June is a pretty big month around these parts — the 9th (yup, this post is a tad late, what else is new) marked four whole years in Wanderland. Four years since the day I took off from New York on a one-way ticket. Fourty-eight months since alexinwanderland.com went live. One thousand, four hundred and sixty days since I’ve been chasing — often in circles — this dream of working for myself while I see the world.
When I was in high school I’d spin the globe and run my hand along it, longing to go everywhere my fingers touched. Four years later, I still can’t walk by a map without stopping to daydream. Four years later and — temporary bouts of jadedness aside — I still look at the world with great curiosity, and the corners of it I’m lucky enough to travel to quite frequently leave me feeling overwhelmed with gratitude and awe.
In the past, I’ve celebrated with a big anniversary post highlighting my year in travel, blogging, and beyond. This year, I decided to break this baby down into a mini-series (see previous years here, here and here). Starting with from which the rest grows: a recap of the last twelve months of travel.
My Year in Travels
1. Home Sweet Home
My year of travels kicked off, once again, stateside. I spent about a month bouncing between places that feel varying degrees of “home” to me — Albany, New York, and Martha’s Vineyard — and made a trip to Philadelphia to visit my dad. Highlights included Father’s Day with all four sisters in attendance, the Mermaid Parade in Brooklyn, and my first Fourth of July celebrated in the USA in six years.
When it was time to leave, I wasn’t quite ready to go! But another adventure called…
London was the logical starting point for my European adventures — I nabbed a cheap flight from New York, and I have close friends there that I was dying to see. I’ve never been crazy about England in the past but this visit was a turning point me for: I didn’t want to leave after a week. Third time really is a charm, and I now look forward to going back.
I flew to Malta with one goal in mind: spending a week with my (obviously extremely amicably) ex-boyfriend Anders, who was working there as a dive instructor. The beautiful Mediterranean island we were on was just a perk — though it turned out to be a major one. Exploring Malta with a set of wheels and a map, and without expectations or schedules, was absolute perfection. When I look back on my time here it replays in my mind like a hazily lit indie music video.
Belgium is the country responsible for getting me to start piecing together this Eurotrip in the first place by making me obsessed with a little ‘ol festival called Tomorrowland. Once Heather and I decided to go and nabbed tickets, I basically built everything around that. And while it was the undoubted highlight of my time in the country, I’m glad I built in some time to peek at Brussels, Ghent and Bruges.
My fight with Belgian customs and the hundreds of dollars I lost in the process still stings, but overall I give the country two thumbs up — or two dancing arms in the air, more accurately.
Ah, Greece — the mere mention sets my heart aflutter. This is one of my favorite countries in the world and I could not have been happier to spend more than three whole weeks in this gorgeous place.
Looking back at this period in retrospect is really interesting. I realize now that I did not build enough down time and work time into my Europe trip, and as a result I was starting to crack from pressure by the time I got to Greece. So intellectually, I know that while I was there I was manically swinging between highs of having beautiful, life-defining moments and lows of being paralyzed with stress. Yet when I reminisce about Greece, I just muse on all the good stuff — a really nice gift my memory gives me.
Bahrain was a bonus! The cheapest flights between Athens and Bangkok involved a twenty-four hour layover in one of the Middle East’s most sophisticated city-states, and having never been to the region, I seized the opportunity to take an exploratory bite. No surprise here — my whirlwind visit left me wanting more.
Thailand. By the time I landed here, I wasn’t even three months into the year, and I’d already crossed seven borders and rounded the edge of blogging and travel burnout. I was ready to throw my laptop and passport in the ocean and never write another word or apply for another visa ever again.
But Thailand healed me. My ten weeks back in my home away from home allowed me to hit the reset buttons in my mind and soul and remember to be grateful for what I know is a beautiful life I’m lucky to be living. The vast majority of my time was spent in Koh Tao, thought I did have jaunts to Koh Samui, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pai thrown in for good measure.
