Note: Yup, I’m a little behind posting roundups. After the next one, however, we should be all caught up. Sorry for any confusion my lazy posting has caused!
From Halloween to my birthday to Thanksgiving to Christmas, this was a period of big celebrations! And big heapings of time spent with some very special people. Over these two months I crossed three countries, flitting from my chosen home in Koh Tao to my given one in New York, with a few notable stops in between. While I didn’t cover any exotic new ground, I did revel in the familiar comforts of some of my favorite places in the world.
It was two months of hellos, goodbyes, and big hugs. Hold on to your keyboards, guys — this is going to be an emotional one!
Where I’ve Been
• Eleven days on Koh Tao / Thailand
• Three days in Bangkok / Thailand
• Eight days in Phnom Penh / Cambodia
• Three days in NYC / USA
• One day in Philadelphia / USA
• Eight days in Albany / USA
• Nine days in New York City / USA
• Seventeen days in Albany / USA
• Returning to Koh Tao just in time for Halloween! One of my favorite holidays (okay, fine, I do basically say that about all of them), I wasn’t able to dress up last year as I’d just returned from the Inca Trail — so I was more determined than ever to make this one amazing. And it was! It was a nightmare trying to get our costumes together while running around Thailand, but I adored the end results, and getting to dress up with three of my favorite ladies in Thailand. All the friends, all the fun.
• Showing Heather around Koh Tao. Heather and I share a deep Thailand connection (she has the same on-and-off, first love relationship with nearby Koh Pha Ngan as I do with Koh Tao), though after years of friendship and five countries traveled together, we’d yet to cross paths in the Land of Smiles together! This trip finally changed that, and I loved getting to show her around Koh Tao and introduce her to my friends. I swelled with pride when she said she could understand what kept bringing me back.
• The romantic Sai Nuan getaway. Not only was this the sweetest birthday surprise of all time, it was a reminder that even after so many years on a small island there is always more to do and try. Rain and bugs and other mishaps aside, it was a highlight of my time in Thailand and is now added to my must-do list for every time I return.
• On the blog front, starting hotel reviews. After years of “sorry, can’t comment” responses to emails requesting hotel recommendations on Koh Tao, I finally decided to do something constructive — I started an island hotel review series. I’m looking forward to slowly adding to it over time and finding more great places to recommend to visitors of my little island paradise!
• My birthday. My twenty-fifth birthday will be the birthday that all future birthdays are measured against — I don’t think it can ever be topped. I was spoiled with humbling amounts of love and thoughtfulness and attention and it’s hard to shake that grateful feeling that I really might be the luckiest girl in the world.
• Leaving Koh Tao is forever a low light. But this tearful goodbye, in which four friends saw me all the way to the pier despite a full week of festivities in which they’d more than exceeded their friendship duties, had me feeling all kinds of nostalgic about this little rock. I am so eternally thankful for my life here, and the time and love I’ve spent building it has been one of the best things I’ve ever done.
• One final Bangkok blowout. This was a fun one — showing Ian around Bangkok for the first time felt like a big responsibility, and in seeking out places I knew he’d love I found a few new favorites myself, including Adhere to the 13th Blues Bar, Iron Fairies, and the Muse Rooftop Speakeasy. I think I’ve got the Bangkok bar scene pretty much nailed — my next mission is to start discovering some great restaurants there too.
• Watching the morning alms. On the other end of the spectrum from our nightlife indulging, waking up before dawn to observe an alms ceremony in Bangkok was a special memory, and produced some of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken there. Damn, I love that city!
• Crashing with Wes. He’s just one of those friends where it’s always a joy.
• Pretending to live in Phnom Penh. I would love to make it a reality someday, but I didn’t mind playing for a week in the meantime. Riverfront sunrise runs, office hours on the balcony, evenings at trendy expat hangouts like Meat and Drink and Library — I was ready to start apartment hunting by the time eight days were up.
• Overlapping with Janine! Janine is one of my favorite new humans on Koh Tao, and it was such amazing luck that my last twenty-four hours in Phnom Penh overlapped with her first few. Southeast Asia is such a small world.
• Fulfilling a promise. I always told dear family friend Betsy, one of the Baackes sister godmother crew, that I’d visit the school she fundraised to build in rural Cambodia when I returned. And I did! It was a really special and emotional visit, and I’m so happy I was able to give Betsy a real time report of where her love and money went.
• Surprise! They seriously got me — and I welled up for days afterwards thinking of all the sneaky effort my family and friends put into making sure my big birthday was celebrated stateside, too. I have a lot of angst about fading from the lives of my loved ones when I’m away, and this was pretty much the greatest antidote to that anxiety a girl could ask for.
• Sister bonding. I see and talk to my little sister Liv all the time (she might even say a little too often, at times) but my big sisters are sadly a different story. So I was super excited that this trip home featured face time with both of them — a quick jaunt to Philly to watch Margaret run a marathon and a hop over to Amherst to have dinner with Sarah and co. and watch my niece Emma kill it on her high school basketball team. I’ve need to make sure my summer involves time with all of them again as well.
• Showing off Thanksgiving to recent New York transplant Sam. I’ve always adored every minute of Thanksgiving, and getting to see it through the eyes of a craft-and-cooking-loving Australian first timer made it all the more special. And did I mention the amazing pear crumble and cranberry jello shot combo we created?
• Attending the Women’s Prison Association holiday fundraiser. A great cause, the cast or Orange is the New Black, and an excuse to dress up in colored tights and high heels? I could not be more in.
• Stumbling upon — literally — a protest in response to the Eric Garner grand jury decision. I’d just walked out of Grand Central station, and, finding no cabs, decided to walk down to my friend’s apartment in Murray Hill. Blocks later, I walked straight into one of the most passionate protests I’d ever witnessed. Rolling my suitcase behind me, I decided to join. Over the next few days I’d encounter similar marches and individual protests and shows of activism — including a twelve-year old girl silently taping up heartbreakingly homemade signs — and each time I felt proud to be part of a society standing up and saying no more. Change is coming, I can feel it — and I felt lucky to witness a small part of it with my own eyes.
• Couch crashing. In Manhattan, I stayed with my old high school friend Steve and his amazing girlfriend and his adorable new puppy. Steve is one of those friends I have zero contact with when I am out of country, but he always makes the biggest fuss about my return. In Brooklyn, I stayed with my usual college crew, and felt just as at home as ever. I love that even after all these years I still have places to call (temporary) home in the city.
• Manhattan memories. I spend most of my city time based in Brooklyn, so it was kind of fun to run around Manhattan for once while I was showing Ian around. A night in Harlem, a double date with my best friend and her man, and a snowy stroll through Rockefeller Center are all cherished new Manhattan memories. (Of course, I had a darn good time dragging him everywhere from the Prospect Park ice skating rink to the Brooklyn Bridge over on the other side, too.)
• Hometown pride. I was pretty much bursting with it when we made our way Upstate for Ian’s last few days. A live John Oliver show at the Palace Theater, a boozy weekend brunch at City Beer Hall and a nightcap at our very own Speakeasy? What is this crazy cool city I’m suddenly from!
• Taking baby photos for an old crib-mate. Isn’t it crazy when the people you’ve known since you were babies start… having babies? Over the holidays, I had the honor of taking the first family portraits for dear family friend Patrick (I wrote a memorial post to his father last year) and his brand new baby. It was a really happy moment.
• Upgrading my phone. After two years my iPhone battery was all but dead and I was constantly waging the storage space battle. Upgrading to a 32GB model may have been the best decision I’ve ever made in my life, and that includes the ones to go to college and to not experiment with heroin.
• My Christmas dinner party. It’s a huge investment of time, money and love, but it brings me so much joy to have all my hometown friends sitting around the same table. I really cherish this tradition so dearly.
• Dressin’ up my dog. So, you’re saying buying reindeer antlers and making your dog wear them wasn’t the highlight of your holidays? Seriously though, pausing to take family portraits on Christmas Eve was one of the best moves I made. Even though I was being a cranky grinch all week (see below) I look back at those pictures and remember that I was with my family, and that’s all that matters.
• After seven weeks of drama-free happiness with a rental motorbike, I returned back to Koh Tao to find my luck had run out. I went through four bikes in as many days, each one breaking down or otherwise leaving me stranded. Not the greatest tragedy, but certainly not ideal when I was trying to get both Heather and I around, and make the most of my final days on the island.
• Again, file this under more annoying than anything: the Koh Tao spa that I visited literally an average of 1.5 times per week for two months decided to alert me to the fact that they have a frequent visitor discount card on my very last visit. I quickly calculated I could have had two to three free massages in the time I’d been there for all the baht I’d forked over. My smiling inquiry into why this hadn’t been brought to my attention, oh, some twenty plus massages ago was met with an equally broad grin and a headshake. Frequent Spa-er Fail.
• On a more serious note: Cambodia. It’s always a heavy place to visit. It will break your heart. I have endless love for the place, yet I know that punched-in-the-gut feeling of casually observing poverty there very well. Confronting an sometimes uncomfortable reality is par for the course in Phnom Penh.
