Месечни архиви: December 2015

My Worst Travel Moments of 2015

15

Kate in Siracusa

You can’t have the bad without the good!

Every year (and every month!) I like to write about the bad moments along with the good ones because I think it’s important to show that travel is not a prescription for a happy life. Even if you travel all the time, plenty of bad things happen along with the good.

This is my life. I just happen to spend most of it on the road. If you know anyone with a perfectly smooth live, I’d love to get their secrets!

I’m deeply grateful that 2015 has been a very smooth year. This list is devoid of severe injuries, grave illnesses, dangerous situations, financial setbacks and business difficulties. That’s about as good as you can hope for! This year could have been much worse, and I’m thankful that each day I’m able to rise out of bed, take care of myself, and continue working on a business that allows me to live a very good life.

You’ve read about my best travel moments of 2015 — now get ready for the worst!

Sea Dance Montenegro

Getting Taxi Scammed at Sea Dance

I consider myself a fairly vigilant traveler, and as a result, I’ve very rarely been scammed. But I fell victim to one of my biggest scams to date on the first night of Sea Dance in Budva, Montenegro.

I found myself unusually tired that night and decided to go back early while Jeremy and Ryan stayed at the festival. I hopped into one of the normal-looking taxis waiting in the line outside — and soon realized that in addition to taking me on an indirect route, the meter was charging me FAR more than it should have.

The meter should have been at six euros. The late-night rate should have been at ten euros. Instead, by the time the driver pulled up to our apartment complex, I had a bill of forty euros!

I started arguing with the driver; he said that it was the correct price. “It’s always ten euros!” I cried. I refused to pay four times that rate — yet I was in an isolated situation, in the parking lot of the complex with no bystanders, which could have been dangerous.

I threw him twenty euros and ran toward my apartment.

He initially ran after me, threatening to call the police. I then burst into fake ugly-sobbing (“I have nothing! I have nothing!“) at the top of my lungs. Eventually he stepped back and I ran inside.

Kate in Castanea, Sicily

Feeling Helpless in My Great-Grandfather’s Village

Sicily was a challenge, but the lowest point of the trip came when we were in Castanea delle Furie, my great-grandfather’s village.

That’s when I realized just how different Sicilian dialect was. I would say a sentence and the locals wouldn’t understand me. They would say a sentence and I might pick out one word, tops. Speaking Italian worked in the more popular tourist sites in Sicily like Siracusa and Taormina, but in random rural areas like Castanea, I might as well have been speaking Greek!

We were going around the neighborhood and trying to connect the dots in our ancestry by asking locals for help, something that, as an introvert, I hate doing in the first place, language barrier or not. The locals would keep firing off sentence I couldn’t understand as my mom kept saying, “Translate! Translate!” and I wanted nothing more than to run away and hide.

It was deeply moving to visit Castanea, and I feel grateful that we got to spend the time figuring out where my great-grandfather came from. After seeing how isolated it is, even in 2015, we have a better understanding of why he ran away and sailed to America at the age of 11.

Now, looking back at the events of the summer, I’ve been wondering what made me such a mess in Sicily. I think I placed too high expectations on myself as both a traveler and a guide for my family. I’m an expert traveler in Italy — I go a few times a year, I speak the language, I know how to order a coffee (and what kind of coffee to order at the right time of day) at a bar, I know to validate my train tickets, I know Sunday lunches are sacred, I know what time the passegiatta starts, I can decode a whole Italian menu instantly.

But Sicily was nothing remotely like the rest of Italy, and I wasn’t prepared for that. At all.

El Tunco, El Salvador

Losing Both Our Debit Cards in El Tunco

This is, by far, the dumbest thing I did this year. While in El Tunco, El Salvador, I got money out at one of the ATMs in town, then forgot to take my card afterward. There are two ATMs in that town and they are both the type that don’t spit your card back until the very end of the transaction.

Now, you think this was bad. It gets worse. The exact same thing happened to Leif, and we were about to run our first tour.

YIKES.

Now, we were somewhat prepared for losing our debit cards. Both of us had backup debit cards connected to our Paypal accounts (and having a backup card hidden in your luggage is something that I recommend for all travelers).

The only problem was that we had to pay all of our tour vendors in cash upon arrival, and we were limited in how much money Paypal would let you take out per day. Plus, I had to transfer money to my Paypal account first, which took a few days (Paypal doesn’t let you withdraw more than is in your Paypal account, even if you’ve connected it to another bank account. You CAN use it as a debit card using money your backup bank account, though.)

We got through the tour just fine, which was a relief. We just barely were able to get by from taking out the maximum amount of money each day.

But that is an experience I never want to repeat! I’ve since become extra vigilant about checking for my card after transactions.

berlin-street-gallery

Getting Lost in Berlin in the Middle of the Night

You know what’s awesome? When you take a taxi home at the end of a crazy and it takes you to the completely wrong corner of the city. And you don’t notice until it’s gone.

It was late. I had no data on my phone, so I couldn’t call an Uber. Germany is stingy with public wifi and unlocked networks are more or less impossible to find. Cabs were nowhere to be found. And let me add that Berlin is nine times the size of Paris.

So I walked — in the rain, shrouded in my smoky coat. My phone battery was rapidly dying, but my GPS helped my navigate my way back eventually, destroying my leather flats in the process.

I finally made it home at 8:00 AM, soaked to the bone, and nearly cried with relief when I got inside. On the plus side, I had walked 30,000 steps since midnight.

Barcelona

The Hostel Experience in Barcelona

I’m not a big fan of hostel dorms anymore, but in Barcelona this summer, I figured I could deal with dorm life for just a few days. To make it the best experience possible, I chose what was then the top-rated hostel in Barcelona (Hostel Sant Jordi Gracia) and selected a small four-bed dorm.

And it seemed good at first. I met a young guy from Long Island sleeping on the bunk beneath mine who told me he had visited friends in Massachusetts before, in Pea-BOD-dee. “It’s PEA-b’dee,” I said with a smile. “That’s right!” he replied.

All that charm went out the window at 4:30 AM when his alarm went off.

And wouldn’t stop.

Despite the fact that this kid had a screaming phone next to him, he didn’t so much as move to turn it off. I had to climb down from my top bunk and shake him for a few minutes before he woke up and turned it off.

Miffed, I went back to bed.

Ten minutes later, the same thing happened. The alarm was shrieking; the kid still wouldn’t wake up. I got up to shake him again. AND THEN IT HAPPENED A THIRD TIME. That time, I stayed there until he showed me he shut it off.

The next day, the kid was standing in the hostel lobby and I let him have it in front of everyone there.

“What you did was rude and inconsiderate,” I snapped. “Staying in a dorm means being respectful of your fellow dormmates and not setting alarms every ten minutes!”

“Yeah, but I was inebriated!” he protested. This kid.

“If you’re going to be inebriated, don’t set off a million alarms for the middle of the night! I had to keep getting up from my top bunk to wake you! Did you even remember that?”

After Barcelona, I flew to Santorini and stayed in another dorm — the island was booked solid and it was the only affordable accommodation left. But since then, I haven’t stayed in another dorm since. At 31, I’m fairly certain my dorm days are behind me.

Riding the “Small Ferry” in Lake Nicaragua

Even though it’s been more than four years since my shipwreck, I still get nervous on boat rides. And while I handled the crossing to Ometepe on the “big ferry” just fine, the small ferry back to the mainland was much worse.

It was a flimsy wooden boat similar to my boat that sank off Komodo Island. It was an extremely windy day and the ship careened from side to the point that the sides would dip into the water and the crew would have to bail it out. Passengers were crying and throwing up. I basically froze in place for the whole trip, absolutely terrified.

I know the video doesn’t look too scary, but believe me, this was the very calm ending of the treacherous journey. During most of the trip, I was afraid to move a muscle, much less start filming! And to those of you who say, “It’s just a lake,” head to one of the Great Lakes on a windy day sometime and you’ll see how choppy a big lake can get!

