This roundup rounds out my summertime stateside… or what I caught of it, anyway! I’ve typed it before and here I am typing it again — it’s a good thing the East Coast isn’t as beautiful as it is in the summer all year round, or I might never leave. As usual, much of what I’m up to when I’m “home” doesn’t turn into big blog posts, making these US-based roundups the juiciest.
These months were all about hard hits of family bonding and friend debauchery punctuated by two thrill-filled domestic trips. All the loss and uncertainly I’d been experiencing recently made me more appreciate than ever of my loved ones and the time I get to spend with them, so I really did soak up every happy second.
Yet, continuing the theme of my last two roundups, while things often looked cheery on the surface, there was quite a bit going on behind the scenes that I was too preoccupied processing to write about in real time. A minor but frustrating health drama took me by suprise, and continued stress over all the other usual life speedbumps led to a general sense of anxiety that seemed to sit with me throughout the summer.
Where I’ve Been
The short answer:
• 26 days in New York
• 15 days in Massachusetts
• 11 days in Hawaii
• 5 days in Nevada
• 3 days in Pennsylvania
The long answer:
• 4 days in Albany / New York
• 5 days in Las Vegas / Nevada
• 2 days in Lake George / New York
• 11 days in Hawaii / Hawaii
• 6 days in Albany / New York
• 8 days in Martha’s Vineyard / Massachusetts
• 3 days in Philadelphia / Pennsylvania
• 7 days in New York City / New York
• 7 days in Albany / New York
• 7 days in Martha’s Vineyard/ Massachusetts
• Witnessing the start of summer. Mother’s Day weekend, celebrated in Albany with my beloved Tulip Fest, marked the re-arrival of beautiful weather. It’s amazing what a difference the sunshine makes in my mental state. I decided that this will be the weekend I aim to arrive home for the summer season next year.
• Returning to Nevada. My second trip to Las Vegas this year had lots of experiences competing for the title of highest highlight: sipping white at an idyllic Pahrump winery, riding the High Roller with high school bestie Liz, ziplining over Bootleg Canyon, the list goes on. But the ones that really stood out were helicopters and hookers. Flying over the Grand Canyon was an obvious awe-inspirer (I still can’t believe I did that!), but interviewing prostitutes in a legal Nevada brothel was eye-opening in a different way, and I was incredibly grateful for the unique experience.
• Watching my girl Amanda get hitched. Partying with my high school crew on such a special occasion was a true treat. Warm and fuzzy memory alert: when my mom saw me feeling blue one day and flailing to find an appropriate outfit for the wedding, she cheered me up by taking me to the mall for a fun girly day of shopping for a dress and shoes. I know for a lot of moms and daughters that’s a normal bonding activity but my mom is just not into that kind of thing so for us it was special, and it makes me smile every time I see a photo of myself in that pretty striped dress.
• Heading back to Hawaii. I think it almost goes without saying that returning to Maui was a significant moment for me. As usual, Hawaii was insanely highlight filled. Surfing, scuba diving, submarine-riding, paragliding, volunteering — wow! But if you twisted my arm to choose a true favorite, it would be exploring Upcountry Maui, probably the island’s most under-appreciated region. Bonus? Getting to do it with my fellow #seeMaui bloggers, a true dream team that I adored traveling with.
• A gratifying moment. When my helicopter tour was cancelled on Maui, I used the free time to visit my old friends at the Banana Bungalow. There I was able to meet Caitlin, a long time reader who had first emailed me over a year ago to tell me my Maui posts had inspired her to change her Southeast Asia trip itinerary to include a stopover at the Bungalow. A year later, and she hadn’t left Hawaii! It was really moving to hear someone tell me that what an impact this site had on their life.
• Serious aloha. My final five days in Hawaii were spent with dear friends Wim and Dave. I first met these two when they were freshly dating in the Cayman Islands, and I’ve been lucky to watch them get married in Philadelphia, tag along for part of their honeymoon in Thailand, visit them right after their big move back to Hawaii, and now return as they’re fully settled with a brand new house and two big dogs! Wim is the ultimate host and I absolutely loved kayaking, hiking, and beach bumming around the island with her.
