I love anniversaries.
This post marks six years since I traded my beautiful life in Brooklyn for an endless road of boarding passes, baggage claims, and big blogging dreams. I still pinch myself over how it’s all turned out.
What an amazing reminder to pause and soak up the fact that looking beyond the day-to-day drama I try to laugh at, the disappointments I can’t control, and the compromises and the sacrifices I make, I am truly living the big, bold, wild, untraditional life that I hoped and dreamed so desperately for when I was growing up in the suburbs of Upstate New York. (Even if back then, I didn’t really know what the heck that meant or looked like.)
When I sit back and look at it all I think damn, I built this life! And it makes me feel like there’s nothing I can’t do.
As always, I am filled with gratitude for this annual exercise of nostalgia and number crunching. This month, I’ll be highlighting my year in travel, blogging, and beyond. Want to catch up on the back story? Find previous annual roundups here, here, here, here, and here. Let’s start with the best part — my year in travel.
My Year in Travels
1. Party in the USA
I kicked off my sixth year of travel with two weeks in California, where I visited a high school bestie in San Francisco and my dad in Los Angeles. After, I flew back to New York for three weeks of glorious home-state time hopping between Manhattan, Brooklyn and Albany, with a festival camping trip in Port Leyden to round out the fun.
Yup, this was it — the week that I really truly fell in love with Canada. A year prior I hadn’t really totally known that Manitoba existed (don’t judge, smug Northern geography buffs!), yet here I was, frolicking through Winnipeg and snorkeling with beluga whales in Churchill and bursting into off-key renditions of “Oh, Canada!” whenever the spirit moved me. Guys, I saw polar bears!
I admit that I really didn’t get my neighbor to the north prior to this trip. I was like, yeah, they might have a hot prime minister but it’s cold up there so no thanks! Manitoba convinced me Canada is irresistible, even for a die-hard beach bum like myself.
3. Back To The States
Following my return from my first trip to Canada, it was more Albany, a quick Boston detour to see my sister, a week visiting family in Decatur and Chicago, and finally, two chilled-out weeks regathering my sanity in Martha’s Vineyard.
I had not been back to Illinois since college — since before I started this blog! — so this was an important and long overdue trip.
How lucky was I to return to Canada again a mere month later! This time, I was visiting Ian’s family in Newfoundland. I’ve yet to write about our dreamy time in St. John’s and Trinity Bay, but — wow. I very uncharacteristically did zero planning for or research of this trip ahead of time, and thus was surprised and delighted by every twist and turn. Having someone else plan a trip for me is one of my greatest luxuries, and so I truly felt spoiled here.
Sadly the trip was cut short by a last-minute video hosting opportunity that popped up when I was in Martha’s Vineyard, detouring me back through New York for a chaotic forty-eight hour whirlwind of flights and a thirteen hour day of shooting. I thus arrived in St. John’s in the midst of my annual borderline mental breakdown over work — which means there’s a lot of not sleeping, crying at my laptop, and frantically letting my thoughts run down dark roads of doom. Oops. Suffice it to say that I have yet to be nominated for a Girlfriend of the Year award!
From St. John’s, we took advantage of the affordable fares and short flight time to hop over to London for two weeks of quality time in the United Kingdom. The trip was mostly centered around visiting some fabulous friends in London, Bristol, Bath, and Liverpool, but Ian and I also made a side trip to Brighton for some precious time alone after a hectic summer of visiting each other’s family and friends.
While I’ve been to England numerous times, this was the first time I ventured outside London and Manchester and really “did tourism.” It was, no surprise, an expensive and busy trip, but we really treasured it — I can’t wait to write more about it soon!
A new country — Wales! We were grateful guests of two of our Koh Tao best friends, Brian and Amy, when we retreated to her family cabin on the coast of Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. Yup, that’s the actual name. It was a quick weekend away, but I loved every second of this glance into the childhood of one of my fellow island entrepreneurs.
7. Back To The Nifty Fifty
After a brief breath-catching stops in upstate and downstate New York, I was back on the grind, visiting my aunts in and attending the inaugural Universal Blog Squad Retreat in Florida, and popping over to California to meet Ian for his far-too-brief birthday weekend in Los Angeles. That was followed by his birthday present, a trip to the niftiest fifty of all.
