A Birthday Promise to Myself

Today is my birthday. I am thirty-three years old. I’m not a fan of birthdays. It’s not like today is any different than yesterday. My thoughts, feelings, successes, and failures are still the same. It’s the time in between the birthdays that changes us, not the day itself. And, anyways, why celebrate just one day of your life? Let’s celebrate life everyday. I like to treat every day as my birthday.

However, as I look back on another year, I feel very stale. Life feels stale. This blog feels stale. Everything feels stale. Thirty-two to thirty-three was a year of great growth for me, both professionally and personally. But that hasn’t changed the fact there is a creeping sense of staleness coming over me.

Then I came across this blog post from last year about all the things I wanted to do before I was thirty-five.

In the last year, I’ve accomplished none of them.

Sure, this past year saw me visit a few new countries, but I don’t feel like I’ve gone on a big adventure. I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel, going back to the same places over and over and over again. While I’m grateful for all the opportunities I have, the people I know and get to meet, and the places I can go, I don’t feel as though my travels are growing, nor am I growing.

That list was intended to focus me, but instead, it’s collected digital dust. Like so many others, I dreamed big, talked big, and made grand plans — but when push came to shove, I just shrugged my shoulders and said “life got in the way.” There was always a conference, or too much work, or an event in New York City.

And while I stand behind my decision to balance life in NYC and life on the road, I realized it’s time to stop making excuses and follow my own advice. The only way to really ensure “life doesn’t get in the way” is to commit – to book that ticket and count down the days. It’s easy to say “I’m going” but by booking that ticket, you’re committed. How can I encourage people to “just go” if I don’t?

So yesterday, I booked tickets — these plane tickets – and, to be held accountable, I’m posting them here. While my summer is filled with group tours around Europe, starting in the fall, it’s time for some new adventures!

In mid-September, I’m finally going to Iceland. I’ve talked a lot about going to Iceland but it’s finally time to make it happen:

I’ve been promising my friend I’d visit her in Hong Kong for over a year now and, after finding a super cheap ticket (only $1k roundtrip from NYC), I booked it:

On November 2nd, I’m flying one way to Puerto Rico to spend 4-6 weeks traveling around the Caribbean. I’ve always want to travel the region by boat and it’s time to finally do so. I have no itinerary. I’m just going south and east from Puerto Rico and will see where the wind takes me:

For New Years, I’m going visit the Philippines or Argentina, but ticket prices are close to $2,000 right now, so I’m going to wait on that and see if prices come down or what reward tickets are available.

There you have it. Tickets are booked. There’s no turning back. It’s time to go discover some new places instead of revisiting the old.

This next year is all about having new adventures, not repeating old ones.

That’s my birthday promise… to myself and to you.

  1. Eva

    Such an inspirational post. Don’t just write things down and dream of those things, but take action and make your dreams come true.

  2. Happy Birthday, Matt! And best of luck on your impending adventures. I’ve made the decision recently to eliminate the word ‘maybe’ from my vocabulary and it’s amazing what happens. Inspired even more to see that you’re doing the same.

  3. Ju

    It sounds great! I totally agree with the spirit of your post.
    Happy birthday, Matt! And see you here if you end up in Argentina at the end of the year!

  4. Rachel sorne

    Happy happy birthday, Matt ;p i’m so so happy for you coz you finally booked those tickets ;p im looking forward to reading your blogs about your upcoming adventures ;p hope to see you here in the Philippines if ever you’ll push through with your plans of coming here ;p

    happy happy birthday again Matt, have a great one dear ;p cheers! mwah

  5. A huge happy birthday to you Matt. You have been such a huge inspiration and part of my life for the last few years. You may feel sad but please be happy to know if it was not for yourself I would not have quite my job and left on 21 April to travel the world and not back for a year. I have had the most amazing experience in Africa and have so many more countries to visit… ALL BECAUSE OF YOU. I thank you ??

  6. mel

    Hey Matt, thanks for this blog posting . I enjoyed reading it. Sounds like you have a great life even though you feel like out of sorts kind of. You would like Iceland.I was there last November.I met very wonderful people there.It is a crime free country and it i extremely safe.People are so nice. I will be in the Philippines in January.Let me know if you want to meet. You can even stay in my bed and breakfast place there for free.

