40 Before 40,  Bucket List Travel

On My 33rd Birthday: A 40 Before 40 Check-In

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This post is part of a series I publish each year on my birthday. If you haven’t read it, I recommend starting with my 40 Before 40 goals list. You can also check out my updates from Year 1 and Year 2 if you’re interested.

Another cycle ’round the sun, another year older. Every year on April 23rd, my birthday marks a chance to check in with myself, and how my life is going. I love my April birthday for that reason – it’s three months after I set my mantra each year.

My 2020 mantra is ‘Time,’ and I seem to have a whole lot of it in new ways. I’m not spending Time traveling, so I’m learning to spend Time at home. Mr. V and I are spending a lot more Time together, and I’m missing Time with my friends, and even by myself. And all the while Time marches on, another year passes, another cycle ’round the sun. I grow older, maybe wiser, certainly more tired.

I can’t deny: I had a great year full of adventures – even ending on a new one of learning to live in a pandemic world. While I didn’t accomplish many of my 40 Before 40 goals, I did learn about myself and who I want to be. At 33, I’m still a work-in-progress, and plan to continue to be one for a while to come! Good thing I still have plenty of goals to guide me on that path…

A 40 Before 40 Check-In

Each year on my birthday, I check-in on this project, looking back on the goals I hoped to accomplish, the ones I did accomplish, and others I want to try and accomplish in the next year.

In my first year, I completed four of my goals:

  1. Learn to Surf
  2. Join a Professional Association as a Travel Writer
  3. Learn to Throw Pottery
  4. Learn Beekeeping

During the second year, I completed three more of my goals:

  1. Produce a Byline Feature in a Global Travel Print Publication
  2. Cross the Equator
  3. Introduce Mr. Valise Here on the Blog

And for this past year, I ambitiously suggested I would complete these goals too:

  • Get my Kokopelli tattoo redrawn
  • Finish writing and publish my Freelance Writing Challenge book
  • Experience ‘zero gravity’
  • Produce a cover story for a print publication
  • Travel back to Jordan, stay in a Martian Dome, and properly see Petra
  • Scuba at the Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
  • Visit New Zealand
  • Go parasailing

Just like in year 2 where I wanted to accomplish 7 goals, attempting to accomplish 8 goals in year 3 did not happen. Though people believe I set and accomplish all my goals all the time, I definitely don’t. My plans change, my life changes, the world changes and my goals shift as a result. But that’s okay – that’s how it goes. So let’s look at the goal I did accomplish this year, instead of focusing on the ones I didn’t.

Goals I Accomplished in Year 3 of my 40 Before 40 Challenge

Publish my first book

As you might recall, I changed one goal last year, from “Finish writing and publish my Freelance Writing Challenge book” to “Publish my first book.” I did this because sometimes goals change as you grow – and it’s unfair to hold yourself to goals that no longer fit your life.

Having changed this one, I knew I would accomplish it, and announced Dark Skies right after my last birthday. In September 2019, my book was finally published and has sold well. It has opened some amazing doors for me, and will continue to do so for years to come.

☑️ Accomplished 09/17/19

Remaining 40 Before 40 Goals

Three years into a 10-year project (30%), I’ve accomplished 8 of my 40 goals (20%)… Unfortunately, I’m falling further behind at this point and really need to focus if I want to accomplish more of these in the remaining 7 years of this decade in my life! Here are the goals I still have left:

  1. Go parasailing
  2. Go zip lining in Costa Rica
  3. Get my Kokopelli tattoo redrawn
  4. Set two feet firmly on Antarctica
  5. Scuba at the Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
  6. Visit the Taj Mahal (India)
  7. Learn to play the bagpipes
  8. See a crop circle
  9. See the Triple Crown in a single year (USA)
  10. Swim in all five Great Lakes (USA)
  11. Produce a cover story for a print publication
  12. Scuba between tectonic plates in Iceland
  13. Visit New Zealand
  14. Visit South Africa
  15. See the Pyramids (Egypt)
  16. Walk along the Camino de Santiago (Spain)
  17. Ride in a gondola in Venice (Italy)
  18. Experience ‘zero gravity’
  19. Ride in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia (Turkey)
  20. Go on an African safari
  21. Fly a transoceanic flight in first class
  22. See the cherry blossoms bloom in Japan
  23. Get my child(ren) their first passport(s)
  24. Swim with dolphins
  25. Dine at Canlis (the nicest restaurant in Seattle)
  26. Travel every calendar day of the year
  27. See the Nazca Lines (Peru)
  28. Travel back to Jordan, stay in a Martian Dome, and properly see Petra
  29. See a lava flow (or the Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan)
  30. Attend both my high school (2025) and college reunions (2019/2024)
  31. Fill my passport before it expires (2024!)
  32. Write the final post in this series, on this blog on my 40th birthday

My 40 Before 40 Goals for Year 4 (33-34 Years Old)

For the coming year, here are the goals I’d like to accomplish:

  1. Get my Kokopelli tattoo redrawn – I’ve had this goal on my list every year, and I’ve been a weenie about going back under the needle, but I think I’ll do it after my wedding this year.
  2. Produce a cover story for a print publication – I need to start pitching more if I want this to happen!
  3. Fly a transoceanic flight in first class – Hopefully Mr. V and I can snag a flight deal that completes this now that there are cheap flights out there.
  4. Dine at Canlis (the nicest restaurant in Seattle) – I’ve wanted to splurge on the tasting menu at Canlis for years, so Mr. V and I decided we’ll do this on one of our trips to Seattle this year for our wedding.
  5. Travel every calendar day of the year – I’ve been working to have traveled on each day of the year, and only have 10 days left! Many of these were supposed to be complete this year, so it will take some planning to make sure I complete them all next year.
  6. Travel back to Jordan, stay in a Martian Dome, and properly see Petra – This is another goal I was supposed to have finished this year, but I’ve re-set my Jordan tour dates and will complete it before my next birthday!

These won’t quite catch me up ‘on pace’ to complete all my goals before the end of the decade, but it will help!

How to Set & Accomplish Goals

I get questions about goal-setting and goal accomplishment all the time because of this 40 Before 40 series (and the 30 Before 30 series I ran before it). Here’s how I approach goals:

  1. Write my list of goals, brainstorming style. Nothing is off limits in the first phase of goal-setting. Anything I want to accomplish, I list.
  2. Consider how much time each goal will take to accomplish. Self explanatory.
  3. Consider how much money each goal will take to accomplish. Again, self explanatory – but put real $$$ money numbers! Do the research, find the real costs. That’ll help you evaluate what you can actually do.
  4. Narrow down my list based on realistic expectations. Keep in mind the price, the time, and the other sacrifices you’ll need to make to accomplish each goal. Be realistic to cut those that you can’t do in the timeline you’ve set yourself. I gave myself 10 years, which gives me a lot more flexibility to set bananas crazy dreams. 
  5. Create subsets of goals or steps along the way. Break them down into phases or smaller lists, like I do with each annual list I try for the coming year.
  6. Focus on your goals. Write them down on sticky notes or 3×5 cards and carry them around. Look at them often. Dream of your life having accomplished them. You’ll start acting in a way that makes those goals a reality.
  7. Just get to it. Nothing accomplishes your goals for you. At the end of the day, you’ve got to put in the work, time, and money.

I hope this helps if you’re considering setting some goals of your own! Hit me up in the comments if you have questions.

Help others discover this post too!

I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.


  • Jan Mead

    You are amazing — just love reading your emails and you are very inspirational !!
    ~~Happy Birthday~~ have a fun day – stay safe and I know you are staying home (for now)..!!

  • LC

    Happy birthday Valerie! The book alone is a major accomplishment (my boyfriend bought it for his brother for Xmas after seeing it in a store here in Australia – he liked it a lot!).

  • Jenn

    I love this! I have a travel wishlist that I haven’t looked at or updated for awhile. Since I turned 40 on my last birthday, it was fun to read through your remaining list – I haven’t done a lot of them, but I have done 10, 13, 14, 17, 20, and 21! Cheers to another great trip around the sun!

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