In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me.
I can’t believe how much my life has changed in April… going from frolicking in the Caribbean to hectic city life in NYC, dealing with immigration bureaucracy, apartment hunting and job interviews! Trying to establish a life here has been more time-consuming than I thought, hence the delay of my monthly round-up, but let’s look back at April 2017:
Where I’ve been
April may have been the best month of 2017 so far. I spent the last thirty days between two of my favorite places in the world: Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula and New York City, and added my second new country of the year to the mix, which I happened to fall hard for: Cuba.
What I’ve been up to
I started the month in Valladolid, continuing my second Yucatán road trip. While I’d been to Valladolid in the past, the stops that followed where mostly new to me: Rio Lagartos with its pink lakes; Izamal, Mexico’s Yellow City; Campeche, a coastal town filled with pastel colored Spanish colonial buildings, and Bacalar with its spectacular lagoon, which I somehow blissfully ignored when I lived in nearby Xcalak a few years ago.
Our next stops were two of my usual hangouts: Tulum and Playa del Carmen, where, for the first time in my three visits, I was unfortunate with the weather when we visited the Maya ruins (grey and cloudy skies), and in Playa, the typically stunning beach was plagued by algae.
Our final stop on the road trip was Cancun, where I never spent much time before but discovered that the city outside of the hotel zone is actually not that bad. You can see some of our adventures in this short clip:
After bidding farewell to my road tripping buddy Chrys, I dropped off our trusted rental car at the airport and hopped on a plane to Havana to meet up with my favorite travel companion in the world.
While our long-awaited Cuba trip didn’t start off as planned (see What Went Wrong below), once we started exploring this fascinating island, everything went pretty smooth and we both fell for Cuba quickly. Havana in particular is a place we were immediately smitten by, but the picturesque Spanish-colonial town of Trinidad and the gorgeous landscapes around Viñales also made for a fantastic introduction to Cuba – I say introduction because I have a feeling that I’ll be back soon.
Re-adjusting to the extravagant, lavish New York City life after poverty-ridden Cuba was harder than I thought. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced culture shock to the extent I felt it this time. Going from nearly two weeks completely offline to being online again for 24 hours (and arriving to 1,000 emails), from slow-paced days to rushed, meet-up filled days in NYC – it was definitely overwhelming. I am still struggling to get used to the frenzied pace of New York again, with less sleep, more caffeine and a huge increase in my expenses (which tripled from what I was spending in Cuba and Mexico!).
Add to that my attempts to become an official, legal resident, now that I have my green card, has been more time-consuming and more frustrating than I anticipated. Since most of this is still a work in progress, I’ll give you a full rundown on everything I’ve done so far to become a true New Yorker (other than drinking seven times more coffee than anywhere else in the U.S.) in my next roundup.
Of course I’ve also been busy catching up with friends in New York and I’ve combined that with some cool things I wanted to check out in New York: an art installation in Green-Wood Cemetery, cherry blossoms in the parks, new street art, an overdue visit to the Oculus which I’d been wanting to see since it opened last year, and eating some of my favorite foods in the city: Doughnuts (Doughnut Plant and Dough), pizza (Roberta’s) and Brooklyn bagels, to name just a few things that I miss when I’m not here. Oh, and I even joined my first political protest (ever!) – and I’m sure it won’t be the last one.
Here are the highlights and lowlights of the month:
What went right
Deciding to visit Cuba
I had already mentioned that Cuba wasn’t really in my travel plans for 2017, but as this trip began to take shape during the planning stage, the more excited I got. And it turned out to be the best travel decision I made this year (so far)! Cuba was such a fulfilling traveling experience – for one because I took a digital detox (see below), and also because the country itself was such an intriguing destination: filled with natural beauty, but also thought-provoking and challenging due to its Communist regime, which for me turned into a trip down memory lane.
Road tripping with an almost stranger
When I spontaneously decided to road trip with my fellow digital nomad Chrys, who I’d talked to regularly online but only met once in real life, for a minute I had doubts if we’d travel well together (the past few years have shown me that I don’t travel well with everyone). But the road trip was such a blast and we got on surprisingly well. It’s always great for me to travel with someone who works online, too, and understands the needs for working hours, online time and planning a trip with a healthy work & travel balance. That Chrys happened to be a runner, cake lover and vegetarian like me were added bonuses.
Not being homeless in New York
Whenever I returned to New York in the past three years, I knew where I’d be living prior to my arrival. Funnily enough, this time around, now that I’m finally a lawful ‘permanent resident’, I arrived not knowing where to stay after a splurge at The Row for a couple of nights. Just like it had happened in the past when I’d found myself in a similar situation, it was a housesit that saved me from having to sleep under the Brooklyn Bridge (or crash on a friend’s couch). I read the inquiry while I was still in the air, on my flight from Cuba to NYC, and managed to secure the sit before I even touched down in New York. While I am looking for a permanent place in New York, I am housesitting and AirBb-ing my way all around town, but I hope that by the time I’m writing my next monthly round-up, I’ll have found a place to call home.