Visiting Ometepe? The big ferry and small ferry trade off crossings all day. Wait for a big ferry; it’s a million times better.

Breakfast at The Larder in Chiang Mai

The November Breakdown

I’m still trying to figure out what led to my breakdown in Chiang Mai in November. It was the culmination of several months (if not years) of intense travel, capped off by a heaping amount of stress and an arrival of anxiety.

Suddenly, I had no idea how be normal anymore.

I felt completely apathetic with my work.

I ate breakfast at the same place every day because I couldn’t bear the thought of figuring out a new restaurant.

I couldn’t get up the nerve to go to the Yi Peng lantern festival or any Loy Krathong celebrations.

I went out for Thai barbecue with a big group of friends and panicked because I couldn’t figure out what to do.

I was on edge with my friends, either staying silent the whole time or on the verge of exploding.

Sometimes I just went back to my accommodation and cried.

How do you get from traveling the world for five years to being a person afraid of everything? And in Chiang Mai, perhaps the most western-friendly city in Asia, of all places? I have no idea.

I am aware that things could have been much worse, and since then, I’ve been starting some new self-care routines so that I can reduce these stresses before they get any worse. I’ve been getting much better since coming home, and probably the best thing I’ve done is start a morning meditation routine, which grounds me throughout the day.

Either way, I know that it’s now time for me to take a big, long break from travel. I’ll still be writing plenty here (there’s so much I haven’t written about yet!), but I think the best thing for me is to stay put in one place where I don’t have to battle through cultural differences for awhile.

Volcano Boarding

Volcano Boarding Gone Bad in Nicaragua

I had been looking forward to volcano boarding in Nicaragua so much. To the best of my knowledge, Cerro Negro in Nicaragua was (and still is) the only place where you can do this activity, and it had been a must on my list for Central America for years.

I signed up through Bigfoot Hostel, climbed the volcano, donned my big orange jumpsuit, and got ready to slide down on my sled.

Only I didn’t slide.

No matter how far back I leaned, I couldn’t get myself to slide. Halfway down, I had to give up and kick my board down the volcano as everyone groaned.

It turns out my board was defective — something I hadn’t realized beforehand, as I was one of the people who had paid a supplementary $5 for the crew to carry my board up the volcano for me. Those who carried their own boards knew what they were getting.

If I go back, I might try it again with a different company — I hear Quetzal Trekkers is much better and they give back to the local community.

It wasn’t the worst thing to happen — but I was disappointed that an activity I had been looking forward to for years had turned out so badly.

Kate in Avola

Getting Locked in a Vestibule With a Giant Cockroach in Sicily

Who knew that it was possible to lock yourself in between the two doors? In our Airbnb rental in Avola, Sicily, you would let yourself into a vestibule with one key and then let yourself into the apartment with the other key.

And it was all good until the inside door slammed closed with the keys still in it. My mom and I were trapped between the doors with no way of getting out. Oh, and have I mentioned that we had just swept a giant cockroach from our apartment into the vestibule?

Thankfully, our host, Giovanni, was nearby and quickly came to our rescue. Even though we primarily communicated in emojis over Whatsapp.

Monkey in Railay

Getting Robbed by a Monkey in Railay

Do not fuck with monkeys. Seriously.

This was my third visit to Railay, Thailand. Monkeys have always had a presence there, but this year was different — I saw far more tourists taunting them or trying to cuddle them. Thai authorities didn’t do anything about it. An antagonized animal is not a happy animal, let me tell you that!

I was carrying a white plastic bag from the store filled with bottled water, a bag of chips, and a three-pack of Oreos. As I walked by the monkey-filled area, one of the larger monkeys slinked over to me, closer and closer.

Eventually, it grabbed the white bag. I shrieked and dropped it. Even though none of my food was open, the monkey knew from the white bag that there were goodies inside. He carried the chips and Oreos to the top of the tree; when I returned an hour later, I found the shredded bags on the ground.

If you’re going to Railay, get in and get out of the monkey area quickly. Or, better yet, don’t even visit and spend all your time in Koh Lanta instead.

Butrint NP, Albania

Public Transportation in Albania

Traveling in Albania during the summer means lots of hot and terrifying bus rides. I remember roasting on a bus from Saranda to Fier, sweat dripping off my face, as the bus tore around corners with absolutely no barriers. One wrong move and we could easily have swerved off a cliff.

The scenery was absolutely beautiful as we carved through the mountains — but I would have appreciated it more if I weren’t white-knuckling the seat in front of me the whole time!

Lanquín

Getting Overcharged at the Guatemala-Belize Border

Something happened when I crossed from El Salvador into Guatemala — for some reason, I was only granted a 13-day stay. Even though I had been in Guatemala a few different times over the last few months, and even though Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua share borders, there’s no reason why I should have only been given 13 days.

The agent didn’t say anything to me, either in Spanish or English, and it wasn’t clearly marked on the passport. There was only a “13” written on the right side, without “dias” or a date.

I was lucky to have Erisa with me for that part of the trip — she was my resident attack dog, whether it was doing all the haggling (something I actually hate doing) or dealing with tough situations like this one as we tried to explain our situation to the border agent.

“How much?” Erisa asked in Spanish.

“60 quetzales.”

“60 quetzales,” Erisa snapped. “60 quetzales is the price of corruption!”

“Okay, okay, okay,” I burst in before things got more heated. “It’s fine. I’ll just pay it.”

It wasn’t much — about the equivalent of ten dollars. I just wish I had known about it in the first place.

So, let that be a lesson to you — when you enter Guatemala, check the number written in the right quadrant of the passport stamp. That tells you how many days you have.

Leon Nicaragua

Bedbugs in León

I fell in love with my guesthouse, Via Via, right away. It was in the heart of the city, a stone’s throw from good bakeries and the central park and cathedral, and it was much nicer than the party hostels lining the street.

The rooms were old-fashioned and beautiful; the mattresses were comfortable. The internet was decent and there were work areas. And most importantly, there was a restaurant, so I didn’t have to worry about going out alone at night. (León was one of few places in Central America where I didn’t feel comfortable alone on the streets at night.) $28 per night for an ensuite room was expensive for Nicaragua, but a fair price to pay for the comfort, I felt.

Until I started waking up covered in itchy blotches. And recognized the telltale marks: several “mosquito bites” evenly spaced in a straight line. Bedbugs had arrived.

I’ve gotten bedbugs before in Montenegro. When it happened, the staff was horrified and proactive and immediately cleaned my room top to bottom. Here? Not so much. The staff pretty much shrugged and said, “Es mosquito.” “No es mosquito!” I replied, showing them the marks.

Believe me, this might sound crazy to you, but I was so not in the mood not to change accommodation that I stayed a few more nights, changing the sheets each day and isolating my laundry until I went to El Tunco. It actually worked. The bugs were much easier to deal with.

Alex and Kate on Meat Cart in Copenhagen

Falling Off a Meat Cart in Copenhagen

Yeah, it’s a funny story in retrospect, but it sure wasn’t at the time! One thing led to another during a crazy night out in the city and I ended up riding on top of a meat cart, then falling off it and slamming my arm and knee on a curb, turning them black and blue.

Oh, man — that was a painful fall. For the next month, I had a weird little bump on my arm where I had hit the curb. You can still feel a little bit of it today. I’m glad it’s healed!

What were your worst travel moments of the year?

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My Best Travel Moments of 2015

6

Kate in Santorini

Every year, I like to take stock of the best travel moments of the year. This year had PLENTY! I visited 21 countries in total, a number I doubt to repeat anytime in the near future, and I had some of the happiest moments in my travel days.

What makes a great travel moment? They’re not necessarily the most adventurous things I’ve done, nor the most extreme activities or the most remote places. I just try to focus on the moments where I felt the absolute happiest.

Here are the best moments of 2015!

Kate, Jeremy, and friends at Sea Dance

The Second Night of Sea Dance in Montenegro

“BEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE,” I wrote on Facebook before falling into bed at about 8:00 AM. Which, of course, means waking up to a million “Which one did you hook up with?” messages from friends. NEITHER, YOU PERVS. Seriously. Who says there needs to be romantic involvement in order to have the best night of your life?

