Where we’re at: I’m recapping my summer of 2018, including my travelversary, which I celebrated in June. In other news: sign ups are rolling in for the latest Wander Women Retreats. Egypt is waiting list only, but you can still join us in Florida!
Looking back at my seventh year of travel in order to write this post, I felt this incredible sense of pride. It’s kind of a funny thing for me to say, because I very often fall back on self-deprecation, and joke that oh, my big accomplishment in life has been finding a way to sit around and drink on the beach as often as possible.
But my seventh year of travel was so full of accomplishments and adventure, it was impossible not to look back and feel a sense of deep fulfillment. That’s not to say that everything I did was some noble or meaningful quest. I went to Nevada to look at a bunch of colored rocks in the desert, and I went to the Philippines to dress up in a mermaid tail. My seventh year of travel and blogging was my year of getting it done, whether “it” was a long awaited work project or a silly dream that I no longer felt ridiculous prioritizing. It made me feel like I was taking on the world again, a rush I hadn’t felt in some time.
I started the year running around the US on a dizzying lineup of trips before settling back into Asia for what I celebrated as the end of an era there. I wrote of a sense of deep restlessness at the end of my previous annual roundup, and I quenched that thirst for a huge adventure by heading off to The Middle East before coming full circle and returning to the US once again.
This post celebrates seven years I since I ditched a permanent address and an outside paycheck and got on a plane and took a huge bet on myself that I could make it out in the big wild world. I started by taking it one day at a time, and here I am — 2,478 days later.
Ain’t that something.
I call this my yearly “nostalgia and number crunching” party, and I can’t wait to dive into it with ya. Coming up, I’ll be highlighting my year in travel, blogging, and beyond. Want to catch up on the back story? Find previous annual roundups here, here, here, here, here and here. Let’s start where it all began and where it all — my year in travel.
My Year in Travels
After kicking off my seventh year of travel in style at Bonnaroo with my mom, I headed to Nashville for my cousin’s Bachelorette weekend. After those Tennessee shenanigans were up, the family and friend tour continued with quality New York time in Albany and Brooklyn, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts for the fourth of July, and a week in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with my sister.
After a work trip to Louisiana, I was off to Florida for a campaign with Space Coast, a dive assignment with PADI, and some quality time with family in Tampa and friends in Jacksonville. Finally, I stopped in Nevada to ogle at Seven Magic Mountains before spending two blissfully long weeks in California with my dad and my dog before heading back to Asia for the year.
Are you tired yet? We’re only three months in…
Home sweet home-away-from-home. After quick stops in Bangkok and in Koh Samui to visit friends I was back to Koh Tao as my Thailand home base for the next seven months.
I traveled far less within Thailand than I typically did in prior years, choosing to soak up the final year with my island family and what I knew was likely to be my last full season in Koh Tao. I did, unsurprisingly, manage one new destination — a camping trip to Kanchanaburi — as well as a handful of trips to Bangkok, including one to get laser vision correction surgery. (I haven’t blogged about any of this yet, so you’ve got plenty more Southeast Asia content to look forward to.)
It turns out putting the breaks on travel can result in some serious productivity. In my seventh year of blogging, I launched a Wanderland Waves jewelry collaboration, my Wanderland Guide to Koh Tao ebook, and Wander Women Retreats.
But fear not — it was far from all work and no play. It felt like everyone was celebrating something! We celebrated milestone birthdays (I mean, 28 is a milestone in my case, right?), welcomed new babies, launched new careers — Ian in particular started a series of wild pool parties that became my Sunday ritual, one of many experiments in an entrepreneurial burst that I was head cheerleader for.
My friends Liz and Matt visited from New York, my girl Erica bopped in along her travels, my friend Katie came and pretty much moved in with me, and the calendar was bursting with events — the holidays, which I threw an epic party for and which my girlfriends and I snuck away for a staycation to commemorate; Yi Peng; my first Koh Tao Festival; front row at the Flip Flip and Treacle annual fashion show; and my first Job2Do concert, years after first becoming a fan of the Thai reggae superstars. Mostly though, the year was marked by final celebrations of Banyan Bar, which closed a seven year chapter in my and so many of my closest friends’ lives. I just can’t overstate what an emotional experience it was saying goodbye to that place.
While clearly, there was a lot going on at Wanderland’s Asia Headquarters (as I called my apartment in Koh Tao — ha!), I did leave Thailand for two international trips, perfectly timed to act as both visa runs or vacation.
For my 28th birthday, I wanted to do something super mature and grown-up, so I booked myself a trip to Boracay for a self-styled Mermaid Camp.
Just kidding about the mature part, clearly. I had claimed myself a mermaid for years and felt like it was high time to actually get myself in a tail! We swam, we splashed, we scuba dived — I was hooked. Prepare yourselves for even more mermaid adventures in the future. I know what mythical creature I want to be reincarnated as.
My first trip to the Philippines in 2013 was a wild, adventurous, island-hopping backpacking trip that I loved every second of. This was a chilled out week at Boracay, the biggest tourist island in the Philippines — and I loved that too. I spent the week with my friend Katie, who’d I’d met in Bali the previous year, and spontaneously ran into my friend Pavel, who I’d hiked the Inca Trail with way back when. Isn’t the world wild?
Actually, I took two trips to Singapore during this year, and while I hadn’t thought it was somewhere I was itching to return to after one brief visit also in 2013, I actually loved my two deep-dives into different neighborhoods. First, Katie and I stayed in hip Tiong Bahru, and upon my return with Ian, we dove into Little India.
For Ian and I, stopping in Singapore was a way to break up our journey to Indonesia. For Katie and I, it was where we boarded It’s The Ship, a massive party cruise that sailed up to Phuket and back to Singapore again with a full scale festival raging onboard the entire time — the second part of my elaborate birthday gift to myself.
Guys, have you read Crazy Rich Asians? If so, you have a mental picture of the people that were onboard this cruise! Katie and I got up to some serious, grade-A hilarious shenanigans, some of which will be in an eventual blog post, some will make it into my future book, and a few might go to the grave.
This was a trip that came together kind of last minute, but turned out to be just what I needed. Ian and I were digging into planning a trip to Sri Lanka for our visa runs when an opportunity for a blog campaign in the Sugi Islands of Indonesia popped up. We shrugged, decided Sri Lanka could wait, and set off for a remote new province of Indonesia.
What a dream it turned out to be! We visited not long after the Banyan Bar closing festivities, and we were desperate to dry out, disconnect, and recharge. And that’s exactly what we did on these paradise islands with no wifi, no tv, and no cell signal.
Kuwait was kind of a bonus country. When I saw that the cheapest flights to Egypt from Thailand involved a layover there, I extended it so that I could properly explore the teeny tiny country, one of the least visited in the world. It was the perfect, “BAM! You’re the in the Middle East!” moment arriving there, and it made me curious to explore more of the Gulf countries.
I love countries so small you can do some serious justice in just two nights.
Egypt, you magical ancient land. I dreamed of coming here for so long and making it a reality was a really powerful motivator for me. I spent three weeks in the country, starting with exploring Cairo solo before hopping on a group tour of the mainland highlights and meeting up with some Thailand friends along the way. Next, I hopped over to the Sinai Peninsula for a dreamy liveaboard and a few days of falling head over fins for Dahab, which it later dawned on me would be the perfect location for the next Wander Women Retreat.
I felt a stronger connection to Egypt that I’d anticipated and am so grateful that I’ll be returning here many times in the future order to bring my retreat to life.
Israel is another country I have felt magnetically drawn to for a very long time. I sort of planned to just show up and wing it, relying on the friendship of the many wandering Israelis I’ve met in my world travels, but some truly incredible opportunities emerged that I simply couldn’t say no to: the chance to try out an ambitious new diving adventure; to join one of the excellent Vibe Israel experiences with an incredible group of fellow content creators; and to go to Midburn, Israel’s popular regional burn.
Israel, too, really touched my heart in an unexpected way. I was swept away by the magic of Tel Aviv, that’s for sure. But also, I took on so many challenges that really stopped me in my tracks: diving in the Dead Sea, rappelling down a sheer cliff in the Negev Desert, attending a festival alone in a country where I had never been and didn’t speak the language — and they each gave me such a jolting reminder that, quite frankly, I can be a total badass when I want to be.
9. Home Again
The final few weeks of my seventh year of travel were spent back in the USA, where I went on a hug tour in Albany, flew to Savannah for a video shoot, stopped briefly in Philadelphia to photograph a political fundraiser, and then landed in New York City for my yoga teacher training.
My yoga teacher training and spending a month living in New York City again were both things I had been manifesting for years, and I ended the year on a high having brought them to life.
My Year in Numbers
Countries Visited: 8 — the same as the prior year!
New Countries Visited: 3 — and they were big ones for me! Kuwait, Egypt and Israel made up my big adventure of the year, bringing my total number of countries visited to 38. That said, I did visit a ton of new destinations within favorite old countries. Maine was a new state and I had tons of fresh adventures around Central Florida; Kanchanaburi was a region I long wished to check off in Thailand; the Sugi Islands was a totally new region of Indo for me; I’d never been to Boracay, Philippines; and I saw Singapore in a totally new way staying in different neighborhoods each trip.
States Visited: 11. Whew, that’s a lot! Maine brought my total visited to 22. Gotta catch ’em all!
Plane Rides Taken: 26. I count origin to destination as a flight regardless of layovers – for example, New York to Bangkok is counted as one even if I have a layover in Hong Kong.
Of those, seven were paid for by work (I was either on a campaign or on a press trip), seventeen were paid for out of pocket and just two — that I recall — were paid for with frequent flyer miles. I scored some insane flight deals throughout this year — paying just $60 for what felt like a private jet from Decatur to Chicago, paying an unheard of $470 for a one-way flight from Los Angeles to Bangkok, and paying $330 for all the flights that made up my indulgent birthday getaway between Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore.
