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There are a lot of internal links in this post… they will all open in a new window, so if one of the links interests you, don’t worry… it won’t take you away from this article!

It seems like a lifetime ago that I wrote this post, which has nearly the exact same title as this one and explained where I was travelling in 2017. It’s hard to believe that that was only two years ago; so much has happened since then, and in many ways I feel like a different person. I did indeed go on most of the travels listed in that post, notably Antigua and Barbuda, UAE, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania. But I didn’t stop there… I also went to Italy, San Marino, Austria, and Germany on three separate trips, and then finished off the year with a press trip to Japan.

It should have been one of the most amazing years of my life. But as I’ve discussed on this blog before, when I wasn’t on the road (and even sometimes when I was)… I felt miserable. I was suffering from anxiety and depression, but constantly trying to tell myself to snap out of it, because seriously? I get to travel the world and this is how I feel?! Boo goddamn hoo, you know?

But as any of us who have struggled with mental health know – hell, as ANY of us know – we don’t get to control our lives and our emotions 24/7. The truth was, despite all of the amazing travels I experienced, 2017 was a year fraught with sadness and frustration. I was burnt out from too much travel, stressed out from moving across an ocean, and constantly suffering from extreme loneliness.

2018 initially geared up to be a lot better. I had moved home to Canada, and started the year with a fantastic road trip across Western Canada followed by a trip to Arizona and Nevada. I then flew to London, where I expected to stay for three weeks before travelling solo around the Balkans.

Within two weeks of being in the UK, I booked a ticket and flew home. For once in my life, I was listening to my body and my mind, realizing that travelling was the last thing I should be doing. I needed to settle for a while, to find routine, and to not jump immediately back into the hectic schedule 2017 had proven disastrous for me.

2018 still ended up being a terrific year, probably more so because I did take that step back and focused on slowing down. I gardened, cooked, built a deck, and focused on work. I still managed to go on a museum tour of Mississippi, a trip to the Caribbean with my mum (Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada), an absolutely mind-blowing adventure around Namibia, and quick visits to Texas and Arizona. I also travelled around my home province of Manitoba a lot more, and got to see just how fun living in Winnipeg is. Plus, I adopted the love of my life, Dottie.

And if you’ve been reading this blog recently, you know that I’ve started an entirely different kind of adventure in my life: I’ve decided to totally change my view of healthy living, going from an extremely sedentary and inactive lifestyle to one where I go to the gym every day and take care of myself through healthy eating. And wouldn’t you know, it’s freaking working… I feel physically better than ever, and I’m able to manage my mental health issues a lot better, too.

But you didn’t think I would be content just to sit at home all year, would you?

It turns out 2019 is going to be just as crazy with travelling as ever, but the best part? I feel ready and excited for it. In the past I’ve felt pressure to travel as often as possible; sometimes because of this industry that I’m in, sometimes just because of the pressure I’m putting on myself. This year? This year I’m travelling for the pure joy and love of it, for the reasons I first started travelling all those years ago: to see places with my own eyes, to experience, to learn.

Oh, and to eat.

Because do you know where I’m going first?

ONLY MY FAVOURITE COUNTRY IN THE WORLD! We meet again, Italia!

And do you know what I’m doing when I get there?!

TOURING THE AMALFI COAST!! All caps and crazy exclamation points because this has been my dream for at least a decade. Although this will be my 13th time in Italy, I was always saving the Amalfi Coast. For what? I don’t know. But when Club Adventures got in touch about a collaboration, I knew it was fate; I had even said in my 2019 Travel Goals post that I would love this year to be the one that would include the Amalfi Coast.

The kicker? I leave THIS WEEK. That’s right, in a matter of days, I will be in Rome eating cacio e pepe and drinking red wine like it’s water. Long-time readers will know that I very rarely accept any collaborations or partnerships anymore, but this experience with Club Adventures seemed too good to be true: something I’ve always wanted to do, of course, but also something that I know a lot of people have asked me about. I’m so excited to share what travelling on a small, local tour of Italy is like; although I often travel solo, I don’t ALWAYS want to travel solo, and this is exactly the kind of tour I’m always looking for online and hope to be able to recommend to readers.

Over ten days, I will be touring Naples (you best believe I’m finding the best pizza in that city, I don’t care how long it takes), Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, Positano, and so many more incredible places. Think olive groves, limoncello tastings, and views of the sea for days. Needless to say, I can’t wait.

When the tour is over, however, I’m not flying home. I’m doing something that I have been saying I was going to do on this blog for the past four years. No, seriously, I’ve said it in my travel goals posts for 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016.

That’s right… I’m travelling around the Balkans for three weeks!

From Rome, I fly to Tirana, where I’ll meet my mum. From there we have a whirlwind trip through Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina (my 100th country!), Serbia, Macedonia, and Kosovo. I have had the BEST time researching this trip for the past three months, and I can’t wait to finally see it all and share it with you.

Please make sure to follow along on Instagram for Italy and the Balkans updates; I’ll be posting daily on stories and will surely take tons of photos (I even bought a new camera lens for the occasion). I’ll also be posting as much as possible on Facebook!

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Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sharing my new approach to being healthy (both in body and in mind) on this blog. This particular post will probably make a lot more sense if you first read On Huge Lifestyle Changes, or My “Holy Hell, I’m Actually Doing This” Journey to Being Healthy. If you’re interested in the fitness side of things, you can check out On Huge Lifestyle Changes: My New Approach to Fitness and Being Active

As mentioned in the previous posts about this new healthy journey I’m on, I had reached a breaking point a few months ago. Fast approaching my 35th birthday, I woke up most mornings feeling like shit, regardless of how much I slept or if I drank the night before. My back always hurt. My clothes barely fit. I always felt sluggish, unmotivated, and tired. I cried often, though I couldn’t always tell you why. My work and my relationships were suffering for it.

And so I decided to change everything. There have been three major changes I’ve made. The first is that I started being extremely active, going to the gym daily and finding fitness that I truly enjoyed (I wrote about that in the last post in this series). The second is that I minimized the time I spent online to only absolutely necessary levels (that, as well as other changes I made to prioritize my mental health, coming up in the next post). And finally, I completely changed the way I eat.

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I struggled with this. Food and alcohol have been huge parts of my life, and as established in a previous post, I have always been that girl that would say yes to everything (food and drink related, at least). You could always count on me to have that shot with you, to share that pizza with you, to go for a midnight junk food run. Although my parents always made sure I had very healthy food at home, by the time I could ride a bicycle I was constantly off spending my babysitting money on sweets and sugary drinks. When I moved out on my own at 18, I often made poor lifestyle choices, and that continued until, well, three months ago. Travelling, of course, exacerbated this, as it can be extremely difficult to eat healthy while on the road.

This was going to be challenging, but I was ready to make the change. Life’s too short not to have that extra slice of pizza, you could argue, but life’s also too short not to appreciate and prioritize your health.

For the record, these are all stock photographs. My meals are delicious but are nowhere near as stylish as these

When it comes to being healthy, especially when it comes to physical health, it is said that exercise is only a small part of the battle; some people have even said it’s 80/20, with food being the 80% factor in staying healthy. I wanted to make sure that, just because I was exercising more, I didn’t fall into the trap of thinking I could then eat whatever I wanted. I wanted to feel healthy from the inside out, and that included things like digestion, cholesterol, and my skin.

And, just as I stated in the last post about fitness, I wanted to avoid all food fads and trends. I didn’t want to deprive myself, starve myself, or follow some person who eats 50 bananas a day and claims it’s healthy (it’s not). I didn’t want to be like some tech bro who thinks extreme fasting (i.e. an eating disorder) is the way to go. I didn’t want to go on some bullshit water fast for weeks at a time that would potentially screw up my health for life (this is actually what some “health” Instagrammers/YouTubers promote, and it’s disgusting). Bottom line, I didn’t want to rely on anything that I couldn’t sustain, so that included any sort of tablet, powder, tea, or meal replacement that would probably just give me horrendous diarrhea.

I absolutely love eating, and I still wanted to eat a lot. I wanted to eat a variety of delicious foods that would also make me feel great. I wanted to eat real, healthy food that would give me energy and taste fantastic. 

Again, for the cheap seats in the back: I do not condone, and will never condone, any sort of “miracle diet cure” that apparently melts away pounds or replaces healthy food. As I’ve already stated, I am not a health professional by any means, but the following is what I’ve personally done to feel better and eat healthier.

I imagine most of us have a general sense of what healthy food is and what unhealthy food is. We all know that a Big Mac meal isn’t very good for us. But I think there are a lot of grey areas as well: diet foods, low-calorie snacks, the idea that a salad is instantly healthy, and so on. I also think that many people, myself included, struggle with portion control. What I used to think was one serving of pasta, for example, was probably more like three servings.

Just like I had to be brutally honest with myself about how inactive and out of shape I was, I had to be brutally honest with how much I was eating, and how much of it was unhealthy. I quickly realized that so much of what I was eating was a series of processed, refined food filled with ingredients I couldn’t name. I also realized I was doing a lot of mindless eating in front of the TV and not considering portion control or how much food my body truly needed.

An average day looked like this for me: 

In the morning I’d start with scrambled eggs with spinach and tomatoes (with milk and margarine) on toast with more margarine, complete with coffee with cream and sugar. So far, not too bad. 