I’m serious. The second night of Sea Dance Festival WAS the best night of my life. It’s rare that fantastic music, fantastic vibes, fantastic people, and a gorgeous setting like the Montenegrin coast come together so perfectly.

Flight Facilities and TCTS were performing, Jeremy and I were dancing in the water, we ended up befriending a ton of Serbians, whom you can see in the photo above, and we all grooved on the beach until the sky went from black to green to blue to pink and blue again.

To this day, I listen to songs from that night, dance in my seat, and smile with tears in my eyes. I can almost evoke the feeling of being back there. Almost.

Playa Samara

Escaping Winter on the Last Flight to Central America

I was in New York, crashing with friends for a few days before I was due to fly to Costa Rica. Until we suddenly got word that a major snowstorm was heading out way on the day of my flight. I hemmed and hawed, then decided to fly out a day early.

Thanks to JetBlue, I was able to move my flight a day earlier without having to pay a change fee. And MAN, was that a relief! I had actually cut things a little bit too close and the snow was actually coming within a few hours — which mean that I had made it on the last flight to Costa Rica from JFK.

The snow hit hard. The northeast was crippled for days. And this past winter was actually recorded as the snowiest winter in Boston’s history! What a rush it was to escape that just in time.

El Tunco Beach Party

The Most Epic Beat Drop of All Time in Antigua

I will remember this moment for the rest of my life. On my second tour, the eight of us were at a club in Antigua, Guatemala, putting our newfound salsa skills to the test with locals, until the music turned more dancey.

It was a song none of us had ever heard before. Yet we all felt the tension rise, and huddled together, until the beat dropped —

And the eight of us leaped up simultaneously and DROPPED THE BEAT HARDER THAN ANY BEAT HAS BEEN DROPPED IN THE HISTORY OF THIS PLANET.

Seriously. That may have been the most perfect moment of my life.

(This picture was actually taken in El Tunco at an amazing local beach party, which could easily have its own spot on this list.)

Kate on Mount Etna

A Moment of Clarity on Mount Etna

My mom, my sister, and I signed up for an afternoon tour of Mount Etna in Sicily, which would take in the volcano from many sides. Our first activity on the itinerary? Descending into a lava tube.

For some reason, I was hit with a strong feeling — I didn’t want to do this. Not that it was dangerous. It just wasn’t right for me at that time. I told my mom and sister to go ahead, that I’d just spend time sitting on the volcano.

I had never been into meditating before, but something compelled me to close my eyes and clear my mind. Maybe it was the power of the volcano, but it transported me to a place where I was able to clearly see some of my internal dilemmas as an outsider.

Sitting on that volcano with my eyes closed, I came to immediate, immutable conclusions about issues I had been conflicted over for months.

I’ve since started a regular meditation practice and it has done amazing things for my mind, but I’ve still never had clarity like I did on Mount Etna.

Semuc Champey Caves

Swimming Through the Caves in Semuc Champey

I’ve said before that my day in Semuc Champey was my favorite day in Guatemala, if not Central America as a whole! I adored my time swimming in the pools and admiring the mountainous landscape.

But the best part of all was exploring the nearby caves. Guatemala has just about zero safety regulations, so we were swimming through caverns, squeezing through tight passages, and even jumping into the pools without helmets or any concern for personal safety.

We swam one-handed, holding candles above our head like the Statue of Liberty. We got war paint smeared on our faces. We slid down extra-slippery rocks and even squeezed through waterfalls.

Exploring these caves was so much fun, I didn’t stop laughing the entire time! We emerged from the caves full of joy and jubilance. Definitely make this a priority if you go to Guatemala.

Kate and Alex on the Catamaran

The Catamaran Ride in San Juan del Sur

Of all my days in Nicaragua, this was among my favorites. $75 is a lot to drop on a single activity in a country this cheap, where you can live well in some parts on $20 per day, but I had so much fun on this day cruise that I would have paid double.

San Juan del Sur doesn’t have the best beach, but this catamaran ride takes you to some gorgeous, semi-private beaches with soft white sand, and it’s all-you-can-drink with ceviche caught off the boat that afternoon! Alex and I had a hilarious crew of fellow passengers and we spend the day jumping into the water, swimming, and getting into shenanigans on shore.

It was the perfect day of fun in the sun in one of the most beautiful parts of Central America.

Sing For Your Life

The Weirdest Show Ever in Edinburgh

I adored the Edinburgh Fringe Festival — there was such a great atmosphere in the air, there were hundreds of cheap shows taking place, and I got to see several wonderful shows (and one truly awful show).

Sing For Your Life was the weirdest one of all — a musical featuring taxidermied animals instead of traditional puppets.

Yes, it was odd. Yes, it was crude. Yes, my animal-rights-loving readers were horrified (despite the fact that these animals had purportedly died of natural causes). But I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard at a public performance.

Dance Party Panajachel

The Dance Party in Panajachel

On our second tour, we changed our plans on a whim, spending a night at an amazing guesthouse with one of the best lake views in Panajachel. That night, we ordered tacos and turned up the music.

It was the dance party to end all dance parties, each of us with our own signature dance move. I did my usual showstopper, the Quasimodo (ask me to show you if you meet me in real life). Erisa and Bianka led everyone in Albanian folk dances. Wren tweaked like there was no tomorrow.

And Kevin? Kevin did every move known to man, set to “This Is How We Do It.”

Kate, Candice and Josh in Berlin

When My Friends Become Friends

I love bringing big groups of my friends together. The best gatherings are when I introduce friends from my hometown, college friends, Boston friends, travel blogger friends, and travel friends. And the best part is when they continue to hang out on their own afterward!

Take Maya: originally from Detroit, whom I met in Nicaragua. And Oneika, whom I knew online forever, then met in real life in London. They connected over my interview with Maya on traveling solo as a woman of color and met up in New York, where they both live now!

And Candice, originally from Newfoundland, whom I knew online forever, then met in real life in El Salvador. And Josh, originally from Maine, whom I met at a crazy party in Boston in 2008 (we woke up after falling asleep in our friend’s living room with chips in our lap and porn on the computer, which kind of set a precedent for our friendship) and worked with in Boston. We all went out together in Berlin, where they both now live, and now they’re hanging out on their own!

I love being a friendship matchmaker!

Koh Lanta Beach Party

The Beach Party in Koh Lanta

“I’ll give you three hours,” I told Brenna wryly at 10:00 PM. I was exhausted and not in the mood to party, but Brenna wanted to go out and I was willing to compromise. I was fighting sleep at first, my eyelids fluttering shut every few minutes as we chatted with people on the beach.

But then the music came on.

And then the music got GOOD.

And then came my second wind.

Seriously, I can’t describe what this DJ was playing, but it was magical. We met three cool British guys our age and we ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the trip. And I just LOVE those nights when the bar isn’t crazy busy and the bartenders are dancing just as hard as you are!

Kate, Sarah and Mom in Riga

Celebrating My 31st Birthday in Riga

After having an awful 30th birthday, I’m glad I got to bounce back with a really wonderful day with my mom and sister in Latvia.

It was low-key — and that’s exactly what I wanted. My only priority was to see Magic Mike XXL (not unlike my 28th birthday, which I spent watching Magic Mike), and we soon discovered that Latvian movie theaters have lambrusco on tap and entire refrigerators full of “Bacon Snacks.”

We spent the rest of the day wandering the city, taking lots of photos, and having Black Balsam cocktails.

Also, this was my first birthday on Snapchat and I was so touched by all the sweet messages, drawings, and even serenades that I received from my followers!

Sunset in Flores, Guatemala

Sunset Vibes in Flores

It was our lazy day in Flores. Erisa and I had been to Tikal already, so we decided to take a boat to the famous rope swing on the side of the lake.

