My passport stayed firmly in storage for months 49 and 50, in which I continued my US summer of exploration by car, plane, boat and train. Eight cities across five states might seem crazy for a two month stretch, but it’s a sign of how chaotic my life was around this time that it actually seemed like a bit of a break. Helping that sensation along was copious amounts of time spent in my laid-back hometown, though clearly, I never sat still for long.
Two months is a lot to cover, so sit back — this one is going deep, guys.
Where I’ve Been
- Eleven nights in Albany / NY
- One night in New York City / NY
- Three nights in Nashville / TN
- Four nights in Manchester / TN
- Two nights in Lexington / KY
- Five nights in Los Angeles / CA
- Seven nights in Albany / NY
- Six nights in Martha’s Vineyard / MA
- Two nights in Boston / MA
- Four nights in Albany / NY
- Eight nights in New York City / NY
- Six nights in Albany / NY
On the farm at Bonnaroo!
• Being home for the big stuff. My sister’s move to Boston came with a big bonus — she spent two straight weekends in Albany between moving and surprising my mom for her birthday. Between that, my mom’s 60th celebration (which included driving to Vermont to see Gloria Steinhem speak, going to a crazy fitness class, and a big backyard party) and a close family friend’s graduation, my first week back in Albany was all about family, biological and otherwise. It was a warm welcome home, a place it just felt damn good to be.
• Back to barre. God bless Groupon for emailing me an amazing deal on a pass to a local barre and yoga studio just days before I landed back in Albany. I took as many classes as my schedule could handle and loved every minute of it — I now miss my favorite teachers there and would happily teleport back for a class if I could.
• One night in NYC — before I flew to Nashville. It was supposed to be more, but life up in Albany got in the way. But oh well — I still got in a pizza date in with my high school BFF, the best view of Central Park I’ve ever seen, plus a gorgeous sunset from my college BFFs’ roofdeck in Brooklyn.
• Hitting two new states! Tennesse and Kentucky marked numbers nineteen and twenty.
• Southern hospitality. I tell you what, no one does it like the unofficial mayor of Nashville Kristin Luna. We have so much in common it’s no wonder I was obsessed with every detail of the itinerary she meticulously planned for me, from brunch at a place called Biscuit Love to a photography expedition to a botanical garden to a barre class taught by a pro cheerleader.
• Music City. Going to my first awards show (and after party!) would pretty safely fill the entertainment quota for your average week. But Nashville really outdid itself. Yes, the CMTA Awards were amazing, but so was the unbelievable, intimate Darius Rucker and Little Big Town show we saw at the Wildhorse Saloon , the free outdoor CMA Fest concerts we caught by the river, and the live music we heard wafting out of nearly every bar we walked by.
• My Bonnaroo crew. I’ve already established that I’m obsessed with Kristin, and it only added to the fun when we added in her husband and family, as well as two more of my all time favorite humans Kent and Canaan. I love those boys, and it was amazing to get to spend so much quality time with the whole group.
• Highlights of a highlight. Bonnaroo in and of itself was a peak of summer awesome. Some of my favorite elements? Getting dressed up in silly romper getups, running the Roo Run with the boys, taking both an acro yoga workshop and a live music bluegrass vinyasa class, seeing Tears for Fears, Tiki Disco (in the silent disco!), G-Eazy, Mumford and Sons, and Wild Adriatic (a band from my hometown).
• Going green. Nothing made me happier than seeing how seriously Bonnaroo took sustainability, one of several elements of the festival that took me by surprise.
• Big business. No lie, I felt super fancy speaking at my first conference — well, second if you count my stint at the Women Divers’ Hall of Fame summit at Beneath the Sea. I felt pretty profesh! (Do professional people say profesh?) Getting a little taste of Kentucky and getting to know my fellow panelists were major bonuses.
• Low key in Los Angeles. We didn’t do much sightseeing — or, um, anything — but I loved just hanging around with my dad and sis and helping my dad get settled in his new home. The highlight of the trip for me, aside from time with those two goofs, of course, was seeing Jurassic World at an iconic old marquee movie theater just a few minutes from my dad’s.
