Yesterday marked a very special anniversary for me: Two years of remote self-employment, two years blogging away here at Alex in Wanderland, and two years of living nomadically.
It’s been a trip, in every sense of the word. From attempting drysuit diving in the frigid waters of Iceland to becoming a Divemaster in the warm seas of Indonesia, from throwing back $15 cocktails at a private VIP room in glitzy Vegas to surviving on $15 a day in the remote hill towns of the Philippines, from catching a wave in Oahu to catching a trapeze bar in Thailand, I’ve barely stopped to catch my breath. As always, just feel free to slap me straight across the face should I ever utter the phrase, “I’m bored.”
Like last year, I thought it would be fun to commemorate this day with a little look back over my shoulder.
My Year in Travels
My monthly roundup posts cover the highlights and lowlights of my journeys, and you guys glimpse all my best pictures in my Photo of the Week posts, so this is more general journey through my year than a tops-and-flops-and-best-pictures thing.
1. Sweet Home Home
After the devastating breakup that rocked the end of my first year of travel, I really needed time stateside to heal within arms’ length of loved ones. That’s not to say I was sitting around staring nostalgically at my passport — I made trips to Philadelphia to zip my friend Wim into her wedding dress, to Colorado to drink champagne with 700 other travel bloggers, to Martha’s Vineyard to unknowingly help my mom buy a house, to Myrtle Beach to party shamelessly with my girlfriends, and to Niagara Falls to have lunch in Canada with my older sister. In the meantime, I enjoyed getting to know both Albany and New York City again through the fresh eyes of a traveler.
For the second year in a row, my mom injected a little luxury in my life in the form of a beautiful family vacation planned by me, and funded by her. Iceland was my dream destination and I lobbied hard, much to the skepticism of my mom and sister. But after packing more action into eight days than I ever thought possible, we all left completely enamored with this Nordic island nation.
Icelandair has free stopovers in Iceland on all round trip flights, so in planning I realized it would only be around a $200 difference for me to make London my final destination and Reykjavik a stopover. Yes please! After three days in Manchester I hopped down to London for another seven, all the while crashing with various dear friends. Honestly, I would probably never have returned to England if not for the people I love there and the loophole that I found, but I’m glad I did — I discovered a few sides of London that have me looking forward to my next inevitable visit.
It’s hard for me to find words to sum up my six weeks on this beautiful island chain. Hawaii, the place I went to because I had friends and family to stay with and frankly didn’t know what else to do with myself, became a place of almost spiritual significance to me. In Hawaii I found a place that I could very well see myself calling home someday. I left with a renewed love of travel and life, excited once again about the road ahead of me.
5. Holidays at Home
It was important for me to celebrate the holidays at home after spending them abroad last year. I loved celebrating my birthday with friends, going over the top for Halloween with my fellow overenthusiastic Americans, and spending Thanksgiving and Christmas in my childhood home. Of course, I was feeling a little restless between all those designated special days, so I jetted of to Vegas for a girls’ weekend and to peek into the Grand Canyon, and then to Florida to run my first 5K, swim with manatees, and hang out with my beloved aunts.
My return to Thailand kicked off my major journey of the year — a five month stint back exploring my favorite corner of the world, Southeast Asia. I promised myself that by returning to this region for the fourth time I would explore new countries and new corners, and though I started my trip with a few weeks in my old home base of Koh Tao I devoted much of my ten weeks in the country to exploring new destinations.
After getting my Southeast Asia legs back in Thailand, I was ready for fresh new adventures in the Philippines. My three weeks here were challenging and occasionally frustrating, but I was awed by the natural beauty and wild variety that this country has to offer. The Philippines is definitely off the backpacker’s banana pancake trail of Southeast Asia, making it all the more rewarding to take on.
Singapore was an unexpected addition to my itinerary — turns out the cheapest way to get from Manila to Denpasar includes a twenty-four hour layover in one of Southeast Asia’s most glamorous metropolises. I had never had much of a desire to go to Singapore, expecting it to be sterile and cold. I’m so glad for the turn of fate that brought me there and showed me how wrong I was — I can’t wait to return.
