10 of My Most Life-Defining Moments this Past Decade

It’s shocking looking look back 10 years and thinking about who I was and what my life was like at the start of 2010. Comparing it to the end of 2019 – I never could have imagined or dreamed I would be where I am today.

Growing up I wanted to be a doctor. I even did the classes required to write the MCAT. But then I switched to Education in my third year. Despite getting two degrees, I still didn’t feel ready to start out as a teacher.

I assumed I would follow the standard path of life: go to college, get my first serious job, upgrade my vehicle, meet someone, buy a house, get married and have kids.

Things really haven’t gone that way for me (aside from college and eventually upgrading my vehicle). But honestly, I’m okay with it all!

Taking a look back at the decade that has made me who I am, here are 10 of my most life-defining moments and the lessons learned along the way.

This is it – off on a six-month adventure! My dad gave me the wisest advice while I sat crying on the floor the night before trying to make sure I had everything. He said “Ashlyn, if you don’t like it and aren’t having fun, all you need to do is book a flight and come back home. You don’t need to stay for six months or prove anything to anyone.”

2010 – Discovering ME Through Travel

Spring of 2010 I was wrapping up my fifth and final year of university, convocating with an Education degree with distinction. That summer I had a job interview and a great opportunity fall in my lap but (thankfully) it never panned out.

November of 2010 I was nervously packing my bags for my first solo trip, my third time off the continent and the longest trip I had ever taken at 6 months long. It was on my bucket list to chase the sun for a year.

Little did I know that the discoveries and adventures in the first weeks and months of this trip in Australia and New Zealand would forever change my life.

During this time I also truly discovered what I was passionate about and I spent the most insane adrenaline-packed week in my life in New Zealand.

In 6 days I skydived, bungee jumped, flew in a helicopter, went on a jet boat ride, white water rafted, black water rafted, went caving, zorbed, swopped, luged, abseiled and day hiked 21km on the Tongariro crossing (the furthest I had ever hiked at that point in my life). Not to mention every other activity I said yes to while travelling including learning to surf, hiking my very first mountain and kayaking.

Will I ever bungy jump again? Yes. Will I want to bungy jump again? No

LIFE LESSON: Realizing the power of saying “YES” helped me discover my passion for adventure and the outdoors.

Other notable moments:

  • A trip to Mexico
  • Obtaining my B.Ed in Secondary Education
  • A university class trip to Guatemala
  • Running my first half marathon
Hitchhiking nearly 1500km around New Zealand.

2011 – Stepping out of my Comfort Zone

After adventuring across Oceania for 6 months of my life – I was hooked on travel. I cried when I returned to Canada and couldn’t wait to go on another trip. So I developed my philosophy that defined half a decade of my life:

If I could spend 5 years learning in an institution in university, I could spend 5 years learning in the world.

So I made it happen. I held a seasonal job with the City of Saskatoon and I planned and budgeted how to travel while $40,000 in debt with student loans.

I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere until I saved up all the payments I needed to cover my debt while I was gone. Then I scrimped and saved every penny for another six months abroad.

Cue November 2011 and I was getting ready to travel to Southeast Asia for another winter. Despite having logged some serious travel time previously, I was very nervous. I would be stepping onto a continent with a variety of cultures and languages that were completely different from my own. I can still picture the late-night taxi ride from Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok to my hostel and how nervous I was.

2011 continued to be a transformative year for me and my passion for travel didn’t stop. I experienced culture shock and the challenges of being on the road far away from home but I appreciated everything this year taught me. In the final few months of the year, I even met someone to share my experiences with.

One of my first days in Bangkok, Thailand.

LIFE LESSON: Pushing myself outside of my comfort zone let me be more open to learning and discovery.

Other notable moments:

  • A year of many firsts including hiking on a glacier and scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef
  • Travelling with my parents in Oz and NZ
  • Spending two weeks in Fiji with a partner who meant a lot to me and has since tragically passed away
  • Hitchhiking across New Zealand
  • Ziplining through the jungles of Laos and sleeping overnight in a real treehouse 40m off the ground
  • Spending Christmas in Hanoi, Vietnam
My final night in Southeast Asia after six months of travelling together. Playing crib and drinking beer at sunset in Coron, Philippines.

2012 – Travelling – But Not Solo

In early 2012 I continued travelling across Southeast Asia but this time I wasn’t solo. I had met someone on my trip (coincidentally from Calgary) and we spent nearly all of the six months exploring 8 different countries together.

