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: Month 1, Month 2, Months 3 and 4, Month 5, Month 6, Month 7, Months 8 and 9, Month 10, Month 11, Month 12, Month 13, Months 14 and 15, and Month 16.
This is without question the lightest-on-travel travel roundup I’ve ever done. Yet somehow these two months flew by in a flurry of holidays, mini-trips, drama, and preparations for the major five month Southeast Asia trip that I’m on now. When I returned home from Hawaii I was so geared up to leave again that I couldn’t imagine how I would last two months spent largely at home. Now I can’t imagine having not — I had so much work to do, there was so much wonderful quality time with family and friends, and I had a little medical scare that would have been much scarier had I been traveling.
Where I’ve Been
• Five days in Las Vegas, Nevada
• Eight days in Tampa, Florida
• The rest in Albany and New York City!
Halloween in New York
• I returned back to New York the day of my friends’ Halloween party, and conspired with the host to surprise everyone. It was so fun to know I was running around Brooklyn miles away from all my besties who thought I was back in Hawaii! The surprise worked for the most part, except for on my friend Liz, who was all, “Oh, hey Alex.” I could not stop laughing when another one of my best friends explained, “Don’t mind her, she can’t keep track of when you’re in New York or not and never knows where you are. She probably thought she missed your last email and was trying to play it cool.” While I was sad to leave Hawaii I was SO happy to celebrate Halloween in both New York City and then in Albany with my childhood best friend Kristin — whose birthday is Halloween!
• Speaking of birthdays, this was one of my best ever! I had a three city birthday tour (Albany, New York, Las Vegas!) and each one was filled with a lot of love. I’m such a lucky girl.
• And speaking of November 6th, (my birthday!) a major election went very much my way. I was elated.
• Most of my travel involved hauling a backpack on long bus rides, navigating unfamiliar cultures, and sleeping in rooms for which Bed Bug Be Gone spray was invented. My trip to Vegas was the opposite of that — my sister and cousin and I were living it up. Thanks to a free stay at a beautiful Cosmopolitan suite that I won at a conference, some amazing work assignments, and friends in the right places, we felt like we owned Vegas. We went indoor skydiving, we had a private cocktail tasting followed by dinner at STK, we walked past massive lines into the hottest clubs in the city, we rode in a helicopter over the strip at night! It was an amazing weekend and I was grateful to spend time with my sis and my cousin Kirsten, who I hadn’t seen in over a year and a half.
Living the good life in Vegas
• I laid eyes on The Grand Canyon for the first time! I admit that now that I’m a more active traveler, this day tour felt like more of a tease than anything, but I know I’ll be back again soon.
• Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday at home — I loved baking new recipes, dressing our dog up as a turkey, and taking time to reflect on all the things in this life I have to be grateful for.
• I spent three long weekends in New York City (is five days considered a long weekend?) in this period and while it’s never really enough, I just absolutely cherish my time spent in my favorite city in the world. My friends take me in so generously and make me feel like the bonus roommate, and so I’m able to really effortlessly pop into my old life here. These last visits were particularly fun, the first one being for Halloween, the second my birthday, and the third just one final goodbye. We went to a wild party in an abandoned church in Brooklyn, club-hopped from Chinatown to Williamsburg, and Zoe and I even treated ourselves to tickets to Sleep No More. I miss NYC.
• I also love Albany, and had some fun nights out while I was home! I was also finally able to show off my hometown to my Brooklyn friends, who after years of begging took the bus up for a weekend of State Capital touring with yours truly. It was really special to have my two worlds collide.
• I went to Florida! I adore my family down here, my two aunts and my paternal grandma. I feel guilty because life has gotten in the way in the past few years and I feel like I kind of checked out of being a good niece and granddaughter. This visit has inspired me to be more present. I can really work from anywhere, so I need to make more of a point to do what I did this week — just come down and live my normal life here. For the most part I worked all day in my aunt’s kitchen and backyard and then hung out with the family in the evening — bliss! As a bonus, my Dad and my Hawaii friend Paula flew in for a final fun weekend.
Fun in Florida
• In what world would swimming with manatees NOT be a highlight? I’m crazy about animals and underwater photography, so this day out on the water left me with a perma-smile. Then, I stopped to think about the fact that, hey, this is my job and I’m getting paid for it. Then my brain exploded with happiness.
• I ran my first 5k! I challenge anyone to find a cooler fun run anywhere on the planet. The sense of accomplishment, the time spent with my family, the after-party, the color — it was a highlight I won’t forget anytime soon.
• I’ve made no secret that Stand Up Paddling is my new addiction. But combining it with yoga? I was head over heels in love. I’m only sad that this obscure hobby is not the kind of thing I’ll be able to find in most places in the world!
• I have a feeling my next Christmas will be spent abroad, so I really tried to soak up every moment of this one at home. Some highlights of the highlight — throwing my annual Christmas dinner party, laughing our way through Lights in the Park, red and green nachos at Bombers on Christmas Eve Eve, singing Silent Night by candlelight at Church, ice skating in the Empire State Plaza at sunset, having one of my Brooklyn besties, Steffi, to join us for Christmas morning.
Three city birthday tour
• Wow, I would have thought that at some point, preparing for a major trip around the world gets easier. But somehow it doesn’t! There are still last-minute visa procuring disasters (thank you to my sister Olivia for saving my butt when the Thai embassy’s unannounced closing nearly forced me to miss my flight to Florida), a sudden slew of doctors appointments (in the span of a few weeks I saw a dentist, a dermatologist, my general physician, and a few specialists — but I’ll get to that in a moment), gear and packing business to attend to (I had to have my computer and camera repaired and buy new dive gear and miscellaneous travel odds and ends), and at least vague travel planning (I admit I totally slacked on this and am doing it as I go along this time). I remember back before I first left home on The Great Escape, thinking that this travel prep thing was another full-time job. Funny, it still is!
• I had a medical scare this month that really rattled me. When I was in Las Vegas getting ready to go out one night, I felt a lump in my breast. With less than six weeks to go before leaving the country for five months, things moved really fast. I saw my general physician within days of getting home, who sent me straight to a specialist for a mammogram and sonogram, who in turn sent me to get a biopsy. I kept waiting for each person to laugh and tell me to go home but everyone was taking it pretty seriously. The biopsy was incredibly unpleasant but I got the answer I wanted — for the most part. The lump is benign, but it will still have to be surgically removed when I return home this summer, which is hanging over my head a bit. Still, I’m glad to have detected this so early — which the doctors told me was probably due to my recent weight loss. I am a complete wimp when it comes to surgery though and so I’ve had moments of getting down when I think about the fact that this will be the second medically-necessary surgery I’ve had and I’m only twenty-three! (I had a fairly traumatic eye surgery last year after contracting a horrific virus in Malaysia — I really need to write about that sometime). But then I give myself a big ol’ perspective punch in the face and remind myself I am still one of the luckiest people on the planet. Especially thanks to my parents, who are very involved in the medical community in my hometown — when it comes to my health I pretty much just hand the reigns right over to them and know that I will receive the best care possible.
• I can’t go into too much detail as the last thing I want to do is add fuel to the fire, but I’m sad to say that the recent elections caused a major feud in one side of my family. Just when I was filled with happiness over forging a significant relationship with some previously distant family members, a casual comment I made on my personal Facebook page set off a metaphorical bomb. Not only did the whole thing feel a little tacky (fighting on Facebook, really!?), it really hurt my grandmother to see her family in conflict, which adds to my guilt. It also really hurt me and I’ve spent a few nights staring at my ceiling wondering if I did and said the right thing at every turn, and feeling great sadness and confusion over politics coming between family.
Remembering to be thankful
• Spending so much time at home this time of year was pretty challenging for me psychologically. I struggle with anxiety and depression and have found great success recently in managing them naturally. But the gray skies, lack of sunlight and Vitamin D, and cold weather prevented me from super active or spending tons of time outside and that really took a toll on my normal mental-management plan. I did find myself struggling at times. In the future I plan to try to avoid winters at home for a lot of reasons, but my mental health is definitely one of them.
• Holiday tension — everyone has it, right? Ours is kind of unique as I have a very interesting family situation that there doesn’t seem to be a rule book for. There are definitely growing pains going on as we all learn how to adjust to our new family makeup.
• On a larger scale, it seems that this holiday season was just awash in tragedy. A devastating accident in my hometown killed two high school seniors and left their two partners in critical condition, and weeks later the entire country was rocked by a tragedy so horrific it really transcends words. Sometimes, things happen that are so cruel and overwhelmingly unfair that they really make you question the balance of the universe. These were some of those things. I know I wasn’t the only one with a cloud over my head trying to process a world where these things happen.
I don’t really track my budget when home too closely (though I think I’m going to in the future) but I did have a monetary goal I wanted to reach before leaving for Southeast Asia, and I reached it! November was a particularly exciting month for me, as I finally reached the income goal I set for myself way back in June of 2011 when I launched Alex in Wanderland. It was such a happy milestone, it really brought tears to my eyes.
Christmas at home
Well, on one hand, I ran my first 5K and got into a fun routine of running with my friend Michelle. But eventually it got too cold to run outside, my gym membership ran out and I couldn’t renew right before leaving, and then my biopsy kept me couched for five days — not long, but it’s really stressful to have a break in the routine like that. Still, I did my best with what I had — swimming indoors and doing my Jillian Michael’s workout DVDs in my room!
The day after Christmas, my being-home-for-the-holidays-obligations complete, I set off for Southeast Asia! And so the next five months of roundups will be dispatched from Thailand, The Philippines, and Indonesia…
Goodbye New York…
Thanks for sticking around, guys, even when I’m temporarily sidelined! I can’t express how much I loved sharing my journey with you, even the bits with slightly less exotic destinations.