  7. Deanna

    Happy Birthday Matt! You’re going to LOVE Iceland!! You’ve always been such a big inspiration, so this post made me smile quite a bit to see you following your own advice!! Cheers!

  8. Happy birthday Matt! And happy first day of the World Cup too! (I had to say that, I’m in Brazil right now!) I spent last New Years in Argentina and I highly recommend it if you get the chance. I’m excited to read about your trip to Iceland, it’s a place that’s been on my list for a while too!

  9. Beto

    Iceland! Went there for a month in 2012 and I’d sure could come back. Mid-September is a fantastic time to go too – just before the grueling winter starts to kick in. Nature landscapes and sights are awesome, but their society is awesome too in many ways. Knock yourself out. :)

    Me, I’ve been also stuck on a rut, recently out of a job and with more desire to change my professional path instead of staying in the same thing. In the meantime, I found a rock-bottom offer to head to Guatemala to visit a friend – which certainly will help me set things out. Once a traveler, always a traveler.

  10. Happy Birthday Matt! Great post. I know all too well about making lists and then letting them collect “digital dust”. Your post has reminded me to revisit that post and start putting things in motion. There are lots of hiking trips I want to do… so maybe I just need to book my tickets!

  11. Happy birthday! And those are some amazing travel plans! When you’re traveling around the Caribbean, are you going to be staying on a private boat there, are you renting a boat, how are you getting around! I’ve been on cruises in the area and never thought about going on a smaller boat. Sounds like a wonderful adventure!

  12. Vanessa

    Happy birthday! I just celebrated mine in Prague! This is a wonderful post and I hope you get the icky feeling of staleness out of your system with these new adventures on the horizon. Reading your blogs has made me more ambitious about my travels. My next stop is Bankok, Thailand on June 29, and I plan to use your travel guide advice as much as possible and make some awesome adventures of my own :) Take care!

  13. Daniel

    Happy Birthday! You could check off something on your list for this july. See the world cup. It’s your last chance before your 35!!!!

  14. Erica

    Thanks for your inspiring words and happy birthday! You’ve convinced me to book some tickets as soon as I see them cheap enough! I need a restful place though, somewhere known and peaceful, since I’m leading bookclubs and barbeques every two weeks for my church all summer long. By September I will need some quiet time and a place for re-fueling and I can’t think of a better place than Kas, Turkey or maybe Granada, Spain (but probably Kas). Those two are two of my absolute favorites in terms of places I’ve already been. Yes, they are known to me, I’ve already been to the Alhambra and explored the little town of Kas … but what I’m looking for is a warm breeze, a balcony and lots of cafe sitting and street photography … and both these offer endless opportunities. Plus, my time there before wasn’t long so I will get to spend more indepth time exploring their surrounding communities. Thanks always for your authenticity in your posts …

  15. Kate L.

    Happy Birthday!

    Thanks for being willing to share what you’re thinking and how you’re handling life’s challenges, because things like attitude and mindset are as important as where to stay and what to eat while traveling, and it always helps to have the example! I’m looking forward to your future posts!

  16. Joanna

    Happy birthday Matt! I hope you accomplish all of what u put your mind to. I’ve read your posts a few times a year and always feel like you share the way I feel. I wonder if it’s what the thirties is all about. Feeling lost or not quite where one feels they should be in relation to others. I look forward to reading more of your posts and living vicariously through your eyes. I may just end up within the continental US this year but your posts motivate me to do more. Cheers to all your travels!!!

  17. Wynne

    Happy Birthday! I, too, am dying to go to Iceland. I feel I can go nearly anytime, since it’s so close to NYC. Must book that ticket myself! Groupon had a trip there, and I’ll be keeping an eye on that as well.

    And what a phenomenal price to Hong Kong!

    Lastly, sailing around the Caribbean sounds heavenly. I’m hoping to do that around Greece at some point. Enjoy year 33!

  18. It wasn’t until I booked my trip to Iceland that I realised already that you haven’t been! And my first thought was, WOW how am *I* going somewhere that nomadic matt hasn’t been?! You go about a month before I do, so I look forward to seeing some posts before I go :)

    I have also found this year I’m not getting to a lot of new places. Back to Spain- though a different part again, and the only really new places I am going to are Slovenia and Iceland. Tho’ I am looking forward to both.

    Life sometimes catches up with us, even (and sometimes especially) work. I hope to be in a different position next year.

  19. Becky H.

    That’s great! Can’t wait to see posts and money-saving tips for Iceland. I am planning on going next summer!

  20. Ronald Vautour

    Hi Matt,

    I am a long standing avid follower of yours.

    You are a trend-setter, with such an entrepeneurial mind…Bravo!

    I simply want to wish you a fabulous ” Birthday” !

    May the days ahead of you continue building your passion and travelling to your hearts desire.

    Kindest regards from Vancouver,Canada.


  21. Megan MacNee

    A great plan! Good luck on all your travels. And my boyfriend and I will be heading off to Puerto Rico a couple days after you do so please share a bit about what you planning and looking at exploring!

  22. Always good to get to the places you always wanted to go, or do the things you always wanted to do. I have been putting off my real adventure to travel down through West Africa. I understand the stale you talk about. I have to admit that after all these years travelling, Africa is the place that excites me the most! Time to book my tickets soon as well…

  23. Adrienne

    Happy birthday Matt!!! I just wanted to say thank you for this post, end every other post you have done. I came across your book in December, and because of that, and this blog, you have inspired me to make a 5 year plan. I have things to finish up before I can set off (finish my bachelors, pay off student loans, etc,) but because of your wealth of knowledge, I have started to prepare!! Thank you again, and have a good birthday! I look forward to the blogs and pictures of your trips!!

  24. Christopher KO

    Looking forward to some more adventures! Good luck with saving money in Iceland- even for you that will be an uphill battle!

  25. Good for you!

    Also, enjoy Iceland. It’s easily one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited, and the natural beautify of the landscape is incredible. Savor it.

  26. Maya

    Happy Birthday Matt!!
    Thank you for your passion and authenticity.
    We all want to get back to our passion, to feel most alive and aligned with the universe.
    People love to tell me, it’s NOT about the place. ‘When will you root, little seed?’
    But I can most definitively say :: The outer circumstance inspires the inner journey ….. Love hearing that u found those places … and we will hear the stories down the road …
    much aloha,
    Maya, aka Gypsy Yogini

  27. carlisdm

    Hey! we are the same age! Happy Birthday! and way to go! congrats that´s the way of doing it, once the tickets are bought, there is not turning back! I´m thinking of doing the same….

  28. Trish

    Happy Birthday! – Feel free to celebrate the whole year though… :)

    From someone a bit older, I had the same thought a couple of years ago & I have made it a goal to keep doing something (even if it’s just something small) that works towards my goals. For example, I’ve always wanted to go to Montréal & last year I could only get away for a couple of days. “You’re flying all the way there for just a couple of days?? Why don’t you wait ’til you can spend more time?” was the question I got asked. Well, here’s the thing about waiting… the time may, or more likely, may NOT come. So just do what you can. Those couple of days were the highlight of last year. Small steps towards a big goal are always better than doing nothing, waiting to take a giant leap! Time passes quickly – I commend you for going for your goals now.

  29. Lolo

    First, happy birthday!!!

    I was hoping that you were coming to Argentina, so I was happy to read that you probably will!! (Yes, I know the tickets are too expensive, but your stay will be really cheap!!). So, anything you need here, you can write to me!

  30. Sherrie

    Happy Birthday Matt!

    I can relate to the staleness but doing something about it is key. Glad to see you’re on your way! Thanks for all the inspiring posts! I’m working on planning my big RTW!

  31. Yvonne

    Aloha Matt and happy birthday,

    Today is also my friend Ingrid from Sweden’s birthday. She is 72 today (I am 64.) I met Ingrid when I was 18 years old after hitchiking across north Africa, which was something not done by a single woman in those days, the 1960’s. So I have known Ingrid all my adult life! Life goes by really fast! It seems like just a few years ago I was your age and now I am a senior citizen. I have been a traveler all my life but there is so much more to see. Do not get discouraged about your writing, just keep looking forward. Life is a precious gift and we are so lucky that we are in the strata of society that can take advantage of travel and all the adventures it brings.

