Confused on where we are? I’m taking this moment while my travels are grounded to catch up on my black hole of un-blogged content. Here, I’m picking up on my trip to Bali in March 2017. My apologies for any confusion with the timeline, and thanks for sticking with me.
Though it would have been almost impossible to admit at the time, I can now look back and confess simply that I kicked off 2017 in a bit of a slump. I had gotten bogged down in the sadness of the election, of worrying about my family and internalizing their problems, of taking friend drama deeply personally, and of feeling like, well, I was stuck on an island that maybe, after eight years, I had started to grow out of.
So when February rolled around, I was ready for a reboot. I attended an incredible, Burning Man-esque festival in Thailand with a big group of friends, I spent a few days falling for Penang with my boyfriend, and then I set off for Bali, just me, just what I needed.
I’d had a rush of reasons to go there, suddenly. And it just so happens that Bali is one of those places that you’re always kind of looking for an excuse to go back to. Thus, a beautiful two week trip (which later turned into a two and a half week trip, when I couldn’t stand to leave), emerged.
I kicked off the trip with five nights at The Chillhouse in Canggu, a surf and yoga retreat I’d long ached to visit. I was right around the corner from Heather, my longtime friend and partner in crime, travel, and photography adventures, and I spent the week taking a little peek at her life there, and indulging in all that Chillhouse had to offer.
I then headed down the road to the Institute of Code villa, where I’d spend the next ten days learning to code a website, exploring some of Bali’s best homework distractions, and bonding with the bootcamp’s first-ever all-girl graduating class.
And finally, when my flight date approached and I was filled with dread at the idea of getting back on a plane, I payed a ridiculous amount to change my flight for just three short more days on Bali.
It went against every logical and frugal nerve in my body to do so, especially for the short amount of time I had available. But I was so high on Bali I was happy to do it.
And later, I’d look back on it as one of my best decisions of the year, because that spontaneous moment led me to a last-minute trip to Uluwatu with a handful of the ladies I’d spent the previous two weeks with, one of my dreamiest girlfriend getaways ever.
“You did come back with a bit of a glow about you,” one of my friends later said, when we were discussing how I’d gone through a rough time that seemed to have been healed greatly by my own mini Eat, Pray, Love — or rather, Drink, Code, Laugh, in my case.
If you’re kind of rolling your eyes, at this point, I know. I know. I lived, at the time, on a beautiful tropical island. What, exactly, was so enlightening about a brief trip to another beautiful tropical island?
I guess the answer is, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a universal truth that a change of scenery can help you shake up the snowglobe of your life, and see things in a different light. I had reached a point where I was feeling stale and I didn’t know how to shake that off. I was out of sorts with the island I lived on, and the people in my orbit. I was off balance. This trip hit my reset button.
Bali reminded me that I still could be carefree and fun and silly, and there were still a million adventures ahead of me, and an endless amount of paths my life could take. I had been feeling strangely trapped in Koh Tao, like I had built a life there and I finally had everything I ever wanted — but what if what I wanted had changed? Indonesia reminded me that it would be hard and it would be heart-wrenching, but there were other places that I could build a life, perhaps one that was perfect for my late twenties self in the same way Thailand had been perfect for my late teens self.
(Omg, you guys. Can you believe I was nineteen years old when I first fell in love with Koh Tao?)
Bali reminded me that you don’t have to always sacrifice urban energy for blissful beach scenes. For a long time after I left New York I felt like I’d found my absolute perfect paradise in Koh Tao, and I had — all I wanted to do was be swimming in the ocean or hiking in the jungle, and I loved that barefoot was an appropriate dress code for literally every single place on the island.
As years ticked on, I did start to feel a slow-growing longing for all those creative sparks that emerge when thousands or millions of people live side-by-side. I started to crave a buzzing restaurant scene with new places opening every month, nightlife where I didn’t know every person working behind the bar, artist workshops where I could take classes, movie theaters I didn’t have to take a ferry to get to, co-working spaces and sustainability conferences and exciting concerts and all that other magic that somehow manages to exist on Bali… right alongside an ocean to swim in and a jungle to hike through.