There is nowhere on this planet that I feel more content than on Koh Tao, and being back there was the highlight of my year. I am so grateful for whatever twist of fate first brought me to this island back in 2009. I can’t imagine my life without it.
One short and sweet week in Phnom Penh was the perfect way to toast to my latest trip before heading back stateside. I came to visit my dear friend Wes, who very conveniently moved to my favorite Southeast Asian city. This was my third trip to Cambodia, and I already look forward to the fourth.
I’ve become determined to spend the holidays at home every other year, a pattern I’ve kept up with now for half a decade. What started as a Thanksgiving-through-Christmas trip mushroomed into a six week stateside extravaganza including watching my older sister run the marathon in Philadelphia, spending Thanksgiving and Christmas in Albany, showing my new friend (wink wink) from Koh Tao around New York, spending New Year’s Eve in New Orleans and kicking off 2015 all over Florida.
On the other end of the fun spectrum, I ended up in hospitals twice — once in the ER with a mysteriously blown pupil and once on the surgical table having a tumor removed. While both were scary they were, in the grand scheme of things, minor — and didn’t come close to slowing me down.
I really learned my lesson with Europe and vowed to take this Central America trip nice and slow. And I started out doing just that — my month in Nicaragua was broken into just three destinations. I can’t explain how calm and content I was to be in a country I’d dreamed of for so long, and to be exploring it with what felt like a luxury of time for each city I visited. Nicaragua now sits near the top of the list of my favorite countries.
Right before I left for Central America, close friends of mine asked me, “What do you want your word for 2015 to be?” I’d responded, “Whatever the opposite of frantic is.” Well, in Nicaragua, I nailed it. It was deliciously un-frantic.
11. El Salvador
Much like I built my Europe travels around attending Tomorrowland, I built my Central America travels around attending Equilibrio. It was a special thing to be a part of, and to share with some of my oldest friends from New York. I’m so grateful to this festival for bringing me to El Salvador, which I’m not sure I would have emphasized otherwise! And again, I nailed it on the timing — two weeks, two destinations, one chilled-out blogger.
My perfect plan of slow, soak-it-up travel kind of fell apart in Guatemala, where I never quite found the perfect place to sit still. My six weeks here were all over the place, and I didn’t quite fall in love with it the way I hoped I would. That said, there were plenty of highlights, from diving in Lake Atitlán to discovering the charms of Guatemala City to sticking my toes in a black sand beach in Monterrico.
Belize is a really special country for me, as a family vacation there about twelve years ago was the first international trip I ever planned! Returning for a second time, again with my family, was a truly sentimental experience. I love that my Central America travels were a mix of traveling solo and meeting up with loved ones. And I couldn’t have picked a better destination to bring my mom, sister, and cousin to — from charming islands to lush jungle, this little country packs a lot of punch.
Having been to Honduras once before and hit many of the highlights, I admit that returning wasn’t high on my priority list — yet the only way to reach Grand Cayman directly from Central America is via twice weekly direct flights from La Ceiba. Despite temperamental weather and low expectations, I really enjoyed my time in both Copán, a new destination for me, and Roatán, an old favorite.
15. Cayman Islands
I’ve been trying to return to Grand Cayman for years, since I first spent a summer there before my senior year of college. I centered my trip around Batabano, which was every fit as fun as it looks in photos. Unfortunately, the rest of the week we were plagued by bad weather and bad luck, but hanging with Heather meant I was having a good time regardless.
Bermuda was a last-minute addition to my travel itinerary for the year — and I couldn’t be more grateful it fell in my lap. Though I spent just four days here, they made a huge impression. Diving, stand up paddleboarding, and scootering all over this pink sand island in a pair was the perfect encore to a sweet travel romance that first kicked off in Guatemala.
As has become a beloved tradition, I’m spending my travelversary, and summer, stateside. However, I’ve hardly turned in my dance card since landing back on US soil. I truly cherish this time spent exploring my own backyard. Thus far, I’ve hit up Albany, the Finger Lakes, Martha’s Vineyard, and New York City — with many more domestic destinations on the docket before I take off internationally again.
