The Great Escape: Month 52 Roundup
Oh, my monthly roundups. They are so ridiculously out of sync with real time now that I’ve considered axing the entire series, as I did recently with Photo of the Week. Yet I know this series has some loyal fans — and I’m one of them! Apologies for the delay, but I suppose better is late than never.
My fifty second month of travel was all about exploring whether or not west really is best. As a loyal native East Coaster I normally laugh at such a ludicrous statement, but these thirty days did their best to sway me to the left side.
Four weeks, four states. A road trip, a major festival, playing tour guide and logging quality time with my dad and my dog — it was a crazy busy month! It might have been hectic, but it was a beautiful goodbye to the USA.
Where I’ve Been
• Four nights on a road trip through Arizona, Utah, and Nevada
• Three nights in Reno, Nevada
• Seven nights in Black Rock City, Nevada
• One more night in Reno, Nevada
• Six nights in Los Angeles, California
• Four nights in San Diego, California
• Three nights in Palm Springs, California
• One more night in Los Angeles, California
• Falling for the RV lifestyle! We were so in love with our little Jucy camper and couldn’t stop marveling at the beauty of this mode of travel and the patriotism that swelled as we discovered this amazing corner of America. These five days were a bit of an experiment — and I loved the outcome. I’m ready to dive head first into a longer US camper trip someday in the future.
• The amazing kitsch of Route 66. I couldn’t stop snapping — or wondering if I’d inadvertently wandered onto a movie set as opposed to driven down a stretch of America’s historic highway.
• Seeing a mountain lion run across the road in front of our car! So while I certainly wouldn’t recommend driving without your headlights on down a desolate stretch of Arizona highway en route to the Grand Canyon post-sunset, I can tell you that this temporary blunder led to one of my briefest yet still most awe-striking wildlife encounters of all time.
• Weah Weap Campground, our favorite of the three very different and all very special campsites we chose for our road trip. A pool overlooking Lake Powell, a gorgeous restaurant and lounge to retreat to for wifi and snacks, and a clean and tidy place to park ourselves for the night? Yes please.
• The slot canyons. Our tour might have been a disaster — more on that below — but nothing could possibly damper the memory of the insane beauty of Upper Antelope and Rattlesnake Canyons.
• Seeing Horseshoe Bend from both above and below. The view from the top was every bit as impressive in person as it is on instagram, and we marveled that this natural wonder was free to all and not roped-off or safety-railed in the slightest. Our tour along the river below was a splurge that was worth every penny for both the company of our lovely guide and the scenery of a lifetime.
• Discovering Valley of Fire. Perhaps it was the fact that our expectations were below-sea-level low, or perhaps the triple digit heat finally hit us, but our brief time in Nevada’s oldest State Park absolutely blew us away.
• Riding shotgun. Zoe killed it with the driving, and I loved navigating from the co-pilot seat and using long stretches to catch up on a bit of work. I was so grateful to her for taking the wheel, literally. We couldn’t have been a better team on this trip!
• Reuniting with Ian. We’d been apart for months, and when he surprised me with the literally (okay no literally literally) made for me gifts he’d bought me in Oregon, I couldn’t help but wonder how I handed such a perfect guy.
• Returning to Black Rock City! I had an absolute blast burning with a boyfriend, dressing up in elaborate outfits, attending inspiring workshops and seminars, biking around on solo art adventures, dancing my face off, and spending another week trying to untangle the eternal mystery of what Burning Man is.
I think I got pretty close to an answer in the conclusion of the linked-to post, so I’m going to just quote from myself here:
“The answer is different for everyone. I’ve started to understand that what brings me to the desert is the idea that Burning Man exists as a kind of utopic preview of what the world could look like if we followed the ten principles in our day-to-day lives. That experiment intrigues me, and I leave Black Rock City inspired to create a life that is every so slightly more like life on the playa — freezing overnight temperatures excluded.”
• Getting my Thai visa. Considering the trouble some of my friends in the expat community have had lately, it always feels like a victory. The paperwork might have been a bit more of a headache at the Los Angeles embassy compared to the New York one, but it was two quick and easy drives from my dad’s house as opposed to a long double slog on the subway. And I left with permission to spend 180 days in The Kingdom.
• A backyard birthday. My friend Lindsay celebrated a big birthday when I was in LA, and I was touched when she asked if we could just do a simple BBQ in my dad’s backyard to celebrate. Six of us had an amazing night hanging by the pool and chatting, and I loved seeing how this group of people from so many places and so many different chapters of my life — my dad, Ian from Canada, Kat from London and Lindsay and her boyfriend Asher from Los Angeles — could get along.