Upon our arrival, we found a crowd of newly minted British doctors who were celebrating their graduation and talking about their upcoming rotations. And that day, there was a magnificent vibe in the air. We swam in the glassy lake. We watched the sky turn pink as the guys flung themselves off the rope swing into the water.

And at one point, the guys put on the song “Good Times” and burst into a perfectly choreographed dance. “You guys are 23!” I exclaimed. “WHY do you have a perfectly coordinated dance to ‘Good Times’ of all songs?!”

Hey — it worked, and their moves were dynamite.

Caye Caulker

The Sweet Romances of Central America

I’m a firm believer that life gives you what you need at the right time. And what I got over the span of several weeks in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Belize, was a number of short, sweet, low-pressure romances.

No drama. Nothing serious. Just a few days together, walks on the beach, smooches in the shadows. And they would usually conclude a few days later with a hug and a “Let me know if you come to my town someday.” Or in the case of one sweet guy, “Come visit even if you have a boyfriend by then and want to bring him. You’re always welcome and I’d be happy to just spend time with you as a friend.” How nice is that?

A lot of people think that in order for a travel romance to be successful, it has to turn into something long-term. But that’s not true at all. If all you have is a few days together and you enjoy your time, what’s wrong with that?

So thank you, to the various “three-day boyfriends” of Central America, for some lovely times.

Candice and Kate in Magaluf

One Crazy Night in Magaluf

After a week in Pollença in Mallorca, Spain, Candice and I needed to spend our final night somewhere closer to the airport. As a joke, I suggested Magaluf — a popular trashy resort for Brits. Take the trashiest town on the Jersey Shore and replace the Guidos with Geordies (the UK equivalent of Jersey Shore is actually called Geordie Shore!) and you’ve got Magaluf. 30 euro hotel rooms didn’t hurt, either.

Candice and I went in expecting an awesomely bad night that we would laugh about afterward.

Instead, we found a night that was simply AWESOME.

While all the Geordie girls were in leopard-print rompers and black eyeliner thicker than Amy Winehouse’s, we were the star attractions with our New World accents! Everyone wanted to talk to us!

We were each served two drinks and six shots for five euros. I started dancing with a dude because he looked like Drake; he invited me back to his place 30 seconds later (I swiftly declined) and offered me weed (declined emphatically). The Geordie dudes karaoked to the Spice Girls’ “2 Become 1” and danced to “Proud Mary.” Candice and I danced with The One Old Dude In The Club, each of us on one of his arms.

The music? Fucking fantastic. “Good Life,” “Return of the Mack,” “I Know You Want Me” — It was everything I used to dance to at Sanctuary in Faneuil Hall in my early twenties! Super-fun party hip-hop, which until now I thought was a mainstay of the United States. (RIP, Sanctuary. What an awesome bar.)

Candice and I stayed out until 3:16 AM. We then woke up at 6:00 to catch our flights home. No regrets.

San Pedro Atitlan Guatemala

An Entire Day at the Blue Parrot

Close to the end of my first tour, we had a full day in San Pedro, Guatemala — and after two very full weeks, we spent the entire day at the Blue Parrot restaurant. A waste of a day? Not at all! That was exactly what we needed.

The Blue Parrot has some of the best food in San Pedro (a town full of surprisingly great food, both local and Western) and we just sat around all day, talked, joked, ate breakfast, drank their signature vodka sunrises, ordered lunch, had some more drinks, played with the cat, ordered even more food, and laughed our heads off.

Rendezvous Caye Belize

Sailing Belize

Are you looking for the most fun thing you can do? Join the three-day Raggamuffin sailing cruise from Caye Caulker to Placencia in Belize. I had the time of my life on this cruise.

Some of the best moments? Snorkeling excursions twice a day. Dancing with our crew while moored overnight in Tobacco Caye. Camping overnight on an uninhabited island. Lying out on the catamaran’s net as we glided through turquoise water. Hanging out with the rollicking crew as they cooked dinner and blasted music.

I am waiting for them to put together a longer cruise, because I would jump on it in a heartbeat. Three days was not enough!

Kate, Sky, and Grace

Valentine’s Day at Laguna de Apoyo

I didn’t anticipate doing anything special for Valentine’s Day, but you know what? I had a great time with two lovely ladies! The three of us decided to head from Granada, Nicaragua, to Laguna de Apoyo, a volcanic lake home to purportedly healing waters.

This was one of those rare, yet perfect times where it wasn’t an extraordinary day, yet it was among the happiest days of my life. Swimming in the laguna, having pizza on shore, lounging on the docks, laughing at our cab driver’s tendency to blast the same 12 80s power ballads over and over. It was happiness.

Friends at Daybreaker New York

My First DAYBREAKER in New York City

A huge early-morning party where everyone is sober and dancing their asses off? Yes, please! Daybreakers take place all over the world, and I went to my first one in New York, starting at 7:00 AM. There were fire dancers and a didgeridoo and a brass band and people started limboing and as soon as it was over, people packed up and went to work.

Well, except for those of us who don’t have an office to go to. Jeremy and I went to Little Skip’s in Bushwick.

Kate at Host in Copenhagen

The Meal of My Life in Copenhagen

I was eager to try out Copenhagen’s world-renowned dining scene and decided to try out a restaurant called Höst. It wasn’t one of the absolute best in the city, but it had great reviews and was shockingly cheap for Copenhagen standards ($130 for the tasting menu with wine pairings, when many menus cost triple that).

I knew it would be a good meal — but it exceeded my expectations beyond anything I could have imagined.

I was nearly moaning with yumminess in my seat and probably scaring everyone else in the restaurant. That thing I’m nibbling in the photo? A chicken foot. One of the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten (and I’ve had a lot of BAD chicken feet). Let’s not get started on its accompaniment, a tiny lobster tail and pumpkin ribbons in juniper cream and lobster broth…

 

Getting Insulted at The Wiener’s Circle in Chicago

For years, I’ve dreamed of going to Chicago’s most legendary hot dog joint, where they insult you as you order. I didn’t have huge crowds to contend with, and perhaps that made it better — I got personally insulted! You need to watch the video to hear everything and how I held my own.

And I love my new favorite nickname — “Fake Nicole Ass Richie,” which was yelled at me on my way out. LOVE IT.

What were your favorite travel moments of the year?

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My Favorite Reads of 2015

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Strand Bookstore

Challenge complete! Late in 2014, I decided to take on PopSugar’s 2015 Book Challenge, requiring me to read 52 books in 50 different genres.

The result? This is probably the most I’ve read in a single year, and by far the most diverse array of literature. I also made a secondary goal this year of reading primarily works by authors of color, LGBT authors, international authors, and women. Now, that was eye-opening and something that I’ll be writing much more about in the coming months.

I also love how all these books will forever be tied up in the places where I read them. I read the Neapolitan Novels while bouncing in a chicken bus running through Ometepe, Nicaragua. I cheered as I read The Martian in Corfu, Greece. This Is How You Lose Her was savored on the beach in Koh Lanta, Thailand. Modern Romance, on the bus from Barcelona to Andorra.

PopSugar has announced their 2016 Book Challenge, featuring mostly new categories, and while I won’t be taking part again, I encourage you to do so. The 2015 reading challenge shook up my habits and broadened my horizons, and I want it to do the same for you, too.

Also, if you don’t have one yet, I highly recommend getting a Kindle Paperwhite. It’s because I own a Kindle that I’m able to read as much as I do! I put it in my purse and take it everywhere. And the Paperwhite is so much better than the basic Kindles — the screen lights up, it’s softer and feels great in your hands, and there’s a touchscreen. I’ve owned both models and the Paperwhite is well worth the extra $40.

For now, I’d like to share my absolute favorite books of the year. Not all of them were published this year, but all of them are extraordinary. I’m sure these books will make an impact on you as much as they did on me.

The Neapolitan Novels: My Brilliant Friend (2012), The Story of a New Name (2013), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2014), and The Story of the Lost Child (2015), by Elena Ferrante

I’m far from the only one in saying that these are some of the best books I’ve ever read — you’ll find The Story of the Lost Child on just about every Best of 2015 list this year.

