The Great Escape: Month 51 Roundup

From the Caribbean back to the East Coast and out West again — it was a month on the move. I started and ended this month with two big trips, cushioned in the middle by a nice stretch of downtime in which to catch my breath. It was a pretty good balance, and while I had a few frustrations, overall this was a happy, fun and full month. Best of all? It was filled with face time with some of my favorite fellow female travel addicts (how’s that for a tongue twister?)

While saying goodbye after my annual warm weather stretch on the East Coast is never easy, I left full of nostalgia and happy memories, already looking forward to summer 2016.

Bonaire TravelBonaire!

Where I’ve Been

• 7 nights in Bonaire

• 3 nights in Aruba

• 3 nights in Brooklyn

• 2 nights in Albany

• 4 nights in Martha’s Vineyard

• 5 nights in Albany

• 6 nights in Las Vegas

Aruba TravelAruba!

Highlights

• Discovering Bonaire. Bonaire’s been on my bucket list for a while so my expectations were high, if very vague — I had no idea what I’d find there, aside from the best in the Caribbean. What I discovered was a true adventure island, a playground for independent travelers in a region where I wasn’t sure there were any left! Passing through little towns like Rincon that felt straight out of Central America, driving along the coastline and dropping in for a dive wherever we pleased, exploring stunning caves and having them totally to ourselves, eating at quirky little food trucks parked on no-fuss beaches — this is the Caribbean I’ve been searching for. Amid the dozens of islands homogenized by cruise ship tourism, Senor Frogs spring breakers, and all-inclusive monotony, I can’t tell you how good it felt to find it.

• Girl time, island style. I feel so blessed to have had so much Angie and Kristin in my life this year. In 2015 I saw them each individually on their own turf (Jacksonville and Nashville) plus this amazing Caribbean bonus. We even got to throw Angie a shark-themed bachelorette party! Here’s to friends who just plain get you.

• Diving in Bonaire… duh! We sampled a handful of different diving experiences throughout the week, but my uncontested favorite was diving with VIP Divers. I’d love to go back and do an entire dive vacation with them! Second runner up? East Side Divers, the only operator that takes divers out to the wild sites off Lac Bay.

• Falling for my new underwater camera setup. It was a lot of drama to choose on and pay for (the credit card bill did follow me for a few months before I paid it off — the first time I’ve ever not paid in full!) but it was worth it. I had so much fun photographing Bonaire below sea level!

• Straight up relaxing in Aruba. It was necessary after our busy week in Bonaire. I loved having some all-inclusive beach time to catch our collective breath, and get up to some silly fun too — the biggest laugh of the month was undoubtedly caused by our bounce couch watersports adventure.

• Taking a SUP yoga class designed by Yoga Girl. Okay the fact that we didn’t actually meet Rachel could have bumped this one in to the disappointment category, but… we were still doing yoga. On a paddleboard. In Aruba. In spite of not meeting my celebrity Instagram crush, it was still a serious highlight.

• One last spontaneous goodbye to Martha’s Vineyard. When unexpected circumstances cut my Brooklyn time short, I found myself up in Albany kicking around a big empty house, and quickly decided to hop the next bus to Massachusetts. I got to see my sister one last time for the summer, and discovered that taking the bus to the Wood’s Hole ferry (pretty much the only transportation mode I hadn’t tried to get to the island, at this point) wasn’t that bad. As a bonus, I got to squeeze in the campground cottage tour in my short few days there, an event I’m definitely going to prioritize from here forward.

• Watching my girl Kenzie get hitched. I’d watched the sky anxiously all day as it threatened to storm, but the rain held off and instead we were treated to a gorgeous, dramatic lightening show as the couple said their vows in front of Upstate New York’s beautiful Crooked Lake. I had a blast with my childhood friend Anthony, who is the best wedding date a girl could ask for.

• Seeing my man Aziz Ansari live… in Albany! Not just in Albany, but in a hundred person hibachi-restaurant-turned-comedy-club that is literally a four minute drive from my childhood home. The night before, I was having drinks with Matt, one of my high school crew, when I got an email from Comedy Works that, surprise! Aziz would be performing the next night. Say what? I guess the world famous comedian, who I’d previously paid big bucks to see at Carnegie Hall, needed to work out some new material for a Comedy Central special in a low pressure setting.

