5 Things I Learned in 2018

While 2018 has come and gone, I had some time to reflect on what this last year taught me, personally and specifically to travel. I have to admit, this year was a particularly challenging one for me, conquering losses and life adjustments, but perhaps the year that has taught me the most in life.

Below are the 5 major things I learned this year:

1. Life is short, work towards your bucket list today

Around May of last year, my grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was a difficult pill to swallow for us all. I happened to be in Austin the day of the diagnosis and witnessed our family crumble upon the news, but I eventually had to return to NYC for work. I can imagine how difficult it was for those family members in Austin to physically witness the cancer change my grandfather’s life, but for those of us that were far away it came with a different set of challenges. The guilt of not being able to be physically be there, the constant worry of how things are developing and at what rate they’ll continue to develop, and the god awful fear every time you had a chance to visit and had to say goodbye, wondering if it would be your very last conversation with Grandpa.

During my grandfather’s months of chemotherapy, my sister spent a significant amount of time talking with him, hearing stories of his past and his wishes for the future. My sister made a list...but unfortunately it was too late. The last few months, my grandfather deteriorated quickly. Things that he was once able to do on his own were no more, and things that he dreamed of doing or seeing were no longer in the cards anymore.

My grandfather passed last Friday with various of those wishes unrealized. I don’t think that my grandfather left with any regrets, nor did he blame anyone or anything other than his cancer for being unable to make these a reality in his last months.

But this opened my eyes to a common thing that many of us tend to do. We leave our bucket list, our greatest wishes and dreams, for an undetermined future date - for the honeymoon, when I finally get “the job”, for retirement - not realizing how quickly life can change on us. We place so much value in retirement, blindly assuming that when we’ve finally hit that life mark that we will even be in good health to be able to do what we dreamed of doing.

I vowed this year to stop waiting to go after my bucket list, to start setting aside money to be able to accomplish at least one of these this year. I urge each of you, if you have the means or have the opportunity to set aside time and/or money, go after your bucket list!

2. You are allowed to get rid of people that no longer serve you

I’ve heard this saying many, many times before, but 2018 was finally the year where I was able to get rid of people and things that no longer served me. As brutal as that may sound, I think we all realize when certain people no longer fit a point in our life. Maybe it’s because values have shifted or simply because certain people’s behaviors are toxic to our well-being. I used to feel guilty about ending relationships, ending friendships, or simply unfollowing people that made me feel worse about myself because “I didn’t want to cause any drama” or because “I wanted to be a good person,” not realizing how damaging it was to myself.

By eliminating toxic relationships and friendships it allowed me to strengthen those that I value dearly. I stopped trying to be the person for everyone and realized that just as certain people no longer serve me, I too can only serve certain people… and I am okay with that.

3. Decluttering your space leads to a decluttering of your mind

I started off 2018 with Apartment Therapy’s January Cure. For those that are not familiar, it is a free program in which Apartment Therapy emails you everyday within the month of January with a small and achievable task to get your home organized and tidy. I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t complete all of the daily tasks, but the most important thing was that my mindset had changed. I have always been a person who attached sentimental meaning to ordinary objects. In the past I’ve held on to candy wrappers or tickets because they were part of a very special day. I’ve kept clothes I’ve never worn out of guilt of purchasing them, knowing very well that I’ll never wear these items no matter how many years I continue to leave them in my closet.

This last year, I began a very slow and steady declutter of my belongings. I don’t know what it is exactly that caused a shift in my mindset, but I realized the power decluttering had on my personal mental health. I finally realized that one of my biggest eating disorder triggers has been when my personal space gets extremely disorderly and cluttered and I begin to feel trapped. I worked with a therapist this year to start addressing this by working on the aspects that I could control, like decluttering my apartment.

I started with one major clean out, looking at my belongings through a different lens. I removed the guilt from items I hadn’t used and realized that these items could still serve someone else a purpose rather than being stashed in my closet. In September I moved apartments, which gave me another opportunity to donate and sell items and try to downsize to things that I definitely use.

I certainly have more work to do in this area, more items to get rid of that I don’t actually use, and areas in my new apartment that could use proper organization. But I’m grateful to have realized how beneficial decluttering my physical space has led to a direct improvement in my mental health.

4. You can visit a place multiple times, and it can be just as meaningful

Prior to this year I had always been a firm believer that there was too much of this world to see to ever visit a place twice. I turned down opportunities to places because I had already been. This last year, while I visited many new places, I also returned to several. I revisited cities and countries with my family and had a totally different experience, not specifically better or worse, but different. I realized that no matter how many times you visit a place, it will always be unique based on who you travel with and what happens each and every day you are there.

Although this may seem like a small learning, it sparked joy and possibility for me regarding travel. It has allowed me to open my range of possibilities this coming year.

5. Invest in your happiness

You might be sitting there rolling your eyes, like duh Ashley, you should always invest in your happiness, but this is something I’ve had a very hard time actively living out because of how I was raised. Being a first-generation latina and the eldest of my siblings, naturally lended itself to me being a people-pleaser. I have always preferred to make other people happy and doing what they prefer than doing what I truly want to. I looked at it positively saying that I was flexible and adaptable, which I do feel are some of my biggest strengths, but shouldn’t always be the case in every situation.

This has manifested itself differently depending on the stages in my life, but one concrete example of how I’ve changed this for myself is as simple as decorating my new apartment and investing in pieces that I love.

I recently moved out of the city because I am in a 2 year rotational program where I switch teams and office locations every 6 months. I was fortunate to have had my first 2 rotations in NYC, so I could stay at my old apartment, but was assigned to the NJ office for my 3rd rotation and will be abroad for my last rotation, which ultimately sparked my move. Because of our humble upbringing, I have always felt very guilty for investing in things like home decor for my place if I knew there was a chance I would be moving within a year or two, but this year I set that guilt aside because I realized that my home is one of the places I value the most. I think that personally I value experiences/travel and my home the most, but have never really felt like I needed to have designer bags, shoes or clothing. I love trying new restaurants, but would likely not spend $700 on a meal even if it was a best chef in the world. But that’s just me!

So this year, I feel proud to be able to have said “you know what, home decor makes me happy and if it fits within my budget, this is an area I want to invest in for my personal happiness” regardless of what I thought my family would say.

I think it’s a good thing to start doing in larger parts of my life and getting in the habit of investing in my own happiness versus what I believe is the right thing to invest in or what I think will make those around me the happiest.


2018 genuinely challenged me to change the mindset I’ve grown up with and I truly believe these small changes will broaden the opportunities for myself this coming year. I look back on 2018 with gratitude, no matter how harsh I feel that it was, but I look forward with immense excitement for a year of possibilities!

Thank you for taking the time to read! I’d love to hear what some of the biggest learnings were for you this last year!

Til next time!