Our home office wall — magnetic!

On a Quest(s): Why difficult goals keep me engaged

Anyone from The Company who takes a video call with me when I’m working from home sees The Wall.

“Wait,” they’ll inevitably say. “What’s behind you?”

“It’s the travel wall!” I’ll exclaim, ducking out of the way so they can see what’s behind my head (usually the cute red panda and the Swiss flag done in chocolate (see towards the lower right). I’ll pan the camera back and forth and tell them that these are all souvenirs from places that we’ve been (not from things people have sent us — that would be cheating!) and that it brings us a lot of joy to look at the photos and postcards and maps, reminiscing about where we have been.

#truth

And it also gets me pumped to think about where I’m going next.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time with me knows that “goal-oriented” would be my middle name if it wasn’t so hard to change one’s name (trust me, I know — I’ve done it twice). I love setting goals and then crushing those goals! So when I happened upon Chris Guilleabeau’s book, The Happiness of Pursuit, I knew had found a kindred spirit.

First of all, these are just goals — these are super-sized, steroids — QUESTS! Not only does Chris set out how to build a quest, he’s also a road warrior.

And when I say road warrior, think BIG — he’s been to every country in the world.

Though his book isn’t confined to travel, many of the questers, including himself, are on a search to explore the world and see new places. The book details why striving for something big is motivating and exciting, and why questing can lead to long-term happiness.

What I love about Guillebeau’s attitude is that he encourages people to dream big, but is clear that each quest needs to be individual and meaningful to the person who sets out to do it (for example, one quester didn’t speak for several years, something that made little sense to anyone but him).

It’s also not worthwhile to compare yourself to others he writes:

“Years later I met someone who was getting read to head out on her first big trip. ‘Compared to where you go,’ she said, ‘it’s no big deal.’

Then I heard from someone who wrote in to say he’d ‘only’ been to twenty countries. What? Twenty countries is great. Plenty of people never go anywhere.”

That helped me with FOMO as I read the book. Though I hadn’t framed it as such, I already had a few travel quests running. They were things that I was thinking to myself, but I hadn’t ever written them down.

Well — today is the day to share my four quests with you, hopefully to inspire you to take on something big and audacious yourself!

Top row: Florida (North America) and Italy (Europe) Bottom row: Sydney (Australia) and Tokyo (Asia)

Quest 1: Visit every continent.

Completed: North America, Europe, Australia, Asia (in order visited)

To visit: South America, Africa, Antarctica (in the order of the anxiety that thinking about visiting each of these causes me)

I can’t wait to say that I’ve walked on every continent! And now that I’ve gotten the easiest four done it’s time to buckle down and finish things out.

We had hoped to go to South America the last two years, but it just hasn’t happened. Perhaps 2019 is the year to visit Argentina and Chile? I’ll need to brush up on my Spanish.

I have long wanted to visit some of the Northern African countries like Morocco and Egypt, and sub-Saharan Africa appeals to me as a chance to see the megafauna before they become extinct.

Lastly, Antarctica — wow. This one seems the hardest. I get very, very seasick, and most people cross by boat. However, there are now chartered flights from Chile and South Africa, so there is a chance to fly onto the world’s most unpopulated continent!

Sergio maintains that we need to do these trips before we have children (he thinks we will be “too tired”) but I say I’ll quest after these places until I am unable to go any more!

(L to R) Top row: Portugal, Spain, France. Middle row: Sweden, Switzerland, Germany. Bottom row: Finland, Norway, England

Quest 2: Visit every country in Europe.

Completed: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom (England, Scotland), and Vatican City (17 or 18, depending on how you count)

To visit: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, United Kingdom (Northern Ireland and Wales), and Ukraine (33 -35, depending on how you count — Greenland is not independent, nor are Northern Ireland and Wales)

Possibly Europe, possibly not?: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kosovo (4 — depending on who you ask, these are or are not part of Europe. I will probably eliminate the Stans/Jans due to the difficulty of traveling there)

Unlike Guillebeau, I actually don’t have the need to visit every country in the world. Not only it is costly, both in time and money, but some of them are very difficult, if not almost impossible, for an American to visit — and given the current climate, I’m not sure it’s the safest idea. Another idea I’ve had is to pursue a second passport to open some other travel opportunities. Sergio is a duel American/Mexican citizen, so that is something that I might consider if my passport becomes more of a hinderance than a help.

Also, I have an anxiety disorder. And quests are supposed to be hard without threatening your well-being. Just thinking about traveling to places like Iraq or Somalia cause my heart to beat faster.

My first trip to Europe was with two girlfriends right after college at the age of 24. We did the young-adult Europe thing, visiting Amsterdam, Paris, and London, staying in hostels and eating on the cheap (I would tell you all the stories of why I don’t love hostels, but I don’t have the time).

Yes, I packed everything in a backpack, thus the pink jacket in every photo…

That further ignited my love for traveling the world. I’ll volunteer to teach anywhere in the world for The Company, and if there are no offers I’ll just start planning trips for fun!

Another challenging bit? What is Europe and what isn’t? I don’t think it’s just EU membership or just geography. As you might notice, I have four “maybes” on the list, which I’ll just consider bonus countries.

Regardless, I’m unwilling to travel somewhere that is currently unsafe. For example, now is not the best time to go to somewhere like Ukraine or Russia. So a more realistic “see all the countries” goal is to start working my way through Europe with the hope that unstable countries will, at some point, stabilize.

Next up? We hope to hit Slovenia and Croatia in 2019. I also want to sit down with the map to plan some obvious groupings for future trips, especially for smaller countries (the Monacos, San Marinos, etc. of the list). If you like to geek out about travel planning, I’m your girl!

(L to R) Top row: Florida, New York, Michigan. Bottom row: Alaska, California, Hawai’i

Quest 3: Visit every state in the United States.

Completed: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawai’i, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming (23)

To visit: Alabama, Arkansans, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin (27)

Bonus add-ons: American Samoa, American Virgin Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, Washington D.C (0)

Fun fact: I can name all of the states in alphabetical order thanks to this earworm of a song called Fifty Nifty United States, which I learned in fifth grade and cannot, for the life of me, forget (click on that link at your own peril — you have been warned).

Anyway, at a time when the United States feel anything but I want to continue to visit all of the states. You might detect a pattern in the two lists — I’ve hit most of the coastal states and missed many in the middle. I think we’re due for a nice long road trip “in the middle” to see some of these places.

And to be clear — by “seeing” I mean that I need to step outside of the airport and do some sightseeing (thus though I feel like I have been to Texas, I’ve just spent an ungodly amount of time in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport).

Actually, I’ve spent a lot of time running through that airport. But I digress.

Here’s the thing — my attitude is that there is something beautiful and worthy and worth learning in every place. That is the attitude that carries me through trips that might not pique my interest right out of the gate (to protect innocent places, they will remain unnamed). And I think it’s important to look for goodness in places that don’t feel like the places I want to go, because there are good people (and not so good people) everywhere.

There are no new states on the docket for this year (and the lone addition was Michigan), but I did ask Sergio for a state for my birthday this year (we’re thinking of Texas or New Mexico).

If you’re well-traveled in the US of A, I can’t wait to get your advice as I embark on road trips and flights to new places!

And once America is finished — Oh Canada! I’m coming for you.

(L to R) Top row: Glacier and Crater Lake. Bottom row: Joshua Tree, Yellowstone, Saguaro

Quest 4: Visit every National Park

Completed: Crater Lake, Everglades, Glacier, Grand Teton, Haleakala, Hawaii Volcanos, Joshua Tree, Mt. Rainier, North Cascades, Olympic, Rocky Mountain, Saguaro, and Yellowstone (13)

To visit: Too many to type — 46 of them, from Alaska to American Samoa!

I’m thankful to live in a country filled with such diverse, natural beauty! To be clear, I would consider myself more indoorsy than outdoorsy. But I also enjoy learning about history, and much of our history is contained in our national parks.

We might have unofficially started this quest when I found this map for Sergio. As a photographer, he has a particular love for the natural beauty of the outdoors.

He also loves camping. I don’t. We compromise by not camping.

As you can see, the West is a great place to live if you love national parks, and we’re slowly making our way through all of them. There are also some states we haven’t visited that have national parks (I’m looking at you, Dakotas, and American Samoa). The good news is that each time I visit a park I fall more in love with our country’s scenery and learn to tolerate pit toilets a little bit better.

One last thought before I go. Guillebeau breaks down Questers into two categories:

  1. Achievement-motivated (wants to accomplish something)
  2. Process-motivated (wants to do something)

In case it’s not clear, I’m very clearly #1, though how I do things does matter to me. However, I’m married to someone who prefers #2, which presents me with an interesting challenge — how do I achieve all of these things and make them interesting? It is possible! The most recent example is persuading Sergio to visit Slovenia and Croatia next year (partially by showing him why it was awesome and partially by throwing England on the end of the trip so he can visit traditional English cider farms). It also means that the actual travel experience needs to be enjoyable for both of us. For that, I encourage you to visit any of my On the Road posts to see how we travel and if that’s the style for you.

This also means that you might read this post and think, “This quest thing sounds like a chore/checklist/bore to me!” That’s what is great about quests — you get to decide what it is! You get to set parameters and decide that you’d rather enter a monastery or take and edit a million photos rather than see every country in Europe.

So — what is the quest that you’d like to start? Do you want to visit every Major League Baseball game? Or boat across an ocean? Or observe every species of bird in the wild? Or spending a year not buying anything? It doesn’t matter! If you are looking for inspiration and motivation to come up with a customized quest(s), The Happiness of Pursuit is the book for you.

xo, Sarah

P.S. Next up? A blog about my favorite travel-related tomes. I haven’t written a book blog in some time and I’m looking forward to sharing more book picks with you soon!

P.P.S. Speaking of quests, I can’t wait to kick off the ULTIMATE SARAH QUEST in just a few short months. In case you are thinking babies, no — books! I have enough to keep me busy this calendar year but can’t wait to shift my reading focus somewhere new and exciting in 2019!

I know that’s a loooooong preview, but I’m so damn excited I can’t help it.

Yes, I read a LOT a lot.

NW native blogging about life’s struggles and triumphs. Balancing career, family, hobbies, and health. Fierce advocate for mental health. And chocolate lover.