For lunch I’d usually have canned soup and more toast with margarine and cheddar cheese (sometimes 1/3 of a block of cheese). Canned soup can be OK if you choose the right brand, but I was often eating ones filled with salt and sugar. 

For dinner, if I wasn’t going out, I’d usually make a huge bowl of pasta with olive oil, pesto, chicken, vegetables, and cheese. I’d often drink a couple of glasses of wine as well. If I did go out for dinner, which was often, I’d have appetizers, a main, dessert, and usually a few drinks.

If I had dessert in the house, I’d eat it. I’m really into baking, but I realized that if I have cookies on my counter, I’d easily eat four or five in a day without thinking. 

I’d always get hungry again around 11pm, so I’d usually make toast with peanut butter and jam, usually with a large glass of chocolate milk. If I didn’t have toast, I’ve have cheese and crackers (I’d easily eat half a box of crackers in one sitting). I’d also sometimes make Kraft Dinner (macaroni and powdered cheese) and eat the entire box’s worth, which is actually four servings or approximately 1000 calories. At least twice a week, I’d indulge in Doritos, chocolate bars, soda, and/or sugared candy from the convenience store. 

As you can see, I was eating way too many refined carbohydrates (bread and pasta made up the bulk of every meal and snack), getting way too much salt and sugar, and barely getting any fruit or vegetables. I was also totally unaware of serving sizes. In short, I was eating everything I shouldn’t, and barely eating anything I should. I was eating what was convenient and what I thought tasted good, even if it made me feel terrible. On some days, I was easily consuming more than 4,000 calories, more than twice what a woman of my age (one that was extremely inactive, keep in mind) should aim for. I don’t always agree to counting calories, but having a rough idea of what I was consuming startled me into rethinking my eating habits.

Because I’d practiced healthy eating in previous Januarys, I knew the ropes: more vegetables, more proteins, less refined carbohydrates, less refined sugar. What I didn’t realize is that I was essentially aiming for clean eating, which extols ideas like eating food with only one or two ingredients, trying to reduce your carbon footprint, avoiding refined foods and unhealthy trans fats, and drinking lots of water.

I knew I had to make some major changes. This way of eating was leaving me feeling extremely lethargic, not to mention the health risks associated with eating and drinking this way (in a nutshell: diabetes, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and even an increased risk of some cancers).

I woke up and I was tired of treating my body like shit. I was tired of not providing the right fuel to give me energy.

What I did starting on January 1st is so simple that it seems kind of dumb saying it: I started to eat only “real” food, meaning I focused on only eating food that is what it is (so, for example, I eat spinach, because it’s spinach and nothing else). In general, if it has more than one ingredient in it, I don’t eat it, meaning I avoid anything that comes in a package, box, or can (unless it’s a can of a one-ingredient item, like chickpeas or tuna or lentils).

It was difficult to wrap my head around this at first, and I had to really sit down and research what I’d be eating if I wasn’t eating refined pasta or bread with every meal. It also took some extra budgeting, because unfortunately this way of eating is much more expensive; it’s a sad statement, but in North America at least, fresh produce is often very pricey.

The best thing I did from the beginning was realize that batch cooking and meal prep were my friends. On Sunday, for example, I could spend twenty minutes chopping up enough vegetables to fill two baking sheets (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and bell peppers) and roast those in the oven with a bit of olive oil and pepper. Not only would that be a good base for dinner that night, I would get at least two or three more dinners out of those vegetables. That meant, on Monday, I would only need to spend about ten minutes baking a fillet of tilapia in order to get a healthy, balanced dinner. The same applies for healthy grains like quinoa, freekah, and wild rice; I cook enough for three or four days at a time.

To be clear, I’m still eating a ton of food every day. In the past two months, however, the bulk of my diet is made up of vegetables and proteins like organic chicken, free range eggs, wild salmon and tilapia, Greek yogurt, and legumes (I’m obsessed with black beans, chickpeas, and lentils). I stopped putting sugar in my coffee, and switched from cream to almond milk. I don’t eat much bread or pasta unless I’m out – I still enjoy going out for dinner and eating whatever I crave – but at home I get my carbohydrates from quinoa, brown rice, freekah, and sweet potatoes. I now consume nearly zero trans fats found in foods like margarine, but get healthy fats from olive oil and avocados. The only dairy I consume at home is Greek yogurt, which is also one of the only “unclean” foods I eat (meaning it has some added sugar). I also completely stopped drinking alcohol at home.

That may sound extreme, but the benefits I’ve experienced are out of this world, and they motivate me to keep eating this way. I am honestly shocked at good I feel. Plus, I love trying new recipes; that combined with the batch cooking means I always have super healthy snacks within reach.

Weirdly, the resource I’ve found most helpful when it comes to finding interesting recipes is Goodful on Facebook (it’s a subsection of Buzzfeed, but their recipe videos are really easy to follow). Once I realized I could create a seemingly endless number of delicious meals with different combinations of roasted vegetables, healthy grains, and proteins, it became so much easier to eat well.

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I recently posted an article called On Huge Lifestyle Changes, or My “Holy Hell, I’m Actually Doing This” Journey to Being Healthy because a) I love a long title and b) I wanted to document what I’ve been up to behind the scenes for the past few months. If you haven’t yet read that post, in summary: holy hell, I’m actually doing this… I’m actively trying to become a much healthier person, both in body and in mind.

As I’ve often joked about on this blog, I am an absolute hedonist. I have little (AKA not a shred of) willpower, and I can always find an excuse to eat something deep-fried or dipped in chocolate, lie on the couch instead of exercising, have that extra drink (or two), and so on. I swear my arm has never been twisted in my life. Pizza at 1am? Sure! A round of tequila shots? Already ordered them at the bar! Watching an entire series in one day, only getting up for bathroom breaks? Every weekend, my friend.

And while I believe that attitude served me somewhat well while travelling – I will always say yes to trying a new restaurant or heading to a local bar – it has caught up to me now that I’m spending more time in one place.

I didn’t like that I was out of breath after one minute of jogging. I didn’t like that I had zero muscle definition, or that my favourite clothing didn’t fit anymore. I didn’t like waking up every morning feeling tired, stiff, and cranky. I didn’t like constantly feeling unhappy for no goddamn reason. And no matter how hard I tried, I realized I was totally out of excuses; moving home to Canada meant that I had a lot more time and lot more money, so if I wasn’t going to do it now… when would I do it? I’m a relatively young, able-bodied person with time on her hands. Enough was enough.

Now, exactly 71 days into this “get healthy” journey, everything has changed: my body, yes, but even more importantly, my mindset.

In this particular blog post, I wanted to talk about the effect daily exercise and activity has had on me, and what I’ve been doing to stay motivated. Coming up next I’ll be talking about how I changed my eating habits, how I tackled my mental health, and what the results of all of this hard work has been.

Because, yes, it’s been very hard work. Changing nearly every single aspect of my lifestyle is something I’m working on for hours every day. One of the biggest changes I’ve made is the amount of physical activity I do every day, and how my body now craves it.

The thesis of this post? JUST START MOVING.

Introducing Exercise Into My Life

You guys, I cracked the code. Want to feel really healthy, better than you have in years? I know the secret. Are you ready? READY?

Still ready??

Exercise often and eat healthy food.

Yep. That’s it in a nutshell. How utterly boring, right? Boring but oh so very true.

I’m a researcher. I love googling things and reading as much as I can about a subject I’m interested in, and after reading countless articles on health and fitness, exercising often and eating healthy is the synopsis of every single article. It can get complicated and confusing and full of inaccuracies – “don’t do this exercise!” “you must follow this diet!” – but regular physical activity and eating well make up the basic mainframe of advice from every (legitimate) doctor, nutritionist, physical trainer, and health professional.

It sounds easy, of course, but if it were easy, we wouldn’t have such health problems related to inactivity as we do in much of North America and Europe.

What I quickly learned is that there are a gazillion and one apparent “experts” who will tell you to try this exercise, buy this course, sign up for this program, etc. Since I’ve been googling things like “what the hell is a goblet squat” and “why does my Fitbit count steps when I brush my teeth”, my phone knows I’m trying to be healthier. Because of that, I’m being bombarded with health and fitness ads on every platform I use, be it a search engine or social media.

And if you thought that travel “influencers” were bad, wait till you get a load of fitness and health “influencers”. As always, here’s where I say that some people are doing a lot of good, some people are actually legitimate, some people will truly motivate and inspire you, blah blah blah. But most of the time, it’s just someone with a really nice butt and hundreds of thousands of followers trying to tell me how to work out (and buy that detox tea). Which… that’s great for them, but I’d rather get my advice from a trained professional.

We all know about all the fad diets and fad workouts, how they’re all bullshit, and yet we often fall for them anyway. One of the biggest things I vowed regarding my health was to ignore all of them.

Exercise often and eat healthy. That’s my mantra. It’s totally fine to look to others for motivation and for technique – I regularly google exercise techniques and always search for a licensed personal trainer rather than trust Instagram’s algorithm to hopefully give me somebody legitimate – but I avoid most fitness “influencers” like the plague, especially when they seem to only promote one body type: young and extremely thin.

