What do you do to celebrate your birthday? What if it’s a ‘big’ birthday, like a new decade? The kind of decade that makes lots of women freak out about having kids and settling down and stuff like that?
If you’re me, you set new goals.
Happy birthday to me! Last week, I turned 30 years old. My 30 Before 30 challenge has officially ended, and I’m back to set new goals.
Remind me again, what was 30 Before 30? If you missed it yesterday, I wrapped up a series of posts I started 30* months before my 30th birthday. (*It was accidentally 29 months.) I set myself 30 goals spanning travel, business, and my personal life, and set out to achieve them all before my 30th birthday.
Some I accomplished (like swimming in the Mediterranean), and some I did not (like becoming a dual citizen in Croatia). I’m okay with the ones I didn’t accomplish; I’m thrilled about the ones I did.
Now, having crossed the threshold of my 30s, I feel like it’s time to look forward with new goals and ambitions in mind. (Yes, some include having kids!)
This post was most recently updated on April 23, 2022 for my 35th Birthday!
40 Before 40: 40 Goals before my 40th Birthday
First of all, holy crap. When I can finally ‘finish’ this series will be on my 40th birthday. That’s 10 years from now. I’ll be FORTY.
Here’s the thing though:
I set 30 goals 30 months ago and had no idea how fast my life would move. My life, my situation, my relationships, everything… EVERYTHING changed.
If you had asked me on my 20th birthday where I thought I would be at 30, I would have had no idea. I don’t want to live my 30s the same way, lost but wandering an as-yet-unknown path. I know I can’t see the future, but my 40 Before 40 Goals will help me shape at least some of the exciting things that are bound to happen in my next decade.
How Does 40 Before 40 work?
Unlike my 30 Before 30 goals, I don’t plan to update you each time I achieve a goal, or even count down as I did at 5 months and 1 month before my birthday this past year.
Instead, I plan to do the following:
- Always update this blog post on my birthday, updating you on life and my goals. This means I am committing to continuing this blog in some capacity for the next 10 years (that’s my 40th goal!).
- Commit to a selection of goals each year to try and stay focused and chip away at the list throughout the 10-year project.
- Write stories here (or elsewhere) when one of my goals is worth sharing. Many of these goals are complex and require preparation and lots of money – I hope the stories are worth sharing. I hope you’ll share them with me.
That means if you don’t hear from me for a year, I may still be working on my goals. You can always email me and ask how they’re going. And I’ll always update you on my birthday.
Get on with it! What are my 40 Before 40 goals?
Here are my 40 Before 40 goals, and updates on each one – a green check indicates the goal is done, and the date notes when it was accomplished. Stricken goals are ones I’m no longer committed to making in this decade of my life. (Updated as of April 23, 2022)
- Set two feet firmly on Antarctica
- Scuba at the Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
- Visit the Taj Mahal (India)
- Learn to play the bagpipes
See a crop circle See the Triple Crown in a single year (USA) Swim in all five Great Lakes (USA)
- ✅ Learn to surf – August 10, 2017
- ✅ Produce a bylined feature in a global travel print publication – October 19, 2018
Produce a cover story for a print publication
- Scuba between tectonic plates in Iceland
- Visit New Zealand
- Visit South Africa
- See the Pyramids (Egypt)
- ✅ Go parasailing – April 25, 2021
- Walk along the Camino de Santiago (Spain)
- Ride in a gondola in Venice (Italy)
- Experience ‘zero gravity’
- Ride in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia (Turkey)
- Go on an African safari
- Fly a transoceanic flight in first class
- See the cherry blossoms bloom in Japan
- Get my child(ren) their first passport(s)
Swim with dolphins
- Dine at Canlis (the nicest restaurant in Seattle)
- Travel every calendar day of the year
- See the Nazca Lines (Peru)
- ✅ Publish my first book* – September 17, 2019
- ✅ Travel back to Jordan, stay in a Martian Dome, and properly see Petra – March 28-29, 2022
- Go ziplining in Costa Rica
- ✅ Join a professional association as a travel writer – July 1, 2017
- See a lava flow (or the Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan)
- Attend both my high school (2025) and college reunions (2024)
- ✅ Learn to throw pottery – August 18, 2017
- ✅ Cross the equator – March 4, 2019
Fill my passport before it expires (2024!)
- ✅ Learn beekeeping – November 4, 2017
Get my Kokopelli tattoo redrawn
- ✅ Introduce Mr. Valise here on the blog – April 22, 2019
- Write the final post in this series, on this blog on my 40th birthday.
