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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 shitty?

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. Yes, spoiler alert – 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 sudden 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 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 pricey 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, giddy with excitement, 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 saw that my immigrant visa was issued on 20 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 was 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, he 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’d be flying 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 won the Green Card twelve months prior, I pictured myself starting this fabulous New York life, finally get an apartment, being able to pick up an additional job to support my meager freelance income, and fully enjoy the city. 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 simply keep traveling.

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: This meant I’d 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 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, nor did I find myself at 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 came into my life 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 would have 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 added experiences – tours and activities offered by local hosts. Competition to get an experience accepted by them is fierce, 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 down 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 welcome curve ball 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 😉

airbnb experience
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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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: August 2017 Edition

august 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

I spent the month between the two cities in Germany where my family lives, followed by a few days in Berlin, from where I flew down to Toulouse, France. I am writing this now in a small town deep in the Pyrenees Mountains, not far from the border with Spain.august 2017 germany

What I’ve Been up to

I had ambitious plans for my month in Germany, including visiting friends all across the country, like I usually do – but I ended up traveling much less than normal. My friend in Dusseldorf moved back to my hometown, my friends in Munich had planned a visit to their families not far from where my sister lives which saved me from making those trips. The only Germany-based friend I didn’t get to see was my friend Jo who I visited in Cologne when I was in Germany last summer.

In the end, I didn’t even spend as much time in Berlin as I thought I would, because my sister needed help with the new baby and was thankful for the support, and I felt unwell for a few days. All in all, August ended up being all about planning my next big adventure (more on this in What’s Next For Me) and about my family.

family timeConsidering how little time I get to spend with my siblings and the kids, I always soak up every little moment I get with them. I cooked, I baked (a lot!), and I caught up with old friends. I played with my nephew and even took him on his first ever train ride to spend a weekend with his cousins, at the same time giving my sister some much needed toddler-free time. I made time for long runs with Odie, and after all of this, I treated myself to some city time in Berlin before I will embark on month of hiking – more on that below.

What Went Right

Being able to meet my new niece

The main reason for my visit home was to meet my brand new niece Louisa, who was only five weeks old when I got to hold her for the first time. There’s not a day that goes by in which I am not incredibly grateful that my lifestyle allows me to go and spend an entire month with my family when I want to. Had I started a full-time job in New York in May, I would’ve earned a mere three vacation days by August, making the trip to Germany (18 hours door to door) not even worth it. Opting for a job with flexible working hours in addition to keeping my freelance clients and this little website does mean earning considerably less money, yes, but it also means that I am still location independent and don’t have to rely on vacation days. Or as I was quoted in this article in a German magazine last month: “My freedom is the most important thing for me.dani bild der frauStarting the niece project

While meeting my newest niece was one reason for my visit home, celebrating my oldest niece’s first day of school was the other important reason for me to fly

lotti

to Germany (yes, I admit: getting me out of New York during the summer, my favorite time there, took some convincing!). In Germany, the first day of actual school – not kindergarten or pre-school, but the first day of a kid’s 12-year academic career (pre-uni) – is reason for a grand celebration. The entire family gets together to send the child off on his/her first day at school, to learn to read, write, do calculus, and all the fun stuff that follows later on.

This is, of course, also an occasion for a ridiculous amount of gifts, traditionally packed into ‘sugar cones’, which hold lots of candy in addition to pencils, rulers and paint boxes (hence the name). I decided that instead of adding another material gift, I’d use this occasion to start my niece’s travel fund. Ever since I first read about the niece project my friend and fellow travel blogger Sherry came up with, I wanted to start my own niece project. Sherry has taken all of her nieces on trips they could choose for themselves when they turned 16, and I want to do the same with my nieces and nephew. Since I’ll have to save quite a bit of money for these trips (I have three nieces and one nephew now), I wanted to start early. Even though the first niece trip is still ten or maybe even eleven years away, I am already excited to travel with them and to see which countries they pick for their trip.

This has me wonder if I’ll still be running Globetrottergirls then – but if I am, I’ll tell you all about these trips, of course. I loved taking my friend Shannon’s niece Anna around New York City for a week a couple of years ago – a teaser of sorts for my own niece trips.

A quick trip to Berlin

I don’t think there has ever been a trip to Berlin that didn’t make my ‘Favorite Moments’ or ‘Highlightsof the month. And even though this one was a short one, there was still enough time to catch up with friends, eat the food I have to eat every time I’m in Berlin (a veggie kebab and Vietnamese), and marvel at some new street art.Berlin

Visiting France

I’ve been to France six or seven times, but it’s been a few years since my last visit. And I honestly forgot just how much I like France! Not just for the baguettes, crepes, eclairs, wine and cheese – I also like French people and the cities are always gorgeous. Paris is of course my favorite, but I was happy to have been able to explore a city new to me on this trip, Toulouse, which was lovely, and the Midi-Pyrenees region, where my hike starts and which is stunningly beautiful. This short trip to France makes me want to spend more time in here, visiting places like the Loire Valley, Bordeaux and Lyon, which I’ve had on my travel wish list for a while (I’ll get to them eventually.)

France

What Went Wrong

The usual: Losing stuff

And in my usual category of losing stuff: On the way from New York to Germany, I somehow lost my favorite pair of headphones – my wireless running headphones – on one of the planes. I still don’t know how I even lost them. Well, at least these weren’t $300 headphones like the last ones I left on a plane.germany august 2017

Traveling to France without my main credit card

Of course I couldn’t travel to France without forgetting something very important – in this case my brand new credit card. I barely use my German credit card, but because I wasn’t able to get a U.S. credit card yet (hello second-class immigrant!) I put some money in my German account for this trip. Only recently did I discover that the credit card had actually expired. Long story short – after having the bank send a new one to my mom’s house and picking it up there the night before leaving on my trip (talk about timing – it had arrived just before I was leaving) I managed to leave the card at my sister’s house, along with my British credit card. This means I have only my British bank card on me right now, and I can only hope that nothing goes wrong until I get back to Germany in October.

Getting ill

Less than a week before I was supposed to leave for Berlin, I started feeling terrible: headaches, fatigue, and overall weakness. When I still felt like sh*t 24 hours after it started, I began to doubt my ability to go on the 500 mile hike I’d planned for September. Luckily, I felt better on the third day, but this caused me to postpone my trip to Berlin and caused me to stress over work that I didn’t get done while I was feeling unwell. I rarely get ill, and this was a good reminder to not take my good health for granted.

august 2017 germany and france
Sick from too much cake?

September Challenges

1 My monthly challenge

After my utterly disappointing failure in my July challenge (write at least 750 words per day) I decided to take a break from my monthly challenges in August (also because I knew I wouldn’t have much time for a challenge). But now I am ready for another challenge, and I’m thinking another daily writing challenge, which I hope will be easier in September when I will have plenty of time to be introspective and pensive. Let’s see how it goes this time around – I hope that the little notebook my friend Rotem gave me for this trip will inspire me to write every day.

2 Losing weight

I’ll admit it: I ate way too much cake last month. And too much bread, and too much chocolate. Whenever I get to Germany, I tend to go overboard with all the things I miss while I’m abroad, and then I eat them all at once while I’m there. This time around, it wasn’t any different. I think I may even have eaten more than usual because I read that everyone loses weight on the Camino. So let’s hope that’s true and that I’ll lose the 5 kilos I gained over the past month.

cakes
I ate pieces of all of these cakes. On the same day. Self control? Nope, not me.

