“Aim high, time flies.” I stared down at the message I’d just cracked out of a fortune cookie and wondered at the odds that this particular prophecy had found me. I was in a strip mall takeout joint in my hometown of Albany, New York, where I was quietly celebrating the fact that five years to the day had passed since I held my breath, crossed my fingers, and boarded a plane that would take me away from every sure thing I’d ever known in exchange for the uncharted.
Half a decade is long time to live without an anchor, but blowing where the wind has taken me led to a lifetime of tropical sunsets, sweet love stories, and wild adventures all packed into just five years. I aimed high, and time has flown. And I know that I have been equal parts insanely blessed and insanely determined in order to end up where I am today, five years into a life filled with travel and funded by self-employment, with absolutely no end date in sight.
As tradition dictates, I’m celebrating this anniversary by highlighting my year in travel, blogging, and beyond. As this is a particularly big one, I have a couple roundup posts planned for the month of June. Want to see where it all began? Find previous annual roundups here, here, here, and here. For now, let’s kick things off with the heart and soul of the Wanderland world — travel.
My Year in Travels
1. Home Sweet Home
My fifth year of travels kicked off with a whirlwind of friends, family, and familiarity. The usual suspects — Albany, New York City and Martha’s Vineyard — made regular appearances, while I also knocked out two new states in a Southern swing that included Bonnaroo in Tennessee and a conference speaking gig in Kentucky.
Finally, more family time — I stopped in Boston to see my baby sister in her new spot and flew to Los Angeles, a city that has become an unexpected West Coast base camp for me since my father took up residence there.
Bonaire was really my unexpected standout destination of the year. I was beyond thrilled about the diving-focused trip from the get-go because of how much I adore the girls I was going with, but the island itself really snuck up and stole my heart when I wasn’t looking. I simply didn’t know that this level of independent, adventurous travel was still an option in the all-inclusive soaked Caribbean, and I cherish my week here.
Aruba was a bonus trip — one always seems to sneak its way in. Once Bonaire was set in stone, our host and friend Steph asked if we wanted to tack a few days in Aruba onto the end of it. Um, how could one say no? Three days was too brief to get more than the slightest glance at the island, but I loved getting the chance to relax in paradise with my squad.
4. West is Best
Back to the USA. After brief stops in my usual East Coast haunts to say goodbye for the year, I hit the road for my biggest West Coast adventure yet. The fun kicked off with a week in Las Vegas, the city I just can’t quit, before I grabbed a campervan and a copilot and we hit the road on a mini road trip circumnavigating the Grand Canyon and hitting up Nevada, Utah, and Arizona along the way.
Final stops on my left coast tour? An emotional return to Burning Man, followed by two chaotic weeks hitting up Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and San Diego in California.
An exotic country that feels deliciously familiar. The vast majority of my year was spent in Thailand, appropriate for a place that takes up such a vast majority of real estate in my heart. I spent nearly seven months based in Koh Tao, remembering what it feels like to catch my breath and finding some space for the serene in what is typically my very fast-paced existence.
While I was obsessed with having a home base again, I was also a frequent passenger on the ferry on and off the island, with side trips to ten different domestic Thai destinations — seven of them new! — keeping my wanderlust alive while I nested. I ran a 5K on Koh Samui, I played with elephants in Khao Sok, I wine tasted in Khao Yai, and I kayaked through a cave deep in Satun, all the while reminded how lucky I am to have traveled Thailand so deeply over the years. Being able to pack a little carry-on without having to bring everything I own along for a trip, and then returning to a familiar bed after, was a funny little luxury that I never tired of.
I was thrilled when the opportunity to visit Cambodia for the fourth time fell into my lap this year, allowing Ian and I to turn what could have been a joy-less visa run into a short and sweet, beautiful getaway. I adored showing Ian around Siem Reap, a city I love in a country I’m captivated by.
Arriving in Brazil was my big bucket–list ticking moment of the year. When my regular travel buddy Heather nabbed tickets the country’s Tomorrowland festival, I couldn’t say no to joining, even extending my trip for a bit of solo travel after her departure. Bustling cities, laid-back beaches, a fantastical festival, colonial towns, idyllic islands — Brazil was a big, beautiful paradox. My six weeks there challenged me in so many unexpected ways, but I left knowing that my goodbye was only a temporary one, and I’d be back for another round in the ring someday.
8. Home Again
Tradition now appears to dictate that I spend my travelversary stateside. Since landing back on American soil, I’ve visited a familiar East Coast triad of Albany, Boston, and Martha’s Vineyard, and have an exciting itinerary in the works for the summer ahead.
My Year in Numbers
Countries Visited: 6. (I mean technically seven if you count the hour I spent in Burma on a visa run — ha!) This was less than half from last year and actually more than I originally imagined. Woo hoo! Quality over quantity goal achieved.
New Countries Visited: 3. A nice manageable number, and brought my grand total to 33. A crazy thought? I have just one new country on the docket for year six so far! I have a feeling a few others might sneak in, though.
States Visited: 8. Three of them were new, bringing the grand total to 21. It’s my goal to visit all fifty someday, so I’d love to add a new one in year six though I’m not quite sure when or where yet. (And it’s fine if it doesn’t happen.)
Plane Rides Taken: 22. 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, eleven were paid for my work (I was either on a campaign, on a press trip, or speaking at a conference), six were paid for with frequent flyer miles (including two big international legs, though sadly my reserves are now more or less depleted) and seven were paid for out of pocket (and were on the whole, face-palmingly expensive.)
That’s a lot of flights for a year with relatively few borders crossed, but air travel is so cheap and efficient in Thailand — where a full 50% of those flights were to, from, or within — that it’s pretty hard to resist. That said, I also took many buses, trains, cars and ferries throughout the year.
Beds Slept In: 62, not counting overnight flights, buses and trains. That is down from last year, but still surprisingly high. Of those, 11 were crashing with friends and family, 28 were hotels, 8 were tents, cabins or campers, 8 were rental apartments houses or villas (1 long term, seven short term), and 7 were hostels. I hope to lower this number for next year since it seems to correlate strongly with life chaos.
Dives: 19. The exact same number as last year! Not quite as high as I’d like to see this number go considering I’d had a liveaboard on my wishlist — which didn’t happen — but I did tick off a week-long dive trip in Bonaire, a day of diving each in Brazil and California, and three specialty dive courses in Thailand.
Conferences Attended: 2. Speaking at both PRSA Lexington and TBEX Bangkok were professional highlights of my year.
Weddings Attended: 1. On of my high school crew tied the knot in our hometown.
Festivals Attended: 3. Bonnaroo, Burning Man and Tomorrowland Brazil.
My Year in Feels
Last year I wrote I wanted to cut my movement in half. I did it! I am so much calmer than I was a year ago. Than I have been in half a decade. Ever? Y’all, it feels good.
I feel I kind of nailed the personal scheduling aspect of things, percentage-wise — half the year settled in expat life, a quarter of the year exploring new destinations, and a quarter of the year bopping around the country I hold a passport to. It wasn’t the most wild or crazy or adventurous year I’ve ever had, but it was a happy one. I actually cancelled several planned trips – a weekend in Malaysia, a backpacking trip to Burma – because I just liked sleeping in my apartment in Koh Tao so darn much.
I feel like my relatively relaxed travel schedule this year gave me space to nurture several of my hobbies, including yoga, diving, hiking, and beyond, to a deeper degree than I’ve been able to in the past (and yes, I consider binge watching an entire season of House of Cards pausing only long enough to read the AV Club recaps to be a hobby, okay?) It felt good to define myself by aspects of my identity other than traveler.
I used to live by the motto “if you’re in control, you’re not moving fast enough” but I now see that I was clinging to a justification for how frantic my life so frequently felt. Looking back at the past twelve months it is so clear to see that the moments where life felt the most chaotic and I felt the most out of control — namely, throughout Brazil and towards the end of my West Coast trip — are the ones where I was moving the most frequently and without flexibility to change my plans. It’s a learning process, but I feel confident in the fact that five years into this nomad game, I’ve finally figured out my best moves.
For the first time in a long time, I’m not really sure. This too feels good! While I have a pretty busy summer filled with surprise trips I’ve yet to announce and possible trips I’ve yet to confirm, things get hazy once autumn arrives. While I know that the future holds a return to Koh Tao for a bulk of the winter months, I’m not sure when exactly that may be or what adventures might sneak in beforehand.
For my sixth year of travel, I’m torn between wanting to go a million new places, and also to have a year even chiller than the one I’ve just wrapped up. I daydream often of an impulsive trip to Uruguay, a lengthy return to Hawaii, a road trip around Jamaica, a rolled-r’s return to Nicaragua and list-ticking trips to one of the three Southeast Asian countries I’ve yet to visit. But then I also want to just you know, hang out on Koh Tao forever and sit on my couch with my friends and hike my favorite trails and keep going back to the same places I always go over and over again, so there’s that. The good news is that five years in, I feel comfortably settled into this lifestyle and no longer fantasize about moving back to New York or fear moving into my mother’s basement, and that definitely adds an air of calm to the decision making process.
One thing that’s for sure? I’m aiming high, and time is going to fly. Here’s to another year spent exploring this big ‘ol beautiful world I feel so lucky to have landed in. And it wouldn’t be the same if I couldn’t share it with you.
Next up, my year in blogging…