But how to start moving, when you haven’t really moved before?

I started small back in December, before I even knew I was going to dive headfirst into this in January. I began by upping my walks with Dottie to a solid 30 minutes, twice a day. No 20 minute walks because I felt lazy or cold. At the very least, I owed this to Dottie. She’s a healthy, active dog and at only two and a half years old, she has tons of energy to burn. That was my only goal at first: I had to walk for one hour a day. Please keep in mind that I work from home and I live alone, so this hour of walking was crucial; it’s not like I was walking around an office or running around with kids.

I started exercising back on January 5th. I swallowed my pride and went to a local gym, because you know what they say: getting there is half the battle. And fuck yeah, I was scared to walk into that gym for the first time, especially as it was my first co-ed gym. I simply picked up the phone and made an appointment for a tour that very same day. I couldn’t back out once my name was on someone’s calendar. Thankfully I had a really kind, encouraging person show me around the gym, and once I saw that yes, there are indeed people of all ages and capabilities working out, I felt better.

I started easy, using machines I was already comfortable with like the elliptical and a few of the weight machines that seemed simple enough. Sometimes I even just walked on the treadmill with a good podcast, because at least I was moving.

But doing all that cardio also gave me a great vantage point, as I was actually being a detective. As non-creepily as I could be (cue me making googly-eyes in the most creepy way possible)… I watched people. Yep. That sounds fucking weird. But for the first week of going to the gym, I didn’t step foot in the weights section: I was too intimidated. I didn’t want to go to a machine or a rack of free weights and look like I didn’t know what I was doing, even though I didn’t know what I was doing, and that’s OK. My gym is awesome and the staff are amazing, so I could have asked any of them, but I chose to be a big weirdo lurker and watch people instead.

And then I just got the fucking courage to try it. And wouldn’t you know… it wasn’t so bad at all.

Part of the reason I had been hesitant to work out before was because I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to look stupid or inexperienced. Being at a co-ed gym for the first time exacerbated that for me, as I had never worked out alongside men before.

But I realized one very magical thing: nobody fucking cares. Everyone is in their own world (except perhaps for a few creeps like me who are just getting used to things and checking out the situation, but they quickly move on, too). I realized something else: everyone is super nice and friendly. Every single conversation I’ve had at the gym has been fun, and I’ve even asked for help from a few people (how to use a machine, for example).

Once I got over those fears, I felt like the sky was the limit. It’s easier said than done, I know, but trust me: nobody will think you’re stupid. All I see when I go to the gym is a bunch of people trying to be healthy. My fears that I’d be judged were just that: fears. They weren’t reality.

And just in case I needed to drive that point home: in the past two weeks, three different people have asked me about an exercise I was doing and asked if I could show them how to do it. ME! The person who didn’t know what the fuck she was doing two months ago! It seriously just took me getting over myself and trying it for people to now think I know what I’m doing. I have also made gym friends. Gym friends! Like, gym friends that are morphing into real-life friends because we’re going for drinks!

Another things that has helped is that I’m always researching a ton of exercises I can do, and how to properly execute them both at the gym and at home. Although I absolutely love the gym – I don’t mind paying $60 a month if it means I have access to all of that equipment and space – there are also a lot of things I do at home that help me stay active.

I’d like to state here and now that absolutely nothing in this post is sponsored, so I’m linking to stuff that I found on my own and actually really love. Please note, however, that I have a few affiliate links in this post.

Without a doubt, the most useful website I’ve found for exercises is Women’s Health Mag (though the exercises are for anyone, regardless of gender). Why I love them is because they have pages dedicated to one particular type of exercise or body part – kettlebell exercises, for example, or exercises specifically for your shoulders or abs – and they include gifs of said exercises including detailed instructions and benefits. You can seriously search any body part or exercise and they’ll have tons of articles dedicated to it. The pages I use most often for reference are:

The 20 Best Exercises for Sculpted Arms

The 15 Best Butt Exercises for Super-Toned Glute Muscles

The 14 Best Kettlebell Exercises for Women

23 Best Medicine Ball Exercises

20 Resistance Band Exercises to Strengthen Your Entire Body (from Self)

Secondly, I use an app called Workout for Women (the icon is hot pink with a white W), though again, these exercises are for anyone. It’s great for short but effective workouts, and they include links to videos on technique. It’s really fast-paced, with only 10-second breaks between exercises, but it really helped in that first month in terms of teaching me effective exercises I can do anywhere, something I’ll need when I travel. And really, I couldn’t find an excuse not to work out for seven minutes. I mean, c’mon. I do their 20-minute advanced legs and butt program regularly and it kicks my ass (pun intended).

Through these articles and this app, I now have a great idea of what I enjoy doing and proper form. That means I can put together my own workouts and constantly keep things interesting; I’m always learning new things..

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FYI, none of these photos are mine. I had no idea what kind of photos to use in this post so I just went with arty stock images of fruit and vegetables, because why not

Oh hello. How are you? It’s been a while… nearly two months, it appears, as I haven’t posted anything here since January 3rd. NOT the auspicious start I wanted for this year in blogging, but, as I’ve written about time and time (and time) again, I’m kind of the world’s worst blogger. You know how I try to write those blogging advice articles once in a while? Yeah. I should listen to my own advice sometimes.

I haven’t been posting here, that’s true. Social media has also taken a hit in 2019, as I’ve barely posted on Instagram, Facebook, or… wait, those are the only two I use anymore.

The truth is, I didn’t mean to be so quiet. As you may know, despite the fact that I straight up abandon this blog now and again, I fucking love it. It’s part of my identity, and always will be. It’s kind of like that childhood best friend that you might go a few months without talking to, but when you meet up, it’s like nothing’s changed. After 16 years of blogging, I’m not going anywhere, even if I take breaks here and there.

And the other truth is, just because I haven’t been posting here doesn’t mean I’m not writing. In fact, I’m writing tons. I’ve written dozens of blog post drafts, started putting the pieces together of a new manuscript (my old manuscript, for those wondering, is still happily collecting dust in my drawer, right beside my collection of Muji multicoloured pens and receipts from 2016), and established a few regular freelance clients.

The REAL truth is (this is getting monotonous) is that, since the beginning of January, I’ve been working toward a huge, life-changing goal. I’ve been working really, really hard, and the best part is, I’ve been succeeding.

It started as it always does, every January, when I decided to analyze my lifestyle, especially my eating and exercise habits. In 2017, I wrote a series called My Month Without Alcohol (and Men) and in 2018, I wrote My Month Without Bread, Booze, or Boys. They remain some of my favourite posts on this blog, and I had every intention of writing a similar series this January.

But by January 5th, two days after I joined a brand new gym, I had a thought that changed everything.

“I don’t want to be unhealthy anymore,” I thought to myself as I laid in bed that cold Saturday morning. It sounds like the simplest, most obvious thought to have, but this time it hit me in my core. I didn’t want to just be healthy in January. I wanted to be healthy all year round, all the time.

I’ve never thought of myself as unhealthy, but I’ve never thought of myself as healthy, either. I always thought I floated somewhere in the middle, if that makes sense.

But as I laid there, I started being honest with myself. I held nothing back. The truth – there’s that word again – was that I didn’t feel very good a lot of the time, both mentally and physically. I knew I was constantly coming up with excuses for why I didn’t eat well, why I didn’t exercise, and why I allowed my mental health to suffer when I knew there were things I could be doing to help.

Mentally, I spent most of 2017 in a very dark place, and revisited that place in late 2018. I cried often, though I wasn’t always sure why. I often felt extremely lazy, bored, and complacent. I’d lie around watching TV and then lament that I didn’t have enough time to work, see friends, AND go to the gym.

Physically, I easily felt winded, and sometimes had very little energy to even walk my dog Dottie for half an hour twice a day. I almost never exercised, never broke a sweat. On days I didn’t walk Dottie – when she was at day care, for example – I barely broke 1,000 steps. I’d pat myself on the back for a low to moderate twenty minutes on the elliptical once every two weeks at a gym I hated. I was in near-constant back pain, suffering from regular bouts of sciatica. I wasn’t sleeping well.

In terms of food, I added up my estimated daily calories and realized I was easily consuming 3,500 or more calories per day, a lot of them coming from alcohol, sugar, trans fats found in a lot of packaged food, and refined carbs such as white bread and pasta. I wasn’t drinking enough water, nor was I getting enough vitamins and minerals from food. The scale showed me that I weighed the most I ever have, and some of my favourite clothing no longer fit. My skin was breaking out regardless of my menstrual cycle.

I’m telling you, when I was completely honest with myself, it hit me hard. I had, for so many years, thought, “Oh, I’ll get in shape someday,” or “Oh, I could eat healthy if I tried/if I wasn’t travelling all the time/if I had more time/if I had more money.” But I knew I was out of excuses, I knew that, being home in Winnipeg, time and money were no longer issues. That’s part of the reason I moved home: so that I could have more free time and save more money, both have which have happened.

Now nearly 35 years old, I didn’t want to approach my forties and do damage to my body that might not be as easy to fix later on. I’ve always said that I feel so incredibly grateful for the body that I have, and I stand by it no matter what; the fact that I am able-bodied, am not on any medications, and have been healthy enough to travel through nearly 100 countries means I’m one of the most privileged people on the planet.