And oh, the travel! I swooned thinking how easy it would be to access international Denpasar Airport as opposed to my current slog to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi, and how many new and hidden corners of Bali I could explore without even getting on a plane. As much as I still have lingering on my Thailand bucket list, well, I’ve ticked off a lot.
Mostly, I loved how Bali made me feel. Maybe it was all the years I’d spent there, maybe it was just my group of friends starting to naturally settle down, but Koh Tao had started to make me feel old. Bali made me feel young. Bali reminded me I could still dance until the sun came up, I could still make lifelong friends gossiping on a pool float (heeeey Katie), I could still hop on some random guy’s motorcycle at closing time and ride to the next bar, I could still go back to a classroom and learn new things that challenged my sense of what I’m good at.
I was actually mad about how much I loved Bali, because it gave me so much clarity on what I needed to do next. And that, I knew, was going to be hard.
Hard means something different now, than it did then.
It’s quite bittersweet to write about Bali this way, now, right when I was meant to be wrapping up a very significant trip there. I was booked to spend all of October in Indonesia, running a retreat with my wonderful new friend Becky on Bali, going diving in remote Indonesian islands for a dream campaign I literally feel like I worked my whole life to be invited on, and returning to Canggu to live a trial run, of sorts; to figure out if Bali was the place I next wanted to call home.
My first two trips to Bali were just vacations — a quick week in between my base of Gili Trawangan and trips home to New York. This recent one, my third, was when I finally started to discover “my” Bali, the one that set me on fire. My fourth trip, perhaps, was meant to point my compass in an entirely new direction.
It turns out life had other plans for me, and I write this from my childhood home, where, as many of you know, I’m caring for my mother since her sudden diagnosis of brain cancer. Turns out I did, in fact, finally leave Koh Tao, though it wasn’t on the timeline or in the way I had expected.
And it turns out Bali wasn’t meant to be. I hated breaking my commitments, I hated cutting loose projects I’d worked so hard for, I hated how it made my mom, who was still very cognizant back when I made that choice, feel wracked with guilt, as much as I tried to play it off as no big deal. Backing out of my Indonesia trip broke my heart, even though I knew with every cell of my heart that it was the right thing to do. This is exactly where I belong, and I’m privileged to be able to be here, lucky to look back on so many wonderful years, grateful to have so few amends to make.
I tell myself Bali will always be there, though life suddenly feels so terrifyingly fleeting, so precarious, part of me wonders if by the time I’m looking for my next chapter, the moment will have passed. And another part of me responds with that old motivational poster quote that life is what happens when you’re making plans. I suppose I do a lot of talking to myself now, rambling around in this big old house.
But it’s true — there’s no sense trying to imagine what my life will look like when I do leave this house, heartbroken and for good, because I don’t even know who I’m going to be. Maybe that girl who felt so alive in Bali will be gone, shed off to make room for all these roles you need to take on when you’re twenty-eight and stopped cold in your tracks by the news that your mother is dying. Maybe that girl will still be in there, just pushed aside somewhere for a while.
Maybe I’ll find someone new entirely.
All I allow myself to hope for, in this new reality where I’ve learned to hope for so little, and instead simply accept each day as it comes, is that there will always be places and trips and adventures that make me feel the way this one did.
Awww reading this brought back sooo many good memories!! I’m so glad I got to meet you and that our paths crossed. Hoping they will again soon. Love you and thinking about you and your momma all the time!! Xoxo
Love you chica, and miss you too <3
Wow. This post actually has me speechless. I’m nearly in tears! I wish I could give you a huge hug. Your Bali is my Alaska. Perhaps one day Alaska will become my Koh Tao. We just never know, but it’ll all become clear at some point. Hang in there, Alex.
Thank you, Riley <3 I'd love to make it to Alaska someday. I know from the weather that it wouldn't be a long-term destination, but I WILL visit 😉
I hope you do! It’s an incredible place. Let me know when it fits into your plans and I’ll show you around!
