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Recently, Facebook reminded me of a status I posted a few years back. “Meihoukaiandra Baackes is having non stop fun all the time and absolutely loving life.” At the time, I was dripping with sarcasm. Today, I could write that status in pretty non-ironic way.

Today, on my twenty-third birthday, life is good. I might not make much money, but I love my job. I might not see them often enough, but my heart bursts with love for my family and friends. I might not be able to run a marathon, but I’m getting pretty close to a 5K. Life isn’t perfect, but it sure is great.

There is so much right now that brings me joy and makes me smile, and I want to remember this happy high in my life. So for the past few weeks I’ve been taking notes, and from them I’ve compiled twenty-three things that make me happy at twenty-three, in no particular order.

Happy Birthday to me!

1. Being a “Yes Girl.” From skydiving to snowmobiling, I’ll try almost anything once and friends know I’m the person to call when they’re looking for a partner in crime.

2. A Great Movie or TV Show. Documentaries, rom-coms, dramas — I love to go to the movies, especially at indie theatres like The Spectrum in my hometown or The Flicks in Phnom Penh. And there is nothing like being enraptured in a good TV series. Currently Dexter, Parks and Recreation, Law and Order: SVU and my annual rewatch of Arrested Development are all putting a smile on my face. I’ve now made it seem like I do nothing but stare at a screen, but in reality I tend to use them like radio shows and listen to them in the background while I edit and upload photos and do busy work.

3. Travel – Well, Duh. I think this blog is a testament to the fact that almost nothing in this life gives me a high like getting on a bus, plane or train and taking off on a new adventure. From weekend road trips visiting family to epic backpacking journeys across a continent, I never want to stop traveling. Bonus points if the destination is sunny and warm.

Planning a trip to Laos

4. Friendship. My brain kind of starts to implode sometimes when I start thinking about all the fantastic people I’ve met and befriended around the world. Being a good friend sits high on top of my list of priorities.

5. Diet Coke. Please, soda gods, don’t give me cancer.

6. A Sense of Humor. Mine or someone else’s. There is no better feeling on earth than laughing until tears squeeze out of my eyes, and I can’t think of a greater compliment than someone telling them that something I did, said or wrote inspired a similar reaction in them.

7. Being Fit. I’m living healthier than ever, and the rewards are so much greater than I could have imagined. It’s been a lot of work, both physically to lose weight and get strong, and mentally to make peace with myself. Once upon a time I would have muttered something self-loathing if someone tried to compliment my appearance, but today I smile and say thank you. I never thought I’d name Muay Thai training, hiking, swimming, and yoga among my favorite things, but here I am.

Getting a paddleboarding workout in Hawaii

8. Having a cause. I’ve turned into a major whale-hugger, and I kind of like it. I hiss at the mention of plastic bags, I donate to Sea Shepard and I try to do my part to spread the word about protecting our oceans. It feels good to feel passionately about an important issue, and to act on it.

9. My Family. I have three sisters, but my extended family is quite small — just a few relatives on each side.  I’ve loved seeing how my relationships with my family members change as I get older. What is it about family that makes you capable of crazy loving people with whom you have so little in common? I’m so grateful for these relationships, especially those with my parents. They are my biggest fans.

10. Baking. For someone who can’t stand to cook and has set off fire alarms trying to make Kraft Mac n’ Cheese, there is one instance where I love being in the kitchen. I love creating sugary concoctions and making them bright and beautiful.

11. A Day at the Spa. Unfortunately for my wallet, I have discovered that I am a big of a spa junkie. From the budget treats (Massage Mondays in Thailand and the cheapest pedicures in the world in Brooklyn) to the major splurges (Turkish bathhouses in Istanbul and massages at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland) I’m one happy girl when I’m being pampered.

12. Scuba Diving. I love trying out my favorite hobby in new places around the world, and connecting with people over a passion for diving. Diving that is preferably done with a camera in hand!

Diving in the Caribbean

13. An Indulgent Meal of Mexican Food. It’s my favorite cuisine, though I admit Italian is a very close second. I’m normally very thrifty but every once in a while I get a huge thrill out of dressing up and going to eat at a trendy, buzzed-about restaurant.

14. Buying Gifts. I think I have a bit of elf blood in me — I love nothing more than finding the perfect present for someone, wrapping it beautifully and watching them open it. I’m the one on Christmas morning assaulting people with gift boxes and insisting “Mine first!”

15. Snuggling With a Loving Pup. Most preferably a particular Cocker Spaniel named Tucker.

16. Working for Myself. So, I make about the same as a minimum wage McDonald’s employee but without all the benefits. But at this moment I couldn’t be happier being my own boss. This year has brought exciting new partnerships and freelancing opportunities and despite my nontraditional path, I’m starting to answer with pride when the previously dreaded “So what do you do?” question is dragged out.

Blogging by the Parthenon and by the pool

17. Fancy cocktails. Again, I’m pretty frugal with both calories and coins, but I love to occasionally splurge on mulberry mojitos or pear martinis or other frilly fruity drinks. Also, I would be totally remiss not to mention my newest truest love: Cake Vodka. Did I mention my insane sweet tooth?

18. Being in Like. I don’t really want to be in love with anyone right now. I’m having too much fun being independent and doing my own thing, and I’m not ready to commit to being a good partner to someone again just yet. But from flirtatious conversations to full-blown holiday romances, I love the feeling of being in like.

19. Playing Martha Stewart. For someone without a permanent address, I really have a love of all things related to the holidays, dressing up, and entertaining. I love my annual holiday traditions and try to recreate them wherever I am in the world, from my annual Valentine’s Day and Christmas Parties to being the most over the top costumed person on Halloween. I admit it would be much easier if my baking and craft supplies fit in my backpack.

Dressing up for Halloween

20. Dancing all night. I admit I’m going through a little party girl phase right now (well, my parents will tell you its been going on since High School) but I’m embracing it. Give me a playlist of pop songs, a crowded dance floor and a drink in hand I couldn’t be happier. There’s plenty of time in life for sunrise yoga… here’s to sunrise cab rides. No one remembers the nights they stayed in and got plenty of sleep.

21. Living With Less. You’ll notice most things on this list aren’t actually things. It’s a heavy struggle for me, but I am trying every day to live a more minimalistic lifestyle. These days it gives me as much joy to sell or get rid of something old as it does to buy something new.

22. Not knowing what’s next…. I have nothing tying me down right now. No mortgage, no location-dependent paycheck, no car, no boyfriend, no rent. My world and my future can be as wide as I want them to be.

23. But having a direction. I may not have responsibilities (outside the ones I make for myself of course) but I do have priorities. Every day I’m creating the life I want to live, and I’m trying to do it with integrity. If I may be so bold as to quote Shakespeare — “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.

. . . . . . . . . .

When I came up with the idea for this post, I actually thought it might be hard to reach twenty-three things. And yet I didn’t even mention Southeast Asia, my favorite place on Earth, or driving with the windows down and my favorite music blasting, or reading your comments, or so many other things that make me happy at this moment in my life. I have so much to be grateful for. Twenty two was pretty amazing… and I have a feeling twenty-three will be even better.

Thank you so much for being a part of it, readers!

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70 Comments...
  • Hope you have a great birthday. 23 young and strong, looking good and traveling well. Hope the next year brings you the journeys you yearn for. Let us know when you want to come visit us, we’d love to have you. Again best wishes.
    Harmony Hall Resorts,St.Vincent recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      Thanks for the birthday wishes! I love the Caribbean, I’d be happy to come anytime… send me an email 🙂

  • Morgan Barsi
    November 6 2012

    Great list Meihoukai. It’s awesome to see someone living their dreams and not getting caught in the trappings of our society.

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      Thank you so much Morgan! I really appreciate your comment 🙂

  • Laura
    November 6 2012

    Happy Birthday Meihoukai. It has been a while but we are still alive here in the mid-west. LOVE your posts. The pictures are wonderful as always. Hugs to you. L

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      Thanks so much Laura! Wish you guys were coming for Thanksgiving, hope we get to see ya again soon!

  • Globetrottergirls
    November 6 2012

    Happy birthday!! So many great things on your list – love the way you are living your life, and it shows that money is just not the key to happiness 🙂 Hope you are having a great birthday with your family & friends!
    Globetrottergirls recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      Thanks so much ladies! I think my focus these days is on “enough money” rather than “lots of money.” 🙂

  • Olivia
    November 6 2012

    Happy Birthday!! Didn’t see spending quality time with your sister on that list though…

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      See number nine… reading comprehension fail from a soon-to-be-teacher!

  • Ashley of Ashley Abroad
    November 6 2012

    Happy birthday Meihoukai! I hope you have an amazing year :). Have you planned out your next travel destination yet?
    Ashley of Ashley Abroad recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      Ashley I’m headed to Vegas on Thursday, Florida next month and then back to Southeast Asia in time for New Year’s! I’m keeping very busy 🙂

  • Jade
    November 6 2012

    Happy Birthday! This list made me so excited to be 23 next year and also living out some of my dreams!

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      I have a feeling 23 is going to be a great year! Congrats on your upcoming birthday as well…

  • Lauren
    November 6 2012

    This post really resonates with me!!! It’s exactly how I feel right now (or exactly how I felt up until a week ago when I ran into some stupid visa issues) and I really like the way you express it.

    Doesn’t it feel good to be living the life you dreamed of???

    On another note, CAKE VODKA!!!!!! I’m glad I’m not the only person. I drink it with cherry diet dr. pepper… Oh no… oh no no no don’t get me started.

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      So sorry to hear about your visa issues Lauren, bureaucracy is the worst! Glad that it’s smooth sailing, that aside! And yes, Cake Vodka Diet Coke is a bit of an obsession right now…

  • Jess
    November 6 2012

    Happy Birthday! I am a rare commenter but I look forward to reading every day!

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      Jess thank you so much for this comment, you gave me a big smile!

  • Karen a Opalka
    November 6 2012

    Happy Birthday Meihoukai!

  • Michelle
    November 6 2012

    Happy Birthday Al! Your post made me smile today. What a positive way to start 23!

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      Love you Meesh! This is going to be our best years ever… posivibes!

  • Marc
    November 6 2012

    I can attest to your love of driving with windows down and music blaring..
    ..it’s how we knew you were coming down the street for the last 6 years. !!!! Happy 23rd Meihoukai !!

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      Ha ha ha, you know me, always disturbing the peace whenever possible!

  • Angie Away
    November 6 2012

    Happy birthday, lovely Meihoukai! This is a wonderful list and I can’t wait to see how you add to it over the next year =)
    Angie Away recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      I already know how I’ll add to it… running my first 5K at the COLOR RUN IN TAMPA WITH ANGIE AWAY! 🙂

  • Molly Yonderblog
    November 6 2012

    Happy birthday Meihoukai! The Flicks in Phnom Penh is great, isn’t it? We loved it there. Keep loving life!
    Molly Yonderblog recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      That place seriously made me want to move to Phnom Penh! I love love loved it!

  • Margaret
    November 6 2012

    My favorite is being “in like”! And once again Olivia you fail to actually READ the whole blog, I do believe that was at least implied in #9.

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      She’s more of a “look at the pictures” kind of reader!

  • kirsty
    November 6 2012

    Happy birthday lovely! Hope your having an awesome day, but being you I’m sure you’ll be doing something fun that makes you smile!
    Love your list, it made me smile reading it! You truly do have a great life 🙂 xxx

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      So far all I’ve done today is vote 🙂 But hey, that was a big thrill! Tonight my friends have a surprise planned, uh oh…

  • cristal
    November 6 2012

    Happy Birthday! You are so much wiser than your years, I cant believe you’re only 23. Hope this year is even better than the last.

    • Meihoukai
      November 6 2012

      I’m actually thrilled to be 23 because I was getting a little sick of people saying “YOU’RE ONLY 22!?!” But it will probably still happen now with 23, ha.

  • Gaelyn
    November 6 2012

    Happy Wonderful Birthday! 23 awesome reasons to be alive. Well except for the TV stuff. I’d jump out of a plane with that dude too. Stick to the being in “Like”, carefully.
    Gaelyn recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 7 2012

      Thank you Gaelyn! I know some people can’t stand TV but well, I think they’re watching the wrong shows 🙂

  • Jen
    November 6 2012

    Amen, Meihoukai! And happy birthday to you! You truly have so much going for you right now, and reading your list makes me happy, hopeful and grateful in my own life.

    • Meihoukai
      November 7 2012

      Thank you so much for this comment Jen, it might be my favorite on the whole post! 🙂

  • kami
    November 7 2012

    all the best for your birthday!
    kami recently posted..

