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Oh my, it has been a year. 2016, what have you done?

I think this might have been one of the hardest years of my life so far. After coming back from traveling, I’ve tried to settle in Europe again. And that has been hard. Especially when you don’t want to jump right back into ‘the system’ that you have been working so hard on getting out of.

On top of that, I was confronted with unexpected changes and happenings in my private life. My heart was broken – more than once – by the one person I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. (Yes, that was this man.) Dreams shattered into a million pieces. A raw lesson in impermanence and letting go.

I guess I could go on and on about all the sad things that happened, the strong emotions and the deep downs. But on the last day of the year I choose to look at all the things I’m grateful for instead. Because – of course – even in the hardest of hardest times, there are always things to be grateful for. As long as you want to see them.

So I’m ending the year with an attitude of gratitude. Here it is: My 6 things to be grateful for in 2016.

Travel highlights in 2016

I love to travel. I need to travel. But unfortunately, 2016 has not been a year of much traveling for me. So weird. After three years of full-time travel and one year of living abroad, in 2016 I have barely moved. The replacement of my passport that was completely full after my world trip, is still virgin empty.

On Christmas eve I was playing a looking-back-on-the-year-game with friends and the question popped up: “How many countries have you visited this year?” That made me a little sad and disappointed. With all those travel dreams and wishes and my ever expanding bucket list, my answer was only three countries. For some one who loves to travel that much, it may even feel like failure when you have barely moved.

However, a few hours later – I think I wasn’t thinking clearly because of the delicious red wine – I realised I had actually travelled more than I thought. Okay, for the first time in five years I didn’t fly to faraway, tropical destinations. But still I visited a total of six countries.

Snow in Austria

I’ve lived in Austria and for the first time in five years I’ve spent winter in the snow. One of the highlights was to be able to sled in the snow with my dearest godchild (bless her beautiful soul) for the first time in her life.

Gut Aiderbichl near Salzburg

We’ve explored some beautiful parts of the country, like Vienna, Salzburg, Styria, Lower-Austria, and mountains, mountains, mountains. I visited the most beautiful animal sanctuary in Austria, Gut Aiderbichl and on the way home we even got stranded in a snow storm.

I have also visited Sopron in Hungary (to be honest, just for an affordable Thai massage) and made a day trip to Bratislava in Slovakia. And I must say, especially Bratislava is definitely a great place to visit.

Exploring Nürnberg in Germany

I’ve made road trips through Germany going back and forth between Vienna and the Netherlands, but I also spent a week near Nuremberg and explored the beautiful surroundings there.

No great deal of exploring in Belgium, but I have completed my fifth Vipassana meditation retreat in Dilsen in October. The only exploring that was going on, was the exploring of my lunatic monkey mind. But I was still abroad, so it does count.

Yurt in Beekbergen

Last but not least, I have been exploring my home country a little more. I lived in an ashram in the Achterhoek. And I have visited places I’ve never been before, like Beekbergen, the Veluwe and the city of Arnhem. A dream came true when I spent a weekend in a yurt on abandoned camping, and I had a blast in a beach cabin on the beach of IJmuiden last summer.

It was an interesting observation to see that after all those years of full-time travelling, I can now even look at my home country from a tourist perspective. So much more to see and explore here as well.

So here I go, being very grateful for the fact I have actually been travelling and exploring bit in 2016.

Business is growing

Quitting my well-paid job in 2012 to go on a world trip and build a life I don’t need a vacation from, has still been one of the best decision of my life. But when you come back to Europe after such an amazing experience, ‘the system’ and societal expectations immediately want to drag you into it again. I still believe in building a business and life that I love, so that’s exactly what I’m doing.

And it feels like I’m doing the right things. Why? Because I love what I’m doing. Every single day, I enjoy my work. It also gives me one of the greatest goods: time. You can’t buy time. You can only create it for yourself. By working as a location-independent freelancer, I have the freedom to work where and whenever I want to. And when I want to spend my time on something else, I can. I don’t have to be somewhere from 9-5, I can decide how I schedule my day. And this is priceless.

Mana Creative Studio

Of course, my business is still – and will always be – work in progress. But it’s growing, and that makes me happy. Under the name of Mana Creative Studio I’ve been copywriting and blogging for four clients, and I am especially happy with and thankful for my newest client, a real gem, SuusjeHQ from the successful business and travel blog Artikel 2.55. I now can combine my passion for travel and writing. What else?!

My first website for Berns Massagepraktijk

I have also created two websites, donation based, this year, and I’m building my own websites as well (for Mana Creative Studio and Give Me Wings Movement). And as a cherry on the cake, after my first website went live, professionals from the field have contacted me and want to buy my work. That’s such a great feeling and a confirmation that I’m not the only one thinking I’m doing the right things.