Current status: 10 accomplished, 7 released, 23 incomplete (30% complete)
*Was originally “Finish writing and publish my Freelance Writing Challenge book”
One last thing I’m doing in 40 Before 40 that I didn’t do in 30 Before 30… Each year I want to set a small list of the goals to try and accomplish in the coming year. My idea is that if I chew off pieces of the list each year, eventually I’ll be close to finishing it without cramming a bunch in the last year and going bankrupt.
My 40 Before 40 Goals for Year 1 (30-31 Years Old)
Here are the goals I plan to try and accomplish in the coming year. As I mentioned in one of my 30 Before 30 posts, I was unrealistic about the cost of my goals. Therefore, I’ve also included estimates of the cost to do each.
- Learn to Surf ($200)
- Go parasailing ($250)
- Finish writing and publish my Freelance Writing Challenge book ($20 for proofs)
- Go zip lining in Costa Rica ($100)
- Join a professional association as a travel writer ($330)
- Get my Kokopelli tattoo redrawn ($150)
- Learn to throw pottery ($50)
Total Year 1 Estimate: $1100
That’s not a huge amount, to be honest. It just requires dedication and focus – and reminders! I’ve already come up with a small plan to try and achieve each. Stay tuned here or on my social media channels as I share each successful goal using the hashtag #40Before40.
On My 31st Birthday: A 40 Before 40 Check-In
Note: Added April 23, 2018
As you get older, time passes more quickly.
I remember the boring terror of an hour spent waiting for friends to finish their chores as a child. How long car rides seemed to take, even when only a few miles or to run a few errands with my mom. How the moments would barely slip by at the end of a standardized test or exam in High School. When I was younger, time seemed to move much more slowly.
Now, almost without noticing, it’s possible that days, weeks, and months pass in what feels like moments. Sometimes, I feel my head break the surface of time, and I look around: I’m surprised it’s now August, and we’re relocating from Seattle to San Francisco. It’s suddenly the holidays, and the stress from my new job is starting to wear deeply on me in the darkness of winter. And equally startling, it’s now April, and my birthday is upon me again.
I’ve now had 31 birthdays, and each one comes sooner — and passes more quickly. Here are the goals I accomplished this year.
Join a Professional Association as a Travel Writer
It took me until July to complete the first goal on my list when I signed up and was approved as a member of the Society for American Travel Writers.
I had waited to join SATW (what I consider the best of several travel writing associations) because I wanted to qualify for my freelance writing work. By mid-year, I had enough good bylines at high-quality publications that I accepted within just a few days of my application.
☑ Join a Professional Association as a Travel Writer – July 1, 2017
Learn to Surf
Despite the shit that some random person gave me on my list a few months ago, I do count a few surfing lessons as “Learning to Surf” — but no, I’m not a world-class surfer, reader-who-came-on-my-blog-just-to-be-negative. Let’s call her Nancy because she was negative and decided that her job was to police my life and tell me I’m a failure. ?
Yes, that is me standing on the board. Yes, that is me smiling after getting clobbered by the board when a big wave knocked me on my ass. Suck it, Nancy.
I took two surfing lessons this year: one in Bolinas, CA with the Go Overseas team and taught by a dude named Coach Donk, the other in Huntington Beach as part of Mr. V’s birthday weekend trip.
I stood up more than one, I even caught the wave a couple times. I might even say I really liked surfing, and I would definitely try it again.
Suck. It. Nancy.
Also, Psych gifs are great.
☑ Learn to Surf – August 10, 2017
Learn to Throw Pottery
Ah, dear Nancy. She just couldn’t let me have a win. She also insisted that I didn’t know shit about pottery because I guess “learning” is not the same thing as “trying” and all I had done was “try” to throw pottery.
Whatever, I didn’t exactly “throw” pottery, but I did learn how to make a mess with clay and water and also an egg cup, a sake set, a small jewelry dish, and a random plate and/or weirdly thick coaster. Clearly I “learned” nothing.
(For what it’s worth, I blocked Nancy for these comments. One big rule of my 30s is that I don’t have time for anyone else’s negative ‘tude about my life.)
☑ Learn to Throw Pottery – August 18, 2017
Luckily Nancy doesn’t seem to have noticed this particular goal on my list, because she didn’t call it out specifically. Beekeeping was also not on the specific goals I thought I’d accomplish this first year, but as I was busy learning all kinds of other things, it just made sense to give beekeeping its fair time too.
