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Travel Reflections & Life Lately: Looking back on 2019

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As the year drew to a close, I sat down to look back on all of my travels of 2019. Even though I did not achieve my goal of visiting three new countries, all of my trips in the past 12 months were so fulfilling that I can’t be too mad about visiting just two new countries instead of three.

Let’s start with some stats:

20 weeks of travel

I added up all of my travels and was surprised to learn that I traveled 20 out of 52 weeks in 2019, which was more than I thought. I am still amazed that I was able to carve out a career that allows me to live in New York and still travel a fair amount of time, without denying myself any splurges. I absolutely do not take this for granted.

Flights & buses & trains & ferries

  • 23 plane rides
  • 11 train rides
  • 9 bus rides
  • 1 ferry ride
  • 1 cruise

According to my GoogleMaps timeline, I visited 51 cities, 182 places, and 11 countries. Let’s see if I can list all of the countries I visited in 2019: 1. U.S.A. (five U.S. states this year, but none of them new to me: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois, New York and D.C. – with a little bit of Maryland when I visited the U.S. capital this past spring), 2. Germany, 3. Austria, 4. Czech Republic, 5. Hungary, 6. Vietnam (new to me!), 7. Thailand, 8. Israel, 9. Jordan (new to me), 10. Palestine. I think GoogleMaps might count Russia as country #11, but I only stopped there briefly on a layover, so I don’t count it.

182 Places… So where did I go this year?

January: Germany & New York City

I spent the first two weeks of the month in Germany – the last couple of weeks of a month-long Europe trip. I don’t get to spend every Christmas with my family, which is why I was super appreciative of all the family time I got before returning to New York. The second half of the month was spent in New York, preparing for my biggest trip of the year.

Best moment of the month: Every single moment with my nieces and nephew. I don’t get to see these little munchkins very often, so when I do, I try to make the most of it.

Worst moment of the month: When I discovered upon returning to New York that my tour business had plummeted. I’ was spoiled the winter before when I, despite temperatures of -4 F /-20C, was able to sell out all of my Brooklyn walking tours, which is why I was shocked that this year, even though my tours were much more established, I wasn’t able to sell out more than a couple of tours. I didn’t have to worry about money once in 2018, so starting the year with business being VERY slow was frightening.

(Spoiler alert: My tour business recovered again after the winter and has been more successful than ever in 2019. This was an important reminder for me to diversify my income streams. I have the blog, freelance writing, tours and my pet sitting business, none of which have anything to do with one another. Even if one of my incomes streams dry up, I have others to rely on).

February: New York City & Vietnam

After a few weeks in New York City, it was time to leave on my big winter escape – I still can’t get used to the arctic temperatures in this part of the U.S. in the winter months, and whenever possible, I escape to warmer climates. In 2019, I finally visited Vietnam, which I’d been wanting to visit for years. I started my trip with some time in Saigon, which was so hot that after a few days, I booked a flight to Phu Quoc, which I felt was like Vietnam’s Phuket.

Best moment of the month: Getting back on a scooter (motorbike) in Phu Quoc. It took me until 2017 to get back on a scooter after a scooter accident all the way back in 2011, but I was traveling with someone then. This time, I was by myself and had to give myself a good pep talk to work up the courage to rent a scooter without a ‘support person’, but when I did, it was an incredibly freeing feeling to whiz around the island on two wheels.

Worst moment of the month: The moment I walked through the airport in Vietnam – still on my way to immigration – when I realized I left my travel scarf on the plane. My travel scarf with a secret zipper pocket in which I had all my credit and debit cards and my stash of emergency dollar bills. My heart dropped. I ran back to the gate, which seemed miles away at that point, only to discover that they had already de-boarded everyone and closed the gate. The few Cathay Pacific flight attendants who were still around told me to go to the Lost & Found Counter after immigration, but I didn’t have much hope that the cleaning crew had handed in my scarf. To my surprise, the scarf was at Lost & Found though, complete with all my cards and every single dollar bill I’d stuffed in there. What a nerve-wrecking start to my long awaited Vietnam trip!

(This wasn’t the first time I left something on a plane, by the way. A couple of years ago I lost a pair of $300 headphones on a plane, and I also managed to leave my laptop on the seat next to me. The headphones were gone forever, even though I ran back to the gate right when I noticed I left them on the plane, but luckily I was able to get my laptop back.)

March: Vietnam

I spent all of March traveling around Vietnam, starting with the Mekong Delta in the south, and then all the way up along the coast to Da Nang. I ended up spending a weekend in Bangkok (a visa run) which was nice – I finally figured out how to enjoy the ‘Big Mango’: cat cafes, rooftop bars, Chatuchak Market for some shopping, and hunting down some new street art.

Best moment of the month: Oh, this is difficult. I had so many great moments in Vietnam, it’s impossible to narrow it down to just one moment. Highlights of my Vietnam trip were my visit to the ‘Crazy House’ in Da Nang, wandering the streets of Hoi An’s Old Town (I did not want to leave Hoi An!), cycling in the Mekong Delta and pretty much everything I ate in Vietnam. I think Vietnamese food was my main motivation to visit Vietnam, and it did not disappoint.

Worst moment of the month: Visa woes. I tried to get a 3-month visa before my trip, but I applied for an appointment at the Vietnamese Consulate in New York during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, when everything comes to a standstill for a couple of weeks. Long story short: in the end I had to make do with the 30-day tourist e-Visa Vietnam issues. I realized during my trip that it was more difficult than expected to get a visa extension while in the country and realized it would be easier to leave the country and enter with a new visa. I spent hours researching different options for a ‘visa run’ ranging from long bus rides to Laos (to/from inconvenient places) and too many options for low-cost AirAsia flights to nearby Asian countries – time that I should have spent exploring, instead of staring at my laptop screen for hours because of poor planning.

April: Vietnam, New York City & Washington D.C.

I wrapped up my Vietnam trip with time in Hanoi and a luxury cruise through Halong Bay. Had I visited Vietnam years ago during my first trip to Asia, I’d ended up on a cheapie backpackers’ boat, but I’ve definitely grown out of the extreme shoestring travel I used to do. I treated myself to a cruise that turned out to be most of my fellow cruisers’ honeymoon trip. I spontaneously made it into a ‘solomoon’.

After that, I wrapped up my trip in Saigon where I’d started it before heading back to New York. While I was sad that my trip was over, I was looking forward to returning to New York because I was excited that my friend Katie was coming to visit me. We planned a quick getaway to Washington D.C. during cherry blossom season (which turned to be out almost over). It was my first time in D.C. since a brief visit in 2011. A couple of days were definitely not enough – I really want to go back and see more of Washington D.C. which has changed a lot since my last visit

Best moment of the month: My cruise in Halong Bay, no question. I couldn’t have chosen a better ‘grand finale’ for my Vietnam trip: I loved the ship, the scenery, and was able to relax for a few days before starting a busy season of tour guiding.

Worst moment of the month: Realizing that I wouldn’t be able to make it to one of the top five places I wanted to see in Vietnam: Sapa. This little town in the mountains of northern Vietnam is known for its beautiful landscapes (lush green rice terraces in the mountains) and I’d been looking forward to going on a multi-day trek there. But I simply ran out of time – after years of slow full-time travel, I am still not used to traveling with an end date and took my sweet time everywhere I went to in Vietnam, until I realized my return flight date was coming up pretty soon. Not making it to Sapa was a major disappointment, but I guess now I’ve got an excuse to return to Vietnam!

May: New York City & New Jersey

After barely working at all during the winter (I spent almost all of November 2018 in Costa Rica, and half of December in London & Germany), May meant back to work for me. So much so that I barely had a day off – May is usually my most profitable month. The only time I left the city was while Katie was still in town – we went on a day trip to Jersey City which turned out to be great, and I ended up going back to Jersey City for another day trip later in the year.

Best moment of the month: Seeing a fantastic Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. This exhibit had opened just before I left for Vietnam in February and tickets were limited. I returned from my trip just before the exhibit closed and tickets were completely sold out – I was able to still get one by signing up for an annual membership to the museum. This wasn’t the first Frida Kahlo exhibit I’d seen, but it was one of the best ones. The highlight of the month for sure!

Worst moment of the month: Being overwhelmed with work. I was trying to juggle three jobs, and never found any time to relax. By the end of May, I was close to a burnout. It took me another month or so to figure out a healthy work life balance.

