Where we’re at: I’m recapping my summer of 2019, including my eighth travelversary, which I celebrated in June.
Well, there’s not much of a contest: this was the weirdest travelversary I’ve celebrated in the eight years since I started tracking them.
Needless to say for those who have been following my journey, this was a tough year — the toughest of my life. But looking back at my travels throughout that brutal period, I am more appreciative of them than ever before.
Because I was no longer traveling out of inertia, or routine, or because “why not?” Every single trip I took in this year, every night I slept in a bed other than the childhood one I grew up in, represents a night I worked, planned, compromised, and struggled for. And while they came with a sense of guilt and anxiety I’d never before associated with travel, each one was cherished, too, for the opportunities they brought me, the energy they recharged within me, and the wonder they reminded me exists in the world. Unlike usual, I had to have a pretty solid excuse to go anywhere — weddings, conferences, work commitments, and seeing my partner of five years were essentially the only things that made the cut.
I started the year in the US, in the midst of a crazy lineup of work campaigns and adventures and a bursting calendar for the year ahead. Then my world turned upside down. My travels came to an abrupt halt with three months of stillness in my hometown, the longest unbroken time I’d spent in one place in more than a decade. And then, slowly, differently, they started up again, when and where possible, as I tried to keep my career afloat and the flame of my passion alive.
This post celebrates eight years I since I kicked off this wild adventure of mine.
I call this my yearly “nostalgia and number crunching” party. Want to catch up on the back story? Find previous annual roundups here, here, here, here, here here, and here. I’ll start how I always start, even if for the first time ever, it feels a little weird to lead with — my year in travel.
My Year in Travels
1. Around the USA
I kicked off my eighth year of travel happily based — temporarily, at least — in New York City, just a short train ride away from the place I was born and raised. I was finishing up my yoga teacher training, a goal I’d been planting the seeds of for years, and playing around with the idea that I could perhaps once again make New York my home base in the near future.
However, the ground was about to move beneath me. I was in Martha’s Vineyard, celebrating with my family, when my mom was airlifted off the island, changing the shape of our lives forever. This year was defined by the diagnosis that came just weeks after my seventh travelversary — my mom had terminal brain cancer.
While I scrambled to cancel everything I could, and held onto the last desperate grasps of ignorance for what that diagnosis really meant, I took abbreviated versions of long-planned domestic trips. To Louisiana for an assignment and time with Ian in New Orleans, to California for an assignment in Santa Barbara and time with my dad in Los Angeles, and to Florida for a bachelorette party in Key West and a dive assignment with PADI spanning Miami and the Florida Keys. A few of my favorite memories include a night in the US’s only underwater hotel in Key Largo and winery hopping with my pup Tucker in Santa Barbara.
Eventually I made my way back to Albany, where I started pulling apart the foundations of my life to rebuild them where I was needed most — with my mom.
2. Moving out of Thailand
While I cancelled a retreat in Bali and several projects closer to home, there was one that I simply couldn’t pull the plug on — my very first Wander Women Retreat in my very own home away from home in Thailand, Koh Tao. Plus, I had to pack up my life of the last several years, move out of my apartment, and figure out what Ian and I were going to do with Prada, the island dog we’d unintentionally adopted.
It was a whirlwind trip, one that I could not have made it through were it not for the loving support of the community I spent nearly ten incredibly years being a part of. From my friends to my retreat team to my landlord, I was overwhelmed daily by kindness and grace.
The retreat was pure magic and reaffirmed that I was on the right path taking that leap of faith to follow what felt at first like such a scary dream. After eight years of blogging, I felt butterflies again, starting out with a new venture. What a joy and a privilege to show my home island to a part of my incredible Wanderland community. I vowed immediately to make it an annual trip.
Looking back I can’t quite believe I ran my first retreat, moved out of my apartment, stayed in the loop with my mom and family back home and said goodbye to my island life all in less than two weeks. It’s amazing what strength you can find, when you need it.
3. Sticking Close to Home
Back in the US, we wrapped up our commitments in a painful blur of watching my mom’s condition deteriorate before our eyes, united as a family in Albany and in Martha’s Vineyard.
Yet light always finds a way in through the cracks. I’m forever grateful for the memories of two close family friend weddings we managed to travel to together with my mom, in New Hampshire and in Long Island, New York.
I’m also grateful for the enormous honor of being able to speak at TBEX in Corning, New York and at TravelCon in Austin, Texas and to run another beautiful, soul-filling retreat in Martha’s Vineyard — and my ability to keep those commitments despite the uncertainty of life at that phase. My Wander Women Martha’s Vineyard trip was the most intimate I’ve ever run, hosting my guests right in my own family home — and I’d love to do it again someday.
Then began my three months at home, some of the most challenging I’ve experienced, where I pushed through uncertainties about my business and my relationship and my future and focused on my mom’s care. I found joy in small moments with my mom, my daily walks with Prada, and movement — classes at local yoga, fitness and aerial studios became my new adventures.