The best part, as always? Spending time with some of my favorite people on the planet.
My Year in Numbers
Countries Visited: 14. Wow! More than double from last year. So far, I only have three new countries on the docket for year five, and I plan to keep that number as low as possible to I can focus on quality over quantity.
New Countries Visited: 7. Again, kind of ridiculous — but it brought the grand total of countries I’ve visited to 30! One fun milestone I was excited to reach was having visited every country in Central America. I look forward to saying the same about Southeast Asia someday.
States Visited: 5. All were states I’ve been to before and have family ties to.
Plane Rides Taken: 22. (I count origin to final destination as a flight regardless of how many segments or layovers it has). Of those flights, three were basically free thanks to frequent flyer miles (including two of the big international ones), four were paid for by work, and five were under $100 each. The most painfully expensive flight was from Athens to Bangkok at $655.
Though I took many flights, primarily I traveled by bus, train, car, and ferry.
Beds Slept In: 74, not counting overnight flights, buses and trains. More than ever! Of those, 22 were crashing with family or friends, 20 were hotels, 17 were hostels (9 dorms, 8 private rooms), 7 were apartments I rented (1 long term, 6 short term), 3 were beach or jungle bungalows, 2 were guesthouses, 2 were tents, and 1 was a motel.
In keeping with my slow down theme, I hope to reduce this number for next year.
Dives: 19. Less than ever! However, I kind of made up for quantity with quality — I dove in exotic locales, from a high altitude lake in Guatemala to a volcanic crater in Greece and many more in between. Still, I’m hoping to sneak in a liveaboard in Southeast Asia in the coming year, which will definitely jack this number right up.
Conferences Attended: 0. A bummer, as I love catching up with my blogging and diving buddies.
Weddings Attended: 0. Another big surprise.
Festivals Attended: 4. Tomorrowland, Yi Peng, Equilibrio, and Batabano.
My Year in Feels
Overall, I feel overwhelmingly grateful to have explored four diverse and exciting areas of the world this year. Southeast Asia, the USA, Central America, and Europe in just twelve months — and I even got a hint of the Middle East! While the first two feel like home, the latter three still feel deliciously exotic.
This was a year I feel I could count in loved ones, rather than days and months. Many of my trips were centered around people — family I wanted to visit, friends I wanted to travel with, people with whom I wanted to reconnect. That made it a really beautiful year.
However, for someone who keeps claiming they want to slow down, I didn’t do a great job of achieving that goal this year — it was, in fact, my busiest and most travel-crazy yet. The truth is, I have a hard time sitting still. It’s hard to stop moving when there’s so much to explore. This time last year, I’d never been to the Middle East. I’d never run a 10K, I’d never taught a writing workshop, I’d never been diving at altitude or in an aquarium. Now, I’ve done all of those things, and my life is richer for them. But it’s equally rich, I feel, for having rented an apartment for two months in Koh Tao. For having made a regular Sunday spa date with a girlfriend. For having dated someone for longer than the two weeks it took for us to be heading to different countries. For having had a set of keys to call my own again.
Year four was the year of saying yes (well, let’s face it, it’s been a lifetime of saying yes), but year five is going to be the year of saying no thank you. I don’t need to go absolutely everywhere. But I do need to be more present in absolutely every day. And the best way to do that? Probably to cut my movement in about a half. I’ve been saying I wanted to do this for years, and I did want it in theory, but I wasn’t ready to execute in practice. Now, I am.
After my summer stateside is up, I’m going back to Koh Tao on a one way ticket. I can’t wait to have a home base again! I’ve already got a few small trips planned — Burma with two of my girlfriends, Bangkok to attend a conference, hopefully a liveaboard in Indonesia at some point. Am I going to be traveling less? Technically, yes, but I don’t really see it that way. I’m going to be traveling deeper.
Next up, my year in blogging…