The Intentional Expat

Living Your Best Life Abroad

30/30 (for my 30th) Birthday Challenge


I’m spending the month of August at home with family in the states (Seattle), and since I usually only get to visit once a year I’m spending the weeks maximizing quality time with family and friends. Which is why, despite never in my life having had any sort of desire to do so, I found myself dragging my feet to join my golf-enthusiast family on a trip to the driving range last week. Mind you, it took quite a deal of coaxing on their part to convince me to join along, but their personalized cajoling which included things like “be spontaneous,” “get out of your comfort zone” and “you can blog about it later,” finally got me out the door with them.

And to my surprise, I discovered that I actually enjoyed hitting the golf ball with all my might and improving my technique with every swing. If nothing more, I could at least recommend golf as a great stress reliever to future patients. But I also discovered that great ideas can be born while swinging a golf club, which is how I came up with my plan of how to celebrate my 30th birthday.

Since I started the one year countdown to entering my third decade of life last September, I had been brainstorming a memorable way to celebrate the big 3-0. At first I thought a trip to an exotic location would be called for. When I realized that my budget wasn’t going to allow for that, I scaled it down to a weekend surf trip in the south of Spain. As it turns out, this option isn’t going to be feasible either. But one of my big goals in life is to age gracefully and thus, embrace my birthday with all the enthusiasm the celebration of my life deserves, so some sort of monumental celebration was going to be called for. And now I have it–the 30/30 Birthday Challenge.

30 days. 30 new things. In celebration of my 30th. As we get older, our lives become increasingly more routine. Unlike children who are constantly exposed to new experiences each day, we no longer greet the world with awe and wonder, and our days seem to pass us by more quickly. My hope is that with this birthday celebration I can combat this feeling, and that by becoming more engaged in my daily life I’ll find new ways to inspire, surprise and challenge myself. I’m 7 days into the challenge so far and it’s already taught me a great deal!

This isn’t the first time I’ve done a 30 day challenge. Two years ago I randomly stumbled across my first TED talk by Matt Cutt entitled “Try Something New for Thirty Days,” which inspired me to start a 30 day yoga challenge. This led to a 30 day alcohol-free challenge (a difficult task in a country like Spain where wine and beer is cheaper than soft drinks) and then 30 days of blogging. Each and every one of these 30 day journeys taught me something new about myself, one of the most important being the discovery that saying “I don’t have time” usually means “that’s not a priority to me.” But this will be the first time I take on a challenge that requires me to think of something new to do each and every day rather than spending thirty consecutive days doing the same thing. And one week into the challenge I’m finding that it’s a lot trickier than I first imagined to find something I’ve never done before. And I’m also discovering that an alternate title to this challenge could be “30 days things I’ve always meant to do.” Here’s a recap of how it’s been going:


Day 1: First time at a driving range.  Headed to the driving range with my family and the 30/30 Bday challenge was born! It was a perfect day to start the challenge too since that night I enjoyed a joint 30th birthday celebration with four of my girlfriends I’ve known since middle school who have also rang in their 30th this year.


Day 2: First time learning to code. The original plan was to try Ethiopian food for the first time ever. We’d wanted to go to the restaurant operated by a woman who used to care for my grandmother, but to our dismay we learned that Miss Deedee’s restaurant had shut down two years ago and despite my attempts to track down a person via google and social media (a first time experience…), I had no luck (lesson learned–don’t put things off that you want to do now!) So a plan b was needed which is how I wound up taking the one hour of coding challenge. I’ll never see my cell phone the same way again.


Day 3: First time playing a game of golf. What good would it be to try out the driving range if you didn’t take your new-found skills to the golf course for the first time ever? I was surprised to discover that golf wasn’t the boring experience I’d imagined. We were moving so much that there was no time to get bored. My take home from the game? Golfing is a great way to practice mindfulness.


