Travel can be many things: delightful, educational, exhausting, eye-opening, exciting, and sometimes downright miserable.

But even on the most disastrous of trips, something positive comes out of it. And that something is gratitude.

I’m turning 28 on Sunday — and I’ve never been more filled with gratitude in my entire life. A lot of that is due to the people who surround me, but a lot of it is also due to how many other lives and lifestyles I’ve seen.

Last year, I reflected on what I’d learned in 27 years, and this year, I’m thinking more about where I’m at right now.

A birthday cake my bff Stew made me last year. Seriously, I am lucky!

I recently attended my 10-year high school reunion (go, class of ‘04!), and it’s funny to think about how I pictured my future back then. I figured that, by now, I’d be working some high-powered PR job in New York City, marching about in stilettos and talking on a flip phone. (Wait, what? Are you saying Razrs aren’t the bomb anymore?)

I never thought I would be…

living in the Alaskan rainforest.

working a location-independent career.

wearing sweatpants every day most days, showering on the good ones.

not eating meat (dirty hippie!).

dating a commercial fisherman.

and helping people to travel the world.

[Tweet “But life has a funny way of surprising you. And there is beauty in the surprises.”]

To celebrate life, I celebrate birthdays… hard. They are definitely my favorite holiday — whether mine, a friend’s, or some rando’s at the bar. I’ve celebrated my own in New York, Chapel Hill, Breckenridge, South Korea, France, Kenya, and now, for the third time in Alaska.

Celebrating my 19th birthday in Mombasa, Kenya.

Last year, I celebrated by raising money for a charity that was very close to my heart: La Esperanza Granada. This year, I’m raising money for charity: water, an amazing organization that funds clean water projects in developing countries. Their young founder, Scott Harrison, used to be a nightclub promoter and has really upped the charity game. (Read his inspiring story here.)

Their overhead costs are covered by private donors, so they use 100% of donations to fund projects, and they’ll even show you where your money’s gone. In case you don’t know why water’s important, here are a few quick facts:

Why Water Matters

  • Nearly 800 million people around the world are living with no access to clean water.
  • More people die from lack of clean water and sanitation each year than are killed by all forms of violence, including war.
  • [Tweet “4,200 kids will die TODAY from diseases related to unsafe #water. Help @charitywater:”]
  • Diarrheal disease caused by unclean water is the second leading killer of children worldwide.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, 16 million hours EACH DAY are spent by women collecting water. This takes time away from work, school, and family.
  • The average American uses 150 gallons per water a day. The average person in a developing nation struggles to find five.
Abdullah and Zaina, my host siblings in Tanzania.

I’m having a bar night fundraiser here in Ketchikan on Saturday, but I’m assuming that most of you won’t be able to make it. (If you can, swing by — we’d love to have you!)

If you think this causes sounds cool (it is!), you can donate directly to the fundraiser online. And if you’re not in a position to give right now, then do me a favor and share this page.

But even if you’re not into either of those things, there is one thing you can do, and it’s the most important:

Be grateful.

The next time you turn on your faucet to get a drink of water, brush your teeth, or wash your hands, be grateful.

The next time you make coffee with water from your sink, be grateful.

The next time you take a shower or flush a toilet, be grateful.


[Tweet “Share that gratitude w/those around you. That’s the one gift that’ll make my bday truly special.”]

Happy birthday to me! What are YOU grateful for?