But these books are as close to a modern classic as anything I’ve ever read. The single most impressive aspect of these books is their depiction of a lifelong female friendship. Lenù and Lila are the two smartest girls growing up in the roughest neighborhood in Naples, and take two wildly different routes as they grow up.

It’s almost like Forrest Gump. In a community where nobody knows what comes after middle school, Lenù goes to university, marries into an academic family, and becomes a bestselling novelist, while Lila marries the neighborhood grocer at 16, setting off a series of drama and toil. The neighborhood inhabits every bit of their being, and eventually plunges them back in, as the books cover them from childhood to old age.

And as they grow, they compete. They become enemies, then make up days or years later. They move into the same building and spend every day together. They raise each other’s children like their own. They make equally poor choices with men and support each other through heartache and terror. Lenù and Lila are more like sisters than their actual siblings are.

But beyond the friendship, the book’s signature is its depiction of a wild and rough Naples, where children are thrown through windows and looking at someone’s sister for two seconds too long will get you beaten with a crowbar. And that’s not all — it’s also a history of political upheaval in Italy, and also a story of upward economic mobility the likes of which you could never see in America today.

I honestly envy anyone about to read these books for the first time, because they will take you on the ride of your life.

Elena Ferrante is a mystery in Italy. Her name is a pseudonym and she hasn’t revealed anything about her identity beyond that she’s female and a mother. Some people thought she was a famous male Italian author, but I guarantee that’s not the case. There is no way on this Earth any man could write about female friendship like that.

The Martian Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir (2014)

I had more fun reading The Martian than any other book I read this year. I was laughing, crying, and cheering with the rest of the imaginary universe as Mark Watney worked his way back to his home planet.

You’ve probably seen the previews for the movie, if not the movie itself, and know the basic plot: Matt Damon (astronaut Mark Watney!) gets stranded on Mars and, against all odds, he uses his knowledge to “science the shit out of it” and creatively survive for more than a year before NASA can get him rescued.

My favorite thing about this book was Mark Watney’s caustic sense of humor. It didn’t translate quite perfectly to the screen (due in part to the PG-13 rating), but Matt Damon was really the perfect casting choice. (Now. Chiwetel Ejiofor, wonderful actor as he is, playing a character named Venkat Kapoor? Just have the Nigerian-British guy play the Indian guy and nobody will notice? Come on.)

My favorite exchange:

WATNEY: Tell the crew I’m alive! What the fuck is wrong with you?

JPL: Also, please watch your language. Everything you type is being broadcast live all over the world.

WATNEY: Look! A pair of boobs! (.Y.)

 

I love you, Mark Watney.This Is How You Lose Her Junot Diaz

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz (2013)

My friend Oneika recommended this book so hard, telling me how amazing Díaz’s writing was. While I almost picked up books of his in the past, it was Oneika’s raving endorsement that got me to finally pick this up — and I was immediately immersed in his world.

This book tells the story of Yunior, a character who shows up in all his books, telling the stories of his many loves — most of whom he’s cheated on. But the true story is just how special Díaz’s writing is. I can’t not share some of this with you:

Do you remember? When the fights seemed to go on and on, and always ended with us in bed, tearing at each other like maybe that could change everything. In a couple of months you’d be seeing somebody else and I would too; she was no darker than you but she washed her panties in the shower and had hair like a sea of little punos and the first time you saw us, you turned around and boarded a bus I knew you didn’t have to take. When my girl said, Who was that? I said, Just some girl.

Oh my God.

You, Yunior, have a girlfriend named Alma, who has a long tender horse neck and a big Dominican ass that seems to exist in a fourth dimension beyond jeans. An ass that could drag the moon out of orbit. An ass she never liked until she met you. Ain’t a day that passes that you don’t want to press your face against that ass or bite the delicate sliding tendons of her neck. You love how she shivers when you bite, how she fights you with those arms that are so skinny they belong on an after-school special.

Holy shit.

Instead of lowering your head and copping to it like a man, you pick up the journal as one might hold a baby’s beshattered diaper, as one might pinch a recently benutted condom. You glance at the offending passages. Then you look at her and smile a smile your dissembling face will remember until the day you die. Baby, you say, baby, this is part of my novel.

This is how you lose her.

Fuck me.

If those quotes don’t get you to buy that book immediately, nothing will.

Euphoria Lily King

Euphoria by Lily King (2015)

Every now and then, I like to sink my teeth into a deep, satisfying romance — and did this ever fit the bill! This story is based on the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead and the work she did in Papua New Guinea in the 1930s.

A male anthropologist, Andrew Bankson is working with tribes in one of the most culturally isolated parts of the world when a married pair of anthropologists turn up to work in a nearby area. Nell Stone, the character based on Mead, becomes the object of Bankson’s affection and he falls deeply in love with her — in the presence of her husband.

What I most loved about this book is how the longing was drawn out so beautifully, along with how the book depicted falling in love with someone you connect with so strongly in an intellectual way. It’s a hell of a rush and this book gets it perfect.

Modern Romance Aziz Ansari

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (2015)

When most comedians get their first book deal, they end up writing some kind of memoir. Aziz decided to do something different. He would write a book about dating in the digital age, a topic that he often covers in his routines.

I love Aziz’s comedy — his stand-up, Master of None, everything he did on Parks and Rec. We’re about the same age and I actually relate to what he talks about more than any other comedian (with the possible exception of Amy Schumer). We’re the type of people who will analyze texts from a love interest for hours, then spend several more hours researching where to find the best carnitas tacos in the city on Yelp and Foursquare.

This book is a fascinating look at how dating today has changed thanks to technology — along with dating today in Japan (which sounds pretty hellish), Argentina (equally hellish), and France (which sounds kind of great, actually). If you’re single, it will help you navigate the world a bit better. And if you’re not single, you’ll probably feel a strange nostalgia for a type of dating you may never get to experience.

Americanah Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

This book came suggested to me after my friend Anubha‘s talk on privilege and travel at the Women in Travel Summit. This book tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who moves to the United States for university and stays long-term. (“Americanah” is a term meaning a Nigerian who comes home after spending extended time in the States.)

The point of view of a NAB (non-American black) is one I had never read before — imagine growing up mostly unaware of American racism and then arriving in America and having to learn everything at once as you navigate through life. The book tells her story through a series of vignettes that parallel her life as she becomes a prominent blogger on race in America.

The side plot takes in Ifemelu’s high school sweetheart, Obinze, and his journey to immigrate to the UK that doesn’t go nearly as smoothly as hers. And while the book isn’t perfect — I couldn’t stand a lot of Ifemelu’s choices, particularly when she was incredibly hurtful to so many of the men in her life — it brought to light a lot of thoughts about race in America that I had never considered.

The Girl On The Train Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)

It’s “the next Gone Girl” and one of the biggest hits of the year. Like its predecessor, I whipped through it and couldn’t put it down.

Taking place in suburban southern England, Rachel is a newly divorced severe alcoholic who is losing everything in her life, yet spends each day watching a couple as her train passes their home each day. (Also, she’s taking the train to the city for a job from which she’s been fired, due to her alcoholism.) Then one day, the woman in the couple turns up missing.

She used to live in that same neighborhood as the couple, with her ex-husband. Oh, and she stalks her ex-husband. She calls him all the time. She harasses his new wife. And the night of the woman’s disappearance, she was in their neighborhood, and only remembers fragments of that evening.

What if you may have witnessed a murder while blackout drunk? What if you may have been involved somehow?

The narrator is wholly unlikable — but she is an unreliable narrator unlike anyone I’ve ever read. Piecing back the night of the woman’s disappearance, she starts to unravel increasingly sinister truths. This book will reel you in.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich Ramit Sethi

I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi (2009)

Well, this book changed my life. Or at least my finances.

If you’re in your twenties or thirties, this is a great book to read about what you should actually be doing with your money. Most people don’t do what they should — so get a head start on things while you’ve got time on your side. Since reading this, I’ve shifted around a lot of what I’m doing for retirement (that thing that lots of millennials and especially travel bloggers who spent years trying to break even don’t think about!).

I also really love Ramit’s voice, humor, and no-bullshit attitude, and have since signed up for all of his stuff online. And I have to admit that his newsletters are something I always enjoy reading!

Purple Hibiscus Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2003)

Americanah may be more famous, but while that book’s strength was concepts, I felt like Purple Hibiscus was an overall better novel with much more interesting characters. Kambili is a 15-year-old living in Nigeria with her family, headed by a devoutly Catholic, domineering, and emotionally and physically abusive father.

Through the book, you see the point of view of everyone in her life trying to get her out of that abusive environment without going so far that they alienate her father and lose contact with her completely. Through the book, Kambili slowly gains strength and learns to be independent, even as Nigeria begins experiencing upheaval and her family falls into danger.

This book had my favorite relationship of all the books I read this year — the relationship between Kambili and the young priest who is a friend of her aunt’s. They clearly fall in love — a little bit, at least — but never act inappropriately, instead showing each other how much they care for each other.

Me Before You Jojo Moyes

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

If you’re ready to ugly-cry your eyes out, this is a good choice. In this book set in England, a somewhat directionless twenty-something named Louisa becomes a caretaker to Will, a world traveler and adrenaline junkie who became a quadriplegic after an accident.

This book is about their relationship, which blossoms after Louisa becomes determined to make Will enjoy life again. And it doesn’t turn out the way she planned, leading to a lot of sorrow. But there is so much beauty in the relationship that they grow into.

The sequel to this book, After You, just came out, and I can’t wait to read it.

Ask Ryan Levesque
Ask by Ryan Levesque (2015)

In terms of business reads, this is probably the most valuable book that entrepreneurs could pick up. Ryan Levesque devised a method of getting your customers to tell you what they want and how to give it to them — and it’s done so well for him, he’s actually teaching the whole world how to do it. (And I’ve seen lots of companies I subscribe to start their first steps of implementation! Every time I see that, I think, “Ah, someone read Ask.”)

Basically, most people wouldn’t give away all these secrets, but Ryan Levesque is crazy, stupid rich from implementing this method for lots of major companies and doesn’t care. He wrote this book because he doesn’t need the money anymore — he wants to make an impact on the world. And we benefit.

The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998)

I love it when a good book reminds you why you fell in love with an author in the first place. I adore Barbara Kingsolver but hadn’t read anything new by her in so long.

In the early 1960s, a mother, father, and four daughters move from Georgia to the Belgian Congo for the father to serve as the local pastor and convert as many villagers as possible. It turns out to be a far more difficult task than he anticipated. The father is verbally and emotionally abusive to his family, and as soon as the Congo teeters on the brink of independence, he decides that they must stay, even as every other missionary family flees for their safety.

The best thing about this book is that the chapters are all told in the voices of the different characters — and they vary so widely! I’m so impressed that Kingsolver was able to keep up so many different voices and have them all be so consistent. But it’s also a tale of love, fear, abuse, culture, and life after death. A book from the 90s, and yes, so very much worth reading today.

Tomboy Liz Prince

Tomboy by Liz Prince (2014)

This book was a big surprise to me — a book I only read because I had to fulfill the graphic novel requirement of the book challenge. It turned out to be sweet, moving, and a lot of fun.

This memoir tells the story of Liz’s life of avoiding traditional gender conformity. That’s not to say that she’s transgender or genderqueer — she’s simply a cisgender girl who tended to express herself more toward the masculine side of things. In other words, what most people would call a tomboy.

I never thought of what it would be like to grow up being told that you’re dressing and acting wrong, and honestly, you don’t read a lot of books that focus exclusively on gender expression, rather than gender identity or sexuality. It was a sweet and unique read and I felt like cheering for Liz the whole time.

Ethan Frome Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (1911)

Every now and then, I read a book super-slowly because I’m rereading each sentence over and over and marveling at how beautiful everything is written. Ethan Frome was one of those books.

Take this quote:

He seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface; but there was nothing unfriendly in his silence. I simply felt that he lived in a depth of moral isolation too remote for casual access, and I had the sense that his loneliness was not merely the result of his personal plight, tragic as I guessed that to be, but had in it, as Harmon Gow had hinted, the profound accumulated cold of many Starkfield winters.

How can you not read that and turn each word over and over in your hand?

I chose Ethan Frome because it was on the short side and I wanted to knock out a few quick reads. It quickly became one of my favorites for the writing and for the tragic love story at the center of it all. If you ever feel like you’re wasting your life and you haven’t accomplished anything, this book will reassure you that things could be worse. Much worse.

A God in Ruins Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015)

First things first: this is the companion piece to Atkinson’s dizzying historic fantasy novel, Life After Life, and while A God in Ruins could be enjoyed as a standalone novel, you should read its predecessor first.

Life After Life tells the story of Ursula, a girl born in the 1900s who keeps dying and then coming back to life, able to live her life over and over with enough knowledge to prevent future tragedies. A God in Ruins tells the story of her brother, Teddy, and his life as an RAF pilot during World War II. There is no fantasy element in this one, but it doesn’t need it.

Teddy goes on to marry Nancy, his childhood sweetheart, and the book branches into the life of his children and grandchildren, who couldn’t have chosen more different lives than his own — a life of duty and service, of nature and the outdoors, of poetry and travel.

Like Unbroken, another great book I read this year, A God in Ruins underscores the hell of what war does to good men and how much fortitude is required to go on and make the best of their lives afterward.

The best part of this book is that it surprised me with emotion. One character spoke five words near the end, five words I hadn’t even known I had been yearning to hear, and I went from shocked to sobbing in about eight seconds flat.

What I Hope to Read in 2016

I’m so excited to read books again without worrying about how they’ll fulfill categories!

I’m most looking forward to reading Junot Díaz’s other books: Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I’m already sad that he only has two more books for me to enjoy for the first time!

I want to read more Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, too. I almost read Half of a Yellow Sun this year as well.

I’ve been meaning to read Jhumpa Lahiri. I’ve never read any of her books, but I love the movie version of The Namesake and hope to read that book. Interpreter of Maladies, too (which I just looked up to link to and Amazon says I apparently bought in 2011 — woohoo! Free book! Kinda!).

Other priorities are Barbara Kingsolver’s two latest books: The Lacuna and Flight Behavior.

I didn’t read any books by my all-time favorite author, Lionel Shriver, this year — but I do have Checker and the Derailleurs ready to go on my Kindle, and it seems to be book of hers that people love the most. Reading a Lionel Shriver book is a big undertaking — I need to be fully, deeply committed and can’t read them while distracted in any way, which rules out subway reading.

Some new memoirs are on deck, of course. Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? and Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy are up there.

I will definitely read After You, the sequel to Me Before You.

Maybe I’ll take the route of my friend Katrinka and read a big, heavy Russian novel while on vacation — something by Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky.

And another goal: I’d like to read more contemporary nonfiction from different countries. Especially countries that I’ve visited. Reading contemporary fiction gives you an incredible insight into another country.

What was your favorite book you read this year? Any recommendations? Share away!

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AK Monthly Recap: November 2015

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Kate in Bangkok

This month, I went back to my roots — back to Southeast Asia, back to Thailand, back to Bangkok. In that picture above, I’m wearing the blue dress and black open cardigan that I bought in Bangkok nearly five years ago.

And while Southeast Asia will always be the destination where I cut my teeth as a long-term traveler, there were a lot of differences this time around. For one, this was my first Thailand visit not on a backpacker budget. It was a completely different experience to enjoy Thailand without worrying about every baht spent.

Backpacker Kate would have fretted about spending 600 baht on an hourlong foot massage and mani-pedi in the same day. That was 250 baht over the daily limit for discretionary spending. The Kate of today? “It’s $17.”

I really liked going to Thailand for only three weeks as opposed to months. It allowed me to truly savor my time there and treat it like a holiday. I have no doubt this is how my trips are going to be structured in the future.