Ya know what though, it’s true. I didn’t learn all about beekeeping. I couldn’t exactly go out to your neighborhood hive and tend the bees and scrape the honey and all that. But I did go learn more about bees and beekeeping at SF Honey & Pollen Co. I have a much greater appreciation for bees, and when I have my own property, I firmly intend to have bees on the property. ?
☑ Learn Beekeeping – November 4, 2017
My 40 Before 40 Goals for Year 2 (31-32 Years Old)
For the coming year, here’s a shortlist of the goals I’d like to accomplish:
- Go parasailing
- Get my Kokopelli tattoo redrawn
- Learn to play the bagpipes
- Visit South Africa
- Go on an African safari
- Swim with dolphins
- Cross the equator
The good news is that several of these goals should happen on one trip in September when I’ll be traveling to Southern Africa (South Africa & Mozambique) for work. It will be my first trip across the equator, and I’m planning to extend my trip a few days to do a safari because I’ll already be in the region. Part of my work will involve scuba diving so I might actually get to swim with dolphins on that trip too!
The other goals on the list are ones I hope I can kinda tack-on or accomplish even if not all of these happen (or even if they all do!).
I’m also seeing that some skills I pick up this year (scuba in particular) will really help other goals on the list.
After this year, the goals I’ve set get increasingly expensive and time-consuming, so I’m going to have to work hard to knock a bunch of goals off this year and next year and reduce the total number of goals I’m trying to accomplish in the rest of this decade
On My 32nd Birthday: A 40 Before 40 Check-In
Note: Added April 23, 2019
Every year on my birthday, I write myself a letter in the future. I use a service called FutureMe.org to set the delivery date for my next birthday. It has become one of my favorite annual traditions, and I now eagerly anticipate my own letters from Last Year Me, setting out my goals and hopes for the coming year.
What I love about these letters is the charming naïveté I display year after year. I started sending myself letters 10 years ago – back in 2009! Each year, my letters contain wildly ambitious, off-beat, and downright silly goals, but there’s one common thread. I consistently fail to predict how complicated, messy, and joyful each coming year will be. In some ways, that’s why I like reading them – it gives me context on my past year, even as I think about the future ones.
This 40 Before 40 goal series is similar. I set goals each year, full of hope and optimism and a little bit of delusion. The following year I come back to check in. I hold myself accountable but with forgiveness for failing. By practicing this skill year after year, I’ve gotten better at setting and accomplishing the milestones I want in my life – but also living with grace because I’ve definitely learned now that I’m only human.
Today is my 32nd birthday. It’s been 2 years since I set 40 goals I wanted to accomplish before I turned 40 (“40 Before 40”). It’s time for another check-up on my goals and life – and to look forward in an optimistically delusional way to the year ahead.
Produce a Byline Feature in a Global Travel Print Publication
Writing a feature story with my name on it has been a goal for a long time. It’s not easy to do, as the media world has become stressed and print publications (magazines/newspapers) have closed their doors or turned to syndication.
This year, I made great strides here. I landed a story in October that ran as a spread in Toronto’s The Globe & Mail newspaper, and then four more stories that ran between January and April – one more for the Globe & Mail, and three in the San Francisco Chronicle including one that ran on the front page of the travel section.
While I still haven’t cracked the travel magazine world, these newspaper stories let me see my name in print (*swoon*) and helped me start to leverage my portfolio for bigger and better things.
☑️ Accomplished 10/19/18
Cross the Equator
Many people were surprised to learn I had never crossed the equator before. Apparently in order to be a “professional traveler” and “travel writer,” you must have already visited literally everywhere. Not so! I am certainly more well-traveled than most people – but I’m far from the most-traveled person you’ll meet.
In early March, I flew to Chile for a trip with blogger friends. When I stepped off the plane in Santiago, that was my first time south of the equator. Everything is very normal on that side of the world, with the exception of some constellations which are upside down. Mind blown. ?
☑️ Accomplished 03/04/19
Introduce Mr. Valise Here on the Blog
Those of you deeply devoted readers who follow every single post I write know I recently accomplished this one…
Wait, there aren’t any of you? Womp womp.
Yesterday, I introduced Mr. Valise, aka Jacob, who we’re still going to call Mr. Valise or Mr. V. Years ago, I decided I would introduce him if we got engaged or married, and we were engaged over Christmas! I started thinking about the right time to introduce him, and my birthday (today!) seemed like a good time. But, I already had this post scheduled… so you met him a day early. Go read about him and our story here.