Thankfully, I’ve always been pretty happy with my body image. I like how I look, despite the hundreds of thousands of ads and images in the media that have bombarded me for the past three decades. I’m very lucky in that regard, and I wish I could explain how or why I feel that way, because it breaks my heart that so many people suffer from low self-esteem regarding their looks. I definitely have days where I feel unattractive, but for the most part, I’ve always felt confident and beautiful, even as I was teased in high school or called fat by ex-boyfriends (or Internet trolls… what’s up? It’s been a minute). Bottom line, this lifestyle change is much more internal than external.

Because I knew I could do better. I knew I was unhealthy, even if I tried to tell myself I wasn’t. I knew I didn’t want to just write a series for a month that, once the 31st rolled around, meant I was no longer held accountable to healthy living. And I thought back to those previous Januarys, when I’d taken much better care of myself, and remembered how good I felt.

So I did something about it.

I’ve tried this before; I even wrote a post about it, only to break about three days in. But today, two months into this drastic lifestyle change, I truly feel as though I’ve made enough of a change in both my mindset and my fitness that I can’t see ever reverting back to that lifestyle. They say it takes 66 days to form a new habit (21 days is apparently a myth, thank you Google), so I’m right around that mark. Although I’m aware that I’m riding the new high of all this extra serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, I know that I couldn’t let myself go back to such a sedentary life. I don’t want to write a fun series about one month trying it. I want this to be forever. Because… you guessed it…

I feel fucking fantastic. I feel better than I have in a very, very long time. I dare say I feel the best I ever have.

I wanted to write about this change because I wrote about it on a (rare) recent Instagram photo, and a few people commented that they’d like to read about my journey. I also wanted to dip my toe back into blogging and, seeing as this has been a huge part of the last two months for me, it seemed natural to write about it.

Because I am the absolute queen of brevity (*cough*) I wrote everything out and it quickly added up to nearly 10,000 words (hint: productivity and creativity may be two things I’ve seen skyrocket since changing my lifestyle). I’m assuming most people don’t feel like reading an entire novella on someone else’s lifestyle changes in one go, so I’ve broken those 10,000 words into five blog posts that will be posted within the next week, this being the first. Instead of the weekly blog posts I wrote in previous years in a series like My Month Without, I’m posting them all in a row. It just made more sense to me that way.

Coming up, you can read about how I’ve approached fitness (and stay motivated, including my favourite online resources), how I’ve approached food (including a few tips that have worked to stay motivated to eat healthily), how I’ve approached mental health (AKA why the fuck I’m not online anymore), and finally, the results I’ve seen and more importantly, the results I’ve felt, both in body and mind.

Before I get started, however, I want to point out a couple of things. Firstly, I am NOT in any way licensed or certified in nutrition, fitness, mental health, etc. This is simply what I have done to feel better and to feel healthier. I also want to point out that I have never had an unhealthy relationship with either food or exercise. While I’m currently keeping track of calories and exercise, I’m also aware that these can be triggers for some people.

Secondly, I need to point out my place of absolute privilege in embarking on this journey. Part of the reason I started in January was because I realized that if I don’t do this now, I might never do it.

For the record, I have no dependents, I have savings in the bank, I work as a freelancer/blogger (meaning I make my own hours), I am able-bodied, and I have no medical issues or serious injuries. What I’m doing right now requires both time and money, so I could never in good faith say, “Anyone can do this!” Because no, not everyone can do what I’m doing. I want to be sensitive to those who have medical issues, who have children and/or other dependents, who have a disability, or who are not financially able to do the same at this moment. Or, you know, people who have 9-5 jobs and all the other shit life throws at us. I am fully aware that my schedule and career have allowed me to dedicate so much time to..

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Photo by Oliver Niblett on Unsplash

I think anyone who has ever followed this blog in any capacity can agree with me when I say: I kinda suck at blogging. Some months I post a lot, others I barely post at all, and forget about social media… that’s all over the place, too. I promise a lot of posts – I’ll get to them, I swear! – and start a lot of series that I sometimes abandon.

Wait, are you still reading? I’m not selling myself very well, I’m aware.

ANYWAY… one thing I consistently write every single year is my list of dream trips, because it involves all my favourite things: making lists, talking about travel, and pretending I’ll magically have enough money and time to actually accomplish the majority of the trips.

I’m not really one for making resolutions – I’ve been saying I’ll write more, read more, exercise more, and eat healthier since the 90s – but I do enjoy writing down the places I’d love to see and then looking back at the end of the year and seeing if I followed through any of them.

Photo by Margo Brodowicz on Unsplash

Last year’s list, for example, was over-the-top to the max. I would have needed a private plane and an extra few months in 2018 just to fit it all in, but it’s always fun to dream. Of the trips I mentioned, I accomplished (almost) four of them: I went to Namibia, I travelled around Western Canada, I did a mini road trip in the states (between Arizona and Nevada) and a longer road trip around Mississippi, and I visited Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada in the Caribbean (although I snorkelled, not scuba dived). I also managed to travel quite extensively around my home province of Manitoba, visit London for a few weeks, visit Phoenix twice, and get to Texas for the very first time.

This year I’m going to keep it a bit simpler, or perhaps a little bit more manageable, because that’s what I’m focusing on right now in my life: slowing down, calming down, and remembering to enjoy as many moments as I can. If some of those moments happen to be while I’m on the road, great. If not, I’m settling in really nicely into my home in Canada, and I’m appreciating the quiet things in life a lot more these days: spending all day reading (*cough* watching RuPaul’s Drag Race *cough*), cooking, and going for long walks with Dottie.

And that’s another thing: I now have Dottie in my life, so I can’t just drop everything and travel whenever I feel like it. I’ll have to plan ahead a lot more, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

So without further ado, here’s where I’d love to travel in 2019.

Exploring Hecla Island solo

Explore Even More of Manitoba

That’s right… I’d love to see even more of my home province in 2019. Since moving back to Winnipeg approximately a year ago, I’ve really grown to appreciate all that this prairie province has to offer; I’m rarely bored or feel restless about wanting something to do or see. Manitoba is chock-full of beautiful parks and beaches, not to mention all of the incredible festivals and events that happen throughout the year, so I want to experience it all.

This year I’ll be partaking in some of my favourite festivals again – Festival du Voyageur in February and Folk Fest in July – but I’d love to do even more. If I could finally make it to Churchill to see the polar bears… even better!

Photo by Wellington Rodrigues on Unsplash

Road Trip Around Utah

I’ve had an obsession with taking a road trip around Utah ever since I saw Thelma and Louise, which was partially filmed around Moab, Utah. I would love to see Monument Valley; it might be an Instagram staple, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t see it for myself. There’s just something about those rocky landscapes that make me want to wear a pair of dusty cowboy boots and jump in a convertible. I could do without the ending of Thelma and Louise… and pretty much everything else that happens in that movie, but you get my drift.

Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

Visit Tennessee

Ever since my amazing trip to Mississippi last April, I’ve been dying to see more of the South. While I had a brief foray into Texas this year, the big city of Austin felt really cosmopolitan and not necessarily “Texan”, which is a dumb thing for someone who has never been to Texas to say, but that’s how I felt.

I’m a huge fan of the music of the South, especially classic country (think Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, et.) and I’d love to visit the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. I also love classic soul, rhythm and blues, and gospel – Sam Cooke is my favourite singer of all time – so I’d love to check out that scene in Tennessee; the famous Stax Records, a record company that shaped the sound of Southern Soul, was founded in Memphis, and pretty much every artist that signed to or recorded at Stax in the 1960s is on heavy rotation on my record player (Otis Redding, William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, etc). Last year I saw where Elvis was born (Tupelo, Mississippi), so I’d love to visit Graceland, too.

After visiting some of the stops on the Civil Rights Trail in Mississippi, most notably the incredibly moving Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, I would like to do the same in Tennessee, specifically the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis (which is built around the former Lorraine Motel, the motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated).

Tour South Africa, eSwatini, and Mozambique

If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you know that I went to South Africa to celebrate my 30th birthday (including Botswana and Zambia). You may also recall that I had a really bad time in Cape Town, although it was totally my own fault – I drank too much, got caught up with a weird crowd of backpackers, and didn’t do what I wanted to do, sightseeing-wise. I have always vowed to go back to South Africa, because it’s a favourite country of many people I know.

I’ve been lucky enough to have seen 10 of the 54 countries in Africa, and I would love to see even more. I have wanted to go to Mozambique for years – Tofo sounds like my perfect beach paradise – and I am a huge fan of wildlife trips, especially safaris. Kruger National Park in South Africa has been a goal of mine for a long time, and I’d love to see the culture of eSwatini up close.

Luckily, my dear friend Helen of Rock My Adventures is hosting this exact trip in October and November! I went on her tour to Namibia in August 2018 and it was one of the best trips of my life. If I can swing this one, I will definitely be joining her again in 2019.

Photo by Geng Sittipong Sirimaskasem on Unsplash

Travel Around the Balkans

You didn’t think I’d forget, did you?? I have put this exact travel dream on every single list I’ve made for the past four years, and yet it somehow keeps eluding me. I had the entire plan in 2018 – I was going to fly back to London, spend a few weeks there, and then travel solo around Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania for a month or so. But then, as I wrote in a post last March… I just couldn’t do it. Anxiety and a deep desire to slow down won, and I’m so glad that they did.

Something I’d like to address more on the blog in the new year is mental health, because I have sometimes lied or downplayed how I’m really feeling both in person and online. I try to keep it real as often as I can, but when I start falling into those bouts of depression, I can’t write about anything, let alone how I’m feeling. There’s also a bit of ego involved; of course I don’t want everyone (i.e. ex-boyfriends) knowing when I feel like shit, when I feel lonely, when I’m worried about finances, when I’m bummed about a recent romance. I remember getting an email from someone when I lived in London that said, “I wish I had your life,” and there I was, lying in bed at 2pm, unable to think of one reason to get up.

2017 was a pretty awful year for me, travelling excepted. I felt like I was in this really dark, lonely place, and I couldn’t claw my way out. Thankfully, 2018 was much better – although I really struggled for a few weeks in November – and I realized it was better because I was listening to what I truly needed. When I went back to London last February I thought I’d be fully healed from the year before, and I was totally wrong. Being in London again brought back all of the emotions I hadn’t fully worked..

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Please note: this post is a paid collaboration with Trover, whom I worked with last year and is a trusted partner. I also received a discount on my tour to Namibia as Helen (founder of Rock My Adventure) is a dear friend. There are also a few affiliate links in this post.

Namibia is a country that has been on my must-see list of travel destinations for years. I had long heard of its allure; its jaw-dropping scenery was meant to be the stuff of dreams. After an unbelievable month there this past summer, I am happy to report that it not only met my expectations… it absolutely exceeded them. Namibia is one of the most photogenic countries I’ve ever been to.

Namibia, found on the southwest coast of Africa, has it all: it’s beautiful, of course, but also filled with a seemingly endless list of things to do and see. It’s perfect for those looking for adventure while also being a safe, clean, and friendly country. And yes… it is a photographer’s dream.

All photos of me in this post taken by Helen of Helen in Wonderlust/Rock My Adventure

I had the privilege of travelling on one of Helen’s Rock My Adventure tours around Africa, and it really was the perfect tour for me; it was a small group, it involved a lot of time outdoors, and it allowed us the chance to see some of Namibia’s most beautiful spots for photography. We travelled thousands of kilometres overland around the country, from Windhoek to Fish River Canyon to Soussevlei to Swakopmund to Etosha (and then some). I took some of the best photographs I’ve ever taken in my life in Namibia, hands down, and I’m not by any definition a professional photographer. It’s that easy to take a stunning shot in Namibia. In many places around the country, all you have to do is point your camera and you’ll find something beautiful.

I upgraded to a mirrorless camera last year and I’ve been really happy with the results; I would definitely make sure you have a fairly good camera to take with you to Namibia, as you’ll be using it a lot. While some people on our trip only had smartphones for their photography, I was glad to have the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II with me! I did struggle with the lighting a bit in Namibia; being such a dry country, there was often a lot of dust in the air, not to mention the harsh overhead sun. This often made for very hazy skies, or, on the flip side, extreme shadows. I would definitely recommend investing in a lens and camera cleaning kit for Namibia, no matter what you’re bringing, as you’ll be encountering a lot of sand along the way.

So if you’re looking for the most beautiful spots in Namibia for photography – the most Instagrammable places in Namibia, let’s say – I’ve got you covered. You can also search Trover for the best spots in Namibia, as people are uploading new photos to the platform every day! There are obviously a lot more locations that could have made the list, but here are some of my personal highlights.

The Most Beautiful Places in Namibia for Photography Deadvlei

Let’s start with an obvious one, shall we? If you’ve seen any photos of Namibia, you’ve probably seen a photo of Deadvlei. It’s definitely an iconic backdrop: crisp blue skies, vibrant sand dunes (some of the tallest in the world), and the dry, cracked white clay ground with the skeletal remains of trees that died nearly 700 years ago, the area so arid that they were never able to decompose.

This is what I had been anticipating for months planning my trip to Namibia, and it was totally worth it. Helen and I managed to take about a thousand photos over the span of three hours – we were having far too much fun modelling for one another – and I am still in awe that I got to see such a magical place.

Quick tips for photographing Deadvlei:

-Time your visit. Shooting in the direct overhead sun can not only be harsh for photography, but, as you are in the middle of a desert, can have serious health effects such as heatstroke and dehydration. Deadvlei is busiest in the morning before the sun is directly overhead, but if you’re in Namibia in low season, you’ll have fewer visitors.

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I met Johan* on one of my last nights in Paris. Tanned and muscular, I spotted him across a half-empty bar, sitting with a couple of his mates. My friend and I conveniently found empty seats next to them, and soon we were all chatting, a group of tourists in this foreign land. Johan was not only handsome, he was funny in a charmingly blunt way, throwing in a few Swedish words here and there to mess me up or to see my reaction. At the end of the evening, he asked me for my number.

After a series of very flirtatious texts over the next two days, we finally arranged to meet for dinner. I was returning to London the next morning, but he insisted on meeting up before I left. We spent some of my final hours in Paris eating escargot and steak tartar in a little bistro in the Latin Quarter, drinking far too much cheap wine out of glass jugs. Because it was a warm evening, we decided to go for a walk along the Seine; we walked hand in hand all the way to the Eiffel Tower, watched it glitter in the black sky. I swear to God that when we first kissed, I heard accordion music, as if a Parisian soundtrack was cued up and ready to play at any romantic occurrence.

“I’d like to come see you in London,” Johan nuzzled his face into my neck, his stubble brushing against my cheek.

“Really?” I laughed as coyly as I could. “Maybe. That might be nice.”

And inside, I was thinking: holy shit, can you imagine if I landed this hot Swedish dude as my boyfriend and we met in FUCKING PARIS?! And our first kiss was beside the EIFFEL TOWER, like something out of a made-for-TV movie?! DON’T SCREW THIS UP, BRENNA. I mean… c’mon. I was mentally high-fiving myself while simultaneously planning my new summer home in Sweden.

The next day I was beaming from ear to ear as Johan and I texted the entire time I was on the Eurostar back to London. And by the time the train had pulled into St. Pancras, Johan had booked a flight from Gothenburg to London in two weeks time. I was literally buzzing.

The next two weeks dragged; I simply couldn’t wait to see “the hot Swede”, as my friends and I had dubbed him. I bragged about him at the pub, I told all the juicy details to my coworkers, and I allowed myself to daydream about all of the fun things we’d do in London. Johan and I continued to text every day, and I got a rush of adrenaline every time I saw a message from him come through.

Finally, the day arrived. I was a bundle of nerves as I took the train to Heathrow Airport, constantly checking my phone and applying layer after layer of powder (this is why I never give myself too much time to get ready for a date; I’ll just nervously apply layers upon layers of makeup until my eyelashes are glued together and I have so much foundation on that I need a chisel to remove it). As crowds began to emerge from the baggage claim doors, my heart beat faster and faster still.

And then: I saw him. I was almost worried that I wouldn’t recognise him; we had only met a few times, after all, and had only exchanged texts since then. He walked toward me somewhat slowly; we had an awkward hug, but at least my nerves subsided a little bit.

“It’s good to see you,” we smiled at each other, still unsure what to do and say. We chatted about his flight, and about the train to London, all small talk to fill the air between us as we walked toward the Heathrow Express.

I can’t tell you the exact moment I realised I had made a huge mistake. Was it his orange track jacket and intentionally ripped jeans? No, I’m not that superficial, am I? (Don’t answer that) Was it the way he barged onto the train before me and a woman with a pram? Hmm, getting warmer. Was it when he told me he DIDN’T LIKE CHEESE OR… wait for it… DOGS?! Um, yes, we’re getting hotter still. Or perhaps it was this:

When I told him what I had told my friends – that I met a handsome stranger in Paris, and he had swept me off my feet – they all thought it was incredibly romantic that we were meeting for our second date in London. Some thought it was a bit crazy, but everyone said something cute or funny or encouraging.

“What did your friends say?” I asked him, smiling, obviously hoping for a similar answer.

“They said, ‘Good job, you’re going to get pussy’,” he responded, unflinching. I thought I had misheard him. Surely nobody in their right mind would admit that to someone they barely knew, even if it was true… English as a second language be damned. Right?!

Awkward as all hell, I laughed. “Um… really? That’s what they said? Were they joking??”

And in my mind I thought, Please be joking, please be joking, this might be an OK joke if he’s like, “No, of course they wouldn’t say that, we’re not Neanderthals,” or, “Gotcha! No, I’m not an asshole,” or “Ew, gross, no, who says pussy?” oh sweet Jesus, please be joking.

“No, they weren’t joking,” he reiterated, looking at me with nary a wisp of sarcasm.

So I take it back. Remember when I said I couldn’t tell you the exact moment I had made a huge mistake? I LIED. IT WAS RIGHT THEN – less than half an hour after greeting him. It was going to be a long 48 hours, I thought, as I stared straight ahead, my holiday goggles firmly ripped off.