    I hope your birthday day has been filled with friends, family, and fun. If you ever travel to Kaua’i (Hawaii) look me up and come stay for awhile. You would love it here.

    Cheers from one of your traveling readers, Yvonne (AKA islandgoddess)

    PS I am in process of booking tickets for 3 months in SE Asia this winter. Last winter it was 3 months in Australia and 1 month in New Zealand. Never too old to keep on truckin’!

  32. Heather W.

    Didn’t you, at one point, want to work in a vineyard for a bit? Or, has the “Learn about wine in France” replaced that?

  33. Good on you, it’s so nice having trips to look forward to! I loved Iceland, definitely one of my favourite countries. I am very interested in finding out how you go in the Caribbean and if it is possible to get around island hopping by boat. Looks like the second half of your year will definitely not be stale :)

  34. Joslyn

    Hey Matt,

    Just got back from a 10-week “no itinerary” trip around the Caribbean (including Puerto Rico) in case you are looking for any suggestions or budget ideas. There’s a great restaurant in Viejo San Juan called Barrachina – delicious!

  35. Nely

    Happy Birthday Matt. Ohhh what a jolt you just gave me. Very inspirational blog post. I loved it. Have a great year!

  36. Sounds like you’ll be enjoying some cool adventures on those trips, and I can’t wait to read about all of them!

    If you book a trip to the Philippines, I especially look forward to reading about that too – we came “this close!” to booking a flight there to stay for a month, then decided to save it for another year after reading the following on the Cdn. government travel advisory site: “There is no nationwide advisory in effect for the Philippines. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to an ongoing terrorist threat to Westerners and Western interests.”

    For every other country we’re going to, they caution about the usual scams, pick pockets, avoid protests etc… but they went out of their way to mention a threat to Westerners in particular for the Philippines – we want to see Cebu, but will wait until we’ve figured out if the threat to Westerners applies even there.

    • Kevin

      Hi Sheralyn.

      I’m from Cebu and I can assure you that there is minimal threat to Westerners here in Cebu. And if ever there’s an incident involving a Western tourist here, there’s a high probability that it’s an isolated case and does not represent in anyway the whole province. :)

  37. You are going to love Iceland! Leave next week for my 3rd visit. But I agree, new places!!! I have so many on my list for the next couple years….

  38. Kimberly Taylor

    Happy Birthday Matt!!!!!!

    If you want to get out of DFW airport for a while during your layover to/from Hong Kong in October, my boyfriend and I can pick you up. Just let me know! My email account stays pretty full so email me through Facebook if you’re interested.

  39. Hi Matt,
    Hamster wheels – a pain in the arse! I’d ask what do you keep coming back to, inside you that you haven’t yet moved on from. That was my initial thought anyway.
    Iceland looks fantastic. My son went there to work – he’s a Freerunner and he said it was stunning.

  40. Adrienne Morton

    I sound like a broken record:
    Cogratulations on realizing what was missing. And how to fix it. And, not to be taken granted, be able to fix it! We don’t all have that option. I so look forward to hear about the hopeless emptiness exiting your body and soul, and the new and beautiful and confusing and fascinating surround you. I wish I could go with you.
    Adrienne Morton

  41. Kevin

    So inspiring Matt! I myself feel like my life has been stale lately… I guess it’s time to visit a new place then.

    PS — Happy birthdaaaaaaay :) Come to the Philippines in the New Year 😀

  42. Hi matt, if you are feeling stale from travel, maybe more travel wont give you the freedom you are looking for?

    Have you thought about taking up meditation or something spiritual? Sometimes the staleness comes because we are changing the outside but the inside remains the same. And we are seeing the world through the same lenses no matter where we go…


    I wish you happy travels inside and out :)


  43. Good on you Matt! I know you’ve been travelling for years but I’m glad you’re not getting tired of the whole thing and have a different spin on things now – whether you may have a base in NYC or not – you’re the only one who can make yourself accomplish the things you want to :) Happy birthday too!