Is it too much of a downer to say that this post makes my heart break for you? Like, I don’t even know you and I think if I saw you in person while reading this I’d still awkwardly try to hug you.
I’m proud of you, though–another strange thing to feel for a stranger, but there it is. I’m proud of you and I’m curious to (eventually, as far in the future as scientifically possible) see what you find on the other side of that dark, horrifying, awful mess of an impending abyss.
I do think you’ll find adventures that make you feel young again. One day. <3
You can awkwardly hug me anytime <3 I appreciate so much the warmth and kindness in this comment.
Reading this made me reminisce on all of the things I love about Bali that make me happy, and make my heart break for you at the same time. Every time I go to Bali it’s like I’m home. I’m totally with you on the dancing all night and jumping on random motorbikes to jet around! There’s something about it that injects you with a new lease on life, and a positive outlook to make you feel younger than you were when you got there.
I’ve been following you for a few years and to hear about your mum makes me want to reach out and hug you. I don’t know how you’ll be, or who you’ll become after, but I hope you’ll be ok. Take care and cherish every little second you have, they are the moments that will help heal you when you need it.
Thank you Kylie. It makes me happy to hear this post had you reminiscing. I love that there’s a place out there that means so much to so many people.
Having lost my Mum at the age of 29 while living abroad and trying to juggle visits back home as often as possible in the last few months, I want to tell you that you can, and will, still have many beautiful adventures on this earth. I would say I’m ever so slightly more picky of my travel companions and ensuring the type of holiday is enriching but in the year since my mum passed away I explored Sri Lanka with the most special old school friends and last month did a surf camp in Bali with my brother – canggu, Lombok, lembongan. Bali was as you left it in this blog post ????
My heart goes out to you Tessa. I know from the months I was still back and forth, they were riddled with anxiety. I’ve now traded that for something a bit quieter, sadness I suppose, but I absolutely cherish this time and am so grateful that I had a lifestyle where I was able, in some ways, to step back from it. Your recent trips sound nourishing and lovely… Sri Lanka has quite a nice ring to it <3
Alex, where you are now is where you are meant to be. Take care.
I feel that in every bone in my body, and hope I didn’t convey otherwise in the slightest by acknowledging this specific sadness as well. I feel very at peace with my move back to Albany <3
I just read this with tears rolling down my cheeks. I have so much pride and admiration for you Alex for the way you are handling life and it’s often unfair and unforeseen twists and turns. You have so much strength and character and are a beacon of positivity and honesty for so many of your readers, and I’m sure your friends and family also. I love the passion and heart you put into each and every post, and from that the community you have built with this blog.
I can’t even begin to imagine what the next phase in your life will feel like, but I only hope that you find your strength and direction once again on the other side of it. Sending lots of love xx
Caitlyn, thank you so much. Your kind words were just what I needed to read this morning.
Hey you are a wonderful daughter this of course the right thing to do. I visited Bali in February and the whole time it reminded me of you and the amazing travel career you have made in terms of the vibe. The vibe can be taken with you, where ever you need to be, so you don’t need to attach it to location, I would say. I’ve was living in Koh Samui for 3 years and away for two years (and just got back). Although living away it’s not the same and can come back harder with a stronger plan that only being away from a place can give. Just my opinion and sending good energy from koh samui 🙂
I love that attitude and I am trying to embrace it here… my “me time” is fitness and I have searched high and low, trying out all the local studios that have opened in the last ten years to find somewhere I’m excited to practice and learn new things, and doing my best to enjoy this hometown I’ve always loved visiting. I think my first winter since 2014 will test me, but I’ve been trying to take that Southeast Asia vibe right back home with me 🙂
Sometimes you stumble across a piece of writing, and it feels like it was written just for you. That’s how I feel about this post. It’s heartfelt and beautiful. Your words are like a slingshot – first I’m in the past, back to places I’ve been that have made me feel the way you describe (Glasgow, Madrid, Ko Phangan); then I’m in the present (Seattle) where I ache for the next trip; and finally to the future, where I also worry “if by the time I’m looking for my next chapter, the moment will have passed.”