***

I wish I could tell you that Johan was an anomaly – that these kinds of occurrences are few and far between. But I don’t hide the fact that I’ve enjoyed having travel romances over the past 12 years of solo travel; I often find it much easier to meet men when I’m travelling than it is when I’m settled at home. And while a lot of the travel romances I have stay exactly that – travel romances – a few have followed me home. But you know what they all have in common? Those damn holiday goggles.

Bear with me. You know the phrase beer goggles? Apparently, with each beer you drink, the person in front of you becomes more and more attractive. I’ll be the first to admit that this has happened to me once or twice (*cough* a dozen times *cough*) – emboldened by a few drinks, I’ll flirt with someone, agree to go out with someone, or even make out with someone I may not have been attracted to without the help of alcohol. Inevitably, the next morning, reviewing the conversation in my head, I’ll wonder what on earth I was thinking.

In those 12 years of travelling to nearly 100 countries, I’ve obviously met quite a few people I probably would have never met had I stayed in Winnipeg my entire life. While I feel incredibly grateful for all of my travel experiences, at the top of the list of my reasons for gratitude are the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made. I have also met a handful (I can fit a lot in my hand, OK?) of people who have become romantic partners, some even turning into serious or semi-serious partners.

Through all those backpacking adventures, there were dozens of flirtations and brief encounters (though most of them have been firmly PG-13… hostels are great for meeting people but not for actually having any alone time). I’ve kissed a Serbian in Myanmar, a Welshman in Poland, a Kiwi in Colombia, a Dane in Tanzania, an Argentinian in Norway, and a Norwegian in Argentina. I’ve dated a good chunk of representatives of the Commonwealth. Although I’ve dated Canadians, I’ve actually never had a Canadian boyfriend.

There was the American I met in Denmark; we made long distance work for nearly eight months. He was the first guy I was ever crazy head-over-heels for, and we would write these insanely long emails to each other every day. I wrote this story about him, and the first half of this post, too.

There was the Aussie I met in Vietnam; we only knew each other for two days, and then, over daily Facebook chats, we arranged to meet up again in Sri Lanka. He later moved to Japan to be with me. We lasted over a year – I wrote this story about him, and it remains one of my favourite posts on this blog.

There was the other American I met in Thailand; although he was interested in my friend at first, a month later I found myself sitting beside him on a bus to Cambodia, and from then on we were inseparable. He even came to my dad’s wedding. We were together for eight months or so, and I wrote this story about him.

But there were lots of misses, too.

There was the Turkish man I met on Koh Lanta, Thailand, the first travel romance I had on my grand backpacking adventure of Southeast Asia. He wooed me for a full week, and then told me he had a fiancé back home. Four years later, back on Koh Lanta, I met an Englishman. He wooed me, too, even keeping up the charade for a couple of months when we were both back in the UK. After coming to visit me in London, he too confessed to having someone else in his life. Needless to say, I’m avoiding all travel romances on Koh Lanta from here on out.

In Cape Town, I made out with a hot cricket player that is apparently super famous in South Africa. All night people were coming up to us (let’s be honest, they were coming up to him) and buying us (him) drinks. I googled him the next day and found out he’s MARRIED. Married… WITH CHILDREN. I felt awful after that one, even though I couldn’t have known the night before.

A couple of years ago, there was an Italian. You didn’t think I kept going back to Italy just for the pasta, did you? OK, fair enough, the pasta actually is that good. He ended up ghosting me after months of daily conversations and international rendezvous. I was over the relationship at that point anyway, but I still expected a civilised goodbye.

And then, of course, there was Johan and his vomit-inducing remarks.

And while some of those travel romances – the American, the Aussie, the other American – turned into longterm things, the majority of the people I’ve met while travelling turn into nothing but a fun memory (or a good blog post, hah).

Let’s face it: most travel romances are doomed to fail. When you travel, your senses are heightened; you’re open to new things, eager to experience it all, and everything and everyone seems exciting. Everything sparkles, everything feels shiny and new. You’re not just picking up girls or guys at your local bar, you’re chatting to strangers with accents on beaches and mountaintops and in cities you’re not quite sure you’re pronouncing properly. It all feels so terribly intoxicating, an unfamiliar rush of emotions and hormones. Like, as much as I’d love to say that a Canadian accent does it for me every time, the fact is, if you take an OK-looking guy with a dull personality but give him a Scottish accent, I’ll probably propose marriage within the first five minutes.

In my experience, all of these intensified emotions mean you’re not necessarily analysing your new potential partner with the same eyes. Would I still have been attracted to all of these men if we met at the grocery store down the road? I doubt it. With my holiday goggles removed, I understand that, for example, I was attracted to the Italian because he spoke Italian and lived in Italy. It sounds so horribly trite, but it’s true; we had almost nothing to talk about, and I found his opinions quite boorish and antiquated. Once the charm of the accent wore off, I was left feeling bored and angry with him. That dull Scottish guy I mentioned above? Maybe I’d propose immediately, but I’d probably ask for a divorce a week later once the pheromones wore off.

Combine those feelings of intense lust and longing with the time limit of a looming plane ticket home? Turns me into putty, every single time.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that holiday romances NEVER last, nor am I discouraging anyone from having them. I just know from *ahem* a bit of experience that there are plenty of other factors at play, ones that add up to an equation that means not all travel romances are destined for the long haul. While long distance relationships are certainly difficult – I’ve been in four – they are also doable if both parties are equally invested. I also have to admit that some of the people I met travelling made for amazing holiday flings, but once we met up at home – without the palm trees and the suntans and the laid-back holiday attitudes – I felt that the magic was missing, and I’m sure they felt the same way. (I wrote a story all about that phenomenon that you can read here.)

But hey – if a travel fling is all that..

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Please note: the following is not a paid review, although I was gifted the backpack. This post also includes affiliate links.

For someone that runs a site called This Battered Suitcase, there are two things you should know about me:

  1. I never, ever need to hear someone ask me, “So is your suitcase really battered?” ever again
  2. I actually do not have one suitcase or backpack review on this entire site

The first point is out of my hands, unfortunately, but as for the second point… it’s something that I’m asked often. “What kind of luggage do you recommend?” And while I often choose to travel with a suitcase these days, there is nothing like having a strong, reliable, useful backpack in your travelling arsenal.

When Banana Backpacks, run by sister and brother duo, Anika and Michael Funk, got in touch about doing a backpack review, my knee-jerk reaction was to say no. Not only do I not have any luggage reviews, I very rarely collaborate with any products or brands; my golden rule is that I would only review something if I would actually pay for it myself.

That being said, I took at look at their Khmer Explorer Travel Set, which is a 60L backpack with multiple packing cubes to help with organisation. For years I’ve been saying I needed a new backpack; my old one, the one that saw me through multiple years of backpacking, was getting a bit, um, battered, and at 80L, felt too big for shorter trips.

The Banana Backpack intrigued me, as not only is it the perfect size, totally functional, and weather resistant, it also has a great initiative behind it: by partnering with Caring for Cambodia, each Khmer Explorer Travel Set sold provides two meals a day to a schoolchild in Cambodia. This is huge; parents are encouraged to send their children to school, knowing they will not only receive education, but that they will be fed healthy meals. In a country that experiences extreme poverty, this is just one way to make a small (but very big) difference. Your backpack is also embroidered with the name of the child you helped.

Since receiving this backpack, I have used it on every short-haul trip I’ve taken; it was perfect for camping for a week in Ontario, when I had to bring clothing for warm days and cool nights and wanted to organise everything accordingly. With smaller pockets in both the hip strap and a secret pocket inside, I also loved that I could zip up my smaller items knowing they’d stay safe. Although I didn’t feel the need to lock the bag on these trips, the lockable zippers are a huge bonus (my old backpack has a clip/drawstring system, so I could never properly lock it).

I also LOVED the interior mesh pockets, as I knew exactly where everything was; I put all of my socks and underwear in those, for example, and they were so easy to find. Not only that, as someone with back problems, the fully adjustable suspension system took most of the weight off my back.

Overall, I was really happy with my Banana Backpack‘s ability to keep everything organised, dry, and safe. Although I’m a total packrat and always pack way too much, I could see myself taking this on longer trips as well; I’m already thinking of next year’s tropical destinations, and how this backpack would be perfect for a few weeks away. When camping I was able to fit an incredible amount inside… think hiking boots, jackets, and extra sweaters.

As previously mentioned, I very rarely take reviews. When a product is this good, however, AND it gives back to a community that needs help, I knew it was the kind of thing I’d feel comfortable promoting.

I’d highly recommend the Khmer Explorer Travel Set as a durable, practical backpack for travellers of all levels and styles. I have a 10% discount code you can use when purchasing the backpack; just enter in thisbatteredsuitcase when asked for a discount code.

What do you think? Does a Banana Backpack sound like your kind of backpack?

The post Backpack Review: Banana Backpacks, the backpack that makes a difference appeared first on This Battered Suitcase.

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Can you spot me, braces and all? I kinda wish I still had that corduroy shirt

The year was 1997. White eyeliner was in. Spice Girls were on top of the world. I burst a blood vessel in my eye from sobbing during Titanic at the cinema. And while other pre-teens were possibly doing cool things like skateboarding and hanging out at the mall and prank-calling boys (oh, what an innocent time), I was most likely sitting in front of an old TV in my parents’ basement, watching Fried Green Tomatoes on VHS for the hundredth time.