3 Work-hike-balance

One thing that differentiates me from all the other hikers? I am not solely on a hiking trip – I have to fit in some work time as well. Sadly, I am financially not in a position to take an entire month off (especially considering I’ll be returning to NYC in October), which is why I am bringing my laptop on the hike and have to fit in a couple of hours work every day. It won’t be easy to pull out my laptop after 20 miles/30 kilometers of hiking, but I’ll have to be disciplined and just do it. I’ll report back next month how this went, as well as my progress for challenge #2.

Other Happenings

Join my travel chat on Pepo!

I’ve been very active on the Pepo app last month, talking about all sorts of travel-related things: Off-the-beaten path places in Barcelona, the Bronx and Brooklyn, how to get the most out of Google Flights, my favorite city in Chile and why you should go there, budget tips for Iceland, where to head for the best views over Manhattan, how to save money for travel, advice for anyone visiting Oktoberfest, what’s important to know when buying travel insurance, my favorite flight deal website, the best street food I’ve had on my travels and where you can get it, my top five pizzas in New York, and a bunch of other things. I’d love for you to join my Pepo channel, and of course you can ask me anything you like!

What’s next for me

A 500-mile walk

I will be walking all of September – every day, for six to eight hours. Typing these words makes me feel like I’m crazy, and I probably am, but then there are hundreds – if not thousands – of pilgrims who set off to do exactly this every single day. I will be walking the historic Camino De Santiago which begins in the French Pyrenees and ends in the town of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, not far from the Atlantic Ocean. If you have been following me for a while, you may remember that I have been wanting to do this walk since 2014, but somehow timing never worked out.

And I didn’t think I was going to do it this year – in fact, I thought I was going to head to India for a travel conference in September, which would’ve been the perfect excuse to fly up to Nepal afterwards to finally hike the Annapurna Circuit, another long-distance hike I’ve been wanting to do for a while now.When I didn’t hear from the conference organizers for a while after they invited me to the conference in the spring, I started to think about alternative trips I could take, in case the conference would be canceled, and the Camino popped into my head right away. I’d be in Europe, and September is one of the two best months to walk it (the other month is May). I consulted Rome2Rio about how I’d even get to the tiny town of Saint Jean Pied de Port, where the Camino starts, and when the website showed me a flight to Toulouse for only $30, I bought it right away, even before the conference was canceled. Losing $30 wouldn’t hurt, and I’d have a Plan B mapped out.

And sure enough, the conference was cancelled in July, and I frantically started buying equipment for my five-week hike: new hiking boots, a new rain jacket, sock liners, trail mix, plenty of Compeed band aids, and all sorts of stuff that a long-distance hiker needs.

I don’t feel prepared at all (my last hike was climbing Schunemunk Mountain in July to break in my new hiking shoes – and that was my only hike all summer!), and I am afraid I may not make it very far, but here I am, in Saint Jean Pied de Port, surrounded by pilgrims who will all set off with me tomorrow to Santiago De Compostela. By the time I will write my next update I won’t even have reached the final destination of the hike – but I hope it’ll come from somewhere near the end, and that I will still be walking. Wish me luck!

You can follow my hike in real time on Snapchat: mariposa2711

august thuringia

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: July 2017 Edition

july 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

I finally left New York City! I spent two weekends out of town: the first weekend I went on a hiking trip upstate, and then I went to Long Island for some beach time. After two months of no travel, it felt great to go on these two little adventures – as well as planning my big adventure that I just left  the U.S. for. Yes, I’m traveling again, and I won’t be back in New York for quite some time.. but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look back at July first.July 2017 New York

What I’ve Been up to

July was the month of hosting friends. Three different friends, all of whom I met during different stages of my travels, visited New York this month and I got to spend some quality time with all of them, as well as lots of time spent with old friends I made in New York.

Knowing that July was going to be my last month in the city and my last month of summer in New York, I wanted to make the most of it, which meant I cut down on work and spent more time frolicking around the city. Scoring housesitting gigs for the entire month – i.e. not paying rent in July – was a deciding factor in this, and I am incredibly grateful that I get to enjoy months like this, especially in New York, where everything is so expensive. My housesits brought me to apartments near Central Park and Cobble Hill, one of my favorite areas of Brooklyn – and this was my fifth time housesitting in this quaint neighborhood! Both housesits were perfectly located – one close to Central Park and one close to Brooklyn Bridge Park – to get me back into a daily running routine after my month of yoga in June which left me with less time for running.

July 2017 nyc

I went to outdoor movies, several picnics in the parks, had rooftop breakfasts and rooftop drinks, covered hundreds of miles on my bike, enjoyed Sunday brunches, went back to the Whitney Museum for the first time in two years, stuffed myself at several food markets, went to see a pop-up art installation in Prospect Park’s Rose Garden, went on a brewery crawl and to a speakeasy bar, checked out new street art in Bushwick, took the aerial tram to Roosevelt Island for the first time in two years, and went to another yoga in the park, inspired by last month’s yoga challenge.

I even crossed two classic NYC summer activities I hadn’t done yet off my ‘to-do-list’: the Friday fireworks in Coney Island and rowing on the lake in Central Park! And then I must have gained about twelve pounds by gorging on all my favorite NYC treats: pizza from Artichoke Basille, cookies from Levain Bakery, banana bread pudding from Magnolia Bakery, Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie, Doughnut Plant AND Dough donuts, tacos at Oaxaca, to name just a few. I feel like I need to go on a diet after a month of indulging in too much good food, craft beer and ice cream.July highlights

Not the entire month was spent partaking in fun activities though – I also managed to win a new freelance writing client, did extensive research for my new business venture (more on that below), worked in what I call my ‘New York day job’, grew my dog sitting side hustle further (after talking to several of my friends this month about how unhappy they were in their jobs, I appreciate more than ever that I get paid for things that I truly enjoy doing) and most importantly: booked and prepared for my next big adventure, which I will set off on at the end of August.New York City July 2017

July Highlights

A Hiking Trip Upstate

I’ve been wanting to go on a hiking trip for a while now, but scheduling an out-of-town trip with several people can be difficult. In the end, we pulled it off though, and I spent an awesome weekend upstate, staying at a friend’s house near the Hudson River and climbing Schunemunk Mountain. I also broke in my new hiking shoes which I’ll need for my next big adventure.Hiking Trip Upstate New York

Reunited with Lola

I have to admit that, after getting an annual membership for New York’s Citibike program right when I got back to the city at the end of April, I got a little lazy about getting my beloved bike Lola (see: Meeting Lola | June 2015) out of storage. New Citibike stations are being added all the time, and so it was easy to get around on Citibikes instead of having to use my own bike (and moving with it, because I moved way too often during the past few months and it’s already a pain in the b*tt to move all my stuff). But for my last month in the city, which I spent mainly in Brooklyn, it made sense to have my own bike because I was staying in several places without Citibikes and it was perfect cycling weather. It felt so good to have my Lola back, even though it was only for a few weeks, and we sure made the most of it – we rode hundreds of miles all over Brooklyn and Manhattan together.dani and lola

My First Trip to Long Island

The only time I ever spent on Long Island was actually spent on a small island off Long Island – Fire Island – where I finally went last summer after having it on my to-do-list for three years (but that’s still technically Long Island, right?). When my friend Erica, who recently moved to a seaside town out on Long Island, called friends from near and far to join her for a weekend of birthday debauchery, I finally had the perfect excuse to hop on a train headed east.

The weekend was nothing short of fabulous and the best part for me was that even though I brought my laptop, I ended up opening it exactly zero times. A completely work-free day has become such a rarity for me that this felt like a luxury.Long Island Weekend

Quality Time with Friends

I spent plenty of quality time with friends this month, and soaked it all in while I could, knowing that in August I wouldn’t get much ‘friends time’ – August will be all about being a super aunt, but more on that below.

