Astute readers may be scratching their heads thinking… did we just skip twelve months of roundups? Why yes we did! When I decided to jump ahead and blog this summer as it happened, I kind of forgot about the whole “roundup post” thing. Expect a few of these coming up as I catch up on the summer — even out of order, I do think these do serve as a nice roadmap of my archives for those who want to follow my travels chronologically in the future. This one starts the way my summer did — when I returned to the US in May!
It’s always a huge mix of emotions when I board the plane from Thailand back to the US for the summer. I used to sob in my seat — in both directions — but these days I use the time to get nostalgic and really absorb how quickly the years seem to be flying by.
This summer in particular was one of my busiest yet, and as my flight touched down in New York (a day earlier than I expected, ha ha — more on that below!) I tried to soak up my last few restful moments from Thailand before bracing myself for the chaos ahead.
Where I Was
• Two nights in Brooklyn, New York
• Five nights in Albany, New York
• One night in Tampa, Florida
• Three nights in Sarasota, Florida
• Eight nights in Orlando, Florida
• Five nights in Tampa, Florida
• Four nights in St. Pete, Florida
• Six nights in Manchester, Tennessee
wedding season begins!
• Getting a bonus night in New York! As you’ll read in the LOL’s section below, I thought I was going to have just one way-too-short night in Brooklyn before taking the train up to Albany for Mother’s Day. I felt like I built a time machine when I arrived and found out I had a whole bonus day! I used it to buy donuts, have lunch with an old friend, and go dancing with my sister and trio of our favorite siblings.
• Showing up for Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is the unofficial marker I try to make it back to the US for each summer, and I don’t always make it. This year I did, and I loved spending the day with my mom and sister on some of our favorite hometown events and activities: The Tulip Fest, the Vanguard Showhouse, and a movie at The Spectrum.
• Soooo many smiles in Sarasota. It just turned out to be the perfect reunion weekend! I stayed with my childhood best friend Kristin’s family, who I took many a vacation with in my youth, and the rehearsal dinner and wedding were just blasts from the past with a little segment of my high school crew. It’s always a joy to watch the wedding of a couple so truly suited for each other, and I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend-long sleepover party set. I felt like I went back in time ten years! I had the best, most relaxing time.
• Logistics. As far as that weekend went, I could not have asked for better timing with the rest of my commitments. I couldn’t believe my luck at how well my calendar fell together this month — one of my high school crew’s weddings just happening to be the weekend before the opening of Volcano Bay, and only a few hours away too, and just an hour south of where my beloved aunts live? Thanks for that one, universe.
• Going behind-the-scenes. Getting invited to the very-exclusive opening of Volcano Bay was one of my most guilty pleasure perks from my years of blogging. I mean, to top this I’d basically have to be invited on set of Nashville. I’m OBSESSED with water slides and so being one of two hundred people getting early access to this one was almost too exciting. Awesome food, really cool ride technology, and a super fun theme and setting? Sadly I doubt I’ll ever have the place so much to myself ever again, but I’ll be back regardless.
• Playing tour guide. I was giddy when my sister Olivia and my basically-sister Ashlee arrived in Orlando for our Harry Potter themed bachelorette party for Ash! I had SO much fun crafting yet another bachelorette party (can more of my inner circle get hitched already? Jeez!) and getting to see the magic of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter through the eyes of a true fan and make someone’s dream come true.
• I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying! I love wowing my friends with little surprises and literally cackle with glee when I’m putting together an unexpected gift or a thoughtfully crafted little something. Let’s just say that I’ve been known to refer to friendship as a competitive sport. So when the girls touched down in Orlando, I found myself speechless at being on the other side of the equation as Liv and Ash put together the world’s most sweet and touching gift bag, including custom-made Alex in Wanderland swimsuits for us to wear! I just about died — point goes to those two in our constant sibling competition to out-thoughtful each other.
• Pool hopping. You guys have probably figured out by now that I’m happiest when I’m beach or poolside, so you can imagine how much fun I had planning the ultimate pool hop day through all of Universal Resort’s pools! The highlights of each were: a much-needed massage at Portofino Bay, the actually-really-fun water slide at Hard Rock, what felt like our own private beach at Royal Pacific, an amazing lunch at Sapphire Falls, and our BYO pool float party at Cabana Bay. I would do the same day all over again in a heartbeat!
