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What a year it has been! Around this time a year ago, I sat down and wrote my 2015 Year in Review. It was the year that I quit my job, faced my first real winter, took my first solo trip and started Passport & Plates.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that 2016 would bring me a remote job, five weddings, eight countries, and countless friends. I’m in awe of the support that I’ve gotten from my friends, family, and audience. I could never have done any of this without you. I am humbled and I am grateful.
December is always one of my favorite months, because as I look back at all the things I’ve accomplished and adventures I’ve had, I’m reminded that chasing my dreams was not the foolish endeavor I worried it would be. Keep reading to learn more about what I accomplished this year and what’s next in 2017!
Travel – My Year in Numbers:
Countries Visited: 8
Eight certainly feels like a lot but only three were countries I’d never visited before (Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Germany). Not bad for my first year as a travel blogger! I also made a few domestic trips to places I hadn’t been to before. Since one of my travel goals is to visit somewhere new every year (both domestically and internationally), I’d say I did pretty well!
April: Puerto Rico
September: Singapore, Thailand & Malaysia
October: Boston, MA & Conway, NH
November: New York, NY, Philadelphia, PA, Cleveland, OH, & Chicago, IL
Days on the Road: 131
Nearly 4.5 months on the road. Wowza.
Flights Taken: 27
Soooo maybe it’s time for me to figure out how to use travel points for upgrades?
Accommodations Stayed In: 38
Long Distance Trains Ridden: 4
The train NEVER gets old.
Long Distance Busses Ridden: 13
The bus…does get old.
Cars Rented: 5
The one benefit of being over 25? #AdultingIsOverrated
Boats Ridden: 7
Let me just clarify that these were all tiny boats. No cruises or fancy things for this girl. I wish I was a balla, I wish I was a little bit talla.
Cooking Classes Taken: 3
Sponsored Trips: 1
Weddings attended: 5
And no invites for weddings in 2017 yet!
Blogging – My Year in Numbers:
Blog Posts Written on Passport & Plates: 54
Sponsored Blog Posts: 10
Made a little money during my first year, holla!
Freelance Blog Posts: 3
Valencia expert, at your service.
What’s Next in 2017?
I’ve thought long and hard about what I want my 2017 travel year to look like. As one of the few American Muslim travel bloggers out there, I know how important it is, now more than ever, for Muslims to travel the world. There are so many people who have never met a Muslim person in their lives, and there are even more people who refuse to travel to a Muslim-majority country, thanks to media scare tactics. I am only one person, but I’m doing my part in two ways.
1. Traveling in the Middle East and North Africa
Thanks to travel warnings and fear-inciting media, tourism in this entire region has suffered immensely. I’ve actually heard fellow travel bloggers say that they would “never visit that region.” While certain countries are actually unsafe, tourism in many of them are suffering simply due to instability from their neighbors. I’m confirmed to visit both Egypt and Jordan with Geckos Adventures this year, but I also hope to visit Oman, Morocco, Iran (yes, Iran) and maybe Lebanon. I’m doing this because the best way for people to experience culture and religion is to visit a country where these ideologies are lived out day-to-day. If I can encourage people to ignore the media for a second and plan a visit to the Middle East, I think many will be surprised to find that Muslims aren’t all terrorists (I feel ridiculous that I even have to write this).
2. Encouraging More Muslims to Travel
When I first started Passport & Plates, I did so because I was tired of seeing mainstream media bashing Muslims – especially Muslim women. We are stereotyped as second-class oppressed citizens who are forced to cover up and obey our husbands. Not only is this characteristically untrue, but it is also incredibly damaging to the Muslim women out there who are achieving great things. I’m still brainstorming the best ways to actually encourage more travel amongst Muslim millennials, but at the very least, more content to this regard is key.
Besides attempting to shatter stereotypes (lol no big deal, right?), I also have some other awesome travel plans in store!
3. Traveling with Geckos Adventures
I’ve been dying to announce this for awhile now but I’m excited to tell you all that I’ll be a brand ambassador for Geckos Adventures in 2017! Many of you know that I took my first group tour ever with them earlier this year. I’m a firm believer in their travel philosophy of ethical, local travel on a budget and I’m going to share all my adventures and learnings with you. If you’re considering a Geckos Adventures tour and have any questions at all, you can ask me.
4. Traveling to LEARN
It’s no secret that some of my favorite travel experiences are ones that allow me to interact with locals. In both 2015 and 2016, I had the opportunity to volunteer with Diverbo Pueblo Ingles as an English conversationalist. I literally just spent all day talking in exchange for room and board. Note: If you’re interested in spending a week in Spain speaking (not teaching) English in exchange for room and board I highly recommend you check them out.
Anyway, Diverbo recently launched the same program but in Spanish. Students are immersed in an all-Spanish environment for 8 days, 12 hours a day. No English allowed – just lots of conversations, activities, and more conversations. The program is meant to improve confidence and fluidity in Spanish without the classroom. I’ve witnessed just how impressive this program is in English for Spaniards so I’m incredibly excited (and a teeny bit scared) to be participating in Diverbo’s Pueblo Español this year! I wonder if my
incredible coolness bumbly awkwardness will translate in Spanish too :p.
5. Traveling to Give Back
If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I am a firm believer that politics and travel are intertwined – and there’s no such thing as being “neutral.” After the political and humanitarian devastation that wrought 2016, I want to find a way to give back in any way I can. I’m still in the process of finding the best place and company that will allow me to volunteer with refugees, so stay tuned. However, I recently discovered a travel company called Visit.org that allows you to book authentic travel experiences with do-good organizations! For example, let’s say I’m visiting Italy. I type in “Italy” into the search and Visit.org shows all the experience partners they have in Italy. Rather than spending your money at a large tour company, you can find unique tours and experiences run by nonprofits and social enterprises that give back to the community. How awesome is that? I encourage everyone traveling this year to check out Visit.org when planning a trip to see how you can give back through travel.
What did I learn?
Traveling is still the most magical education in the world.
Although I’ve had a few moments of travel burnout this year (I’m an introvert and desperately need some days of being a hermit to generally function), traveling is still the best education in the world. I travel to experience new things, to keep my mind and imagination fresh, and to learn about the world and its people. Every trip forces me to step out of my comfort zone and look at the world with new eyes. Every trip is more than its pretty landmarks and UNESCO sites. Every trip is a discovery and reminder that human beings are all just that – human beings – even if they wear different clothes, eat different foods or speak a different language.
I don’t want to be known for taking cool photos, or having a lot of Instagram followers or tackling every country in the world. I want to be known for being involved in the lives of friends and strangers alike. I want to create content that touches people and teaches them that the world is much more than our hometown, our state, or even our country. I may never know if I’m accomplishing these things, but I hope that in some way or another, I inspire people to get out there and live their dreams, whatever they are. And I hope, for all our sakes, that in chasing those dreams, we’re all reminded of how fortunate we are and how a little love and a little kindness can go a long way.
So now, with one week left in 2016, I’m reminded of just how great this year was for me. It may have been a global political nightmare, but on a personal level I’ve come a long way from my tearful meltdowns about the state of my life. I may always be in this perpetual state of the unknown, but I think that’s exactly where I’m meant to be.
P.S For those of you who want to know, my first few months of travel look like this:
January: Italy // February: Egypt and Jordan // March: Spain +
Tell me: What were your favorite moments of 2016? What do you hope to accomplish in the new year (travel-related or otherwise)? Share in the comments below!