This statement is one of my favorites: “a change of scenery can help you shake up the snowglobe of your life, and see things in a different light.” My snowglobe needs a serious shaking up. Like, an earthquake, avalanche, and tsunami…a quakelanchnami??
Thank you for writing this <3
P.S. I met you very briefly at TravelCon in Austin, Texas. There wasn't the opportunity to talk more, but I love reading about your undertakings. They inspire me to pursue my own exploits.
Don’t be afraid to break the snowglobe and make a new one, if need be… I’ve done it a few times 🙂 And thank you so much — for reading, for this comment, and for saying hi at TravelCon <3
Beautiful and raw Alex.
For me, your best piece of writing I’ve read…
You’re too kind, Janice <3
I’ve followed your blog for the last few years and I can really feel your passion, emotion and struggle in this post. I’m so sorry about your mom – coming home was the right thing to do, and you have many more years to find your Bali-self again. This is just a detour on your journey of life and one that for now should be spent with family, one that will challenge your perspectives moving forward. You’ll find your way back Alex – chin up 🙂
It absolutely was the right thing — I didn’t even consider any other option. Though that didn’t make it easy; none of this is easy 🙁
That was very beautiful, great read, and so true from your heart. I am so thankful for you. Love, Aunt K
I’m thankful for YOU. I’m going to call you this weekend <3
I am in tears.
Alex, sometimes life just takes a turn in a different direction and it still ends up being a great memory. I know how difficult these days are for you but, even these trying times will some day, be wonderful memories with your mom. Some day, your dinners, facials, movie dates, cuddle times, etc will bring a smile to your face instead of tears. You are a wonderful daughter to have put your life on hold to care for your mom and there are many more adventures in your future when the time is right. Love you????
Love you Laura and can’t imagine doing this without you. One of my other best friends’ moms told me that she too moved home when her mother was very sick, and she looks back on those months as some of the best, if bittersweet, of her life. I try every day to create that for us…
Not going to lie, this post left me with big fat tears rolling down my cheeks. The juxtaposition of the gorgeous, joyful, bright photos of you enjoying your time in Bali, with the reality and heaviness that you’re living through now. Thank you for sharing these powerful words and emotions.
Thank you Steph. It’s so hard to share the emotions of this particular situation; it’s so personal, so layered and so overwhelming — I constantly fear that I’ll be misinterpreted. But, I continue to find writing, at least about small little aspects of my experience, cathartic.
This post clearly resonated with so many people– I think Caitlyn nailed it with “you’re a beacon of positivity and honesty for so many of your readers.” You really are, and I hope that makes it easier to press “publish” on posts like this one! Always in admiration of your ability to put into writing things that I can only imagine I would have a hard time even collecting into cogent thoughts.
Thanks Dylan. It is hard. Sometimes I fear that when I’m writing about some tiny aspect of my emotions, people might misinterpret it as my view of the big picture. Like here, my sadness over saying goodbye to my Bali plans obviously pales in comparison over my sadness to losing my mother. But, one is relatively easy to write about. The other, I haven’t really found the words.
Wow! Your writing is phenomenal, you are right where you’re supposed to be. I know someone already posted that but it’s what I was thinking! Surrounding you and your mom with love and prayers ❤️
Thank you Ramona <3 There's nowhere else I'd consider being right now.
Aww this was a hard read. You brought tears to my eyes. I have experienced too much sickness around me the last few years. It’s hard to remember not to take life for granted.
I definitely feel like I understand what that truly means now more than I ever have before…
This post is so, so beautifully written, Alex! It tugs at my heartstrings and resonates with me on so many levels. Also, my heart has been aching for you with all that’s happening with your mom. Sending massive love and positivity your way! xo
Thank you Ashley, I feel it and it means a lot.
You’ve been on mind lately. Isn’t that strange and wonderful–you seem like a friend to me but we’ve never met and have ever had only one interaction on your blog.