☑️ Accomplished 04/22/19
My 40 Before 40 Goals for Year 3 (32-33 Years Old)
For the coming year, here’s a shortlist of the goals I’d like to accomplish:
- Get my Kokopelli tattoo redrawn – I’ve been stuck on going back under the needle, but I think I’ll do a few small tattoos in one session, like I’ve done in years past.
- Finish writing and publish my Freelance Writing Challenge book – I’m actually renaming this goal officially: Publish my first book. I recently finished writing a book and will be announcing it very soon (TOMORROW! STAY TUNED!).
- Experience ‘zero gravity’ – This is a big investment (about $5k!) but I think I’ll treat myself to it when my book comes out.
- Produce a cover story for a print publication – I’ve been slowly working toward this since my first newspaper stories this year. Hopefully, propelled by my book, I’ll be able to land one (or more) of these assignments!
- Travel back to Jordan, stay in a Martian Dome, and properly see Petra – I’ve had to shift the STG Jordan Tour to March 2020… but it’s on! Come join me in Jordan!
- Scuba at the Great Barrier Reef (Australia) – It’s looking very likely that I will make my first trip to Australia in September or October as part of promo for my book. While there, I’d love to scuba (or snorkel, which I will also accept as completion of this goal) at the GBR.
- Visit New Zealand – I’m on the fence about how to make this happen as part of that Aus trip since it will make it a 4+ week trip, but it might happen! Goodbye money! ?
- Go parasailing – Seems like this shouldn’t be hard to do… right? I don’t currently have many tropical/water destination trips planned for the coming year though.
If I accomplish all of these goals, that would be a huge leap forward on my progress – I’d be ahead of the pace to actually accomplish them all! We’ll just have to see how life goes!
On My 33rd Birthday: A 40 Before 40 Check-In
Note: Added April 23, 2020
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…
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
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:
- 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.
- Produce a cover story for a print publication – I need to start pitching more if I want this to happen!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
On My 34th Birthday: A 40 Before 40 Check-In
Note: Added April 23, 2021
While it seemed like the past year went by at a crawl, here we are again – I’ve made another circuit around the sun: today is my 34th birthday!
Each year on April 23rd, I sit down and take a look at my past year and prepare for the coming one. It’s something I started several years ago when I set 30 goals I wanted to accomplish before my 30th birthday. After I turned 30, I set another round of goals: this time 40 goals to accomplish before my 40th.
This year’s update isn’t nearly as exciting as past ones, as you can probably guess based on how this year has gone for all of us. Nevertheless, I wanted to do my standard update for posterity. Hopefully by next year I’ll have a lot more goals accomplished to report – and more goals to commit to as international travel resumes.
Can you guess how many goals I accomplished in the past year – an entire year of the pandemic? Yep, you’d be right that I accomplished zero of my goals.
So far, I’ve completed 8 of my 40 goals, which is 20%. But I’m 4 years through the decade – 40% of the way. This means I’m pretty far behind if I want to accomplish them all, and I have a lot of work to do if I want to get caught up – especially as travel is still going to be affected for most of the next year if not longer.
However, just because I’m falling behind and it might be tougher to accomplish all of these goals doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying!
My 40 Before 40 Goals for Year 5 (34-35 Years Old)
For the coming year, here are the goals I’d like to accomplish:
- Fly a transoceanic flight in first class – Due to cancelled flights last year, Mr. V has a bunch of airline credit. I think that means it’s worth splurging on our first trip to London once that’s allowed again.
- Swim in all five Great Lakes (USA) – I’ve swum in two of the Great Lakes so far, but moving to Ohio should give us a chance to travel to and take a chilly dip in the remaining three.
- Travel every calendar day of the year – I have 10 days on the calendar I’ve never traveled before (January 8th, 15th, and 22nd, March 23rd-26th, and April 16th-18th) and I hope to plan trips this year to travel on them all.
- Travel back to Jordan, stay in a Martian Dome, and properly see Petra – After cancelling my Jordan tour in early 2020, I’ve rescheduled it for March 2022. Here’s hoping it it happens this time!
On My 35th Birthday: A 40 Before 40 Check-In
Note: Added April 23, 2022
Here we are: the halfway point of my 40 Before 40 project/journey. As everyone says as they age, it’s hard to believe how quickly time flies. It seems unbelievable that five years have passed since I started this project.
Five years ago, Mr. V and I were living in Seattle; since then, we moved to California, moved within California, and then bought a house and moved to Cleveland. I’ve taken probably hundreds of flights – even with the pandemic disrupting travel for two years. Speaking of, we were both very fortunate that none of our immediate family or friends were severely impaired by COVID – and all are still living, including both of my 95+ year old grandmas!