I immediately tried to talk Matt into joining me, but he had other plans, so I put my phone away to book later. The next morning I woke up and decided I’d be happy to go alone — only to find the tickets had sold out in two hours the night before. After a day of scouring Craigslist, calling the venue pretending to be my own assistant, and cursing myself for not booking immediately, we decided to try to just sweet talk our way into the last of three sold out shows. I was amazed when my early-to-bed mom rallied to join me — at midnight! The sympathetic doorman took pity and slipped us in at the last minute, and we whooped at the wild success of our spontaneous mother-daughter date. Considering the setting, the company, and the hustle it took to get there, it was one of the best nights of live entertainment I’ve ever had.

• Being unleashed in my favorite adult playground. I know Las Vegas is a pretty divisive travel destination but I see it as a big ‘ol choose your own adventure novel and have a blast. What will today bring? A flamingo-themed hotel and a trip to the cupcake ATM? A healthy breakfast juice at Squeeze and a trip to the gym and spa? A whirl at the oxygen bar followed by a silly stop at the Diet Coke store? I loved having a full week to finally tick so many of my Vegas bucket list items off — though I just keep adding to it.

• Seeing Britney! A glittery nostalgia bomb that pushed all the right buttons. A moment triumphantly checked off my bucket list. An amazing night, from all angles.

• Discovering downtown Las Vegas. I’d consider Downtown Vegas and Bonaire to be my two big personal discoveries of the month. From the amazing vibes of East Fremont to the wonderful Viator walking tour to the truly fantastic neon museum, I couldn’t get enough of this area. I’ve already checked out some nearby hotels for my next visit!

• Laughing till I cried at Chippendales. Don’t wait ’till you have a bachelorette party to go!

• QT in LV. I planned the trip out there with Zoe and Emma but was lucky enough to inadvertently overlap  with my girl Abby as well as bachelorette repeater Angie and her sis Rae. And so I ended the month as I started it — surrounded by badass chicks.

Martha's Vineyard TravelMartha’s Vineyard!

Lowlights and Lessons

• Getting attacked by a jellyfish in Bonaire. I like to think I’m not easily rattled by bumps or bruises, but I was very shaken by my tentacle slap to the face while coming up from a safety stop in Bonaire. Some cultural dissonance between the Dutch divemaster and I over how to handle someone in the middle of a medical emergency didn’t help, and it took some dramatic flopping around in my room, a bit of coddling from my amazing friends and the application of multiple allergy creams before I started feeling like myself again.

• The subway ride from hell. Returning from Aruba, I decided to hop on the Airtran to my friends’ apartment in Brooklyn to save a little cash. Two hours later and still underground thanks to train delays, I seriously regretted that decision. Even worse, a disturbing fight broke out in my subway car on the last leg of the journey, leaving me shaking like a leaf and dialing the police when I finally reached my stop. Welcome back to Brooklyn?

• The eye infection that wouldn’t go away. I returned from Aruba with a nasty eye infection as a souvenir, the latest in a long line of ocular issues caused by contact lenses. Between an emergency out-of-network doctor’s visit and two pearl-clutchingly expensive rounds of medication, this doozy ended up costing me nearly $500 — and that was with health insurance. The infection was physically very painful, and fighting it was emotionally draining.

The worst day of my month involved a morning of frantic phone calls to find a doctor who would see me on a Friday afternoon, hysterically fighting my way onto an earlier-than-expected bus to Albany to get to my appointment on time, spending two anxious hours in the office waiting to be seen while repeatedly explaining to the cruelly dismissive office manager that I had a funeral to attend, being called in by the doctor just as I was finally walking out of the office in tears, begging for a generic medication prescription, and finally, driving to the funeral of one of my best friend’s grandmothers with fully dilated eyes since I didn’t have any time to spare and the cab wait was over an hour (this was the most scary and dangerous drive of my life and in retrospect I probably should have made a different decision, but I was exhausted, emotional, and definitely not thinking clearly). Oh! And then when I got to a 24 hour pharmacy later that night, they handed me a $150 bill and laughed when I said I’d asked for an affordable prescription (“this is literally the Cadillac of eye drops” they told me, explaining that I’d have to wait until Monday if I wanted to change it — no thanks, considering the doctor warned me that untreated this infection could blind me.) I went home alone to an empty house. It was not a good day.

• Saying goodbye to Tucker. Oh man. I touched on this in my previous roundup, but this was the month I actually sent Tucker off to California with the canine transportation service. Looking back, it’s so casually obvious that everything was going to turn out fine. Obviously the people who have dedicated their lives to driving pets cross country are animal lovers. Obviously they were going to take good care of him. But at the time? I was seized by fear that somehow, I would never see my baby again. My heart was so heavy on that last walk around our block in Albany, knowing it was a walk we’d taken a thousand times before and would never take again. I love that dog something fierce.

