As I sit down to type this, I realize I have written year-end reflections here since 2012. That’s seven years. (Whaaaaaat.)
I have always been able to identify a theme, a lens through which to recap and share about the past year. Some years it’s been through photos, others through meals, some even through hotel stays or focusing on growth during a tough time.
I know it’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, but the unifying thought that comes to mind as I look back genuinely at 2018 is:
To the trips I took this year…I’m grateful. For the first time in many years, there were more personal trips than professional (and there were several reasons for that.) These trips, as with all things in life, had their ups and downs. Yet I still sit here in wonder, recognizing that this life of travel and living in San Francisco was once a flicker of a dream that I didn’t really think I could ever have, let alone sustain (and, here I still am!)
The less dreamy part: balancing work, travel, personal relationships, and health continues to be a challenge, but it’s one I always welcome and I hope to continue to be honest about with you here.
To the many successes and challenges of life at home in 2018 (which I go into greater depth about below,)…I’m grateful. Truly.
But first, travels of a part-time traveler — and what I learned.
:: travel ::
Sri Lanka + Kerala, India
I rang in the new year in the mountains of Ella, Sri Lanka with a long hike, a pot of Ceylon tea, and some pretty terrible champagne. (Worth it.) My friend and I were in the midst of exploring this newly reawakened destination, having tacked on the country to our original plans to revisit India.
After a few weeks in the country, we then headed to Kerala — a place I’d been hoping to visit ever since my first trip to India years ago and the cornerstone of our trip.
Here’s what I loved about both places:
What a diverse destination! There is such a variety of cool things to do and see in such a small area. I haven’t seen such a wealth of different experiences concentrated in one place since I visited New Zealand.
From crowded cities and epic scenery and train journeys to massive mountains, sunrise safaris, and chilled-out beach hangs…From curated coffee shops to roadside coconut stalls, there’s something for everyone here. And although I can’t say I fell for it as hard as I have neighboring India — I found it a bit harder to connect in a meaningful way with the people and culture there — I really appreciated my time in Sri Lanka and would love to return.
I had my ‘India guard’ up when I left Sri Lanka. And I don’t just meant that I was covered head-to-toe in local garb; I had my tough exterior out, ready to elbow out anyone who tried to get too close, my bargaining skills sharpened, and my pace quickened. I was prepared to survive and thrive in my favorite country.
Very quickly, I learned that that kind of demeanor would simply not suit Kerala.
I would need to relax, to slow down, to maybe even get an Ayurvedic massage (or two or three) in order to understand this vastly different region of India, which in many ways almost felt like a different country.
I really could divide my time in Kerala in two. The first half of my travels there were about seeing the major sights of the state. I traveled with my friend from the cities to the mountains to the backwaters, on which a multi-day houseboat trip quickly became one of my favorite journeys, ever.
For the second half I traveled solo, where I:
- Got lost and missed my train stop, resulting in a complete panic about being the only woman on a train at night (the very thing I had been trying to avoid,) followed by the help and assistance of one of the kindest men I’ve ever met traveling. This series of events resulted in a travel essay (which is to be published) and a viral tweet about the experience. So suffice to say, I had something to say after that adventure. 🙂
- Spent a week on the very relaxed shores of Varkala, a hippie beach town where I stayed in an awesome house and made some wonderful friends (who then visited me later in the year in San Francisco!) If you’re looking for the most chilled-out version of India that I’ve heard of, this is your place.
- Tried on life in an Indian ashram, the prospect of which fully terrified me and subsequently, changed my life (the two seem to go hand-in-hand, don’t they?)
Japan was the top of my list for 2018 travel. It was a country I’d been yearning to visit since I was a small child, one that I had avoided for way too long, and this was the year that was going to change.
Well, folks…be careful what you wish for. It wasn’t even one full month into the year that I found myself in Tokyo..completely by mistake.
I welcomed my first time in Japan with open arms…and about five hours of sleep in three days (psssh…flight delays.) Still I was determined to make the most of my stay (and my travel insurance,) so I toured the main sights, including the now-moved Tsukiji fish market. I dined solo at one of the top sushi spots in the world (YOLO, and P.S. being a single diner at one of those places is the best way to avoid the long waits,) and generally forgot/ignored how exhausted I was as I pranced throughout what quickly became one of my favorite cities on the planet.
Thank goodness for that cashmere scarf I bought randomly in the Indian hippie beach town…because otherwise I would’ve had not one piece of appropriate clothing to shield me from snow in Tokyo on my unexpected layover. Also FYI, they sell amazing and cheap ceramics at the Tsukiji outer market, and green tea Kit Kats in mass quantities should be kept away from me at all costs.
Read: Well, the Japan posts are coming soon (I hear your requests for an itinerary!) For now, find some of my favorite spots as shared on my Instagram.
Nashville + