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Travel Reflections & Life Lately: Looking back on 2019

2019

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!

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Globetrottergirls Is Turning Nine

year 9

There are two dates every year that I use to sit down and to look back at the past 365 days, usually pondering how these two dates have changed the course of my life.

The first date is 1 February, which I’ve been celebrating as my ‘Break Free’ date every year for the past nine years. On 1 February 2010, I walked into my London office and resigned. I quit a job that provided me with a steady paycheck but not much beyond that. I didn’t feel challenged, I didn’t feel fulfilled, I didn’t even feel like I was my authentic self when I was surrounded by ‘suits’ five days a week, in the ‘City’, as they call London’s version of New York’s Wall Street.

To be honest, I was miserable. But I also didn’t really have any idea what else I should do with life. Going to travel the world for a year was supposed to give me the answers I was looking for, as I was heading straight into an early midlife crisis at only 29.

The second date I celebrate every year is 30 April. That’s the date I boarded a plane from London to Las Vegas on a one-way ticket, about to start a 2-month road trip through the Southwestern USA, something I’d been dreaming of for years. That day would become my ‘nomad-versary’, the date I officially became a nomad. No more home in London, no more permanent address. I certainly had no idea what life had in store for me when I watched London get smaller and smaller beneath me from the plane window, and that me quitting my job a couple of months prior actually meant quitting my corporate career for good.

london big ben
London, the city that was my home from 2007 – 2010

I had no idea how much the website, whose domain we’d registered only ten days earlier, would change the entire course of my life.

The decision to start a travel blog was a spontaneous one, nothing that we gave a lot of thought. And initially, we didn’t put a lot of time or effort into the blog, which showed. I still cringe every time I look at the first few posts we published – luckily they’re buried deep in the recesses of the internet. Since both of us (my partner at the time and me) were lucky enough to make money in different ways, we didn’t look at the blog as a way to make money – until we received the first email from someone offering us money for advertising space on the website. That’s when we realized that the blog might actually be more than simply a travelogue for us and decided to up our game.

Looking back now and seeing how many opportunities the blog has offered me over the years, I am beyond grateful that I became a blogger. So instead of looking back on my life of travel like I did in previous years, I decided to dedicate this post to this very website.

I don’t know what made me think of it, but a while ago I suddenly remembered that we were already blogging long before Globetrottergirls – albeit very sporadically and on a basic Blogger account. And I had to dig quite a bit to find it, but it turns out that the chronicles of our life in London are still findable on the internet. I guess the recesses of the internet aren’t that deep after all

When we launched Globetrottergirls nine years ago, ‘travel blogger’ wasn’t something people did for a living, unlike now, when people deliberately start travel blogs to make money and look at travel blogging as a career. It took a few years for us to make a considerable amount of money from blogging, but I still remember how amazed I was when I realized that this little website was able to pay for two people’s travels. I should point out though that it was a frugal travel lifestyle, and by no means luxurious.

We were determined though to use Globetrottergirls to keep us on the road and I wanted to quit my other job, which paid well, but which didn’t excite me very much. The term ‘digital nomad’ started to pop up more around the internet, and traveling the world indefinitely sounded like a dream.

Back in 2010, bloggers were not paid to go on trips, but I remember that we heard of people getting free hotel stays thanks to their blogs, and about a year into our blogging journey, when we felt like we had a significant audience, we started reaching out to hotels and Destination Marketing Organizations with detailed proposals of what we could offer them in return for a stay at their property or other perks such as free city passes, tours or free admission to events. At the time, it felt amazing to be able to stay at places we wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise, and go on excursions that were out of our budget.

pool at temple tree langkawi
We felt like we made it when invites to stay in fancy boutique hotels in return for a mention on the blog started to arrive in our email inbox a few months into our blogging journey

But after a while, the novelty wore off, and we went back to paying for everything out of our own pockets rather than having to write about something we may have not mentioned had we not committed to promoting it.

When paid blogging campaigns became more popular and I got invited on my first paid trip I was thrilled though. Not only would I get to stay in fancy hotels and eat for free throughout my trip, but I got monetary compensation on top of it. While I was on that trip I realized, however, that this wasn’t a route I wanted to go down. Having to deliver a certain amount of social media updates and write a specific number of articles seemed forced, and I wanted to tweet what I wanted and when I wanted it instead of being told which hashtags to use.

I decided that monetizing the website that way, going on paid campaigns, wasn’t for me, but I am still grateful for all the places I got to visit thanks to the blog, and at some point I got invitations to more places than I could possibly accept, and would still join a trip if the itinerary excites me and I really want to visit the destination.

I was ecstatic when, in 2012, we were given free admission to a 5-star spa in Costa Rica. Last year, I returned to the spa (which I loved) and splurged on a stay in the onsite 5* hotel, and paid for it myself (even though I’ll write about it – but without any pressure.)

Over the years, I also got more and more opportunities to work with travel brands on campaigns for content, many of which led to other campaigns and freelance writing opportunities. When I started the blog in 2010, I had no idea how many doors it would open for me and how long it would keep me on the road.

However, I have realized that what I enjoy most is blogging about the places I visit because I want to visit them, the things I want to write about, and not the things I’m being told I need to write about. I want to feel that this is 100% my blog and 100% me, and that I have full reign over what you see on the site. (Side note: I sometimes write sponsored content, but when I get paid to write something, I still decide what I write and have full editorial control over it, and make sure it is something that’s actual useful and helps other people plan their travels, like this article).

And I’ve mentioned this many times before: The best thing about starting the blog is still the number of amazing people I’ve met through it – from the very beginning to this day. Fellow bloggers, readers, the people in the travel industry I’ve worked with and the people who organized trips I was fortunate enough to go on – so many of them have stayed in my life and became good friends, and I will be forever grateful for the connections I’ve made thanks to Globetrottergirls.

The most terrifying thing I did in the nine years of running this blog was continuing it by myself after my relationship fell apart. Even though I’d worked on the blog for years, running it alone is a completely different story – being solely in charge for every single business decision, content that goes on the blog, dealing with everything from tech issues to social media and a never-ending flood of emails.

I said many a time that I never set out to start a blog for myself – I do find that blogging can be quite solitary and lonely, and that’s probably why I took up an endeavor that allows me to work with people again in addition to the blog.

After so many years of living solely off the money the blog made me and freelance work I found thanks to the blog, I am finding it a relief to have other income streams now in addition to it which make it easier for me to blog for fun rather than because I have to in order to make a living.

Of course I appreciate every single business opportunity that the blog provided me with, everything it taught me, every penny I’ve made from it, and every single connection I’ve made through it. I’ve now seen several people who started around the same time I started Globetrottergirls stop blogging or even sell their blogs, but that’s something that is unthinkable for me at the moment (although, admittedly, there was a time when I was seriously considering selling the site). Every time I travel, I find so many things along the way that I want to share with people, from practical travel tips to stories about the destinations I visited and photos of all the beautiful places I saw. I wrote twelve articles while I was in Vietnam and am excited to share them.

For now, I can’t see myself stop blogging any time soon (on the contrary – I hope that by the time my next blog-iversary rolls around, I’ll have finally launched my new blog!), and Globetrottergirls is and will remain a big part of my life and my identity. I am already looking forward to celebrate Globetrottergirls’ tenth anniversary next year – a full decade of blogging is definitely something I couldn’t have foreseen back in April of 2010, and I am starting to feel drawn back to the places that I visited during that first year of travels, just to see how they’ve changed since I first went there, and how I feel about them now, as someone who’s also significantly changed and grown over the past decade.

What’s next for me

I’d like to finish this review of the past nine years of the blog with a little outlook of what’s next for Globetrottergirls.

As I mentioned above – I truly appreciate the opportunities the website has afforded me, and the best opportunity in the past twelve months was an invite to speak at a travel conference about LGBT travel blogging. I had been thinking about public speaking for a while, but hadn’t actively pursued it. I enjoyed both preparing the presentation with my friend Adam as well as being in front of people – and I was thrilled when I was asked to return to Travelcon this summer, for its second conference, to moderate a panel on LGBT travel blogging.

If you are looking to start a blog or to take your blog to the next level, i.e. grow your audience, improve your writing skills, or monetize and turn your blog from a hobby into a business, I can highly recommend this conference. Even I still learned quite a few things in the workshops I visited.

You can buy tickets here and get $50 off with the code is 50off (use at check out.)

I was equally as delighted when I was asked to speak at an LGBT conference in New York City this month – at QueerHustle, a conference geared towards lesbian entrepreneurs, I will speak less about blogging but I’ll talk about how to run your business from the road. Being location independent is something I am beyond grateful for and I am excited every time I get an email from someone who is inspired by my digital nomad lifestyle and wants to travel long-term while working remotely. After ‘coaching’ readers by email and sharing my tips on how to take your business on the road of make a location independent lifestyle work for years now, I am looking forward to sharing my knowledge with fellow queer entrepreneurs next weekend right here in New York City.

If you’re a queer entrepreneur, don’t have any plans for next weekend yet and want to come to New York City: you can still get tickets for Queer Hustle here (and if you need a place to crash, I have a comfy couch).

As for traveling – I’d like to continue to spend the spring and summer months in New York and then take off again as soon as it gets colder. As of now, I haven’t decided yet where I’d like to spend the winter, but I have half a dozen destinations that I shortlisted. Even after all these years of traveling full-time, I still have so many countries on my travel wish list, and my wanderlust isn’t diminishing.

And while I am currently enjoying having a base here in New York – at least for part of the year – I am not ruling out that I’ll take up the digital nomad lifestyle again one day. I loved my trip to Vietnam so much that when it was time for me to board my flight back to the U.S., I was not ready for it at all and would’ve loved to keep traveling. For anyone interested in becoming a digital nomad, or people already traveling while working online and looking to connect with other digital nomads, I want to give a shout-out to Nomad Summit, the biggest conference for digital nomads and location independent professionals, which will take place in Cancun, Mexico in October. I am not affiliated with this conference in any way, I just think that it is a great event for aspiring nomads to learn, and veteran nomads to connect with like-minded people.

If you’d like to read more about my nomadic life, check out these posts:

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for Globetrottergirls 10th anniversary in 2020 – I’ll have to come up with something big for that 😉

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Backpacking Vietnam: My First Solo Trip In Two Years

vietnam dani backpacking

Hello from Vietnam! It’s been a while since I wrote a personal update, and what better occasion to do exactly that than my first solo trip in two years.

“Two years since my last solo trip, can this really be?”, I thought to myself as I tried to figure out the last time I’d traveled on my own. But yes, the last time I set off on a solo adventure was in February 2017, when I headed to Ecuador, the second-to-last country on the South American continent I wanted to visit (I have only been to Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia – but Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname are currently not high on my list – the big one left there is Brazil).

Technically, I set off on a solo trip in September 2017, when I flew from Germany to France to walk the Camino de Santiago, but since I quickly learned on that journey that is actually pretty difficult to get some alone time on this famous pilgrimage across Spain and ended up walking over three weeks of the Camino with someone, I feel like that one doesn’t count. And all the other trips I’ve taken since were with other people. I felt like it another solo trip was long overdue.

Why Vietnam?

So, why Vietnam? Some friends were surprised by the country I chose for my ‘Winter Escape’, but to be honest, Vietnam has been on my travel wish list for a long time. In 2011, when I traveled to Asia for the very first time, I was sure that Vietnam would be part of that trip, but back then, my travels were much more on the fly than they are now. I’d follow the path as it appeared in front of me, without much planning. I lingered in Thailand because it was convenient and easy, I spent more time in Malaysia than I needed to, and before I knew it, I had only three weeks left before I was flying to India for what would be a life changing experience.

Three weeks to squeeze in all of Vietnam, all while working remotely? No way. I didn’t have any interest in rushing through the country, and decided I’d rather leave it for my next trip to Asia, along with the other countries I ran out out of time for (the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia). And then, upon returning to Asia three years later, life happened once again, leading me to different places I had anticipated, ticking off only one of the countries on my list (the Philippines).

In the fall of 2016, I planned to return to Asia for the winter, and this time I would start in Vietnam. Yet again, however, destiny had other plans for me, this time in the form of US Immigration, informing me that my final visa interview and Green Card decision would happen in early January in Germany, and not in April or May, as they had previously indicated. Once again, I had to scrap my plans to finally visit Vietnam. And that’s why, when I made the decision to take a big trip this winter, I didn’t have to think about my destination for too long. I would finally visit Vietnam!

Hitting The Reset Button On Life

So how does it feel to be on the road again by myself? The last time I traveled to South East Asia by myself was in 2015, exactly four years ago. I had gotten over a bad breakup not long before that trip, I was happily in love, and I wanted to escape the New York winter. Not much about my situation has changed, I guess, only that I haven’t had to get over any heartaches recently.

The big difference between my last solo trips and this one: I am not nomadic anymore. I packed stuff I thought I’d need for the duration of the trip, and that’s it. For all my precious solo trips, I was carrying everything I owned on my back, in a giant 65-liter backpack.To commemorate the start of this new era of my travel life I decided to treat myself to a new backpack and retire the one I’d used ever since I took up the vagabond life in 2010. One thing that hasn’t changed is that I still can’t pack light – I tried hard to go for a 40-liter pack that I’d be able to carry on in airplanes, but I was quick to admit to myself that this just wouldn’t happen. (This is the backpack I eventually opted for – and so far, I am loving it).

As I prepared for this trip, I realized how much I needed it. I was hemming and hawing over going at all, now that I am more settled in New York and have a home, I find it harder to leave for long trips. There were also worries about money (I never had to pay rent before for a place I wasn’t using while I was on the road, and I’d already paid rent for two months while I was traveling in November and in December/January – a lot of rent for a place to sit empty) and taking too much time off, but then I remembered that I used to be location independent and that I’m still lucky enough to be able to make money while I’m traveling. So I finally clicked the ‘book’ button after having hovered over it for too long. And of course I am glad I did!

This wasn’t just about a ‘winter escape’ though – and the ever-present urge to explore a new country – it was just as much about hitting the ‘Reset’ button and getting away from my busy New York schedule where I rarely get the chance to spend time with myself, to think about what’s happening in my life, about relationships and successes and failures of the past year, and to simply be. After traveling without much of a schedule for the better part of the last decade, I am still surprised how quickly I adapted to city life again, booked up weeks in advance. I felt the same urge to hit ‘pause’ on my busy life when I left to walk the Camino de Santiago in 2017 – and that was after only having been in New York for three months. You can imagine how much I was craving a slower pace now, after having been in New York for a while (even though, admittedly, I hadn’t spent much time there since last October.)