  • Nomadic Matt
    November 7 2012

    I’m shocked to find Chipotle not on this list!
    Nomadic Matt recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 7 2012

      What do you think I was talking about with the indulgent meal of Mexican food!?

  • Chris Shaw
    November 7 2012

    Happy Birthday Meihoukai!!! Great list,…go for it!

  • Ashley
    November 7 2012

    Happy Belated Birthday! Such an uplifting post!
    Ashley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 7 2012

      Thank you so much, Ashley! I really appreciate it 🙂

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    November 7 2012

    Hope you had a great birthday Meihoukai!! Sounds like it’s going to be a wonderful year for you 🙂
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 8 2012

      Thanks for the birthday wishes Rika… and I think you’re right! 🙂

  • Emily in Chile
    November 8 2012

    Your list made me happy too 🙂 Happy birthday!
    Emily in Chile recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 8 2012

      Well your comment made me even happier 🙂 Thanks Emily!

  • Karen a Opalka
    November 9 2012

    Meihoukai, I’m behind on my reading, but Chet reads your stuff and is up to date!
    Tell mom dying to see pictures of the new cottage!

    • Meihoukai
      November 9 2012

      We’re going there Thanksgiving weekend, and you bet I’ll be documenting the heck out of it!

  • Sam
    November 10 2012

    Just wanted to say I love your pictures and your posts! I recently fell in love with traveling when I went around Europe, and would love some insight on how you got started, because let’s face it, you are living the dream. Keep it up!

    • Meihoukai
      November 13 2012

      Hey Sam, check out my post “So, how do you afford this?” If you are looking for tips on how I saved to travel and continue to finance my travels. If there’s something else specific you’re looking for, let me know!

  • Our Dear Lady Expatriate
    November 11 2012

    Happy belated birthday! You’re one cool cat, Meihoukai… next time you’re in Phnom Penh, we should definitely hit up The Flicks together 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      November 13 2012

      Indeed! Or maybe you need a beach vacation somewhere in Thailand… 🙂

  • Dad
    November 13 2012

    Great list…will you do one every year?

    • Meihoukai
      November 13 2012

      Might get kind of hard once I’m like 50…. just kidding!

  • Anne
    November 17 2012

    Happy Birthday, Meihoukai! Hope to see you here in the Philippines soon! 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      November 18 2012

      Thank you so much Anne! Hoping to hit the Philippines on my next trip to Asia starting in January!

  • Kristen
    November 17 2012

    Meihoukai, this post is absolutely beautiful.
    I am currently plotting on how to live a life as similar to this as possible! =]

    Wishing you many more years of pure happiness,
    Kristen
    Kristen recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 18 2012

      Thank you so much Kristen! I really appreciate your kind words, and wishing you the very same!

  • Maddy
    October 4 2013

    Yay! Happy!

    That’s about all I have to contribute to this, haha.
    Maddy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 4 2013

      Glad this post is still being read and enjoyed, Maddy!

      • Maddy
        October 4 2013

        I really like that you link to your past posts, actually (just read the health-related ones too!) I’ve only been a reader for a couple of months so it’s a nice way to see other posts even if I don’t have time to start from the very beginning! 🙂
        Maddy recently posted..

  • Ollie
    March 5 2014

    Stumbled across your blog whilst looking for tips on Inca trail, and I have found it so so inspiring!
    I have always had a niggling urge to travel, but now I think you’ve gien me the nudge to turn my ‘mortgage fund’ savings account into a bucket list one!

    • Meihoukai
      March 5 2014

      Aw, I’m so happy to hear that Ollie! You know what they say, “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” 🙂 Happy travels and good luck chasing those dreams!

  • Jade
    April 25 2014

    Hi there, I know that this is such an old post but I was busy researching themes for my 23rd birthday coming up next month and I simply fell head over heels for your blog. You seem incredible and so fun – much like me and I am very excited to be a new follower and hopefully keep in touch xxxx

    • Meihoukai
      April 25 2014

      Hey Jade! I’m so glad you found me, welcome 🙂 (And happy 23rd!) Oh and just a warning, you should avoid pasting the URL of your blog into the body of comments as my commenting system and many others will then flag it as spam. But no fear, there is a URL box you can share it in! <3