Travel & Turning 40 in a Pandemic

How I learned flexibility

Written by Julie K.

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Travel & Turning 40


Since I was a teenager, I had the goal of traveling the world. But as an achiever, I was committed to my education. So I told myself to put my head down and slog through the eight years of college and dental school. Then I would travel.


My first big overseas trip was to Ukraine. Snuggling under a blanket during a nine-hour flight across the world felt like magic. I was being transported to a new and exciting place.


Ukraine is the homeland of my great-grandparents. I loved the creamy soft taste of the local borscht. I delighted in finding rolling fields of grain similar to the landscape near my home. The discovery and adventure hooked me.


Within a couple of years of graduating dental school, I was taking the opportunity for international travel whenever I could. Now I can’t go a year without an international trip to a new location to sustain my energy and appease my restless soul.


My favorite time to travel is in the fall off-season around my birthday. I spent my 29th birthday in Athens at the Acropolis and I spent my 35th birthday hiking in the Swiss Alps. Waking up to the sunrise over ancient ruins and swirling cubes of bread in gooey fondue are priceless feelings of joy.

40×40 in 2020

In the fall 2020, I turned 40. Both my achiever and travel bug wanted a big accomplishment to mark the milestone. So I dreamed up the 40×40 in 2020. My goal was to visit 40 countries by my 40th birthday in 2020. The allure of this goal kept me inspired and focused through some significant challenges.


The plan was to spend three weeks in east-central Europe on a road trip to check off the last seven countries. My vision was a sort of “progressive party,” with friends flying in to join me on various segments of the trip. This was going to be a high-energy, joyful journey seeing new places with the people I love.


Then Covid-19 happened. International borders closed; global travel all but ceased.


When the pandemic began and I was cancelling airline tickets, I admit to being quite angry at the virus for messing with my travel. I needed the help of a coach to refocus on the potential beautiful experience of staying home.


I wrestled with the tension of letting go of my goal and my trip. I hate giving up on anything. But the trip could not happen the way I envisioned it.  Even if possible, it would have been more stressful than joyful.


How did I celebrate my 40th birthday?

As I emotionally began to let go of the 40×40 in 2020, I’ve been reflecting on some of the milestones of my 30s. I have worked hard to make some significant personal and professional changes.  Right before the economy shut down, I successfully directed a major professional event which was two years in the making. I felt that I deserved to celebrate 40.


Clearly this was a year to enjoy short road trips close to home with my two dogs. But what could make up for giving up my goal and still feel celebratory?


As I revisited old dreams and bucket list items, I landed on an idea. For the last several years, I’d lusted after an Alfa Romeo Giulia–a totally impractical, insanely sexy, super powerful Italian car that shares my name. Perfect to jazz up weekend road trips!


Travel and life require flexibility

I found just the right Giulia and bought the car. Maybe you will see Julie and Giulia along with two white dogs racing down a highway near you.

In the meantime, I am continuing to learn to listen to my heart. Sometimes I need to let go and be flexible. Sometimes my goals need to change or be rewritten for a longer timeline.


For the next couple years, I will explore destinations closer to home while enjoying the fine texture of an Italian designed car.


And who knows–maybe in another decade I will accomplish the 50×50. Preferably, sans a pandemic.



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