Today the my anniversary: One year in the life of a full time traveler, and one year in the life of this blog.
One June 9th, 2011, I watched the Manhattan skyline disappear into the distance as I flew towards Scotland and the unknown. An hour earlier, hunched over my laptop using airport WiFi, I launched Alex in Wanderland.com.
From sailing in luxury through Santorini to having a motorcycle stolen in Vientiane, from working as a Coyote-Ugly style bartender in Koh Tao to winning a scuba diving grant in New York… what a ride it has been! I think it’s high time for a little stroll down memory lane, don’t you?
My Year in Travels
I go through all my highlights and lowlights in my monthly roundup posts, and I show you all my favorite pictures in my Photo of the Week posts, so this is more of a general journey through my year than a tops-and-flops-and-best-pictures thing. That would take me weeks!
1. Bon Voyage
The journey truly began about a month before my first flight, when I graduated from Pratt University. I admit that it frequently felt like school was holding me back from the “real life” I so desperately wanted to start living abroad, but I look at my diploma today and I feel great pride. That final semester almost killed me: I worked multiple jobs to build my savings, I was preparing to move across the globe (you long-term travelers know this is practically a full time job!), and I still managed my highest ever GPA. Not to brag, but… yup I’m bragging.
Then my family threw me the most beautiful, amazing Bon Voyage/Graduation party a girl could ask for. Excited as I was for the life in front of me, this was a hard goodbye.
Scotland was the first destination on my great escape and a place I hold so dear in my heart. Mark had not been home in over two years and the time was finally right for us to go spend a nice chunk of time there. I spent five weeks exploring the country I had been hearing so much about for two years, I developed an intense infatuation with highland cows, and I attended a Scottish wedding, kilts and all. There is nothing like having locals (bonus points if it’s someone you love plus all their family and friends) show you around a country. Scotland charmed me, plain and simple.
I spent less than a week total in England, just breezing through Manchester and spending a few days feeling totally broke in London. I met more of Mark’s family and reconnected with old travel friends, which was the highlight.
And by “Spain” I obviously mean “I got boozey in Ibiza for a week.” We went on vacation, or holiday for all my Brits out there, with some of Mark’s childhood friends to this beautiful Spanish island. Of course Ibiza is mostly about the insane club scene but we also made time to go relax on the beach, go diving, and rent a scooter to explore the island.
At this point I shifted gears from the Family and Friends Tour to what I refer to as the Mediterranean Luxury portion of my year, sponsored by none other than my globe-trotting Mama! We spent a few days exploring Athens, a city I fell madly in love with, before hopping on a luxury cruise through the Greek Isles. This was a lot of firsts for me: First time in the Mediterranean, first time on a cruise ship, first time drinking wine that did not cost $2 at Trader Joe’s. I think my mom and I will be talking about this trip until the end of time, it was that good.
Our cruise wrapped up in Turkey and we spent a few lovely days exploring Istanbul and staying in my top hotel of the year. After all my travels in Southeast Asia, that region feels very familiar to me. But Istanbul was so completely different from anything I’ve ever experienced; it just felt deliciously exotic.
Oh, Thailand. What can I say about Thailand, a country that has held a piece of my heart since my first trip here in 2009? That 2009 trip is where I first started hatching The Great Escape in my head, so returning really made everything come full circle. While the year would eventually bring me to Bangkok (about a million times!), to all the islands of the Samui archipelago, and up North through Ayutthaya, Lopburi, and Chiang Mai, it was really always all about Koh Tao.
Koh Tao is where we settled down and actually lived for the vast majority of the year, and was home base for our Southeast Asia travels. I worked many an odd job but really fell in love once again with underwater video, a career I first flirted with in Grand Cayman. I partied like crazy, I loved my creative job, I made lifelong friends, I trained in Muay Thai… I lived the life I had dreamed of, and it was everything I could have hoped for and more. I never summed up my time there better than I did in this post.
And I could never go through a roundup of my year without mentioning the fact that I spent three weeks hosting family and friends from back home over the holidays. What a lucky girl I am, and what a fantastic holiday season in Thailand that was!