June: New York City & Boston

I spent almost the entire month in New York, but I flew up to Boston for a short week at the end of June. The reason for the trip was the second annual TravelCon conference, where I hosted an LGBT travel writing panel. It was great to catch up with so many old blogging buddies, attend several fantastic workshops, listen to inspiring keynotes, but also to rediscover a city that I hadn’t been to in years (just like DC). I would’ve stayed an entire week, but there was a major event in New York City on the very last day of the month that I had been looking forward to for the better part of the year: World Pride, also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

Best moment of the month: Celebrating World Pride all day with some great friends. We started with a Pride Brunch I attend every year, followed by dancing and cheering as we watched the colorful – and seemingly never ending – parade of floats go by.

Worst moment of the month: I was terribly insulted by a client – there were tears, and there was a lot of frustration about how this was handled. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it was one of those times when I really felt one of the disadvantages of working for myself: there is just no support network, nobody to go to, having to figure out everything on my own.

July: New York City & Knoxville, Tennessee

July was one of the best months of the entire year. I love summer in New York, and this month was just perfect: outdoor movies, beach days in Coney Island and in the Rockaways, glorious summer sunsets and a Yankees game on a beautiful summer day. I watched the 4th July fireworks with friends, met cool new people, and finally got my bike out of storage. Which meant I could cycle all over the city again, and explore some areas I’ve never been to – I still have so many neighborhoods and places to explore in New York, even though I’ve been living here for a while now.

At the end of the month, I was able to return to Knoxville, Tennessee, where I’d passed through on my road trip in August 2018 (but only stopped briefly). This time, I felt like I took advantage of everything Knoxville had to offer: I saw art, I went on a treetop canopy tour, I stand-up paddled on the Tennessee River, saw a concert, and ate so much good food. It was a solo trip that was absolutely perfect.

Best moment of the month: So many good moments in July – it would be hard to choose just one moment… but let’s try to narrow it down to three: All my beach days, 4th July, and the Knoxville trip.

Worst moment of the month: Getting stuck in Washington, D.C. on the way back from Knoxville. I had a connecting flight, and first my flight from Knoxville to D.C. was delayed, which led to me missing my connecting flight, and after I was re-booked on a later flight, that flight was canceled because of severe thunderstorms in the NYC area. It didn’t look like I was going to be able to get on another flight to New York that night – hundreds of people were stuck – but I had to be in New York City by 9am the next morning. I ended up making the decision to leave the airport and figure out alternative transportation options. I took the subway to D.C.’s Union Station, and got on a Greyhound bus to New York, which got me into Manhattan at 3.30am. What should’ve been a simple two-hour flight turned into a 13-hour journey home.

August: NYC, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic & Austria

In August, I tried to fit in as many summer activities as possible, because I left New York mid-August for Europe, which meant I didn’t have much summer left. So I made sure to have rooftop drinks before I left, spent time sunbathing in the parks, went to several food markets and summer streets events, and had picnics with friends. I also checked several art exhibits off my to-do list before leaving for Europe, and then it was time for one of my most anticipated journeys of the year: Four countries in one trip!

I scheduled my trip to Europe around a family event, and while I was excited about spending time with my family in Germany, a good friend of mine and I wanted to do a classic Europe backpacking trip, which I’ve never done. Because of time constraints, we weren’t able to fit in all of Europe, but eventually decided on Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Vienna and Nuremberg. We took trains and buses, stayed in Airbnb’s and packed every single day of the trip with fun activities. We cycled around the cities, we went on free walking tours, we sampled local food, found great viewpoints (especially in Budapest!), and did a lot of touristy stuff – but we had such a blast. I was a bit worried that August in Europe would mean hordes of tourists everywhere, but other than in the center of Prague, it did not feel packed anywhere we went.

Best moment of the month: The entire Euro trip was amazing, but Budapest was the most memorable of the cities we visited.

Worst moment of the month: Luckily, nothing terribly bad happened this month, but I wished we would’ve had more time in each city on our Europe trip. Like I said before: I am still not used to traveling with an end date, and wished I had more time to just linger instead of rushing to fit it all in.

September: NYC & the Catskills (upstate New York)

Upon returning to New York, I realized that summer was far from over. September is actually a great month, because it’s still sunny and warm, but without the pressing summer heat and the humidity of July and August. I tried to pack in as much as possible before the summer of 2019 would be over for good: flea markets and other outdoor events, a rooftop party, ferry rides and park hang-outs. I managed to visit two places in the Bronx I’d never been to – Van Cortlandt Park and Woodland Cemetery -, I went to Staten Island, and I went to the beach one last time.

I spent almost all of September in New York City, but I escaped for a long weekend to the Catskills so that I could go on an overnight back country backpacking trip with my hiking buddy. I took myself out of my comfort zone by agreeing on camping in the wilderness (not really my thing), and while the hike was much more challenging than either of us expected (the Burroughs Range trail includes three summits: Slide, Wittenberg and Cornell Mountain, with Slide Mountain being the highest peak in New York. The trail was incredibly strenuous, and the hike was made even more difficult because of rain on the first day. But we kept pushing through and did not turn around, which is why I felt extremely accomplished when we got back. Not giving up also paid of on day two, when the sun finally came out and we had amazing views over the Catskills from the mountaintop.

Best moment of the month: Two moments stand out: the moment when we reached the car after two long and tough days of hiking in the Catskills, and receiving an Airbnb Award for being the Experience host with the most five-star reviews in New York City. I busted my ass this summer, showed thousands of people around Brooklyn, and to finally have my hard work acknowledged felt amazing.

Worst moment of the month: Hiking an entire afternoon in the pouring rain without my rain jacket (which I’d forgotten to pack) and having to set up our tent at the break of the night and in the rain. We also couldn’t find a decent spot to set up the tent in until it was almost too dark, and both of us were close to a meltdown: hungry, exhausted, and cold. I was so cold that my lips were blue, I was shivering and it took me hours to get warm again.

October: NYC, Chicago & Israel

October was one of my favorite months because I got to spend time with several people I don’t get to see all that often: first I went up to Boston to visit my friend Kate, then I spend eight days with my friend Anna in Chicago (who graciously offered to host me when I got into the Chicago Marathon), my friend Katie visited me in New York and finally I was welcomed with a much needed heartfelt hug at the airport in Tel Aviv by my favorite human.

Needless to say that October was a busy month. I got to go to Boston for the second time this year, I rediscovered beautiful Chicago (it had been years since my last visit!), and Katie and I always do fun things when she passes through New York. During this visit we cycled around Brooklyn, we took the ferry up the East River, marveled at the fall colors in Central Park and Prospect Park, ate at several delicious pizza places, and we saw my favorite Broadway show of the entire year: Come From Away, which tells the story of 6,700 airplane passengers who got stranded in the tiny town of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada, when on 9/11 the American airspace closed. The story was captivating and told so well, I absolutely loved it.

And then it was time to leave for my second longest trip of the year after Vietnam: a five-week journey around the Middle East – see more in November.

Best moment of the month: Finishing my second marathon. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect in Chicago, and I was so happy that after months of hard training I was able to run it – see worst moment below for why.

Worst moment of the month: At the end of September, I fell on one of my marathon training runs and busted my knee open. I didn’t think much of it, however, because after a short pause I was able to run another 10k despite the hurt knee. A week later though, bacteria got into the wound and my knee got horribly infected. It got so bad that I had to go to an Emergency Clinic in Chicago a few days before the race, and it was not clear if I’d be able to run the marathon until two days before race day. The pain and mental stress that this injury caused me were awful.

November: Israel, Palestine and Jordan

I flew to Israel at the end of October where I started my second longest trip of the year: five weeks of traveling in Jordan, Israel and Lebanon. The trip didn’t turn out the way I thought it would (see worst moment below) but I had such a good month. I watched one of my favorite people in the world getting married, re-visited some of my favorite spots in Israel and went to some places I hadn’t explored on any of my previous visits. After a couple of beach days on the Red Sea it was time for me to hop across the border to visit a new country: Jordan! Visiting Jordan has been on my travel wishlist for a long time, so this trip was a birthday gift to myself, and it turned out to be such a great trip. I hadn’t traveled anywhere by myself since Vietnam and enjoyed some much needed ‘me time’ while traveling from Aqaba in the far south of Jordan all the way up to Jerash in the north of the country, close to the Syrian border. I loved every place I visited along the way: the vast desert of Wadi Rum, the ancient city of Petra and all the hikes I did around there, and Amman, Jordan’s vibrant capital, and Jerash with its stunning ancient Roman ruins, that I didn’t even know existed before I went to Jordan.

Instead of traveling from Amman to Beirut, as I’d originally planned, I ended up going back to Israel via Palestine, and treated myself to a stay at street artist Banksy’s Hotel in Bethlehem in the West Bank. Named “The Walled Off Hotel” it faces the separation wall between Israel and Palestine, with the self-proclaimed “worst view in the world”. Naturally, it wasn’t a very happy visit, but after a brief visit to Bethlehem in 2014, I’d been keen on returning to learn more about Palestine and the conflict between Israel and Palestine. While this was admittedly a somber visit, I did have an amazing birthday celebration in Israel with great friends.

Best moment of the month: Finally visiting Petra. I’ve wanted to visit the ancient city of Petra for many years, and it did not disappoint. In fact, Petra even exceeded my expectations with its ginormous size, the breathtaking monuments most of which are carved right into the mountains, and the fantastic hiking trails which kept me busy for three entire days.

And I also want to mention my birthday, because my friends in Israel went above and beyond to make this day special for me.

Worst moment of the month: Visiting Palestine. Don’t get me wrong – I love visiting Palestine (this was my second visit) but seeing how Palestinians are oppressed by the Israeli government who control their land is absolutely heartbreaking and just like during my first visit, it completely messed with my mind. On the one hand, I always have a good time when I visit Israel – especially when, like on this trip, my friends organize all sorts of cool stuff for me and take me to beautiful places – but the political situation makes me sick.

Another sad moment was the moment I realized that I wouldn’t be able to visit Lebanon on this trip. This is a bit of a longer story, but the short version is that you cannot visit Lebanon after having visited Israel due to the two countries’ difficult political relations. However, since there were big protests going on in Lebanon around the time of my planned visit which had led to road closures and uncertainties about my planned route around the country, I figured that it may not be the right time to visit Lebanon anyway. The other reason why changing my original plans wasn’t the worst moment of the trip was the fact that this meant I’d be spending my birthday with some of my favorite people in the world.

December: Israel and NYC

I returned to New York in early December to spend the Holidays in what you know is my favorite city in the world. After months of marathon training and traveling, I was ready to finally have a break. I didn’t fill my calendar with too many social obligations – all I wanted to do was get some rest before my next big trip and to enjoy the Holiday season in New York. I ended up needing more rest than expected, since I brought the flu back with me from Israel, which later turned into a bronchitis. Even though I wasn’t able to spend Christmas with my family in Germany, I got a little bit into the Christmas spirit with a couple of cookie baking sessions, a hygge Advent afternoon (in Germany, we celebrate the four Sundays before Christmas, which are called Advent, with a cozy celebration that involves cookies, mulled wine and Christmas music). I rang in the New Year with a couple of friends – what started out as a small party at a friend’s house ended at a techno club at 9.30am the next morning. The longest I stayed out in YEARS!

Best moment of the month: A surprise cake in Israel for my birthday! I was spending the weekend after my birthday at my friend’s family’s house in the south of Israel, and I was beyond excited to have a shabbat dinner with them. These festive large family dinners with loads of delicious home-cooked dishes are some of the things I love most about Jewish culture. After dinner, they surprised me with a cake my friend’s mom made for me. I was truly touched by this. And the entire weekend my friends had planned out for me was amazing: hikes, stunning scenery, and delicious food.

Worst moment of the month: This is a tough one to even type out. I’ve always heard about people falling out over politics, but honestly, I never thought it’d be something that’d affect me. Boy was I wrong. I had a major falling out with someone who I considered CLOSE family (who even has access to all of my accounts and to my Facebook) after sharing my experiences in Palestine on Instagram. I knew these stories were hard to watch, and I did expect some backlash, but I did not expect to lose a person I love over this.

2020 Teaser: What’s Next For Me

I won’t be staying put for too long: my first big trip of 2020 is only a few days away! I’ll be leaving on my biggest trip of the year in mid-January – exploring a new (to me) continent! You know that I can only take a few weeks of cold weather before I start getting cabin fever, which is why I will swap New York’s frosty winter for summer in the southern hemisphere – that’s all I’ll reveal for now. This trip (which is another dream country ticked off my bucket list) will be followed by a milestone trip: right after I return from my “winter escape”, I will be leaving on a trip that’s very special for me: The trip that commemorates 10 years of Globetrottergirls! I’ve thought long and hard about where I want to celebrate this special milestone and am stoked about the destination I chose. Stay tuned.

To follow along in real time, follow my travels on Instagram @globetrottergirls, where I post both photos and stories almost every day.

Happy 2020!

1 Comment

  1. What an amazing year! You are truly a powerful and inspiring person. One “badass woman.”

    A drop of ink will make a million think -Lord Byron

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