I spent the remainder of this month at home in the U.S. Here is what I got up to in November!

Koh Lanta Sunset

Destinations Visited

Reading, Lynn, and Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Fairfield and Stamford, Connecticut, USA

Bangkok, Koh Lanta, Krabi, Railay, and Chiang Mai, Thailand

Favorite Destinations

Koh Lanta. My most asked question is, “What’s your favorite place?” and after my third visit, I can say without a doubt that Koh Lanta is my favorite place in the world.

Chiang Mai. I spent my time here eating great food, drinking tons of coffee, getting a lot of work done, and socializing my ass off!

Bangkok. Bangkok is my city. Plain and simple. I always feel like I’m returning home.

Kate and Brenna in Koh Lanta

Image: This Battered Suitcase

Highlights

Spending a week in Koh Lanta with Brenna. This island is perfect. I love the beaches, I love the sunsets, I love the low-key vibe, I love the people, I love the food. I love how it still feels quiet.

And this trip was my best trip yet. Brenna of This Battered Suitcase (read it — it’s one of the best travel blogs out there) and I have been friends for awhile, but this is the first time we’ve traveled together, and we had a fabulous time. Part of it was that we had both already been to the island, so there was no pressure to explore, and we were willing to splurge more on a nice boutique resort and good restaurants.

Much more on our fabulous thirty-something Koh Lanta getaway coming soon!

Amy and Kate at Fairfield

Speaking to students at my alma mater, Fairfield University. My friend Amy mentors a group of sophomores and she invited me to come speak to them about my life and travels. This is the first time I’ve been back on campus in maybe eight years or so, and I couldn’t believe how much it has changed!

The students were on the quiet side, but they did ask some questions and I gave them a lot of study abroad advice. They especially perked up when Amy and I told them what it was like to go to college in the early oughts — we didn’t even have wifi on campus then! It was jarring to see them with iPhones and Macbook Pros.

Taking the train from Boston to Stamford. I don’t take the train in the US very often because it’s much more expensive than the bus, but I absolutely loved this trip because it was a gorgeous fall day and the scenery was perfectly golden against a bright blue sky. I have no words for how much I enjoy train travel.

Arriving in style in Bangkok. I always tell people that Bangkok is one of the best places in the world to splurge on a luxury hotel, in part because the selection is extensive and the prices are relatively cheap, but I had never stayed in a luxury Bangkok property before now. The Amari Watergate had offered me a complimentary stay months ago, so I took them up on their offer.

WHAT A WAY TO ARRIVE. When you’re crazy jet lagged and have no idea what year it is, there’s nothing like coming home to a luxurious suite with an insanely comfy bed, a giant bath, having a fabulous massage, eating delicious food, hanging out in special exclusive areas for club-level guests, and being walking distance from Siam Square and the heart of Bangkok, where I always go first thing when I first arrive in the city. I loved my stay. More on it soon.

Chiang Mai Travel Bloggers

Image: Nomad is Beautiful

Hanging out with the Chiang Mai travel bloggers. What a difference five years makes. Chiang Mai has always been a popular spot for travel bloggers to put down roots for awhile (due to the extensive Western amenities yet super-cheap prices) but as travel blogging has grown as a profession, so has the number of bloggers calling this city home. Nimman Road almost felt like Blogger Disneyland. We had dinners, parties, and bar nights out almost every day.

Back in 2010, I still considered myself a “baby blogger” and was definitely on the shy side. This year, I arrived to a group of old friends, online-until-now friends, and new friends, and many of us were familiar with each other’s work.

It was just like back in 2010 in some ways, though — people would grab a long, leisurely lunch together, then discuss where to meet up for dinner that same day. Oh, Chiang Mai, never change!

Alexa, Kat,e Janelle, Amelia, Beth, Lisa Wedding Shower

Celebrating a dear friend’s bridal shower. I miss so many showers and bachelorette parties with my crazy travel schedule, so I appreciate it all the more when I can make one of these occasions. This time it was to celebrate my friend Janelle (in the center in that GORGEOUS Monique Lhullier dress!), who is getting married in March.

One reason why showers are awesome? You make lots of new friends to hang out with at the wedding. Can’t wait for the big day!

Khao Soi

Challenges

I went through some tough emotional times this month. I may talk about it in more depth once I can process it better, or maybe I won’t. Either way, let’s just say that traveling full-time takes a huge toll on your mind and body. Running your own business takes an equally huge toll on your mind and body. Most people who dream about running a business while traveling the world have no idea how much it will drain you eventually.

In short, I could feel several sources of stress growing (and have since earlier this year), but these feelings hit their apex when I was in Chiang Mai. As a result, I’ve put upcoming travel plans on hiatus for now, excluding New York, and plan to take care of myself for awhile.

It’s not a big secret or scandal; there’s nothing to worry about! I just need a break. There’s a reason why tons of us old-timer travel bloggers are starting to settle down these days.

Flying Air China was unpleasant. I usually roll my eyes when people say, “I’m never flying [airline] again!” Most of the time, I think people overreact or misplace blame. If you had a mean flight attendant or they forced you to check your carry-on that you filled beyond the weight limit and hoped they wouldn’t notice, that’s not a reason to boycott an airline.

But I’m going to make an effort to avoid Air China in the future for two reasons: first, they ban all mobile phone usage for the entire flight, even when used in airplane mode. (I refused and used it discreetly. A friend had made me a mix especially for the flight and there was no way I wasn’t going to listen to it.) Second, the flight was filled with mainland Chinese, who have different standards of manners. There was a lot of shouting, shoving, and invasion of space. My flight back on Japan Airlines felt like a spa by comparison.

Chiang Mai Airbnb

I made a rookie packing error. I actually carried on for the first time in forever for my trip to Thailand (!!) but didn’t check the size of my keratin-friendly hair masque. It was just over the limit. I hated that I had to toss a $36 hair product I had never used and had nothing to protect my hair when swimming in the ocean.

As a result, my keratin treatment pretty much got destroyed. You’re supposed to avoid swimming in the ocean or at least use a hair masque when you do, and just ONE quick dip in the Andaman Sea was enough to frizzify my mane. Oh, well. I’m due for my next treatment this week, anyway.

I was sad to see what Railay has become. Even five years ago, I recognized the environment’s fragility and worried that it wouldn’t be able to handle increasing tourism without oversight by the government. But money talks, and as a result, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world is now a teeming mass of tourists with lots of trash and out-of-control monkeys and sky-high prices (175 baht ($5) fruit shakes, are you joking?! They should cost 80 baht ($2) at the absolute most!).

We went to Railay because Brenna had never visited before and wanted to see it. Her takeaway: “Why would anyone go here when they could go to Koh Lanta?”

Also, I got robbed by a monkey on Phranang Beach. The little bastard slinked up to me and grabbed my plastic bag filled with groceries. I shrieked and threw the bag; he snagged chips and Oreos (neither had been opened!) and carried them to the top of a tree to eat them.

Take my advice — the Railay monkeys see big white plastic bags and KNOW there’s food somewhere inside! (Oh, and please don’t be an asshole tourist trying to touch or play with the monkeys. That makes things worse. Brenna and I reamed out several people who did that.)

Bangkok Skyline

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Solo Female Travelers Over 40 — I was thrilled with the response to this post! These ladies rule.

Other Posts

My Favorite New Destinations of 2015 — Nicaragua is my destination of the year!

Scenes from the Cotswolds — I fell in love with this beautiful part of England.

Briefly, Belgrade — Everything I loved in this cool Balkan city.

Win a Trip to Africa (With Flights!) from KLM Airlines! — One of the better contests of lately.

Connecticut Train Ride

News and Announcements

I was surprised and delighted to be invited as a guest on one of my favorite podcasts, Awesome Etiquette! I’ll be on their holiday special, which will air on NPR, talking about holiday travel etiquette with Lizzie and Dan. I’ll be giving advice on how to survive holiday air travel, how to get through a long road trip with a relative you can’t stand, and more. As soon as it airs, I’ll let you know! (I also got to hang out with my buddy Brock after the taping, which was fabulous!)