• Eating and drinking our hearts out. Most of my LA meals happen in that very same aforementioned poolside back yard, yet I had a lot of fun this trip discovering spots like The Springs cafe, The Ace rooftop bar, Commissary, Break Room 86, and Night + Market Song.
• Hiking to the Hollywood sign. What an iconic Los Angeles adventure! And one I might never have tackled were it not for my out of town guests — so glad they dragged me up here.
• Tucker Tucker Tucker — my everything. I’m so beyond thrilled that I got to spent two whole weeks with my munchkin! Traveling to San Diego and Palm Springs with him really opened my eyes to how do-able traveling with a dog really is, and I’m already scheming our next California getaway.
• San Diego sunshine. Granted, I haven’t seen that much of California. But heading from Los Angeles down the coast, I got my first ever jolt of “I could live here!” San Diego — and the surrounding areas — were so my speed. Frolicking at the dog beach in Ocean Beach, strolling the gorgeous Heisler Park in Laguna, settling into our sweet Mission Beach pad, riding the kitchy Belmont Park roller coaster, catching two very cool and different yoga classes at two beautiful studios and meals at Patio on Lamont and Swell are all on the highlight reel of that particular trip.
• Reuniting with two of my college roommates for a night in San Diego. Who knew we were all going to be in the same city? I love when travel magic happens.
• Diving in Mexico! My first splash across the border was a super fun one — a chartered boat day with Kat and a few Women Diver’s Hall of Fame members and friends. I’m not sure what I was more enamored by — the laid back company above the surface or the perky sea lions below.
• Our Palm Springs pad. My dad was actually kind of hesitant to go to Palm Springs, having been underwhelmed by a previous drive through. But we won him over with gorgeous architecture, homemade meals, and an amazingly low-key plush poolside weekend.
• Exploring Joshua Tree. Our sweet ride, great company, perfect weather conditions, a magical place. What more could a girl ask for? Based on our group and the time of year, we spent the perfect amount of time within the National Park. If I could have changed anything, I only would have spent a bit more time exploring Joshua Tree town itself. Next time!
• Dad time. When my dad moved to LA I was seriously concerned about getting to spend enough time with him. I’m relieved that I managed to sneak in not one but two visits since his move — and have another one coming up on the docket soon.
Lowlights and Lessons
• Our day at the Grand Canyon really sucked, weather wise. One of the downsides of moving so quickly is not having any second chances when it comes to landing a sunny day. While some of my photos came out moody and beautiful, frankly, the day looked better on screen than it did in person.
• Losing the crank for the pop-up “penthouse” of our camper van. Due to the short nature of our trip and the fact that we were already half-way through it when it happened we were only relegated to the alternative bed for two nights, but we wasted hours retracing our steps and then having to convert the camper for two nights and mornings. It still nags at me where we could have gone astray!
• Our Antelope Canyon tour was straight up awful. Securing our spot was one of the most frustrating tour booking experiences I’ve ever had, our guide was frustratingly aloof, and we were pressured into tipping big. It’s too bad that the biggest splurge of our trip didn’t have a better customer service experience attached to it.
• Our moment of sheer terror at the idea of being struck by lightening. The storm that hit while we were at Lake Powell was super cool up until that moment that it totally wasn’t and we were hurtling through blinding rain and trying to google whether or not we could be hit by lightening in a car. The rain also nixed our plan to go stand up paddling on Lake Powell, which I was super duper looking forward too… though the downtime to do laundry and relax in the middle of a hectic trip wasn’t totally unwelcome!
• Feeling tragically rushed on our road trip. All the little scares and annoyances paled in comparison to the fact that we just didn’t have enough time! I wish we’d had a full week to do the same route, if not more.
• Burning Man blues. As usual, working my way through the negative aspects of my Burning Man experience by writing about them and sharing them here was extremely cathartic. No, I didn’t love the freezing evening temperatures, the increased regulation, my struggles to feel at home in my camp, or my guilt over the environmental impact of the festival. But I managed turn at least one of those into a positive by creating a green burning guide you guys loved!
• Feeling a little embarrassed on diving day. Diving with such scuba superstars was a little intimidating, and I felt totally useless bobbing around in such a foreign amount of neoprene, fumbling with my camera settings and just generally feeling like an open water amateur. What can I say — diving keeps me humble!
• Ugh — I really messed up my cameras at Burning Man. I paid big bucks to have them professionally cleaned in Los Angeles but they’ll never be back to new. I guess the photos — and the fun I had taking them — were worth it?
• Feeling overwhelmed in California. My looney tunes travel schedule finally caught up to me in the Golden State, and I reverted to my terrible habit of staying up late and waking up early to get work hours in on either side of entertaining guests all day. The resulting lack of sleep left my nerves totally shot, and I frequently found myself choking back overwhelmed tears. If there was ever a time I needed to go stay in one place for seven months, it was after this!
My biggest laugh of the month came from a self-assigned mission to get pool floats for my dad’s new house. After impulsively buying three ridiculous floats for a ridiculous sum, we stopped at the closest gas station to fill them and then had to drive with our new swan friend — who we named Frankie as a nod to my dad’s lifelong obsession with Frank Lloyd Wright — pretty much sitting on our heads like a makeshift rooftop to our convertible. I can’t tell you how many people had their phones out taking photos of us!
And the hilarity didn’t stop there — Tucker growling at Frankie and deeming him his new enemy was a highlight, as was catching my dad taking a pooltop nap with him the next day. Frankie was so much fun, he even came to Palm Springs with us.
Best and Worst Beds of the Month
Best: It’s a toss up between our rental houses in Mission Beach and Palm Springs! I could have moved right into either and died happy in their perfectly decorated bedrooms.
That said, I have to give a huge shoutout to the staff of the Reno Ramada Inn, who melted my heart with their perpetual kindness. Considering how unaccommodating the employees were at the much more expensive Grand Sierra, where we stayed after the burn, it really stood out for us. (And bonus, we paid just $25 each a night for two nights via HotelTonight! You can get $25 off your first stay with them by using the code ABAACKES at check out.)
Worst: Everywhere I stayed this month was pretty great! My only complaint? The same weird dreams and sleepwalking that plagued me for a week or so after my first burn were back with a vengeance for the second! My brain decompressing from Black Rock City, I suppose?
Best and Worst Meals of the Month
Best: The first meal after Burning Man is always the best meal of the month, even if, as in this case, it was breakfast at a McDonald’s after driving through the night. You’ll never appreciate washing your hands in a rest stop bathroom so dearly in your life.
Worst: Our campervan mac n’ cheese disaster. Travel tip: Don’t start cooking outdoors when there is a visible storm approaching, lest you end up having to abandon ship halfway and destroy your meal in the process. I really wanted that mac n’ cheese.
It was a splurge-y month. The road trip was a splurge (despite the camper being comped), Burning Man was a splurge (despite my budget being at the lower end, relatively) and with my friends in town, California ended up being a splurge, too (despite not paying for accommodation nor a vehicle).
One thing that helped offset the costs? I didn’t pay for a single flight anywhere out West. Thank you, stash of Southwest miles and their amazing regular sales!
It was another month of the status quo — some brand ambassador gigs, my featured blogger program and my display ads, a bit of SEO-based advertising, and some affiliate sales. I didn’t have any big campaigns but frankly, I didn’t have time for them either.
While I overall ended the month having spent more than I saved — not a pattern I like to fall into — considering the madness of my schedule and the absolute vacuum of alone time it created, it’s pretty miraculous that I so much as tread water. At Burning Man, I went a full week without opening my laptop for the first time in five years! (Though yes, I did use my iPhone to do quick email checks — I’m getting there.
Health and Fitness
LOL. Yeah, this was not my month for fitness. I did some yoga at Burning Man, and in Los Angeles and San Diego. But that was it. Otherwise, I was so totally and completely overwhelmed by trying to fit work into any spare moment in my crazy schedule that exercise got popped completely to the way back back burner.
One victory? Aside from an on-the-go lunch at McDonald’s and an indulgent evening of cocktails and desserts, I was really impressed with the super healthy choices we made for our road trip snacks and cooking supplies.
From California, I flew to Thailand to hit the pause button on using my passport for seven months!
Thanks for coming along for the ride!
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.
I love the monthly recaps! Maybe when you’re back in the US this summer, you can get caught up to real time (doing them every 2-3 weeks) so you’re still passionate about what you’re writing about. I know for me, it’s hard to blog about something that happened nearly a year ago and really get into it.
Speaking of which, how on Earth do you remember so many details from so long ago? Do you take copious notes along the way? Share your innermost secrets, AiW!