I pursued my love for scuba diving. I logged dozens of dives across Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo and the Philippines completing my PADI open water, advanced, nitrox and wreck diving courses.

Later that year, instead of spending six months in Central America, I decided to spend only 2 months abroad travelling with a girl friend. We scuba dived across the region, hiked volcanoes and enjoyed a lot of sunny days.

Returning home for Christmas, I packed my things and moved to Calgary on New Year’s Eve.

One of our first days in El Salvador with nearly two months of adventures ahead of us.

LIFE LESSON: It’s not about the places you see, but the people you see them with.

Other notable moments:

  • Absolutely terrified, I cried my way up a rock wall in Vietnam and Thailand to overcome my fear of rock climbing
  • Arriving at Angkor Wat for sunrise and biking 60km around the temple complex until sunset
  • Hiking my first 4000m (and overnight) summit on Mount Kinabalu, Borneo
  • Volcano boarding
Learning to ice climb in British Columbia during my time in Calgary.

2013 – Feeling “Lost”

The first part of 2013 I spent in Calgary. Late spring, I was back in Saskatchewan for another season with the City at the same time my relationship ended.

Working through heartbreak I refocused on travel with plans to head to South America in the fall. But most importantly, I launched my blog The Lost Girl’s Guide to Finding the World on October 1. (This has been one of the things I am most proud of putting myself out there to do in this whole decade.)

My blog was born out of the desire to write as well as to share helpful and useful information to others who were also interested in travelling. Feeling lost for numerous reasons during this point in my life, I wouldn’t realize until later that I had consequently also found myself by starting my blog and social media channels.

By the end of 2013, I was in South America and living in the Galapagos Islands, pursuing my passion for scuba diving while working towards my Divemaster certification and diving with hammerhead sharks every day. (I still can’t believe I really did this!)

Working towards my Divemaster certification in the Galapagos Islands where I lived for nearly two months.

LIFE LESSON: It’s okay to be and feel lost. It’s the perfect opportunity to try new things.

Other notable moments:

  • Completing my TEFL-TESOL course
  • Completing my ice diving course
  • Learning to snowboard, cross-country ski and ice climb
  • Running a 30km race
  • Learning (basic) Spanish
  • Summiting Cotopaxi at 5,897m (still an insane experience I talk about today)

2014 – Trusting the Process

2014 was filled with another wonderful year of travel in South America and Africa. But looming ahead of me was the realization that my plan of 5 years of travel would soon end and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do in “real life”

Despite feelings of uncertainty, I trusted the process and continued to explore and see what amazing places and cultures this world is full of.

I ended the year spending a month in Madagascar, one of my favourite countries of all time and accepting a job offer back in Saskatchewan after an epic trip through Kruger National Park in South Africa.

LIFE LESSON: Trusting in the process that the pursuit of what I was passionate about would lead me to where I needed to be.

Other notable moments:

  • Hiking to “The Lost City” in Colombia
  • Visiting the Amazon with a good friend
  • Hiking the Inca Trail and then exploring Machu Picchu with my parents
  • Summiting a +6000m mountain in Bolivia
  • Visiting Iguazu Falls
  • Going on my first safari
  • Spending a month solo in Madagascar

READ MORE: An Adventurous 2014

2015 – Turning my Passion into a Career

In 2015, I flew home early from Africa to step into the role as the 2015 Saskatchewanderer with the intention and purpose of making a living out of creating content afterwards.

This year was absolutely amazing and I am so fortunate for everything I learned and experienced. I don’t even know where to start with highlights but a few include flying a glider, windsurfing, snowkiting, going underground in a potash mine and flying into a fishing camp in northern Saskatchewan. A truly once-in-a-lifetime experience was flying in formation with the Canadian Forces Snowbirds.

I truly believe that you can have just as many incredible experiences here in Saskatchewan as you can around the world.

LIFE LESSON: You don’t need to travel far or cross borders to find incredible experiences. You just need to be willing to seek them out.

Other Notable Moments:

  • Visiting Victoria Falls, hanging out in the devil’s pool and rafting the Zambezi
  • Going to Disneyland solo
  • Returning to Africa with my mom to safari in Kenya

Read More: “Top Ten Adventures from 2015” as the 2015 Saskatchewanderer

2016 – Launching my Business

I mixed 2016 with half travel and half work as I started my business and tried to make a living. I didn’t make much at all but was able to live off savings from my previous year as the Saskatchewanderer.

I had to learn everything from creating invoices to figuring out how to do my own taxes. There were some hard lessons learned and some terrible pitches sent but somehow I managed to make it all work to get me through another year.

