Where we’re at: I’ve wrapped up blogging the third quarter of 2019, of which this is a huge roundup.
Summer is always one of the busiest times of the year for someone in the travel industry, and I suppose even in the most disrupted year of my life, that was one constant.
Though with my precarious situation at home I’d not taken on any work travel campaigns for this period, in these three months I juggled three retreats and three weddings, plus some retreat research travel, all but one involving trips that posed logistical challenges but provided pure soul fuel.
This month marked the end of a five year relationship that felt at times like an amputation, the loss was so deep. And while I couldn’t have been sure of it at the time, these were indeed the final months of my mother’s life. Maybe, deep inside, on some intuitive plane that I can’t name, I did know. Recently I learned a term, anticipatory grief, that explains a phenomenon I knew long before I had a name for it — already, I had begun to learn how to live with the hum of heartache somewhere between the foreground and the background at all times.
Where I Went
• Nine nights in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts
• Three nights in Albany, New York
• Two nights in Syracuse, New York
• Two nights in Montreal, Canada
• Six nights in Albany, New York
• Two nights in Tampa, Florida
• Four nights in St. Pete, Florida
• One night in Tampa, Florida
• Three nights in Mammoth, California
• Three nights in Truckee, California
• Eight nights in Albany, New York
• Eleven nights in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
• Three nights in Las Vegas, Nevada
• Two nights in Los Angeles, California
• Five nights in Beirut, Lebanon
• Seven nights in Tel Aviv, Israel
• Two nights in Abirim, Israel
• Four nights in Cairo, Egypt
• Twelve nights in Dahab, Egypt
• Two nights in Ras Abu Galum, Egypt
• Three nights in Cairo, Egypt
• Showing my bestie around my island. Martha’s Vineyard is one of my most beloved places on earth, and it never shines more for me than when I’m showing it off. From alpaca farm visits to lighthouse bike rides to beach picnics, having Amanda come for what I hope is her first visit of many was a dream.
• Fourth of July joy. It was a tough Fourth of July, a special holiday for our family, for me. But the memory of my sister breaking into song and starting a spontaneous patriotic sing-along — that random passerbys also joined — while we watched fireworks from the pier with my mom will always warm my heart.
• Lyra lessons. Finding a private Lyra instructor on Martha’s Vineyard? Dope. Figuring out that she also works in the Dominican Republic and that I could hire her for my upcoming retreat there? Heaven! I loved my private classes on Sarah’s private rig.
• Upstate I do’s. I loved the high school reunion vibes, cool murals, and the great brunch spot we found in Syracuse while there for a dear friend’s wedding.
The Capital Region
• Bota Bota bliss. I found my happy place in Montreal, and it is Bota Bota floating spa. Honestly, this is a spa worth traveling for! If you’re a wellness addict, add Bota Bota to your bucket list.
• Smalbany summer. Summer is one time I don’t mind Albany’s small town vibes — you don’t need to venture far with activities like goat yoga at the truly excellent June Farms, outdoor concerts at SPAC, and the fantastic mural tour downtown. And when we needed to beat the heat, we retreated to our usual sanctuary: the independent theater Spectrum. One of my favorite summer memories is seeing Yesterday with my mom, my mom’s best friend, and her fiancé, all of us with tears streaming down our faces while we sang along to the greatest hits of the Beatles.
• A non-destination wedding. Y’all know I love to hope on a plane or in a car for the nuptials of anyone I love, but wow, was it refreshing and fun to attend a wedding right in Troy! Surrounded by so many of our family and friends at a stunning barn venue I’d yet to visit, my heart filled right up. When the bride and groom made a special tribute to my mom, who had been somewhat of a mentor to them, it practically burst.
• Getting back on the retreat grind. Wow, was I so proud of so many aspects of Wander Women St. Pete, from our amazing gift bags, to having our first return retreat guests, to getting to work with my aerial inspiration Jess, who was a shining light of my 2019. From acro yoga to dancing in the rain on the beach to all our amazing breakthroughs at Movement Sanctuary (one of the most beautiful, good vibe studios in the US), to yoga outside the studio in parks, museums, and poolside, to a wild night on the dance floor — we just did so much and had the absolute best time. Another special moment? My Aunt Karen joining us for dinner for a night, and getting to show my beaming biggest fan the work I do at Wander Women Retreats.
• The happy accident that was Mammoth. From the moment we all convened at SFO, it was pure bliss being back with my Thailand family as we road tripped through California. Like, wow. It worked out so fantastically that we ended up in Mammoth with a personal tour guide in our friend Meg, taking in secret hot springs and wild hikes — Little Lakes Valley, I’ll never forget you — and the cute ski own vibes, but really, with this crew, we could have been anywhere and I’d have been in heaven. And the family reunion vibes only expanded and continued when we arrived in our final destination for…
• …the wedding of the decade on Donner Lake! Seriously, what an absolute dream. I loved everything about this simple, laid-back — yet magazine-worthy — affair, from the taco buffet to the barefoot dance party to the next day’s boozy paddleboat races at the lake. If I ever get hitched and have a big party, I’ll be thinking back to this one to remember what matters most — good friends and good fun.
• Illumination. Also known as the most magical night of the year on Martha’s Vineyard. I’d missed the previous year’s due to my Koh Tao retreat and been convinced it would be my mom’s last. I’m grateful I got to spend this one with her. It was a tough week, and feels tougher when I look back and realize it was the last time I’d spend with my mom while she was conscious, but I’m also incredibly grateful for the opportunity to finally meet my nephew, and have my mom meet him too — it was the last real engagement I’d ever see her have with the world.
• My second passport victory. I actually wasn’t sure if I should make this a lowlights, considering the anxiety of figuring it all out and the fact that I could have easily saved hundreds of dollars and days of hassle getting a second passport if I’d simply gotten organized in time to do so via mail. But whatever — all of that was forgotten when I had my two passports in hand, and was able to enter both Lebanon and Israel drama-free.
• Vegas escapism. Looking back, it’s easy to see how I ended up having my biggest blowout weekend to Vegas ever for Heather’s 40th– I really needed to blow off steam. From our big Vegas bottle service club night with the sparkler-carrying girls coming out with Heather’s name in sparkles to the Cirque and Neon Museum shows that lit up our nights, it was a hedonistic, fun trip that reminded me fun has no age limit.
• An LA stopover. My trip to Los Angeles after Vegas was way too quick and short, but it meant the world to me to squeeze in a bit of quality time with my dad and my dog. And even in just two nights, I managed to have two new experiences — finally visiting Koreatown icon Wi Spa, and having lunch aside the runway at the aviation-celebrating Proud Bird on my way out.
• Lovely Lebanon. Looking back I’m just so grateful for the enormous privilege of visiting a new country while all of this was going on in my life, which turned into a research trip for my most popular tour, ever. The idea was born from having a personal tour guide of my own to explore beyond Beirut — the amazing Jess, who wins all the awards from me for driving in Lebanese traffic. My favorite part? A day in Chekka, enjoying the joie de vivre of the famous Lebanese summer day clubs.
• Beirut bliss. I fell in love with seaside Beirut, which is very reminiscent of Tel Aviv, my other Middle Eastern soul city. I loved the impeccable design and the lively vibe, and Lebanese food really lives up to the hype, from hole-in-the-wall saj, to mezze based dinners at Liza, darling of the high end dining scene. My highlight? Once again, an afternoon soaking up the summer urban beach club vibes at Madame Bleu.
• Living like a local. I really started to feel at home in Tel Aviv on my third trip to Israel. It’s a feeling I adore, in a city I’ve grown to love deeply. Champagne toasts on the beach at sunset, a mid-workday arak shot at lunch at the market, actually running, unplanned, into friends on the street, long doggo walks, romantic dates and even getting a show a friend from home around for a day made it feel like real life, just in technicolor.
• A surprise weekend up north! I felt spoiled out of my mind — a unique and welcome feeling in that time — at this dreamy date weekend to a part of Israel I never would have visited on my own. Wineries, massages, stunning viewpoints, a beautiful balcony with a hot tub — these are a few of my favorite things, and they were all delightful surprises in Galilee.
• My spy-like airport experience. I wasn’t really sure if I should put this under lowlights for the hassle or highlights for the thrill! But getting my onward flight from Tel Aviv was certainly one of my more intriguing travel adventures.
• Cairo chaos. It’s a city that always intrigues and challenges me! And I knew, landing to brace myself for 21 straight days of running retreats, that it would challenge and delight me more than ever. My highlights, in addition to meeting my first ever Egyptian retreat crew, was our sunset felucca rides, our trip to the absolute hidden gem the Cairo Jazz Club, and seeing so many women realize their dream of laying eyes on the pyramids for the first time.
• Dreamy Dahab. Wow, what can I say about my two weeks of running back-to-back retreats here? It’s hard to sum up in this form. First, I love this little town and just being in Dahab for a while feels really good. The rest, I’ll have to break down a little. My favorite yoga moment was simply crossing the enormous hurdle of teaching sixteen consecutive flows. Teaching so much really challenged me, and was a big step in my yoga journey. My favorite diving moments were ones where we helped our guests overcome issues, fear, or insecurities, and feel even more at home in the ocean than ever — plus, ya know, the dope octopus show I was treated to one morning at the artificial reef! My favorite conservation moment was finding the absolute perfect project to support in Project Azraq, a local female-helmed sustainability NGO — be still my heart! And my favorite personal travel moments were getting to go on a Sinai canyon tour for the first time, and truly admiring all of Dahab’s beautiful art thoroughly while on our cleanup walks. There’s a reason Dahab is home to what I hope will be another signature annual dive retreat! The oasis of a villa, the beautiful food, the pinch-me-it’s-so-dreamy town, the sublime diving, the serene rooftop yoga — I’m just so proud of what I’ve created here, with the help of so many.
• Ras Abu Galum adventures. Our overnight stay at the remote Bedouin peninsula of Ras Abu Galum is perhaps one of the greatest logistical challenges of my retreat-running career. But wow, is the payoff huge. I loved checking out a new camp one week, staying up late swapping old travel stories at the bonfire another, and just showing off one of the best hidden gems I’ve uncovered in all my travels.
• Post-retreat pat on the back. Due to my situation at home, I took the first flight back to the US possible. However, as a red eye, it left me the day to myself once I’d seen my girls off for their morning flights. I went straight to the hotel spa in Cairo and treated myself to a day of pampering, spent in silence soaking up the fact that I’d achieved this wild dream. I spend so much time criticizing myself for being bad at business, or beating myself up for my personal failures, I decided recently I need to spend just as much time celebrating my successes.
LOL of the Months
• Honestly, the entire situation in the historic ghost town of Bodie was just A+ comedy material. Wow, did I need those laughs. From the matching gas station hats I purchased for Amy and I to the mysterious rock that entered the car, carrying with it both the strong possibility of curse of Bodie and a heavy debate about if the curse belonged to the person who put the rock in the car or the person who was driving said vehicle. It was a trip for the ages.
• While it almost seems unfair to include since it was somewhat chemically aided, the oxygen bar in Vegas was too much fun.(Where can I find a dentist who gives laughing gas for treatment? That’s like oxygen, right?) Between recounting the previous night and the game we invented to torture each other with the various massage devices they try to upset you on, it was by far the funniest hangover of the year.
Las Vegas + LA
Lowlights and Lessons
• An Independence Day that didn’t feel free. July Fourth was tough. This was always a treasured weekend of family time for us. Since my mom’s diagnosis, we had adopted a new Vineyard routine. We usually took turns getting out of the house to go to the beach solo and recharge, while someone stayed behind to hang with my sweet mom. Even if she was sleeping, someone always had to be there in case she woke up, as she was completely paralyzed and couldn’t move on her own, and her cognition was somewhat limited. It was a decent system that kept the caretakers refreshed, and gave us some reminder that outside the pain of our walls, life was still carrying on. But on this particular day, a joyous holiday families spend together, I wiped away tears while we packed up the car with my stepdad and my mom staying behind with promises to swap off soon. It didn’t feel right, being apart. One of my biggest regrets as a caretaker is not figuring out a beach wheelchair and giving her a few last memories by her beloved ocean — I tear up just to write it.
• My own rock bottom. It is humbling to admit that upon my trip to the UK and Middle East, I deeply, deeply struggled to return to my new reality as a caretaker tied to home. While I am ashamed for not cherishing any precious moments with my mom and for the extra burden this put on other family members, I have to be compassionate with my past self and know that as a twenty-something woman who had sacrificed so much, I had reached my breaking point. And I share that because I want others in this unique position — from your comments, messages and emails I know there are so many — to know that you are not alone. I thought I’d come back from that trip refreshed and recharged and instead I came back bitter over the dissolution of my relationship, mentally checked out of my responsibilities, and deeply missing the freedom I’d almost lost the flame of completely. I was so burned out and felt like there was no end in sight. But wishing for that era of my life meant wishing for my mom to no longer be with us, a horror I couldn’t even contemplate. I was left wracked with a guilt so deep it lived in every cell of my body.
• Feeling frazzled. When I was getting some recharge time, I was so mentally frayed I felt like I often blew it with silly mistakes. I missed out on activities I’d planned with others — like an alpaca walk in Martha’s Vineyard and a helicopter ride over the Strip in Las Vegas — because I made small errors that normally would never slip by me. Those were easily survivable. Missing the shuttle for one of my dearest friend’s weddings because I bungled the time and thus missing half the ceremony? Truly heartbreaking. I might have been holding it together vaguely on the surface, but one layer deep, I was a mess.
• The retreat rush. Really, I was so grateful to be working again and had such an amazing group of guests, I can barely call these lowlights. But our Florida retreat was not without stumbling blocks. I learned how incredibly hard aerial retreats can be to sell (they are our lowest profit margin trips by far, and if they weren’t such a passion of mine I would have stopped running them) and remembered the chaos of running retreats. This one, while shorter and ostensibly simpler than a dive trip, had all kinds of curve balls — our breakfast vendor’s kitchen burning down the week before the retreat and a middle-of-the-night text trying to cancel one of our deliveries, torrential weather forcing us to basically replan and reschedule the trip every day on the fly, and some slight speed bumps with our training space kept this trip interesting.
• The call we knew was coming. It was on my retreat, in the middle of a busy day where I had all of five minutes to collect myself before putting a smile on and returning to my beautiful guests, that I called in to the appointment where my mom’s doctor’s gave us the news we always knew we’d get some day. Her treatment was no longer effective. There was nothing left to do but hope for the universe’s grace and dig for strength and acceptance.
• The last walk. I didn’t know it at the time — well, maybe some part of me did — but that final summer week in Martha’s Vineyard was the last time I’d look into my amazing mom’s eyes and see a flicker of recognition. I’ll never forget our last walk around the campground, just the two of us, my stepdad kindly nudging us out the door. I’ll never forget the conversation he and I had where he asked me if I wanted to know, while I was in Egypt working, if it got really bad. What my plan was if the worst happened. I’ll never forget that feeling.
• Another kind of goodbye. I don’t know if there’s ever been a door that was harder for me to walk out of than the hotel room in Boston that I hugged Ian goodbye in before he flew to the UK to start his new job — and we started our new lives apart. We’d already made the gut-wrenching decision to go our separate ways, but no amount of time would have dulled the ache. This footnote isn’t the send off our beautiful five year relationship deserved — not in the slightest. But it does mirror the reality of what it felt like in real life: rushed, without privacy, without the time and space and mental and emotional energy it required. But the reality of my life at the time left me completely drained: the anguish of feeling like I was holding back one of the people I loved most in the world had become suffocating, and I had absolutely nothing left to give to anyone.
• Feeling torn. It’s a blip in the scheme of things, but I felt really guilty that I was once again so disorganized that I unintentionally committed to a trip I really couldn’t go on to Napa, following my Vegas indulgence. I still paid my share, which was fair but which I really didn’t feel I could afford at the time — and also felt guilty that others in Vegas were picking up the slack for me for aspects of the trip that were just so beyond my budget I couldn’t have participated otherwise — like bottle service for Kygo. Still, while it was only two days and it wasn’t nearly enough, I’m glad I followed by heart and spent those two post-Vegas nights in Las Vegas with my dad instead — I really craved some quality time with him.
• Landing… in the ER. As someone who constantly brushes off their minor injuries and illnesses in favor of powering through on prayers and ibuprofen, I really can’t describe properly the level of misery I felt during those endless hours in the air from Los Angeles to Beirut. I’m so grateful that we were able to get a quick diagnosis and proper antibiotics, though cancelling the first days of an already-short trip was a huge bummer (as was forgetting to claim the visit on my travel insurance because again, my life was a dumpster fire at the time.)
• Missing out on the yoga festival I’d flown to Israel for. It was pretty frustrating to have the dates changed at the last minute so I was unable to attend after purchasing international flights to do so — but oh well. Israel is a great place to find a Plan B.
• The chaos of Cairo. From credit cards getting eaten by ATMs to our retreat restaurant being closed to all-nighters fighting with the print files for our welcome booklets, our first ever tour-style retreat add-on was a learning experience indeed. And we soaked up every lesson — thank goodness for Sam and Katie, my partners-in-Egyptian-retreat-crime keeping me sane through it all.
• Dahab dramas. I realized eventually how ambitious it was pulling off the retreat we did in Dahab, a place where getting an email reply is as confounding as the construction of the pyramids, where a herd of pre-booked camels can go missing hours before go-time, and miscommunications abound. Oh, and did I mention my retreat manager twister her ankle and due to a camera setting snafu, I lost a third of my footage? It’s all why running my retreats, and finally pulling off the ambitious built-from-scratch adventures of a lifetime we dream so big on, leaves me feeling like actual Superwoman — a sensation I admit I’ve become a bit addicted to.
• The long way home. My time in Egypt was punctuated by stolen moments bursting my retreat bubble and calling home to news so surreal I felt numb to it. I felt like I was sleepwalking through my flight back to New York, knowing I was coming back to the biggest heartbreak of my life and begging the universe to give me the opportunity to say goodbye to my mom with my arms around her. I’ll never stop being grateful she waited for me.
Best and Worst Beds of the Months
Best: It was a great few months for finding unique places to stay. The one I can’t really claim any credit for at all is the incredible zimmer I stayed at in North Israel, which was one of the most romantic places I’ve ever stayed. I can, however, give myself props for the amazing Airbnbs we stayed at in both Mammoth and Truckee — the ultimate sleepover pads for our groups of friends!
Worst: I like staying places that are offbeat, modern, and funky. So while there was really nothing wrong with these places, the hotels I stayed at in Syracuse and Las Vegas just weren’t my style (and were pricey, oddly in the first case.) But they brought me to places where I had an amazing time so, no complaints!
Best and Worst Meals of the Months
Best: I was wowed by Liza, the hip Lebanese restaurant we celebrated my last night in Beirut at. I’m not often a fan of true fine dining — I’m not into anything stuffy — but this was the perfect balance of local, experimental, and celebratory.
Worst: Honestly, I really struggled with finding appropriate dining venues for the Cairo portion of my Red Sea Retreats. I normally pride myself on the great meals we feature on our trips, but other than our koshary night on the felucca and our grab-and-go lunch at Zooba, I wasn’t thrilled with any of the options we found (one of the restaurants I’d been most excited to host a meal at closed since my research trip.) Eating a bad meal on your own is meh, hosting on e is next-level cringe.
My three retreats during this time provided the vast bulk of my income for the year. Had I not run them, I would have dipped dangerously into my savings to get by. I had my display ad income, some affiliate payouts, and at least one ongoing Instagram ambassador gig — but it was not enough to get by without my usual press trips and campaign offers.
And running my retreats was more than just a financial boost — it gave me an enormous sense of purpose and pride again, and helped me start to built a bridge between the care taking life I’d dove headfirst into and the career that I’d leapt off the platform from. After pausing my brand new retreat business in late 2018, it really meant the world to be to get it going again.
One frivolous career boost? Being featured in Upstate Magazine. It’s always fun to see my name in print!
Health and Fitness Update
Leading up to my departure for the Middle East, I really worked out like a beast in order to get my body in peak shape for running my retreats. I find it really helps me to have health goals that aren’t related to weight loss, and I found myself in some of the best shape of my life at this time.
That said, I also ran myself ragged — I landed in Lebanon the sickest I’d been all year, by a long shot. I hadn’t felt well getting on the plane in Los Angeles, but I thought that with a few Xanax and sleeping through my long journey, I’d land healed. Ha! Every hour I was in the air I worsened drastically, and I landed and immediately told Jess, who greeted me warmly at the airport, that not to cause a fuss, but I kind of felt like my throat was closing up. We went immediately to the ER where I was diagnosed with acute tonsillitis.
Those flights were the stuff of nightmares — I did not crack a book, watch a movie, or eat a morsel. I just sat and suffered, unable to do a single thing to help myself other than consume borderline dangerous levels of ibuprofen that proved ineffective. I will never get on a plane feeling sick again. (It even feels funny to confess that I did, in this new COVID world.)
Ras Abu Galum
What Was Next
I returned home from Egypt with a cleared schedule. I knew my mom’s condition was worsening, and with no further work or social obligations to fulfill I simply committed to riding the wave of whatever life brought on next.
Thanks for sticking with me through the ups and the downs, friends.
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.
Just letting you know I was here and naturally I enjoyed the post and found iy interresting, thank you
Thanks for always following along, Jo!
Thank you for continuing to share your life Alex. To relive these painful times can’t be easy, though i hope it’s also cathartic in some way.
I love and always have loved your roundups, I come here regularly to check for new ones and this evening had a nice surprise 🙂
Some time ago you talked in an Instagram post about the ‘six figure craze’ and what we use to measure our success. It’s to your blog and others like this that I keep coming back to, even when I am not searching for my next trip or looking for specific travel info.
It may not bring in six figures, but is very very valuable in a different way.. in my measure of success, this is indeed a very successful blog.
I hope you keep sharing, we are here to read you (even if we don’t always comment) 😉
It is indeed cathartic — I’ve found it a very helpful part of my path, as well as connecting to the many who let me know it helped them go through something similar!
I’m touched by all your kind words. Thank you!
Hi Alex. I know this one must have been hard to write but I appreciate your honesty so much. I was missing your writing this last few weeks.
Thank you — I’m hoping to get lots of writing in, in upcoming weeks and months <3
Your mum was absolutely incredible waiting for you to get home from Egypt ???? sitting having that final dinner at the hotel before you left with Katie and Alex for your flights, I never dreamt or realized that was the journey you were undertaking and your life was going to change so drastically within hours. Be so proud of how graciously and flawlessly you continued to host our retreat
Thank you so much Tessa. That means the world to me.
Regarding food in Cairo, we accidentally did really well. Two standouts I can still find are The White Owl and Tabla LUNA. Both are in Maadi. My mom still cant find an enchilada that compares to LUNA
Amazing — just starred both on my Google Maps! Thank you so much for the recommendation!