Further, I’ve become a pro in Adobe Illustrator and Canva. I’ve been designing logos, brochures, flyers, infographics, social media posts, and illustrations for a yoga teacher training manual.

I’m so grateful that I can do the things I love and my business is growing. In the past six months I’ve sent a total of 13 invoices and I am grateful for all the experiences I’ve gained, the things I’ve learned and the people I met along the way. The message here is to keep believing in something, even if people around you tell you shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t.

Personal Development & Health

During my travels I’ve made life-changing decisions in my health and diet. This year the 9th of December marked exactly three years of not smoking and eating a 100% vegetarian diet, and I notice the positive effects on my health every day.

Home made zucchini pasta

In 2016 I’ve continued and keep improving this healthy lifestyle. I still try to cook as healthy and wholesome as possible, without processed food and as many fresh veggies and fruits as possible. Although, I must admit, there were a few more glasses of red wine than I was used to.

To work on my mental health, I’ve completed another Vipassana meditation retreat in Belgium. This was my 5-year Vipassana anniversary, and I must say the most intense retreat so far. Considering the fact that this was just after my boyfriend – unexpectedly – broke up with me, this is not so weird.

If you go into a Vipassana retreat with a negative mind, you either completely stop worrying and enjoy peace of mind. Or you are not able to forget and the pain grows. The latter happened. But it’s actually not even bad to have those experiences, too. It teaches you about impermanence and you find out that “this too shall pass.”

To deepen my yoga practice I’ve spent a total of 7 weeks in an ashram. I didn’t even know this also existed in the Netherlands, but apparently it does. In return for office and design work and maintaining the garden, we receive daily yoga- and meditation classes, food and accommodation. It’s a very humbling experience to work for food & shelter.

On top of that, I’ve made friendships for life. My yoga practice is improving like crazy, and suddenly I’m able to do yoga postures I’d been working on for years. Another life lesson: never give up, everything is possible as long as you keep believing in it and working on it.

Lastly, I’m grateful that in 2016 I’ve also broadened my horizons and tried out things that were out of my comfort zone, like Kundalini yoga and Osho meditations – oh my!

Free stuff and quid pro quo

The year 2016 has actually been a very successful year with regards to free stuff. Don’t you just love free stuff? I truly, madly, deeply believe in barter deals and it’s amazing to see what the effects of good karma can be. Give and take. I really enjoy doing stuff for free for people, just because you know you can help them. And the beautiful thing is, it always comes back.

In Vienna I was invited to a Learning To Thrive Masterclass. The beautiful couple that organised this masterclass, also held two Contact Improvisation Retreats in Tuscany to which I was invited to volunteer. Due to personal circumstance, I wasn’t able to make it. But I bet third time lucky. I might finally be able to join in 2017?!

In return for a blog post, I attended the Digital Nomad network meeting in Nijmegen of these heroes. I met a lot of inspiring, like-minded people here and this is where I met SuusjeHQ, who is now my favourite client.

I’ve participated in the always inspiring Fear & Fail meetups in Vienna, and to be honest I’m still disappointed I can’t go the them anymore.

In return for one day of volunteering, I’ve participated in a weekend-long seminar Life Without A Centre with Jeff Foster. I’ve had two very inspiring days and it was again beautiful to meet people with the same interests and beliefs, to experience that you are never alone. More about this seminar coming up soon.

I’ve also won a few things, yay me! In the Dharma of Design Challenge I’ve won Book of Dharma by Simon Haas. I’ve received a free power bank from Vodafone – an indispensable device for a digital nomad. The consults of my accountant were for free this year. He knows that he’s my go-to-guy as soon as business is flourishing. And last but definitely not least I won a SuusjeHQ T-shirt. So I’m not only part of the dream team, but I also have the one-and-only T-shirt.

What’s cooking in the kitchen

Raw carrot pate

When I was travelling around, one of the things I missed most was cooking. Being back in Europe again for some time, enabled me to cook again. In a proper kitchen, with good kitchen utilities. And I love it. I’ve made dishes I never made before, and they are all delicious. I’ve become more creative and came up with new ideas and recipes to make healthy and wholesome vegetarian meals. And I found a new interest and talent and really enjoy posting about delicious food. And this – in turn – might have resulted in a new big (very big) client for the year 2017. Fingers crossed!

People come and go, true friends stay forever

There was a lot of heartache in 2016. I’ve lost the love of my life. At least that’s what I believed. But a wise man I met along the way told me “if it comes and goes, it’s not true love.” Still it hurts. It hurts like hell. But I’m grateful for the time we spent together. The amazing time we spent together.

And it also makes me so much more grateful for all the close relationships and friendships that I do still have. It’s life: You gain some, you loose some. But true friends stay forever.

So although it’s probably been one of the hardest years of my life, boy do I have a lot to be grateful for. Thank you 2016! Thank you to all the people who I’ve shared some beautiful experiences with.

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