Perhaps going back to Hawaii again wasn’t the most prudent decision I’ve ever made. After all, I’ve been twice before and spent months there, and we were weighing up other destinations neither of us had visited before. But Hawaii has always been a place that defies logic for me, and my latest three magical weeks there were, true to tradition, a highlight of my year.
We kicked off with a full Hawaii resort vacation on the west coast of Oahu followed by a weekend in Waikiki. Next, we hopped islands to take a vintage campervan for a spin around East Maui followed by a chilled out week in Paia. Finally, I returned to Oahu solo to spend a bit more quality time with my friend Wim and her beautiful family. I love Hawaii so much my heart hurts as I write this — I’m already pumped about the posts I’m finally going to write from this trip.
On the way back to the mainland, I paused in Los Angeles again to celebrate Halloween in style with my dad and my dog. This is one of my favorite holidays, and I found that Angelenos take it as seriously as I do! I can’t wait to come back to celebrate again in my new West Coast Wanderland HQ.
This was a last-minute surprise! When I was invited to preview the Caribbean’s first overwater bungalows, I had to decline due to a conflict with another project — a project that I was starting to dread due to complicated contract negotiations and an insane travel schedule. Imagine my relief when the mystery project fell through and I got to take my sister to Jamaica instead!
This trip took place in late November and well, we’d hoped it would be a victory trip celebrating our first female president and my sister’s first successful presidential election campaign. Instead we escaped bruised and heartbroken to what amounted to a healing retreat for both of us. And dang, was it a place to retreat to — I can’t wait to give you guys a tour around these bungalows.
What I got out of this trip — other than a temporary distraction from one of the greatest shocks and unexpected mourning periods of my life — was an even greater fire burning inside me to return to Jamaica. For years I’ve been dreaming of grabbing a beat-up rental car and doing a serious adventure road trip around the island nation, and getting this ever-so-brief glimpse at Jamaican culture and compassion shot it right to the top of my bucket list.
Before leaving for Jamaica, I’d hopped all over the East Coast door-knocking, fundraising, and phone-banking in preparation for the election. Talk about travel! In one week, I visited three states (New York, Philadelphia and New Hampshire) for voter-related activities. I had actually planned my entire year around being in the US for that moment. I didn’t want to mail in my ballot. I wanted to stand at the voting booth and feel the level under my hand. While it still stings to look back at this time in retrospect, in the moment I was bursting with joy and excitement and cherishing spending what I thought was the brink of history alongside my family of activists, and my sister who I was so proud of for her hard-won role in the Clinton campaign.
Post-Jamaica, I returned to New York and Albany one last time for Thanksgiving with my family before taking off for Thailand.
Oh hey there, old friend. Late November found me returning to the comforting shores of Thailand once again for six months of Southeast Asia living. It was a solemn year for Thailand with the passing of the beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October and unseasonable flooding plaguing the country in January and, well, I was feeling quite reflective myself, soaking up the chaos going on both close to home and in the world at large.
The vast majority of my time in Thailand was spent, as usual, posted up in Koh Tao relishing in the luxury of my own bed to return to night after night, but I still managed plenty of city breaks to Bangkok, a spa escape to Koh Samui, a brief return to Lopburi, a luxury cruise up to Ayutthaya, and my most memorable Thai adventure of the year, attending Wonderfruit Festival in Pattaya — which I was so excited about I just couldn’t help but jump ahead and write about already. Wonderfruit was amazing, and majorly sparked my interest in attending more festivals around Southeast Asia.
I believe it was my most relaxed season in Thailand to date in terms of domestic travel — Pattaya was my only new destination! That said, after the whirlwind six months I’d just had (can you believe everything pre-Thailand took place in just half a year?!), it was just what I needed. Plus I had a ton of visitors including two separate visits from college buddies, a childhood friend, one of my former Thailand partners-in-crime back for a visit, and my sister for the holidays. I stayed within Thailand for the full six months, with two big exceptions…
I can’t claim Malaysia as a new country for me, having backpacked there for a few weeks in 2011 — but Penang was a new destination, and a major one at that! I can’t really believe it took me so long to get to this melting pot of cultures. Ian and I spent four days there on a visa run, and made it into a much-needed us-time adventure.