Actually, yes! I have a note on my iPhone for every month and I pretty much treat it like a diary — writing EVERYTHING in it. These posts are basically a clean-up of those notes 🙂 Yes, I live in terror of losing my iPhone.
I was JUST wondering if you were ever going to do another roundup post, haha. So happy you’re keeping them up for the fans!
Your wish is my command 🙂 #mindreaderblogger
Congrats on getting the visa! Thai time awaits. I must admit, when it comes around to our monthly budget I think 1. is that another month? 2. this is a draaaaag to write sometimes but it’s appreciated so I keep with it
I would like some Dad time!
I know! Sometimes (most times) the posts that are hardest to write are the ones I look back on and love the most.
Ah, don’t stop doing the round up posts pleaseeee! They are some of my very favorites! 🙂
They definitely have a loyal band of fans 🙂 Love it!
Please don’t scrap them! They’re a great way to recap what you’ve been up to.
I really do appreciate the feedback! Glad to hear there are some vocal fans still 🙂
Please don’t stop writing the Great Escape monthly roundups! I really enjoy reading them 🙂 They’re super helpful as well, when planning trips! Great post as always!
I’m glad to hear they come in helpful, Dominique! I feel like they are kind of just verbal and emotional throw up, so glad someone gets something out of them ha ha.
I love the monthly round-ups too, and I actually kinda like that there’s a bit of a delay on them, because I feel like you’ve had some time to digest your feelings and it adds an extra level 🙂 if that makes sense!
Yes, that is definitely very true. Time gives me a lot of perspective to compare to my hyper-detailed notes!
I love your roundups, please keep them! We don’t mind if you get a bit behind 🙂 it’s fun to read the full recaps of each month.
Thanks Kelly! You’re the sweetest!
I love your roundups, especially how you show the negatives and positives. It’s really awesome to know that though it seems like you have the perfect life, travels, and relationships, you still have bad days and struggles like all of us and you’d not afraid to show it! I applaud you Alex!
I definitely never want to give the impression that I have the perfect life! Glad these balance things out a bit 🙂
West Coast is best! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed California, Nevada & Arizona. They are some of my favorite. 🙂
I’m a long time Nevada fan but definitely finding love for Arizona and California lately, too 🙂
To echo the above sentiments, I LOVE your monthly round-ups. I love the balance of negative and positive, and your LOL section usually has me laughing as well. Also, for the Valley of Fire, it can’t be just the heat you felt because I was blown away by the beauty of it, and that was just from sitting at home 😉
I’m actually flirting with going back there in November to camp out 🙂 So you might see more!
I was lucky enough to have had good weather at the grand canyon but have had terrible weather in other places when we only had one day to visit. One of the downsides of traveling at a fast pace.
Indeed. Looking back I’m proud of the fact that we had a great sense of humor about the whole thing and made the best of it! We were loving our road trip so much nothing could get us down.
These are my favourite posts too, Alex. I hope you keep them going! Loving the sunshine in all your pics, it’s a nice reminder that summer is almost here once again!
So excited for another US summer!
It’s been so fun reading about your past USA road trip at the same time I’ve been doing my own cross-country trip! I have NO idea how you managed to do it while working as much as you do. I recently got my first location independent job and it’s been SO stressful trying to do a road trip and work at the same time.
After reading your post about San Diego, I took my friends who live there on a brunch crawl to the places you listed in your post and we all LOVED it. Such a fun, sunny scene there!
Well, at times I default to sleeping 4-5 hours a night and turn into a raging crazy person. Not a suggested strategy but that’s how I juggle. Ha! Also — brunch crawl?! This needs to be part of my life.
No, don’t ax the monthly roundups, I find them really interesting! I particularly like seeing your roundup of highlights, lowlights and lessons, it shows the real ups and downs of travel.
Indeed, it’s nice to have it all tied up in a bow like that!
These posts are great, Alex. Keep em coming!
Thanks Dan! Glad you’re reading!
I’m new to your blog and I love these monthly round ups! Please don’t give them up! <3
I’ll keep chugging through — hopefully I’ll get caught up someday 🙂
Love the sincerity. It’s good to know when things are awful as well as great.
Would love to know so far where you would recommend to others to add to their travel bucket lists
Good question! I did recently write a post about my favorite spots in Central America — as I more exhaustively cover other parts of the world, I’ll do similar posts for them, too 🙂
That would be great to hear about. Make sure you tell us when you do!