Two whole months stateside! It sounds like a nice break, but in reality I was as on the go as ever trying to make the most of my time at “home” — and this is just a fraction of the full four and a half months I was in the US. A lot of what went on during these months didn’t make it onto the blog, so this roundup is even more behind-the-scenes than usual.
Many of you noticed my last roundup was fairly emotional, with several stressful events punctuating the usual bouts of bliss. These two months were a continuation of that theme. While I was thrilled to be back in the arms of my nearest and dearest and soaking up every second with my favorite people, I was plagued by stress over work and money, and heartbroken by the loss of a dear family friend.
Where I’ve Been
The short answer:
• 42 days in New York
• 14 days in California
• 4 days in Nevada
• 2 days in Pennsylvania
The long answer:
• 3 days in Anaheim / California
• 4 days in Marina del Rey / California
• 3 days in Palm Springs / California
• 4 days in Palo Alto / California
• 7 days in Albany / New York
• 8 days in New York / New York
• 2 days in Philadelphia / Pennsylvania
• 3 days in Albany / New York
• 4 days in Las Vegas / Nevada
• 8 days in Albany / New York
• 7 days in New York City / New York
• 9 days in Albany / New York
• Falling in love with Disney! I was not expecting to enjoy my weekend in Anaheim nearly as much as I did — favorite moments included sipping cocktails at Trader Sams, tearing up at World of Color, and geeking out on the Little Mermaid and Alice in Wonderland rides.
• Toasting to Amy and Jordan tying the knot in Palm Springs — with a shot of whiskey at the ceremony. Almost even better? The pool party at The Ace the next day. I largely planned this entire period around being able to attend this wedding and it was so worth it.
• California quality time. After months on the move, I was craving my people. Spending the wedding weekend with my Brooklyn girls Liz and Zoe was overwhelmingly perfect, hanging with my Cali hosts Lindsay and Abby was blissful, and meeting up with friends old and new in the Bay Area was seriously fun.
• Finally getting San Fran’s food snobbery. Abby and I’s culinary tour of the Ferry Building was delicious and enlightening — and brought me into San Francisco for the first time since I was a tween (yup, I said tween).
• Landing in Albany for the first time in six months. You guys know I’ve got some serious hometown pride! I always slip right back in to life here, sneaking out to meet one friend downtown for lunch during the workday, catching yoga with another in the evening. I also love to return and see all the new businesses and buzz cropping up since the last time I was here. Happy days.
• Speaking at Beneath the Sea. Okay, I don’t know if the actual speaking was a highlight, seeing as I was almost physically ill with nerves. But being asked was an honor, and I always love plugging into the dive world for a weekend to see what’s going on in the industry.
• Being back in Brooklyn. It’s almost too easy to see myself restarting my life here. I just fall into the perfect balance, working and working out during the day, and heading out every evening for a revolving routine of drink and dinner dates. There are just so many people I love in this city.
• The funeral of a dear friend. It may seem strange to list a funeral as a highlight, but I can’t emphasize enough how cathartic an beautiful this service was, and how grateful I was to be there to say goodbye.
• Picking up my pup in Philadelphia. Tucker just brings so much joy into my life, and I was so beyond happy to have him as my sidekick for a few months again. Bonus! Brooklyn bestie Zoe popped over to the City of Brotherly Love with me so we could have a mini-reunion with one of our Inca Trail-hiking cohorts who is based there.
• Reconnecting in Hudson. When driving from Philadelphia to Albany I stopped in Hudson, where a family I used to babysit for in Brooklyn has recently relocated. Though I don’t get to see them often they are very dear to me and I’m so excited to make this a regular stopover on my East Coast travels.
• Girl time in the desert. The theme of the month was face time with family and friends, and I got it in spades in Las Vegas with childhood besties Kristin and Liz. While Kristin has remained one of my closest friends over the years, Liz and I hadn’t seen each other in ages, and I loved having her back in my life. And, bonus! My friend Abby happened to overlap weekends as got to meet up as well.
• Two fun Vegas firsts: my first Cirque de Soleil show and my first Vegas pool parties. I loved them both! Vegas is always a great mix of old favorites, (dinner at STK, drinks at Chandelier Bar, dancing at Tryst!) and trying out new things. This trip was the best of both worlds.
• Doing Easter crafts! I can’t tell you how much fun I had going all out for a holiday again. I baked, I bedazzled, I dressed up Tucker, and I dropped off cupcake surprises for friends around town. It got me very excited about committing to being stateside for Thanksgiving and Christmas again this year.
• Attending New York Travel Festival. I’m not going to make it to TBEX this year, so it was really nice to have the opportunity to connect with industry comrades close to home. It was also just a great excuse to head to NYC for a week and once again binge on hanging out with all my favorite people. I stayed with an old high school friend in Manhattan to give my girls in Brooklyn a break, and we had such a great time regaling his poor girlfriend with stories of the good old days.
• Cinco de Mayo! Albany has all of two Mexican restaurants, but I managed to squeeze a reservation out of one of them with pretty late notice upon my return to Upstate. I had such a good time giggling over margaritas and faux-mustaches — have I mentioned I really like my friends?
Lessons & Lowlights
• I have never been so behind in work as I was upon landing in California. I woke up every morning ready to burst into tears because I didn’t know how to dig myself out of the hole I was in. Though it was my first time ever in LA I barricaded myself in my friends’ Marina del Rey apartment and didn’t emerge until it was time to head to Palm Springs. My only consolation was knowing I’ll be back.
• My computer charger decided to flatline upon arrival in Palm Springs, which sent me into a complete panic as I didn’t know at the time whether the issue was with my charger or my laptop and I was hours from an Apple store. So while my friends lounged poolside I spent a frantic afternoon driving around the desert looking for a solution. And then I found out my AppleCare, which would have covered the cost of a new one, expired literally five days before. Not cool, computer charger. Not cool.
• I learned a very valuable lesson about gossip this month. I gossiped about someone who I actually quite like behind their back, which is a hard thing to confess and even harder thing to explain. I guess I thought it was harmless? But it got back to them in a really ugly way, and I was wracked with guilt and anxiety for the better part of a week. Waking up every morning sick to my stomach really radically influenced the way I think about idle gossip and the effect it has on not just the subjects but the people doing it.
• Arriving back to the East Coast in March was unavoidable but not ideal. The weather really weighed on me and reminded me I need to make a more concerted effort to avoid spending these months at home in the future.
• Guys. TAXES. I am not exaggerating when I say I sat on my bed and cried when my accountant gave me my initial tax estimate. This is the first year I made a net annual profit on Alex in Wanderland and wow, I was not prepared to hand such a large chunk of my bottom line over the US government! Nor was I prepared for the amount of paperwork required. It was a huge learning curve and now that I know what to expect and how to properly file, I hope that this will go much more smoothly in the future — and I’ve started putting aside money each month to avoid the sticker shock come tax time.
• I relearn this lesson on a pretty frequent basis and it never seems to stick: I need to clearly discuss expectations before traveling with others. When we booked a getaway to Vegas, I was expecting one of our typical debaucherous trips, but it turned out my travel buddy was looking for a slightly more laid-back agenda. We had a great time, but some awkwardness on the ground could have been avoided by a quick conversation before departure.
• I spent a lot of time in transit during this period, and I learned a valuable lesson: I am willing to pay to make that time productive. When traveling back and forth between Albany and New York, which I do very frequently, it is worth it for me to splurge on a train over a bus so I can work without motion sickness. And when I’m flying an airline with wifi, I’m going to pay for it. I don’t even feel guilty about it anymore.
• Working from home has so many quirks, and one of my favorites (read: least favorites) is loved ones being irritating by you… working. What is actually office hours for me looks like messing around on a laptop to others, and it can raise tension when family members or significant others feel neglected. I’m lucky that my mom works from home as well so she totally gets it, but I’ve learned that when other family members are around and it’s a workday for me, I need to head to the library or another neutral space so they understand the boundaries of my workday and don’t feel offended that I’m looking at a screen instead of at them.
