2011: A Year of Making Impossibles, Possible

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Penang Beach, Malaysia.

Penang Beach, Malaysia.

“Sometimes, I believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast…” – Alice in Wonderland

I recently came back to Toronto for Christmas after 13 months of traveling around the world.

I’m still digesting my experience. While I was away, traveling long-term seemed like it was no big deal. Everyone I met was hopping across countries and continents. Now that I’m back and catching up with friends, I’m starting to realize that this past year was actually an incredible achievement.

I traveled around the world by myself for a year.

I’ve been reflecting on my experiences, looking through the 17,200 photos I took, organizing ticket stubs from World Wonders I visited, and reminiscing about spontaneous moments shared with other travellers.

But what stands out the most, is that this year I accomplished a lot of things that seemed impossible – things I didn’t initially know how to do or things I didn’t know could be done at all.

1. Turning 5 travel months into 13

Without a doubt, the turning point of this year was deciding to travel past the five months I initially planned.

My trip was only supposed to involve India, Southeast Asia and Austrialia/New Zealand. When the 5 month mark approached in Southeast Asia, I was torn between going home to work again, and continuing to travel but not knowing how I’d fund all of it.

After some clarity from 10 days of silent meditation, I realized there would be difficulties no matter what path I chose. With some encouragement from another traveller, I took a leap of faith and decided to aim for 7 more months of travel to hit the one year mark.

Wait… I’m allowed to make crazy decisions like these?! How empowering.

With this leap of faith, the next few impossibilities unfolded.

2. My blog… it’s an asset?!

With Turkey and Europe next on the itinerary, I knew funds would be a challenge.

I started by taking an inventory of all the assets that I could use to make or save money. I listed physical assets like my laptop and camera; skills like web design; contacts and friends around I could maybe stay with; and I brainstormed ways I could fit these pieces together so I could hit make it to one year of travels.

A travel friend saw a Europe rail article by another blogger and got the idea of approaching Eurail.com, the online seller of Europe rail passes, to ask if they’d consider helping us with passes if we promoted them via blog articles or shared photos of our rail travel experience.

They generously agreed to an exchange, and that was the first time it clicked that this blog is actually an asset.

Which brings me to the next impossibility…

3. Traveling in Europe, for 20 weeks!

Even when I was working, the idea of visiting Europe for 5 weeks would’ve been a mental and financial stretch.

It’s been almost 3 months since my 14,000 km Europe rail trip finished. Looking back, I sometimes still wonder how I pulled it off.

All I know is that between my Eurail passes, cooking or packing most of my meals and staying only at hostels/guesthouses, I some managed to see 18 countries from as east as the Bulgaria, to as west Spain, as south as Italy, to as north as Copenhagen. I even had the good fortune of seeing friends I made while travelling on other continents and spent my 29th birthday in Berlin eating a homemade cake from a Toronto friend.

During this 13 month trip, the Europe portion probably took the most energy and felt the least like a vacation; but I was determined to make it work, so at least stepping up to the challenge came with ease.

4. Going to the Middle East, alone!

With the Europe visit ending in the fall, North Africa or the Middle East seemed like logical areas to visit afterwards.

I’ve wanted to see the Pyramids since elementary school and the Jordan travel articles I saw from other travelers were fascinating. I was scared to visit this area of the world, but reputable tour companies like Gap Adventures and Intrepid both run trips in Egypt and Jordan, so I figured these countries must be reasonably safe.

I ended up spending 20 days in Egypt and 8 days in Jordan. I was solo for half my stay in each country and with a tour or guide during the other half. To my great surprise, both countries were relatively comfortable to visit and were less overwhelming than India.

Of the the 27 countries I visited this trip, these two were the most surprising in terms of the difference what I expected and what I experienced. Neither were anything like what the North American media had led me to believe.

5. Growing a little blog from 1.6K visits to 74.5K/month

I started this blog on April 1, 2010, the last day of my corporate job, as a way to document my journey during my year off. In the 9 months between April to Dec 2010, I only wrote 14 blog posts, so it wasn’t a surprise that in January 2011 I had less than 2K visits/month.

When I first started reading travel blogs, I was amazed by the amount of reader comments and feedback on some of the larger sites. I once asked a few bloggers about their website traffic and I remember thinking that I’d have to increase my traffic twenty to forty-fold to get to their size. How would I do that?!

Regardless, I wanted to continue sharing my experiences and connecting with others interested in career breaks, travel and personal growth. I stuck with it and decided I’d just do my best to copy the social media and promotion techniques of the blogs I most looked up to.

In July, I had my first month with over 5,000 visits. In October, I reached 10,000 visits and recently in December 2011, Google Analytics recorded 74,525 visits and 90,976 pageviews.

Numbers aren’t everything, but I never thought I’d reach numbers in this range.

Coming back in Toronto for Christmas

Being back in familiarity of Toronto has been nice. It’s comforting and relaxing to see old friends, to have my old cell phone number and to eat delicious home cooked family dinners.

This blog was an essential part of how some major milestones in 2011 unfolded. I don’t know if I could’ve continued travelling the way I did if it wasn’t for your support, whether it’s your readership, comments, emails or your nod of acknowledgement in the form of a Facebook Like or Tweet.

Thank you for helping make my one year travel dream a reality.

For now, I’m going to stay in Toronto while I digest my whirlwind of a year. My goal for this trip initially was to travel solo, then the goal became to hit the one year mark. The next time I travel, it’ll be a different goal.

I don’t have concrete plans for 2012, but then again, most of the adventures from 2011 (and 2010) weren’t planned either. I am going to continue blogging and I will keep you updated.

Happy 2012 and cheers to another year of making the impossible, possible.

>> What were some milestones of your year? Did you do something that you initially thought was a stretch or impossible goal?

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  • http://twitter.com/outsidemymind OutsideMyMind

    Hey Lily,

    I just stumbled across your blog, it’s/you’re really awesome (found one of your comments on NomadicMatt’s site).  It’s always nice to find people doing cool things.  I look forward to reading more about your adventures in the future : )

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Thanks for dropping by and for your kind words, looking forward to seeing your around then :)

  • http://twitter.com/financialsamura Financial Samurai

    Congrats on 1+ year of traveling!  Very impressive.  Whatcha plan to do for work now back in Toronot?

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Thanks Financial Samurai! I started working at a mobile start-up company about 6 weeks ago, so am planning to be in Toronto for the next while. It’s really different from my past corporate jobs, but in a really good way :)

  • Pingback: Round-the-world expenses: $4520 for 19 flights | Travel Fun Travel Free

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  • http://www.crazysexyfuntraveler.com/ Crazy sexy fun traveler

    It feels so good to do things you never thought they would be possible!

  • http://blog.compasstales.com/ Jane Degtiareva

    Congratulations on your success! I’ll be looking forward to read more about your adventures. 

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Thanks for stopping by Jane! I’m looking forward to sharing more stories, tips and photos on this blog too. If you have any ideas for useful articles, feel free to let me know too :)

  • Neena

    wonderful post Lily. I am so pleased for you and it has given me a boost. Really enjoyed reading about Vipassana as i was thinking about this also. Neena x

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Neena, thanks for your kind words. The Vipassana course was an unique experience and possibly life-changing too. If you have any questions about it, feel free to reach out.

  • Anonymous

    Lily,

    I hate to burst your bubble, but in December I clicked on this website 90,000 times. What can I say, I am addicted. I feel as though I can speak for the other 976 people that clicked on the site and we think you did a tremendous job on the blog.

    Sincerely,

    President and CEO of the Lily Leung Fan Club

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Whether you visited 90,000 or just once last month, I’m grateful for your visits and specifically for spicing things up around here with your witty comments!

      - Lily

  • Melli

    Congrats on turning your impossibilities into realities – a really great inspiration, Lily.

    Again, some of what you listed here show that you are a writer already. I’ve had my photoblog for almost 5 years now – and never even managed to cross the 2k visits mark. Only recently have I begun to see a slight increase in blog visits due to cross linking my entries to other (mainly photography sites). But interaction – very little.
    Now this is not a complain. I have an idea why this is.  And I will work on rectifying this a little. Secondly – my blog is part of my hobby while most of my energy goes into my main job (which I love).
    However, you obviously have skill to create interesting blog posts and a loyal readership (that your blog is on my RSS feed certainly speaks to that). So congrats on turning your blog into an asset!

    In my life I have accomplished several milestones people told me were not possible. One of the biggest one was moving to the US – and turning a planned one year stay into a life and career changing 6 year stay. Then they told me it would be hard to live in my hometown again. It took a while and I do not know how long it will last, but hey… I live there now again. :) There are still things/milestones people tell me will be impossible or very difficult to achieve. Let’s hope I can prove them wrong in time.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Melli, congratulations on your milestones – it’s empowering to achieve what people tell you would be difficult/impossible because it reaffirms the choice to listen to yourself and your intuition. I’ve enjoyed being part of your journey this past year and seeing your gorgeous photographs. It reminds me that there are beautiful experiences to be captured in your own backyard. If there’s anything I might be able to help in terms of blog or website-related things, let me know. Cheers to doing the impossible.

  • Hannah Loaring

    Wow, Lily, you certainly set the bar high for us newbie bloggers! Congratulations on an astounding and well deserved success. I have loved following along on your journey and look forward to seeing what the future holds for you. I’m certain that whatever it is, you will live every second to the full :)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Thanks for your support, Hannah. 2012 is a brand new year so I’m looking forward to what’s in store as well. Your comment about the high bar is humbling – I’ve been lucky and had the good fortune of meeting others who I learned from along the way. I’m still small compared to the major travel blogs :)

  • http://twitter.com/quietwanderings Cherina Hadley

    Such an inspiring article! You have had a really great year and I am so pleased for you that your blog has become so popular. It’s easy to see why! I hope that 2012 brings you just as much travel excitement and blog success!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Cherina,

      Thanks for your good wishes! This year of travelling passed by really quickly and looking through my photos now I’m starting to digest how much of the world I saw this year too. I hope 2012 brings you lots of adventure too! 

      - Lily

  • http://www.sugarcanenomads.com/ Rica

    Lily, you are an inspiration. :) Thank you :) Btw, things are going pretty well for my ambitious journey this year..unexpectedly..and the month hasn’t even ended yet! I’m still keeping the faith that everything will push through as planned. Good vibes!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Rica, that’s great news! It’s been great to be acquainted with you on this journey, and keep me updated on your plans. Yes, will send you good vibes too – those never hurt ;)

      - Lily

  • http://www.ordinarytraveler.com/ Christy & Scott

    Congrats on an amazing year! We look forward to reading about your new adventures in 2012.

  • http://nomadicsamuel.com Nomadic Samuel

    That’s incredible Lily!  I spent all of 2010 and a good chunk of 2011 backpacking throughout South America and Asia and it’s not even close to what I consider will be my biggest trip in the future.  I think having a strong will to continue on (as you did) is just as important as anything else.  It’ll be interesting to see what 2012 has in store for you – best wishes!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Samuel, congratulations on your amazing 2011 as well. It really interesting watching your photo blog / videos grow this year – you took the travel-o-sphere by storm ;) Looking forward to seeing how your 2012 unfolds.

      - Lily

  • http://www.so-many-places.com/ Kim

    Lily, congrats on a terrific year (and some hefty blog stats).  You are an inspiration!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Kim, thanks for your kind words. It’s been an honour connecting with you this year and following along on your journey. You’ve already done so many things I wish I had done before my trip (and which I’ll do before future ones!). Best of luck to you :)

      - Lily

  • http://technosyncratic.com Technosyncratic

    Wow, those stats are amazing!  It’s cool how much of a role the blog played in your travels; we had no idea how much ours would influence us (where we’ve gone, who we’ve met), but it’s been a welcome surprise.  :)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Christy, Kali – it’s been a pleasant surprise for me too, it’s wonderful the opportunities having a blog opened in terms of connecting with other travellers and the actual trip itself – like meeting you guys at Thanksgiving dinner this fall! How random and amazing. Looking forward to what the new year brings us!

      - Lily

  • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

    Wow, Lily – that’s absolutely incredible!! Congrats on such a wonderful year – looking forward to your next adventure…

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Andrea and John, it’s been nice getting to know you this year. I hope we cross travel paths in the future, and looking forward to what the new year brings for you too.

      - Lily

  • Sunil

    I think the art of writing, especially when the enormity of the experience occupies your rearview mirror, is distilling magnitude to meaning in the simplest but warmest language.  Lily, I think you do that very well:)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Sunil, thanks for your kind words. They mean a lot, especially because this whole foray into sharing life stories and reflections is new to me. Thanks for being part of the journey and your encouragement. You’re right, I think I’m still digesting my experience!

      - Lily

  • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

    Amazing year and amazing stats! Maybe our 8 months can turn into a year too!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Gerard, if there’s a will, there’s a way! Best wishes for your RTW travels and looking forward to hearing about your adventures. It’s been nice getting to know you and Kieu :)

      - Lily

  • Jeannie

    Absolutely incredible Lily! Look forward to hearing all about 2012! :)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Thanks Jeannie, I’m looking forward to seeing what 2012 brings too. Sometimes events and life unfolds in the more unpredictable and surprising ways – but that’s a good thing, right? 

      - Lily

  • http://twitter.com/eurotriptips Marie-Eve Vallieres

    Congratulations with your big numbers ;-) They aren’t everything, but they sure do feel good after working so hard for them! Can’t wait to see what 2012 has in store for you ;-)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Marie, it was nice meeting you, even if only briefly, this summer. Travelling has been an adventure, but blogging has been too and looking forward to seeing how 2012 unfolds for you too :)

      - Lily

      • marie sy

        what happened to you this 2012? waiting for more stories!