• Playing host. When I returned to Albany from Hawaii, all I wanted to do was glue myself to my laptop and not let go. But when two of my favorite expat friends from Thailand needed a vacation from their North American vacation, my mom happily agreed to have them crash with us in Albany for a while. There were late night ice cream runs, epic backyard BBQs, baseball games with Tucker in tow, and an enthusiastic attempt at pub quiz. I never quite expected my worlds to collide in that way — but it couldn’t have been better.
• Being invited to host a webinar with Travel Blog Success. I remember when I first excitedly signed up for the course, so it was quite an honor to be asked. As with any speaking engagement I signed off fraught with anxiety about how I did and not feeling like I said anything of worth, but it is amazingly gratifying to be recognized by your peers regardless.
• My girls weekend in Martha’s Vineyard. We try to do a trip together every year, and this time I was excited to host in a place that is truly starting to feel like home. I had been running myself ragged and our chilled out long weekend was exactly what I needed. Gossip-filled dinners, Tucker-chaperoned beach days, non-stop giggle sesssions — I loved every minute!
• Celebrating my 3 year travelversary. To be honest, I was a stressed-out mess the week of this milestone, and I actually ended the day having a super cathartic cry. But it’s still an impressive feat, and keeping myself afloat and on the road for 1,095 days is something I’m proud of.
• Spending Father’s Day with my dad — and my three sisters! The five of us hadn’t been all together for six years, and we celebrated with a bang of a reunion.
• Slipping back into Brooklyn. My final week in NYC was mostly my favorite kind of low-key — DIY dinner on the roof of a friends’ Brooklyn building, attending a bizarre outer borough comedy show, tagging along on one pal’s new puppy’s first walk through Manhattan, day drinking at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade — the usual. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing more harm than good the way I emotionally cling to my old life here (example: it pains me to type the words old life) but it’s still one of my favorite places on the planet filled with a fair number of the greatest people who live on it.
• My bittersweet final week in Albany. I made it to my best friend’s farewell drinks as she moves down to the big city (trips back Upstate won’t be the same without her), discovered the Troy Farmer’s Market with another high school friend, and spent a fair amount of quality time on the couch with mom. Nothing recharges me like sunny days in the place that made me.
• A new computer. Finally, finally, I was able to replace the machine that was causing me so much constant grief. My new top of the line Macbook Pro with Retina Display is all kinds of awesome and it’s amazing what a difference not having to spend ten minutes out of every hour waiting for Photoshop to render makes in my workflow. It was a huge investment but luckily I was able to sell the old one for a decent price, which offset the cost a bit.
• So much family time. I always say that my favorite thing about this lifestyle is not the travel but the freedom. A long weekend in Philly for Father’s Day? I’m there. A whole week in Martha’s Vineyard with my mom’s side of the crew? Count me in! I get to spend more time with my parents than some of my friends who live a mere state away from them, and I never forget to be thankful for that.
• Celebrating my first July 4th in six years. Being home for the holiday inspired me to pen a patriotic post, and I loved the time being silly and creative with some of my nearest and dearest. I’ve come to realize that my family rocks at holidays and traditions, and there’s no one I’d rather spend special days with!
• Victory! Remember my massive battle with Citibank? I won! Thanks to a commenter who recommended it, I filed a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I figured the ship had sailed for me and my points but I still wanted Citibank to be held responsible. I couldn’t have been happier or more surprised when the verdict swung my way and the points appeared in my account. Thank you, CFPB, for being a government agency that actually looks out for the little guys — you made me feel a lot better about the tax money I handed over this year.
• A fun thrill –– my sister was recognized by an Alex in Wanderland reader! She was giddy when she called to recount being approached in a bar by a blog fan who placed her from her regular appearances here. I was hoping the person might leave a comment or reach out but they never did. Mystery NOLA reader — hi!