This was my second trip to Cambodia (I visited here in 2009 as well) and I’m not shy about saying this is my favorite country on earth, and this was the happiest point of my year. Famous ancient ruins, an untouched countryside, a captivating capital city, and pristine islands and beaches. What more could you want? When our three weeks here were up I just did not want to leave.
I have a complicated relationship with Vietnam. My three weeks there challenged me, and that is sometimes what you need in your travels. There is just so much beauty and heartbreak and so many raw emotions in this country.
Laos was my final destination this year and it really stole my heart on my too-short two week trip here. I can’t wait to start blogging about my adventures here, and I even more can’t wait to go back!
11. And back again…
No one was more surprised than me when I spent nearly two months out of my year of travels in my home country! While I wish my trips had been a bit better timed and spread out, I think this is a good reflection of the kind of balance of home and travel I’d like to have in future years.
The greatest part about coming home after 10 months away was adapting my traveling lifestyle to being “home.” I’m really enjoying this new lens I’m looking at New York through.
My Year in Numbers
Countries Visited: 10 (including the US!)
New Countries: 6
Plane Rides: 10 (not including layovers)
Dives: 58 (I think this is right, but I’m never very good at logging them when I’m working!)
Jobs Worked: 7, at least (blogger, freelance designer, freelance writer and editor, underwater videographer, bartender, flyer girl, babysitter)
Posts: 253 (!)
Dollars Spent: I truly have no idea. I have $8,000ish less in my bank account than I did this time last year, but I worked cash-in-hand jobs along the way and in the past few months started earning a decent living off this blog. So it’s really, really hard to say. This is probably the most asked question though, which is why I included it here. I have a longer post coming about how I fund my travels, since it seems to be something people are interested in.
My Year in Blogging
My final semester in college I decided I wasn’t busy enough and took a travel writing class at NYU (this turned out to be an amazing decision!) At one point our teacher asked us to do an in-class exercise and write freely about why we wanted to be writers, or get out of a writing career. After 15 minutes this is what I had on my page: “I want to be funny and I want people to like me.” PROFOUND STUFF GUYS.
Well, here’s the miracle: I don’t know if I’m funny and I don’t know if people like me, but people read this blog. Like, every single day hundreds (sometimes thousands!) of people come to this website and read my frequently incoherent rambling confessions and sometimes they even take the time to write comments or send me emails and even more shockingly they often come back the next day. I have poured my heart and my passions and my secrets into my corner of the internet, and somehow it has resulted in deep connections, wonderful support, and real friendships. It’s enough to bring a non-ironic tear to my eye.
And then we reach a whole new level of crazy when I think about the fact that this is my job. One year ago I switched from my little WordPress hosted site (and some of you readers have been with me since then and for that I love you) to the blog you are reading today. I was spending hours and hours and hours on this, all for the love. Then magically one day the money came. It came slowly but it came steadily, and today this blog supports me totally. This year I’ve guest posted on some of my favorite travel blogs that I’ve been reading for years, I partnered with amazing hotels and tour operators, and hell, I even let my readers vote on what country I was going to next. Like I said, crazy ride.
And just for fun, here are some of my favorite posts of the year. So hard to narrow done!
Funniest: Hiking Ben Nevis For the Desperately Out of Shape, Shit I Make My Boyfriend Do, Windsurfing in Mui Ne
Most Creative: Greece: 40 Years Through the Lens, Vote on Where Alex in Wanderland Goes Next
Musing-est: On Being Robbed, Breaking Strike and Broken Hearts, The Odd Sensation of Returning Home, War Tourism in Vietnam, The Children of Cambodia
Most Beautiful: Santorini Sunsets, Southwest and Shark Island, Mui Ne Sand Dunes
Most Useful: Angkor Wat by Bicycle, The Complete Guide to Koh Nang Yuan
Most Commented: Expat Fat, Becoming a Solo Traveler, Vietnam Love it Or Hate It
Deciding to document my life and travels with a blog has been one of my most rewarding decisions. And Alex in Wanderland just simply would not be, would not exist as the place it is today, if it weren’t for you lovely loyal readers. It’s both exciting and terrifying to try to imagine where I might be on June 9th, 2013! I can’t wait to share this upcoming year with you, if you’ll have me. There is really no way to begin to express my gratitude, so I will just leave it at this: