29 Things I Learned at 29

Thoughts On Life, Travel, & Happiness
28 min read

I turned 29 yesterday (internally screams). After reflecting on a day with family, friends, and locally-brewed craft beers, I started thinking about what I find important in both travel and in life. So, here are 29 thoughts (in no particular order or specificity) about travel, mental health, social media, and life in general.

Me all day yesterday


Take A Break From Social Media

As of about two months ago, I decided to take a break from social media. I deactivated my Facebook and deleted Instagram & Snapchat from my phone. In the time since, I’ve focused on enjoying the moment. Just doing what makes me happy and enjoying my time alone, with family, and with friends. I don’t know when I’ll be back on social media, if at all, but it’s been incredibly rejuvenating.


Reevaluate Your Intentions

Speaking of social media, it’s really easy to get caught up in the cycle of scrolling through your feed, thinking about what to post, and inadvertently comparing your yourself to other people. It’s easy to get caught up in that vicious cycle and it’s truly not healthy. For me, I had to take a step back from photography and blogging to see if I was doing them for the right reasons. Was I wanting to take a photo just to post to Facebook? Did I want to travel just to say I did? Or did I do these things for my own growth and enjoyment? These are questions you should ponder in your daily life.


Quit Comparing Yourself

To continue harping on social media (it’s been a main topic of introspection), quit comparing yourself to other people. In one of my favorite books, The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama mentions that our primary source of unhappiness is from comparison. We take what we have for granted, don’t truly enjoy what we’re experiencing, and look at others with envy. Social media is a massive form of comparison, which is the main reason why I took an indefinite sabbatical. Why compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s SportsCenter highlight reel?


Try New Things

Now that you have some free time, what do you do with it? For me, I’m all about trying new things and building new experiences. For instance, I’m at my most uncomfortable when I’m on the dance floor. The way around that? I’m signing up for dancing lessons (Salsa, to be exact)! Will it be embarrassing? You bet. Will I suck at it for a while? For sure. But as long as you’re out of your comfort zone, you’re expanding as a person. Well, not literally. That would be weird.

I’m learning a new, patented martial art. It’s called Muay Fly and it protects you from horseflies


Don't Be Afraid To Fail

When it comes to trying new things, you’re going to fail. A lot. The only way to get good at something is to try, make a mistake, and adjust from it. The worst thing you can do is not try, because then you’ll never leave your comfort zone. Several years ago, I was called out for staying within my own comfortable life. Hearing that shook me to the core and is what spurred me to become a professional photographer as well as make travel a priority in my life.


Embrace Serendipity

If you don’t know what Serendipity is, it’s when things happen by chance in a happy way. As a personal example, I was planning my Iceland trip as a solo adventure. While at book club, I overheard two friends talking about the Golden Circle (one of the main roads in Iceland). It turns out they were planning an Iceland trip for the exact same time! What was originally the beginnings of a solo exploration turned into a group trip with friends overnight! Weird, right?


Be Comfortable With Yourself

Happiness doesn’t come from others, it comes from within you. You have to be comfortable with who you are and what you’re trying to achieve. If you find that you can’t have time where you aren’t around friends, you might be avoiding a problem by distracting yourself. I’ve personally found that meditation has helped me overcome this mindset, specifically using the guided meditations on the app Headspace. I always feel happier after ten minutes of mindfulness. Get comfortable being alone!

Okay Andrew, maybe too happy. You’re scaring people.


Get Out Of Your Head

Do you overthink things? I sure do, sometimes to the point where I feel like I can’t make a decision. The key to getting past this is to take a deep breath and firmly tell yourself to stop. Then, move on to your next thought. If that doesn’t work, picture yourself somewhere that makes you happy. Imagine the sight, smells, sounds, and feelings. Focus on that and you’ll find yourself happier in no time!


Unplug More Often

We all spend way too much time on screens. In fact, I feel like I’m cross-eyed just typing this article. A way to combat this is to leave your phone at home when doing things like going to the gym or taking a walk. It gives you time to mentally breathe and take in the current moment. 


Read More

The nice part about being away from a screen? You can read! Getting lost in a book is one of my favorite things to do, and it helps your brain get away from the mindless entertainment that’s on the internet. An easy way to get in the habit of this is to start a book club (or follow along with mine). It’ll help expand your reading horizons while having friends to hold you accountable.

My favorite book, The Alchemist


Be Present IN THE NOW

On my birthday yesterday, there were four separate times where I took a conscious step back and took in the celebrations. All of my friends and family took up an entire local brewery and the sounds of conversations and laughter nearly drowned out the cheers of World Cup enthusiasts. Just taking that moment to appreciate loved ones and how they took the time out of their day to celebrate made me get emotional (Shut up, I’m old. I’m allowed to be sentimental now). The fact that they cared enough to come out and be with me almost counteracted the looming existential crisis on the horizon. The point is, if you really focus on being in the moment, you’ll find that everyday life is much more interesting and vibrant than you had previously realized!


Don't Forget Family

Call your mom. ‘Nuff said.


Write Out A Bucket List

Not enough people do this. How do you know what dreams you have until you really think about them and write them out? After sitting down and writing mine, I had filled 5 pages. Most of those 5 pages were travel-related items (plus meeting Terry Crews), and it’s what helped me pick Iceland as my next adventure. Find out what drives you!


Journal Daily

Doing a five-minute, stream-of-consciousness journal each day will help you unpack thoughts you’ve had throughout the day. Often times, you’ll be able to work things out just by writing/typing them out. I open up a digital notepad and jot down stuff that’s been on my mind all day without editing or thinking about the verbiage too much. It’s interesting to go back and look at previous entries through the lens of hindsight. It’s certainly helped me recognize decisions and behavior I could improve on. I’m sure it will help you too! 


Create A Ritual

By ritual, I mean a set of daily / weekly actions that will help you reach your goals. Not sacrificing a goat or something. Define actions that will help you achieve a goal and make them into a habit. I personally use the Streaks app to help me keep track of everything I want to get done. For instance, I want to make it to the gym at least 4 times a week, read at least 3 nights a week, and make my bed every day (there’s a lifehack in making your bed). The reminders in Streak, as well as the haptic rumble you get when completing a task, help keep me on track.


Practice Gratitude

Remind yourself what you’re happy about, what you’re contributing to, things you’re proud of, and where you feel the love in your life. This forces you to mentally go through all of the positive things that you have in your life. Mentally listing these out will make whatever problems you’re dealing with seem more trivial by comparison. I make it a point to ask myself these questions in my head while I’m driving to work. Thinking about future travels, projects I’m working on, and the impact of friends and family in my life helps keep me grounded and grateful. 


Practice Positivity

As tough as it can be, being positive and optimistic has been my best weapon against life’s pitfalls. The best countermeasure for a failed project, an ended relationship, or a missed opportunity is to look at your future with confidence. One tip is to force yourself to smile (and hold it), even when you don’t feel like it. This tricks your brain into feeling better about your situation. Give it a try! …Good job, now you’ve weirded out everyone in the coffee shop. But it’s okay, I’ll bet you’re a bit happier, right? 


Sleep Better

If you’re anything like me, chances are you’re not sleeping enough. If you don’t get your full 7 or 8 hours, it’ll massively affect your mood and your productivity. I use the Sleep Cycle app to track my sleep quality and make sure I’m getting fully rested. It keeps track of your movement and breathing to tell if you’ve hit REM sleep and how often you’re tossing and turning. Then, it’ll tell you how long you slept, the quality of sleep, how long you were in bed for, and more. There’s seriously an app for everything isn’t there?


Forgive Yourself

As a friend once told me, memories should not give you negative emotion. If you find that one memory is putting you in a bad mindset, it means you have an emotional wound that’s unresolved. If you make it a point to go back into that painful memory, relive it, and truly forgive yourself (and the other person, if applicable), you’ll find your mood improves almost instantly. I was surprised how well it worked for me!


Eat Well & Exercise

This is a no-brainer. How are you going to take that hike if you drink Big Gulps? Plus, a healthy body leads to a sharper mind. As the cherry on top, why not look super-fit in those Instagram travel posts?


Learn Travel Hacking

Travel hacking is the method of using credit card points to get yourself free flights and free hotel stays! The idea is to put your regular, everyday purchases (plus big expenditures you have coming up) on credit cards that have lucrative spending bonuses. Some cards give, 50,000+ points for spending a certain amount within 3-4 months. That equals out to approximately $500 of free travel credits! If you’re interested but don’t know where to start, check out the best credit card I’ve found for beginners.


Prioritize Yourself

It’s very easy to get caught up in what other people want. Most of the suggestions in this post are altruistic and encourage you to help others. That’s well and good, but you need to take care of your needs first. It’s just like securing oxygen masks on an airplane: help yourself so you can help others.


Perform Random Acts of Kindness

That being said, have you ever gone out of your way and surprised a stranger? Bought their coffee, held the door for them, or complimented them on their shirt / shoes / elbows? You’ll often find that doing so makes both you and them happy. The best way to increase joy in yourself is to share it with others through acts of compassion. I put a reminder on my phone every Thursday to perform 5 random acts of kindness. While I don’t always hit my goal of five, just having the reminder helps keep me on track. Give it a shot, make someone else smile!


Pay Yourself

If you haven’t read The Richest Man in Babylon, you should put it on your must-read list. It’s one of the oldest books on personal finance and it stands the test of time for a reason. One of the main tenants is to make sure to pay yourself from each paycheck. That means to save a certain percentage of your income (at least 10%) before you pay your bills or buy that sweet travel print. In the author’s words, why would you take all of your money and pay everyone else except the one who earned it?


Learn to Say No

One of the most important things you can learn to do is to give a firm no. In the paraphrased words of Derek Sivers, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.” You should only say yes to something if it’s a trip / project / date / job that you’re excited about. This will not only keep you from getting involved in something you won’t enjoy, but it will cause other people to respect your time. Remember, be assertive and say no if you’re not into it.


Smile More

As I mentioned above, forcing yourself to smile can improve your mood on its own. It also helps make you more approachable and friendly! Give it a try, smile and say, “Hi,” to a few random people you pass by on the street. You’ll be surprised how many people smile back and say hello.


Be Your Authentic Self

Look inward and establish your values and what you find important in life. If you’re a goofy dork like me, let that shine through in everything you do. Quit trying to be liked by everyone. It never works, someone will inevitably get offended anyway, and you end up compromising yourself in the process. Be you!


Take Time To Think

From our phones, our TVs, and our computers, our generation deals with a serious stimulation addiction. In our search for the next source of entertainment, we forget to take time and just think. Sometimes, I like taking a drive or catching a sunrise in absolute silence. I’ve found that letting my mind wander in these scenarios have helped me come up with my most creative ideas as well as make the most profound personal revelations.


Be Compassionate

If there’s one thing you take away from this list, please let it be this. Be compassionate towards other people. It’s the easiest way to both spread happiness and feel happier yourself. I’ll leave you with one last quote from the Dalia Lama, “If you approach others with the thought of compassion, that will automatically reduce fear and allow an openness with other people. It creates a positive, friendly atmosphere. … even if the other person is unfriendly or doesn’t respond to you in a positive way, then at least you’ve approached the person with a feeling of openness that gives you a certain flexibility and the freedom to change your approach as needed.”

That’s it!

I hope at least one of the above thoughts resonated with you. Most of them boil down to: respect others and yourself, prioritize your mental health, and strive for happiness. What’d you think? Do you have any tips on not panicking while I wait to turn 30?

Comment below and let me know!