• The great tragedy of the month made all others feel miniscule: losing someone who was like an uncle to me. I still can’t quite believe Steve is gone, that he now lives in our memories and not in our futures. Rest in peace.
• In Palm Springs:
Zoe: [Something profound.]
Liz: That literally just gave me chills. [Pause.] Or actually there might have just been a little breeze.
• In Las Vegas:
Liz, explaining why she needed to stop back at her apartment: Kristin… [Big sigh, very somber.] I have cats.
Me: Is it terminal?
I spent $4,180 in Months 34 and 35, which breaks down to about $2,090 per month. This was a serious increase over the many months that preceded it — welcome back to the USA!
Remember that these numbers reflect two months instead of the usual one these roundups tend to cover. As always, my biggest expense was food, clocking in at $952, or $476 per month. This was actually an improvement over my usual average, likely due to how much time I was spending at home and eating groceries (often provided by my super generous mom). Next up was flights at $710, or $355 per month. That’s not bad when you consider it includes a one-way flight from New Orleans to LA, a one-way flight from LA to San Jose, a one-flight from San Francisco to Albany, and a roundtrip flight from Albany to Las Vegas. I managed to keep the figure low by booking the first flight with American Airlines points, and using Purchase Eraser on my Capital One Venture Card to take care of the second.
Next up was miscellaneous weighing in at $694, or $347 per month. That high figure reflects the fact that I bought a new point and shoot camera and that I do a lot of restocking on essentials once I hit the states. Entertainment weighed in at $632, or $316 per month. More than half of that is my share of the petty cash for our trip to Vegas, which included food, booze, taxis and tips — essentially everything other than our flights and hotel. Not bad for Las Vegas! The rest is made up of my Beneath the Sea pass and nights out. Accommodation totaled $440, or $220 per month, made up equally of my shares of hotels in Las Vegas and Palm Springs. Otherwise I was crashing with friends and family. Transport topped $380, or $190 a month, made up of a mix of gas, cabs, Metrocards, Amtrak tickets, and my share of the rental car to Palm Springs.
I added two new categories into my monthly budgets as they were distorting the other categories. Those are spa and fitness at $182, or $91 a month, including the first real haircut I had in two years as well as some gym and yoga passes, and business expenses at $190, or $80 a month, which includes my charitable donations, web hosting, and Rafflecopter subscription.
Month 34 was so slow for advertising that it terrified me, Month 35 was only incrementally better. Thankfully I had a large amount of freelance work both months that kept me afloat — in fact, I managed to net small profits both months, though they were very minor.
I spent a lot of time these months trying to figure out how to diversify my income as my primary source of it — SEO-based link sales — started tanking due to Google algorithm updates. Ultimately I spent a lot of time researching and attempting to implement plans that ultimately failed. It was a scary time where I truly questioned what the future held for me and my business.
Health and Fitness
As soon as I touched down on the East Coast I started focusing heavily on getting back in shape after losing my way in Latin America. I couldn’t button up a single pair of jeans in my closet in Albany, which was a teary wake up call. I splurged on a gym pass for one of the weeks I was in Albany but otherwise went running and did workout DVDs, and when I was in NYC I took heavy advantage of the gyms in my friends’ buildings. I discovered that my health insurance covers six annual visits with a nutritionist, and I started seeing one to talk about how I could start shifting some of my eating habits to something a bit healthier. I was on a mission.
I started seeing progress right away, but when I left for Las Vegas I still wasn’t back in those jeans. At this point I was sick of thinking about my body, and I implemented a simple rule: no self-loathing in Las Vegas. Forcing myself not to voice negative thoughts about my appearance for a while was freeing, and I decided to continue the policy.
Two more months of backyard backpacking — traveling around my home country!
It’s been my pleasure having you along while I’m home!
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.