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2017 was a whirlwind of a year: overwhelmingly busy, mostly positive, with some serious low points. Despite my insistence in my last recap that I was “slowing down,” my FOMO had me barreling through 22 countries (13 of them new ones) and 9 U.S. states (4 for the first time).
2016 had ended on a bit of crap note: I had ended my trip a month early, facing the worst resurgence of my depression since 2008. I took two months at home trying to get myself started on the hard work of self-care, which, surprise surprise — I’m still no good at. My time at home was good at pressing the “reset” button and starting to screw my head on straight, but I quickly became restless and ready for my next trip. So I packed my bags for 4 months in Central America, crossed my fingers, and got on a plane on January 10th, hoping for the best.
Here’s how it went, month by month:
Countries Visited: The U.S., Nicaragua
Getting back into my old self in Nicaragua. I had spent months fighting off my depression, which hit me janstrong in Italy last October. When I got to Nicaragua, something about me just felt like it clicked into place. After having had virtually no energy for three months straight, I suddenly had a motivation boost and was doing tons of sightseeing, hiking volcanoes, and improving my long-dormant Spanish.
I almost missed my flight to Nicaragua due to surprise traffic despite having left the house at 5 in the morning. Since going to the airport is already a major trigger for me (I know, the irony of being a travel blogger who’s afraid of going to the airport), I was hyperventilating and on the brink of a near-panic attack. My poor dad luckily was able to navigate around it using Waze and we got there on time, but not until I had nearly barfed with anxiety several times.
Other than that, it was a pretty tame month.
Countries Visited: Nicaragua, Costa Rica (briefly), Cuba
It’s a toss-up between getting SCUBA certified in Little Corn Island, Nicaragua, and meeting up again with Janet of Journalist on the Run (who I had met in Albania the year before) and two of our friends in Cuba. Despite some heinously bad food and a near-broken foot that had one of our friends ending up in a Cuban hospital, we had an amazing time exploring the West side of Cuba for two weeks.
After having had an amazing five weeks in Nicaragua, I was literally on my way to the border when I encountered some really upsetting and violating harassment on the bus from San Juan del Sur to Rivas. I was packed three to a seat with two tourist girls, sitting on the outside seat. It was a super packed bus, but this man was standing with his dick thrust in my face, pretty much straddling my face and looking at me with a sickening shit-eating grin.
I’ve traveled on crowded forms of transit hundreds of times and never felt violated or humiliated like I did. Something just felt off, but I felt like I was being too sensitive, so I was completely frozen. I asked the girls sitting next to me if this was all in my head, or if the guy was being fucked up and gross. They agreed with me. The girls I was sitting with were lovely and asked if I wanted help in telling him to fuck off, but I was just so frozen inside and terrified to escalate the situation, so I didn’t.
Honestly I always thought I would react so differently in that situation. I remember reading about subway gropings and masturbators and thinking that how I’d fucking take them down and shame the shit out of them. Once I was put in that situation, it felt entirely different and I was surprised at how voiceless I became.
Getting cheated by our casa owner in Cuba and being put in a 14-person shared taxi with horrible diesel fumes streaming for 5 hours instead of the private taxi we had paid extra for. We were all feeling really ill from the fumes afterwards, but at least we were at the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen when we finally arrived, so the bad mood didn’t last long.
Countries Visited: Cuba, Mexico, Belize
Devouring a plate of cochinita pibil tacos hours after arriving back to Mexico from Cuba might have been one of the happier moments of my life. Cuba was amazing but I’ve never been more happy to leave a country — when you’re addicted the food the way I am, Cuba is fucking rough. Belize was also amazing — staying at the amazing Victoria House was probably one of the nicest hotel stays yet in my career as a travel blogger.
Besides the vomit-filled ferry ride from hell crossing to Cozumel which has forever triggered a Pavlovian nausea response every time I hear Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like” — it was a fairly smooth month.
Countries Visited: Guatemala, the U.S.
While seeing Tikal was my best travel highlight, I’ve got to say the best was reuniting with my close friends in New York and visiting all my old coworkers after 9 months away. While New York was bad for me in so many ways, it’s also the place that gave me my independence, my determination, my stubbornness, and some of the best friends I could ask for. It was truly “the best of times, the worst of times” and I’ll always be grateful to New York for giving me what I needed when I needed, and for equipping me to leave it when I did.
I got severe food poisoning from the food at Zephyr Lodge in Lanquín, Guatemala. I know for a fact I got my food poisoning from there because the “lodge” is so cynically run that if you bring outside food or beverages inside you can literally get kicked out for not eating at their overpriced, unhygienic restaurant.
After alternating between vomiting and crapping my guts out for about 6 hours straight (oh, also! climbing down a precarious ladder every time I needed to shit my brains out), I had two options: get on the bus that I had already paid for that would take about 8 hours to get to Antigua, or stay at this god-forsaken place yet another day and be subjected to the same food that had given me food poisoning. I doubled up on the Imodium and got the fuck out of there.
Countries Visited: The U.S.
My epic Southwest road trip with Janet! We started in Las Vegas, looped through Arizona where I met up with one of my best friends from high school, then headed through all of Utah’s Mighty 5. We then visited Janet’s American family, then drove allll the way back to Vegas in basically a single long day of driving. Pretty much every minute of our road trip was epic and full of amazing views and memories. It really cemented that I have so much more of the U.S. to explore.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: if you want to see the dregs of humanity in America, take a Greyhound. I witnessed a Latino man getting verbally abused for talking on the phone in Spanish by the bus conductor who proceeded with such racist gems such as “hang-o up-o el telefon-o”, to the cheers of pajamas-wearing meth heads everywhere. It didn’t feel like a safe space for me to intervene (read: pajamas-wearing meth heads) so I filed a customer service complaint later, which unsurprisingly went unanswered.
But that was just the amuse-bouche to the fuckery that Greyhound was about to rain down on me. Somehow, on an overnight bus that included one “cleaning stop” and zero transfers, they managed to lose my suitcase with pretty much the last of everything I owned in it. I was bringing the last of my belongings home from New York, so this bag literally was holding all my most precious possessions. And it was gone by the time I got off the bus in New Orleans.
The New Orleans staff, I will say, was awesome at trying to help me locate my bag, but no luck. It mysteriously appeared back in Montgomery where this whole shitshow started a month and two days after it disappeared… despite me having called there several times. Of course, by the time it was back in California, I was out of the country again. They also had the audacity to charge my mother a $10 a day “storage fee” when she couldn’t pick it up the day it appeared at the Greyhound station 30 minutes from my house. Seriously, never again, Greyhound, never again.
One of the hilariously odd outfits I had to scramble to put together after losing virtually my entire wardrobe:
Countries Visited: The U.S., Poland
This was a pretty low-key month, most of it spent at home in California and in New York, where I went to my best friend’s wedding, which was beautiful and touching and theoretically should have been the highlight of my month but…
I got stood up by my date at my best friend’s wedding.
Countries Visited: Hungary, Switzerland, Italy
Falling in love with Budapest! If I had a valid EU passport, I’d be living in Budapest right now. The ruin bars, the delicious food, the beautiful Danube, the cafés, the cheap AF wine, it’s pretty much heaven. Even during what should have been peak season, the city never felt crowded or overrun.
Getting the worst flu I’ve ever had in Switzerland, which I can say is probably the worst developed country on earth to be sick in. For some inexplicable reason, virtually every hotel or hostel in Switzerland is completely closed between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. Which, y’know, is super inconvenient when you’re barfing in the tiniest hostel bathroom on earth with no lock on the door.