• Recharging in Tampa. I’m so lucky to have my aunts. They are so good to me, and I just absolutely adore being around them. I almost spent more time in Tampa than I did in Albany this summer! After a crazy eight days of running around Orlando, it was just what I needed to buckle down and get work done, mainline House of Cards, and get a good night of sleep every night. Of course when everyone was home from work we had some silly fun — as we always do — over crazy dinners recapping my adventures, going to see Baywatch at a super fancy movie theater, and just never stopping laughing. These two.
• Exploring Saint Pete. I am going to be forever grateful for my campaign with Visit Florida bringing me over the bridge from Tampa to what some call the Austin or Portland of Florida. It was yet another jam-packed trip where I was in near constant motion, but everything I was doing and seeing was just so cool I couldn’t stop. Yoga at the Dalí Museum, photographing the retro signs on the beach, restaurant-hopping and finding a truly hip, young city outside Miami in Florida were the highlights of this all around fabulous four days.
• More family time. Best part of working in St. Pete? I had the world’s two greatest — or at least funniest — assistants! My aunts joined me for a super fun Sunday taking in a downtown street art tour followed by a swing through the Indie Market. Then, they each came back for a day of one-on-one time — my aunt Karen for a lush meal and a tour of the local breweries, and my aunt Linda for a yummy lunch and a day sipping wine. I kinda love my life!
• Crashing the red carpet. This is a very telling peek into my dear friend Kristin’s life: she picked me up at the airport in Nashville in the afternoon, we drove directly to an acro yoga class, we went to a friend’s of hers to change into award show outfits, we went to the CMT Award red carpet where she was reporting, we had BBQ downtown, and we drove out to her house in Central Tennessee. Love that she lives a million miles an hour like I do! Also loves that she let me peek over her shoulder at my favorite country music and Nashville TV stars.
Red Carpet Crashing
• Friends old and new. My second Bonnaroo was a blast! The best part was definitely bringing my mom (I love having a mom I can take anywhere) and future step-dad (they got engaged this summer!) along, and seeing how well they meshed with Kristin’s wide circle of family and friends and how much they enjoyed the festival experience. I was also lucky enough to run into my friend Amanda, the first of many times we’d do so this summer. It was so much fun bumping into people I know and love everywhere went, and getting so much relaxing quality time with our hosts Kristin and Scott back at their glorious Victorian in between sets.
• Roo, times two! Okay, what were the highlights aside from the people I went with? Drinks at the Bacardi Oasis, sets from The Strumbellas, Kaleo, Major Lazzer, Michael Kiwanuka, Cam, Chance the Rapper, Lorde and The Weeknd, going to the movie tent for the perfect influencer-tastic movie, broccoli cheddar dumplings from Humpty’s Dumplings, and hitting the silent disco with my mom and Miller! I get the warm fuzzies just thinking about it — I have a feeling this won’t be my last Roo.
• Reader meetup fun! I had so much fun at my two reader meetups in Orlando and in St. Pete. It was awesome getting to meet people on the other side of the screen, and I feel like there are some great friendships brewing as a result. In retrospect, I’m kind of bummed I didn’t keep this party going all summer, but things got chaotic and I dropped the ball after these two. Next year! Thank you so much to everyone who came out.
• Getting behind the wheel. This might sound silly to some people but this was the first summer that I really felt confident and comfortable behind the wheels of a rental car. I guess I’ve only been legally able to rent with ease for two years or so, so maybe it’s not such a surprise. But in the past I’ve always hesitated to get my own wheels, and I definitely feel a major sense of freedom now that that’s broken — though I do always stress about whether to add the additional insurance or not!
Lowlights and Lessons
• Computer crisis. As usual, technology was not my friend this month. While getting off the plane in Tampa I snapped my headphones off in my computer, which led to many fruitless Apple store visits and them basically shrugging and telling me that my computer would never emit sound again. Um… thanks. I was living in denial and misery for weeks until the brilliant SVV, husband to the ever-so-lucky Kristin, managed to sort out a crazy solution that involved toothpicks and super glue. AND IT WORKED. Take that, useless Genius Bar employees! The real genius lives in Tennessee!
• Dress stress. Ugh, while I loved the dress I bought last minute for my friend Steve’s wedding, I didn’t realize how desperately I needed to have it tailored until I was walking out the door to the ceremony. I kind of felt like I was a little kid playing dress up in my mom’s dress the whole time and I almost ate it and tripped like a dozen times. It sucks not to feel confident in what you’re wearing, especially at a black tie event. Not to self: always, always make time for the tailor!
• Weather woes. While we had plenty of sunny blue sky days throughout the month, rain also wreaked a ton of havoc. Ali and Steve’s beautiful outdoor wedding ceremony? Moved to a ballroom. The off the hook opening party planned for Volcano Bay under the smoking volcano itself? Moved to a ballroom.
It also rained basically almost every hour of my campaign with Visit Florida in St. Pete, which stressed me out, and stormed so horrifically on my way back to the airport in Tampa, it was the most white-knuckled drive of my life. I couldn’t believe it when I arrived at the airport and my flight was merely delayed — the board was pretty much nothing but red and yellow.
• Crowd chaos. In retrospect, a holiday weekend was probably not the best time to bring two theme park newbies to Orlando. As excited as Ash and Olivia were to be there, we weren’t really all on the same page the whole weekend with our stamina for crowds and I let it get under my skin when I wasn’t feeling total enthusiasm. I am always just so over-eager for everyone to have a blast on the trips I plan, I struggle when things don’t go the way I pictured. Fact: I need to learn to let it roll off my back and not feel personally responsible when other people aren’t having the time of their lives.
We definitely made some tactical errors in our Volcano Bay day, specifically: we should have snagged premium seating there the moment we planned our trip, and arrived the minute they opened instead of in the afternoon (though changing hotels mid-trip left us little choice.) Ah well, the beauty of having rose-tinted hindsight is all the bruised feelings fade and the sunny memories remain.
• Roo runarounds. While Bonnaroo was pretty close to flawless (Kristin said it was her best year yet!) there were a few minor snags: a few of the acts I was most excited to see disappointed, I skipped the Roo run and yoga that I loved so much last year (my hip injury was really killing me at this point) and there was one it-will-be-funny-someday incident where Miller and I got lost at 3am and walked an hour in the wrong direction in the parking lot and I nearly wept and/or slept in a field but instead paid an extortionist pedicab driver $30 via Venmo because he wouldn’t take the last $20 we had in cash. Ah, festivals.
• OMG overpacking. Oops I did it again. I was so burdened by excess luggage on this trip it was ridiculous. Between my crafting supplies for not one but two bachelorettes, my wedding attire, my theme park wear, my festival gear, my red carpet outfit, city wear, beach clothes, and beyond… let’s just say thank you Southwest for your two free bag policy and YES I STILL HAD TO MAIL STUFF BACK TO ALBANY OCCASIONALLY. Quite possibly the worst pack job of my life. At least I looked borderline cute?
Volcano Bay VIPs
• Guys, I SCREWED UP WHAT DAY MY FLIGHT LANDED IN NEW YORK. There I was, about to board my final flight during my connection in Hong Kong when I looked at the time on my computer in confusion. I always keep it set to New York time, and the hour I saw blinking back at me made no sense. That’s when it hit me — I thought I was losing a day when I was actually gaining one. Oops! I sent off a completely panicked and likely illegible email to my friends I was staying warning them I was coming in hot in just thirteen hours — not thirty seven! — and laughed myself halfway over the Pacific. I guess I can’t blame it on it being my first time flying?
• This exchange from Bonnaroo, when I wanted to stay late to see Major Lazer, still slays me:
Me: “Mom, want to come back and pick me up at 2:30am? It will be just like college summers all over again!”
My mom: (Joking, I hope?) “Definitely not. Find a random tent to sleep in.”
Miller: “Oh I can give you a ride home. I’ll still be here.”
So breaking news: parents can, in fact, be cool.
being girly in Orlando
Best and Worst Beds of the Month
Best: Tough call this month! I think I’m going to have to call it a tie between Cabana Bay in Orlando, which is one of the most sleek and smartly themed budget hotels I’ve had the pleasure to explore, and Postcard Inn in St. Pete, which was so effortlessly chic and cool — and also beachfront and also on a budget.
Like, did they somehow mine my brain and make these hotels out of my mental dreamboards? I’m obsessed with them both! (Royal Pacific would be a third runnerup because I died when I saw the rooms and loved the onsite restaurant, but lost points because the lobby needs to get the same facelift the room towers had.)
Worst: I didn’t have a bad bad the entire month — how lucky to have nothing to put here.
Best and Worst Meals of the Month
Best: Um, just about anything I ate in Saint Pete? For sure, it was my stuff-my-face destination of the month — I was blown away! Coming in at a strong second place however were the broccoli cheddar dumplings by Humpty’s Dumplings at Bonnaroo. I still can’t believe I didn’t track them down on my trip to Philadelphia later in the summer.
Worst: Again I was lucky — either that or I was so deliriously happy to be back in the culinary promised land I didn’t make a single misstep 😉
reader meetup heaven
I’m always astounded by how much money I’m capable of spending in the good ‘ol USA! While this was the cheapest of my four months stateside, I did go on quite the shopping binge upon arrival and the reactivation of my Amazon Prime account.
What did I not spend money on? This month was very campaign-heavy, so between that and crashing with friends and family I didn’t pay for a night’s accommodation the whole month. As far as transportation goes, work paid for my two flights of the the month and my longest stretch of having a rental car, so thus I paid for a train up to Albany, a cab or two, and a few nights of a ridiculously cheap rental car to go to Sarasota (seriously, the rental guy asked me how I got such a great rate!)
So, my biggest expenses of the month? Amazon shopping, business expenses, workout classes, and my always-biggest splurge, food!
Clearly, I had plenty on my plate this month in terms of work travel — though it was all worth it for an incredibly profitable month. I had my most expensive summer ever but also my most profitable one. While I like seeing my earnings go up, I’m always cautious of living beyond my means and in reflection, I would like to see a bit of a return to my thrifty ways moving forward.
I got back into my blog posting groove after months of posting far too lightly, which was nothing short of a miracle considering my schedule. A handful of projects ran me ragged and stressed me beyond belief this month. I had a few campaigns that were really a challenge to complete behind-the-scenes (ironically, not even the ones that required travel.) At one point, I struggled to get the cracked LCD screen on my camera repaired as I was so busy it was hard to be without for even two days! But while panic levels were high, so were running-on-fumes endorphins. I’ll call it a win.
Stylin’ in St. Pete
Health and Fitness
Um… let’s just say from that first moment in Brooklyn when I woke up at 6am and walked my jetlagged ass to Dough for artisanal doughnuts, it was a backslide into a summer of total indulgence. Who am I to turn down my favorite homemade mint brownies at a movie theater I only get to once a year when I’m in my hometown? To say no to a slice of wedding cake? To turn my nose up at free alcohol at a work event?
I did, of course, make some token efforts at maintaining my general health and fitness. I ordered salads whenever I could. I started every morning with green tea. I snuck in barre and yoga classes in Albany, a nice long run and DIY workout in Sarasota, two gym sessions in Orlando, dragged my aunt to a spin class in Tampa, went with her to her personal trainer, went to a yoga class at a museum and fell in love with the world’s best barre studio in St. Pete, and hit up an acro yoga class in Nashville.
Unfortunately I did something to my hip while I was in Orlando that made exercise borderline excruciating (and yet still I continued to do it, because I am a psycho.) Seriously, I think I might have pulled it on one of the waterslides — is that the world’s coolest or lamest injury? — and it haunted me for months after. I had planned to really get back into cardio groove over the summer but running became incredibly painful. Oops.
What Was Next
Nashville, more New York City, more Albany, Martha’s Vineyard, and Philadelphia.
See you soon with another roundup later this week!
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.