• So many goodbyes. These months were full of them. To friends, to surrogate family, to the guy I’d been dating. The only consolation? Being welcomed back into the arms of my stateside crew again.
• ER drama. I’ve already recounted this in more than enough detail, but spending my first day back in the US in the Manhattan Emergency Room was not exactly what I’d planned.
• Gas leak. The fact that there was a gas leak in our rental apartment was annoying — the fact that our host didn’t even respond to my emails about it after the fact? Not cool at all.
• New York nostalgia. In my six weeks back in New York, I spent only about ten days in the five boroughs, the rest of it spent ensconced upstate getting operated on and recovering. Normally, I’d go for a much more even time split, and while I love Albany I definitely missed my city time — I left NYC having not even touched base with some of my dear friends there, and I felt a little stir crazy spending so much time Upstate in the dead of winter.
• The freakin’ weather. You guys. Humans were not meant to live like this. That’s my theory and my seasonal depression and I are sticking to it.
• Fibroadenomas. You guys are probably pretty sick of hearing about my boobs by now — I know I am. However, with the worst of it well behind me, I am trying to focus on all the positives — the many people that came together for me, the fact that I am healthy, and the truly heartfelt response to that post.
• Holiday blues. Christmas was a strange struggle for me, though as usual blogging about it was cathartic and helped me understand my actions and emotions much more clearly. A lot of my usual beloved traditions were a bust this year, and I reacted with all the grace of an unnapped toddler. At the time I don’t think I realized what a toll my body was under, and looking back it’s no surprise it had such an effect on my mental state.
• An ugly truth. On that note, all my medical dramas this month kind of opened a Pandora’s Box for me regarding my physical vanity. I struggled to relax at my own surprise party because I was so concerned about my wonky eye and lack of makeup, and my first concern at finding out my surgery went awry was not how my immune system would recover but what scarring it would leave behind. Realizing how self conscious I am about my physical appearance was a big, unattractive wake up call.
Month 42 was up there with some of the most expensive months I’ve ever had — in addition to my typical travel expenses I forked over my annual $155 PADI Divemaster fees and $45 to change my dive computer battery, splurged on two nights in a $100 hotel, reluctantly spent $100 for a last minute, one way train to Philadelphia after my emergency room fiasco and paid $254 to fly round trip from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. On the victory side, I scored my flight back to New York using frequent flyer miles, and paid just $88 in fees.
Month 43 was no bargain either. While time at home should be pretty cheap for me as I’m paying zip for accommodation and often eating groceries graciously provided by my mama (I need to treat her more often, though I do try to pitch in), I still spend loads on entertainment with friends I rarely get to see, and occasional big electronic upgrades. For example, over the holidays I spent $150 upgrading the now-defunct phone I’d had for two years, threw $250 into a big Christmas party for my friends, and spent a cringe-worthy boatload on dinners, shows and other freewheeling fun.
Luckily, I was earning. Month 42 was my lowest earning month of 2014 and I spent more than I made, but Month 43 was a windfall and I ended up back in black.
Some freelance writing, design, and even photography as well as personal projects (like Wanderland Wearables!) kept me busy while at home. I even cleaned out my closet at my mom’s house and unloaded a few things on eBay — an annual ritual for me.
On the blog side, I did a bit of branded content and social media stuff, and had great months for affiliate advertising. Surprisingly, I also had a welcome boost in the link sales I thought dried up long ago. I don’t count on them anymore and don’t spent time pursuing them, but they were a nice bonus when they landed in my lap.
Health and Fitness
These months were, overall, a bit of a health and fitness fail — as the holidays are for many. My final two weeks in Thailand were defined by decadent meals, over the top celebrations and zero attempts at exercise. In Phnom Penh I tried to get back on the wagon somewhat by checking out the local yoga studio and going for two sunrise runs, but it did little to offset my poor eating.
Once I got back to Albany I was initially buoyed by being back at some of my favorite exercise classes — I scored a great Black Friday package at a local barre studio that I got really into and I managed to nab a few BodyPump guest passes at my old gym. When I was in city. I took advantage of the gyms in my friend’s apartment buildings and checked out a new low-cost community yoga class. But nothing was enough to match up to my festive holiday face-stuffing.
And of course, there was the whole lumpectomy-followed-by-a-surgical-site-infection thing, too.
South-bound! Three weeks in New Orleans and various Florida cities, followed by a big hop to Central America.
The North Pole
Have I mentioned you guys are the best and it wouldn’t be the same without you?
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.