Eventually, with the introduction of home health care and my stepdad taking an early semi-retirement, I was able to incorporate small work trips and trips to see Ian — making short visits to New York for a fitness teacher training and the New York Times Travel Show, to Montreal to visit Ian in his new temporary home, to Massachusetts for Boston Sea Rovers, to Saratoga to meet Ian part-way, to New York for an engagement party and a work event, and to Maine to speak in another inspiring conference, and take a breath-catching trip to Acadia National Park.
At home, I had to learn how to be me, when me wasn’t moving.
4. Vitamin D Vacations
While the majority of my travels this year kept me a car or train ride from Albany, I snuck in a few plane ride trips to the tropics that truly soothed my soul and reminded me how essential sunshine and sea are to the essence of my being. These were the times, in this year, that I felt a bit like me — caught my reflection in the mirror for a moment and would think ah, here I am.
First, four days in Mexico for a New Year’s Eve wedding slash visiting my dear friend Rachel slash celebrating my college roommate Zo’s 30th birthday. Next, five days in the Dominican Republic to scout a destination for my next retreat and relish in some girl time with my friend Amanda. Finally, seven days back in Mexico for a wedding and my first week with my man in over eight months.
This year really tested my ability to look for silver lining but I always tried — and here, I was grateful for the opportunity to explore destinations I’d never been to before, as I’d been based on the other side of the planet. I fell head over heels for Cabarete and for Tulum, and it lit a huge fire in me to explore more of Mexico and the Caribbean.
5. Reuniting in the United Kingdom
My travelversary came round again while I was on the road. It was a different trip than the one I’d originally planned — tragedy had struck again with the passing of my sweet dog and my close friend Rachel, and I’d delayed my departure from New York in the midst of the grief.
When I did finally get on a plane heading for the UK, I needed the comfort of a hug more than ever. And I was grateful to find countless of them in England, where I reunited with my closest girlfriends for one of the absolute highlights of my year, the Spice Girls Reunion Tour. Next, we made our way to Wales for a weekend of Banyan family revelry, and finally, we took the ferry to Ireland for a beautiful wedding and a weekend in Dublin.
My Year in Numbers
Countries Visited: 8, shockingly. I couldn’t believe it when I counted them up! I guess because the trips were so short compared to my “normal” — as in days, rather than months — it didn’t feel that that many at the time. But while the majority of my time was spent in the USA, I also briefly visited Thailand, Canada, Mexico, Dominican Republic, England, Ireland, and Wales.
New Countries Visited: 3 — which is again incredible, given my circumstances. Weddings were a great excuse to visit Mexico and Ireland for the first time, and a potential retreat destination brought me to the Dominican Republic. It brought my total number of countries visited to 41 — funny, people often tell me it’s a much smaller number than they’d expect, given how many years I’ve spent the bulk of my time abroad. But this year was an exception to my usual travel style, in which I tend to spend lots of time in one country.
States Visited: 9. Whew, that’s a lot, again! Texas brought my total number of states visited to 23, which was a fun addition. I also hit up old favorites New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Texas, New Hampshire, Ohio, California, Louisiana, and Florida.
Plane Rides Taken: 18. I count origin to destination as a flight regardless of layovers – for example, Albany to Austin is counted as one even if I have a layover in Baltimore. I probably logged more hours in a car than in the previous eight years combined, though.
Beds Slept In: I changed accommodation 63 times to sleep in a total of 45 different beds. Wild! I never count the number of nights at “home” since I’ve so rarely had one, but I estimate I spent about six weeks total on the road and the rest in Albany this year.
Of those 45 beds, 3 were some form of home (my childhood home in Albany, our family home in Martha’s Vineyard, and my apartment in Thailand), 22 were hotels, 9 were crashing with family or friends, 7 were rental apartments or houses, 1 was a hostel, 1 was an Airstream, 1 was an underwater hotel, and 1 was the couch in a hospital room.
Dives Dove: 25. It was another incredible year for underwater awe — I completed a campaign with PADI to create a dive guide to the Florida Keys that involved sleeping in an underwater hotel, I ran my first Wander Women Dive + Yoga Retreat in Thailand, and I snuck in dives on trips to the reefs of Dominican Republic and the freshwater cenotes of Mexico.
Weddings Attended: 4. It hurt my heart to have to cancel being a bridesmaid in a fifth.
Festivals Danced At: 0. It just wasn’t that kind of year.
My Year in Feels
And here you are living
Despite it all
— Rupi Kaur
Last year I wrote: “It was a good year. It’s that simple.” This year, I have to admit: it was a bad year. It’s that simple.
My mom was dying. I lost a dear friend. My beloved dog passed away in a way that wracked me with guilt. I cancelled as many trips as I took. Booked last minute flights for funerals. Got on so many planes in tears, praying I wouldn’t land to that call I always dreading about my mom. I missed my Thailand home of seven years, I missed my loving boyfriend of five years. I felt lonely and trapped and terrified, unable to move forward, crawling through every day and every decision with an axe hanging over my head, waiting for a moment I knew was inevitable yet still braced myself against.
Caring for a the person I loved the most in the world while they slipped away before my eyes was the greatest heartbreak of my life — it’s indescribable. But caretaking is a unique journey because while for me it came with a deep depression and a level of exhaustion I’d never known, it also meant having no choice but to look outside myself. You’re tired? Too bad. You’re having a bad day? The person you’re taking care of is having a worse one — and they can’t get out of bed without you. Through terrifying ambulance rides, long sleepless nights, endless doctor’s appointments, and quiet days that blurred into one another, I drew from a well of strength I didn’t have — one fed by my love for my mom and the life she so selflessly gave me.
As I always have when life tests me, gratitude kept me afloat even in times when it felt like the universe could not test me further — a practice I learned from my incredible mom. I couldn’t think much about the big picture, about the big planet I missed gallivanting around so much — so I found grace in the small things. Becoming a traveler in my own hometown. The joy of a night to myself, taking a bath in a ADA-compliant bathroom in a nondescript roadside motel in suburban Massachusetts. Time with my partner. The actual manifestation of bliss: standing in the sun with my toes in the ocean after months of brutal winter.
It was the year I truly understood, deep in my soul, that travel is a privilege.
And that travel is important. Travel connects us to the people we love to be there for important moments in their lives. Travel educates and teaches us. Travel recharges and restores. Travel inspires. Travel reminds us that the world is big and we are small. Travel allows us to create moments and memories that can last beyond a lifetime.
I write this post in retrospect. I know how this sad story ends.
But on June 9th, 2019, I didn’t — I was walking through Dublin Airport, boarding my flight to the Middle East, butterflies in my stomach, hope in my heart, axe over my head. Once again, while I try to catch my content up to real life, I have valiantly attempted to write this in the mindset that I had on that day, my eight travelversary.
I was finally, with the support of my family, moving forward with my retreat business, putting new retreat dates on the calendar despite my anxiety over what would happen if I was needed home at that time. However, retreats aside, I closed out the year with very few travel commitments on the horizon. My blog was stagnating — I hadn’t been hired for a campaign in months (which I couldn’t blame anyone for.) I had a friend’s wedding I hoped to attend. I had an epic birthday in Mexico I’d started to put together to have something to look forward to. But otherwise, I tried to quiet my mind’s constant questions about the future, and focus on getting through the day.
I know this may not have been the most exciting or uplifting year you’ve ever read about, from me. But you all extended me enormous grace and kindness and sent so much love and support, and they truly lifted me up through the lowest of the lows and made the highs even sweeter. Here’s to all the ups and downs being better, together.
Next up, my year in blogging…
Wow. What a crazy time it is. She. You said your partner of five years I had a moment of shock. I’ve been reading your blog for so long sometimes I fail to realize how much time has passed. These are scary and strange times but we will all get through them alone yet United. I’m sorry the year has been so extremely difficult. I know I am a very fortunate person to have both my parents healthy as of now. However, your blog has inspired amazing experience in my life. Your blogs about Koh Tao convinced me to go after college. Then I accidentally stayed for like 6 weeks instead of three days. Never saw the rest of Thailand,
And finally convinced my mom to go back with me last May for another visit. You’re inspiring mothers and daughters around the world. Thank you.
First of all Danica, thank you for being along for this journey for so long <3 And I absolutely love that this blog brought you not only to Koh Tao but also on a trip making memories with your mama. Nothing makes me happier to hear.
Thank you for sharing Alex.
I understand well how 2019 was a year of mixed emotions and I’m very sorry for the loss of beautiful Rachel who I “knew” online, and your mum.
Sadly, I too suffered loss as my beloved dad passed away last year, and it hit me far harder than I ever would have thought.
I admire your courage to battle through and salute your courage to plough through and live on, as your family and loved ones would have wanted.
So sorry for your loss, Victoria. I understand it well. I too, have been blindsided by the depth.
I love your annual recap posts and all in once place, it shows you still managed to do a lot of blog-worthy content! Dominican Republic has been added to my wishlist! I loved all the posts based in Albany too!
Thank you Tessa! I had a lot of fun writing about Albany, in the end — and Mexico and the Dominican Republic (as well as Acadia, closer to home) totally blew my mind.
You are a truly beautiful writer Alex, and a beautiful person. I admire your constant strength and positivity throughout all of your travels, heartaches, posts. Thank you for sharing all the facets of your journeys. Happy travelversary!
Thank you so much for these kind words, Justine! I am humbled <3
I must admit, it’s been many years & I was looking forward to a much needed holiday in Thailand. Got some accomodation booked for June but seeing how things are right now, I don’t think it is likely to be a trip 🙁 (i think many places will shut down operations for a few months)
I’ll keep my fingers crossed for both of us — I’d really like to be back on the road by June!