While I also took many buses, trains, cars and ferries throughout the year, I still can’t believe sometimes how much I fly — it’s just become unavoidable due to the number of projects and commitments I cram into the summer in the US and the lure of insanely cheap domestic flights within Thailand. That said, I finally, finally started carbon offsetting. Woo hoo!
Beds Slept In: I changed accommodation 75 times to sleep in a total of 63 different beds. Zoink! I wanted to cut that down from last year and I did (from 88 times changing accommodation) but it’s still high, and something that stresses me out, so I’m definitely going to continue to work on making that more manageable.
Of those, 25 were hotels or guesthouses, 13 were crashing with friends or family, 9 were Airbnbs, 5 were various camping or glamping tents, 3 were hostels, 3 were boats, 2 were campsites with an RV, 2 were kibbutzes, and 1 was my long-term apartment in Thailand. That does not include nights in transit on overnight busses, ferries and flights — of which there were several.
Dives: 38. This was a huge year for aquatic adventures for me, and I almost quadrupled my number of dives from the previous year! I took a coral propagation course and two PADI continuing education courses (the Cavern Diver course and the Digital Underwater Photographer course), I dove with a whale shark in Thailand, chased some of the world’s best caverns in Florida, dove with a mermaid tail in the Philippines, went on a liveaboard in Egypt, and dove the Red and Dead Seas in Israel. Magic!
Conferences Attended: 0 again! Luckily, this will change big time for the next annual update.
Festivals Attended: 3. It’s The Ship, Koh Tao Festival, and Midburn. And while it wasn’t technically a festival, the Banyan closing festivities were some of the wildest parties of my life.
My Year in Feels
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give into it. Don’t be afraid of it’s plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb. — Mary Oliver
It was a good year. It’s that simple. Needless to say, there were struggles. There were gut-wrenching business stresses, hard conversations with the people I love the most, tough travel days and nights spent staring at the ceiling asking that eternal question: “What the %*#@ am I doing with my life?!”
But overall, I felt at peace as I realized dream after dream and crushed goal after goal. I had emerged from the fog of many of year six’s disappointments and I felt like after years of feeling kind of restless and stuck in place, I was moving forward into the next chapter, even if I wasn’t quite sure what that would look like yet.
My time in Asia reminded me that regardless of what comes next, Thailand will always feel a bit like home, and I am so grateful for my years of living, loving, working and playing in this corner of the planet. My trip to The Middle East reminded me that as jaded and world-weary as I can sometimes feel, I have in reality explored just an infinitesimal fraction of this incredible earth, and I’m so excited to see the rest! And my time in the US reminded me that regardless of where life takes me, I will always be rich in the most important sense of the word, because that enormous country is just bursting with people I love.
Last year I wrote that looking over my shoulder it seemed my first four years were an upward trajectory of travel mayhem until I hit burnout and spent years five and six hitting the breaks and quite frankly, got kinda bored. While there’s always a bit of calibrating to do, I feel like this was a year where I really hit that near-perfect balance of having a routine and satisfying that inner urge I always seem to have to do something reckless.
Last year I wrote the following:
As much as I’d like to think I live a life untethered, I feel deeply rooted in my community in Koh Tao and extremely reticent to sever a single tie there. I have an apartment and a motorcycle to get back to, I have friends having babies that I want to meet, I have gym memberships and favorite restaurants and very delicately strung string lights shaped like flamingos in my kitchen. And, yet…
Major changes are coming to my little island life. A plot of land on which several of my best friends own businesses (one of which is managed by my boyfriend) is being sold in early 2018, and with it will go the heart and soul of my default home base for the last several years. It will be the end of an era on Koh Tao, and for quite a while now I’ve accepted that this is, in fact, my cue to also consider my own next move.
In a way, Banyan closing was the best thing that ever happened to me because I’m not sure I would have ever been able to leave the comfort of Koh Tao had the majority of my friend group not had a mass exodus as a result. And fidgety as I felt, I am glad that I spent the majority of my seventh year of travel in my sweet little apartment in Koh Tao and sitting on a barstool at Banyan, because now that that era is over I see with more clarity than ever how precious it was. And I ended that chapter with no regrets, fully ready for the next one.
Looking back on my journal from my first week of yoga teacher training, and thus the final week of this incredible year, I see endless lists, sketched out calendars, and so many daydreams scrawled in the margins. The world felt wide open, and my eighth year of travel and blogging seemed poised to be my most epic yet as I contemplated a home base in Bali or in Mexico, booked tickets to bucket-list festivals, and made plans to launch an aggressive year of business opportunities.
Of course it is impossible to write this without acknowledging that my course changed direction very, very soon after with my mother’s cancer diagnosis (which is also the reason this post comes at such an enormous delay). But I have tried very hard to write this in the mindset that I had on the day that I sat there in New York on my seventh travelversary, glowing with satisfaction at the life I’d built, eager for what the future held.
Because while I never could have guessed the surprises life was soon going to spring on me, I did know that no one and no thing could take away the last 2,478 magical days. And other thing I knew for sure? Not a single one of them would have been the same without all of you. Thank you for coming along on this crazy roller coaster ride with me.
Next up, my year in blogging…