From drawn out conversations during picnics in the park to juicy revelations during our hike upstate, to fun chats over boozy brunches, I was so happy to have visitors in town this month, all of whom I hadn’t seen since last year, some even longer. I bonded with new friends over cookies and coffee, even had a workout (friend) date this month, and took one friend on a bike ride around Brooklyn. I will miss my New York friends dearly, but I’ve already got so many things planned with them for when I get back that I’m already excited about returning to New York later this year!new york with friends

July Lowlights

I failed my 31-day writing challenge – big time. I only lasted five days into the month in which I was supposed to write at least 750 words every single day. I am extremely disappointed about this, but somehow I just didn’t have any words in me this month and even struggled to finish paid writing assignments. Funnily enough, I ‘hit a writing wall’ in July before – in 2015. Not sure if it’s New York or July, but I am going to have to re-do this challenge at some point this year – I hate failing.july 2017 writing

Other Happenings

I was featured in the August print edition of Diva Magazine, the UK’s leading lesbian magazine! I’m always super excited when I am featured in a print magazine, and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of it.

Another print shout-out came unexpectedly from Germany, where the leading women’s magazine, Bild der Frau, recycled an interview I did with them in 2016. They didn’t tell me about it, so it was a nice surprise when I found out about it through readers in Germany.

I was also interviewed for the popular Native Traveler show on Sirius XM Radio Canada, which dedicated a full episode to budget travel at the beginning of the month – you can listen to it here.
July 2017 highlights nyc

And last but not least I wanted to mention a new travel podcast in which host Keith Richard narrates the best stories from top travel bloggers. He read the story of my trek through the Colombian jungle to the Lost City, so if you prefer the audio version over the 3,200+ word written version, listen to it here.

In business-related news, I had a meeting about my new business venture which will hopefully launch in September. Since this is not 100% confirmed, I don’t want to get too excited just yet, but I will tell you all about it as soon as I know that the launch will go as planned. I can’t wait to share more about this, since preparing for this is what I spent most of my time on in July.July 2017 Highlights

What’s Next for me

I am writing this round-up on my flight from New York to Europe – after taking ten flights in the first 3.5 months of the year, it felt completely surreal to suddenly ‘sit still’ and not be hanging out at airports on a regular basis. Needless to say that I am stoked to find myself on a plane again.

Admittedly, I love summer in New York City so much that it took a very special reason for me to leave the city now… and this reason is my one-month old niece who I can’t wait to meet. August will mostly be spent with my family in my home country, but of course I can’t visit Germany without at least a few days in Berlin, and who knows what other additional trips will evolve over the next four weeks.

And this flight to Europe won’t be my only flight in August – I’ve already booked a flight to France for later this month from where I’ll be setting off on my next adventure… which I will talk about in more detail in my August round-up, but here’s a little hint: I will be walking A LOT in September! Can you guess where I am headed? 😉dani schunemunk mountain

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: June 2017 Edition

june 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

I crossed the bridges between Manhattan and Brooklyn countless times, but for the entire month, not once did I make it out of these two boroughs.June 2017 Manhattan and Brooklyn

What I’ve Been up to

After stressing myself way too much in May with work, immigration matters and trying to find a place to live, I decided to take things a little slower in June. I cut my work hours in favor of a new business pursuit (which I’m excited to tell you more about next month, but it hasn’t officially launched yet), and gave up on the apartment hunt since it was not only time consuming and frustrating, but it also didn’t look like I was going to even get a place I really liked.

I have to say that I was extremely lucky how everything came together for me in terms of sublets and housesits – so far. This month I’ve had several options and haven’t even had to share a place. Amazing!summer fun NYC 2017

One of the main reasons why I stopped looking for a place? Because it’s almost time for me to leave New York! Yes, that’s right, my 3.5 month travel break is nearly over, and I am getting ready for my next big trip.

Since I’ll be gone for several months, there was no point anyway to look for a permanent place now, which would’ve meant having to deal with finding a subletter, and hoping that the sublet goes well.. but this also means that when I get back to New York, I’ll have to start the apartment hunt over again. Oh, well.

On the topic of me leaving for my next trip: I can’t believe how fast my time in New York went by! I still feel like I just got here, and I am getting ready to leave again.. how is this possible?! I won’t be leaving for another month, but I know that July will fly by, too, considering all the things that are coming up (see below under What’s Next).New York June 2017

On to the highlights and lowlights of the month:

June Highlights

Louisa is here!

I wouldn’t necessarily leave New York in the height of summer, which is my favorite time of year here, but I’ve got a good reason to leave: I’ve been impatiently waiting for the arrival of my newest niece, and the wait is finally over! I couldn’t be more excited to meet her in early August when I fly to Germany to spend some time with my sister and my ever growing collection of nieces and nephews.

The day of her birth was very emotional for me – I always get insanely homesick when big events like this occur. And that’s why I’m grateful that I found a job here that allows me to leave for several months – I couldn’t even imagine being ‘trapped’ in an office job now that doesn’t allow me to take a month off (or longer), but sadly that’s the case for most of my American friends.louisaAnyway, welcoming Louisa into the family was definitely the highlight of the month.

Pride & Pride Brunch

In 2014 and 2015, the first two summers I spent in New York, I was lucky enough to attend my friends’ annual Pride Brunch, and when I had to travel to Germany last June to deal with my green card, I was devastated that I wouldn’t be able to attend (I still can’t get over the fact that I won permanent residency!! Who wins a visa?! Pretty much everyone I tell how I ended up here is astonished).

But this summer I was back in town for it and it was the perfect way to kick off an amazing Pride. After brunch, we headed over to the parade, and from there we went down to the West Village to join the celebrations. The weather was perfect, our group was great, and it seemed like half of New York City had come out to celebrate love equality.New York Pride 2017

The only dampener was that not a single one of my straight friends here in New York City came out for the event – which is funny considering how I am always assured just how much they’re supporting the LGBT community.

Sleepless in Seattle under the stars

One thing I love about New York City in the summer is all the free outdoor movies all over town, in parks, on rooftops, on the riverside. I don’t always find the right person to watch a movie with, or sometimes a movie I really want to see gets rained out, but when ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ was showing in Bryant Park, everything was perfect. I went with someone who loves cheesy romantic comedies just as much as I do, the weather was amazing, and we had a delicious picnic dinner in the grass.

It’s nights like this that always reaffirms my love for New York.bryant park movie

Summer fun galore

In addition to Pride, the Mermaid Parade (see below) and open-air movies, I feel like I made up for all the things I didn’t do last month. I enjoyed summer to the fullest, with the Metropolitan Opera in Brooklyn Bridge Park (the Philharmonics and the Met in the park are among my favorite summer events in New York), rooftop cocktails, picnics in the park, bike rides around the city, sunset runs and photo excursions.New York City June 2017

I took friends around my favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods, took my office outside whenever I could, hung out with an adorable pup, relived my Sonoma Wine trip at the Sonoma in the City New York – Taste of Sonoma event, went to a Goddess-themed birthday party, ate brunch in the sun and I even went to an outdoor yoga class (more on that below in Other Happenings).summer fun New York

June Lowlights

A rained out Mermaid Parade

I had to think long and hard about June mishaps & lowlights, and I guess that if this is the only thing that I can come up with after giving it good thought, I must have had a pretty good month!

And that being said: Even though we arrived in Coney Island during a torrential downpour, the rain eventually went away and the parade wasn’t completely ruined. And we used the time when it was raining to eat pizza at Totonno’s, one of New York’s iconic pizza spots, so I can’t really put this down as a lowlight when I really think about it. But I was looking forward to a super hot beach day, and that obviously didn’t happen.Mermaid Parade 2017

The Usual: Losing and Breaking Stuff

Of course I can’t go through a month without at least losing and breaking one thing. The biggest thing I lost this month? My friend’s gay Pride flag. I feel horrible about it, but obviously I’ll replace it.

And I wasn’t very lucky with my electronics in June: one of my chargers stopped working, my favorite pair of headphones broke, and most importantly: my beloved blender stopped working! This little blender was the first thing I bought in New York in 2014, and it traveled all over the U.S. with me. Seeing how much use it got, I guess it was expected to happen sooner or later, and I ordered the exact same one to replace it, because it did me such a good service over the past three years.summer 2017 new york

Other Happenings

My June challenge: Daily Yoga!

I did it! I made it through 30 days of yoga. Okay, I’ll be honest here: I fell asleep on two days I was supposed to do a bedtime yoga routine, but I made up for it by doing two different yoga routines the next day.

I even added another challenge on top of this challenge: I would attend a public yoga class before the end of the month. For someone like me, who hasn’t really ever done any yoga, this was a terrifying thought, and I waited until the very last week of the month to do it. And then I was still very self-conscious about my ability to do certain poses and my flexibility. To be able to escape should the class be too hard for me, I opted for a free outdoors class – luckily there are loads of them held every day in the summer, all over New York.

I chose a great class and was able to keep up with the routine, even though I’m still not as flexible as I’d like to be. But the one thing I learned from that class was that other people aren’t either!June Yoga Challenge

The overall take-away from this challenge? I don’t hate yoga anymore (it took me about two weeks to get to that point though) and I grew much more conscious of my breathing, my balance and my posture. I definitely want to continue practicing, and master some of the more difficult poses. I am not sure if I’ll ever be able to do SUP yoga, but this month has made me more curious about trying other yoga variations and I am happy that I changed my mind about something I felt strongly about – I really disliked yoga!

Another take-away was that getting my followers involved was really fun: when I announced my yoga challenge over on my Snapchat channel (mariposa2711), a bunch of my followers suggested their favorite yogis to me to get started and they kept cheering me on throughout the month, which was nice.

My July Challenge: Daily Writing

I was stuck this month, unsure what to challenge myself to do next (and again, getting my Snapchat ‘family’ involved), when about a week ago, it hit me: I need to get myself to write more. And what better way than to actually challenge myself to write more? After my frantic May during which I barely wrote anything, I tried to focus more on writing again this month, but I found it really difficult to get back into it. I am still unsure about the number of words I’ll challenge myself to write, but it’ll be between 750 and 1,000 words. It just so happens that I got a bunch of new freelance work, so doing this as a challenge will actually be pretty helpful.writing challenge

Work, work, work

As I already touched on above, I am in the process of launching a new business venture, and I moved from unpaid pet sitting gigs to getting paid for my dog sitting services which has been a nice unexpected extra income (but this is only a fun side gig). Scoring a bunch of new freelance writing gigs on top of this has made June my most lucrative month of the year so far! I hope this trend will continue throughout July since I won’t be able to work as much in August, when I leave on a big trip.

NYC June 2017
Of course there’s time to play, too!

What’s Next For Me

July is going to be my last month in NYC for a while… you didn’t really think I was going to be able to sit still for too long, did you? 😉 And July will be a super busy month, with my new writing challenge, lots of work, and not one, not two, but three different visitors stopping by! I am excited for all of them to get here, and all the cool things we’ll be doing. (There’ll be lots of eating…)

And at the end of July I’ll be packing up again for several months of travel, starting in Germany. I’ll share more on that and where I’ll head from there in my next round-up.June 2017 New York

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: May 2017 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

Even though I did not once leave the city limits of NYC this month, I feel like I’ve been traveling a lot! I may have physically arrived here, but the gypsy in me definitely hasn’t mentally arrived.. yet. And I think I know why: Because I haven’t stayed put anywhere for this long since summer 2014! Can you believe it? I was flabbergasted when I noticed it – it just hadn’t seemed to me like I was on the move all the time, but this ‘break’ that I am taking now, just over 3 months (I’m five weeks in now), is the longest I’ve stayed anywhere since August 2014, when I left New York after four months, with only two short getaways in between.

This got me reminiscing – but I’ll get into that in a moment. Back to gypsy-ing around New York: This month, I’ve lived in Astoria (Queens), Brooklyn Heights and Prospect Heights (Brooklyn), Chinatown (Manhattan), and right now, I am settling into my latest place in Bushwick (Brooklyn) – and no, this one is not permanent.New York Spring 2017

What I’ve been up to

It’s been quite a month, despite not leaving New York City in the past 31 days. I am still getting used to the pace of New York again, and if I’ll be able to get more than six hours sleep at some point next month, I’ll be a happy girl. I am already reminiscing about how much time I had for myself in Ecuador, only a couple of months ago. Time to read books, work out every day, maintain the blog, work on freelance projects and get them done on time, and having time to socialize and explore.

Here in New York, I barely find time to read anything anymore, I always find myself running somewhere because I’m always late. There’s too much going on all the time for my FOMO personality to be just like ‘Thanks but I think I’ll stay home tonight’. This has happened to me in previous years when I spent the summers in New York, and usually ended up feeling completely burned out. At least I know what’s coming 😉New York 2017

I’ve been upping my workload from working one job at the beginning of the month to working three jobs at the end of it. It’s a relief to know I’m making enough cash to not only get by, but to live comfortably in this expensive city, but as a friend of mine pointed out over drinks the other day ‘In New York City, you’ll always find yourself hustling. You never stop.‘ And oh how right he was! I have yet to say NO to paid work that is offered to me – so far, I’ve been saying YES to everything, because I am always paranoid I may run out of money.

Add to my daily hustle my efforts to stay in shape (more on that below), socializing, dating, looking for a place to stay, moving four times and dealing with immigration matters, I’ve not gotten much sleep (I passed out on my laptop three nights in a row) and I don’t even know where the month went.

Last week, when I walked down Fifth Avenue after picking up my first paycheck (Yes! I got a job! More on that below.), it hit me though: I am living my dream. I nearly burst into tears in the middle of a crowded Manhattan sidewalk when I had this realization. I had to sit down for a moment and take a deep breath. Is this really happening?, I asked myself. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I can legally work and live in New York now.Dani Spring 2017 New York

Every time I came here over the past few years, my stay had an end date, was limited. And every time, I asked myself how I’d be able to extend my stay, how I’d be able to make New York a more permanent base. Even all the way back in the summer of 2014, when I first came to New York by myself, I already posted:

I just love this city and there’s at least one moment every day when I try to figure out how I’ll be able to spend more than just a couple of months here – every year! (I’ve got some ideas though…) – May 2014 – read the full post here

and:

I am still in New York, something I hadn’t planned at all when I boarded my flight to JFK in May. It only took me about two days to realize I would want to stay longer – even though my time in New York started with a disaster. (July 2014read the full Life Lately here – my first Life Lately ever!)New York City Spring 2017

And here I am, a mere three years later, having figured out a way to make this dream come true – or actually, not even having to figure it out, but to simply be granted permanent residency (remember, I won a green card?). I still can’t believe how lucky I am.

The whole thing still feels so surreal to me, even over a year after opening the email that would change the course of my entire life. I do not take any of this for granted – every day I am grateful to whoever was looking out for me last spring when I needed to make the decision of where to settle, having nearly given up on the dream to be able to move to New York.

