Here in the Wanderlost world, I’ve experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows in 2018. It was a year filled with travel, love, leaps of faith and horrible, horrible loss. The person I am writing this round-up today is not the same person who wrote, say, an article about driving in Costa Rica.
The cool thing is, posts like the one about Costa Rica were actually instrumental to 2018’s big year of changes, because that adventure was the first step in building my pro-bono film program, Films for Wildlife. (And it was instrumental to discovering the kind of work and experiences that set my soul on fire.)
But I’m jumping ahead. Instead of sneak-peeking into the monumental moments of 2018 in this upfront, let’s just dive right in to my top 10 travel and life highlights from 2018. (Full transparency it feels super weird and self-centered to be writing about, well, myself, but I guess that’s how these year-end things go?)
1. I quit my 9-to-6 job to start a business.
It. Finally. Happened. After three years working on travel writing, video and blogging on the side of my day job, I was able to financially (and mentally) take the leap to freedom. I knew early on that the 9-to-6 constraints (not to mention limited vacation days) were not for me, so on Oct. 3, 2018, I had my last day in an office ever—then celebrated with a trip to Africa.
Believe me, though. It didn’t happen overnight. I spent three years refining my writing and videography skills to the point where I felt comfortable pitching myself for recurring gigs.
To make ends meet today, my work is a mix of 1) writing freelance travel articles, 2) writing travel content for a new travel startup (more to come!), 3) researching and writing articles about videography and photography for Adorama, 4) wedding
2. I summited Kilimanjaro!
One day after leaving the doors of my 9-to-6 job life, Frank, his brother Nate and I left for one of the most life-changing trips of my life: Kilimanjaro! I’d dreamed of climbing Kilimanjaro since I was a little girl and my dad regaled me with tales of his trip.
We decided to climb with local outfitter Amani Afrika (you MUST climb with Amani if you ever go), and took the six-day Rongai route up. From our soccer matches with the porters to incredible bonding time with Frank and Nate along the way, Kilimanjaro was everything I’d dreamed of—and much more. See the video below for a little peek!
3. …And got engaged at the top.
If you watched the video you already know: Frank and I got engaged on top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Yep. Right there at the top! I was totally surprised—and let’s be honest, a little woozy from decreased oxygen—but wow. Frank went above (literally) and beyond, even up to the ring which is Tanzanite, a stone found in the foothills of Kilimanjaro.
4. My family and I took a heritage trip to Lithuania.
Growing up in a Lithuanian household—my mom is a first-generation Lithuanian American—we’d always wanted to get back to our roots with a “roots trip” to the small Baltic country. We finally made it happen in spring 2018.
Our Baltic road trip took us through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, with the star of our show being, of course, Lithuania. We visited the town my grandma grew up in, Kaunas, as well as the church she’d always talked about in Zapyškis. We also met with the 70-year-old brewer, Aldona Udriene, who made a huge Lithuanian brunch for us before telling her story and touring us through her brewery.
In true Lithuanian style, our “quick visit” turned into six hours of eating, drinking and merriment—and we wouldn’t have it any other way. (You can read more about our time with Aldona in this article for October Magazine.) Here are a few highlights from our trip.
5. I landed some of my best travel articles.
Speaking of travel articles, I’m really proud of the articles I was able to research, write and place in 2018, including VICE Munchies, Roads & Kingdoms, Mic, The London Evening Standard and Fodors. I also started writing regularly for Hoboken Girl and wrote a feature article on my good friend (and super talented artist) Adam Vicarel for Boulder Weekly.
6. My wedding film business took off.
Probably good timing for my wedding planning now that we’re engaged—my wedding video business really took off this year! From a wedding in the Hamptons to one of my favorites in the North Fork, and my most recent film from Long Island, my wedding video business has been growing steadily in 2018.
I’m actually hoping to keep it pretty low-key—as in no more than 10 weddings per year—because I want to ensure everything wedding I film and edit has my 110 percent creativity. (I’m worried doing more than 10 will lead to redundancy.) Here’s one of my favorites!
7. We completed our Puerto Rico documentary.
After multiple Puerto Rico trips following the work of stray rescue group, Paws 4 Survival, Kristen Kiraly and I finally completed our documentary! This one’s definitely a tear jerker, but if you’re looking for a cause to donate to in 2019, look no further. I can tell you from firsthand experience all money goes toward helping the pups. (Here’s a writeup I also did on Paws 4 Survival for Wunderdog Magazine.)
8. I turned 30 in Cape May.
To celebrate the big 3-0, some of my best friends and I went on a road trip (with Harry, of course!) down to Cape May, New Jersey. The weekend was pretty epic; I used my drone for the first time (what, whaaaat), we day drank in beautiful April weather, visited wineries and fawned over Harry. If you’re looking for a charming, non “Jersey Shore” place to visit on the Jersey Shore, I highly recommend Cape May! Here’s my blog post about the trip.
9. I launched a pro-bono film initiative, Films for Wildlife.
Following a tumultuous and heartbreaking 2016 election, I’ve struggled with how I can do my part to help perhaps the greatest victims of all: animals. I could donate money, but let’s be honest, I don’t have all that much. Can $50 really make a dent on the disaster?
That’s why I decided to launch a film initiative, Films for Wildlife, where I create pro-bono fundraising films to help local, grassroots conservation groups help wildlife in their local countries. The first film was for Nai Conservation, a grassroots group helping tapirs in Costa Rica. It was the experience of a lifetime, and I’m excited with how this first one turned out!
10. I said good bye to not one, but two of the most important people in my life.
I won’t go too deep on this point because I’m still personally grieving, but in summer 2018, my aunt (the aunt I considered a second mother) died of ovarian cancer. One week later, my father (my lifelong role model and confidant) unexpectedly passed away from cancer, too.
There are so many things I could say—but I’m not ready to, so I’ll leave you with this. First, losing a parent is the hardest thing in the world. Some days I’m OK, other days I want to curl up on the couch with his favorite blanket while wearing his old sweatshirt (and often, I do).
Second, I’ve never, ever seen more clearly the need to chase your dreams and follow your heart right now. Not in five years, 10 years, or “when we’ve saved money.”
Screw that. This is the only moment you have. The only solace I have from my dad’s passing is knowing he lived out his dreams and traveled around the world and back (and then some). He didn’t wait for retirement to live; he lived in every single moment.
That’s a big reason I took the huge leap of faith to quit my job. I’d been waiting for “the right time” or until I’d saved more money, but here’s the thing. Once I quit to pursue my passions, new opportunities to make ends meet presented themselves. Of course, it took me chasing them, but once you tell the universe you’re ready things do come—and I think my dad and aunt are without a doubt helping out from above.
A few other highlights
- It’s hard to wrap 2018 up in just 10 moments and milestones, so here are a few other tidbits from this whirlwind of a year:
- I visited 10 countries (plus 11 if you count Epcot at Disney World … which I don’t)
- I took my first major press trip to Rotterdam
- I made money off my blog through a sponsored program
- I wrote at least 30 freelance articles (probably more, but you get the gist (and yes, I realize not counting them all makes me lazy…)
- I won a Luggage Hero award for my travel blog
- And I took some of the best photos of my life on our Tanzanian safari (oh yes, we also did a safari in 2018 which was simply perfect)
I’m sure I’ve missed things from 2018, but I think you get the picture. It was up. It was down. It was full of risks and filled with emotion. I’m kicking off the New Year in Ghent with my mom and brother, and hoping for an exhilarating, joy-filled (and hopefully less depressing) 2019.
But enough about me. What were your favorite moments from 2018? Leave a comment below!