This year passed in the blink of an eye. Or at least that's how it feels looking back.
I'm lucky enough to say I've done exactly what I wanted to do and had a great time doing it.
This year had its share of low points, too; however, they only served to make me stronger.
If you're a new reader, this post is a great way to catch up!
On February 1, about a month before the earthquake and tsunami struck, I flew from Newark to Tokyo to kick off my first trip to Japan.
I packed ultra light, only carrying a daypack for the 11-day Winter trip.
I then hopped a bullet train to Kyoto, where I got a hazy view of Mt. Fuji in the distance.
On my first night in Kyoto, I walked into a random restaurant and had the best sushi of my life.
Despite the cold air outside, the salmon belly would melt in my mouth, and I couldn't get enough of it.
I visited the tranquil Golden Temple and then stepped WAY out of my comfort zone with a bare naked visit to a traditional Japanese onsen.
The food discoveries continued with massive, fresh oysters and okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, a city that I visited as a day trip from Kyoto to see the iconic A-Bomb Dome and Peace Park first hand.
Within a few days of returning to Virginia from Japan, I was on a flight back to Medellin, Colombia, where I spent the subsequent six months.
In addition to further delving into the city's ridiculously fun nightlife, I also made an effort to visit some of the top restaurants.
My big trip outside Medellin took me to the Caribbean city of Santa Marta, Taganga — a backpacker favorite, the gorgeous Parque Nacional Tayrona, and Cabo de la Vela, a desolate yet beautiful beach at the northernmost point of the country and continent.
I also made it a point to visit two of Antioquia's most popular pueblos, Jardin, where I went horseback riding, and Santa Fe de Antioquia, where I started writing and compiling my Medellin city guide, an ebook I intended to release early in 2012.
But it wasn't all fun and games.
Once I felt better and back in Medellin, I was robbed by an armed man while waiting at a stoplight in a taxi.
The recent robbery in Colombia had me on edge for my first visit to Ecuador, but despite all the theft stories I'd heard, I couldn't bring myself to skip a country out of fear alone.
So I flew to Quito on AeroGal as planned and proceeded to have a fun and theft-free time exploring the historic city center, visiting the Equator, riding the Teleferico for sweeping city views, and mountain biking down Cotopaxi Volcano.
The Galapagos Islands
Luckily, we had a cool guide, and we made the most of the downtime with a visit to Tortuga Bay, where we saw our first sharks and marine iguanas.
Banos, Guayaquil, Montanita, and More
I went to Ecuador for the Galapagos but soon found much more to the country than the wildlife out at sea.
From there, it was on to Vilcabamba in the Valley of Longevity, from where I would start the overland journey into northern Peru.
Continuing the zigging and zagging pattern, my next overnight bus took me to Huaraz at the foot of the Cordillera Blanca.
From Huaraz, I landed in Lima, where I'd proceed to eat my way through the city (and put on the extra pounds to prove it).
I'll be writing more about my time in Lima, as well as my trek to Machu Picchu in early January, so stay tuned!
My goal with building an online income has always been to live and travel abroad freely.
As I devoted the second half of 2010 to living in Colombia, it wasn't until 2011 that I got to spread my wings and fly.
While my income didn't increase as much as I'd anticipated (it grew about 20%), it was enough to allow me a few investments back into the business, including a new 13″ MacAir (which may be the best travel laptop ever) and custom blog design.
I also began paying contributors for the first time, which has worked out very well for everyone.
So well that I'll be announcing another addition to the Go Backpacking team in early January.
And most recently, I was honored to be accepted into the Society of American Travel Writers.
Go Backpacking – I started the year searching for a new contributor, which led me to Mark Wiens.
His weekly contributions are amongst the most shared on Go Backpacking.
Visits increased 62% in 2011 over the prior year, with the site breaking 1.2 million page views. I also began creating the Travel Guides section.
Medellin Living – Medellin Living had a breakout year, with almost triple the number of visits in 2011 over 2010.
I also began paying contributors to this site, which is especially important when I'm not in Colombia, as I can't devote as much time to growing the site.
Travel Blog Success – At the start of the year, I doubled the number of lessons and audio interviews.
I also added monthly coaching calls and a private Facebook group to the Premium membership offering.
Over 100 new members joined the TBS community in the last 12 months, bringing the total membership to over 200.
I don't anticipate any significant changes for 2012 and hope to continue helping new bloggers one by one.
The rest of the week will be devoted to sharing the most popular posts of the year.
Thank you for continuing to read, and I look forward to making 2012 our best year yet!