I’ve talked about how much I love movies briefly on this site, most recently in this post and this post (where it is revealed how often I went to Blockbuster, and hint: it wasn’t always necessarily for the rental tapes). It doesn’t really fit into my usual “travelling/getting drunk/getting dumped” narrative that seems to permeate this blog, but I have watched an extraordinary amount of movies in my lifetime, many of them more than once. Trust me, if you are playing Heads Up, Charades, or any sort of movie trivia, you want me on your team. I even minored in Film Studies for the first year of my BA, though I switched to Music History after working for Miramax one summer and realising I never, ever wanted to work in film. I was content just to watch them.

Although I often fell behind on my movie-watching while travelling – for the love of all that is holy, I DO NOT need to see another Hangover movie played in a hostel common room – since spending more time in Canada, I’ve found myself once again getting into film. I like to watch it all: action, comedy, foreign, romance, drama.

My favourite genre of all time is probably 90s-era thrillers/suspense movies; think The Usual Suspects, Kiss the Girls, To Die For, The Pelican Brief, Fear, Primal Fear, Cape Fear, Sleepers, The Client, Seven, The Fugitive, A Time to Kill, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Double Jeopardy… man that was an amazing decade for thrillers. Also a fantastic decade for teen comedies and teen horror, I might add. The genres I watch the least of would be fantasy, horror/torture, and anime.

Even if I know before watching the movie that I won’t like it, I still often watch it just to feel on top of current movies. I’ve also made it a point to watch as many of the classics as I can – Some Like It Hot is my favourite movie of all time, though I hadn’t discovered it at 13 – and I’m often shocked by how many people refuse to watch a movie in black and white (this is one of my quasi-dealbreakers in relationships; you know, not a big enough dealbreaker to actually dump the guy, but often the rotten cherry on top of a mouldy cake).

And while I have watched literally thousands of movies in my lifetime, there are few films that have affected me as much as those I watched when I was younger. My parents were always pretty easy-going about which films I watched; they encouraged my love of film and knew I was mature enough to handle most movies (so The Usual Suspects = OK, Last Tango in Paris, maybe not so much).

Recently, I decided to embark on a film journey that would take me through viewings of all my favourite movies from when I was 13. Would I still like them? Would they stand the test of time, even 20+ years later? Would I still get all hot and bothered and suddenly feel the urge to leave the room and replenish the popcorn whenever Brad Pitt came on screen? Here’s what I discovered.

Please note a lot of fantastic dramas came out around the same time as these (The Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List, Pulp Fiction, Heat, The Usual Suspects, and so on, but I wanted to keep this list fairly light. I also didn’t really get into drama and more serious film until I was naturally a bit older). 

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes - Trailer - YouTube

Fried Green Tomatoes was my JAM. Seriously, this was my favourite movie for at least a decade of my life, if not longer. Even watching the trailer makes me tear up. I absolutely loved the strength and loyalty portrayed by these women, and the female friendships that develop in two separate eras.

My diary from age 10, in 1994

Something interesting I learned fairly early on in rewatching all of these films is that, without knowing it, a lot of my favourites as a kid were movies that passed the Bechdel test. For those who don’t know, the Bechdel test examines whether or not the work presented includes two women – two women who should have significant roles and/or at least be named in the work – talking to one another about something other than men. That’s it: two named women have a conversation about something – anything! – other than men. Easy, right? Hmm.

Studies show that up to 50% of films fail this test, including movies like The Avengers, Lord of the Rings (any of the films), Avatar, Slumdog Millionaire, 21 Jump Street, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2)… even children’s films like Ratatouille, Toy Story, and Finding Nemo don’t have any dialogue between two female characters. Like… seriously? You can’t have two female fish just chat about coral or something?!

That’s all to say that Fried Green Tomatoes very much passes the Bechdel test. And you know what else I wasn’t consciously aware of when watching it as a kid, although part of me must have known?

Ruth and Idgie aren’t just best friends. They’re in love. Watching this again as an adult… it is SO OBVIOUS. The honey? The food fight? The kiss on the cheek as they’re literally dipping their toes in the water, seeing if they should give it a go?! Reading the book a while back cemented this for me, as in the book they openly have a romance.

It pisses me off that that this message was suppressed in order to make a “family-friendly” movie (big, big air quotes with that one) but if you watch this movie as a romance developing, not just a friendship, it does make the movie that much sweeter (and sadder) to watch as an adult. I still cry like a baby at least five times throughout the film, no matter how many times I watch it. This movie also addresses race – the KKK scenes are incredibly unsettling – and I loved that there was a message of finding your family and staying loyal to them, even if you aren’t related by blood.

Is this movie still good? Yes. It’s even better if you watch it as two women falling in love.

Legends of the Fall

Legends Of The Fall - Trailer - YouTube

I was ten when this movie came out. I probably watched it that year or the next with my parents, didn’t understand what was happening to me whenever Brad Pitt as Tristan came on screen, and then religiously watched this movie ~in private~ every week for about the next three years. I mean… LOOK AT HIM.

That being said, I watched this movie again at 34 and… yes. He is still mind-bogglingly beautiful. But… how on this good green Earth did I think he was a dream man?! He’s incredibly complicated, is dealing with (understandable) inner demons, and essentially ghosts Susannah (it was happening even in the 1920s, folks). Why didn’t I like Aidan Quinn as Alfred? He’s loyal, charming, loving, dependable, successful, AND he has those baby blues.

I am going to say it here and now: Legends of the Fall set me up for a lifetime of chasing Tristans when I should have been looking at the Alfreds. Damn it!

Is this movie still good? Yes. It stands up. I still weep and still ~feel feelings~ for Tristan. Now where the fuck is my Alfred?!

First Wives Club

The First Wives Club Movie Trailer (1996) - YouTube

Kind of an odd choice for a 13-year-old girl who has, you know, never been a middle-aged woman or divorced, but I LOVED THIS MOVIE. It was so funny to me then, and I used to LOVE seeing the women get justice on their husbands (again, I’m not sure what that says about my current dating life, but let’s not dwell on it). Much like my other favourite movies from this time, this movie focuses primarily on female friendship and how important it is for women to support one another. Plus it stars Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton, so HELL YES TO THIS MOVIE.

Is this movie still good? Fuck yes. I still watch it every six months or so. The way Diane Keaton says, “Is she a gift?” (you can see it in the trailer above) still makes me laugh. 

Death Becomes Her

Death Becomes Her (1992) Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis - Official Trailer (HD) - YouTube

This trailer does not do this movie justice AT ALL. This movie was so ridiculous – and it stars THE Meryl Streep! – and yet I probably watched it at least fifty or so times when I was growing up. Much like The First Wives’ Club, I definitely did not understand the pressure placed on women to look young when I watched this the first time, but watching it again now, it’s an interesting take on the lengths people will go to be young and “beautiful”, and the devastating effects that can have. All of that aside, Meryl and Goldie are absolutely delightful, and are obviously having so much fun in these roles. There isn’t some major “ah-ha” moment or lesson to take away from this movie… it’s just really, really fun. Oh, and I still want to look like Isabella Rossellini when I grow up.

My diary at age 10. I hope I got a new bathing suit. Also… I like that I was trying to prove how cool I was with my music choices here

Also, I TOTALLY didn’t “get” that that was Bruce Willis when I was younger. I just didn’t put him in this movie and him in Die Hard together, and I don’t know why.

Is this movie still good? Yes. This is one of those movies that I could start watching at any point throughout the film and totally enjoy it. 

Now and Then

Now and Then (1995) Official Trailer 1 - Christina Ricci, Rosie O'Donnell Movie HD - YouTube

I read this really great article about Now and Then recently, one that posits that this movie is a lot darker than you remember. When I realised I wanted to watch this film… I couldn’t. The only way you can watch this movie today is if you buy the DVD. It is not available to stream anywhere, as it hasn’t been cleared for digital distribution. That makes me so sad, because this movie meant so much to me (and I’m sure to many young women out there).

But then I remembered… I DID own this DVD! Back in the early aughts, I would buy DVDs and CDs like nobody’s business. I’m snatch up 10 DVDs for $30 at big chain stores, or buy copies of my favourite movies no matter the cost. Back then – let me just get out my rocking chair here – the only way to watch movies was to catch them on TV, rent them from a video stores, or own the videocassette/DVD.

I dug through a huge box of DVDs in my basement (fortunately or unfortunately, I’m a bit of a packrat) and finally found Now and Then. I didn’t even have a DVD player hooked up to my TV, but I found that, too.

Again, this movie reiterates just how important – and just how complicated – female friendships are. What is a story of one summer is also a story of grief, maturity, disappointment, betrayal, and more. Watching them reunite as adults is equally fraught with sometimes uncomfortable and awkward moments, just as it would be to reunite with my best girlfriends from over two decades ago (with the exception of those I’ve kept in close contact with, of course).

Is this movie still good? Yes, most of it. The constant fat-shaming of Chrissy bothered me a lot, but overall I found the movie to be a lot deeper and sadder than I remembered it being. 