I’ve been thinking about you because you are so incredibly honest. Like you, I was also deeply troubled by the election results of 2016. We were on a Greek island at the time, off-season, and the people were reeling from economic devastation. Yet, they offered us warmth, comfort, a pat on the shoulder, a shot of ouzo, an invitation to play alley ball (Greeks love basketball!). I felt very troubled about the direction of our country, and yet their display of humanity also made me remember that humans have a way of sharing their hearts in the worst of times.
That’s what your blog entries have been lately–being honest about fears and yet open to hope. I love the travel photos and anecdotes, but your recent serious and sometimes sad posts have made me feel closer to humanity.
I am so sorry to hear about your mom. I loved reading about her and felt I kind of knew her through your words. I am so sorry for the pain she is going through, and yet I’m relieved to know you are together.
You questioned if you would ever be the same girl again, and I think you will not be. You have been well on your way to being a wise woman for a few years now (in terms of what you share on your blogs–you’ve probably always been on your way to being a wise woman, but your posts have been more serious the last couple of years), and if I had to guess, the only thing that will change is that this part of your personality will take center stage for a few years. I hope you will consider sharing with us your time in Albany, even as it pains you, because that does seem to be your gift. You help us understand how to manage and use pain to ensure that we can reconnoiter whenever necessary. Living right is not the same as living as planned. I still have my mom, and reading true words like yours remind me to not cut a visit short with her. Thanksgiving is coming, and I am thankful to have her.
I hope it’s okay to shift gears a moment to tell you another reason I was thinking about you. I only found your blog because I got interested in JUCY vans after seeing them around our western states national parks over the last several years. (Your blog post came up in a random internet search.)
In September, we wound up renting a Campervan (similar to JUCY) and traveling for 18 days through UT, CO, and AZ. It was a life-changing trip for us. I have traveled the world, and I even lived in Utah in the early 90s as a newlywed. I never thought I’d want to go back there. (Divorced.) My partner really wanted to see it, and I didn’t want to deprive him of the best parks our country has to offer because I had some residual pain. But this trip was the exact thing that I never knew I needed. Your blog inspired me to let go of past hurts, and what a fortune of memories and pivotal moments I have reaped, all for letting go and hitting roads I would thought would be familiar. Good news–hardly anything looked familiar. I had to struggle to find any semblance of any distinct memory. Old places can be renewed when we put on a fresh pair of eyes.
Maybe someday Kao Toh will also be renewed for you.
Wishing you and your mom and Prada a very happy Thanksgiving!
Amy, thank you so much for this sweet and heartfelt comment. I always loved reading and interacting in the comments section here, but now that I’m fairly isolated it really means more than ever.
I do plan to share this time, in some way, though I’m not sure what form that will take. I share snippets on Instagram, when I find myself with a few moments and a craving for connection, and in my monthly newsletter, which is very of-the-moment (I’m working on the next edition right now). Often I regret I’m not journaling more, or taking more time to document my ever-changing emotions. But time has never been more scarce.
I enjoyed reading about your trip out West. It gives me hope for a lot of places I’d like to go with a fresh pair of eyes <3
I know this is weird, but this just made me cry. I guess I’ve been feeling my age lately. I’ve never been through what you’re going through, but life puts all of us on paths we never thought we’d go down in some ways? And now I’m at a point I can look back and say wow, I’m not that person anymore, all because of time. It makes me feel so raw because it’s so real. I’m just rambling. Anyway, my mom doesn’t have cancer, but she is a terrible alcoholic who will not live long. I’ve had to cut so many ties with her. It’s not really age that makes us grown, but this I think–transitioning to your parents keeper. It’s incredibly difficult. I truly, truly wish your family the best and thank you for sharing. You make people feel less alone.
Kate, I know we already discussed this on Instagram, but I have to just say again that my heart goes out to you, and I’m grateful for your heart going out to me. I’m so appreciative for these moments of connection in what is a very lonely and isolating experience, so thank you.
“Hard means something different now, than it did then.” Alex, this is relatable for so many people, in many different circumstances. In these raw and confessional posts your talent really shines through.