Ah, Bali. I’ve had Bali on the brain — along with the rest of Indonesia — for quite a while. However, I kept putting off a return there, waiting for a perfect moment when I’d suddenly have “more time.” But when the invited me to attend one of their ten day coding retreats, I couldn’t say no — screw the perfect moment! I can’t wait to share more about this retreat, which was such a fantastic way to reinvest in my business and myself, something I feel passionately about an an entrepreneur.
Inside and outside the classroom, the three weeks I ended up spending in Canggu and Uluwatu were among the the most joyful moments of my year — for the first time in a long time, I found myself unburdening from the debilitating stress of several family situations and the crushing disappointment of the US elections, and remembering the lighter, happier version of myself that I much prefer the company of. I felt spontaneous and free, staying out all night dancing, making instantaneous BFFs and even changing my flight so I could spend a few more days hanging out with my new crew.
My time in Bali was so special it kind of threw me for a loop, and left me strongly considering a change of scenery for a while…
12. Home Sweet Home
You’ve already read about much of my Florida adventures, which took me from a wedding in Sarasota to a theme park opening in Orlando to downtime in Tampa and onto what might just by my new favorite Sunshine State destination, St. Pete. Next week, I’ll dig into my time in Tennessee, which included a bachelorette party in Nashville and a return to Manchester for Bonnaroo.
My Year in Numbers
Countries Visited: 8. This is pretty much my statistical average now (7.6, to be exact!)
New Countries Visited: 2. Just Wales and Jamaica, which bring my total count of countries visited to 33. Still, this is the lowest number of new countries I’ve visited in a year since I started this blog — and believe it or not, I have no idea right now what #34 will be! I definitely have a habit for returning to the same beloved destinations over and over — and over and over again — so maybe this is a good wake-up call that there’s a whole wild world out there to explore, and I better get movin’ if I’m hoping to see even a significant fraction of it.
States Visited: 9. New Hampshire was just a day trip… and not a single one was new. This means my total number of states visited is still 21, though I am writing this from state #22 in year seven!
Plane Rides Taken: 33. I count origin to destination as a flight regardless of layovers – for example, New York to Bangkok is counted as one even if I have a layover in Hong Kong. Of those, eleven were paid for my work (I was either on a campaign or on a press trip), twenty were paid for out of pocket (I mostly got great deals, thankfully) and a measly two were paid for with frequent flyer miles (I did some great work reboosting my reserves for next year, at least!)
This is the most flights I’ve ever taken in one year, mostly due to the fact that I pretty much refuse to take the twelve hour bus between Bangkok and Koh Tao anymore — I did it just once this year. Now that I’ve gotten savvy to the overnight ferry connections and $30 flights from the mainland, I just can’t go back to bussing! As usual, I also took many buses, trains, cars and ferries throughout the year.
One goal for year seven? To finally get into carbon offset programs to ease my guilt on all this air travel — I’ll be offsetting each and every flight I take in the coming twelve months!
Beds Slept In: I changed accommodation 88 times to sleep in a total of 63 different beds. Wow. Of those, 26 were hotels or guesthouses, 23 were crashing with friends or family, 4 were villas, 3 were airbnbs, 2 were tents at festivals, 2 were campsites with an RV, 1 was a cruise ship cabin, 1 was a hostel, and 1 was my long-term apartment in Thailand. That does not include nights in transit on overnight busses, ferries and flights — of which there were several.
This is kind of nutso bananas. I’m going to work on this.
Dives: Are you ready for this guys? It’s sad — I did just 10 dives in my sixth year of travel, spread out over Hawaii, Jamaica, and Thailand (at least I hit somewhere new.) I was very much looking forward to a few days of diving in Amed, Indonesia that got cancelled at the last minute due to total travel meltdown at the end of my trip.
Getting this number up is a huge priority for year seven, and thankfully I already have a cavern course, a Central Florida road trip, a coral restoration course, and hopefully a liveaboard in Thailand on the docket for the upcoming year!
Conferences Attended: 0 again! Hoping to change this number — I miss my networking slumber parties.
Weddings Attended: 2. One of my college crew got hitched in Brooklyn in the fall, and one of my high school crew said yes in Sarasota! Year seven has three in the lineup — so far. I love weddings.
Festivals Attended: 3. Liberty, Wonderfruit, and Bonnaroo. And I’ve already got a crazy fun one on the line for year seven… I can’t wait to announce it!
My Year in Feels
There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars. — Jack Kerouac
You know what? It was a tough year, in a lot of ways. As I alluded to throughout this post, there were a lot of deep heartbreaks and heavy situations that weighed on me. But in a way it was a year in which I felt, for one of the very first times in my life, that I was a grown up. Because while it felt like the world was just falling apart around me at times, I didn’t crumble to pieces. I didn’t lose sight of myself. I just took deep breaths and put one foot in front of the other and walked through the fire. While I still haven’t quite mastered the recipe for dealing with life’s great disappointments, I certainly have reached a state of awareness that any temporary sadness or anxiety I feel is just that — temporary. Life goes on.
It was also a great year, in a lot of ways. The United Kingdom, Hawaii and Bali were my big trips, and each one was so special and filled with joy. The rest of the year was brimming with highlights too, of course, even if most of them felt very familiar. Yet I am excited to report that I’m ending the year with a feeling I haven’t felt so intensely in a long time.
I feel restless.
That seems crazy after reading that big travel recap, right? Yet I almost feel too adult, like I’ve been making relatively safe, responsible choices lately in my travel destinations. In writing this post, I went back and reread every single annual recap I’ve published and noticed some patterns. The first four were an increasing fever pitch of crazy, until I finally kind of freaked out and really dedicated myself to spending a major portion of my time with a home base in Thailand again. Then my fifth recap, and this one, the sixth, both read much calmer as I found footing with some routine and balance in my life.
Well, now I feel that the pendulum is ready to swing in the other direction. Wanderlust has gripped me once again.
One issue? This year I really accepted that I’ve really exhausted much of my drive to explore Southeast Asia. This year I went to just one new destination in Thailand, otherwise I was revisiting what is very, very familiar territory to me at this point. I’ve been working on a really comprehensive bucket list to inspire me to start being more proactive in my travels — rather than just kind of blowing where the wind takes me — and most of it is no longer in the Eastern hemisphere! Instead I am feeling deeply drawn back to Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and even Africa, an itch I’ve yet to scratch.
Ah, and this is where I struggle.
As much as I’d like to think I live a life untethered, I feel deeply rooted in my community in Koh Tao and extremely reticent to sever a single tie there. I have an apartment and a motorcycle to get back to, I have friends having babies that I want to meet, I have gym memberships and favorite restaurants and very delicately strung string lights shaped like flamingos in my kitchen. And, yet…
Major changes are coming to my little island life. A plot of land on which several of my best friends own businesses (one of which is managed by my boyfriend) is being sold in early 2018, and with it will go the heart and soul of my default home base for the last several years. It will be the end of an era on Koh Tao, and for quite a while now I’ve accepted that this is, in fact, my cue to also consider my own next move.
Part of me feels this primal urge to cling to every last moment I have on this island that has truly drawn the roadmap of my life in so many ways. I feel like, dang, this could be my last season on Koh Tao, I better just go enjoy it.
And yet another part of me is feeling so restless to hit my life with an adrenaline shot of adventure, I don’t even know if I can stand to wait another six months. I realize that Thailand doesn’t necessarily fulfill me in the same way it has and that I truly do feel very, very ready for my next adventure. Is it Indonesia? Is it Nicaragua? Is it hitting the open road with no itinerary in hand once again?
I smile as I write that I truly do not know. While I feel an overwhelming mix of emotions and know there are many more ahead regarding this looming unknown, there are a few things I do know that I know for sure.
One? Back when I was kicking around in the ‘burbs, checking guidebooks out of the library and spinning the globe and daydreaming about this big life I didn’t know how to have, I could never, ever have imagined how good life would truly be in this moment and how content I would feel with my choices. I am comforted by that memory and the eternal hope that life will surprise me with how fantastic it is, all over again.
Two? No matter what twists and turns this next road I’m getting ready to go down takes me on, I’ll never be alone — because I’ll be sharing every step with you.
Next up, my year in blogging…
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