Lowlights and Lessons
• Gun shy. I had a feeling that visiting a shooting range in Las Vegas would be uncomfortable for me because of my beliefs about gun control, but I pushed myself to try it anyway and ended up feeling both conflicted about the experience and awkward about how I would cover it here, as I had been a guest of the Nevada Tourism Board. Of course I recounted it in a way that felt honest and true, as always, and to my great relief my trip hosts were both understanding and appreciative of that honesty. While I do believe there is great value in having an open mind, I should remember there is also merit in speaking up when I know something doesn’t align with my values.
• Press stress. I’m still new to the press trip game and doing two pretty much back to back was a serious crash course for me. I found that I was fairly unprepared for traveling in this manner — though it sounds silly now, I didn’t take into account that I would be scheduled from sunup to sundown and wouldn’t have the downtime that I normally build into my independent travel schedule for work breaks, social media updates, even basic email checks. I found myself frazzled by trying to cram in work that needed to have been done ahead of time, and feeling embarrassingly inadequate about my real time trip coverage next to the social media whizzes I was on the road with. In the future, should I join another press trip, I need to remember that the commitment lasts long before and after the start and end dates of the itinerary, and plan accordingly in order to be fair to both myself and to my lovely hosts.
• Saying goodbye. Leaving Tucker in Philadelphia hit me hard. He had been my constant companion for about two months and I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye. The only thing that makes the situation bearable is knowing that my Dad is Tucker’s favorite human on Earth, and that dog is so beloved and beautifully happy in his life in Philadelphia. Still, I miss him something fierce.
• Family drama. If this isn’t the definition of #firstworldproblems, I don’t know what is, but my mom and sister and I have had some growing pains learning how to negotiate the blessing of our new old cottage in Martha’s Vineyard. We’ve had drama that escalated to ridiculous levels over double booking the house for the same weekend, tensions over juggling car ferry reservations, and bruised feelings over design decisions. The good news is I know those are all just minor bumps along a road that is already leading us to so many beautiful memories. Mostly, I included this because I realize that I often put out the image of myself as having a family so perfect we might just break into musical song at any moment, but as with any family the reality is messier. Most of it I can’t write about it, but when possible I like to keep it real with a big reminder that we are no von Trapps.
• Fizzled fireworks. While this seems frivolous to type in retrospect since I was over it pretty quickly, I was devastated in the moment when I realized that this stupid day I’d planned my entire Europe trip around was being rained out. Not cool, summer storms, not cool.
• Scammed. Guys, I was Craigslist scammed! In the end I was only out about $90, which in the grand scheme of all the money I’ve lost this year is nothing, but the hit still stung. I think it was my pride more than anything else because I did the thing you are never supposed to do and mailed something before I had payment — but in my defense the man I spoke to on the phone sounded like a sweet old grandpa! So yes, the real truth is I was Craiglist scammed by a senior citizen. The end.
• Backpack blues. Packing just never gets easier, does it? Once again, preparing to take off on a multi-month, two-continent world tour reduced me to a sleep deprived, maniacal little travel monster.
• Pre-travel panic. When I landed back in the US, I had a long list of things I was confident I could accomplish before departing. Four and a half months later, not so much. I left feeling a bit bummed — and a lot frazzled and frustrated — that so many major items were left unticked off my to-do list as I was taking off for such a hectic period of travel. I’ve always lived by the mantra, “If you’re not in control, you’re not moving fast enough,” but man, I really do wonder what it would feel like to be in control sometimes.
• Doctor drama. Days before I left for Las Vegas, and just seven months after I had the last one surgically removed, my doctor found another fibroadenoma during a routine physical. More details below, but yeah, that one moment ended up shaping a lot of my emotional state over this period as I was wracked with stress over what was happening to my body and how to juggle my travel schedule and the health care system in order to treat it.
Several hilarious moments, including a few Forgetting Sarah Marshall-esque ones, defined the Hawaii trip for me.
The bellboy, dropping off my luggage in my room and confused by my solo status: So, is your family meeting you here or…?
Our biking tour guide, gently moving me aside as I tried to jump in yet another photo with Chris and Tawny: Actually, let’s do these as couple photos instead…
Tawny, to our tour guide at the Surfing Goat Dairy: Do they bite? [Moments later, as finger is mid-chomp] “OW!”
A conversation about the perils of working from home with my fabulous friend Scott had me in stitches.
I spent $3,964 during this period, which averages to $1,982 per month. Not awesome but not terrible considering the amount of stocking up I did for my upcoming trip.
Thanks to all that supply buying, the miscellaneous category clocked in at a whopping $1,206, or $596 per month! In addition to the pre-travel purchases, that enormous figure included gifts for moms, dad, and newlyweds, and to my great frustration, both a speeding and a parking ticket. Another big one was, unsurprisingly, food, which ate up (har, har) $1,152, or $576 per month out of my budget.
Next up was $494, or $247 per month in business expenses, including hosting fees and developer services, inflight wifi, my Global Entry application fee, mailing giveaway items, and more. Entertainment weighed in at $398, or $199 per month, and basically consisted of nights out with friends as well as a few activities in Hawaii. Transport totaled $326, or $163 per month, and was made up of gas tank fills, cab rides, metro cards, train tickets, and ferry fees.
New category health and fitness snuck in at $130, or $75 per month and was made up of doctor co-pays and gym passes, while my usual charity slot was filled for $100, or $50 per month. Spa and salon, made up entirely and embarrassingly of nail appointments, topped $112, or $56 per month, while accommodation was a mere $70, or $35 per month — my share of a one night hotel stay for a wedding.
After three very terrifying months, things finally started to pick up in time for Month 36. I netted small profits both months, a huge relief as I prepared to take off on a very expensive Eurotrip that I needed to be saving for. That said, I struggled with finding a balance between my work and travel commitments and started to take a serious look at how I can better plan my time in the future.
Panic over the stability of my income defined this trip home for me, and I took action by enrolling in free small business mentoring with SCORE. This wonderful — and, again, free — program pairs entrepreneurs and small business owners with retired CEOs in their fields, who provide counseling on whatever ails ya. I met with a pair of counselors who were lovely but eventually clicked with a mentor from the NYC office who is willing to meet with me over Skype. I found this program invaluable and will continue to keep tapping it as a resource — I can’t recommend it more highly!
Health and Fitness
As mentioned above, I was pretty bummed by my general practitioner’s discovery of another fibroadenoma in my breast less than a year after having the first surgically removed. While the lump itself is actually fairly harmless, negotiating the health care system is another story. This two month period was a whirlwind of hard-won appointments, opposing opinions and stomach-wrenching stress as I tried to juggle which practitioner’s advice to heed — the radiologist who passionately insisted I have the surgery immediately, before I leave for Europe, or the gynecologist who advised me to hold off indefinitely as multiple surgeries could eventually lead to breast disfigurement? After eight weeks of attempts to get in for a consult with my surgeon I finally saw her with ten days to spare until my departure from the country, having been penciled in for surgery the next day by her handlers. To my enormous relief, she conceded that I could wait until I returned to the US in November to go under the knife, and I was spared from having to board a plane to London bruised from week-old surgical wounds. Needless to say, the whole thing wasn’t exactly a highlight. While it isn’t at all travel related, I’m hoping to eventually write a post about my experience with fibroadenomas for others going through the same.
That drama aside, I continued with my campaign to get back in shape after Latin America wreaked havoc on my body. While two press trips and my final ice cream-filled week in Martha’s Vineyard challenged that, for the most part I did a decent job of staying on track with the help of a nutritionist and my health-focused mama.
Six weeks in Europe — here we come!
Thanks for following along with my adventures closer to home. Now, onto some far flung versions!
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.