I’m sure all your readers wish you didn’t have to be writing this. But the grace and strength you show when you write about your new reality is so admirable. Your words in these difficult posts (both here and on Instagram) give comfort to others battling similar situations. You might just be doing your most important writing yet.
Thank you Maria, you are too kind. Sometimes I wish I had more time right now to be journaling and kind of recording this experience but it’s a hallmark of it that, well, I have less control over how I spend my hours than I ever have before. So what I do find the time to share, means a lot to me.
I’ve been following you/your writing for an embarrassingly long time now (I’m thinking around 2008/2009, maybe before that?).
First, thanks for continuing to find words for a situation in which there aren’t really any words to say. Writing with grace shows your maturity on different levels; I’ve always thought you’ve been good about this — taking pros and cons and finding the balance to express to your reader.
Second, there’s always a sense of wander LUST to your writing – no matter where you are at. So, like you said, even when you felt at home in KT, you were lusting after other places to feel that expansion and excitement for exploration of self. I’ll challenge you to say that you are still experiencing it, even though you seem (at least through your words) to feel somewhat self-conscious that you are reporting from your childhood home and that your life isn’t all that exciting (relatively speaking, I mean, Bali girl). 😉
Through this period of darkness and small smiles, you have a wonderful opportunity to dig into your feelings on loss (personal, but also professional opportunities, right?), family needs, staying in place literally but not figuratively, and the quiet storm of working through another’s care.
I still believe you are capable of wonderful things, and wonderful travel, but I would echo the commenter above – you may be doing your most important writing right now. Let that be a comfort to you. Your audience is still here (or they’ll come back if not), and I for one am very much still engaged in what you have to say. You are working through some really heavy, really important moments that so many people experience. What a gift to be able to put it into words to share your experience with others.
All this to say: just because you aren’t physically/literally traveling and wandering, doesn’t mean you figuratively aren’t. Does that make sense? Hope so. 🙂
Love, light, grace, hugs, all the good things —
I think I must have started blogging in 2009 — so it sounds like you’ve been with me since the very beginning! And this comment, wow. No surprise after a decade but I feel like you really see me. Thank you so much for starting my day with one of those very important small smiles <3
Geez Alex, Bali looks amazing – Thanks for sharing a great article and some amazing Photography!
You’re very welcome — Bali is an especially photogenic place.
I completely relate with the feeling of life just passing you by and going through the motions. In 2017, I also had the realization that although I really liked my job, loved the city I was living in more than any other, and had an amazing friend group, I had allowed myself to become stagnant and my happiness was suffering for it. It’s an incredibly difficult realization to come to terms with, so I feel your pain on how conflicted it made you feel. Even with everything you’re going through right now, your posts continue to shine through with the same passion that first attracted me to your blog, and it doesn’t seem to differ no matter where you’re posting from. I love the way you manage to show positivity and wonderful experiences while still mixing in the reality of your life. Life is messy and we’re constantly reevaluating situations with hindsight. As a fellow daughter whose parent has cancer, your words and feelings in regard to it really resonate with me. Your strength and courage through this dark time in your life are beyond commendable and (maybe selfishly?) continue to give me strength, too. I hope that if Bali is the right place for you, it will feel like coming home, even if that feeling of home is different from the home you feel with your mom. Thinking of you and your family <3
I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through the experience of a parent with cancer Marni. My heart just overflows with empathy for anyone in this situation.
Sounds like a wonderful, soul-nourishing trip. I don’t know what it is about Bali, but it has the power to slowly, subtly get under your skin and heal you from the inside.
With regards to Thailand, a friend went to Wonderfruit recently and now I’m dying to go, it sounds like amazing fun!
Happy New Year Alex 🙂
I’d absolutely love to go again — especially since we went in an early year, I’m sure it’s grown in leaps and bounds!
Bali looks like such an awesome place and is definitly on the list of places I’d love to travel to.
Love the photo of the baby monkey, hopefully mom wasn’t too close by.
Ha, I am definitely scared of the Bali monkeys so I hope not too!
I’m from Indonesia, thanks for visiting my country
Good story and I love reading it.
Thanks for having me 🙂