But let’s kick it up a notch. Now, imagine the bathroom is on the second floor of the building and you nearly faint with every step on the stairs you take so you have to keep sitting down on random stairs in between. Meanwhile, the only place you have to rest is the awful faux-leather couch in the common room, which could practically be a water slide for the amount of sweat you’re drenched in. Meanwhile, concerned looking tourists keep popping their head in to see if you’ve died yet.
When it came time to check in at 4 PM (YES, 4 PM), I was so faint that I literally sat in the line of people waiting to check in because I couldn’t even stand.
To make matters worse still, I was working on an important campaign for Swiss Travel Pass so I felt compelled to go out and still take photos, videos, etc. despite feeling deathly ill. I was able to rally and get what I needed, but I was pretty sick for about two complete weeks.
Falling off my mountain bike in Switzerland not once but twice, then thinking it’d be a good idea to ask out the devastatingly handsome mountain biking guide. He was decidedly not interested despite my creative pick up line that I was rather proud of (“I promise I’m better on two feet than two wheels” … *CRICKETS*)
Countries Visited: Bulgaria
Finally taking a rest and testing out getting a base. I ended up in Sofia, Bulgaria, and fell in love. I don’t know what it is about the city, and whenever someone raises their eyebrow and goes “Bulgaria, huh? How’s that?” I still don’t know how exactly to put it into words… despite being a travel writer. I guess I just love the up-and-coming feel of the city, the funky bars and cafés, the delicious restaurants where you can get an amazing meal with drinks for under $10, the way everyone gathers after dark to drink in the parks and hang out, the mountains just on the perimeter of the city, the history everywhere from the subways and streets. Yet it’s still a bit rough around the edges and it’s a city that doesn’t go out of its way to please or accommodate you – but makes you feel welcome all the same.
I initially forgot to make a worst, which I guess is a good sign! On the whole this was a pretty productive and good month. Not at all a bad moment, but funny all the same: I got a bit too tipsy enjoying craft beer and good conversation with Megan in Plovdiv to remember to go home (or eat dinner, for that matter). This led to me missing the last bus home to Sofia, and I had to check into a random hostel in Plovdiv in my clothes from that day and catch the bus in the morning.
Countries Visited: Turkey, Maldives, Ireland
Getting completely surprised by being invited to a conference in the freaking MALDIVES of all places. Honestly, I couldn’t believe my luck the entire time I was there. I didn’t even feel weird being solo in the world’s honeymoon capital because I was so busy the entire time.
Diving, snorkeling, doing sunrise yoga, eating my heart out 3 times a day, chilling in my own private overwater bungalow jacuzzi… yeah, who needs a man? Especially when you have the lovely Miss Tourist as your Instagram wife.
I almost feel bad not talking about Turkey, which is one of my favorite countries… but it was so great to get to be back in Istanbul, one of my most-loved cities in the world, and I finally got to visit Cappadocia and take a hot air balloon ride at sunset like I had always dreamed of! Especially given the current situation, I’m so glad I managed to visit before the visa standoff.
I can’t get into too much detail here as my dad/mom/stepmom/etc. read this blog, but let’s just say that I invited a crush of mine to Cappadocia with me and it was the most excruciatingly awkward “romantic experience” of my life. And then we still had to ride in a freaking hot air balloon together the next morning and pretend like nothing was weird. FML.
Countries Visited: Ireland, Malta, Romania
This was a great month for friends — I got close with a bunch of bloggers at TBEX Ireland and on my FAM trip, and I got to stay with my friend Janet’s lovely parents in Cork. I also finally got to meet one of my blogging BFFs in person in Bucharest (hey Kate!) and even though my time in Romania was a bit, uh, complicated, I met so many lovely lovely people whose friendships will always be near and dear to me (I’m talking about you, Polenta Posse!)
I was in an incredibly uncomfortable situation where I was both a witness of and victim of sexual harassment in one night… but felt it impossible to speak up about what was happening. I felt deeply frustrated by what I saw one older man doing to another much younger woman who was his subordinate. I also was touched without my consent by a man nearly twice my age who felt it was appropriate to remove my glasses from my face, stare deeply into my eyes, and tell me he wanted to “see me.” I quickly got away from him but felt disgusted and embarrassed by the encounter. He proceeded to act inappropriately towards other women on the trip.