Digital detox in Cuba
Oh, the dreaded digital detox. I guess I prepared at least somewhat for this by deliberately not buying a SIM card in both Colombia and Mexico, meaning I was only online when there was wifi, and not connected 24 hours, like I am here in the U.S. And guess what? I didn’t have the withdrawal symptoms my sister was sure I’d have, and I realized that I’m fine without checking my Instagram or Snapchat all the time. I could have bought a scratch-off wifi card (60 minutes for $5), but because I’d heard that the wifi is painfully slow, I decided not to bother and waste my precious time in Cuba by waiting for websites to load, while getting frustrated over the slow wifi. The only thing that I started worrying about after a while was my family and loved ones and if they were okay. My offline time in Cuba made me wonder how I can reduce my online time more, because I can literally waste hours on social media and feel like that whenever I have the distractions of Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp around, my productivity is terrible.
What went wrong
Losing a day in Cuba
This was something beyond our control, but it put a major dampener on our trip: Miss G, coming to Cuba from NYC, missed her connecting flight in Atlanta, because the plane from New York was delayed due to engine problems. Until that day, I’d never experienced the disappointment of waiting for someone at the airport and the person not showing up. The situation was made even more complicated by the fact that this being Cuba, I had no wifi and no way to find out what had happened until I left the airport, drove into Havana, and found a wifi scratch card (which took me two hours to find). Luckily, she arrived the next day on the same flight, but it did cost us a precious day in Havana. I could have enjoyed the day on my own, of course, but I waited at the airport for hours, hoping she’d still walk out of the gate, and by the time I had checked into our Airbnb, gone out in search of a wifi card, and finally found one, it was 8 o’clock in the evening.
It seems like no matter how hard I try, I can’t go a month without losing at least one thing. This month came with two major losses – I left a fairly new iPhone charger plugged into the wall in our Airbnb in Havana, and in New York, I left my brand new spring jacket in the basket of a Citibike (New York’s shared bicycles). Even though I went back to the bike station as soon as I realized I had left the jacket on the bike, by the time I got to there, the bike had already been taken out by somebody else and the jacket was gone.
While the digital detox in Cuba felt amazing at the time, and was probably good for me, the positive effects of it wore off in no time: I arrived in New York to 1,000 emails across my four email inboxes, causing me anxiety straight away. After having pulled an all-nighter before flying to Cuba in order to cope with my workload before going offline, I stayed up until 5.30am when I got to NYC to work my way through all my emails and react to the most urgent ones. I’ve felt tired and overwhelmed ever since, because, in addition to my usual workload, I have been trying to deal with all the bureaucratic stuff that comes with being an immigrant, from mundane things such as opening a bank account and getting an ID to more complicated things like finding a place to stay (which is nearly impossible for a foreigner without credit history and a steady pay check) and trying to figure out the tax system (please send help). That’s why it has been fairly quiet on the blog in April, but I hope I’ll get back to my regular posting schedule in May because I have a ton of content from Ecuador and Cuba that I’m excited to share with you.
Features and shout-outs
Here are some of the articles I’ve written or contributed to in the past few weeks:
- I wrote an In-depth Guide To Planning a Lesbian Trip for NomadicMatt.com
- I contributed to Omio’s 5 Female Solo Travel Tips
- Passport Magazine featured me and several other LGBT travel bloggers in the cover story of their latest issue Travel Bloggers: Meet The Digital Nomads Who Use The Net To Travel The World
The reading challenge fail
Well, I don’t know what made me think I had a good chance of finishing four books in April, or even the slightest chance, because now all I can think is: what was I thinking…, setting myself up for another month of failure (remember, I didn’t quite make it through NoChocolateMarch). Instead of spending hours reading in Cuba, I was too tired to read more than a few pages on most nights. Our sightseeing schedule was just too crazy. That said, I have only gotten up to the second book of the Neapolitan Novels but I’ve enjoyed them very much and will make an effort to read more to finish all four books. This goes along with my quest for less time online – instead of scrolling through Instagram pictures before I go to sleep, I want to get back into the habit of reading every night.
Originally I had planned to cut out sugar in May, but since I need a success after two consecutive fails, I decided to change it up and challenge myself to run every day for the next 31 days. Since this might be too easy (I run pretty much every day anyway) I made this challenge a little harder by having to run at least 4 miles, because whenever I feel lazy, I only run 5k, but now I have to run 6.55 miles every day.
What’s next for me
Seven countries in four months – the first third of 2017 has involved so much travel that I am looking forward to a month of sitting still. Of course I won’t be sitting around all that much, considering I’m in New York and there’s always something going on, and even in that short time that I’ve been back I’ve found myself exhausted from trying to fit in too much with too little sleep. Anyway, since I barely spent any time in NYC last year I am excited to be back in my favorite city in the world and am looking forward to eating my way around town, enjoying spring, checking out new places and catching up with friends.