• Strip burnout in Vegas. We really did pace ourselves well — three nights of clubbing, one night of local bar hopping, and two nights of heading straight-to-bed. But even still, we were absolutely exhausted by the time we left Las Vegas. It’s a city where getting from Point A to a very nearby Point B in a timely and efficient matter is a near impossible mission, alongside grabbing a quick, close-by and casual meal or getting a good night of sleep. Those kind of hassles are fine for a weekend, but definitely start to wear on you after a week.

• A sister trip… without my sister. Originally, we dreamed up this Vegas trip as a double sissy trip. In the end, I was surrounded by sisters, but none of them were mine. Olivia had to back out due to work, and I felt guilty ticking of a huge bucket list item — seeing Britney! — that we’d dreamed of doing together, and couldn’t help but think it would have been so fun having her around.

• Packing panic. I know that loathing packing is pretty par for the course for me, but this session was intense. Much of my final stretch in Albany was spent devising a packing strategy for Las Vegas, an Arizona road trip, Burning Man, two weeks in California and six months in Thailand — all at once! Thankfully, Southwest still lets you fly with two checked bags free and so I put Vegas and the road trip in one and Burning Man in the other (fellow Burners will understand I could only get away with packing so lightly thanks to Ian doing most of the prep). I was then able to send my California and Thailand-bound bags overland with a car heading for California and switch out most of my stuff there, otherwise I’m not quite sure how I would have managed.

• Overall, my summer had a tragic lack of NYC in it. This needs to be corrected next year.

Wedding SeasonAlbany!

Lols

This was a month of a million giggles, but I’m going to keep things short and hit you with just two highlights.

• First, the latest edition of “the one lovely photo I posted” versus “what all the outtakes and 94% of my actual life looked like,” seasickness edition. Enjoy!

• Second, a little reminder not to FaceTime your mom from Las Vegas at 5:21am. You will pay.

Best and Worst Beds of the Month

A new category? Why not!

Best: It would be pretty much impossible to top our stay at The Cromwell. Even in spite of the pool situation and the headlamp-requiring room darkness, it might just be my new favorite hotels in Vegas.

Worst: I didn’t really stay anywhere cringe-worthy. However, considering the number of times in the night I wake up to a bump or creak convinced I’m about to be murdered, I’m not a big fan of spending the night alone in my childhood home.

Best and Worst Meals of the Month

Best: This is a tough call in a month where I ate at Giada in Vegas, spent a week in the surprise culinary hotspot of Bonaire and had my final Bruegger’s Bagel of the year in Albany. But I’m going to have to award the honor to Capriccio Bonaire for an insanely gorgeous setting, the best pastas I’ve ever had in my life, and absolutely amazing company around the table.

Worst: Lotus of Siam, regularly hailed as being one of the most amazing Thai restaurants in Las Vegas. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t worth the hype. We left wondering what all the fuss was about — it’s good food for being in a strip mall, but it’s not worth the cost of cabs to get there and back from The Strip, or the wait for one to be called to get you (we almost got attacked by an angry mob waiting for cabs when a driver we’d personally called to fetch us showed up.)

Spending

While my trip to Bonaire and Aruba was a press trip and some aspects of my Vegas trip were comped (and I landed a free flight thanks to my Southwest miles!), even that couldn’t offset the big expenses paying North American prices for food, fuel, and transportation — I spent $80 busing from NYC to Albany to Martha’s Vineyard in one weekend! I also had some unexpected medical expenses that made a huge dent in my checking account. But overall, I’m ever grateful for the opportunity to keep my stateside travel relatively affordable by staying with friends and driving a family car.

Vegas TravelLas Vegas!

Saving

My income this month was decent and well diversified — I clocked in with a bit of brand ambassador work, my featured blogger program and display adds, some SEO ads, a bit of affiliate sales, and one small photography job in Albany. For a month in which I was traveling so much (especially on a press trip) and having alone time so little, I was happy with hitting my typical income range.

Health and Fitness

I managed one yoga class each in Bonaire and Aruba, but otherwise failed to make fitness a priority on that decadent press trip. A final burst of barre classes in Albany and some cheeky runs around Martha’s Vineyard were great stress relievers as I ran around getting ready for my next takeoff.

I was actually really proud of myself for building time for both work and working out into my Vegas trip — looks like I’m finally getting the hang of this working from the road routine! (Only took me a mere five years.) We took a pole fitness class, I used the Flamingo’s gym, and I literally went for a jog right down The Strip in 104 degree heat to pick up my Britney tickets — that last one garnered a lot of stares.

Travel FitnessFitness!

What’s Next

A five-day road trip through Nevada, Arizona and Utah, followed by Burning Man and a decompression trip to California.

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.

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