Day 4: First trip on the Seattle Water Taxi. My original plan was to try out a new hiking trail for the first time ever, but the rainy Seattle weather made that idea sound less appealing (hiking in the rain is nothing new to me after doing part of the Camino de Santiago in the springtime). The alternate plan was to walk Seattle’s Alki beach from one end to the next, but when we passed by Seattle’s Water Taxi, a new idea was born: I’d never been on the water taxi before! And by embracing spontaneity we were rewarded by stumbling across a lunchtime concert where I saw swing dancing for the first time in Seattle (it’s a favorite pastime of mine in Madrid) and a man playing a trumpet on fire! (another first–see below). And we had falafels (first time in Seattle) at The Falafel King where a customer told me that he had devised a special ranking system for falafels and that he had awarded this particular establishment with the “Tel Aviv 2” ranking, which he said most places in the states don’t get. I’ve only ever tried falafels in Europe and I don’t have a special ranking system, but The Falafel King gets a thumbs up from me.



Day 5: First time playing baseball with my family. When I was a kid, I absolutely hated P.E. and really all sports except ballet (yes, ballet is a sport!) But since then I’ve come to embrace the world of physical activity (I even worked as an aerobics instructor for awhile and this year I ran two 10K races). However, I still am not a fan of team sports. This is why it was such a big deal that I agreed to play baseball with my young cousins when we took a day trip to visit them in Eastern Washington. I even managed to hit the ball, and help my team to win the game (never mind that it was a wiffle ball and plastic bat…or that I was wearing a dress and sandals).


Day 6. First time reaching out to a mentor in the writing world. If nothing else, this challenge is teaching me to come up with alternative plans. I wanted to try stand-up paddleboard yoga, but to my dismay all of the classes in Seattle were full. But I stumbled across an article  in Time magazine on five simple e-mails that can make your life better one of which was e-mailing a potential mentor. My last quarter of my senior year of college I decided to take a creative writing course, which turned out to be the most difficult class I had during my whole college career. But it was also the first time I took writing seriously and it drastically changed my ideas about writing and creativity. I’m working on developing a course to help people get in touch with their creative sides, so I decided to reach out to this professor who I’ve thought about on many occasions during the past eight years and this morning I opened my e-mail inbox to a response from him and a few great leads for helping me to develop the course curriculum!


Day 7: First time hiking Rattlesnake Ridge. Today’s weather in Seattle was hiker-friendly so it was a perfect chance to give Rattlesnake Ridge a try. A fairly easy one hour trek uphill rewarded us with breathtaking views. I also had the chance to dance on the top of a mountain for the first time ever (we’re collecting footage for a “Happy” video) and when I got back down to the bottom of the hill I decided to try out another first: I stripped off my shoes, socks and shirt and jumped into the lake to swim around in my shorts and sports bra. The weather in Seattle is unpredictable, I couldn’t pass up the chance to go for a swim!

Seven days down and twenty-three to go! It’s been an action packed week and the biggest discovery of all has been that by opening myself up to be willing to try something new, opportunities to try even more new things just seem to fall at my feet.

I challenge all of you that are entering into your third decade of life this year to do a 30/30 challenge yourself. And even if you’re not turning 30 this year, don’t let that stop you from devising a challenge of your own. Remember:  ¨You don´t stop having fun when you get old. You get old when you stop having fun.” 


Author: Melissa

Born in the rainy, green Northwestern corner of the United States, Melissa relocated to the almost-always-sunny city of Madrid, Spain five years ago. After getting her master's degree, traveling to places her friends at home drooled about, falling in love with a Spaniard, and having her heart broken by said Spaniard, it's safe to say that she's learned firsthand about the less than glamorous side of living abroad. Thankfully, she gets to use this experience, along with her professional expertise, in her work as a mental health therapist in Madrid where she helps other expats learn to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of living abroad. This blog is designed to be informative and is in no way intended to serve as a substitute for therapy.

3 thoughts on “30/30 (for my 30th) Birthday Challenge

  1. I love your idea of the 30/30 challenge! Very inspiring!


  2. Pingback: 30/30 Bday Challenge Week 4 | The Intentional Expat

  3. Pingback: Facing my Fears: The Long Overdue End to my 30/30 Bday Challenge | The Intentional Expat

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