In between all the learning, I did some serious travel (looking back this was honestly such an amazing year!) I also got to share a lot of my trips with someone important in my life.

LIFE LESSON: I didn’t know what I was capable of until I tried. I wasn’t very good to start, but working at it helped me get better and better.

Other notable moments

Read More:
2016 was kind of insane. I wrote two blogs reminiscing about the year which I highly recommend reading. Particularly the blog of all the mishaps that went down including worms in my eye, lost luggage, car accidents and broken tech.

Read about it here: Top 20 Best Moments of 2016

Read about it here: Top 10 Worst Moments of 2016

2017 – Stepping Foot on my 7th Continent Before I Turned 30

One of the biggest items on my bucket list was to travel to all 7 continents before I turned 30. During the early days of January while on an expedition to Antarctica I did just that.

I don’t know if I can fully explain how amazing this was to achieve. Looking back it seems surreal to me.

This video shares a snippet of how I felt in that moment.

Most of 2017 was spent continuing to figure out my work-life balance, trying to earn (a little) more money and working on the active research part of a book I hope to publish (one day) alongside a lot of winter adventures.

LIFE LESSON: Dreams do come true. But you have to hustle, work hard and be okay with tough decisions and sacrifices to make it happen.

Other notable moments:

2018 – Making a Living

The first two years of business were tough. But in 2018 I made a living. Like a real “hey I can spend five dollars and not completely panic about it” living. I was even able to buy a new-to-me vehicle (which almost immediately broke down but made for an entertaining adventure fixing it myself. I still drive it today and am still so happy with it despite the repeated fixes I’ve had to figure out).

Not only was business good but I was able to secure contracts working with some of the biggest national and international brands in the world like McDonald’s, NFL Canada and Ford Canada because of my blog and social media channels. My passion project that began in 2013 was literally paying off. I even got a substantial nod in the New York Times by the 52 Places Traveller. The people who hadn’t fully understood what I was working towards began to realize that what I was doing was a real thing.

I went on work trips to the East Coast, Kelowna, Northern Manitoba and Toronto (for the first time ever). But a real highlight was the month I spent in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and then the month I spent travelling up to Alaska with a business and adventure partner-in-crime (and a dog that I try to steal as often as possible.)

I also aggressively and happily continued my love affair with all things winter.

LIFE LESSON: Hard work really does (eventually) pay off.

Other notable moments:

2019 – Searching for Balance

Looking back at 2019 it’s so recent that I’m having a hard time reflecting and wrapping my mind around everything that went on.

Like 2018, 2019 was full of incredible moments, locations, trips and brands to partner with. But they seem a little blurred. Several times throughout the year I wondered what my end game was and had trouble distinguishing “The Lost Girl’s Guide” from the real, human life of “Ashlyn George.” I asked myself where was I heading with it all. I wondered if I had lost some of the original purpose and intention of my blog when it all started in 2013 in the busyness of opportunity. Did I need to refocus?

Several times I felt pushed nearly beyond my limits. I didn’t sleep much in order to get things done. But I made it through and am incredibly proud of the work and growth I experienced this year. (I’m the best writer I’ve ever been today. Tomorrow, I’ll be a tiny bit better).

This year I learned a lot about the importance of balance. I’ve tried to refocus more on family and friends who have endlessly supported my “wild card” status of being all over the place and rarely home. I’m running again and challenging myself to read for entertainment (something I love more than travel). By the end of 2019, I was learning that I need to take time off and what I need to do to rest.

LIFE LESSON: Even the best opportunities come with a flip side.

Other notable moments:

Read More: The Best is Yet to Come: My 2019 Year in Review

Photo credit: Mark Wickenheiser

What the Future Holds

As for 2020 and this new decade, I admit I don’t really know what it holds. I stopped being able to visualize a clear path of the future the day I decided to not become a teacher.

Perhaps it will hold some of the usual aspects of life like homeownership, less time travelling and maybe a family. But perhaps not – I’m not really sure. And to be honest, I’m okay with that.

This past decade has been more than enough for a lifetime of memories and if the past is an indicator, I don’t see things slowing down any time soon in the future.

The most important thing is that life is good and I’m truly, genuinely happy.

Cheers to 2020, the next wonderful decade of life, still feeling a little lost and the surprises and adventures the future has in store!

4 thoughts on “10 of My Most Life-Defining Moments this Past Decade

  1. You are such a gem. I had no idea you’ve had so many unique life experiences. Thank you for being such a spark of enthusiasm and joy. Keep doing what you’re doing!

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