Last month, I made a resolution to write down my rose, thorn, and bud of each day. Well, I’m sorry to say I gave up about a week into it. Did not expect that.

My challenge for December? I’m trying to add in some good habits to help me cope with stress and get out of my head. I also want them to have NOTHING to do with work, so writing, photography, and web stuff is out.

One activity is meditation, and I’ve started using the Headspace app with its guided meditations, which I like a lot. The other is drawing and painting, which I used to love, but I haven’t really done since high school. Don’t expect to see any of my art, though — I need to have at least one creative outlet that’s for my eyes only!

Storm Coming, Relax Bay Koh Lanta

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Definitely when the storm rolled in on Relax Bay in Koh Lanta! November is the perfect time to visit Koh Lanta — it’s the tail end of shoulder season, which meant we had perfect sunny days about two-thirds of the time and days with a mix of sun and storms about one-third of the time.

And all those storms and clouds make for the most beautiful sunsets.

You can follow my travels in real time at @adventurouskate on Instagram and Snapchat.

Kate, Tom, Meg and Nathan in Chiang Mai

What I Read This Month

In November, I finished my 50th book of 2015! Only three books remain in the 2015 Popsugar Book Challenge.

This month, I admit that I tried to make things a bit easier for myself — not wanting to get stuck in another long book like I did with Sense and Sensibility, I instead chose short books and easy reads that fulfilled the challenge. It felt a bit like cheating, but considering the amount of books I’ve consumed this year, I hope that can be forgiven!

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton — If you like your books short, tragic, and breathtakingly beautiful, this is for you. I feel like Ethan Frome is the kind of story that you shouldn’t spoil, so it’s best left at that. I’ll just say that it’s one of my absolute favorite reads of the year and I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it until now.

I chose it because it was on the short side and I didn’t want my 100-year-old book to drag on and on; I actually finished it in a single sitting. Category: A book more than 100 years old.

The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer — If there’s any book I read this year that should be required reading for the masses, this is it. This short book describes how we can benefit from taking a break from our lives to do absolutely nothing. Especially for those of us who are entrepreneurs and never turn off.

Either way, I look forward to taking off the week from Christmas to New Year’s this year and making a greater effort to do digital detoxes in the future. Thanks for the recommendation, Jeremy! Category: a book a friend recommended.

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz — Whatever you’re doing, you need to drop it now and pick up a book by Junot Diaz. He has a dazzling literary style unlike anything I’ve ever read — it’s vulgar and unapologetic and takes you on Spanglish journey from the Dominican Republic to America and back. This book is a collection of short stories of Diaz’s iconic character Yunior and his many loves, most of whom he cheated on.

I chose this for my book that takes place in my hometown. Though the book’s setting doesn’t shift to Boston until the 83% mark, this was probably the best book I could have chosen because it gave me a new perspective of my city — on the day-to-day racism that people of color face here. It was eye-opening and I felt embarrassed and guilty by association. That said, I am a Diaz fangirl now and I can’t wait to read more of his books. Thanks for the recommendation, Oneika! Category: A book that takes place in your hometown.

Acceptance by Susan Coll — I wanted to pick up a book taking place in high school that was written for adults, and this satire about the college application process was an interesting choice. It pings back and forth between several top students at a strong Maryland public school and their crazed efforts to get into their top choice colleges. This was so much like my high school experience — my school was very similar and top students chased Ivys. In the class two years ahead of mine, five people got into Harvard. Out of a class of 250. At a public school in the Boston area!!

As for the book, it was entertaining and I loved how it brought back memories, but it wasn’t one of the best books I’ve read this year. Some of the subplots were unnecessary and I think the satire could have been pushed a lot further. Category: A book set in high school.

Koh Lanta Sunset

What I Listened To This Month

Hold on Longer by John Legend — One of the disadvantages of traveling so much is that I fall behind on music — so I had never listened to one of my favorite artist’s latest album. Well, I bought Love in the Future and OH MY GOD. So many great songs, but this one is my favorite because I have a special weakness for songs written in three.

Gust of Wind by Pharrell Williams — Love this song. “When I open the window, I want to hug you, cause you remind me of the air!” LOVE THAT. And I know and love that feeling.

Hello by Adele — Come on, if you didn’t listen to this song over and over this month, you probably live on the moon!

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Coming Up in December 2015

I’m closing out the final month at home. And for me, “home” right now means pinging between the Boston area and New York. It’s time to buckle down, do some work, buy some Christmas presents, and continue planning my move to New York early next year.

But I am excited to do some Christmasy activities in the city, more than I did last year, and see lots of friends. That city is never boring, that’s for sure!

Christmas will be spent at home with my family. New Year’s? Currently up in the air. We’ll see!

What do you have planned for the holidays? Share away!

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Airportag: The Coolest Travel Shirts on the Web

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Kate -- Helsinki Shirt

The following branded content post is brought to you by Airportag. As a new brand ambassador for this company, I’m excited to introduce these new products to you! I’m sure you’ll fall in love with them as much as I have. Also, some of these links are affiliates, which, if you purchase, will earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you.

I’ve got two new travel t-shirts that I have been rocking around Thailand over the last few weeks and everywhere I go, people are asking me where I got them!

Ladies and dudes, let me introduce you to Airportag — a new company featuring cute shirts, home decor, and accessories for travel lovers.

Airportag has sleek designs based on airport codes around the world, allowing you to rock your hometown or favorite destination, along with some pieces carrying travel slogans.

In fact, I loved these products so much that I decided to become an full-on brand ambassador for Airportag. Here is what I’m starting with, complete with lovely photos taken by my dear friend Brenna in Koh Lanta, Thailand.

Kate -- Jet Lag Made Me Do It

The First: Jet Lag Made Me Do It Shirt

I’ve done a lot of crazy things because of jet lag. Like the time when I was beyond jet lagged in San Francisco and marathoning House of Cards every day at 4:00 AM and would get sleepy in the afternoons and be convinced Stamper was sitting next to me in the bar.

Yeah. That honestly happened.

I thought the shirt was so cute when I saw it on the site, and I’ve gotten a million compliments on it since. This is something that the traveler in your life will love!

Kate Jet Lag Made Me Do It Shirt

Here’s a close-up version, taken at one of the wonderful liquor store/bar hybrids on Nimmanhaeman Road in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

You can get the Jet Lag Made Me Do It Women’s Tee and the Jet Lag Made Me Do It Men’s Tee for $30 each.

Kate Helsinki Shirt

The Second: Helsinki Airport Shirt

For my second shirt, I wanted to rock a destination that I love — but something that was offbeat.

I scrolled through the shirts and then it hit me — Helsinki! I love Helsinki and I especially adore Finland. Plus, with so many Finns traveling the world, it’s a conversation piece.

Plus, I love the irony of posing with it in a place that definitely isn’t Helsinki.

You can get the Helsinki women’s tee and the Helsinki men’s tee for $30 each.

Here it is if there were a brown-eyed and sexified 2.0 version of me.

And here’s a similar Heathrow shirt on a hot dude! (Note: Kate, you can go ahead and stop chasing British guys now.)

I also might get the Boston shirt at some point. It’s much more original than a typical sports shirt that most Bostonians wear.

Beyond T-Shirts

Airportag also has a lot of cool gifts and home decor stuff if you don’t want to give clothing as a gift.

I LOVE these posters — they sit right between the vintage and modern aesthetic, a look that I really like. Posters start at $34.90.

I really like these magnets, too! Single magnets are good cheap gifts or stocking stuffers. You can get them for $4.90 each.

Pillows? Not my thing so much, but I know a lot of people who would love them. Grab one for each of your favorite cities! Pillow covers start at $24.95.

Mugs, though? DEFINITELY my thing. These ones are cool. Mugs cost $24.90.

The Takeaway

If you’re looking for a cool and unique gift for a traveler in your life, do check out what Airportag has to offer. I think you’d really like their stuff.

Which one of these items is your favorite?

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