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.
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.If 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.Am 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.I 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.I 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 & December Monthly Challenge
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?While 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.
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.
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.
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!