Today is my birthday. Even Google knew it (kind of freaky and cool at the same time)… but anyway… I turned 29 years old today. Just one measly little year left until the big 3-0!

I feel like I should be starting to panic, going through some weird “I’m almost 30” crisis, or frantically trying to make the last year of my 20’s the best year of all. But I’m not really doing any of that. Over the last 2 years I have slowly, but surely made a lot strides towards figuring out my life.

Ever since I left home when I was 26, I have been on a journey to find myself. I’ve let the pendulum swing in many different directions, discovering what really matters to me, what makes me happy, what motivates me, inspires me and makes me excited about the future. I know where I want to be a year from now and I’m confidently walking in that direction. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have it all figured out just yet. (Do we ever, really?) There are still a million questions and a lot less answers, but overall, I know who I am and I’m happy with where things are heading. And I have to admit, I credit a lot of my content to travel.

Oksana on Fraser Island, Australia

Exploring Fraser Island on my first ever solo trip to Australia in December 2010

I took a huge leap of faith leaving my friends and family behind in 2011 to embark on a life in London and I haven’t looked back once. I met incredible people along the way, found love, and had many life changing experiences. And all of them, in one way or another, made me the person that I am today.

A few weeks ago, I came across a “30 Things I Want to Do Before I Turn 30” list that I made when I was 26, right before I left Canada. I loved reading through the entries, crossing off some things I have done and reflecting on the ones I haven’t. So I thought today, on my 29th birthday, I would dedicate a post to reflecting on these experiences.

I’ll be honest. It turned out that I kind of suck at ticking things off my bucked list…

I Only Crossed 12 Items Off The List

1. Live in another country (besides England) for more than 6 months – After spending a year living in London, I moved to Shanghai, China and then again to Brisbane, Australia, learning a lot of valuable life lessons along the way.

2. Attend a Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan – that made me wonder about a lot more than just the perfect Full Moon Party outfit.

3. Get Scuba Diving certification – which was one of the highlights of my SEA trip in 2012 and opened up a whole new world of experiences for me!

Oksana at Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, Thailand

Getting ready for the Full Moon Party in 2012. Surrounded by buckets and fluorescent paint …as you do.

Diving in Koh Tao, Thailand

Chasing fish in Koh Tao, Thailand shortly after getting my Scuba Diving Certification

4. Learn to ride a bike – Technically I completed this in 2011 when I took classes in London, but I’m still really terrible at it!

5. Run 5K – I huffed and puffed my way through last year’s Brisbane Glow Run

6. Ride an elephant – completed in May 2012 in India and again in September 2012 in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I have to say, seeing how well elephants were treated at Woody’s Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai, I wish I could take back my elephant ride in India. One day, I’ll share more about these two polarizing experiences.

7. Learn an Asian language – I’m VERY far from being fluent, but living in China in 2012/2013, forced me to learn a bit of Mandarin to be able to get by. I’ll count this as partially complete

8. Volunteer in a developing country, and 9. Teach English in a foreign countryhelped me discover my new found love for teaching in Philippines last year.

Riding a bike in Belgrade

Riding a bike in Belgrade

Students at a dumpsite school in Liloan, Cebu, Philippines

Me and my students at a dumpsite in Cebu, Philippines

Hanging out with elephants at Woody's Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai

Hanging out with elephants at Woody’s Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai

10. Attend the World Cup– my trip to Brazil for the World Cup was probably the highlight of the year so far!

11. Travel to Asia and South America – I got a great feel for Asia in 2012 on my solo backpacking trip through Thailand and Cambodia, but my trip to Brazil earlier this year, was just a tiny taste of South America that fueled a much bigger desire to see more!

12. Climb a Mountain – while there are lots more mountains in the world left to conquer, my climb to the top of Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka was enough to tick this box.

Max and I at the France vs Nigeria World Cup game in Brasilia, Brazil

Max and I at the France vs Nigeria World Cup game in Brasilia, Brazil

At the top of Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka

Max and I at the top of Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka

Trying local street food in Lijiang, China

Trying local street food in Lijiang, China

10 of the Items On My List I Just Never Got to…

1. Step foot on all 7 continentsI’ve almost visited them all. Antarctica is the only continent I haven’t been to yet and it certainly isn’t in the plans for next year. If I ever make a “40 Things I Want to Do Before I’m 40” list, travel to Antarctica will most definitely be on it.

2. Participate in New Years White Party/Carnival in BrazilI made it to Brazil for the World Cup, which I think counts for something, but it’s not quite the Carnival. I hope to time my next trip to Brazil with the Carnival, so I’m giving this item a few more years on my bucket list.