And in spite of the fact that I am still struggling with a few immigration-related issues (see What Went Right and What Went Wrong below), I just can’t see myself being anywhere else but New York. I am still as much in love with this city as I’ve always been, regardless of all the obstacles that are being placed in my way at the moment.

While I’ve been spending way too much time working, running (see under ‘Other Happenings’ below) and commuting, I did have a number of memorable moments this month. Highlights included a cherry blossom photo shoot with my friend Kristin, a couple of travel meet-ups, street art tours around Bushwick, several bridge runs across the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge (my favorite route, especially at sunset), bar hopping nights, my favorite pizza, boozy brunches and finding new cocktail bars. It has also been great to catch up with all my friends here, some of whom I hadn’t seen since last August.Spring blossom photo shoot

Let’s take a look at what went right and what went wrong in May:

What Went Right

I Found A Job!

Not only did I find a job, but I found the perfect job for me, and it happened to be the first job I interviewed for (and consequently the last one). I wasn’t sure how easy or difficult it would be to find a job, especially after having been self-employed for over seven years and not having had any job interviews in nearly ten years, but somehow it all worked out.

I am so happy about how easy the job hunt was and love having colleagues again (blogging and writing can be quite solitary, my friends!) and a regular paycheck doesn’t hurt either. I was ecstatic when I went to pick up my first paycheck last week… even though my excitement quickly faded when I saw the amount that was taken out for taxes… but that’s another story. I also got a side gig, and albeit that one was more for fun than for the money, it’s been quite challenging to juggle all three plus the blog and still be able to enjoy New York and/or have a social life – more on that below.

Manhattan
I took these pictures on my way to and from work in Midtown Manhattan

Sidenote: It makes me chuckle that the highlight of my month was finding a job, something that I’d been dreading for years!

What Went Wrong

I’m still homeless

I may have found a job faster than expected, but I am still struggling to find a living situation that I’m happy with. When all the bureaucratic things I had to deal with as a brand new immigrant went super smooth at the beginning of the month, I was ecstatic. But then the reality of finding an apartment or even a room set in. As a foreigner without a bank account (which I have now), regular paycheck (can you see now why I had to get a job?) and credit score (I still don’t even know what that is but one owner told me he required ‘a score of 680’) it is pretty much impossible to find someone to rent you a place, unless you’re able to pay an entire 12-month lease upfront. Well, I can’t.

May flatmates
Some of my room mates this month

Add to that the insane competition here in New York, the fact that if you want to do a police check on me I am non-existent thanks to my immigration status, I just started to get paychecks, my guarantors are overseas, and I am pretty much f*cked, if I may be blunt. And so I’ve been bouncing around from sublet to sublet with some pet sitting gigs thrown in, which meant I moved four times in the last month. Subletting is the way to go for now, and luckily I keep getting leads from friends for accommodation, so that I haven’t found myself stranded yet, but of course this is no long-term solution, and lugging my stuff around town constantly is really getting on my nerves.

Serious Blog Neglect

The above mentioned apartment hunt (seriously, for a good portion of the month I wasted hours every day on checking out rooms online or heading out to view a place), the new job, a ton of freelance work (which is good for my savings account) and my side gig, I’ve found myself completely overwhelmed with keeping up with the blog. I hope I’ll find a better balance between work, freelancing and blogging in June because I’ve got so much awesome content lined up that I’m eager to share with you, like highlights from Cuba and the Galapagos Islands.

Another iPhone Fail

I feel like I should just make this a monthly feature. My iPhone acted up again – and I had to visit Apple not once but twice, wasted hours at the genius bar as well as on the phone with them, and even the shop assistant had to admit that a six-month old phone shouldn’t act the way mine did (and I didn’t do anything to it – didn’t drop it or drown it!). That’s all I want to say about it – dealing with Apple to get my phone fixed was another time-consuming matter which I could’ve done without.

New York City 2017
At least the camera function of my iPhone never failed me…

Other Happenings

May Running Challenge

As part of my one-challenge-per-month-quest of 2017, my challenge for May was to run at least four miles per day. That’s 124 miles in total, and I just added up all the kilometers I ran this month in my running app: 202 kilometers, or 125.5 miles! I’ve reached my goal, but I will admit that I ended up skipping one day because it was pouring outside and by the time it stopped, I had dinner plans. I am feeling bad for skipping one day though and will add one more run to my challenge on 1 June to make it feel more complete, so I’ll add even more miles to my already achieved goal.

Of course I’ll still go on regular runs throughout the next month – I won’t stop after this. I will, however, cut back my miles because one thing I didn’t anticipate was just how time-consuming this challenge would be. In addition to the time these longer runs took, I did my daily exercises and often combined my run with an errand, meaning I’d take the train back (I ran eight kilometers to Trader Joe’s to stock up on my favorite foods from there, for example) and it was definitely more time intense than the quick 5k’s I usually run when I don’t have much time for a proper workout.

running shoes
Replacing my running shoes was long overdue… Definitely a highlight of this month!

But I stuck with it, even when it rained (one time I got completely soaked, one time when it rained I had a treadmill that I was able to use, but that was a good reminder of just how much I dislike running on treadmills). During my first week in my new job I had two 10-hour days and two 13-hour days – and I still went for a run after those long shifts which is miraculous to me.

Now, as for my next challenge, I’ve been thinking about it long and hard, and decided yet again not to do a month of no sugar, which I have yet to do this year, and already put off last month. I’ve got several barbecues and birthday parties coming up this month, I just know that at some point I won’t be able to resist a cupcake. I promised a friend to take her on a pizza tour, and on Friday is National Donut Day.. so, instead… I’m going to face my biggest nemesis: Yoga. Daily yoga for 30 consequent days – I’m curious to see if I won’t hate it anymore by the end of it (or if I hate it even more).

May Running Challenge
My runs brought me to some awesome street art in Bushwick, Prospect Park, McCarren Park Track in Williamsburg, and Downtown Manhattan’s grand buildings

I am running out of ideas for challenges – other than going vegan for a month and no sugar for a month, what can I still challenge myself to? If you have any ideas for me, please share them in the comments!

What’s Next For Me

I’ve got another full month in New York ahead of me! I’ve been talking to friends in other parts of the U.S. about coming to visit them, but honestly – I don’t want to leave! June in particular has so many things I love about summer in NYC coming up: The free Metropolitan Opera recitals in the park, Brooklyn Pride and New York Pride, free outdoor movies, birthday parties and rooftop barbecues. I may escape to Jersey for a weekend to visit a friend over there, but hopping between the five boroughs is enough travel for me at the moment 🙂New York May 2017

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: April 2017 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.

I can’t believe how much my life has changed in April… going from frolicking in the Caribbean to hectic city life in NYC, dealing with immigration bureaucracy, apartment hunting and job interviews! Trying to establish a life here has been more time-consuming than I thought, hence the delay of my monthly round-up, but let’s look back at April 2017:April 2017

Where I’ve been

April may have been the best month of 2017 so far. I spent the last thirty days between two of my favorite places in the world: Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula and New York City, and added my second new country of the year to the mix, which I happened to fall hard for: Cuba.Cuba

What I’ve been up to

I started the month in Valladolid, continuing my second Yucatán road trip. While I’d been to Valladolid in the past, the stops that followed where mostly new to me: Rio Lagartos with its pink lakes; Izamal, Mexico’s Yellow City; Campeche, a coastal town filled with pastel colored Spanish colonial buildings, and Bacalar with its spectacular lagoon, which I somehow blissfully ignored when I lived in nearby Xcalak a few years ago.Mexico 2017

Our next stops were two of my usual hangouts: Tulum and Playa del Carmen, where, for the first time in my three visits, I was unfortunate with the weather when we visited the Maya ruins (grey and cloudy skies), and in Playa, the typically stunning beach was plagued by algae.

Our final stop on the road trip was Cancun, where I never spent much time before but discovered that the city outside of the hotel zone is actually not that bad. You can see some of our adventures in this short clip:

After bidding farewell to my road tripping buddy Chrys, I dropped off our trusted rental car at the airport and hopped on a plane to Havana to meet up with my favorite travel companion in the world.

While our long-awaited Cuba trip didn’t start off as planned (see What Went Wrong below), once we started exploring this fascinating island, everything went pretty smooth and we both fell for Cuba quickly. Havana in particular is a place we were immediately smitten by, but the picturesque Spanish-colonial town of Trinidad and the gorgeous landscapes around Viñales also made for a fantastic introduction to Cuba – I say introduction because I have a feeling that I’ll be back soon.Cuba 2017

Re-adjusting to the extravagant, lavish New York City life after poverty-ridden Cuba was harder than I thought. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced culture shock to the extent I felt it this time. Going from nearly two weeks completely offline to being online again for 24 hours (and arriving to 1,000 emails), from slow-paced days to rushed, meet-up filled days in NYC – it was definitely overwhelming. I am still struggling to get used to the frenzied pace of New York again, with less sleep, more caffeine and a huge increase in my expenses (which tripled from what I was spending in Cuba and Mexico!).

new york coffee shop

Add to that my attempts to become an official, legal resident, now that I have my green card, has been more time-consuming and more frustrating than I anticipated. Since most of this is still a work in progress, I’ll give you a full rundown on everything I’ve done so far to become a true New Yorker (other than drinking seven times more coffee than anywhere else in the U.S.) in my next roundup.

Of course I’ve also been busy catching up with friends in New York and I’ve combined that with some cool things I wanted to check out in New York: an art installation in Green-Wood Cemetery, cherry blossoms in the parks, new street art, an overdue visit to the Oculus which I’d been wanting to see since it opened last year, and eating some of my favorite foods in the city: Doughnuts (Doughnut Plant and Dough), pizza (Roberta’s) and Brooklyn bagels, to name just a few things that I miss when I’m not here. Oh, and I even joined my first political protest (ever!) – and I’m sure it won’t be the last one.NYC

Here are the highlights and lowlights of the month:

What went right

Deciding to visit Cuba

I had already mentioned that Cuba wasn’t really in my travel plans for 2017, but as this trip began to take shape during the planning stage, the more excited I got. And it turned out to be the best travel decision I made this year (so far)! Cuba was such a fulfilling traveling experience – for one because I took a digital detox (see below), and also because the country itself was such an intriguing destination: filled with natural beauty, but also thought-provoking and challenging due to its Communist regime, which for me turned into a trip down memory lane.cuba April 2017

Road tripping with an almost stranger

When I spontaneously decided to road trip with my fellow digital nomad Chrys, who I’d talked to regularly online but only met once in real life, for a minute I had doubts if we’d travel well together (the past few years have shown me that I don’t travel well with everyone). But the road trip was such a blast and we got on surprisingly well. It’s always great for me to travel with someone who works online, too, and understands the needs for working hours, online time and planning a trip with a healthy work & travel balance. That Chrys happened to be a runner, cake lover and vegetarian like me were added bonuses.C&D

Not being homeless in New York

Whenever I returned to New York in the past three years, I knew where I’d be living prior to my arrival. Funnily enough, this time around, now that I’m finally a lawful ‘permanent resident’, I arrived not knowing where to stay after a splurge at The Row for a couple of nights. Just like it had happened in the past when I’d found myself in a similar situation, it was a housesit that saved me from having to sleep under the Brooklyn Bridge (or crash on a friend’s couch). I read the inquiry while I was still in the air, on my flight from Cuba to NYC, and managed to secure the sit before I even touched down in New York. While I am looking for a permanent place in New York, I am housesitting and AirBb-ing my way all around town, but I hope that by the time I’m writing my next monthly round-up, I’ll have found a place to call home.Cat Sitting NYC

Digital detox in Cuba

Oh, the dreaded digital detox. I guess I prepared at least somewhat for this by deliberately not buying a SIM card in both Colombia and Mexico, meaning I was only online when there was wifi, and not connected 24 hours, like I am here in the U.S. And guess what? I didn’t have the withdrawal symptoms my sister was sure I’d have, and I realized that I’m fine without checking my Instagram or Snapchat all the time. I could have bought a scratch-off wifi card (60 minutes for $5), but because I’d heard that the wifi is painfully slow, I decided not to bother and waste my precious time in Cuba by waiting for websites to load, while getting frustrated over the slow wifi. The only thing that I started worrying about after a while was my family and loved ones and if they were okay. My offline time in Cuba made me wonder how I can reduce my online time more, because I can literally waste hours on social media and feel like that whenever I have the distractions of Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp around, my productivity is terrible.the yellow envelope

What went wrong

Losing a day in Cuba

This was something beyond our control, but it put a major dampener on our trip: Miss G, coming to Cuba from NYC, missed her connecting flight in Atlanta, because the plane from New York was delayed due to engine problems. Until that day, I’d never experienced the disappointment of waiting for someone at the airport and the person not showing up. The situation was made even more complicated by the fact that this being Cuba, I had no wifi and no way to find out what had happened until I left the airport, drove into Havana, and found a wifi scratch card (which took me two hours to find). Luckily, she arrived the next day on the same flight, but it did cost us a precious day in Havana. I could have enjoyed the day on my own, of course, but I waited at the airport for hours, hoping she’d still walk out of the gate, and by the time I had checked into our Airbnb, gone out in search of a wifi card, and finally found one, it was 8 o’clock in the evening.April 2017 Cuba

Losing stuff

It seems like no matter how hard I try, I can’t go a month without losing at least one thing. This month came with two major losses – I left a fairly new iPhone charger plugged into the wall in our Airbnb in Havana, and in New York, I left my brand new spring jacket in the basket of a Citibike (New York’s shared bicycles). Even though I went back to the bike station as soon as I realized I had left the jacket on the bike, by the time I got to there, the bike had already been taken out by somebody else and the jacket was gone.

no jacket dani
Who needs a jacket anyway…

Feeling Overwhelmed

While the digital detox in Cuba felt amazing at the time, and was probably good for me, the positive effects of it wore off in no time: I arrived in New York to 1,000 emails across my four email inboxes, causing me anxiety straight away. After having pulled an all-nighter before flying to Cuba in order to cope with my workload before going offline, I stayed up until 5.30am when I got to NYC to work my way through all my emails and react to the most urgent ones. I’ve felt tired and overwhelmed ever since, because, in addition to my usual workload, I have been trying to deal with all the bureaucratic stuff that comes with being an immigrant, from mundane things such as opening a bank account and getting an ID to more complicated things like finding a place to stay (which is nearly impossible for a foreigner without credit history and a steady pay check) and trying to figure out the tax system (please send help). That’s why it has been fairly quiet on the blog in April, but I hope I’ll get back to my regular posting schedule in May because I have a ton of content from Ecuador and Cuba that I’m excited to share with you.

Beach Mexico
Take me back to these blissful beach days!

