Personal Stories

A Mantra for 2017: Travel, Writing & Life

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2016 was nothing if not conspicuous. Everywhere you looked, it seemed like the world was ending. Can we just say for the record: I’m really glad 2016 is over, despite the fact that it was pretty awesome for me.

The same as last year, it seems like every travel blogger is spending the last few weeks of the year recapping all of their adventures. Whether it’s a list of “destinations I visited,” “the highlights of my travels,” “the worst travel experiences of the year,” or even a list of the top meals or most beautiful photos each year… There’s no shortage of articles linking back to other articles and stories from 2016!

I admit, I did join in the fun this year, sharing my already-linked meal and photo stories last week. Now though – today officially – it’s time to start looking forward. 2017, here we come!

The History of Yearly Mantras

For those of you new to my blog in the past year (? hi, there!), here’s a quick intro.

My good friend Malia of Shoyu Sugar, who I met at TBEX Cancun back in 2014, has long practiced the art of yearly mantras. Each year she picks a key word or phrase which she hopes will guide or inspire her year ahead (this is a little ironic, as her word for 2017 is “inspiration!”).

Last year, I decided to take up the practice, and chose the word “minimize” for my yearly mantra. I chose “minimize” because I wanted to reduce some parts of my life: possessions, noise, clients I didn’t enjoy working for, etc. You can read the full post below:

A Mantra for 2016

Looking Back on My Yearly Mantra to Minimize

Before announcing my mantra for 2017, I want to look back briefly on how I did living my 2016 mantra to minimize.

I had set myself some semi-concrete goals:

  • Turn off the TV more frequently than I turn it on.
  • Unfollow many of the accounts that just make noise in my life.
  • Connect with the travelers that I care about and whom tell great stories.
  • Focus on this blog, Maps Not Apps, and my homesickness book, Far From Home.
  • Pay as much debt as possible — all my credit card, and at least 2 of my loans.
  • Figure out a “capsule wardrobe” for my life.
  • Reduce my reliance (emotional and financial) on people who drain me.
  • Write here when I have something to say, not just my calendar says to do so.

I also set myself several private “unresolutions,” of other things I wanted to minimize or remove from my life. In short, I set myself the goal to reduce certain things (TV, social media accounts, debt, possessions) in favor of things I enjoyed more of (writing good stories, this blog, connecting with fellow travelers).

“Minimize” ended up being a powerful factor as I made decisions throughout the year, exactly as I hoped it would. After all, 2016 was the year I packed up (and reduced) many of my possessions, and spent the year traveling. I connected with amazing fellow travelers along the way, helped grow this blog to almost 10,000 views per month (!), and reduced possessions in favor of experiences. Though I didn’t successfully apply my mantra every single day, I think I did live a year that minimized in the ways I hoped it would.

Deciding on my Yearly Mantra for 2017

Early in December, I was pretty sure I knew what my mantra for 2017 would be: “focus.” After 7 months on the road, I was eager to come home to Seattle, settle in, and focus on projects and people that are important to me.

While flying back to Seattle last week, however, I was waylaid by a feeling that “focus” wasn’t right. Actually, it was more of a lack of feeling: I realized that during the flight home, I felt almost no joy about the prospect of traveling.

In case you missed it, a major portion of my personal and professional life is based on travel. I claim to love it, and always say I want to do more of it. If travel has lost its joy for me, that is a major problem. Maybe my word for 2017 should be to “enjoy” more. “Enjoy” certainly had some resonance, as “focus” did.

Searching for the right word for an entire year is hard, so I asked Twitter:

I added “experience” as a choice, thinking that might capture the essence of both “focus” and “enjoy,” but in the end none of these words felt right.

Late on the 30th, I decided to try using a thesaurus to search similar meaning words. When I saw “muse” as an alternative to “concentrate,” I knew I had found my annual mantra at last.

My Yearly Mantra for 2017: Muse

Pronounced as myōōz, “muse” is the perfect word that encapsulates the two themes I wanted for 2017 – intense focus on the things that matter, and the joy of inspiration in my life.

I’ve known the word for a long time, but I was surprised to read the definitions of muse:

noun: the source of inspiration for a creative artist

verb: be absorbed in thought

Muse is not as common a word as it was several hundred years ago, but that’s almost more of a reason to choose it:

The density of the usage of ‘muse’ in the English language has decreased significantly in the last 200 years.

The word muse has no synonyms which adequately capture both of its meanings. It really is a one-of-a-kind word that can’t be forever lost from the English language. In its meanings, it is the best and most parsimonious word to cover both meanings. As a writer, I find that very pleasing. Can you tell I know I found the right word?

What I Predict ‘Muse’ Will Mean in 2017

Choosing a word with two official definitions – as well as a social one – makes me excited and open to all that 2017 will bring.

As a noun, I look forward to using “muse” to inspire my creative work. I will:

  • Continue writing on this blog and sharing stories from around the world.
  • Finish writing a book I started writing in September.
  • Continue freelance writing and publishing with travel magazines and sites.
  • Embrace my new role as managing editor at Go Overseas, and cultivate a culture that encourages my writers to do their best work.

As a verb, I will practice the art of concentration and focus on both projects and people that matter to me. I will:

  • Identify those people and relationships that are most important and most neglected in my life, and work to strengthen these connections.
  • Continue to cherish and spend time with people I’m already close with.
  • Regularly evaluate the projects I’m working on (both paid and passion projects) to make sure I’m spending my time and earning money working on tasks I care about.

Finally, I will listen to the band Muse a lot more. They are artists with a passion for reminding us to stand up for what we believe; I predict that 2017 will require us all to commit deeply to our values if we want the future to be something we are proud to look back on.

Though I’m very glad that messy 2016 is over, 2016 still happened. Donald Trump is still president, the UK still voted to “Brexit,” and there are many angry, fearful people in the world – some who need protection, and some I must stand up to.

As they say in Sherlock Holmes:

Bring it on, 2017.

Do you have a mantra or resolutions? I’d love to hear them!

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.


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