3. Step foot on Himalayas – Despite the recent tragic news from Nepal, trekking in Himalayas is still an item high on my bucket list. I doubt I’ll get to it next year, but definitely in the next few years.

4. Go on an African Safari – Sadly, Africa is just not on the books for the next year either, but both Max and I are really keen to explore the continent. So it’s staying on the list but being expanded to “Explore Africa”.  There is more the Africa then the safaris.

5. Take a tour of Amazon jungle – I was sooo close! But our trip to Brazil was really just too short to explore the country beyond Rio, Brasilia and Saõ Paulo. I’ll cross this one off next time we are in Brazil.

6. Walk on the Great Wall of China – I spent a year living in China, and yet I didn’t make it to the Great Wall. A part of me still feels like the Great Wall is a tourist trap. I  am not convinced that I ever want to do this…

7. See the Northern Lights – I thought that living in Europe would give me the chance to do this. But my year in London went by way too quickly. The Northern Lights will remain on the list.

8. Ride a Camel – I have been trying to get to Morocco and explore the Moroccan desert from the back of a camel for years. It’s high on my list, so I’ll get there sooner than later.

Camels on the street in Kochi, India

Camels on the street in Kochi, India. I had no interest in riding camels on the streets of India

9. Attend Glastonbury Festival – I missed it by a few months. I had a chance to see it while I was living in London, but a once in a life time opportunity to live in Shanghai soon became more appealing than an annual festival. So I never made it to Glastonbury. Maybe one day…

10. Swim with dolphins – while I kayaked with dolphins before in Australia, I would still love to swim with them. One place to do it is the Amazon in Brazil and that’s definitely on my list.

6  Have Lost Their Significance and Fallen Off The List

1. Attend Olympics – Other than being a “cool” thing to do, traveling somewhere for the Olympics no longer excites me

Posing at the first ever Olympic stadium in Athens, Greece.

Posing at the first ever Olympic stadium in Athens, Greece

2. Hold a Snake – no thank you. When I was 26, I probably thought it would be cute to challenge myself to conquer my fear or snakes. Today, I no longer think it’s cute.  There will be no touching of snakes, in the next year or 10.

Snake charmer in Galle, Sri Lanka

Snake charmer in Galle, Sri Lanka. I ran away as soon as I saw their heads pop up from the baskets. Na-ah! Not touching that!

3. Go Sand Surfing – Inspired by an episode of Departures, I always thought it was a cool experience. I still do, but it’s unlikely that I will push myself to travel somewhere just to check this item off the list.

4. Go to Disney Land in another country – I used to love Disney World. Once, when I was in my early 20’s I actually took a week long holiday to Disney World in Orlando with my ex-boyfriend. It was a great holiday and at the time, I loved it. I won’t say no to a quick stop at Disney World in Orlando again, but I doubt I’ll ever choose to spend a day at Disney World/Land in another country. I’d much rather hang out with the locals or get off the beaten path.

5. Pet a Penguin – not quite sure why I ever felt the need to touch one.

6. Celebrate St. Patrick’s day in Dublin – I considered booking flights and heading to Dublin for St Patrick’s celebrations in 2012, when I was living in London, but I decided to travel to Eastern Europe instead. And I don’t regret it for a second.

But There are Still 2 Things Left on My List…

… and for the next 12 months I am making it my priority to tick them off!

1. Get Out of Debt

It sometimes feels like I have lived my whole life in debt. I didn’t have rich parents with a fat wallet that would pay for my expenses growing up. I worked my ass off since I was 16 years old, putting in part-time hours all throughout high school and University, but even that wasn’t enough to keep me from taking out student loans. I have financed my 4 years of undergrad with student loans and then a year of my MBA and travel and I racked up a LOT of debt. It’s time to put an end to living in debt, so paying off my loans and getting a clean start is my number one priority for the next year.

2. Keep Traveling

The exact wording on this bucket list item was “Visit 40 countries by the time I’m 30”. After years of travels, I have finally realized that it’s not about the number of countries you visit, but rather about the adventures you embark on in those countries. So while I’m still keeping count, I’m no longer caught up in trying to get to as many countries as I can. These days, I’m pushing myself to travel slower, discovering authentic cultural experiences beyond the sights and tourist attractions.

So this is my promise, my new bucket list, my ultimate focus for the year ahead:

Despite still working a full time job, saving every penny that I can, I promise myself and I promise to you that I will continue to explore the world every chance that I get. I will continue to push myself outside of my comfort zone, to learn new things, to embark on new experiences, and to share them with you every step of the way. 

Here’s to the last year of my 20’s!