2016, for me, was a complicated year. An amazing, fulfilling, and very rewarding year, but it is a bit jumbled and chaotic.

I started the year with my Dad in beautiful Jasper, Alberta, a trip sponsored by his company, where I spent an entire week skiing Marmot Basin while he directed the cafeterias. We spent our evenings together wining and dining the luxurious cuisine of the town, and trying to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. I distinctly remember also taking this opportunity to watch all of the original Star Wars movies, since The Force Awakens had just been released in theaters. A few days later, I was back at work for only 4 short days before finding myself at Pearson International Airport again, this time with my brother Joey, and together we took off to Mexico to spend another week with my Dad, stepmom Joanne, Joanne’s mom, and our 3 stepbrothers and sisters-in-law, as well as our nephew Mike in Mexico. A week at an all-inclusive resort involved a lot of drinking with my stepbrothers, reading, relaxing on the beach, and even some humpback whale-watching! So, overall, I’d say 2016 started off great.

I had just moved into a new house in the neighbourhood of Runnymede, Toronto, at the end of 2015, so my first few weeks of the year were also a little bit chaotic. I hadn’t really unpacked yet, and was living in an unfamiliar space, though it very quickly began to feel like home thanks to my new roommates (Jess, Sophie, Kathryn, Olivia, Mel – I miss you gals!). I started working out a lot at a gym around the corner from my house, and quickly became busy at work while my responsibilities and new projects quickly piled up. By the time March rolled around, my best friend Ariel and I had decided that we were going on an indefinite round-the-world trip, meaning that we had a lot of planning to do, and a lot of money that needed to be saved. We promised ourselves, and each other, that we were going to do it no matter what, and we bought plane tickets from Los Angeles to Bangkok for the following October.

The springtime for me helped me fall in love with Toronto all over again (not that I ever doubted it). Spring in Toronto means that everyone gets their bikes out, cherry blossoms come into bloom, and the parks start filling up with families, dog-walkers and good-for-nothing, wine-drinking hipsters (can you guess which group I was a part of?). My departure date felt like it was coming up quickly, and by the time June rolled around, I was busy trying to use my remaining vacation days before giving my notice to work. I volunteered at music festivals, visited Toronto Island (finally!), started a part-time gig serving at a local brewery, had a brief fling, celebrated Ariel’s birthday, and by the time I knew it, July had arrived and summer was in full force.

Thanks to a few raccoon pals at our house in Runnymede, we had to end our lease, meaning that I moved in with my Grandma for my final month in Toronto. I spent my summer weekends saying goodbye to my brother and grandparents in Ottawa, and with my friends from Guelph. A few good friends had recently returned from a year in Australia, so we had months of drinking to catch up on.Β  Weekends of weddings, concerts, relaxing in Durham Ontario’s own little paradise and finally our final summer shebang to watch the Tragically Hip’s final concert, and just like that, the summer was over. I had an emotional last week in Toronto, which involved saying goodbye indefinitely to my Grandma, my extended family in Toronto, my friends, and my coworkers.

I sold my car, packed up my remaining belongings, and headed to Owen Sound with my aunt to spend a final week with my Mom and Joey.

September rolled around, and the travels began. If you have been following along this blog at all, you know basically what happened next. A week driving across Canada, a week camping with my Dad, Joanne, and west-coast stepbrothers. The end of September involved 2 weeks descending from Vancouver to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Yosemite, and then finally to Long Beach to spend our final days with my Aunt Anita before catching that flight to Bangkok on the 4th of October. It was a fantastic month, and a great way for Ariel and I to get our feet wet traveling together before hopping across the pond to Southeast Asia.

Backpacking through Southeast Asia was an experience I will never forget. Two weeks in Cambodia, almost a month in Vietnam, 10 days in Laos, and a month in Thailand. I saw some of the most beautiful sights that I have seen in my life, swam in more seas than in the 23 years of my life previously, questioned, then found comfort in my standards for cleanliness, came to terms with cockroaches (they exist – everywhere – and its fine. They won’t kill you), but not rats (shudders). I faced my fear of the ocean and became a certified Scuba diver, learned how to rock climb and belay in Laos, rode a motorbike on the left side of the road, and met some friends that I am confident I will see again, in some unknown part of the world.