Aside from a week in Bali and a few days in Nusa Lembongan, I spent my six weeks in Indonesia on a teeny speck of an island called Gili Trawangan. I went there to get my Divemaster certification but walked away with much more — a sense of pride in having accomplished something that challenged many of my weaknesses, a sense of serenity that comes from weeks of ritual sunset bike rides and afternoon scuba dates with sea turtles, and an overwhelming excitement about a new relationship in my life. And it turns out Indonesia is not quite done with me — stay tuned for a post this week announcing my upcoming travel plans.
10. And Back Again!
Once again, I’m celebrating my travel-versary from the comfort of my home country. This visit had my flying home for my little sisters’ graduation, a conference, and some work gigs. You know I don’t sit still for long though — in six weeks in North America, I’m hitting up six different destinations!
My Year in Numbers
Countries Visited: 8 (down two from last year)
New Countries: 4 (also down two from last year, but bringing my grand total to 20!)
Plane Rides: 27, not including layovers. Yikes! This is almost three times the amount of last year. This mainly a result of traveling through Hawaii (island hopping flights are the only option between major islands) and non-mainland Southeast Asia (in the Philippines, flying was cheap and at times literally shaved days off of transport time). A number of domestic trips that involved round trip flights (as opposed to my usual, linear and long term travel) racked up this number as well.
Dives: 53 (I didn’t keep perfect records during my divemaster course, so this might be off by one or two!)
Posts: 227 (Down 26 from last year — wow, I can’t imagine writing more than I do now!)
Dollars Spent: I don’t have solid number on this, but I like to address it as it’s one of my most frequently asked questions. Last year I netted an $8,000 dollar loss (calculated by looking at my bank statements one year later), and this year I netted a mere $4,000 loss — progress, but that cushion of savings is going to run out soon. [See how I saved up here.] Luckily business is growing rapidly and I think I’m close to reaching the point where I earn more than I expend. Using loose math it’s safe to say this lifestyle costs me just under two grand a month.
My Year in Blogging
This has been an explosive year for Alex in Wanderland. I doubled my unique visitors to over 11,000 per month, and doubled my page views to over 51,000 a month. While I’m proud of those numbers and somewhat overwhelmed by them, it’s the interaction I have with my loyal readers that means the most to me.
It still blows me away to think that my posts are the first thing someone reads in the morning when they wake up, or the first thing someone reads before they go to bed, as two readers have told me recently in person and via email. Or that when I’ve said my blogs name, people from tourism board representatives at a major travel conference to backpackers I meet at the Full Moon Party have nodded and said, “Oh yes, I’ve been to your site.” MIND BLOWN.
But really, guys. Considering that I primarily just over share personal information and abuse proper grammar and rarely provide anything more useful than “Look at this fun thing I did/beautiful place I went!,” I’m humbled that so many of you check in with me so regularly. Your emails, comments, and social media shout outs are what puts the love into this labor of love. There are tough times on the road — blog hacks, heartbreaks, non existent internet access and missed deadlines, distance from home in times of tragedy. But thanks to the community that I have here, I never really feel alone. I am humbled by your support, your feedback, and the time you give me in your day. Truly.
I’ve also reached a point where I’m partnering regularly with brands that I love and freelancing for outlets that make me proud. Do I feel like I’ve “made it,” as one reader recently asked me? Hell no — I’m still a little fish in a vast pond. But as I put it to a friend lately, I certainly don’t think I’m one of the cool kids. But I do think the cool kids know who I am, and they give me a little nod when I walk past their lockers. And that’s not a bad place to be.
And now, some of my favorite posts of the last twelve months.
Greatest Adventures: Scuba Diving in Iceland, Skydiving in Hawaii, Running My First 5K, Hiking Haleakala, Flying over the Vegas Strip, Swimming with Manatees, Rafting Through the Thai Jungle, Diving with Sharks in Malapascua, Hiking to Batad
All this reflection has me filled with gratitude and nostalgia for the road behind me, and bursting with excitement about the possibilities of the path ahead. I have the same question that I ended my Year One recap with: Where will I sit on June 9th, 2014, as I hopefully write a recap of my third year of living out of a backpack? If you’ll have me, I’d love to share another chapter with you. For a girl who spouts around 1,000 words a day, I can only think of two that sum up what I want to say to all of you reading this post: