This was it! Goodbye to summer and goodbye to the USA — at least till mid-2018.
This month was made up of a whole bunch of Florida followed by a quick stop through Vegas and a final week in Los Angeles, my final stop. I normally fly back to Thailand for the winter from New York, but this year I was flying out from California — and I had seriously considered flying across the country just so I could spend a few days at my mom’s house again before heading back to Asia. That’s how hard a time I was having wrapping my head around the whole thing!
Instead, I did the weirdest packing mission of my life and left my dad’s house in Los Angeles with one closet stuffed full of Illinois wedding attire, Vegas high heels, Florida road trip accessories, and more — living out of a suitcase sure can be an adventure onto itself. Sad as I was to say goodbye to the amazing number of family and friends I got to spend this month with, for sanity’s sake I was more than happy to be heading back to my apartment in Koh Tao for a while!
Where I Was
• Six nights in Jacksonville, Florida
• Three nights in Cape Canaveral, Florida
• Three nights in St. Pete, Florida
• Four nights in Tampa, Florida
• One night in Homosassa, Florida
• Two nights in Williston, Florida
• One night in Tampa, Florida
• Four nights in Las Vegas, Nevada
• Seven nights in Los Angeles, California
• A suburban sanctuary. After a long stretch of crazy travel, it was so nice to sink into the comfort of the suburbs in Jacksonville! I absolutely loved hanging by Angie‘s pool, trying Chick-fil-A for the first time, binge watching the bizarre but addictive show Unreal, reading the first chapter of Angie’s book, and getting to hang out with her whole family everywhere from lunch to church to backyard BBQ’s. It was a blast! While once again I didn’t really do Jacksonville justice in terms of writing a big ‘ol travel blog post about it, I did get quite reflective in recording my time there.
• Listening to podcasts. I did a TON of driving over the course of this month and I was very determined to break my occasional habit of texting while driving. A new distraction method? Podcasts! I would get to engrossed in them I forgot my phone even existed and just zoned in on the road. My favorite was S-Town, which I found absolutely addictive and flew through in just a few days behind the wheel.
• Wildlife watching in Cocoa Beach. Now this was an unexpected surprise. From dolphins to manatees to gators to wild cattle and horses, I was stopped in my tracks by an incredible wildlife sighting every single day that I was in The Space Coast. What a cool, under-the-radar destination.
• Watching Astronaut Wives Club. Okay technically I didn’t do this until after this month, but this is the month that inspired it! My visit to the Kennedy Space Center got me curious about about what it was like to be a space wife — and this show scratched that itch. I want to read the book next!
• Catching the Surf Film Festival in Cocoa Beach. Close runner-up include stocking up on a new wetsuit and new rashguards, slurping up the best açai bowls on the East Coast, and just smiling at all the long-haired, barefoot fellow wave-worshipers walking around! Cocoa Beach was an unexpected surf culture haven.
• Hitting the Tampa Indie Flea. Earlier in the summer I was lucky enough to catch the St. Pete Indie Flea, which I absolutely adored. This trip, I freaked out when I realized I could catch the sister event in Tampa! Of course, I was stayed in the opposite city for each one, but hey, they were worth a short drive. If you want delicious local treats, original Florida art, funky venues and ace people watching, don’t miss these monthly events.
• Introducing Heather to my aunts. They’ve been hearing crazy stories about each other for years, so it was high time to introduce my favorite travel buddy to two of my favorite family members. We were absolutely wiped every night after our diving course and before and after our road trip and they really spoiled us rotten by taking care of everything while we just vegged. And of course we had some super fun meals. They are the best!
• Becoming a PADI Cavern Diver! Even better? Doing so alongside two amazing women. This was probably the most exhilarating continuing education course I’ve done since I started diving — I feel like a whole new world just opened up to me! Plus, I now have an amazing, go-to dive shop in Tampa, and have had my eyes opened to the wonders of Florida diving.
• Blowing my comfort zone to bits. The dive sites Hospital Hole and Catfish Hotel both challenged me in ways I couldn’t have imagined and also made me feel SO accomplished. I was so amazed that both of these have been hours away from me on my annual visits to Florida… and I had no idea!
• Making #SunshineStateScuba happen. Getting to partner with the world’s largest diving organization on a dive trip that I dreamed up and they gave me the push for, that was a dream come true! The absolute best part? Hearing from others that I inspired their own scuba diving road trips after the fact. Rock on, divers!
• Exploring Tarpon Springs, my favorite of the Old Florida attractions at the start of our road trip. They transported me straight to my beloved Greece, but honestly, there wasn’t a bad stop on that stretch of the trip. They were all kitschy, cheap, and quick. Road trip perfection!
• Meeting manatees — in the summer — in Crystal River. I really thought this was exclusively a winter thing. So while the numbers were fewer and the visibility just so-so, I was thrilled by another amazing wild manatee encounter in West Florida.
• Hanging with my readers at Rainbow River! When I first held a reader meetup in St. Pete back in June, I had no idea I’d be gaining two future Florida dive buddies. It was such a trip all meeting back up for a drift dive down the Rainbow River.
• Camping with a freediving champion at Blue Grotto. Our time in Williston wouldn’t have been half as fun if we hadn’t been hanging out with our new friend Forrest, who showed us around the Blue Grotto dive site, gave us a tour of the teeny tiny town, and acted as our personal photographer for the day. How fun to have both Heather and I in some photos!
• Walking into Devil’s Den. Wow. If you don’t absolutely freak out upon walking down into the Devil’s Den cavern for the first time, you need to check your pulse. This is one of the coolest natural geologic formations I’ve seen in the USA — or maybe the world! Getting to dive inside of it was incredible.
• The insanely clear waters of Ginnie Springs. Again with nature just blowing my mind here — the “visibility forever” of the spring, the surreal meeting of the river water and the spring water, the gorgeous caverns we got to explore, and the immaculate river-side campsites — I can see why Ginnie Springs is a favorite among Floridians!
• Sunrise at Seven Magic Mountains. Dang, did this live up to the hype and beyond. Yup, I went to Vegas for this weird, wonderful art installation in the desert — and it delivered.
• Getting off The Strip. I loved exploring both Downtown Vegas and the 18b Arts District further on this particular Vegas weekend — both places I still crave even more of.
• Flamingo cocktails, Britney Spears, and taking your stilettos off in the taxi. Of course, we still had some classic Vegas fun! So grateful Michelle was down to splurge on floor seats for the concert of the year, and that we were able to laugh even when things didn’t totally go our way. Hats off to HEXX for serving up a surprisingly fun and perfect pre-show dinner — with drinks in a giant flamingo statue to boot.
• Getting lost in the LA life. My first week in LA was a busy one, as usual — highlights included snagging tickets to Casablanca at a rooftop cinema, going to Dodgers Stadium for the first time with my dad, hitting up a 90’s tribute night at a club in DTLA, watching my dad win a heart-warming award, going to some insane fitness classes, and catching up with so many of my nearest and dearest.
Lowlights and Lessons
• Airplane anxiety. Unfortunately, I had a full blown anxiety attack on an extremely turbulent flight from New Orleans to Atlanta. The worst part? I still had to connect to Jacksonville, though I did make a pretty valiant attempt to get Angie to ditch the second flight and drive home instead. She obviously declined and the second flight was blissfully smooth, but I spent the entire layover in tears and was deeply rattled by the entire experience. Ever since, I’ve really doubled down on working my anti-flight anxiety system.
• Almost missing my SUP class in Cocoa Beach. It was just one of those mornings where everything went wrong, from being given the wrong address to finding a road closed along the way. It was one of a few organizational disasters from that trip that had me on the edge. Thankfully I was the only student so I didn’t miss the paddle out, but I did miss almost a third of the class.
• Our camper van catastrophe. Clearly the winner for the biggest lowlight of the month, our bum camper van rental and all the stress and heartache that went along with trying to repair it. I’ve written pretty exhaustively about the whole situation, but suffice it to say it was mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting.
• Camera chaos. Our road trip had more than one technical difficulty. In addition to our vehicle breaking down, my underwater camera case died for good, I forgot an important battery, and I kind of made a mess 0f trying to use my GoPro as a replacement (I recommend using it for videos rather than stills!) Thank goodness Heather had such a fantastic camera and was able to so beautifully document the trip, or I’d have been having a complete meltdown.
• Dive gear disaster. Oh, you thought that that two disasters were enough for one road trip? Nah! We also decided to have a miscommunication about DIN vs. yoke regulators and ended up with the wrong kind of tank for my gear for Rainbow River. Face palm. Luckily, the super-shallow dive is very cool as a snorkel too and so Heather and I each took turns snorkeling and diving half the river and switching halfway through. We made lemonade out of every situation, but let’s just say my nerves were shot by the end of it!
• Eyelash attack. So, for the first two weeks, I thought the eyelash perm and dye I had in preparation for my scuba diving adventures would for sure go in the highlight column. I was obsessed throughout the duration of the trip! I knew I couldn’t dive with mascara but I also knew we’d be taking a billion photos. With my new lashes, I felt like a million bucks from the moment I woke up in the morning, make-up free! But then, bizarrely, a few weeks after I had the treatment, my lashes went haywire. One side was worse than the other, but they suddenly looked like they’d been ninety degree crimped rather than gently curled, and went in crazy directions like spider legs. It was the weirdest thing and Google did little to help explain it! I know one thing for sure — I’m terrified to go to a lash bar ever again!
• Lines, lines, and more lines. Michelle and I were in for a rude awakening rocking up to Las Vegas on Memorial Day Weekend expecting to be treated like rockstars — ha! Turns out we aren’t twenty-one anymore, and doormen aren’t falling over themselves to let us walk past the line and into the clubs for free. That serving of humble pie went down a little harshly at times, and we may have overdone it a bit in lieu of a pity party. Oh well! By the time I get to Vegas next it’s likely I’ll be a thirty-something — and that time I’ll be prepared to approach it in a fresh and positive way.
• Sick as a dog. I left Las Vegas with the worst flu I can remember, and arrived in Los Angeles nearly catatonic. The maximum dosage of Ibuprofen was the only thing that would give me a few hours of relief between spells of aching convulsions, fever, and exhaustion while I let the flu work its way through me. While there’s never a perfect time to be sick, it was the least disastrous couple days of the month to feel under the weather — I think my body picked the time it knew someone would take care of me!
Sorry Brit, but a manatee grabbing your boob was my fave LOLs of the month!
Best and Worst Beds of the Month
Best: I absolutely adored everything about The Avalon. This was my summer for scoring with small, affordable design hotels!
Worst: Well, that’s easy. Our camper!
Best and Worst Meals of the Month
Best: Both my favorite culinary destinations this month were in Florida — Cocoa Beach and St. Pete. In Cocoa Beach I was blown away by the healthy food scene — so many great options for vegetarians and vegans too — and in St. Pete I loved revisiting my favorites from my first trip and adding to the list with Urban Comfort and Hawkers. So good!
Worst: I can’t even remember the details in order to name and shame, but my Aunt Linda and I had a pretty unfortunate dinner at a hip burger place in St. Pete. The food was just mediocre and the music was so loud we couldn’t even hear each other while screaming over the table. This is one of my biggest restaurant pet peeves — I love good music while I eat, but you’ve got to be able to hear the other people at your table. Not the catch up dinner we were hoping for!
Diving Road Trip!
Along with Month 74, these were my two highest grossing months of all time! I hit a major dollar amount goal for the first time ever and it felt good. Blogging and running your own business is full of so many moments of insecurity and feeling like you’ll never get where you’re going, I think it’s so important to stop and celebrate these victories.
Plus, the work was fun. I spent almost full half the month on assignment — first my fun campaign with The Space Coast, followed by my road trip with PADI — and also submitted by first ever paid magazine byline, an article in Sport Diver Magazine. Rounding out those special projects were my usual income streams of display ads and affiliates. Onward and upward!
And lucky I made all that dough cause this was also quite possibly my most expensive month ever, too! I took advantage of being in the surf capital of the East Coast to buy some nice neoprene along the Space Coast, a small fortune renting cars and trucks for over two weeks, splashed out on a completely indulgent and frivolous trip to Vegas, and made a ton of last minute purchases — a drone, ahem — before heading back to Thailand.
Health and Fitness
This month certainly wasn’t my finest for health and fitness, but I did make several concerted efforts that kept it from being a total flop. I had a very active trip to the Space Coast, and hit as many ClassPass classes as I could muster in my “off-time” in St. Pete and Tampa. I then tell off the wagon again for our road trip and my time in Vegas, where the only exercise I got was trying to remember how to walk in high heels, and got back on in it Los Angeles where I flipped for all my favorite ClassPass fitness options on offer. Still, I think my absolute favorite gym of the month was CAMP in Tampa. I’d essentially move in there if I was a Florida resident.
As far as healthy eating goes, I probably had more fast food in this one month than in the rest of the summer combined. Whoops! Let’s just say I was getting my fill in before returning to an island with none of it, shall we?
What Was Next
One final week in California before returning to Thailand…
Thanks for coming along for the ride! And exciting news: now that my summer blogging is over, I’m jumping back to the black hole in my archives. Stay tuned!
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.