeup. Not all of these things are impossible to find in Korea but most are rare or expensive. And shipping was free with KoreaPost, which is awesome. You can use this link to get up to $10 off your first order with them, if you’re interested.
Starbucks Busan Fireworks Festival mug. This was a limited edition mug made for the 2014 Busan Fireworks Festival. I liked it so much that I bought two more as Christmas presents for my sisters and sent them home with my mom after her visit. It’s just such a nice size for a mug and has such a beautiful design. I don’t often like the Starbucks city mug designs, but this one is such a beautiful way to remember Busan and the gorgeous fireworks festival I loved so much.
Acro yoga. Last year I put yoga on my list, and this year it’s all about acro yoga. I tried acro for the first time in August of last year and have been obsessed with it ever since. If you ever meet me in person, beware lest I try to make you do it with me. It’s such a wonderful form of yoga: you have to be aware of your body and someone else’s, it’s a trust exercise, it makes you feel empowered, and plus you get to laugh a lot the whole time. It’s just such a fun, child-like thing to do and can be so therapeutic too. I would love to do more training in how to teach acro.
Kimchijeon. The grocery store on my corner would often make these and have them in the prepared food section at the end of the day, and if I was lucky I could grab a pack of 2 of them for about $2.00. The woman who worked there didn’t speak any English, and my Korean wasn’t great, but we were always laughing together about the kimchijeon, she seemed to think it was hilarious I was always stopping by to get it. Often my friend Katie (who got off work earlier than me) would stop by and buy them out, and since a lot of Koreans seemed to think Katie and I were one and the same, maybe that’s why she was always laughing. One of our favourite restaurants in Busan made kimchijeon with melted cheese on top. And I also learned how to make it, recipe here! Lots of memories associated with this one.
Book Depository. Hello, how did I not know about this website earlier? Free shipping on any book anywhere in the world? Reasonable prices? Come on. I sent friends books this way for Christmas – they didn’t come in fancy packaging, but it was a way to give something meaningful when I wasn’t there to deliver it myself.
Leek omelettes. I ate these almost every day that I was in Korea. It’s as easy as it sounds, just fry up some chopped leeks until golden and soft, and add in your beaten eggs. I’m not sure why this was my go-to breakfast when I was 23, but it was.
Mayari Birkenstocks. I bought myself these while on my summer vacation in Kyoto, Japan and then wore them everywhere for the next several months.
Voice Memos. Korea has a very annoying time difference from Canada: usually 13 hours difference to Toronto, and I-don’t-even-know-what to Vancouver. Often arranging Skype calls was tricky because of that, and time would go by before we were both free. So a couple friends and I took to recording voice messages and sending them to each other whenever we could. It was sort of a strange thing to get used to, talking to yourself, but it meant we were up-to-date on the little things and communicated way more than we would have otherwise. Plus, as a person who loves podcasts, I loved having an individualized “podcast episode” about my friend’s life to listen to on my way to work.
Serial Podcast. This podcast was basically my life for a few months. I would actually get a little thrill on Thursday nights, when heard the intro music while walking home from work. We would talk about it constantly, it’s the first thing (maybe ever) to get me stuck on Reddit message boards, and I distinctly remember just sitting around with friends listening to the radio the night it came out. It’s just such a compelling story, and such excellent radio.
Keeping a gratitude journal. This is definitely my favourite new practice from when I was 23 (I can already tell my favourite of 24 will be flossing). If I skip a few days, I can actually notice a shift in my mood and perspective, and not for the better. I don’t often look back through the pages – just recording all the good things that happened in my day is usually enough to make me feel awesome – but when I do, it’s such an excellent reminder that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that I am so blessed. I used to think I could just commit to a mental gratitude practice, but writing it down has been so great for me, and I’m still going strong! You can read more about how I practice gratitude here.
Iced soy lattes. Ah yes, this was the year I got into coffee. It always surprises people when I say this, but I never drank coffee in university, except for maybe the occasional coffee for fun on the weekend. I’m still kind of like that, but now I appreciate it a lot more. When I was teaching young, loud children English as a second language, I drank coffee every day, if only to improve my mood and patience level. Iced soy lattes from Starbucks were my treat, usually on Fridays or on particularly tiring days. The rest of the time I bought convenience store coffees, something Korea is very good at providing.
Having nice nails. This was huge for me. My whole life, my nails have been short and ugly and I actually thought I was incapable of growing nice nails, even if I could stop biting them. But one of my 24 before 24 goals was to get a manicure because I thought that might motivate me to stop biting my nails. It did, and after I finally got that first manicure, something switched for me. I realized that cuticle care was a big part of why my nails never looked nice when I did grow them out, and the manicure helped with that. Ever since, I’ve had beautiful nails if I do say so myself, and even though I’ve never been much of a beauty or makeup person, it makes me feel good about myself to have nice nails.
Lululemon Vinyasa scarf. My mom bought me this for Christmas, and I wore almost every day after. It’s huge, big enough that it was used as a blanket on overnight bus rides through Asia, not to mention well made and very soft. I have it in the grey striped version which isn’t online anymore.
Rainbow Rowell. I read all of her novels the year I was 23, starting with Eleanor & Park, which is just wonderful. Actually all of her books are wonderful whether they’re classified as YA or adult (she has two of each). They’re all beautiful, poignant, and real.
Kimchi bokkeumbap. The second kimchi-related thing on the list! I did eat my weight in kimchi this year, it’s the best. Kimchi bokkeumbap is basically kimchi fried rice and you can get it at any “Korean diner” – restaurants with orange signs that look just like this and all have the same menu – for about $5 Canadian. It comes in a huge portion with an egg on top and is a delicious thing to eat for lunch.
Fitbit. At the time of this writing I have stopped using my Fitbit, but I was pretty consistent with it while I was 23. It’s basically a fancy pedometer, but it works well and is helpful especially if me you’re wildly inaccurate in your estimates of how much you move throughout the day. I have the Fitbit Flex which I used daily to make sure I got 10,000 or more steps per day. I didn’t hit it every day, but it was a great motivation to get me moving more and taking more walks than I normally would (that said, I would also occasionally run in place in front of a TV show if I still had a couple thousand steps to go but was too lazy to go outside).
Morning pages. This is an exercise I’d done before way back in early 2012 using the website 750words, and picked up again in September of last year. I wrote in detail about how I was doing my words every morning right here, and we recorded a podcast episode on morning pages here. I’ve been meaning to pick this habit back up since I got back home from travelling because it’s such a great way to clear out all the muck and worries and anxiety that build up in my head.
My seasonal videos. I am beyond happy I decided to make a video for each season of my year away in Korea. I can’t emphasize enough how happy they make me, and how beautifully they capture a very special year of my life. I never get every gorgeous moment, but having even any of the gorgeous moments preserved on film is really such a privilege. They just make me feel so blessed now, so I can’t imagine how I’ll feel about them in 5 years, or 20 or 50. You can watch all of them here.
LASIK eye surgery. Hallelujah. I have always had extremely poor vision and have worn glasses or contacts for as long as I can remember. Until one day I walked into a Korean eye clinic for a consult and walked out with perfect vision! I won’t lie, sometimes I take it for granted now that I have excellent vision (without contacts! what a miracle!) but every time I remember, I just feel so incredibly grateful. I personally think perfect vision is a privilege everyone should experience, but since it’s not I feel lucky I could take advantage of the lower prices and get it done in Korea. You can read more about my experience here.
“My heart is at ease knowing that what was meant for me will never miss me, and that what misses me was never meant for me. ” -Imam Al Shafi’i. I read this quote for the first time in Thrive, and proceeded to write it everywhere, including on this free wallpaper I made. It just resonated with me so strongly, even though (or especially?) because I’m not a person who has very strong faith most of the time. It’s really guided me and stayed with me throughout the year.
I’ll be honest, when I first found the draft of this list of 23 things (like, a week ago), I thought it would be silly to type it all up and post it all these months later. Now that I’ve done it though, I’m reminded of why I write this blog: I write to pay attention to my life. I blog to document all the big and little things that make my life special, lovely, and all mine. And writing it out, even five months late, is such a wonderful exercise in noticing, appreciating and loving the experiences I’ve been blessed enough to have. (Note to self: notice more often and take more pictures of your everyday life!)
If you’re anything like me, you do a lot of researching and reading of packing list posts on the internet before you actually pack your bags and go anywhere. But I find that sometimes it can be hard to tell what items on the list will actually be helpful once you’re on your trip and which things you’ll wish you left at home.
So far my only long-term trip has been a 3-month one through Europe, and there are some things I packed with me on that trip last year that I’d wished I left at home and others that I was so happy that I had with me the whole time. Here are the top five most useful things that I packed with me on my backpacking trip (& some honorable mentions!).
I always thought that packing cubes were bit of a gimmick, a way for companies to squeeze a little bit more money out of you while adding no real benefit: I was wrong. Packing cubes were the single best addition to my backpack on my trip last year and on every trip since. They’re such an easy and effective way to keep your backpack organized when you’re on the road. You don’t need many, I’d recommend one large, and one medium-sized. Most of the time I use the big one for all my shirts and the smaller one for socks and underwear, but you can of course customize their use depending on what you prefer. I have two of these Eaglecreek packing cubes that are incredibly lightweight and take up literally no space when they’re not being used, but they have totally changed the way I pack to travel.
It might seem a bit extreme for a backpacking trip, but if you’re staying in hostels, a headlamp can be your best friend. Most of the time your schedule won’t match up with that of the people sharing your hostel room, so sometimes by the time you get home, an early bird may have already turned off the lights for the night. While some of the more modern hostels now have individual bed lights, many do not. Take it from me: rummaging around in your bag in the dark trying to find your toothbrush while not making any noise is a nightmare, and you should never be that person who turns on the overhead light after everyone else is already asleep. The flashlight function on your phone will work in a pinch, but I tend to prefer having my hands free.
3. Smart Phone
Having a device that can connect to Wi-Fi makes any travel experience that much smoother. While I was travelling in Europe I used my iPad mini for almost everything: finding directions, reading books, booking hostels, sending e-mail, blogging, FaceTiming, storing photos and navigating new cities. Of course it doesn’t have to be an iPhone or an iPad, but something that can connect to the internet and has helpful apps available for download is a tremendous help while you’re traveling.
These might seem more suited for a camping trip and are not the most fashionable items on the market, but they are worth their (not very significant) weight in gold. There is nothing worse than carrying a damp towel around in your backpack, especially if it’s also big and bulky. Look for a towel that is close to full-sized, folds up small and doesn’t weigh much. This is the one that I used on my backpacking trip. You can hang these out on the end of any hostel bunk bed and they’ll be dry by morning. Bringing your own lightweight towel is also wise economic decision because although you can rent towels from almost any hostel, the cost of renting them quickly adds up.
5. Combination lock and/or suitcase lock
I very nearly left my lock at home, thinking that any hostel with a locker would also have locks. I’m so glad I brought it though, because while many hostels have lockers, they don’t always have locks, or they charge you to rent them, which again can add up. I carried both a classic combination lock and a smaller suitcase lock with a key, and was glad I had both. If you only have room for one, I’d probably recommend Samsonite Luggage 3 Dial Travel Sentry Combo Lock, Black, One Size“>a good combination suitcase lock as some of the lockers in European hostels are very small and some can’t even accommodate a classic lock.
Collapsible water bottle: This was such a lifesaver on my trip. It saved me a lot of money by not buying bottles of water, and collapsed down as it emptied so it could fit in my purse most of the time.
Ziploc bags: I bring several. Smaller ones to hold things like memory cards and pens, larger ones to protect books or journals from possible water damage, and even bigger ones for damp bathing suits or dirty laundry. I adore Ziploc bags.
Diva Cup (for ladies): once you get the hang of using one, there’s no going back. Easy, clean, lightweight – perfect for travellers.
What do you make sure to never leave home without? Is there anything that you’ve packed on your travels that have made your backpacking life easier?