Other happenings

Features and shout-outs

Here are some of the articles I’ve written or contributed to in the past few weeks:

what i've been up to

The reading challenge fail

Well, I don’t know what made me think I had a good chance of finishing four books in April, or even the slightest chance, because now all I can think is: what was I thinking…, setting myself up for another month of failure (remember, I didn’t quite make it through NoChocolateMarch). Instead of spending hours reading in Cuba, I was too tired to read more than a few pages on most nights. Our sightseeing schedule was just too crazy. That said, I have only gotten up to the second book of the Neapolitan Novels but I’ve enjoyed them very much and will make an effort to read more to finish all four books. This goes along with my quest for less time online – instead of scrolling through Instagram pictures before I go to sleep, I want to get back into the habit of reading every night.

what i did instead of reading
What I did instead of reading…

Originally I had planned to cut out sugar in May, but since I need a success after two consecutive fails, I decided to change it up and challenge myself to run every day for the next 31 days. Since this might be too easy (I run pretty much every day anyway) I made this challenge a little harder by having to run at least 4 miles, because whenever I feel lazy, I only run 5k, but now I have to run 6.55 miles every day.

What’s next for me

Seven countries in four months – the first third of 2017 has involved so much travel that I am looking forward to a month of sitting still. Of course I won’t be sitting around all that much, considering I’m in New York and there’s always something going on, and even in that short time that I’ve been back I’ve found myself exhausted from trying to fit in too much with too little sleep. Anyway, since I barely spent any time in NYC last year I am excited to be back in my favorite city in the world and am looking forward to eating my way around town, enjoying spring, checking out new places and catching up with friends.April 2017 roundup

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: March 2017 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

Let’s start with where I am right now: in Mexico! I started the month in Ecuador, assuming that’s where I would also end it, but as so often, my plans changed completely (throwback to March of last year when I started the month in Colombia and ended in Mexico, too – also completely unexpectedly.)

Three countries, and twelve different beds. I thought this would be a slow travel month with a week in each place, but once I made the decision to leave Ecuador early, I sped up my travels to still see all the places I wanted to visit.March 2017 travels

So how did I end up in Mexico?

After my trip to the Galápagos Islands, I spent a few days in Guayaquil followed by a week on Ecuador’s coast. I noticed that while I didn’t have a terrible time, I also didn’t love anywhere I’d been so far in Ecuador – with the exception of the Galápagos Islands. Quito was meh, Guayaquil was nothing special, and the beaches were only okay (I know, I am spoiled!). I had planned to spend all of March in Ecuador before flying to Central America in early April to meet up with one of my favorite people in the world for another epic road trip together. But did I really need to spend all of March in Ecuador? I started to look into alternatives while starting to plan our Costa Rica road trip. And nothing came together the way I had hoped.

Flights to Costa Rica were outrageously expensive – both from the States and from South America. I was unsure if I should head south to Peru or north to Colombia. I wondered if we should even travel to Costa Rica given the challenging travel planning, also considering it’d be during Semana Santa, Easter Week, which happens to be one of the busiest travel weeks in Latin America.

I was frustrated and started to look into other destinations. Maybe a quick tour of the southern Yucatán in Mexico combined with island hopping in Belize and the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala? Maybe Nicaragua? Or island hopping in the Caribbean? No matter what I looked into, nothing worked out with the dates for our vacation. And then, when I was ready to give up, my eyes fell on a little island that has been on my radar for years: Cuba.

March 2017 pictures
March 2017: Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico

Twice on my travels when I was in Cancun, I was ready to fly over there, in 2010 and then again in 2012, but something always held us back (Americans weren’t allowed to travel to Cuba back then, making it a bit more risky for my partner at the time). I checked flights and found a great deal, now all I needed was Miss G’s okay. “How about Cuba?”, I texted her. “Are you kidding me?”, she replied, “Cuba would be amazing!”. I booked her flights the same day, and from South America, flights to Cuba usually go through Cancun. Once I knew I was going to have to fly to Cancun, there was no way I wasn’t going to add on some time in Mexico. After all, the Yucatan Peninsula is one of my favorite places in the world!

A friend of mine, who is currently living in Mexico City, was also in need of a change of scenery and decided to join me in the Yucatan. I assumed we’d rent a place in Tulum or Akumal and just enjoy the beaches and cenotes in the area, but somehow our plans evolved into a road trip. Yes, another Yucatan road trip! This time, I’ll get to explore the places I haven’t made it to yet, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Mexico 2017
Mexico!

I happened to find a great deal to Mexico from Colombia, which gave me the perfect excuse to head north from Ecuador and to visit a few places in Southern Colombia which I missed last year, when I only made it as far south as Bogota. After spending the first three weeks of the month in Ecuador, I crossed the border into Colombia for a whirlwind tour of Ipiales, Pasto, Popayan and Cali. I’ll tell you more about this trip shortly, but it felt so good to be back in Colombia – exactly one year after leaving this gorgeous country.

For a detailed recap of this month, I let you check out the Polaroids Of The Week of the past four weeks:

March 2017

What went right 

Surviving risky adventures in Baños

The thing about adventure activities in South America? They may be ridiculously cheap, but they’re often not subject to safety regulations of the same standard we are used to in Europe or the US. And sure enough, I heard of a tourist drowning during a rafting trip, several tourists getting severely injured when a cable car dropped into the river, and too many accidents to count on the popular bike route visiting the waterfalls in the area (which also happens to be a main road into Ecuador’s jungle region – with lots of trucks and buses!). Dangling from a thin rope over a raging waterfall? Or dangling over the edge of a cliff on a swing, without any safety precautions? Jumping off of a bridge for $20? Ziplining over canyons? Paragliding? Baños is the dream place of every adrenaline junkie, with enough adventure activities to keep you busy for weeks.

Even though I was afraid I might break a limb or hurt myself in another way, I took my chances and went full-on adventure in Baños. I went canyoning ($25), overcame my fear of heights and swung on the ‘swing at the end of the world’ ($1), I cycled down a winding road next to a gaping gorge ($7 for the bike rental), went rafting ($25) and had I had more time, I’d have probably thrown myself off of a mountaintop (with a paraglide attached to me).

Back in Quito, I went on a mountain bike tour of Cotopaxi volcano (the second highest active volcano in all of South America). This didn’t go as planned though – see below under What Went Wrong.
adventures in banos
Visiting Las Lajas 

To make a long story short: I’ve wanted to visit Las Lajas since 2010 and somehow never made it there (I’ll share the long version of the story in this week’s Polaroid). Until now! This was the main reason I added the whirlwind tour of southern Colombia to my itinerary. I knew I wanted to visit Otavalo in the north of Ecuador, about three hours from the border.. and Las Lajas is just across the border in Colombia. Would I ever make it there, if not now? I doubt it. I was over the moon when I finally stood in front of the stunning church that is built inside the canyon of the Guáitara River.

The church was built in Gothic Revival style between 1916 and 1949, and of course there’s a reason why it was built in this rather remote and unusual setting, but I am sharing those details in this week’s Polaroid: The Stunning Las Lajas Sanctuary in Colombia.

While some destinations I’ve dreamed of visiting for years have not lived up to my expectations, this was definitely one of the times where my expectations were not just met, but exceeded. I spent about an hour exploring the church and the surrounding canyon, which is worth a visit in itself. Seeing Las Lajas already made the Colombia detour worth it for me!
Las Lajas

What went wrong 

A cyber-attack and going way over my budget

Of course this month couldn’t go by without some business-related stress. First, my hosting company shut down my website for 48 hours. Only after spending $1,200 (typing this number still makes me tear up) I was able to get it back up. These two days caused me so much mental stress, ideally I’d like to block them out of my memory. The site is back up now, and I am broke.