With that ride of a year in mind, here are the most notable things that I learned in 2016:

  • Working full-time in a professional setting when you’re in your early 20’s is a blessing when you have good leadership, believe in the work you’re doing, and have coworkers who talented, trustworthy, and supportive. I am really proud of my accomplishments at work in 2016, and proud of the work that my (now former) employer did while I was there. Now that I have had 4 months off work, I can safely say that I’m looking forward to getting back into a working routine, whatever that will look like in New Zealand.
  • That being said, quitting my job (on good terms) was one of the best things I’ve ever done, because it allowed me to travel around the world, which is something that felt very unattainable for a long time while sitting at my desk. Did quitting my job mean that I won’t go back to it one day, or that I have cursed it forever? Of course not. It was by far the hardest decision I made this year, and my coworkers can vouch that it was very, very hard for me to say goodbye to them, and to my work. I loved my job, and still do. But the world was calling me, and for now that has become my priority.
  • Family is everything. Since I moved out of home at 18, I have spent the last few years showing up at my extended family’s houses from Ottawa to Vancouver and everywhere in between for lunches, dinners, various holidays, funerals, camping trips, and find myself being in touch with more extended branches of my family as the years go on. These times are always my favourite. Time with family fills your heart and soul. I’m lucky enough to have one of those families where food is always the main event (usually thanks to both my Mom and my Uncle Pete), which is great for my inner (and well, lately outer) fat kid. My family is as crazy as everyone else’s in their own way, but at the end of the day we all love each other despite varying political and religious views. There is always a good meal, great wine and a whole lot of laughs on the table if we can’t get along on the other stuff.
  • My body knows what’s up. This is a new development in 2016 for me – I guess I’m getting older or something? But seriously, I learned to listen to my body, because I can’t just eat whatever I want to anymore without consequences. Maybe don’t eat that much bread, Emily. You will probably feel like a balloon for the next 2 days. Pizza is okay, but only like, one or two slices until you start feeling like you can’t sit or stand comfortably and should probably just lie in bed for the next 2 days and wait this out. Also, cheese is good, but only a little bit (and only the good quality stuff – no more no name cheese blocks). Vegetables are great, and you should eat more of them. Except eggplant. Fuck eggplant. And chill out on the sugar. You don’t need it, and it makes you sleepy. Same goes for shitty beer. (Not you Toronto craft beer, ILY forever, I’ll never give you up, I miss you baby, come back). “You are what you eat” has truly resonated with me this year.
  • It took backpacking across Southeast Asia to learn this the hard way, but when I look good, I feel good. I miss nice clothes. I miss not sweating every second of the day. I miss makeup, and having nice hair (my hair doesn’t like the heat and humidity in Asia – it’s been in a braid for approximately 3 months). This is something that I learned when I came out of my comfort zone, and that’s okay. Some people don’t care about these things, and I have tremendous respect for them. Yes, I can live in the same 3 shirts that are never quite clean for months at a time, but at the end of the day, I prefer to have nice things. Don’t we all? Guys? Tell me I’m not being petty. TELL ME. Actually, don’t. It’s okay, I’ve accepted it. It’s how I am.
  • Something else that I have learned while travelling is that people all over the world are unfathomably kind. If you can look at people, truly look at individuals compassionately and from your heart – you will be shocked at the kindness and inspiration you receive in return. Someone taught me in the final days of the year that you have nothing until you give love to everyone. I know everyone has heard this, but few have truly felt it. And when you do, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.
  • This is probably the most important lesson that I have learned in 2016, and it is this: have a practice. Somewhere in your mind where you can turn off, and create much-needed space and relaxation. Somewhere you can go to make sense of the world around you, in a world that is made up of notifications, click-bait, headlines, terror, love, peace, joy, hate, all of it. If we don’t have some way to truly reflect on these things, then we will go through life confused, and dependent on the next thing for our feelings without ever properly processing what is happening around us. The world is a fucking chaotic place, and having a space to think, reflect, and meditate is invaluable in dealing with it.

So, as I sit here, on a beautiful beach in Bali, fresh-faced and ready for what 2017 has to offer, I can’t help but look back and thank 2016 for what it has taught me about myself, about the people that I love, and about the world. I feel the most real and human than I have ever felt, and if I can come into the New Year from my heart, I know that 2017 is going to be the best year yet.

In the spirit of getting biblical, I leave you with this quote to think about and to remember in the hard times.

“Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you” (Proverbs 4:6)

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