So yeah, maybe my 40 Before 40 project hasn’t gone as I’d originially planned – but we’re also all still here, and I’m still able to keep trying. That’s something to be very grateful for as I look at the five years ahead of me.
As I wrote last year’s update, Mr. V and I were actually in Hawaii for my birthday and our final vacation before moving to Cleveland. I had accomplished none of my goals in the previous year (understandable due to the pandemic given that so many of my goals are travel-related), and I was feeling a bit down about it. So Mr. V and I decided to scour the internet and snagged a parasailing tour at a good deal. We booked it and went a few days later.
Despite Mr. V being not the biggest fan of heights, we actually both enjoyed this activity and the view was awesome. I would definitely go parasailing again in a heartbeat, especially in places with cool views!
☑️ Accomplished 04/25/21
Travel Back to Jordan, Stay in a Martian Dome, and Properly See Petra
After first visting in 2016, I’ve been wanting to make a return trip to Jordan ever since; I was originally supposed to lead an astronomy-focused tour in March 2020 – another plan derailed by the pandemic.
As travel began to seem more possible this year, I replanned my tour as a “trial run” with another couple, and Mr. V, that couple, and I spent 8 days in Jordan last month. This was a highly educational experience in terms of running tours – and I had the chance to accomplish my Jordan travel goal of visiting Petra again and staying in the Martian Domes I wrote about for Lonely Planet way back in 2018.
☑️ Accomplished 03/28/22-03/30/22
My 40 Before 40 Goals for Year 6 (35-36 Years Old)
Now, at the halfway point in my 40 Before 40 goal project, I’ve decided to be a bit more conservative about the goals I can actually accomplish. The pandemic has taken away two years of my time, and – as expected – life has just changed since I started trying to accomplish these goals four years ago. So for this coming year, I’m committing to fewer goals than I have in past years:
- Travel every calendar day of the year – After some of my recent trips, there are only three days on the calendar that I haven’t traveled in the past decade. These days are January 8, January 15, and January 22 – so I guess I’ll be planning some weekend trips next winter!
- Fly a transoceanic flight in first class– Mr. V and I still have a lot of airline credit and plan to use that for a nice flight to London this coming year.
Additionally, I’ve added a new section (below) where I let go of some of my goals. These are goals that aren’t as big of a priority to me that they once were, and I’m okay going into the secold half of this project without completing them. So at this point, I only have 33 goals to accomplish and have accomplished 10 of them. There’s still plenty to accomplish in the remaining five years!
40 Before 40 Goals I’ve Let Go
Last Updated: April 23, 2022
Starting at the end of Year 5 (at my 35th birthday), I began releasing myself from the obligations of some of these goals. They were stricken from the main list above; below you’ll find each one I’m no longer committed to, and why.
- See a crop circle (Released after Year 5) – This is from my lifelong bucket list and honestly just doesn’t interest me as much as when I added it at, I dunno, 12 years old… 😂
- See the Triple Crown in a single year (Released after Year 5) – This is another goal from my lifelong bucket list that just doesn’t feel as important as when I added it over a decade ago.
- Swim in all five Great Lakes (Released after Year 5) – Guys, this just sounds cold. I feel no sense of accomplishment at the thought of this, so I’m not gonna force myself!
- Produce a cover story for a print publication (Released after Year 5) – In the past five years, I’ve significantly shifted my business away from writing freelance stories. While I’d love to accomplish this, I just don’t see myself prioritizing the amount of work it will take to get there, and that’s okay with me.
- Swim with dolphins (Released after Year 5) – I didn’t have a clear sense of how I intended to accomplish this goal when I set it, but I am now much firmer that I will not engage in that kind of animal tourism. So unless a wild dolphin comes to say hi when I’m at the beach someday, this one isn’t happening. As I don’t have control, I’m letting it go.
- Fill my passport before it expires (2024!) (Released after Year 5) – Due to the pandemic, this just isn’t gonna happen (especially as passport renewal takes SO long that you basically lose six months getting it renewed!). Instead, I’m letting myself feel grateful for all the places I have visited – and will get to visit – with this passport.
- Get my Kokopelli tattoo redrawn (Released after Year 5) – To be honest, I’ve been apprehensive about this goal ever since I set it. Having this tattoo is just not as important of a priority for me right now, so I’m not going to worry if I don’t accomplish it.
I’ll be back next year with an update to this post, so stay tuned! Have any questions about my 40 Before 40 project so far? Let me know in the comments!