• Bridal bliss. I was thrilled to have a dear friend’s wedding shower on the docket for a weekend back in Albany. After a beautiful shower in Saratoga, the bachelorette kickoff activity was a private party at a Paint n’ Sip studio. I was touched to be included, and it felt so good to have a paintbrush in hand again.
• Family time in Martha’s Vineyard. I just marvel at what a group we can get together. I really admire my mom’s “everyone in” attitude of generosity, and smile when I think of the eclectic group we had — my mom, her man, her niece (my cousin!), my sister, my friend, my guy, and my dad’s two sisters (my aunts!). I loved seeing all these people from all these different parts of my life laughing around the same people.
• Where do I even start with all the things I loved most about this week on MV, aside from the above? Even after a literal lifetime of visits, I still find new things to adore about this island all the time. New yoga classes. Newly restored movie theaters. New Jaws tours (okay, just one of those). New restaurants. New alpaca farms (fine, just one of those as well!) And a million old familiar sights and smells rounded out the week. My constant happy place continues to amaze.
• A bit of Boston. It was a short but sweet trip — a peek at the lush Boston Commons, a whirl around the New England Aquarium, and two nights at a gorgeous hotel. I’m sure there’s a lot more Boston in my future now that my little sister is living there, and I couldn’t be prouder of her big move.
• Never enough New York City. I almost put this in the lowlights column, because I was so bummed by how little days I ended up spending in my old city this summer. But I’m trying to focus on the positives, and they are plentiful — I spent an amazing long week surrounded by old friends in one of the greatest cities in the world. I think that lands in the plus column.
• Cleaning out. This summer was all about paring down my possessions to just the things I love. Not just getting rid of my stuff but also repairing, upgrading, and cleaning what I planned to keep. It felt like an enormous accomplishment when I dropped huge full garbage bags off at a local charity, and I can’t wait to continue my mission next time I’m stateside.
• Friendfinity. These two months were a never-ending infinity circle of friend dates. I have so much to smile about when I think back to tipsy Korean BBQ nights, matinees at the movies with moms in tow, evenings in the backyard with wine and beyond with so many of my favorite people. This is why I spend my summers at home. (And Tucker, of course.)
• Getting crafty. I made sure this summer entailed plenty of time with my craft supplies, and whether I was getting dizzy from spraypainting tiny shark figurines for a Jaws-themed Bachelorette party or hand-cutting custom designed wedding invite mock ups or curling the perfect ribbon on gift wrap for a bridal shower, rarely was I happier than when I had an item purchased at the likes of AC Moore in my hands. Can my little sister just get married already so I can quit my life and craft a wedding?
• My four year travel and blogaversary happened! I celebrated quite a bit about the interwebs but I was so busy, ya know, blogging and traveling that it actually passed by without much notice in real life. Next year I think I’ll make a bit more of a fuss for the big five!
Lowlights and Lessons
• Puppy panic. This period marked the height of my being wracked with stress over how to get Tucker across the country. My dad’s big move meant an end to my parent’s shared custody of my pup, and meant we needed to find a way to get him to his new home 3,000 miles away. I’m not exaggerating when I say I woke up sick to my stomach for weeks as we tried to negotiate the best way to transport an elderly cocker spaniel cross country. Under-the-plane flying was never an option, so we bounced between me doing the drive myself (though my dad had already had his car shipped, so finding a vehicle would be a problem) or getting an ESA certification so he could fly in the cabin with one of us (this was my vote, as it would allow me to bring him back to the East Coast in future summers). In the end my dad paid a small fortune to for a canine transportation service that drove him cross country for us, though we were all a bundle of stress over whether or not we’d made the right call until the moment he landed at his new Los Angeles door. I’m still saddened by how permanent the move was this way, but remind myself how happy he is in his new home.
• Future festivaling. While staying offsite at Bonnaroo had serious perks (hello, hot shower and soft bed) I definitely felt a little less connected to the festival than I have to others where I’ve been fully immersed in the camping experience. There’s so much I need to go back for, from the Cinema Tent to the Comedy Fest to the Christmas Barn! But I know that I will, and while I might have missed out on certain aspects I didn’t even know how much I wanted to see until I was there, I seriously saved on both the festival and camping passes, and it was nice to be freed from the need to “get my money’s worth” or fight with my expectations for once. Bonnaroo, I’ll definitely be back.
• Stage fright. I was a bundle of nerves about getting up to speak at the PRSA conference in Kentucky. I know that practice makes perfect when it comes to public speaking, but man — it’s not a fun road to get there!
• Nasal nope. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how often I was sick this summer. It started as a sniffle in Kentucky, and escalated to a full-blown sinus infection by the time I hit California. My second antibiotic-requiring illness in as many months was an unpleasant surprise, and felt like a serious warning from my body to slow the heck down.
• Not loving LA. I was wary of this big city prior to this visit, and frankly, it didn’t do much to change my opinions. That said, I wasn’t in a rush to leave — I arrived in LA with no departure date, but headed back to the East Coast after only five nights when I couldn’t arrange further care for my pup. I would have loved to stay a little longer and felt awful for leaving my dad so soon when I was spending so much time with my mom over the summer (child of separated parent guilt, holler!) Luckily, I booked a trip back to California not long after that assuaged my feelings of unevenness.
• Blogger blunder. This is an embarrassing one to admit, but my reader meetup in LA was a big fat fail. I always love running into Alex in Wanderland readers and get people asking me to meet up via email and other messages on a very regular basis, so I was pretty excited for my first big reader meetup. I spent a lot of time trying to coordinate schedules, choose a convenient-ish location and working it into what was otherwise a strictly family-focused trip. Pretty much no one showed.
I tried not to show my disappointment and instead enjoy the time with my family and some other LA travel people who are friends I rarely get to see, but I was quietly cringing thinking of how my dad and sister had made such a big deal about being excited to meet with Alex in Wanderland readers, too. I actually almost didn’t want to include this lowlight at all because it was such a humbling moment, but know we all have these moments of career letdowns that can be turned into lessons, and this one is no different. Occasionally I’ll have new bloggers reach out for advice and or ask me a question that’s framed in a compliment about having “made it” and I just laugh. I certainly never feel like I’ve made it — days like this hit that home, hard — but I think that’s a good thing, because it keeps me as hungry as the day I started. I gave myself the night for a little private mental pity party, and then the next morning I sat back down at my computer and got back to the business of doing what I love and trying to make a living out of it, more determined than ever.
Made in Martha’s Vineyard
• Fireworks fail. I was gutted — and frustrated — when my family wouldn’t go to the fireworks with me on the fourth of July, and let our disagreement over it spoil the final day of an otherwise lovely week. Lesson learned: next time, I’m going to make it super clear when there’s a make-or-break element to a special day for me (fireworks on the Fourth, baking cookies at Christmas, dying eggs at Easter, whatever), and if the people I’m planning to spend it with aren’t down with that, I’ll make other arrangements with those that are. Salt to the wound? I lost all my photos of the celebration we did have, watching the parade happily earlier that morning. That one hurt.
• Cash constrictions. I spent a lot of money this month that I didn’t necessarily want to and didn’t necessarily have. See below.
• Two months, two parents, two sides of the countries, one girl nodding along to an expected dose of family drama. From an explosion of emotions on one coast to an awkward suppression of them on the other, we really pulled out all the stops. While it just plain seemed like everything was collapsing around me in certain moments, you guys remind me that butting heads with those we love most is a near universal part of the human experience. These roundups are all about the bottom line, and this one comes to an obvious conclusion: no matter how crazy we drive each other, there’s still no-one I’d rather be related to.
Going big in Boston
My entertaining moments of the month mainly came, bizarre as it may sound, from celebrity encounters. From chasing after the star of Walking Dead and awkwardly making small talk while we waited for Kristin to emerge from the bathroom in Nashville to clumsily introducing myself to Tycho at Bonnaroo, there were quite a few LOLs in there.