As if this wasn’t enough stress this month, I arrived in Valladolid with a deadline and when I wanted to edit the article and send it to the editor, my laptop charger cord broke. One of the cables simply broke. It was after 6pm, and all the shops around town had already closed. I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to replace the cord in this small Mexican town – luckily I was able to send the document with the article to my friend and finish the assignment on her laptop. The next day, we began a frantic search for a new cord all over town. In the third shop, I got lucky! They were selling universal laptop charger cords. In that moment, I was so relieved that I have a PC and not a Mac, because Mac charger cords can be hard to come by in countries without an official Apple presence.
laptop cord
Not loving Ecuador as much as I thought I would 

After my amazing Galápagos cruise it took me a while to find a place in Ecuador again that I truly loved. To be honest, I expected to love Ecuador much more than I actually did. I already touched on it above in ‘What I’ve been up to’ and consequently decided to leave Ecuador earlier than I thought I would. Luckily I ended up really liking the places I visited before I headed to Colombia: Baños, Cuenca and Otavalo. But overall I was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t loved it as much as I loved other South American countries.

march 2017 travels Latin America
Moments I enjoyed in Ecuador

A rained out volcano bike ride

I had already wanted to climb Cotopaxi when I arrived in Quito in February, but I found out that you can only go up to a refugio at 15,953 feet / 4,864 meters at the moment, because the volcano has been active since October 2015 and it is too dangerous to climb any higher. But there is a tour that offers a hike up to the refugio followed by cycling down the volcano. Well, that sounded even better! I enjoyed my bike ride down the death road a few years back, so why not cycle down a volcano? Sadly the tours were only offered on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and during my first visit I arrived on a Sunday and left Quito the following Friday. I planned my second visit to Quito precisely around this cycling tour.

We arrived in decent weather, and even though the volcano was covered in clouds, the volcanic altiplano scenery around it looked beautiful. But then as soon as we started ascending from the parking lot to the refugio, it started snowing. And by the time we reached 15,953 feet, it was snowing heavily. I was freezing! On the way down, the snow turned into rain – a real downpour. We couldn’t even start the bike ride at the supposed starting point because it was raining so hard. We took the car down for a while before we started cycling.. in the pouring rain. I could enjoy neither the scenery nor the bike ride itself because I was putting my entire focus on not falling on the slippery road. I guess under other circumstances I would have just filed this away under ‘not so great travel days’ but because I had been looking forward to doing it for an entire month, my expectations had been built up pretty high. Plus: at $50, this was the most expensive tour I did this month.
dani cotopaxi
Car rental issues in Mexico

Even though I am aware of the cheap car rental schemes in Mexico, I ran into trouble this time when I turned up at Budget to pick up my rental car. I didn’t even go for one of the super cheap offers (see below – $7.54 for a two-week rental – who are you kidding? Of course you get hit with all sorts of fees on top of their ‘great deal’) but went for a rate that seemed more reasonable. I knew the rental company would try to trick me into buying their additional insurance which I didn’t need, and because I declined it, they wanted to put a $3,000 deposit on my credit card. However, my credit card company didn’t approve of such a high payment. So we had to leave without a car, standing at Cancun Airport at 9.30pm, not knowing what to do.

We decided to walk over to a couple of other rental companies and were quoted much better offers right away. So luckily, in the end we didn’t end up stranded but were able to set off on our road trip as planned.

Cuba flight debacle

I booked my flight to Cuba with Interjet the same day I booked my flight to Cancun from Colombia, also with Interjet. When I checked in for my flight to Cancun, I was asked for an onward ticket from Mexico, which I luckily had – my flight to Havana. Only that I couldn’t find the ticket confirmation anywhere in my emails! Had I not booked that flight? Maybe the payment hadn’t gone through and I had not noticed it because I booked five different flights that day? I was relieved that I noticed this before showing up at Cancun airport without a ticket, and booked a new ticket as soon as I noticed my mistake (at a higher rate, of course). When I got my bank statement at the end of the month, it showed that the payment did go through the first time I had booked it – I just never got a confirmation email or an itinerary sent to me.

So now I have two tickets to Cuba and am still fighting with Interjet about a refund, which they don’t want to give me, since it’s a non-refundable ticket. But I wouldn’t have booked the ticket had I gotten a confirmation the first time around! Not sure if I’ll ever get a refund, and I am not happy about Interjet’s customer service at all.

March 2017 travel
Trying to focus on the good things in life…

Other happenings 

No-Chocolate-March 

Let’s start with the good: The aftermath of no-coffee-February. I ended up dragging out my caffeine detox until 4 March, which is when I got to Cuenca. Being the coffee snob I am, I couldn’t find a single coffee shop in the beach town of Montañita, where I spent the first few days of March, that seemed like it offered a decent cup. After going without coffee for a month, I wanted my first cup to be amazing. It was quite ironic that I’d chosen the shortest month of the year to go without coffee, and then ended up dragging it out to 32 days. By the time I got to Cuenca, I was seriously considering giving up coffee completely. I ordered a tea with my breakfast. And then the waiter brought a coffee! Once the smell hit my nose, I told him it was fine, and that I’d drink the coffee. I took it as a sign that I wasn’t supposed to give up coffee. However, since doing the detox, I haven’t had as much coffee as I used to, so that’s a good thing.

No-Chocolate-March went pretty well until mid-month, since I wasn’t withdrawing from sugar or sweets completely, only from chocolate. There were a few tempting chocolate cakes, but other than that, I wasn’t really craving chocolate. Until PMS hit. I ended up having a hot chocolate in Otavalo, and another one in Colombia. And I may have had a chocolate bar and some chocolate wafers on a bus ride. So, this didn’t go too well, even though I’ve still not given into chocolate cake or bought a big chocolate bar. I can’t believe that it was easier for me to go a month without coffee and a month without booze than it is going for 31 days without chocolate!

March 2017 cake
There’s been quite a bit of cake in March… and yes, one of them includes chocolate.

Since I’ve got an extremely hard challenge coming up in May, I’m taking it easy in April. The challenge will be to read four books, or roughly one a week. This is how much I used to read before I started wasting hours on social media and WhatsApp and Snapchat, so I’m curious to see if I can drag myself away from my phone for long enough to complete four books – and I’ve already got my eyes set on the books I want to read (the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante, which happen to be four books, and, since I’ll be visiting Cuba, I feel like I’ll have to read a Hemingway book I haven’t read yet that he wrote in Cuba. Recommendations??) This actually adds up to five books – talk about ambitious! However: the lack of wifi in Cuba and forced social media detox should help me accomplish my April challenge.

The perfect life-work-travel balance 

This month, something that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced since I started running Globetrottergirls by myself three years ago happened: I achieved the perfect life-travel-work balance. I made time for regular workouts (almost daily!), fit in a fair amount of sightseeing, got all my work done on time, had a social life and on top of that I even had time to read books and watch a couple of TV shows. I hadn’t watched anything on TV in nearly a year! It felt glorious, but I have a feeling this luxury of having plenty of time won’t last long – as soon as I get back to New York, life will be a lot busier again.
life and work March 2017

What’s next for me

April will see me travel in three countries: the Yucatán road trip with my friend Chrys, then Cuba with my BFF, and then it’s time to finally head back to New York where I haven’t spent any quality time since August – nearly eight months ago (with the exception of a couple of short visits), that’s too long. Cuba especially has me ridiculously excited – I can’t believe I’m finally going!
Mexico Road trip
Join my live Q&A on the Pepo app!

I am doing a live Q&A on Pepo on Sunday, 2 April from 10am EST to 2pm EST (2pm GMT, 3pm CET) and I would love to see you there! You can download the app here.

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