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2024: A New Year, A New Way

The plan for the year ahead.

Ender Wilder
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ASTORIA, NYC- I don’t think I’m doing it wrong but I know that I’m not doing it right. That’s my take from this past year. I’m doing what I want to do, doing the work that I feel matters, but I’m just not breaking the plane of where I want to be. I’m close, real close, but just not quite. But I think the way forward isn’t to keep plowing ahead — I’ve been doing that for years — but to appreciate the journey for what it’s worth. Enjoy it. Have fun. See what happens.

New Years is a time for reflecting. It’s a time for giving yourself a self-graded report card to gauge how you’re doing in that art project that you call your life. So here goes:

Travels

This past year I traveled more than I have in some previous years but haven’t gotten back to the way things were before 2020. It was my plan to use NYC as a base of operations to get elsewhere, but I’ve gotten caught up in the place … and that’s not a bad thing. “Why would I travel elsewhere when here is where I want to be?” I’ve had to ask myself more than once this past year. There’s a limit to how much I can talk about what I’m doing in NYC on this blog, but my wife and I are enjoying our time here. I’ve been appreciating it even more so because there is a threat that could find us leaving relatively soon …

Hawaii

We took a big family trip to Hawaii this past year, going to the Big Island and Oahu. It made me nostalgic for the days when my family used to travel the world perpetually. It was a real vacation — we rented a truck, drove all around, hiked around some volcanos, hung out on black sand beaches, and snorkeled with manta rays. I shot video throughout but haven’t processed much of it for the blog … this was another trip that I basically dropped the blogging ball on.

Puerto Rico

I’ve always loved Puerto Rico and I went there this year looking for inspiration and to find the answer to the question of if I wanted to keep traveling. I kept things simple — I only brought an iPhone to write, film, and take photos with … and while it was effective for blogging there was a few things that I would have shot if I had better equipment with me. It was fun to try but I probably won’t travel like that again.

This trip netted me exactly what I was after: space and time to think. I hung out in San Juan and then rented a jeep and drove to the upper west corner of the island. I spent almost every day at the beach and actually went looking for the best beach that I could find because why not? I decided that Jobos Beach was not only the best beach that I’ve been to in Puerto Rico but one of the best ones that I’ve been to in the world.

I legitimately blogged that trip — even writing about mundane things like ordering six eggs at Denny’s or my thoughts on pristine beaches. It was as though I jumped back ten years and returned to what I was doing in my early thirties — just traveling and blogging. In a way I feel nostalgic for those days. I had a clear mission and it was very simple: to make a living as a traveling writer. It’s not exactly the traveling writer part that I’m longing for but the clear mission.

Cuba

Cuba was a difficult country for me. This wasn’t because the travel was particularly difficult — travel is easy almost everywhere — but because I found the culture difficult to navigate. With the Covid pandemic knocking out their tourism cash cow the people of this country were clearly in need, and they viewed the scant number of visitors who were still coming as a source of sustenance. It got to the point where I almost had to stop talking to people because almost every conversation came with a price tag. While I did have some wild times there and met some genuine friends, even people who were clearly not street urchins or touts would try to get money out of you. You’d be talking to some random, normal person and all of a sudden they would ask you for ten bucks. Or an old guy would walk up to you and try to force to — on the verge of being physical — to go to a pharmacy to buy him some medication (a scam). If I can’t freely talk with people, make friends, and collect stories there is no reason for me to be somewhere. While I did eventually break through the veneer and make some real connections it took a lot of effort and left me feeling as though the biggest benefit I got from going there was the ability to say “now I know” … which I guess is the currency of the traveler.

I intended to blog regularly from Cuba and come out of it with a nice series, but I haven’t completed it yet. There was just too much to consider and more context that was needed. This takes time. The biggest drawback to blogging is that time is something that you’re rarely allotted. But the remaining posts will be coming soon.

