After four months of sidelining my passport, Month 38 put me back abroad again. My time stateside was somewhat stressful — I was forced to majorly transition how I monetize this site, I dealt with some surprise financial blows and I had some personal and family stuff going on in there too. I didn’t feel prepared for my next major international stint, yet once I was crossing the Atlantic, a lot of my anxiety seemed to just melt. Sometimes a change in longitude goes a long way.
Despite the fact that I was very much on the move — I went to four countries in four weeks! — I didn’t feel frantic or rushed. That probably had a lot to do with how much of this month was spent enjoying the company of some of my favorite people in the world.
Where I’ve Been
• Seven days in London / England
• Six days in Malta and Gozo / Malta
• Five days in Brussels / Belgium
• Four days in Boom / Belgium
• Five days in Santorini / Greece
• Two days in Athens / Greece
More Malta, please
• Bureaucratic win! This trip started out with on a high note — having my Global Entry application accepted! As usual, I completely over-scheduled myself and was sick with stress the night before my departure, having arranged my interview appointment a little too close close for comfort with my flight check in. I arrived super early and was relieved at the ease and brevity of the process. I left the office with a cheer, and can’t wait to test out the faster lines when I return to the US!
• Getting fat and drunk in London. For my third trip to London, I dispensed with any and all tourist obligations and instead focused on the true reason for my visit — friend reunions with all my nearest and dearest. I stayed with and/or spent time with five old friends in my seven days, mostly over indulgent meals and delicious summer ciders. It was perfection. Next time, I vow to stay a little longer and see somewhere new in England, as well — perhaps Cornwall or Brighton.
• Having my wallet returned. It warms my heart to know that you can clumsily leave your bright red wallet on a bus in East London, and not only will no one steal it, but a series of kind-hearted strangers will go out of their way to return it to you. People are good.
• A week with Anders. I simply was not ready to say a final goodbye in Costa Rica, and I don’t know how I would have handled our separation if I hadn’t had Malta to look forward to. I was somewhat anxious about how it might go, but it was the most perfect week I could have asked for. He is the first ex-boyfriend of mine with whom I have a really loving, lasting relationship even after we’ve gone our separate ways, and I cherish it.
• Malta — holy crap! Nothing prepared me for how beautiful Malta would be — perhaps because I had zero time to research for or prepare for this trip. The ancient city of Mdina, our road trip around Gozo, the gorgeous sights of the South, the unexpectedly impressive diving… it all felt like a really fabulous bonus, as I don’t know if I’d ever have gone to Malta had I not been coaxed there. You guys really responded enthusiastically to my posts about it as well, which made the trip so fun to relive through writing.
• Medieval madness. While Brussels and I are on somewhat shaky terms — see the lowlights section — I was a massive fan of Ghent and Bruges. I felt like I was on a Disney set as I wandered these medieval cities, and started to understand why people find this part of Europe so darn charming. Plus, I had my favorite meal in all of Belgium in Bruges, just a simple yet perfect salad.
• Nice people. In addition the wallet returning in London, I had some other really poignant moments this month. One morning in Brussels I was miserable after days of fighting with customs and stormed into a bodega looking for a banana, annoyed that grocery stores, along with government offices and everywhere else in the country, appeared to be open for a whopping four hours per day. When I started to walk out again in a huff having unsurprisingly not found any fresh produce, the kind-eyed man behind the counter asked me what I was looking for. When I told him, he procured a banana from his private stash and insisted I take it. I couldn’t help but smile, for the first time in probably two days. I think of him whenever I think of Brussels.
• Reuniting with my fave travel buddy. Heather and I have now explored the Caribbean, the US, Southeast Asia and Europe together. We just travel so easily together, I couldn’t have been more thrilled she was joining me for bits of both Belgium and Greece.
• The magic of Tomorrowland. It wasn’t easy to get there, but man, was it worth every ounce of drama. I’ll never forget my four days at this freewheeling festival, with some of my highlights including Kygo’s set on the BlueFlame stage, Diplo’s in the Garden of Madness, watching all the entry bracelets pulse in unison from the mainstage, the moment Steve Angello had thousands of festival goers crouch on the ground and leap up in chaotic unison, looking out at the technicolor wonderland from the top of the ferris wheel, and joining a chorus of 60,000 to sing along to a slowed down wonderwall, mid-mainstage set (I love me some cheesy moments!) It was a weekend I’ll never forget.
• Dreaming at Dreamville. Glamping in these whimsical tents basically made the festival for us. I’m definitely going to budget to be able to afford nicer accommodation options for future festivals — it just made all the difference.
• Recovering in Imerovigli. While our post-Tomorrowland recovery was somewhat of a nightmare — again, see below — we quite literally could not have picked a more stunning setting to recuperate in. Like Tomorrowland, Santorini was somewhat of a big blur of blissful highlight in itself, standout features included our plush caldera-side digs at Hara’s Houses, unforgettable dinners at La Maison and Kapari, and the indulgent spa day Heather treated us to.
• So much diving! Beween Malta and Santorini, this month was scuba-packed — well, for a European trip anyway. While Meditteranean diving is far from my favorite, each of these destinations brought something unexpected and super fun to the (diving) table — forgive me for a little pun only my fellow divers will chuckle at.
• Delicious tours. I’ve been working for Viator for years, but this month introduced me to my two favorite tours of theirs ever. And, little surprise here, they both involved indulging. The first was a chocolate walking tour of Brussels, a day that managed to save my relationship with the city, and the second was a winery tour of Santorini, a day that led me to a deeper understanding of a little island I love so much. They both had a few things in common — fantastic, highly trained and passionate guides (our Santorini guide was a Greek sommelier!) and behind the scenes looks I couldn’t have gotten doing it solo.
• Sunset at the Acropolis. I’ve been there before and considering how behind I was on work I only kind of begrudgingly went again, but wow, sunset at the acropolis blew me away. In my mind, there is now no greater time to visit. It’s just the magic hour for light on this ancient hilltop.
• Nightlife in Athens. Heather was the perfect partner-in-crime for me to experience a totally new aspect of Athens — it’s nightlife! We had such a great time doing a bit of barhopping and getting to experience this painfully hip side of the city.
Taking on Tomorrowland
Lowlights and Lessons
• Airport blues. In my hell-bent mission to get the cheapest flights possible, I booked a stupid flight from New York to London — one that involved an overnight layover in Iceland. I got zero sleep in the terminal, and for what I paid for dinner and breakfast in one of the priciest airports in the world, I could have booked a slightly pricier flight and cut my travel time in half. Lesson learned!
• Packing problems. Shocking surprise — I wildly overpacked. And I brought some stupid stuff (mostly new electronic accessories) that were a total dead weigh, all because I didn’t take the time to test them out before I left home.
• Summer showers. With the exception of one sunny day, it rained the entire time I was in London. Obviously not ideal, but I guess it didn’t bother me too much, considering the purpose of my visit. I was more bummed by the mostly gray four days we had at Tomorrowland, where I was craving bright blue skies to go with the technicolor playland I was residing in.
• Culinary cravings. I was fairly focused on trying to eat healthy throughout this month, and after a week in London, where fresh and appealing options were around every corner, I found it extremely hard to feed myself in Malta. The authentic Maltese food didn’t appeal to me (I’m picky, remember) and the overpriced mediocre tourist food was… overpriced mediocre tourist food. Thankfully we had a kitchen to cook in, and did find one great exception in Kantina in Valleta, which served up some seriously creative and tasty salads.
• Rental drama. My trip to Malta ended on a frantic and frazzled and borderline tearful note when we tried to fill up our rental car with gas at the airport. Turns out, Maltese gas stations are a complete nightmare! You have to insert euros into a weird little machine to get credit, and you don’t get change so don’t put in too much, and there’s no way to know how much you need so you will put in too much, and you can only put in increments of ten or twenty anyway, and by the way they don’t take US credit cards, oh and also they are completely unattended on Sundays so GOOD LUCK FIGURING ANY OF THIS OUT. It took us a full hour to get gas in the car — praise the universe that for once in my darn life I had turned up to the airport early for a flight.
• Work worries. What else is new? I got totally behind on work this month. I was trying to juggle my usual workload plus a web redesign, and I got tragically behind on my inbox. The most brutal moment was when I realized I lost out on a very easy, very lucrative job because I was so floundering — I basically lost a thousand dollars for not answering an email. Towards the end of the month my stress over work was starting to impact my ability to enjoy the destinations I was in. One thing I’m thankful for? I was able to switch off an immerse myself totally in Tomorrowland, where I reveled in being wifi and laptop free for four days.
• Festic skeptic. Clearly, I adored Tomorrowland. Yet the festival pushes a pretty intense agenda of PLUR (peace, love, unity, respect), with tons of emphasis on the fact that there are attendees from all around the world, coming together in unity and love, and blah blah blah. After attending Burning Man last year, which did in fact have a deeply ingrained set of principles, an authentic community and a set of lofty guiding goals for attendees, the whole shtick at Tomorrowland rang a bit hollow. I kind of felt it was better to just enjoy the wildly consumeristic adult Disney-like experience for what it was, rather than try to convince ourselves we were out to change the world with our 13 euro cocktails and our Calvin Harris covers.
• Customs-Gate. I can barely even get myself started about this again. But the story gets even worse. When customs refused to deliver the package to me in Belgium they told me it would be returned to the US three months later. Around that time, I called to check up on why it still hadn’t been returned — only to be told that a few weeks after I left the country, it had been spontaneously delivered to the hostel I’d been staying at in Brussels. (WHY WHY WHY.) They claim they never received it. The post office claims it’s out of their hands. Basically, the box is gone forever. I. Can’t. Even.
• Post-Tomorrowland come down. Heather and I totally underestimated how draining Tomorrowland would be on our bodies. While we definitely did our best to make the most of it, we were both struggling in Santorini and did an embarrassing amount of flopping around the apartment feeling sorry for ourselves. We also both ended up with sinus infections, with my own raging relentlessly for almost a month until I touched down in Thailand.
• Overcrowded Oia. I wouldn’t say Oia was a lowlight by any means, but the town is overcrowded to the point of unenjoyment. I definitely recommend going during the day and skipping the sunset.
• Pricing panic. Guys. European prices are ridiculous. Can we talk about the time I paid ten euros for basically like a spoonful of frozen yogurt in Bruges, or the time I was tricked into paying almost twenty-five euros for a freaking salad (watch out for charges for bread, service, water, breathing, etc.) I was missing me some Southeast Asia, some days.
• iCrack. After a year and a half of tragedy-free iPhone ownership, I cracked my screen in Santorini. It cost me a hundred euros and a day of my life to repair it — and it cracked again two weeks later (and once more since then, but let’s just pretend that didn’t happen.)
• Lost and not found. Because I live my life on the road, I often bring things that are meaningful to me, and that most people wouldn’t bring “on a trip.” Usually, I’m happy with this choice — I’d rather enjoy my belongings than have them sit in a box in my childhood bedroom. But this month, I lost two rings that might have been some of the most sentimentally precious items I owned, a ring from each of my grandmothers. I’m pretty convinced I left them in my Dreamville tent, and have exhausted every avenue for finding them. One of the Belgian event staff that I bonded with at our campsite even personally called up the lost and found for me! But alas, they are lost, and I am sick about it.
Surviving, somehow, in Santorini
• Between Heather, myself, and the our four Norwegian tent neighbors at Tomorrowland, we had to start a list of all the doubled-0ver-with-laughter comments that we racked up. Some of my favorite (blog friendly) ones include Heather waking up in the morning and asking “how do you open this?” to the banana I handed her, Arne very sincerely wincing and complaining that “his fistpumping arm hurts,” and our constant, frenetic cries of “this is awesome, lets go!”
• Let’s just file this under I Did It For The Story: Once, in Athens, a cute young taxi driver refused to take my fare and asked if he could take me out for dinner instead. I hesitated but took his number — he really wouldn’t take my money — and ended up calling him when I needed help getting my phone fixed. He took me to a sketchy repair shop where I got the local’s price for a new screen, and then I took him out to lunch in Glyfada. Who needs Tinder anyway, am I right?
This was quite literally my most expensive month of travel ever. So much so that I’m almost embarrassed to share the details.
My total clocked in at $4,743 — more than I spent in the previous two months combined! My biggest expense was, by far, in the entertainment category, which ate up $1,842 of my budget. A whopping $1,525 of that consisted of my four days at Tomorrowland, which I broke down dollar for dollar here. The rest was mostly nights out in London and Athens with a few tour tips and entrance fees thrown in there too. Next up were flights at $943, which included flights from New York to London, London to Malta, Malta to Brussels, and Brussels to Athens, with my flight from Athens to Santorini being free thanks to frequent flyer miles. Considering the distances covered, I actually kind of feel like I scored here.
Food weighed in at $932, which is fairly humiliating — though in my defense food in Europe is redonk expensive and I was doing a lot of treating my hosts. Miscellaneous totaled $453 and consisted of things like gifts, toiletries, posting things home, a rare clothing splurge in Athens, and other random purchases. Transportation landed in at $393, made up of cabs, ferries, buses, and parking, and fuel for my rental car in Malta. Minor expenses included business at $51, charity at $50, spa and salon at $48 (I paid the tip on Heather’s huge gift of a spa afternoon for us in Santorini) and gym and fitness at $32.
While I choked at totaling all of that up, considering I flew across the Atlantic, spent a week on the town in London, a week on the beach in Malta, attended a major music festival, went diving four times, and recovered in style in Santorini, all in peak season… I think I actually did okay. (Though I won’t be doing it again anytime soon!)
All about Athens
I had a really mediocre month for advertising and a just decent one for freelancing. As mentioned earlier, I lost some freelancing jobs and had to turn down some last minute paid trips, because I was on the road. (Note to PR people: I want to go on your trips. I really do! Please invite me more than two weeks in advance.) I grossed less than I had the previous two months, though that was understandable as I was maintaining a pretty busy travel itinerary. I ended up netting a major overall loss, but that was to be expected due to my drunken-sailor level of spending.
Hence, why I do not base myself in Europe, and instead treat my occasional trips here as a very special treat. (And that’s exactly why I work so hard to save up when I’m in more budget and work friendly locations.)
Health and Fitness
I went to the gym once in London (I highly recommend Frame if you’re nearby!), went for a single run in Belgium, and worked out zero in Greece or Malta. I also ate my body weight in cheese and chocolate and consumed many gallons of ciders and cocktails. So overall not ideal.
My only saving grace this month was that I was very much on the move — walking everywhere, doing tons of activities and staying generally on the move, as opposed to my more typical all-day-in-front-of-a-screen lethargy.
Another three weeks in Greece, twenty four hours in Bahrain, and back to home sweet Thailand.
Thanks for coming along on my European explorations!
Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here.
Update: Travel Blog Success was merged with Superstar Blogging by Nomadic Matt. It’s an equally impressive course that I plan to take and review eventually — click here to take it yourself!
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I really love these roundup posts! It seems like forever since the last one, I thought you had stopped doing them. It’s been super fun reading your european posts I was hoping for the behind the scenes post…and it didn’t disappoint! I am interested to read about what Bahrain was like too!
Ha, confession time…. I just totally forgot to do this one. I was thinking it had been a while, and then I checked and was like, whoops! So it’s a little late 🙂
i often forget your life isn’t a bed of roses until i read this & really, i don’t want bad things to happen to you alex, but it is comforting!
i really empathize with you on your grandmothers’ rings. i too have lost important/beloved pieces on the road & years later, i still can’t think about them without wincing 🙁
amen to european prices. in ibiza, a friend bought two double vodkas at a nightclub & was charged…wait for it: 110 USD! HA! and of course, it was all ice.
Oh my god…. I thought the time I ordered a vodka soda in Miami and was charged $24 was bad! (Travel tip: Remember to always specify well vodka at clubs in Miami!) I might cry at the $110 bill.
The roundups are back! Not surprised to hear that Europe broke the bank a bit – I spent more in a week in Greece this summer than a month in Asia. It’s definitely easier to hide out in cheap Southeast Asia (except that I’m planning on moving to Norway soon, with the highest prices in the world ahhh).
Scandinavia terrifies me for this exact reason! I think I’ll just hide out in the cheap and cheerful tropics, for now…
I say it every time, but these are my absolute favorite posts of yours! I love how they connect the dots between all the things that you’re doing and provide insights and stories that we don’t get from all of your other awesome posts. I’m so sorry about you losing those rings — man, that’s hard when they are so sentimental! But it sounds like it was a month of very high highs and some low lows… One thing is for sure: Alex is LIVING LIFE! I love it! 🙂
This comment made me smile so big! I am indeed. I am so heartbroken about the rings, though I try to remind myself it was better that I was wearing and enjoying them than keeping them sealed in a jewelry box I never opened. But I’m not sure 🙁
Ouch expensive month but sounds like the splurge was fun!
Thankfully most of mine are far less than half that 🙂
I always really enjoy your roundups, Alex! I’ve not had as much time to read my favourite blogs lately (tooo busy at work!) so I’m glad to catch up now!
That’s one thing I think these posts are great for… a nice crash course, and you can just see what piques your interest if you want to read more 🙂
I want to hear the non-blog friendly LOL’s from tomorrowland haha
I’ll re-enact them in person someday. Lol.
I love the story about taking the taxi driver out for lunch – that’s brilliant! Also, really sorry to hear about your rings, that must have been gut-wrenching 🙁
Ha, sometimes you just have to ask, why not?! And I learned more about Greek culture in that one afternoon than I probably did in the weeks that followed.
Ha, I bet you were thrilled to be back in Southeast Asia after breaking the bank in Europe. Despite the high cost, it sounds like you had a fabulous month. It’s always nice to have a nice travel splurge 😉 Oh, and $943 on all those flights is seriously impressive. Very well done, Alex!
Thanks! I worked like a madwoman to land those, so I was pretty proud 🙂
I just started using the Trail Wallet app (love it!) for expenses instead of receipts and napkins. Found out we spend a FOURTH of our monthly budget on just food. Whoops. All I can say I was blinded by a tornado of cheese, salami, coffee, and chocolate.
Great pictures. I love the look of your edits.
I use Trail Wallet for everything! It’s the best. And ha, I feel you… food is a very important line item in the budget!
I love these roundups! Somewhere between last year and this year, a little wanderlust bug bit me and I’ve just been dreaming of traveling. Each time I read a breakdown of your experience and expenses, it makes it all seem a little more possible. Thank you for sharing so much!
Hey Melissa, that makes me so happy to hear! That all this might seem more feasible to those interested in making travel a bigger part of their lives… that’s a huge part of what inspires me to keep writing. Let that wanderlust bug bite away 🙂
I am 15 and live in the little town of White Salmon, Washington. People say I’m young and what i want to do will change, but i believe this is what i want to do with my life. I love traveling. Every two years my family goes somewhere new. The first place i went was Cancun, Mexico. It was heavenly. I saw a a little piece of God’s creation. I was inspired. I’ve kept a travel journal since i was 12 years old writing down everything i do and taking photographs along with it. I have a Canon Rebel T3i and this christmas I’m getting a GoPro. I have a macbook to edit videos and of course write on. (I pay for half of all these things so please no hate.) I love photography, traveling, and writing all of it down. I am sure this is what i want to do. Thank you for inspiring me.
Hey Kloee! You are so welcome — thanks for sharing your story. I think it’s great you have a passion, regardless of age. I discovered my obsession with travel early on and I feel grateful for that. You should too 🙂 Enjoy the ride!
It sounds like you had a ball. Brighton is on our 2016 list of places to live, have you been? Along with Barcelona and Berlin, the year of the B!
I haven’t, but I very much want to go! I’ve only been to London and Manchester. Brighton is very much in the running for places to visit next time I’m in England.
I have no idea why I love your roundups so much, but I do!! You definitely inspired me to add Malta to my list – hopefully I’ll be a certified diver by the time I make it there!
Or you could always just get certified there 🙂 Glad I could help add another destination to that bucket list!
I remember Europe before the euro came into being. Everything was so much cheaper then. I noticed the last time I was in Thailand that due to the internet prices are beginning to creep up there. As they realise what tourists will pay for their goods. So much is changing in such a short space of time!
Koh Tao is gradually getting more expensive, but I still don’t think it will ever sell the equivalent of a 10 euro frozen yogurt — at least I hope not 🙂 I wish I could have caught Europe before the euro!
Um yeah, I easily spent double that during my three weeks in Europe this summer. Europe IS expensive, which is why I only go once every year or two (and usually for a month, max). I can’t imagine living there again (and when I DID live there, I was a poor student with poor student friends so we barely indulged in any luxuries whatsoever!).
I’m with you — Europe is a special treat! I think it’s probably an every other year situation for me as well. Six and a half weeks was a lot for the wallet to handle.
I always love reading your monthly roundups Alex! I love how you’re honest and share both the good and the bad things that can happen when travelling! It sounds like you’ve had a whirlwind of a month – super fun, yet super pricey! Malta looks incredible 🙂 x
It is indeed! I really cherish my time there — rental car drama aside, ha.
I love this post, it’s my first time to read your round up post and I think it’s totally cool. Of course so much can go on behind the travel scenes, that is so important for others to read about. I love Santorini, but haven’t been there for ages, I hope you have a lovely time there, in your remaining weeks.
Thanks Jackie! There’s just so much good stuff that doesn’t make it into regular posts… I had to make space for it somewhere!
Wow, that’s a whirlwind! You’ve been to so many wonderful places in just one month, you’ve actually inspired me to start fitting more in. Also, I’ve just joined TBS! What a brilliant community 🙂
Ha, I’m actually always on a mission to slow down more, but I never seem to make it happen 🙂 Ah well!
I’m so sorry about the rings — that’s crushing. Looks like it was an awesome (if budget-smashing) month, though. Thanks for sharing the details!
It still stings 🙁 (The rings, not the price tag… that was worth it!)
Great roundup! I’m so sorry about your grandmother’s ring. I have a similar story I wanted to share, because it actually has a happy ending! My great grandmother gave me her engagement ring, and one day as I was driving it fell off my finger. When I pulled over, I couldn’t find it ANYWHERE. I ransacked my car for days, but it had straight up disappeared. I was devastated. Fast forward to three years later, my boyfriend was in my car and dropped something and it disappeared, and he remembered my story about the ring. He got a screwdriver and basically disassembled the entire inside of my car and actually found the ring–it had fallen through a crack in my center console. Anyway, I can relate to the sickening feeling of losing something so precious, but maaaaaaaaybe they’ll turn up someday??? You just never know! 🙂
Wow, that’s amazing Kaleena! It does indeed give me some home. You never know — miracles do happen.
Ah, Europeans and their added ‘extras’ on the bill, whether you ordered it, or for that matter even touched it!
Glad you and Anders have parted on such wonderful terms 😀
Believe me, I learned real quick not to touch that bread basket!
What an incredible year you’ve had Alex! Thank you so much for sharing the good, the bad and the ugly with us.
Indeed! Can’t wait to see what the next months bring…
I LOVE YOUR BLOG!!! i’m so happy i stumbled upon it. excited to binge read 🙂
Aw, thanks Lizzy! I’m so happy to hear that 🙂 Please chime in as often as you can — I love hearing from whoever is reading.
Very beautiful article. Santorini one of our favourite place!!!
Ah, me as well! Would absolutely love an excuse to return!
Athens is a really underrated city. I’m glad that you’ve spent a couple of days there 🙂
I LOVE Athens and agree, not many seem to appreciate its charms. But I most certainly do!