The Bonnaroo bit was the best. The NVR Guys and I were getting ready to take off on the Bonnaroo Run when Caanan discretely gestured over to a group of guys wearing matching band logo shirts and told us he thought they might be Tycho, but our phones weren’t working so we couldn’t Google to confirm. After much back and forth, I approached the group.
Me: So, are you Tycho or guys who just love Tycho?
Them: Um, we are Tycho.
They turned out to be super nice and we chatted for quite a bit, at which point Kent and Caanan had, unbeknownst to me, concluded from afar that I’d gotten stuck in awkward conversation with a bunch of headliner impersonators. So when I called them over for a photo, they were being pretty chill about the whole thing. When we walked away I was all, wow, you guys sure now how to play it cool around a group you’re huge fans of! At which point they stopped in their tracks, realized in horror their mistake, and dissolved, along with me, into laughter. Ah, what a festival memory.
Oh man. These two months did some serious damage. My time on the road was actually fairly affordable (Boston, the one place I paid for accommodation being an expensive exception), thanks to crashing with friends and fam and the fact that I flew to Nashville free on points and flew to LA free courtesy of the conference I’d just spoken at. I also received a Bonnaroo media pass and had a gratis place to stay, so that was all good.
My time, in Albany was also not too bad. While my day-to-day expenses there basically amount to gas and occasional groceries (I sleep in my childhood bed for free, drive a family car for free and eat plenty of groceries generously supplied by mama) I spend a fair amount on meals and nights out with friends, my annual US shopping binge (it’s an overall modest one, but I couldn’t go to Nashville without cowgirl boots), stocking up on guidebooks, buying gifts (birthday gifts, Father’s Day gifts, wedding shower gifts, thank-you-for-all-the-groceries gifts, etc.), shelling out for dog food, replacing my glasses and getting new contacts, getting shoes and clothes repaired at the seamstress, going to the dentist, and so and on. Generally that added up to just a tad over what I would spent on a normal month backpacking in a budget-friendly country, so, not too bad.
So what was the problem, then? Answer: mechanical meltdown. There was my electronics, and the issue of them all needing replacing at once. Not just my dSLR, which had a cracked LCD screen, a busted flash, a scratched lens and a four-year-old body. Not just my underwater camera and housing, which were flat dead and pretty beat up, respectively. Not just my dive computer, which flooded after a shoddy battery change. All of them. All of them died an once. And all together, upgrading the cameras and straight up replacing, in the case of my flooded dive computer, cost what I sometimes spent in two months combined. We are talking into the ugly-cry-four-figures. It was not a pretty credit card bill at the end of the month — and for the first time in my life, I started paying interest on it. Like I said, ouch. But I had no other choice as I was about to head off on a press trip I’d committed to long ago, and there was no way I could go without cameras. It was the second and third months in a row that I spent more than I made, which is not a habit I’d like to get into.
Never enough time in New York
Despite all the doom and gloom in my expeditures category above, I did well in the income category. Between a branded content post, a product review, tons of affiliate sales and an unexpected (yet short lived) boost in SEO ads, I had what averaged out to two very respectable months of blog work. I also did some photography work and sold a photo to an old client, which added in some freelance income.
I also started experimenting with two new income streams over this period: sidebar display ads and my featured blogged program. Both were a lot of work to set up but gave me a great sense of pride at having diversified my income a bit and provided myself a bit more stability along the way.
Health and Fitness
While I was pretty well behaved when I was in Albany (which totalled half of these two months), I ate and drank a lot while I was out of it. But I mean, who can resist biscuits in the South? The good news is I ran a 5K, I took plenty of barre and yoga classes, and I started running again. While I can’t say I’d award myself a gold star for my fitness efforts, I did a decent job all things considered.
A big trip to Bonaire and Aruba, some bonus time in NYC, Albany and Martha’s Vineyard – and a big ‘ol trip to Vegas!
All about Albany
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.