Dominican Republic

I also returned to the Dominican Republic in 2023. This was the first time I’ve been back to this country since 2010, when my family was still young and my older daughter was just a few months old. The DR will always hold a special place in my memory, as this was our first international destination with a child. It was an interesting trip, and we spent most of it hanging with my friend Andy and playing on the beach. It was actually Petra’s first beach experience. She mistook sand for food — something that she would do for the next year or so as we bounced around the beach towns of Mexico and Central America.

I can’t tell you any details about our most recent trip to the DR because that would make my wife not very happy with me.

Northeast film travels

In addition to a few international trips, I’ve also spent a large swath of 2023 traveling around the Northeast USA on film projects. Maine, Rhode Island, DC … This was mostly for documentaries that are set to be released sometime this year.

Accomplishments

Finished The White Elephant

This was a feature documentary that I’d been working on for some years. As I’ve discussed previously on this blog and on Real Life Cinema, I initially planned to return to Melaka for another filming session … but the “pandemic” scuttled this and after that I eventually realized that I couldn’t budget the money or time to do it. So I altered the theme a little and completed it with what I had … and I think it came out alright.

The White Elephant from Real Life Cinema.

Finished Laughing Through Lockdown

I originally did an abbreviate version of this film for another platform, but I had more footage that I wanted to include in it, so I assembled my own version. There was really no relevance to releasing this film this year, but I just did it because I wanted to … also, while the pandemic is something we all want to forget we should probably force ourselves to remember what they did to us in the name of hysteria, control, and greed.

 

Wise Guys’ 100th episode

Wise Guys with John TabaccoWe also filmed the 100th episode of Wise Guys this past year. This is actually a significant accomplishment as very few weekly talk shows make it to 100 episodes. I haven’t mentioned this show much, only having blogged about it once, but this has been one of my most regular projects over my time in New York City. We just filmed episode 124 last week and the show is still going strong.

Hendrick’s book

Hendrick's bookI also helped edit a book called The Curious Cocktail Cabinet, which was published by Penguin and consists of 100 recipes for cocktails featuring Hendrick’s Gin. This book came out beautifully — it is truly a work of art and probably as much of a thing to behold as a book could be. If you’re into gin, have a home bar, or making your own cocktails, I highly recommend checking this book out. Buy the Hendrick’s book here.

Started Real Life Cinema for real

While I technically started Real Life Cinema in the summer of 2019, last year was probably the first year that I really starting to put forward the branding. I still have some work to do on the website, but it’s finally getting somewhere.

Started other websites

I have a bunch of other websites too. I don’t mention them here because it would piss my wife off if you knew about some of them.

What I want in this year

My goal this year is very simple: to work on projects with other people. This may sound strange, given that I’m very comfortable working alone, but it is through doing difficult / fun / wild projects with other people that mutual histories are made … and these pay compounding dividends farther down the road. Sharing life with other people is really what it’s really all about.



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Filed under: Travel Diary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

5 comments… add one

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  • Rob February 12, 2024, 7:05 pm

    Good luck in the rest of 2024!

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    • VBJ February 16, 2024, 8:58 am

      Thank you!

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  • Liro February 13, 2024, 8:21 am

    I watched The White Elephant. Fantastic piece of journalism even though things look bleak for the Portuguese community in Malacca… Glad you were able to share a snippet into their lives. Always looking for more of what you put out.

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    • VBJ February 16, 2024, 8:58 am

      Thank you for watching and for the positive feedback! Very much appreciated!

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  • Jack February 28, 2024, 9:15 pm

    When people ask me how I’m doing, I always answer, “Still alive, I think, don’t think I’ve turned into a Zombie yet.” If you make it through the year then that’s an accomplishment in itself. It’s been a heck of a year for me……not even sure how to examine it and rate it.

    That said, I think you’ve been doing it. Probably more real accomplishments than you could show 10 years ago? You are producing content that is engaging and thought provoking and something to be proud of.

    Oh yeah, and maybe I can make a plug for the first book I’ve edited. It’s for an elderly friend of mine. God’s Executioner: The Ervil Lebaron Tragedy (https://www.amazon.com/Gods-Executioner-Ervil-LeBaron-Tragedy/dp/B0CNMG1DHD/)

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