I didn’t reach out to talk about this incident with anyone in a leadership role because they were either A) the ones being shady or B) deeply unsympathetic to other more basic human needs… like needing to use the bathroom. I and others were repeatedly made fun of for needing to use the bathroom – being told to “cross my legs” and being called “a little child” – that didn’t exactly make me feel like I was in a safe enough space to discuss the need for a sexual harassment-free working environment. At one point I was told — jokingly, I was later told (this would happen a lot, bullying being gaslit after the fact as “joking”) — that I would need to “bring proof” to use the bathroom.
In the midst of the #MeToo movement, it was especially frustrating by how powerless I felt. I consider myself a feminist who wants to work towards equality in the travel industry. It’s hard when things are not necessarily illegal but are, in my mind, clearly inappropriate and dehumanizing to women, reducing us to objects of desire rather than equals with so much to contribute professionally. But given the unique organizational makeup of this program, where there was no neutral party or supervisory figure to discuss this with, I felt like there was nothing I could do.
I want to put a little caveat here that the many of the people organizing the trip were lovely and that I would have enjoyed the country quite a bit had it been in other circumstances. The last thing I want to do is discourage travel to Romania (after all, Eastern Europe is my favorite region to travel in the world) but I also don’t want to continue being silent about my experience.
Countries Visited: Romania, U.K., Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, the U.S.
I reunited with my oldest friend, Michelle, who I’ve now known for over 15 years and seen on 4 continents. We explored Estonia with the tourism board and had an amazing five days there, despite the cold weather and short days. I left falling deeply in love with the Baltic states and desperately want to come back in the near future.
The bad from the month before continued into this month. By the time I left Romania for the UK, I was completely depleted. I spent three days in London with extreme anxiety, barely able to participate in the World Travel Market conference that I had spent a bunch of money to attend.
Countries Visited: The U.S., Indonesia
I spent a lovely couple of days at my aunt’s house up in the Russian River Valley, which after my chaotic travels in October and November was super therapeutic. I also reunited with a bunch of my favorite blogger buddies in Bali.
(My friend Janet’s awesome villa in Bali, as I’ve been so lazy with taking pictures lately!)
The horse ride from hell on Gili Air. I’ve ridden horses a lot (in fact, I used to be able to jump horses and ride bareback) and never thought of it as a life-threatening activity… until a few days ago. The horses there are completely untrained and basically feral: they spook at anything and will not hesitate to try to buck you off. I spent the better part of what was supposed to be a relaxing sunset ride on the beach clutching onto my horse’s mane for dear life, as my cousin nearly got bucked off several times. Needless to say, I won’t be riding horses in Indonesia (or anywhere, really) again anytime soon.
Looking Forward to 2018
I’ve always been a bit of an overplanner, and I’m excited to say I’m kind of going with the flow for most of 2018. I have plans for the month of January (continuing to be in Bali, then visiting Taiwan for 2 weeks).
I’m most excited for setting up a part-time base in Sofia, Bulgaria, the city I loved so much in August. After a year and a half of near-constant travel, I’m looking for something a little more stable and predictable.
I’m planning on traveling around Europe quite a bit and correcting some of my oversights, since I can only stay in Bulgaria for 90 days out of every 180 visa-free. I’m hoping to visit Ukraine, Moldova, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Belarus so I can safely say I’ve visited all of Eastern Europe, and Portugal is a must-visit for me as well.
Also on my bucket list: Russia during the World Cup and several of the Stans. This has been on my wish list for a long time and now that I’ve been studying Russian I’m dying to put it into use.
I’m also hoping to visit a bit of Africa but that remains to be planned!
Now it’s your turn to tell me! What were your best & worst travel moments? Where are you hoping to go next year?