  44. Happy Personal New Year, Matt!

    I so appreciate your post, since that stale feeling can set in too easily. Good on you for assessing the problem and taking care of it. You’ll find out if it WAS the problem! …and, you’ll have some new places under your belt.

    On another note – I am excited to say that I just discovered AirFastTickets, which gave me an even better price than skyscanner for the same set of flights. I may be the last person on the planet to have found them, but I don’t recall reading about them in your useful list of How To Find Cheap Tickets. Maybe this will help someone.

    I ditto the others who love and read and learn from your blog. THANKS!

    Irene – On The Road, still.

  45. Pernille Nicolaisen

    First Happy Birthday
    It is very inspirational to read that you follow your dreams and check some of those places of on the bucket list. NOw you probably have hundreds of people given you great advise on what to do, but here is another on Iceland, I lived there for about half a year, and of course you can’t get to the depths of the country that quick, but one way to see more and experience a more “true” Iceland is by renting a car. If you meet great people there at the hostel/hotel/couchsurfing maybe they’ll be willing to share costs. It is the best thing to drive around get to the small coastal towns, perhaps into the fjords.
    Another very important thing, when eating the rotten shark, remember to have a snaps ready or orangejuice, and don’t chew it too much.
    Hope you enjoy yourself (also on all the other planned travels) and let me know if you need more info or anything

  46. Happy belated birthday! I feel the same way when I’m in one place for too long. It feels as though dust settles and nothing is new and exciting then life becomes mind numbing repetition. Good thing we always have a choice on whether or not that continues indefinitely. :)

  47. Good on you to already have an itinerary all booked! I will be headed to the Balkans this year…already thinking of other places for the end of the year,.,budget for now is a big challenge, haven’t quite figured how to go on the cheap..but still learning…

  48. I love making plans, itineraries, etc. but it can also be a way for me to procrastinate. Way to just do!

    “Action will delineate and define you.” – Thomas Jefferson

    Happy Birthday man!

  49. mike

    As someone like myself who enjoy’s traveling , planning a trip naw just set time aside when your friends are free matt

  50. Mari

    Happy birthday Matt! I just recently found your blog but I’m already a devoted fan. It’s interesting, often the advice we give to others is the advice we need! Many of your posts laud the spirit of adventure, and perhaps the reason why you felt stale is due to the “disconnect” from the message. But now that you’ve broken past those barriers, you’ve transcended to the next level of your development. I felt your release and joy in surpassing the self imposed obstacles. It is an inspiration to me. You not only talk the talk, you walk the walk!

  51. “The only way to really ensure “life doesn’t get in the way” is to commit – to book that ticket and count down the days.” This is so true and really speaks to me right now. I’ve been putting of going traveling for years. Instead I dream of it (well, and save for it) but now its finally the time to book it! Good for you for blowing some fresh air into your life when you realise you need it. Happy birthday and looking forward to read about the upcoming trips!

  52. Gloria

    Belated Happy Birthday Matt! Mine’s on 17th :)

    Good luck with your trip. As is the case with life, the only person standing in our way is ourselves.

  53. Stephen Allen

    Happy belated birthday Matt!

    I tried sending a comment on your birthday but was having trouble in my hostel with internet connection. At that moment, I was reading and reading wondering where that place was. I was reading from my hostel in Iceland! Very bizarre.

    I am very excited for you, you will have such a blast there. We have just spent six nights in Iceland and could easily find a way to spend much longer there. It’s a very beautiful country. Me and a good friend of mine hired a car and mainly stuck to the south of Iceland but what an incredible week it has been. Icelandic league football, the Golden Circle, Jokulsarlon, midnight sunset and not forgetting the week driving around in a Jeep Wrangler all made for an unforgettable week. I’m not sure what advice I can give you on Icelandic cuisine – it’s … unique.

    Bon voyage and have a great trip Matt.

  54. Happy birthday! (A bit delayed)
    I feel the same ways about birthdays but at least this one made you remember your bucket list and now you are going on adventures again!
    In your list I would definitely pick “see Antarctica”. I mean ANTARTICA! How cool is that!

    Good luck with your trips in Iceland and Hong-Kong. I am looking forward to looking at the pictures 😉


  55. BondJamesBond

    Hi, Matt Happy Birth day and really u have cut out the words like “maybe”, ‘enough money” and “someday”. I am inspired to see you that I am not alone in this journey of exploring the world.

  56. gnet

    happy bday! more places to visit! you always amazed me in your blog… hope to bump you in any part of this world :) cheers!

  57. Happy Birthday! I turned 30 this month and I have to say I feel exactly the same way you do about birthdays. Enjoy Iceland, it is one of my favorite places!

  58. Awesome job Matt! At least you realized it and are doing something about it. I felt a bit out of it recently as well as I got quite comfortable here in Krabi, Thailand. Just today I randomly bought a ticket to Cebu, Philippines. I have no plans, no itinerary, no return ticket for that matter in case I love it…. and it feels good!!! Sometimes we get jaded, side tracked, and sometimes need to take our own advice. Have fun on your upcoming trips.

    One thing…. While in the Caribbean- Visit Dominica!!! No, not the Dominican Republic, but Dominica. It’s the most magical island I have ever been to and it’s not a popular spot for tourists yet. It was simply bliss when I was there. I loved it. Have fun!

  59. ogine2008

    I’m gonna set target on my birthday like this. well I’m from philippines you should try here. esp batanes, palawan, siargao, and lot more. there re lot of filipino budget travel bloggers nd u can get a lot of info from them.

  60. Happy Belated Birthday Matt, I’ve been following your blog for a few months now, so it’s good to see you get motivated once again. It’s only human to feel jaded once in a while. :) I look forward to hearing about your adventures in Iceland. Go Matt. Go!

  61. Adriennne Morton

    Iceland! WOW! Is this going to be a tour, are you taking anyone, or just a solo thing? The Northern Lights! Such a dream of mine, and my father’s.
    Be in touch!

  62. Congrats, Matt!

    Flying to Argentina on Monday ) will be living there about 3-4 weeks, then another 3 countries and might even make it all the way to Amazon )

    Yes, life can get in a way of exploring the rest of the world, but exploring is living for me, so to hell with comforts. I’ve been living in UES Manhattan for the past 8 months and road is calling ..

    2000 seems too much… i paid 700 to Buenos Aires. New Years will be fun in S. America ! However, I’m spending mine in Cuba – also amazing place for NYE. \

    Iceland is a dream destination! Enjoy it!

    Here’s to 30’s and to never stopping exploring new horizons!


  63. Adrienne Morton

    When you hit the Caribbean, please, please do not miss St. John. I moved there with 600 bucks in my pocket, no credit card, no plan when I was 18. I lived in a shack on top of Jacob’s Ladder (try getting used to walking up THAT hill!) and waitressed on the sea and had the best time of my entire life. (Apart from Thailand, the Maldives, and Goa). I lived in a broken-down shack on top of Jacob’s Ladder for 75 bucks a month. (!!!) I pierced my own belly-button with a sewing needle one afternoon and one ice cube. I could go on but I want:) Its so beautiful there it hurts.
    When you’re there, look for a beach that’s not on any map called Gibney Beach. That’s where I lived. You have to hike down from the road to get to it and its all just locals, super chill and gorgeous. No tourists. After that 3-month first stay I’ve been back 3 times, but not in ages, so I only hope its still as protected by the government and as pristine as it was. (Three quarters of St. John is National Park, which is why….well, you’ll see why immediately.) Don’t bother for a sec on with St. Trauma (St. Thomas). Get on the ferry and go to Cinnamon Bay and wake up on my favorite beach.

  64. Belated Happy Birthday Matt! I’m excited for your trips and the inspiration that I know will come along with the trips! I’m especially excited to see you go to the Philippines, my country of birth which I haven’t visited in over a decade. Have a blast!

  65. Lovely itinerary for the year ahead!, best of luck for this and yes, Belated Happy Birthday Matt. Looking forward to see India as a destination on your next Brithday wishlist!

  66. Jayne

    Booked a flight last night to Hong Kong, I’m going the end of August. Super excited. Love the idea of wandering the Caribbean. Currently looking into wherem to spend the Canadian winter.

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