Traveling Solo

Until 2015, I had never traveled alone. I was already in my thirties when I set off on my first solo adventure, always thinking that I was a person who needed someone to travel with. Well, as it turned out, I did not need anyone to enjoy myself. I treasure my alone time, being able to do exactly what I want, when I want, what to eat, when to eat, when to sight see, what to see, when to have a lazy day, when to socialize. I don’t mind eating by myself, I enjoy my own company, and these days I never even get the chance to feel lonely because I am always connected. I usually wake up to a number of Whatsup notifications, which I sometimes even find overwhelming. But I also have yet to go on a solo trip and not make new friends along the way.

Speaking of family and friends afar: Feeling so connected to people all over the world is definitely something that I didn’t experience on my first trip to Asia in 2011, which happened before Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram and all the other ways we have these days to stay connected with our loved ones back home. Back then, people had to wait for me to post a photo on Facebook to see where I was. I had to wait for an email from them to see how they were doing.

These days, I turn on the camera on my phone and take them on a tour of the beach I’m lazing on, while chatting on a chat app. The first time I went to Asia, I didn’t even have a phone (although admittedly, my iPodTouch was pretty much like a smartphone, just without the call function) and had to find a decent enough WiFi connection to make a Skype call back home. These days, the WiFi is so good that it even reached from a restaurant all the way out into the ocean, where I was chatting with someone back in New York while enjoying a relaxed morning as she was getting ready for bed. Oh, the joys of modern technology. While I appreciate many aspects of it, part of me wishes I wouldn’t just be able to pull up GoogleMaps on my phone to look up directions, to just get lost, to randomly stumble on a remote beach instead of just following travel guides that tell much which beaches are the prettiest.

South East Asia Is Changing

Not just the way most of us travel has changed – Asia has also changed. Remote beaches aren’t all that remote anymore, since roads have been paved and more tourists are coming, particularly noteworthy: Chinese tourists. Making beaches more accessible of course also means more crowds, and in places where you would have not found much beyond a few palm trees six to ten years ago, there are now makeshift restaurants and beach chairs. The roaring sound of jet skis breaks into the calming repetitive sound of the clashing waves.

But it is not just off-the-beaten-path islands that now have been discovered by mass tourism: Life in general is changing here, too. The last time I was in Asia, the people you’d see with a smartphone in their hand were usually tourists, but now it seems like everyone has a smartphone, from the fishermen I see in the ports to the children I see play video games on their phones in small villages.

And then there are the cities – Saigon for example, where more and more of the old French-colonial buildings are being torn down to make room for new shiny skyscrapers which spring up like mushrooms everywhere. Most places I’ve visited on this trip feel like giant construction sites, with jackhammers and stone saws and creating a steady background soundtrack from early morning till long after the sun sets.It’s not just Asia who has evolved: So have I. The bright-eyed backpacker who looked at everything in awe when she first came to Asia almost eight years ago – that’s not me anymore. And not only have I turned into a seasoned traveler, I also have a bigger budget now. The $10 room off of Bangkok’s Kao San Road I stayed in during my first Asia stint resembled the room Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Beach) was staying in when he arrived in Bangkok, more than I am willing to admit. But back then, I was traveling on a tiny budget, following the South East Asia On A Shoestring guidebook religiously, trying to make my money last as long as possible. Did I have less of a great time back then? Certainly not! But I wouldn’t put myself in a room like that anymore only to save a few dollars.

That said, I still consider myself a frugal traveler, and see it as a waste of money to spend tons of cash on a place for just me. When I am traveling with someone – different story. Especially when traveling with a partner, I want it to feel special. And no question: I do appreciate being able to afford the occasional splurge, and I know that it’ll be a completely different feel to sail through Halong Bay (one of the places I’m most excited to visit) on a luxury boat rather than a backpacker barge filled with roaches and mice. I guess I am now what they call a flashpacker, even though I dislike this term.

Getting My Travel Mojo Back

One thing that hasn’t changed is my ability to quickly fall back into a traveler’s life, a life on the road as I lived it for so many years. I fall back into the routine of unpacking my backpack when I arrive in a new place (read: I turn my room into a huge mess in two minutes), laying down on the bed and researching vegetarian restaurants and the best coffee shops in town. Then I head out for a first exploration of the town I am in and plan how many days I want to spend there and how I want to spend them. A few days later, I move on to the next place, rinse, repeat.

Even though I have almost two months to explore this country, which is longer than most people have, I have to admit that I am feeling a bit rushed. Having an end date looming over my trip is something that I am still not used to, and traveling at a rather rapid pace is something I find hard to adjust to. It has happened a few times on this trip already that I found myself in places where I wished I had more time, but had already booked a hotel in the next city, eager to see as much of Vietnam as possible.When I arrived in New York at the end of 2017 after an exhausting year of travel, all I wanted was to take a break from being on the road, and not travel anywhere. Well, I am glad I gave myself this break because leading up to the trip, I could feel my excitement grow each day, consulting my guidebook every night before I went to bed to figure out which places in this huge country I wanted to see, and to map out a route.

I remember that during the last few months of my nomadic life trip planning had started to feel like a chore, and I dreaded the long hours of researching places to stay, things I wanted to see, and finding good food options. When I began to prepare my Vietnam trip, everything got me more stoked for the journey: picking out a new backpack, buying a new bathing suit, making sure all my gear was still in good shape, trying to decide which clothes and tech to bring.

And then, finally arriving in Vietnam, a country I’ve wanted to visit for so many years, felt like a dream come true, as corny as this might sound. I don’t take it for granted that I am able to go travel for such a long time – especially now after meeting so many people in New York who have a very limited amount of vacation days – and in the case of Vietnam, which I’ve been wanting to explore for such a long time, I feel even more grateful that my lifestyle allows me to do this.Expect more Vietnam articles shortly – in the meantime, you can follow my journey on Instagram.

 

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Globetrottergirls is Turning Eight

8 years

Globetrottergirls just turned eight (!) and I have to admit that this milestone would’ve come and gone completely unnoticed had Twitter not reminded me that I signed up for the social media platform eight years ago.

Eight years ago! In 2010, when I started this little blog, I sure did not think that I was still going to be writing – or traveling! – nearly 3,000 days later; 2,920 days, to be precise. I figured that this milestone would be a good excuse to grab a pencil and piece of paper (read: my iPhone) and break the silence, because I am sure you’ve noticed that it’s been awfully quiet here on the blog and on my social media channels.And this date couldn’t be more perfect to share a little update on how my travel and blogging life has been evolving, because as I am typing this, I am waiting for a furniture delivery, to finally make the place I signed a lease for last month, a little more homey. Yes, after eight years of homelessness, i.e. not having a permanent address, I have decided to finally put down roots.

I still remember the spring day back in 2010 when my task for the day was to open Facebook and Twitter accounts for the blog my then-girlfriend and I had just launched, and to find some travel blogs to follow. Back then, this was an easy task, because the number of travel blogs was still pretty small.

What Globetrottergirls looked like in 2010

I have to admit that I had never even heard of travel blogs until my partner suggested we should start one to chronicle the round-the-world trip we were about to set off on. But a quick Google search revealed that what I had done – quit my job to travel the world – was not as extraordinary as I thought it was. There were plenty of people out there who’d done the same thing, having already started their own trips or who were about to set out on a similar journey.

Some of the blogs I found back then are still around today, blogs I still regularly read like Uncornered Market, yTravelBlog, Bacon is Magic and NomadicMatt, but most of the blogs I discovered back in 2010 have long disappeared. Most people seem to go travel for a year or two and then return to their regular lives, and I didn’t expect to travel for longer than a year.

When I started Globetrottergirls, I had no idea where this blogging journey would lead me, and I never imagined that it would change my entire life. Without Globetrottergirls, I would have never become location-independent, saving me from having to go back to my desk job in London which had made me miserable. I doubt that I would still be working in the soul-sucking financial sector, but I’d probably still be working in an office, had I not started this website eight years ago.

Fun fact: The first 1.5 years on the road I worked on a tiny Netbook, I only got a proper laptop in late 2011. That’s me working on it in 2011 on a beach in Goa, India.

I would probably have never gone after my dream of living in New York, a dream that I wanted to make a reality ever since visiting the Big Apple for the first time in 2009, but had quickly disregarded after some research revealed that getting a sponsorship for a work visa was anything but easy.

Globetrottergirls did so much more for me than to just help me change careers  though. It showed me that there was a different, unconventional way to live my life – I didn’t have to work a 9-to-5 job!

I could make a living being my own boss, making my own hours, deciding what kind of work I wanted to do. And I could do it from a hammock in Nicaragua or from a beach in Thailand. I met people who felt the same way about the corporate world, who had also left their careers behind to set off on a journey into the unknown. I doubt that without my round-the-world trip and the world that blogging and working online opened up for me, I’d have had the courage to quit my job and try living a life less ordinary. But crossing paths with so many people both online and on my travels that were living a similar lifestyle made me believe that it wasn’t as crazy to pursue this dream of turning a 1-year trip into an indefinite journey as many friends and colleagues back home made it seem.

Dani with her Asus Netbook
My hammock office in Nicaragua – much better than my desk in an open-plan office in London

Over the years, I was lucky enough to meet many of the bloggers I started following when I set off on my round-the-world trip, plus a bunch of other like-minded people who were earning their money online or had remote jobs, and it was thanks to these people that I found the courage to turn down the job offer I had waiting for me back in England, and to stay on the road instead. Because even though traveling the world forever (or at least for a few years) was what I was secretly hoping to do, in reality I always thought I would have to go back to the corporate world after roaming the globe for twelve months.

Turning down a safe job with a steady paycheck and paid vacation days was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. And I’m not going to lie: Those first few years trying to make a living on the road were not easy. Travel blogging as a career was not a thing yet, and I remember accepting some really low-paying jobs, like a social media account manager position for £7 an hour, or blog writing / copy writing for as little as $10 per hour. But living frugally enabled me to stretch my savings until I was finally able to ask for better rates and started making some money through the blog as well.

housesitting pool
During the first couple of years of bootstrapping, long housesits in fancy apartments helped a lot to make up for the cheap accommodation we were able to afford at the time.

I tried to go back to more conventional jobs a couple of times over the years when money was tight, but I quickly realized that I am one of these people who are simply not made to work for somebody else – I enjoy being my own boss and don’t have a problem working seven days a week, as long as it is for myself.

Another thing I could have never foreseen when I started Globetrottergirls is how many lives I would influence. I am not sure how many people have emailed me over the years, telling me how Globetrottergirls had inspired them to travel to a certain place, go on their first solo trip, or visit a destination that hadn’t been on their radar until they read about it on this very site.

During Year 1 on the road I was obsessed with Central America’s colorful houses 🙂

These emails were my main motivators in keeping the site going whenever I was in a slump, or was suffering through a strong case of writer’s block. Inspiring others to go see the world and helping people plan their dream trip has always been my number one goal with Globetrottergirls, and it is why I will continue writing the website, even though I am not traveling full-time at the moment.

Having a base now does not mean that I have stopped traveling, on the contrary, I am already planning several trips for later this year, including a backpacking trip just like the one I set off on in 2010. The only difference is that this time, I’ll have a set end date and a home to go back to.

After nearly a decade on the road I was more than ready to have a home again, and to be honest, I was already ready to have a home base when I wrote The Evolution of a Nomad in early 2016.

dani palomino beach
Burned out in Colombia

I was tired and burned out back then, after six years of vagabonding, but somehow it took me another two years after writing about my struggles to stick with my nomadic life and my longing for a home base to finally sign a lease. Back then, I still wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to settle down – New York was the only city in the world that was calling me, but I was getting tired of having to leave every six months because of visa restrictions.

When I found out a few months after writing that post that I had won a Green Card,  i.e. the right to live and work in the U.S., living in New York permanently suddenly became a viable option. I am not sure where I’d be now had that not happened. Waiting for my Green Card to be processed meant I had to stay on the road for another year, even though I was more than ready for a break from traveling, but at least now the end was in sight, and I had something to work towards.

And then I was finally holding my permanent residency in my hands, and I got a mix of both cold and itchy feet.

dani camino de santiago
About 25 days into walking the Camino De Santiago

There were a few things I wanted to tick off my bucket list before putting down roots, such as walking the Camino de Santiago. The five-week pilgrimage was not only one of the highlights of my 2017 travels, but of all my travels, and it allowed me to not only wander across Spain and get to know the country in a completely different way, but to also do some much-needed soul searching; giving myself the chance to focus on nothing but myself.

Spending the first few months of 2017 in Latin America was also something I don’t regret at all, but when I finally returned to New York last November after a summer in Europe and a quick stint in Asia, with no plans to leave again anytime soon, it felt like it was just the right time to finally make New York my home base, and to stay put for a while.

Of course ‘putting down roots’, i.e. finding a home, turned out to be anything but easy, and I began to wonder if I was really supposed to be here. But no place feels like home to me like New York does, and so I fought to overcome a number of hurdles in early 2018 which caused me tears and sleepless nights (I might write about all of these obstacles at some point, when I can finally laugh them off) to finally become who I am now: someone who owns a set of keys, someone who has a place to call home.

Staying put, but not standing still – I am constantly exploring NYC

Because of my visa restrictions, I was never able to take on work other than my blogging and freelance writing gigs, even though I’ve been spending most of my time in New York since 2014, using it as a base between longer trips. The money I was making as a freelancer was oftentimes not enough for this pricey city, and I repeatedly found myself struggling to make ends meet.

That’s why what I was most excited about when I got my permanent residency was the fact that I could pursue opportunities outside of writing. I haven’t done anything but writing in such a long time – in fact, I’ve never done anything else for as long as I have been writing for a living, and as a typical Sagittarius, I am not only looking for new adventures all the time, but I am also someone who craves change and hates routine.

I am certainly no introvert, and the solitude that comes with writing has always made me miss having colleagues – that aspect of the corporate world, along with things like company parties, lunches with colleagues and after-work-drinks are some things I’ve been missing over the past few years.

I love working with people again – blogging can be quite lonely!

And quite frankly: Having the blog as my main source of income has been stressing me out for a while now. The income can vary drastically, it’s never guaranteed, and the hustling part of running a blog as a business started taking over and detracting from my creativity. Instead of spending time writing and creating content, I found myself spending more and more time on admin, running the back-end of the blog, and trying to keep on top of my emails.

The break I took from blogging was much needed, allowing myself to not blog for a while, instead of forcing myself to publish x amounts of posts every month – this helped to recharge my batteries and to get from a ‘I have to blog’ mindset to a ‘I want to blog!’ state of mind again. Globetrottergirls started as a passion project after all, and was never supposed to feel like work.

Do What You Love

After eight years without a steady paycheck having a more stable income again feels glorious, and being able to turn down some blogging opportunities I don’t feel 100% happy about but which I would’ve accepted before just for the money, is a big relief.

This does not mean the end for Globetrottergirls, and certainly not the end of me traveling. In fact, I just booked a flight for a summer trip, and I am in the process of mapping out my first proper backpacking trip in over a year to escape New York as soon as the weather gets colder. I am also looking forward to TravelCon, a travel conference in Austin where I’ll be speaking on a panel about LGBT travel with my friend Adam, which will bring me back to one of my favorite cities in the U.S. in September.

I still have plenty of travel stories to share, and writing has always been a part of my life, and now that I am fully settled in my place and even have a desk, I will get back to a more regular writing routine.

And to be completely honest – while I appreciate the break from full-time traveling right now, I sometimes find myself fantasizing about another around-the-world-trip. Will New York be my base forever? I doubt it.

The last time I went on a supposedly one year round-the-world-trip, I ended up traveling the world for eight years.

I guess we will just have to see how long the next one will be, and where it’ll lead me to.

PIN IT!

Eight Years of Globetrotter Girls

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: January 2018 Edition

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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.

Where I’ve Been

31 days in New York City! I never thought I’d spend an entire winter month in New York, but when I smell a business opportunity, I jump on it, and that’s exactly what I did – more on that later. Even though I spent all month in New York, I never sat still, and I’m paying the price for it now – I am absolutely exhausted and finally ready to leave New York (which I wasn’t at the end of last month).January 2018

What I’ve Been up to

Most of the month, I worked my butt off. I ran tours on 25 out of 31 days, meaning that even if I had only been running tours, I still wouldn’t have got four full weekends this month. And, because apparently it’s not enough to walk 10k around Brooklyn every day (almost), I also worked in the ‘real’ job I got myself last May (although I think I’m going to have to quit it soon if my tours keep going so well) and I had some freelance writing projects to finish.

In addition, I pet sat for about half of the month, which was nice, because that means I’ll be able to enjoy my upcoming trips without worrying about money. Trying to juggle four jobs this month meant, however, that there was not really any time for blogging. I appreciate the break from the pressure I felt when I was blogging full-time. I don’t have to hustle all the time to make sure I’ll be able to pay my bills, and after so many years of scraping by on a lousy blogger’s income it’s a nice change to get some time away from my laptop – especially because I was dealing with some major tech issues this month again, but more on that later.January jobs

I have to admit though that I do miss writing – but I just don’t have any energy left after five hours of walking to produce any written words I’m proud of, and the hours before the tour are barely enough to keep up with all my admin and book keeping.

While the cold temperatures and short daylight hours in January make it pretty hard to do much outside (my tour occupies a large part of the daylight hours), I spent a lot of time doing two of my favorite things: exploring new cocktail bars (there sure is no shortage of them in New York!), working my way through my seemingly endless ‘restaurants I want to eat at’ list, and watching movies. I gifted myself with the Movie Pass for my birthday, which lets you watch unlimited movies in almost every movie theater for only $9.95 a month, so I’ve been trying to go to the movies once a week, and so far, I’ve been doing a pretty good job. My favorite movies last month were Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and The Disaster Artist. Looking through all the photos I took in January, I also realized that I spent a lot of time in coffee shops:January 2018 Coffee

The only outdoorsy thing I did this month? I went on a street art tour of the Lower East Side. I love street art and wanted to learn more about the LISA Project, an initiative that is bringing more mural art to Little Italy and NoLiTa, and Audrey’s tour was just perfect.street art

I also experienced the biggest snowstorm of my life, which happened to take place on a day I (luckily!) wasn’t running a tour, but working inside, in Times Square of all places, and I was able to watch the snow rapidly cover the streets of Manhattan. None of my colleagues could quite understand my excitement about the amount of snow, but in Germany we just don’t get snow like this (only in the mountains – maybe!) and let’s not forget that I’ve successfully avoided winter for seven or eight years – until now!january 2018 snow

What Went Right

Speaker Invite

I was invited to speak at a travel conference on LGBT travel. After a couple of invitations to speak at travel conferences which I couldn’t accept because I found myself in other parts of the world and traveling to the conference would’ve been too complicated, I was invited to speak at Travel Con, a conference that features workshops and networking events for travel writers, bloggers and travel industry professionals in Austin, Texas in September. I am super stoked to be part of this conference, which has plenty of speakers that I personally look up to and look forward to hearing speak, and I love Austin. Plus: I get to speak about an important topic.

Following this invite, another opportunity landed in my inbox: the opportunity to speak to a group of students from Singapore about entrepreneurship and my entrepreneurial journey when they are visiting New York later this year.

My Brooklyn Tour is More Successful Than Expected!

When I launched my tour in December, I honestly didn’t think I’d be running as many tours as I am currently running – because I figured January was low season and nobody in their right mind would even consider running around Brooklyn for four hours, in temperatures as low as -13 Fahrenheit (-21 Celsius). Oh, how wrong I was! Most of my tours this month were sold out, and even when I opened my calendar at the very last minute because I got an inquiry to run a tour for someone’s birthday (how could I say no to that!), I was able to fill nearly all spots within only a couple of days. I was completely stunned when my Airbnb coordinator told me that my tour was the 5th most booked tour in the entire NYC market, out of around 260 tours!

january 2018 tour brooklyn

What is even more important to me, however, is the feedback I’ve been getting from guests – being able to introduce so many people to Brooklyn makes me so happy, and I cherish every 5* review I get. Being able to host this Brooklyn tour is honestly a dream come true, and I don’t take it for granted that I get to earn money with something I am passionate about (especially after being miserable in an office job for years).

Second Tour Launch

I launched my second tour! When I first started working with Airbnb, I had three different ideas for tours, but I wanted to begin with one first to see how it goes, and then add more.

When I told a friend of mine about the tour I wanted to launch in the spring, he advised me not to wait too long with it. “If you have this idea, I’m sure somebody else has the same idea. Be quick, and grab it before somebody else does.” I decided to listen to him, even though I wasn’t sure if I was ready for another launch, since I was still tweaking and improving my first tour. But I decided to run with it, and when I wasn’t busy running my Brooklyn Tour, I worked out the details for my second tour: A Brooklyn Pizza Walk. If you know me/have been reading this site for a while, then you know that this tour is pretty much the epitome of my perfect afternoon: I get to introduce people to New York pizza AND to Brooklyn. I don’t think it can get much better.

I was ecstatic when Airbnb accepted my proposal for this tour and then it went live within days of being accepted – so much faster than my first tour, which took months to go live.Pizza

What Went Wrong

Second Tour Launch

I am going to be honest: while I was excited about getting another passion project off the ground, I was also a little overwhelmed with suddenly juggling two tours, and felt like the Pizza Walk still needed some tweaking, since I hadn’t done it as often as the walking tour which I’d soft launched on a smaller scale last summer. And so, when the inaugural tour ended in a near-disaster, the perfectionist in me was very upset (there were tears.)

I also quickly learned that having one successful tour doesn’t automatically mean a second tour is going to be just as successful – the Pizza Walk is slowly gaining some traction, but can in no way be compared to the success of my Brooklyn Walk. I haven’t even broken even yet, but I’ll wait and see how the tour does once peak tourist season begins.

pizza new york city
I did a lot of ‘research’ for my pizza tour in January!

Sublet Nightmare

Knowing that I’d be leaving New York for a couple of months in February, I opted for a sublet rather than a long-term lease, which meant I wouldn’t need to deal with subletting my place while I’m gone. I found what I thought was a great sublet, but the ‘amazing place’ turned into a nightmare when first the kitchen sink stopped working and only a couple of days later the bed collapsed. What followed were terrible discussions with the girl I sublet the room from – waiting for a replacement bed (which never arrived), the return of my deposit, and about a discount for the hassle this caused me – because the last thing you want to deal with while working four jobs is having to find a new place to live.

I’ve sublet countless times in New York, but in five years, this was the first sublet nightmare. And hopefully the last one.

collapsed bed
Dealing with a collapsed bed was no fun…

Tech Issues

The few hours I spent working on Globetrottergirls this month didn’t go by without any tech issues. I don’t know how often I’ve had ‘Tech Issues’ or ‘Website Issues’ listed in the ‘What Went Wrong’ section of my round-ups… and I am so tired of it. This month, I lost my business email accounts for a while, which, considering a lot of business opportunities I get can be pretty short notice, was anything but great. After four hours on chat with tech support on one of the six days this month I wasn’t running a tour I was able to get my email accounts back, but this caused me extreme anxiety, and made me feel so much relief about not having to rely on blog-related work as much as I used to.

laptops
…and somehow, I am still working with two laptops instead of just one.

The Credit Card Incident

When I took a friend out for Happy Hour this month, and paid with my credit card, I ended up not getting my card back, but someone else’s. Which I didn’t realize until the next day, when I tried to purchase $50 worth of coffee drinks for my guests on the tour, which includes a coffee stop. Not only did the card not work (and wasn’t mine!), but I also realized that I had forgotten to put my back-up card back in my wallet after using it. Luckily the coffee shop was kind enough to trust me to come back the next day to settle my bill, and I got my card back from the bar with only one charge on it that wasn’t mine, but I could have done without the mental stress and hassle this incident caused me.In Germany, we never hand our credit cards over to anyone, you basically never let it out of sight, and when paying by card, the waiter brings over a portable card swiping device (which requires a PIN). Whenever German friends pass through New York, they are shocked that I just hand over my card in a restaurant, and I always assure them that it’s completely safe.

Not my credit card!!

Funnily enough, the ‘credit card incident’ happened just a couple of days after my friends from Germany passed through town, the ones who I had this very conversation with. Guess it’s not as safe as I told them it was!

January 2018 gifts
Friends from Germany visiting NYC means lots of German goodies!

A Dog Ate My Camera Lens

And not just any dog, but my favorite puppy who I look after regularly. He loves chewing up stuff, and so far he has eaten everything I’ve accidentally left out: a bra, my iPhone charger cord, headphones… to name just a few things… and now, my brand new, barely used $300 camera zoom lens. I am still not sure what I’ll do about it since the lens is still working – but as you can see in the pictures, the lens looks completely beaten up.

camera lens
Ouch.

Challenges

Running

Since I’ve started running the tours, I haven’t really been able to run anymore, which bothers me. I went on exactly one run this month! But then again, I ran 25 tours, and walking between four and five hours every day seems to compensate for at least some of the pizza I’ve been stuffing myself with (see above), but I’ve already gained back some of the weight I lost during my vegan month.

Moving forward, I hope I’ll get back into a running routine, but since it’s already dark by the time I finish my tour, I would only be able to run in the mornings, which is when I usually work on my freelance work and blog. Since not having a single day off in a month isn’t really much of a work life balance, I think I’ll get back into a running routine as soon as I’ve worked out how to have a better balance.

New York Winter
Running in snow and icy weather is just no fun..

Book Keeping & Admin

Being better at my book keeping and admin, and tracking my expenses again was one of my main resolutions for 2018. I used to track my expenses meticulously to the penny, every single day, in whatever currency I was using, and exchanging it to that day’s exchange rate with the help of the excellent Trail Wallet app. However, sometime last year I fell off the wagon completely, and stopped monitoring what I was spending. Even worse: I stopped keeping track of my income as well, which due to the nature of my numerous jobs and freelancing projects, varies from month to month. So I really should make sure to always add all incoming payments to a spreadsheet and add them up at the end of each month – also to check that all my invoices were paid.

Let’s just say that my book keeping systems have not been very well thought out and I have been wanting to introduce better and easier ways to track how much I spend and how much I earn, as well as how much I need to save for my upcoming tax payment.

January started off well with me tracking all of my expenses and business expenses and all of my income, but when I started to feel burned out towards the final third of the month, I let it slip again. Since I really need to prepare for my tax declaration, I can’t be as relaxed about it as I used to, and I need to come up with a steady book keeping routine.
hustle harder street art

What’s Next for me

I am off to Austin today, 1 February! A friend of mine wanted to come visit me in New York last month, but somehow these plans never came to fruition – and I don’t know how much time I would’ve had for another visitor, since friends from Germany also came to visit.

Since I was more than ready for a break from New York, and with my sublet ending at the end of January, I thought it might be neat to meet somewhere else. ‘Is there anywhere in the US you’d like to go? A place you haven’t been to yet that’s on your travel wish list? Maybe somewhere a bit warmer than New York?’ When the answer was Austin, I didn’t have to think about it for long.

You may remember that I spent a month in Austin in 2016 and absolutely loved it. When I booked my flight, I hadn’t yet received the invite to speak at Travel Con – now I’ll be going to Austin twice this year! No complaints about that, I’m excited to return to one of my favorite cities in the U.S.New York January

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: December 2017 Edition

december 2017

Wait – shouldn’t this be the January round-up?! Well, I can’t believe how long it has taken me to post this, but as it turns out, working three jobs simultaneously is much more time consuming and exhausting than I thought! More on that in my January round-up, which will be posted shortly. I hope you don’t mind two round-ups in a row, but I feel like both of them explain a lot about the silence on the blog in recent weeks.

December felt like the longest month. Was that because I so desperately wanted the year to be over? That it felt like it was dragging on forever? I couldn’t wait for New Year’s Eve, and the party I was going to attend.

Where I’ve Been

I spent the entire month in New York City, as I had predicted in November, and it was a welcome change from the previous travel-heavy months of October and November.december 2017 nyc

What I’ve Been up to

December was supposed to be a quiet month, but as so often happens, life had different plans for me. I started the month by worrying about making enough money to be able to cover all my costs, because the last two weeks of the year are traditionally very slow on the freelancing front, since everyone goes on vacation. However, as I was finishing up my last projects of the year, I got some exciting news about a side business I’ve been trying to launch since the summer, and I ended up working more last month than any other December – and without taking a single day off during the Holidays.

December had another big surprise in store for me: the coldest weather I’ve experienced in my entire life, except for a visit to Chicago in December ten years ago, when I thought my face might freeze off. The last month of the year started with beautifully warm weather, and I remember still taking pictures of the fall colors on my runs. Only a few days later though, the first snow storm of the season hit New York, unseasonably early.New York December WeatherIn the past, the couple of times I happened to find myself in New York during the winter, I was always lucky to be there during a mild December and to leave in January just before the first blizzard hit. This year, I got to experience another unseasonable December, however, instead of breaking records for the warmest December ever recorded like I had witnessed in 2015, cold temperate records were broken this year.

Unfortunately, the business I was finally able to launch (see below) happens to be outdoors. So not only did I get to experience the coldest temperatures for a New York December ever, but I also had the pleasure of being outside in this weather for up to five hours every single day, the coldest day being -6 Fahrenheit/-21 Celsius. I felt like winter was laughing right in my face and was paying me back for all the winters I escaped in the past. Well, I’ll be laughing right in winter’s face next month when I board a plane to a hot and sunny destination, leaving snow and freezing temperatures behind for a while.

I started to feel a bit blue about not spending the Holidays with my family, but as soon as I started my new side gig (see below), I had absolutely no time for any kind of winter blues anymore, because I worked every single day.december 2017 new yorkAnd luckily I made the most of the month while I still had the time to enjoy myself: I went to see the fabulous Yayoi Kusama exhibit before it closed, I forced my friends to meet me at various vegan restaurants (going vegan can be seen as somewhat anti-social, I’ve learned – see below under Challenges!) and attempted baking my first vegan Christmas cookies (because I was vegan all month – and they turned out pretty well!), and I frolicked in the snow when the first blizzard of the season hit on 9 December.

I also went to a Christmas party and ended the year with, not one, but two New Year’s Eve parties, and I went to various Holiday Markets here in New York (even though, admittedly, they don’t come anywhere close to European Christmas markets).December ChristmasDecember was also the strongest month for my pet sitting side business, thanks to it being the holiday season. When I opted to spend Christmas in New York instead of flying to Germany, I decided to open my calendar for potential dog and cat sits, and not only did I get booked by previous clients, but also by a number of new clients, which meant I got to spend a lot of time with cats and dogs this month, including several new furry friends.

After housesitting for free for years (and co-authoring a book about it) it feels good to finally get paid for it, even though it isn’t a lot. But thanks to these sits, I was able to get gifts for my nephew and nieces and siblings without putting a huge dent in my bank account.pet sitting

What Went Right

Finally Launching My New Business

As mentioned above, December saw me finally launch a business I’ve been waiting to get off the ground for the bigger part of the year, and I hinted about it in several of my monthly round-ups this year, but wasn’t able to share any details – until now!

Back in May, I applied to become an Experience Host for Airbnb, which basically means running a tour in New York that was conceptualized by me, and is something that can’t be offered in this form by anybody else. Little did I know back then that Airbnb had received over 1,000 applications for the launch of their New York City Experiences – which is why I was ecstatic when I got a phone call that my tour had been chosen to be one of the inaugural experiences offered in New York. The bad news was that the launch wouldn’t happen until late September, and unfortunately I wouldn’t be in New York then, but walking across Spain. Talk about bad timing.Brooklyn Walking TourHowever, with some delay, my tour went finally live this month! I would be showing tourists who were interested in visiting Brooklyn four completely different sides of New York’s most populous borough on my Faces Of Brooklyn walking tour. I didn’t expect much traction in the first few weeks or even months after the tour went live – after all, it is winter, which isn’t prime season for walking tours, and it was also hard to even find the tour on the Airbnb website among around 200 other NYC experiences.

That’s why I was shocked when bookings started pouring in only a few days after the tour was officially launched, and when after only one week, I sold out every single tour! While it was unfortunate that the tour was launched in the winter, I got to benefit from the Christmas Holidays. At first, I had blocked my tour calendar for Christmas and New Year’s, but when I saw how many bookings I was getting for the Holidays, I decided to open my calendar. If I wasn’t spending the Holidays with my family in Germany, I might as well take some tourists around Brooklyn – especially solo travelers who were spending the Holidays on their own, like me. I was astonished when my tours slowly but surely filled up, and I even had to turn people away, since the maximum group size is ten guests.brooklyn tourThe reach I have – particular when it comes to people who want to visit Brooklyn/plan a trip to New York – can in no way compare to the marketing tools and influence of a big company like Airbnb, which sent me more customers in a single day than I had in my entire summer in New York, when I was running the tours on a much smaller scale, still tweaking them for Airbnb, and I feel incredibly lucky for being accepted as a host by them.

The unexpectedly strong start of this side business, which pretty much turned me into a full-time tour guide (see Challenges below for more on that) helped me get out of a bout of December Blues which had started on my birthday and that I was having trouble shaking off. The great feedback on the initial tours and the continuously strong bookings fueled me with a boost of energy that I hadn’t felt in months. I hope I can maintain the enthusiasm for this new side business now that I am running tours every day – I will occasionally share updates on my new life as a tour guide in the coming months.

christmas gifts
Guests from Germany brought me German Christmas goodies as a Thank You!

The Side Hustle School Book Event

If there’s someone I can credit for getting my tours off the ground, it is Chris Guillebeau and his daily Side Hustle School podcast. I started listening to it while I was in Ecuador in March and hearing inspiring success stories of people starting side hustles in all kinds of different ways was the catalyst to start my own side gig. It took only a few weeks of hearing Chris’ mantra ‘Inspiration is good, but inspiration combined with action is better’ day after day until I was ready to take action myself and submit a tour proposal to Airbnb. While my target start date of 1 June was missed by a long shot – at least with Airbnb, which was beyond my control – I don’t know when I would have sat down to get the ball moving on this project, which had been put on the back burner for ages, had it not been for Chris’ encouraging stories of other side hustlers on his podcast.

So when I found out he would be in Brooklyn for a book event to promote the Side Hustle School book, I immediately cleared my calendar to attend the event. Being surrounded by dozens of others of aspiring and/or successful side hustlers was just as motivating as the daily podcast and made me determined to make at least $500 a month with my side hustle as soon as possible. Mission accomplished – thanks, Side Hustle School!!

What Went Wrong

(Another!) iPhone Fail

I bought a new iPhone last month and you may remember that I don’t have a lot of luck with phones/electronic devices. Of course with this new phone it’s no different. I didn’t even mention it in last month’s roundup, but my phone started acting up only a few days after I bought it, and I had to go to an Apple store as soon as I got back from Southeast Asia. Apple tech support downloaded new software onto the phone and deleted everything I had added to the phone so far – including all my apps and notes. Instead of downloading that version of my phone from the Cloud, he set it up as a completely new phone – which meant I spent hours trying to remember which apps I had on my phone and re-download them. I was livid, since I hadn’t even been given a warning. I swore that I wouldn’t set foot in an Apple Store again anytime soon. But of course my phone had other plans when it fell and the screen shattered into a hundred little pieces. Luckily I had invested in Apple care when I bought the phone, which meant the screen repair cost me only $30. An unnecessary $30 nonetheless.broken screen

The Citibike Incident

I love Citibike, New York’s public bike sharing program, and I’ve been using citibikes almost on a daily basis ever since I signed up for an annual membership last May – even though I have my own bike, too. It’s just so convenient to take the bike from a subway station to my final destination when there’s a bit of a walk involved, and not having to worry about locking it up – you simply dock it in one of the stations (there are more than 600 all over New York) and that’s it. Until that day when I tried to dock my bike and it just wouldn’t lock. And I had to go to work and started panicking because I tried twelve different docks and none worked. And then I rode to another docking station, where the same thing happened. None of the docks worked. And then I was on the phone with their customer service for nearly half an hour and almost lost my shit because I knew I was gonna be late for work, and of course this all happened in sub-zero temperatures (Celsius, but still).

I was told to leave the bike unlocked, in a way that it looked as if was broken, and no charges would appear on my credit card.

But guess what appeared on my credit card? Charges for a lost Citibike!

The whole ordeal took up way too much of my time, but I want to say that it has now been resolved and that I was using Citibikes again the very next day after it happened – I truly love them and I am even a Bike Angel (which means I am a frequent rider that gets rewards for certain things).citibike

Challenges

Vegan December

vegan diet
Finally lost the weight I’d gained!

Going vegan in December was the last one of my monthly ‘get-out-of-my-comfort-zone’ projects I’d challenged myself to in 2017. After successfully challenging myself to daily yoga and daily running and other things I found difficult, and going caffeine-free, booze-free and chocolate-free – among other things – it was time for me to go dairy-free in December.

For a quick minute I thought I might stay vegan after this month-long experiment, but only five days into my plant-based month, I knew there was no way that I’d continue living without dairy and eggs after the month ended.

A week into being vegan, I was already over it. Of course I didn’t give up, and finished December without consuming any dairy or eggs, but I was missing cheese, I was craving pizza, and I found myself daydreaming about shakshuka (my favorite egg dish).

vegan decemberEven though I experimented with vegan substitutes, vegan cheese and even tofu (I’m not a big fan of tofu or any other soy products), I never felt like I could entirely replace some of the foods I love indulging in – like a creamy Brie or a burrata mozzarella.

However, as with all of my monthly challenges this year, there were some interesting takeaways and insights.

  1. I don’t need as much dairy as I thought. For example my morning yogurt – never missed it and haven’t had any since December, even though in theory, I could’ve gone back to having yogurt & cereal for breakfast.
  2. I eat almost entirely vegan when I am cooking for myself – I noticed that I never buy milk, and cheese is a treat that I rarely buy. I never have butter (or margarine) in the fridge, the only non-vegan thing that I usually have in the house and sacrificed this month were eggs.
  3. I truly don’t like vegan cheese. I tried cream cheese, vegan mozzarella and a fancy $12 Brie-style cheese but I didn’t like a single one of them.
  4. Vegan means weight loss – at least for me. After struggling with my weight pretty much all year long, always feeling like I had a few pounds to lose, this happened automatically when I started eating vegan. On the very last day of 2017, I finally felt comfortable in my body again, having lost my belly and all my pants are fitting loosely. Since I don’t weigh myself, I can’t say how much weight I actually lost, but I felt my belly slowly disappearing over the course of the month. My skin also looked great – and breaking out shortly after the cheese farewell party I threw for myself on Thanksgiving makes me think that too much dairy probably does have an effect on my skin, something I always thought wasn’t the case.
  5. Veganism can feel quite anti-social. When I announced my vegan month to my friends, several of them told me ‘See you next month then!’, especially since I was also resolute about only consuming vegan-friendly wine (learning that most wine isn’t vegetarian-friendly was the most disturbing thing I’ve learned in a long time), cutting out most wine bars and dinner dates. I am thankful that there were still enough friends who were willing to try vegan restaurants with me and who supported me in succeeding in my vegan challenge.

vegan cookies
My first attempt at vegan Christmas cookie baking..

After doing these monthly challenges for an entire year, I’d like to keep doing something similar going forward, but I am not sure if I can come up with twelve more challenges. 30 days without sugar, a challenge that had been on my list all year and which I didn’t get around to doing before the end of 2017, will definitely happen at some point in 2018, but I’ll have to think about something else I can do to get me out of my comfort zone, because I definitely got something out of each of my monthly challenges. Suggestions?

(Accidentally) Becoming a Full-Time Tour Guide

This was an interesting development this month, as I’ve detailed above. When I started this ‘side hustle’, I never expected this to turn into a full-time gig!

Funnily enough it was less the tour guiding itself that presented a difficult transition, since this seems to be something that comes to me naturally, or maybe something I’ve grown into thanks to all the practice runs and private tours I’ve run previously, but it was the sudden daily exercise that exhausted me completely. On tour days, I log eight to nine miles, around 20,000 steps. Combined with the cold weather, I often found myself completely worn out by the end of the day, unable to even open my laptop to check my email. My creative juices were dried out by the end of a four hour tour which involved me talking… for basically four hours straight, and connecting with ten strangers. I usually found myself just wanting to sit in silence after coming home from ‘work’ (it is still funny to me to call this my ‘work’ or my ‘job’ because it doesn’t feel like that) and it took me quite a while to find the energy to go out afterwards, and to fulfill writing obligations for freelance clients.

I found that the ideal way to map out my day was to start by doing writing and blog-related things, then run the tour, and then socialize, but I am still adapting to this new life and need to make sure to add some break days to my calendar, which I haven’t done yet, due to the high demand for the tour over the Holidays.dani december

What’s Next For Me

I’ll be spending all of January running tours, which, amazingly, are still completely sold out for the first few days of 2018, even though the Holidays are over. I’ll also be launching a second walking tour, if everything goes according to plan, and hopefully will find some time to catch up on blogging and most importantly – booking a flight for my February winter escape, so stay tuned for that.happy new year 2018

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Travel Reflections & Life Lately: A Look Back At 2017

2017

For the past few years, I have sat down at the end of the year to look back at my travels, to relive memories from my trips and make a list of my favorite travel moments of the year.

I had 20 favorite moments in 2015, and listed 16 unforgettable travel moments in 2016. Obviously, I was going to follow 16 best of 2016 travel moments with 17 best of 2017 travel moments. But when I sat down to narrow down the very best memories of my travels last year, I came up with only three: Cuba, the Galapagos Islands, and walking the Camino de Santiago. Granted these were only the ones that came to mind immediately, but even after giving it some more thought I realized that I would not be able to come up with 17 awesome travel moments. Which made me think – was 2017 really that bad?

collage 2017

So I decided to take a different approach this year and instead of only sharing the most amazing travel memories, I want to share a fuller picture of what’s been going on in my life this year. I’ll still share my travels of 2017 in pictures, as I’ve done before, but I have to be honest – even though I’ve traveled a lot this year, it’s been a year of struggles and overcoming unforeseen obstacles.

love is loveAfter a very public breakup, I prefer not to talk about my personal life in detail anymore, aside from letting a few things slip here and there. But to be transparent, I’ll share a few snippets of a heart break that has haunted me all year long. Even though I rang in the New Year with someone special in Berlin, this short-lived, intense romance came to a harsh, abrupt end only a few days into 2017.

As unexpected as this love story had begun a few months prior, it also came to a sudden end. Instead of trying to figure out how I could make something work that seemed jinxed from the beginning, since we were living in different places, I focused on making my long-lasting dream come true: To finally move to New York City. But was this even still my dream? I often asked myself this question after the president’s inauguration on 21 January. When I found out that I had won the Green Card in May 2016, I was so giddy with happiness that I felt like nothing could stop me. I would live in my favorite city in the world, under the first female president of the U.S. I would find a nice apartment in Brooklyn, ideally near Prospect Park or near the East River, and I would finally be able to officially work in the U.S., making it easier for me to enjoy this expensive city. Because even though I’d spent more time than anywhere in New York over the past four years, I wasn’t allowed to work in the U.S., making it a constant struggle to survive in New York on savings and passive income alone.

immigrant visa2

But by the time I received my Green Card in the mail, I felt more defeated than happy. I had pictured myself jumping up and down, glowing with you, once I was holding the Green Card in my hands – something I’d dreamed of getting for so many years – but all that I could muster was a halfhearted smile, when my friend wanted me to pose with the visa for a photo. And that was only because I noticed that my immigrant visa was issued on 19 January 2017, Obama’s last day in office. The thought of moving to America under Trump was daunting, and when I got ready to fly to New York in February, news of the travel ban and Green Card holders being stranded outside of the U.S., not allowed to enter their adopted home country, were making the rounds, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.

I decided to spend the winter in Latin America again when an invite to the Galapagos Islands landed in my inbox – a dream destination for me. And why not make a whole trip out of it, visiting mainland Ecuador as well, one of the very few places in South America that I hadn’t been to. I had my Green Card now, and yet nothing was pulling me towards New York. Two of my best friends in New York had just moved away, and I knew it wouldn’t be the same without them there. The media was talking about the rise of xenophobic and homophobic incidents throughout the U.S. – I was in no hurry to get there.

I stayed in Ecuador, trying to heal my heart, and to ignore the news that was coming out of my chosen ‘home country’, but couldn’t shake off the negative energy I felt like I was bringing with me everywhere I went. It also didn’t help that I never really connected with Ecuador, no matter where I went. Things looked up a bit when I impulsively decided to cut my time in Ecuador short and to cross the border to Colombia, a country I had fallen madly in love with the year before.

I started feeling better, and after craving solitude for several weeks, I was ready to have company again, and road tripped with my friend Chrys around Mexico for a couple of weeks, an extended version of last year’s road trip. And what can I say – Mexico never fails to raise my mood. I was also excited about my next destination, Cuba, another dream destination I got to tick off my bucket list this year.cuba

Cuba turned out to be a dream trip, one of the best three travel experiences this year, and a country I hope I’ll get to return to soon. However, the closer we got to the end of the trip, the more anxious I started to feel again. It was the same anxious feeling I had when I flew to New York with my brand new immigrant visa a few months earlier.

From Havana, I flew back to New York, but while my last trip there was nothing more than a short layover, this one would signal the beginning of a new life. I would have to deal with all the bureaucracy I’d managed to avoid during my last short visit. And over the past few months, I’d not heard a single good thing about being an immigrant in Trump’s America.

new york brooklyn street art

When I had won the Green Card twelve months prior, I pictured myself starting my fabulous New York life with a wonderful apartment and a great job to supplement my meager freelance income, but of course it didn’t work out like that at all. I quickly came to learn that as a foreigner, a freelancer, and someone without a credit card (and hence without a credit score), it is pretty much impossible to get an apartment, and even finding a room in a shared apartment turned out to be much more challenging than I expected since I couldn’t prove regular pay checks or an income 40 times the monthly rent (What? Who can?!).

These obstacles, combined with the political climate and the news of yet another close friend leaving New York made me nearly abandon my plan of a permanent move to New York and to keep traveling instead.

But of course I am not one to give up easily, especially not on the dream of living in New York, which has been a dream of mine for nearly a decade. Winning the Green Card was possibly the best and most amazing thing that has ever happened to me, and I can’t think of a single thing that could top this in the future.

The only thing that New York made easy for me was finding a job. I received an offer after my first job interview – before I even got back home from the interview.

Even though I came to New York to ‘finally settle down’, I knew this wouldn’t really happen because I had a big trip planned for the summer, which meant I’d be gone for at least three full months.

I only spent 3.5 months in NYC, which is of course nowhere near enough time to settle and feel like you’ve arrived somewhere – even though it was the longest period of time I spent in one single place since summer 2014, when I had also spent a long period in New York. The fact that I couldn’t find any long-term accommodation and moved several times during that short period of time didn’t help me feel like I’d arrived, and I never stopped feeling unsettled during the entire time I spent in New York.

new york
New York in a nutshell

With work, the attempt of getting a new business off the ground, social gatherings and moving several times, these months flew by, but to be honest, even though I felt unrooted, I was not ready to leave. And I wouldn’t have left had I not had several family commitments – including meeting my newest niece, who I got to spend a few weeks with in August. Her arrival was reason enough to fly to Germany, even though it meant leaving New York when I love it the most: when it is hot and sticky, and everyone but me curses the August heat. But spending a month with my sister, my niece and my nephew was well worth giving up New York for, and as so often in the past few years, I felt incredibly grateful for this location independent life I’ve created, even though it means very little stability when it comes to income and financial security.

When I embarked on my three month trip, it ended up looking quite different from the original plan, which was to spend a month in Germany with my family and then fly to India. The motivation for the India trip was not just to see some parts of the country I hadn’t made it to on my last trip, but to attend a travel influencer conference in September. When I was first invited to the conference back in the spring of 2017, I noticed right away that the dates in late September would be perfect to combine it with a trip to Nepal afterwards. Not only was it nearby, but October was also a perfect time to hike the Annapurna Circuit, a roughly three week trek through the Himalayas, which has been on my travel wish list for a while now.

2017 collage

My mind was set on a big hiking trip, and the conference was a great excuse to return to that part of the world. However, before I even got to the planning stage of the trip, the organizers of the conference announced that one of the main sponsors had dropped out, which meant the conference would have to be canceled. All of a sudden I found myself in limbo – what would I do instead? Return to New York earlier than planned? Go on a completely different trip? Going all the way to India without the conference as an excuse for the long journey didn’t seem worth it now.

And then it hit me: I would be in Europe in September, which happens to be one of the best months to walk the Camino de Santiago, an ancient 500-mile pilgrimage across the north of Spain, which I’d also been wanting to walk for a few years now. I hastily ordered some hiking equipment online before I flew to Europe, and my only preparation for this giant walk was a day hike in Upstate New York to break in my new hiking shoes. Even though I was barely prepared for a long distance hike, I was determined to make it to the final destination, Santiago de Compostela.Camino de SantiagoWalking the Camino, which hadn’t been on my travel plans for this year whatsoever, turned out to be the best trip I took in 2017. After the hectic months in New York and trying to balance family and work time in Germany, I finally had time to reflect on the past few months, the obstacles I’d faced in New York, and most importantly, to check in with myself on an emotional level. I had noticed – during my time in New York in particular – that because of my busy schedule, I hadn’t really dealt with any emotional matters that came up throughout the year.

During the pilgrimage, I was finally able to connect with myself again, and selfishly take time to indulge in things I love doing but never get around to when I am in New York: reading books, writing every day, listening to podcasts, take time for long, extended breakfasts and dinners, instead of eating at my desk while responding to work emails.

The Camino was so much more than that though. It turned out to be the most physically challenging journey I’ve ever taken. It turned out to be one of the most scenic journeys I’ve ever taken. It showed me what my body was capable of. It introduced me to some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. While walking, you often hear ‘The Camino Provides’, a concept that refers to all the things ‘The Way’ gives pilgrims – from shelter to shoulders to cry on, from food to direction, and more foundational things like answers to fundamental questions people have, or even a new direction in life. It is something that I guess might only make sense if you find yourself on this pilgrimage, since most people who set off on this five-week hike seem to be on a quest of sorts, or a spiritual journey,- trying to figure out life, to process a trauma or a loss, or to simply take some time off to contemplate life.dani & kate o cebreiroI was one of the very few people on the Camino who was doing the pilgrimage without having recently experienced any drastic, life changing events, or facing a fork in the road, unsure which path to follow. Despite not having any elementary questions when starting my journey, I learned a lot about myself along the way. Getting perspective on my own life through conversations with other pilgrims was eye-opening in many ways, and finishing this physically challenging – more so than I thought – hike was a huge achievement for me. The biggest gift the Camino gave me was a wonderful new friendship, and several other great people who I know I’ll see again sooner or later.

Sadly, the Camino didn’t only bring good things. It was during the month-long walk that an important friendship fell apart, causing me to cry about something completely different than I thought I’d cry about on The Way – because letting tears flow is an inevitable part of this pilgrimage. At some point, every pilgrim cries, and it is a freeing feeling to allow yourself to cry, knowing you aren’t judged by anyone for it.

During the five weeks I spent on the Camino there were many times when the finish line, Santiago, seemed terribly far away, almost unachievable, but when we eventually reached our destination, the journey was over too suddenly, in a way it felt anticlimactic, unspectacular, to walk into Santiago after all these weeks of walking.Camino de SantiagoFollowing the celebrations of having made it to Santiago, an unforeseen sadness set in. Me and my Camino BFF Kate had gotten so used to the simplicity of the Camino, and to sharing stories while walking together for hours each and every day. The daily routine of getting up, having a cup of coffee, strapping my boots on and starting to walk was easy – I was not ready to return to reality.

I know that the post-Camino blues would have lingered longer, but there was no time to be sad. As soon as I left Spain, my life was back to being as hectic and busy as it had been before the pilgrimage. It almost felt as if this incredible month never happened.

I flew to Germany because I wanted to see my family one more time before returning to New York, knowing it’d be a while until I’d see them again, but I still hadn’t even bought a plane ticket to fly to the States. I noticed how little desire I had to go back to New York, which concerned me. This was my favorite place in the world after all, so why did I feel so lackluster about finally going ‘home’?

2017 travels

The truth is that I had no hurry to go back to dealing with the bureaucratic issues I still needed to sort out. Not knowing if I’d be able to find a decent place to live, if I’d finally be approved for a credit card, and if I’d be more successful in signing up for healthcare upon my return didn’t make me too keen on going back to the U.S. Add to that all the upsetting news that came out of America while I was gone, from mass shootings to the disastrous ways of how the hurricane in Puerto Rico had been dealt with by the government, plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord and Trump opening National Parks to fossil fueling – to name just a few things – made me have serious second thoughts about moving to the U.S.

I was also frustrated because a new business venture I had spent months preparing during my stint in New York in the summer had not come to fruition, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go back to the job I had started back in May.journal notebookHowever, as soon as I landed in New York all my doubts disappeared. I found a place to stay quickly, and being reunited with all my friends blew away all the dark clouds. Before I could even get settled back into my New York life, it was already time to leave again, but this time only for a couple of weeks, for  my last trip of the year.

I was able to take one of my New York besties on her first South East Asia adventure, inviting her to be my guest on an amazing experience flying Singapore Air’s Premium Economy class – thanks to two round-trip tickets I had won a couple of years ago. The short trip to the tropics – Thailand and Singapore – was a much appreciated break before braving the chillier temperatures in November and December in New York, and reminded me of how much I loved that region of the world. I decided that for my annual winter escape, I’d be heading back to South East Asia.asia getaway

First it was time to spend some time in New York though, which, albeit me usually answering ‘Brooklyn’ when asked where I was living, I hadn’t actually seen much of it in 2017 – by the end of December, I had barely spent four months in New York during the year.

And then December rolled around, and with it, a massive bout of December Blues, triggered by an unexpected birthday message by someone I care a lot about, which caused tears and an emotional meltdown. I started doubting my decision to spend the Holidays in New York instead of with my family in Germany, and was almost ready to fork out thousands of dollars on a last-minute flight to Europe. I couldn’t wait for 31 December to roll around and to leave 2017 behind me.

Thankfully, my self-pity didn’t last long, and things started to look up just as the year was coming to an end. I reconnected with several people I sort of lost touch with or hadn’t spend a lot of time with in recent months, realizing how much I missed having them in my life.end of the world swingAnd most importantly: In early December I got a phone call that Airbnb would offer a bespoke Brooklyn Tour I’d conceptualized and tweaked during the spring and summer months in their Experiences section. For anyone not familiar with Airbnb Experiences, AirBnb isn’t just offering accommodation through their platform anymore, but they recently added experiences – tours and activities offered by local hosts. Competition is fierce, and to get an experience approved by them is not easy, because their platform is the most powerful marketing tool any tour provider could get – and the marketing is done for providers by Airbnb, which is amazing for anyone running a one-person company like I am.

When my tour finally went live, I had no idea that it would take off the way it did, but instead of taking some time off over the Holidays as I had planned, I ended up running tours every single day. I was ecstatic when after only a week of being on the platform, my tours started to sell out, and I even had to turn away guests. What’s been even more amazing is the feedback I’ve been getting from guests. I have been wanting to run tours for years (you may remember that my ex-partner and I launched Globetrottergirls Getaways a few years ago, which I sadly couldn’t continue on my own), and now it is finally happening. And not just any tours – I get to show off Brooklyn, a place I love dearly and know better than any other place in the world.

I feel like my life has been turned upside down since I started the tours, because now that I am taking groups of ten people (and sometimes even more) around Brooklyn, it is quite different from the tours I was running previously, which were mainly word-of-mouth referrals and smaller groups – families and couples. I’ve been learning as I go, continuously tweaking the tours as I introduce tourists to some of my favorite parts of Brooklyn.dani williamsburg street art

Sadly, the blog has been taking a bit of a back seat since I started running the tours, as I also still have several freelance writing and social media clients. I hope that going forward, I will get better at figuring out a way to balance all my projects.

Life threw me a curve ball (in a good way!) just when I needed it. I won the Green Card at a time when I felt completely lost about where I should settle – I knew I wanted to live in New York, but getting a visa (without getting married) seemed impossible. And then there it was, a visa, thanks to a lottery (I still can’t get over the fact that I won the permission to live and work in New York!). And just as I was feeling lost again, this time around unsettled and unsure about whether I’d be able to make living in New York work, life threw me a curve ball again, giving me something that ties me to New York, and not only that, but something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and something I’m excited about every morning when I get out of bed.

Having worked in a job I hated for years, I still feel blessed every day that I’m able to do what I love instead of working a job just to be able to pay my bills. And considering how cold New York has been over the past few weeks, the fact that I am still stoked about spending four to five hours outside in these freezing temperatures, reaffirms that this is something I truly enjoy doing. But there was a reason why I wanted to get this off the ground during the summer 😉

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One of my groups, on a chilly New York winter day

As I look back at 2017 and how often I’ve found myself struggling over the past few months, I can only hope that these last couple of weeks of the year are an indicator for what 2018 will be like – a successful year with less restlessness, less worries about money, and most importantly, a year where I will finally find a permanent place to settle in New York.

And what about travel, you may wonder? I am going to be honest here: After traveling to twelve countries in 2017, including an epic five-week hike, I am in no hurry to travel anywhere anytime soon. I will go on shorter trips this year, but my main aim for 2018 is to spend as much time as possible in New York, and travel more within the U.S., which I haven’t done at all this year. I still have plenty of stories to share of all the trips I’ve taken in 2017, so Globetrottergirls will not disappear – my (blog) baby is turning eight in April, can you believe it? I hope you’ll join me for whatever adventures 2018 will bring.new york upstate hike dani

Happy New Year!

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: November 2017 Edition

november 2017

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.

Where I’ve Been

After a crazy October, which saw me traveling through four countries, I have finally slowed down a little bit and ‘only’ visited three countries in November: I spent time in New York, Singapore and Thailand.November 2017

What I’ve Been up to

I had just enough time to catch up with my friends in New York, stuff my face with bagels and pizza (the two things I usually miss the most when I’m not in NYC), visit my favorite coffee shops in Brooklyn, and cheer on the marathoners on 4 November (I had entered the ticket lottery but wasn’t picked – watching the runners so made me want to join them, and so I’ll continue to enter it until I win it!) before I left on another big trip.New York November 2017If you’ve been following me for a while, you may remember that a couple of years ago, I won two return tickets to Singapore to try Singapore Air’s new Premium Economy class on the New York – Singapore route.

I thought I was going to use them last winter when I had planned to head to South East Asia for my annual winter escape, but then the Green Card happened and I found myself in Germany instead, going through the vetting process for my permanent residency in the US. And ever since, I’ve been busy traveling all over Latin America and Europe, thinking I still had time to use these tickets… until I was informed that they were due to  expire at the end of November.

I would’ve gladly used them for this year’s winter escape, but I had to use both flights before 30 November 2017, so this wasn’t really going to be a long term trip, considering I only got back to New York at the end of October.

I thought about letting the tickets expire because I was so tired after my three month Europe trip, but who am I to say NO to a free trip?! Especially since the tickets were for PREMIUM ECONOMY. Hello unlimited champagne!

And so I packed my backpack after a few short days of fall weather in New York and hopped on a flight to Singapore with one of my girlfriends.November 2017 Singapore And ThailandAm I glad I did it? Of course! Being back in South East Asia felt amazing. I returned to Singapore, which is without a doubt one of Asia’s most fascinating cities, and I got to check out two islands in Thailand I’ve had on my travel wish list ever since I read about them on Lauren’s blog.

We started our Asia adventure with a long weekend in Singapore, where we stayed in a beautiful Airbnb in Kampong Glam, a neighborhood with independent shops and lots of trendy eateries. We did some touristy stuff, like the Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Flyer, but we also ventured a little off the beaten path and went on a hike in the Southern Shore, a jungle-like park away from the fancy skyscrapers. I was especially excited about Gardens by the Bay, whose futuristic Supertrees had already been erected the last time I was in Singapore in 2012, but the Gardens didn’t open until a few weeks after my visit, and I’d been wanting to return ever since.singapore 2017I was also stoked to discover that Singapore now has a bike sharing system, even better than New York’s Citibikes or London’s Boris Bikes, because you don’t have to find a docking station to park them – you can simply leave them anywhere. Amazing!

From Singapore, we took a short 90-minute flight to Phuket, where we didn’t waste any time – heading straight to the boat pier to take a ferry over to Koh Yao Yai. We split our days evenly between this island and its sister island Koh Yao Noi, and it was heavenly. We gorged on Pad Thai and fresh fruit smoothies, I had my first mango sticky rice in years, and went on a kayaking excursion to a small, secluded island.thai islandsI was so grateful that we were able to explore both islands on a motorcycle (see below in What Went Right), to go on barefoot beach walks, and to enjoy the tropical heat for a few days, even though this was such a short getaway, compared to the long trips I usually take.

I returned to New York in time for Thanksgiving which I spent curled up on the sofa with one of my favorite people, watching movies and eating as much cheese as humanly possible before giving it up on 1 December (see Challenges for more on that). I also went on a self-guided pizza tour with some friends, and celebrated my birthday. I feel like I’ve done so many things this month – does November really only have 30 days?
thanksgiving weekend

Let’s see what went right and what went wrong this month:

What Went Right

Embracing Fall in New York
Spending two autumn months in New York – October 2014 and November 2015 – had made me realize how much I enjoyed fall on the East Coast. Everything I love about this season – pumpkin spiced craft beers, vibrant fall colors, hot apple ciders, pumpkin decorations everywhere, the crisp fall air – combined with my favorite city in the world? Perfection! I was really bummed out when I spent October 2016 in Seattle, where it rained so much that I barely had any time to truly enjoy the fall foliage or fall decorations. So when I got back to New York in the midst of fall, I made sure to make the most of it (not taking the bright blue skies for granted anymore after that wet and grey month in Seattle): long walks in the park, an extended bike ride through Brooklyn to show a friend some of my favorite spots in Greenwood Cemetery and in Red Hook, neighborhood strolls to admire the carved pumpkins on most houses stoops, and as many pumpkin spice IPA’s as possible. I knew I’d only have about two weeks this year to take it all in and I think it’s safe to say that I made the most of it.

November 2017 New York City

Getting Over my Fear of Motorcycles
When I lived in Spain at the young age of 21, I always rode motorcycles. That’s just how everyone got around. And I was never scared of them then – until my friend was killed in a motorcycle accident. I didn’t ride a motorcycle for years after that, and when I finally hopped on one again in 2012, during my first visit to Thailand, I promptly drove it straight into a ditch.

I was so paralyzed with fear (and hurt) after that accident, that instead of giving it another try, I built up this insane fear of motorcycles. Which is unfortunate when you spend a lot of time in South East Asia, where, especially on the islands of Thailand and in the Philippines, the easiest way to get around is by motorcycle. Over the years, I always felt like I was missing out on being able to truly explore the islands, using bikes, ATV’s (when possible) or taxis instead.

So when I arrived in Thailand and my friend told me she’d never driven a motorcycle and wasn’t sure if she could, I decided that it was finally time to face my fear of motorcycles and get on one again. And I am so glad I did! The first island we visited, Koh Yao Yai, was the perfect place to give it a try again, since there was basically only one road around the island, and there was barely any traffic. By the time we arrived on island #2, Koh Yao Noi, I felt like a motorcycle pro again. The fact that I finally got back on a motorcycle makes me so happy because it’ll make upcoming trips to South East Asia so much easier.Dani Scooter 2017
The Quick Asia Getaway
As I mentioned above, I almost canceled my trip to Asia because I was exhausted after my Europe trip and didn’t feel at all like packing for another trip – only ten days after returning to New York, where I’d been itching to get back to for weeks after finishing the Camino.

But after suffering through several gloomy November days in New York, I was glad that I didn’t cancel the trip: A few days in a hot and sunny climate is never a bad idea. And I had made the right call: I was so so so happy to be back in Asia. Thailand remains one of my favorite countries in the world, and I was yet again amazed by the splendor of Singapore.
asia getaway 2017

However, a part of me felt differently about the trip:

What Went Wrong

The Quick Asia Getaway
On the one hand I was happy and grateful I got to return to Asia, on the other hand it made me realize that quick getaways like this have become too stressful for me to truly enjoy them. I am so used to taking my sweet time everywhere I go that this trip felt rushed and I was exhausted by the end of it instead of reenergized.

Had I not been constrained by work commitments back in New York, I would have gladly spent three months in Asia instead of just over a week – a crazy short time for such a long journey. And on that note – traveling for 21 (!!) hours to a place with a 13-hour time difference to New York makes for insane jetlag, in case you were wondering. My body was completely messed up by the massive time change, basically the opposite of NYC – we arrived in Singapore in the morning, just as people in New York were getting ready to go to sleep. When my body finally adjusted, it was time to return to NYC, and I was jetlagged for pretty much the rest of the month.asia getaway

Shaking My Head Moments

An Almost Missed Flight
I am still shaking my head about this: I nearly missed my flight to Singapore because I wasn’t paying attention to which subway stop I was at (distracted by my phone, obviously). I saw the letters ‘JFK’ on a big board announcing the station just as the doors were closing. So I ended up in the Rockaway Islands instead, where the train was ending, and had to wait half an hour until a train back to JFK arrived.

As if that wasn’t enough, I then stood in line at TSA for half an hour only to be told that the boarding pass on my phone wasn’t accepted and I had to get a printed version from the airline counter instead. Afterwards, I stood in line for half an hour AGAIN and reached my gate just as they were completing boarding – five minutes later and the plane would have left without me.

November 2017 Singapore
What I would’ve missed had I not made my flight!

An Almost Lost Item
Of course the month couldn’t go by without me losing something – and this time it was something I absolutely needed: my laptop charger cable. I nearly had a heart attack when, at the airport in Singapore, on the way to two small Thai islands, I discovered that I didn’t have my charger cable: it was still plugged in the socket at the Airbnb apartment. There was no way I could go to Thailand without it, not being able to work, but when I discovered that I’d forgotten it, it was already time to board our flight to Phuket. My friend had a Dell laptop, I had an Acer, so I doubted that her charger would fit my laptop, but miraculously, with some wiggling and holding it in at a very specific angle, it worked! It wasn’t perfect, but my laptop charged – for a few days, it would do.

When we returned to Singapore I was able to pick up my charger from our Airbnb, thanks to our wonderful host. This could’ve easily ended in ‘What Went Wrong‘ but someone was looking out for me.

singapore

Another Almost Lost Item
One of the most important items I own is a small toiletries bag in which I carry what I deem my absolute essentials, and I bring it everywhere with me. In it are things like lip balm, make up, pain killers, a spare pair of contact lenses, mints and gum, a portable charger, SIM cards from all over the world, hand sanitizer and lotion, a pen, my birth control pills, and a few other things that I can’t do without. So losing this bag would be an absolute nightmare. Well guess what: I returned home from a day out in Brooklyn last weekend, and the bag was not in my purse anymore.

I completely freaked out, looked all over the apartment for it – it was nowhere to be found. I remembered taking it out in one coffee shop we stopped at during the tour and decided to phone the coffee shop if they happened to have found a small cosmetics bag. “Yes, we did find one”, said the guy on the phone. “But I threw it out.” My heart literally dropped into my stomach when he said that, and I yelled into the phone “WHAT?!” “Just kidding”, he laughed. “Your bag is here.” I went halfway across Brooklyn to pick it up right away – and after this near panic attack, I’ll be much more careful with it from now on.

toiletries bag
This bag is my EVERYTHING!

Challenges

New Work Equipment

I was dreading this, but I knew I had to eventually replace my aging laptop, my dSLR camera and outdated cell phone. I didn’t think that I’d need to replace all of my electronics in the same month, however! But that’s exactly what happened this month, and as someone who doesn’t own a credit card, this put a big financial strain on me.

dani iphone 7

The upside is that I should be good for a while now and that it should ease my workflow, especially the new laptop as my old one was  so old (and filled to capacity) that it kept freezing.

I am typing this round-up on my old trusted Acer, which has traveled with me to dozens of countries, survived humid jungles and dry desert air, walked the Camino with me, and was invaded by tiny ants in the Tropics. In South America, it even survived altitude sickness when I took it to places that surpassed the maximum altitude for laptops (by far!), and it came back to life after a water spill in Iceland.

This laptop was a real trooper, which is why I got an Acer again – let’s hope I’ll be as lucky with the new one as I’ve been with my current one, which I’ve had for the past few years.

Fulfilling Work Commitments
This month I really struggled fulfilling work commitments, especially during my trip to Asia, where I had a hard time balancing travel time & adventure with the work I’m doing for a couple of travel apps, and meeting deadlines for freelance clients. While I was lucky to get several unexpected projects this month, I found it difficult to manage them all. However: the additional income was greatly appreciated considering I spent thousands of dollars on electronics.

November 2017 work
I still can’t believe that I get paid to do THIS!

November & December Monthly Challenge

Daily Journaling
After taking a break from my monthly challenges in October (I wanted to do a no-sugar challenge after all the cake on the Camino, but my sister kindly asked me to postpone it… so that we could bake some cakes together 😂), I challenged myself to daily journaling this month, something I always plan to do more often but then never do. I opted for two simple (relatively speaking) things: Bullet journaling and gratitude journaling.

Over the course of the month, I’ve noticed that I sometimes found it difficult to come up with three things I was grateful for – on a daily basis – which is the number I set for myself. Other people write down 5 – 10 things they’re grateful for, which I would’ve found pretty much unachievable. Even though the things you list that you are grateful for don’t always have to be hugely significant (although an ‘amazing avocado toast for breakfast’ is pretty significant for me and something I can’t express enough gratitude for), I sometimes even struggled to find three minor things – does this make me an ungrateful bitch?bullet journalingWhile I am not sure if I will be sticking with either one, it was an interesting experiment and made me more aware of how many things I sometimes fit into one day, and it also made me more aware as to the things that make me happy/what I am grateful for. What I’ll definitely continue doing is keeping some sort of ‘Habits Journal’ where I’ll track certain habits, for example: On how many days do I drink alcohol? On how many days do I go running? Etc… The journaling habit also led to me using a calendar again, something I haven’t done in years (only for work-related appointments, but my private life appointments I’ve never written down anywhere). If you’re interested in bullet journaling / habit tracking, I recommend checking out these 23 ideas how you can customize your bullet journal.

Vegan December
My last challenge for the year is 31 days of veganism. I am actually not too worried about this challenge because I noticed this month that most of my meals are vegan already – but I do have to admit that, without a doubt, I will miss eggs. Many of my favorite dishes are egg dishes: shakshuka (Israeli baked eggs), huevos rancheros (Mexican eggs), or a good frittata with spinach and goats cheese. And of course my addiction for chocolate and cakes will be challenged, although I think that with the amount of vegan options available these days, I’ll be fine on that front.

food november 2017
The things I WILL NOT be eating in December…

Other Happenings

My Birthday
I am not a big birthday person, but I like treating myself… so instead of a big birthday bash, I had a whole birthday week filled with treats celebrating myself. A friend of mine treated me to the ultimate movie experience at the iPic Theater (recliner seats and blankets, unlimited popcorn, our own server throughout the movie, food and cocktails.. oh, and a great movie: Wonder!), I had a lovely Italian dinner with another friend, went on a self-guided pizza tour through Brooklyn with a couple of friends, I went barhopping on my actual birthday (and came to learn that I am officially too old for shots) and had birthday cake pastries at my friend bakery in New York: Dominique Ansel. I gifted myself tickets to LP, an artist I love, but to be honest I am not quite sure if I’ll be in New York for the concert, which is on 1 March, because as you know I don’t like winter.

birthday treaet dominique ansel
Dominique Ansel – best birthday ‘cake’ ever!

Lesbian Travel Blogs
I compiled a list of the best lesbian travel blogs for Nomadic Matt’s LGBT column – there are more than you’d think! Check them out here:

What’s Next for me

A rest month! Well, I’m not going to lay in bed all month, but I don’t have any travel plans, and I am happy about that. I was still so tired from my three month trip when I boarded the plane to Asia, that all I want is to give my body some rest.

I do have one exciting project coming up though – I will be exploring Christmassy New York for one week for a new travel app I’m working with, and I will be documenting it all for you!

New York City
Coming up: More of this!

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: October 2017 Edition

october 2017 dani

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.

Where I’ve Been

This month involved too much traveling – Spain, Germany, England and the U.S. I am finally back home in New York after three months away. I don’t have much time to recover though: in less than two weeks, I’ll be hitting the road again! More on that later – first, let’s take a look at the last 4.5 weeks:October 2017 four countries

What I’ve Been Up To

The biggest achievement of the month? I finished the Camino de Santiago! I was on the final stretch of the walk when I wrote my last roundup, and when I walked into Santiago with my Camino BFF Kate in early October, it was a very emotional moment. Since I had a flight booked to Germany because of family commitments, I couldn’t take any rest days on the last stretch, or simply walk fewer kilometers per day, which our friend Veronica ended up doing – we left her behind in Ponferrada after walking as a trio for about a week.

When we reached Santiago, physically and mentally exhausted, we were greeted by some of our Camino friends who had waited for us, and met more friends for drinks later that night. Everyone was in great spirits.Camino de Santiago friendsSadly, we didn’t have much time to celebrate our achievement because on our first night in Santiago, Kate got very sick. She spent most of the night on the toilet, and the only full day we had in Santiago she was sick in bed. It was a tragic way to end the month we’d spent together.

I was feeling good the next day and made the most of my only full day in Santiago. I went to the pilgrims office to pick up my compostela, my pilgrim’s certificate (which meant standing in line for two hours!), I attended the pilgrims mass in Santiago’s stunning cathedral, and I welcomed other pilgrims on the main square when they arrived at the cathedral. It was an amazing day – I found tasty vegetarian food (which means a lot, considering the food rant in my last roundup..), relaxed in a beautiful park, and treated myself to a lovely dinner – sadly all without Kate.Camino de Santiago final dayAnd then I got back to our hotel and I also started feeling sick. I’ll save the details for the Lowlights below.

Once I recovered from my illness, I spent some more time in Germany with my new niece, my nephew and my other two nieces who live about two hours from where my sister lives. And of course with Odie! I was amazed to see how much the tiny baby had grown since I left on my trip six weeks earlier.

From the one month old fragile little baby that she was when I first met her, to a lively, curious three month old when I returned from the Camino. I got to spend some quality time with my sister too, of course – mostly while we were trying out new baking recipes. The fact that I had declared only a week earlier that I never wanted to eat cake again was forgotten, and I happily postponed my post-Camino diet in favor of some traditional German cake.Family timeIn my last round-up I had hinted that I was going to visit one more destination in Europe before returning to New York. I couldn’t make up my mind between a return trip to Italy (I announced last year that I’d love to go back to Rome for a little longer) or if I should visit friends in London. In the end, I decided in favor of London, my former home. I spent a short weekend there last summer, but haven’t had any quality time in London for over two years.

I miss the city, and the prospect of seeing a West End show, finally visiting the new extension of the Tate Modern, roaming my favorite markets and catching up with old friends was more appealing than a trip to Italy by myself. And traveling to London meant Kate and I got a do-over – the way we parted ways in Santiago, both sick as dogs, was not how we had pictured our last day together. And since Kate lives in London, I knew we would see each other and get the chance to properly celebrate our achievement – and plan our next hike together.

Going to London was absolutely the right decision. I got to see the Dreamgirls musical at the Savoy Theater with an old friend, and we went to the Tate Modern. I got to eat all my favorite British foods, discovered a bunch of new coffee shops and bars, made it finally to the Cereal Killer Cafe, and I met up with several friends, including the sexiest couple on Instagram, the Nomadic Boys. It was an amazing week, and I almost didn’t want to leave, but…london 2017In New York, Halloween was waiting for me.

I didn’t grow up with Halloween, and even though they’re trying to making it more popular in Germany, it is not comparable with Halloween in the U.S. Ever since my first Halloween Party – only four years ago, can you believe it?! – I’ve been hooked, and try to be there for what has become my favorite US Holiday. Last year I was in Seattle, but sadly didn’t have a great Halloween there, so this year I wanted to make sure I had a party to go to and a costume to wear.

It was the perfect weekend to return to New York. The weather was brilliant on Saturday, and the party my friend and I went to was fantastic. But not just because of Halloween – it simply felt good to be home again after three months on the road – three months during which I barely had any time to myself. I would happily stay in New York for the rest of the year, but I’ve got one more trip coming up. More on that in What’s Next For Me.

halloween party

On to the Highlights of the month:

Highlights

Finishing the Camino

This was, of course, by far the absolute highlight of the month. I honestly was not sure if I’d be able to finish the walk when I set off on the hike from Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port. But I did! I am still amazed that my feet carried me all the way to Santiago – no buses were taken, and I always carried my backpack, instead of having it transported for me.

When I started the hike, I didn’t really know what to expect: What would it be like to hike for a month? Would I enjoy it? It turned out that I had nothing to worry about – it was such a great experience, despite the challenges I faced, which included constant pain – especially in my tooth towards the end (see Lowlights for more details), some not-so-great dorms with snorers galore, and the food situation which I already mentioned in last month’s roundup.

But the upsides of the hike absolutely compensated for the challenges, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The friendships that formed, the conversations I had, and the splendor of just taking time out of my regular life to focus on myself while walking through some of Spain’s most stunning scenery.

Going on the Camino this year was a semi-spontaneous decision I only made a couple of months before leaving for France, and I am glad I just went for it instead of overthinking it, letting time constraints and work commitments hold me back and to keep postponing it by making up excuses why now wasn’t the right time.camino de santiago final days

Halloween

When I left for Europe in the summer, I wasn’t 100% sure when I’d be returning to New York – all I knew was that no matter what I did, it had to be before Halloween. As I mentioned above, I absolutely love Halloween and after not having a great Halloween in Seattle in 2016, I wanted to be back in NYC to celebrate with my friends this year.

I think New York is one of the best places to be for Halloween, with the popular Halloween Parade in the West Village and people in all neighborhoods (at least in Brooklyn – it’s hard to decorate the massive apartment blocks in Manhattan!) really getting into the Halloween spirit, decorating their buildings, putting carved pumpkins out on the stoops, and going absolutely crazy with their costumes.

Halloween is probably my favorite day to take the subway in New York, seeing everyone dressed up, strangers connecting over their costumes, and everyone just being jolly and nice.

In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, hundreds of trick or treaters were out – it was cuteness overload. I had never seen so many kids dressed up before, going from house to house to collect candy, and it was heartwarming to see the excitement and happiness in the eyes of the kids.halloween 2017Especially this year, when just a few hours before the parade started, there was a deadly attack in Manhattan, clearly timed to ruin Halloween for everyone. But New Yorkers have a thick skin, and I was glad to see that the kids still got to enjoy this special day. Nobody stayed inside, controlled by fear – the streets were teeming with life.

I myself wasn’t in the mood to go out to a big Halloween bash after what had happened, but luckily I had already gone to a party on Saturday, and wasn’t going to dress up again on the 31st anyway.

Returning to New York in time for Halloween was the perfect way to get reintroduced to city life again – life in New Yorky is so different from anywhere else I’ve been in the past 90 days, except for London maybe. Speaking of which:halloween 2017 nyc

A Perfect Week in London

I feel like I say this every time I return from London, but I feel the same way about London every time I visit: When I’m not there, I seem to forget just how much I love it, but when I am there, I don’t ever want to leave. Until there’s a day when it pours for hours on end, and then I remember why I left London in the first place: because I couldn’t stand the weather one day longer.

Despite mediocre weather (I had only one sunny day the entire week I was there) and too much work (I got a new client project just before I left for London), I had such a great time catching up with friends and revisiting some of my old favorite spots. And even though I had less time to experience the city due to my workload last week, it was just nice to soak up the atmosphere, eat good food, and, most importantly, have a big celebration with Kate for finishing the Camino, and reminiscing about the Way while watching, well, The Way.london

Lowlights

Getting Sick

As I already briefly mentioned above, after Kate got sick in Santiago de Compostela, I followed suit the next night. Unfortunately my vomiting session started only two hours before I was supposed to leave for the airport. And I had a 15 hour travel day ahead of me.

First, a flight from Santiago to Madrid, then a flight from Madrid to Frankfurt, then a train ride to Erfurt, and finally a 30-minute car ride to the village where my sister lives. I thought about canceling my flights, but in the end I thought that if I made it through the travel day, at least I’d be home at night, with my family.

It didn’t take long for me to regret this decision – about an hour into my first flight, to be precise – when I passed out while vomiting and had to get medical assistance from the Flight Attendants.

I don’t remember any of this since I only regained consciousness when three Flight Attendants dragged me out of my row to make sure I wouldn’t choke on my own vomit. Definitely not how I wanted to die. I did want to die, however, when I saw my vomit all over the seats – and myself.

I still don’t know how I made it through that day, but I am happy that day didn’t end worse.

dani sick on the plane
The only good thing about getting sick on a plane: I got to spread out over an entire row after I vomited everywhere.

An Emergency Tooth Surgery

As if a near-death experience on the plane and a stomach flu weren’t enough, I had an emergency tooth surgery scheduled for the very next day in Germany. I had an infected tooth already when I was still in New York in July, and it only got worse.

On the Camino, it finally got so bad that I was walking the last two weeks with terrible a toothache and eventually messaged my mom to see if she could set up an emergency appointment at her dentist in Germany, since I don’t have a dentist there anymore (and no healthcare). Luckily for me, the dentist agreed to see me for cash payment, which is very unusual in Germany (since everyone has insurance).

Within half an hour, I was finally rid of the infected tooth, and the horrible pain that it caused me, and I wished I had gone to the dentist before I left on the hike. I am so terrified of dentists that it has to come down to a situation like this, in which I can’t eat or drink anything and am in terrible pain, to force me to finally set up a dental appointment. It is horrible, I know, but dental anxiety is no joke my friends.

post hike toes
I know – I said tooth, and not toe. But my infected tooth looks so disgusting that I decided to share a less gross infection I’m still dealing with.. my toenail, which I’ve been told will fall off. This is the sort of stuff you have to deal with when you go on a 5-week walk…

Losing my Skyroam

Another month, another story of how Dani lost something…

I had my Skyroam global wifi hotspot with me on the Camino, and used it also on the day I returned to Germany. I had the device in the side pocket of my backpack, and when I reached the train station in Frankfurt I saw that all long-distance trains to central station were heavily delayed – so much so that I wouldn’t be able to make my connecting train. So I sprinted down to the local train station instead, hoping I’d make it to central station on a slow, local train. When I got to the train station, I noticed that my backpack’s side pocket was open. I am not sure if somebody had opened it, or if it opened by itself, but the Skyroam wasn’t in there anymore. Either it fell out while I was running to catch the train, or somebody took it – I’m not sure which. All I know is that I can’t believe I lost my beloved Skyroam and I am still devastated.

camino de santiago skyroam
The last photo of my Skyroam: Helping me stay connected on the Camino

Other Happenings

My friend Nomadic Matt is giving away a round-the-world trip, worth $18,250! You can read all about the prize and how you can enter to win it here.

A couple of words no the giveaway: Please note that you have to buy a copy of Matt’s bestselling book ‘How To Travel The World On $50 A Day’ – but if you’re interested in budget travel and traveling the world independently, you should read this book anyway. Plus, it makes a great Christmas gift for your travel-loving friends. Oh, and did I mention that the book is only $12.79 on Amazon at the moment?? That’s a steal already, but even more so considering it offers you the chance to win a trip worth nearly $20,000.

I would love for one of my readers to win this amazing giveaway! (Side note: Sadly, this contest is only open to people in the U.S. and North America.)travel october 2017

What’s Next For Me

I won’t have much time to recover from my hectic month (four countries were a little too ambitious, I have to say – especially after a 500 mile hike!), because I will be heading to Asia in November! I haven’t been to Asia in 2.5 years, and I am super excited for this trip, which will bring me to Singapore (where I haven’t been since 2012!) and to Thailand (where I’ll be checking out two islands I haven’t been to yet).

I will tell you all about in next month’s roundup… Thanks for following along!October 2017

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: September 2017 Edition

september 2017

Apologies for the delay in posting this – I fell violently ill last week and ended up needing medical assistance mid-flight for the first time ever – and hopefully the last time! I will share the full story in my October round-up, but for now I am happy to report that I am finally recovering, from both sickness and a surgery.

I spent the last thirty days in Spain, but even though I’ve only been in one country, I don’t remember the last time I had such an intense month of travel: 30 days, 29 different beds, and I’ve walked through four out of Spain’s 17 regions. I walked nearly 800 kilometers! Typing out this number makes me think: Wow, did I really walk that?

Camino de Santiago

What I’ve been up to

I have to be honest: Announcing that I was walking the 800 kilometer/500 mile long Camino de Santiago this month was a bit risky… what if I failed? What if I gave up after a few days? What if my feet failed me?

But then on the other hand, by announcing it and making it public, it made me more accountable. I had to make it through 30+ days of walking, even if that meant crawling into Santiago on all fours.

So did I made it to Santiago de Compostela? Not yet, but as I type this I am getting very close. It usually takes between 32 and 35 days to walk from Saint Jean Pied De Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago, which is less than 100 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean, i.e. basically across the entire width of Spain.

Camino de Santiago

I am struggling to put this journey into words, but I am going to try. And I am going to write in more detail about the hike as soon as I’ve finished it, so these are just some initial thoughts.

The Camino wasn’t supposed to be some sort of ‘walking holiday’ for me. I wanted to challenge myself, to push my boundaries, and to get out of my comfort zone.. Have I done this? Absolutely. Even more than expected.

I’d never hiked for more than five days in a row before, and definitely not 25-30 kilometers per day… for five consecutive weeks!

Camino de Santiago

Secondly, I absolutely pushed my limits. I hit them several times, my body ready to give up, to collapse. My feet announcing: No step further. My feet trying to boycott the journey and get me to stop by mysteriously developing not one, but two corns (both of which have to be cut out). My back rebelling against the insane weight of my backpack by sending shooting pains down my spine. My mind trying to convince me it’d be okay to take the bus.

“But that’d be cheating!”, the little angel on my right shoulder would exclaim. “Nooooo, it’s okay” the little devil on my left shoulder would say in a honeyed voice, “You’re still on the Camino, and so many people are doing it!”

In the end, I resisted all the temptations of buses, taxis, horses, private shuttle services and even the backpack transporting services that takes your backpack to the next place for you, making it much easier to walk for seven to eight hours. But if I was going to walk The Way, I’d do it the traditional way: carrying my own stuff, and not using any modes of transportation other than my own two feet. Almost like how it was done in the Middle Ages.Except that I had a proper trekking backpack, fancy hiking boots (and a pair of sandals to switch into), Milka chocolate bars readily available, and a bunch of podcasts on my iPhone to get me through the hard parts (which they did.. no matter how steep the ascent, you can’t help laughing when you hear Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt man-giggle).dani camino de santiago

I wanted to use the time on the Camino to reflect on these past few years, which have been such a whirlwind of travel, relationships, broken hearts, feeling unrooted and uncertainty – until I won the Greencard. Because my life in New York is so busy, I never get to just sit down and look back at things that have happened to me, most of them I have just brushed off, even though deep inside I knew they bothered me.

I was curious to see where my mind would take me during these long hours of walking, who and what I would be thinking about, and how I’d feel about certain people and events when looking at them from a distance.

Gratitude is what I’ve been feeling the most – gratitude for the life I’m living, gratitude for being able to take an entire month to do this, which I know most of my friends in corporate careers aren’t able to do, and gratitude for the people that have come into my life over the past few years – including on this hike, as explained below:camino de santiago hontanas

What went right

Choosing the right long-distance hike

When I told friends, family and some acquaintances that I was going to walk the Camino de Santiago, some of them tried to convince me to take a different route instead. “The Camino has become too popular and is super crowded now” they’d say. “Walk the Camino del Norte along the coast instead – it’s much prettier.”

There are several routes to Santiago, including one that starts in Portugal which also sounds lovely, and I was definitely intrigued by the coastal walk. In the end, however, I decided to start with the most common one – The Camino Frances – which is the route most pilgrims choose. If I enjoyed it, I could still walk one of the other routes at a later time.

In hindsight, I am glad I chose the Camino Frances. Yes, it’s incredibly busy. Sometimes even crowded, with a steady line of pilgrims making their way through the Spanish countryside. More than once, all hostels in our destination for the day were completely booked. More than once I found myself stranded without a bed (but ended up being saved and not having to sleep on the floor like I saw other pilgrims do!).

But nonetheless, I had an amazing time. The walk itself is, oftentimes, breathtakingly beautiful, as you can see from my photos. I crossed mountains, walked through forests, through countless little hamlets and some of Spain’s prettiest towns. I traversed the seemingly endless flatlands of Spain’s Meseta (Central Plateau).Camino de Santiago postcards

Meeting the right people

I knew I was going to meet interesting and like-minded people along the Camino – the fact alone that they were setting off on the same insane 800-kilometer walk meant we had something in common. You have to be a certain kind of person to decide to do a trek like this, including having willpower and mental strength, being independent, open-minded, ready to push yourself, and a little bit crazy.

Some of my friends who knew I was going to walk the Camino thought I was insane for doing it by myself, but I never even considered not doing it by myself. Like I said, this wasn’t supposed to be some sort of walking holiday, but more of an introspective journey, and I wanted to make sure to have time to spend with myself and my own thoughts.

And also, I never expected to stay alone for long, because it is inevitable to meet other people. Being alone makes this even easier, since you are not in that ‘couple bubble’ you often find yourself in when traveling with someone.

I met more wonderful people along the way than I could’ve hoped for, heard enough interesting life stories to fill a book, got so many different perspectives and discussed subjects like friendship, religion, family, relationships, and determining life events and dark moments in our lives with strangers who quickly turned into friends.

This goes especially for Kate, who I happened to share a two-bed dorm with on our very first day, and who I ended up walking most of the way with. Now we are already talking about other long-distances hikes we can do together – already planning our reunion. Who knew that the girl who walked into my room on the last day of August would become my Camino BFF?Camino de Santiago friends

I am blister-free!

My biggest fear for the Camino was having to give up because of blisters. I’ve read several blogs and accounts of people who had to stop walking, calling it quits after a week or ten days, and so I nervously awaited the ten day mark.

When I was still blister-free on day ten, and then still on day 14, I was ecstatic! My careful preparation had paid off: I had bought sock liners for the hike, which were supposed to prevent blisters, as well as a pair of hiking sandals to change into should I develop blisters and not be able to get back into my hiking boots.

The end of the month rolled around and I am still blister-free, which I am very grateful and happy about, but that doesn’t mean I am not suffering from other hiking-related pains: My back aches from my heavy pack and the two corns on my right foot make it nearly impossible to walk in my boots at this point, and I might lose the toe nail on my right foot.

But I am still walking, and I hope that I can continue to walk until I reach Santiago – then I will definitely be able to file ‘completing the Camino Frances’ under ‘What Went Right’ for next month’s Life Lately.camino de santiago yellow arrow

What went wrong

Oh, the pain.

As I’ve mentioned above, this walk is not supposed to be a ‘Walk in the Park’, so I didn’t expect it to be very comfortable. What I didn’t expect, however, was to be in pain pretty much the entire time. If it wasn’t from my corns, which were sending shooting pains down my toes, it was my back, that was sending shooting pains down my spine. And then, depending on the day, throw in some ankle pain, shin splints, aching knees or aching hips. There was always something that was hurting!

Towards the end, my back pain became so severe that I considered sending my backpack ahead, like many pilgrims do, but when I started considering it, I just didn’t end up passing a town big enough to have a store that sold decent daypacks (I’d still have to carry my own water, a change of shoes, rain gear, my camera, some snacks, etc).

But while my pain was often excruciating, I am still incredibly grateful that I didn’t have a single blister the entire way and that I was never forced to take the bus or take a rest day because I wasn’t able to walk. I was surprised to see how many people actually did NOT finish the Camino because their bodies didn’t allow it, which is why I feel like I can’t complain all that much about the physical strains.dani beat

Losing stuff

Of course this month can’t go by without me losing something – as usual. On the Camino I was shocked though that I lost two very important things right at the beginning: my headphones on the second day (after losing a pair of headphones last month, I luckily had the foresight to pack an extra pair!), and my reusable water bottle on the third day. Oh well! The good news is that I think these two losses made me more careful about my belongings and I always checked thoroughly before leaving a place after that – and didn’t lose anything else all month.

dani camino de santiago
Happy about the second pair of headphones I packed!

Struggling as a vegetarian

Spain was the first country I ever moved to, but I did not remember it being so hard for vegetarians! I often struggled finding healthy, nutritious food, something that I wasn’t expecting. Even many of the meat eaters were complaining that the food was mediocre, and most of the time I just didn’t feel I had as much energy as I needed for these long days of walking.

It made me realize how spoiled I am in New York, with my daily green smoothies (I only came across spinach twice this entire month!), quinoa (barely to be found along the Camino), wholegrain bread and all the veggies that make up my diet.

omelette baguette
Where are the veggies??

In Spain, there’s no wholegrain bread to be found outside the big cities. When I pick up a sandwich in Germany, it’s layered with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs and cheese (on wholegrain bread). In Spain, when I ordered a cheese sandwich, it was always served on white bread, and it didn’t even have tomatoes on it, let alone some lettuce – often not even some sort of butter or mayonnaise or any other kind of sandwich spread, making it a very dry and very boring eating experience.The sweet breakfasts (croissants, white toast with jam, or cake) also didn’t fuel me as the Skyr with granola and banana breakfasts I am used to, which are loaded with protein, fiber and potassium. I was hungry barely two hours after eating a cake breakfast – where’s the protein?

The vegetarian options on the pilgrim’s menu, which is offered for dinner in many of the albergues (pilgrims hostels), were disappointing too. Often I got French fries with a couple of fried eggs, not even with a side of salad. Or pasta with ‘red sauce’ – I can’t even call it tomato sauce because it tasted more like ketchup.

For vegans, the Camino is even harder, and I met one vegan who went vegetarian for the duration of the walk because he wasn’t able to find enough fueling vegan food.

I am sure that big cities like Madrid and Barcelona have a thriving vegan and vegetarian scene, but the small villages you stop in during the Camino often don’t even have a grocery store. Whenever we hit a big city like Leon or Burgos, we went to the supermarket and gorged on broccoli, hummus, avocado and wholegrain bread. It makes such a difference to start your day with avocados and whole grains!

I felt like most of the month I was just stuffing myself with empty calories, way too much sugar, and barely any memorable meals, which I’ve found frustrating.

Camino de Santiago Cakes
Even for me it was too much cake.

Challenges

The list of challenges this month was long (and I guess the food struggles above could count as a challenge, too), but let’s look back at the challenges I predicted for September:

Weight loss

I am pretty sure that I am the only person on the Camino who didn’t lose any weight ☹ Especially during the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how much weight they’ve lost during the walk. I, on the other hand, feel bloated, haven’t done any abs workouts since leaving my sister’s house for Berlin over a month ago, and my tummy seems humongous to me.

My diet here has been so much unhealthier than my usual diet, as I explained above. I never eat white bread, for example, which I’ve eaten every single day here (what’s wrong with offering whole-grain bread Spain?!), and while I do love cake, even I got tired of it at some point, especially when we walked through a part of Spain where the only things available for breakfast were empanadas with meat or tuna – or cake. Adding to the croissants and cake I’ve consumed, the chocolate we bought to give us some energy during short breaks, and the wine that was freely flowing every night, and you can see how I, despite walking every single day, didn’t lose a single pound.

tortilla espanola
I blame it on all the greasy Spanish omelettes

Writing challenge

While I did write every day on the Camino, I didn’t end up doing as much writing for myself as I thought I would. I wrote a lot for freelance clients, but I often struggled putting everything I experienced in a day into words, and I still have a hard time verbalizing the extraordinary experience that is the Camino. Maybe it’ll be easier to do that when I am looking back at it from a distance, after the hike ends.

what are your dreams camino de santiago
Writing down our dreams in Las Herrerias

Work-hike-balance

My third challenge for the month, finding a good work-hike-balance, was actually the easiest challenge! I had talked to some people who also work online who had walked the Camino previously, and not everyone recommended that I bring my laptop to work during the walk. But after returning to 1,000 emails in my inbox after ten days offline in Cuba earlier this year, there was no way I could take a month off of work.

Luckily, it turned out that it wasn’t much of a challenge to find a good work-hike-balance. There were only a few days throughout the entire month when I was too exhausted to do any work, and I often surprised myself how much work I was able to get done while walking through Spain, even after a day of hiking. More than anything, it turned out to be a question of discipline – to sit down in front of my laptop instead of joining my fellow hikers for a post-hike glass of wine, or two.. or three.

And not only did I manage to fit in a lot of work time – I also had time to read a book and plenty of longreads I’d saved in my Pocket app, I made friends and socialized, and I stayed in touch with family and friends. I consciously opted against buying a local SIM card for my phone so that I wouldn’t be connected at all times, since the Camino was also supposed to be a time to allow me to disconnect and not check my work emails or social media during every little break I took.

I am glad I opted against it, since that left me with plenty of offline time in hostels where the Wi-Fi only reached public areas, forcing me to read my book instead of just scrolling through my Instagram and Facebook feeds.camino de santiago working digital nomad office

Other happenings

The world beyond the Camino

Despite being on the Camino, I never lost touch with the ‘outside world’. There were so many things going on this month – terrible things happening. First, hurricane Irma hit, then Maria destroyed Puerto Rico, and one of my favorite cities in the world, Mexico City, got hit hard by an earthquake. The way the Spanish government handled the referendum was shocking to watch, and of course widely broadcast throughout Spain as we walked from province to province.

I am not going into all the other political happenings around the globe that upset me – no matter how much I want to spend time focusing on myself, I am never able to shut out the world I live in. It was heartbreaking to see the images of people getting beaten up by the police, and of cities and entire regions being destroyed by forces of nature.

I will donate money as soon as I finish the Camino, and if you want to do the same, here are some good resources:

The New York Times put together a list of organizations to donate to if you want to help the earthquake victims in Mexico City, as well as a great guide of things to consider before you donate money:

Vox put together a list of organizations that help both earthquake and hurricane victims

Time Magazine published a list of organizations to donate to help Puerto Rico.dani o cebreiro camino de santiago

Shout-Outs & Mentions

I got a couple of awesome shout-outs this month – the Hostelworld blog included me in their list of Instagram accounts worth following (you can check out a bunch of my Camino pictures and stories on my Instagram here), and Feedspot.com included me in two of their Best 100 Blogs lists, on #16 and #20:

What’s next for me

Most importantly, I want to finish the Camino, of course! A few more days of walking through Spain until I reach Santiago de Compostela. From there, I’ll return to Germany to see my family again – my nieces and nephew in particular – because who knows when I’ll see them again!

Since I’ve still got some time left before returning to the U.S. (from where I’ll leave on my next grand travel adventure in November!), I decided to add another country to my three months in Europe – I’ll be returning to one of my favorite places, but to be honest, I have two options, and I am a still undecided which one I’ll go for. #nomadproblems!Camino de Santiago 2017

 

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