A League of Their Own

A League Of Their Own (HD) Trailer - YouTube

The fact that I named my dog after this movie’s main character should probably tell you everything you need to know. I fucking love this movie. I realise now that so many of my favourite movies as a girl were setting me up for a lifetime of being passionate about women’s rights and feminism, as well as setting me up for valuing my female friendships as much as I do. I love that this movie also easily passes the Bechdel test – it’s kinda gross to realise how many movies DON’T pass this test – and that the women in it discuss real, relatable issues, including wanting to be taken seriously. I loved the message of this movie then, and I love the message of this movie today. I actually got the idea for this blog post by rewatching this on a plane recently (thank you, WestJet, for having an awesome selection of movies).

A major issue that I feel I should address is that this list is very devoid of people of colour, as there are very few (barely any) main characters in these films that aren’t white. 21 years ago, I didn’t notice this. Now, of course, it is so blatantly obvious just how whitewashed Hollywood was (and still is). I mention this under A League of Their Own because there is a scene where a baseball rolls over to young black woman who throws it back to the catcher with power, causing all of the other (white) players to gawk.

Many have thought that this woman is supposed to represent Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, who wasn’t allowed to try out for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II, though she did go on to play (along with two other..

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How many photos of laptops can I fit in this post? Answer: A lot

At the beginning of June, I wrote a post entitled, “15 Years of Travel Blogging: 10 Things I Did Wrong.” As I highlighted in that post, there were a hell of a lot of things I did wrong; in fact, I’m pretty sure I could have added at least another dozen or so points to that post (example: promises follow-up post about things I did right in travel blogging the following week, takes more than five months to deliver).

And while I have made mistake after mistake, I must have been doing something right, because 15 years later… I’m still here, and I’m making money doing what I love. I may not be the most prolific blogger, nor the most technically skilled, nor do I know how the hell Pinterest works, but I’ve been able to make a modest business out of what I do all the same.

However, as I said in that last post, I feel I need to preface this post by saying… I might not be the best example of how to create a successful blog today. Let’s face it: tons of the bloggers who are indeed “successful” today owe a huge part of their success to being the first (I believe success is what you make it, but for the sake of argument let’s define a successful blogger as someone who makes a living from their website). I strongly believe a lot of us wouldn’t do very well if we started from scratch in 2018, because a lot of us benefitted from techniques that would no longer work in today’s blogging landscape. I mean… I started well before social media was a thing, or before any of us knew a lick about things like search engine optimisation and coding.

This is all to say that, as always, I just want to be totally honest with you about what I believe helped my blog and business over the past 15 years. Do I think it can be easily replicated? No, probably not. As I’ve written about before, in How I Got Started: My Journey Through 11 Years of Travelling and Writing About It, there is absolutely no way to exactly replicate someone’s path in life. All I can hope that you take away from this post is some inspiration and some reassurance that you’re on the right path.

Because, trust me, you’re on the right path, even if it doesn’t feel like it at this moment. You’re on the right path because you’re on YOUR path. Even if it feels like you’re doing everything wrong, you’re not. Everything you’re doing today is laying groundwork for the future and teaching you valuable lessons. As I said in the past post, I make TONS of mistakes every single day, and I’ve most likely lost readers, income, and potential partnerships from not always making the right decisions. But I also know I’ve done a few things right, and I stick to those when I’m feeling low or feeling bad about my blog.

So in no particular order, here are 10 things I’ve done right in travel blogging.

The 10 Things I’ve Done Right in Travel Blogging

I Never Gave Up

You want to know why those “successful” bloggers are so successful? Sure, you can look at business tactics, great technical skills, or the right connections, but I think it’s even simpler than that. The one thing that every single successful blogger has in common is that none of us gave up. Why are we the ones getting paid campaigns and earning a living from our blogs? Because we’re still here. We’re still working. We never gave up.

Off the top of my head, I can think of very few travel bloggers who must be making a decent wage who have been around for less than three years, or even five years. Most of my friends who are earning a living from their blogs have been around even longer than that. As it is with most businesses, determination is one of the key components you need in order to be successful in the travel blogging industry.

I’m sometimes amazed at the fact that I have indeed kept up blogging. Everything else in my life has changed in those 15 years: I’ve moved from houses to apartments to more apartments to my very own house, I’ve travelled to nearly 100 countries, I’ve dated almost all of the men I swore I’d never date (some of them twice!), and I’ve had dozens of heinous haircuts. If you’re just starting out, it can be SO DIFFICULT to keep it up, especially when you see almost no results from it. You can feel like you’re drowning, and that everyone else is making so much more progress than you.

But here’s the thing: do you remember learning how to read? What about how to write? If you play an instrument that you learned as a child, do you remember all of the hours upon hours you spent learning those new songs? I try to reflect on this whenever I’m embarking on something new as an adult and I suck royally at it. “Why can’t I just be good at this already?” I moan, after expending exactly 45 minutes of energy on something that takes hours upon days upon years to be good at. We all suck when we try new things (including starting new business ventures). When we were kids, we sucked at pretty much everything (unless we’re like, Chopin or some chess prodigy or something). We just don’t remember having to learn EVERYTHING.

But we did. We studied and we practiced and slowly we learned how to read, how to write, how to throw a football or tie our shoes or drive a car or speak Spanish or, unless you’re my most recent ex, how to exhibit proper table manners (seriously dude, it’s a knife and a fork, not a spear and a shovel).

Blogging is, in so many ways, just like that. It takes time. It takes practice. It takes that determination we had as kids. You might look at me and think, “Why the hell did she get invited on that press trip?” or “When am I going to be able to make money from my blog, too?” but please, please, PLEASE remember that I have been doing this for 15 years. When you were in kindergarten, did you try out for senior volleyball? No. I’m not saying it will take you 15 years, but I guarantee it will take at least one year, if not more, before you start seeing real – or even see any – results from your hard work. You know what they say: you can’t be the noun without doing the verb. In other words, you can’t be a blogger without blogging.

Have you heard of the Lindy effect? It essentially means that, the longer something is around, the longer it will stay around. According to Wikipedia, every professor’s favourite source, “every additional period of survival implies a longer remaining life expectancy”. What that means is, the longer you continue to blog, the more likely your blog will stick around.

I may not blog as often as I’d like anymore, but I can’t imagine never not blogging, even if nobody read what I was writing. In order to be truly successful, you have to have the same attitude. Never give up. Keep blogging, no matter what. 

I Figured Out What I Was Best At Doing

I’ve read time and time again that in order to be a successful blogger, you have to be a jack of all trades. You have to be good at writing, copy editing, photography, photo editing, video, video editing, social media (including Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and any other platform that may horrifyingly pop up like some evil version of blogging whack-a-mole), newsletters, search engine optimisation, web design, and web development. You might want to throw in creating your own product, starting your own course, writing a book, and/or setting up tours or retreats. Oh, and in the beginning, you have to be a master at networking, making the right connections, getting on the right lists, and writing as many guest posts as you possibly can for other, more successful bloggers.

Did you get all of that?

If your head isn’t spinning right now – I seriously think just typing out that paragraph gave me hives – I am here to tell you: HOGWASH. CODSWALLOP. BALDERDASH. (this is fun)

In other words… BULLSHIT. If you seriously think that you are going to be able to master all of those extremely varied talents and skills, good on ya. But imagine if I told you I was, let’s say, opening my own store, and I was going to design the building on my own, build the building by myself, install the electricity and plumbing, do all of the advertising and marketing, buy all of the merchandise, organise all of the merchandise, design the interior of the store, be the store’s sole salesperson, handle all customer service, do all of the paperwork and bookkeeping, AND scrub the floors at the end of the night?

You’d say I was bonkers.

What a lot of “successful” bloggers don’t want to tell you, or don’t really let on, is that they have assistants. Some of them even have multiple assistants, some of them full-time. They also might not talk about the fact that it took them years upon years of trial and error to figure out what they’re good at and what they need to outsource. And don’t get me wrong – I have NOTHING against hiring assistants to help you out. Hell, I wish I had the wherewithal to do it myself.

Because the fact of the matter is that you can only be good at so many things in life, unless you’re Beyoncé, Rihanna, or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (coincidentally the only three celebrities I follow on Instagram). You have to figure out what it is that you think you can excel at with your blog, and what you can either a) work around/ignore or b) outsource to somebody else once you have the income to do so.

For me, of that big long list, I only truly excel at writing. It’s what I’ve done my whole life, what I love doing the best, and what others respond to the most. Writing has been my strong suit all along, and I’ve built this blog on the fact that I can string words together.

The other things on that list I enjoy and I think I’m good at are photography, some social media (Facebook and Instagram when I remember that they exist), and… um… I guess some of my articles do OK on search engines? I despise video, can’t be bothered spending hours every day on various social media platforms, and could write everything I know about web development on a post-it note.

But still… here I am. I make my living writing online. I make my living doing what I love. I didn’t try to spread myself too thin, or drive myself crazy trying to learn skills I had no real interest in learning, and didn’t spend hours each day working on a platform that’s doomed to eventually fail (*cough* Facebook *cough*).

Instead, I focused on what I was really good at, and learned how to use that to my advantage. I focused on studying writing constantly and read everything I could to become a better writer. So whether it’s video, or editing, or social media, or creating products, or email newsletters… find what you love doing, what you’re good at doing, and focus on that. If you try to be good at everything, you’ll stress out and lose sight of what you’re after in the first place.

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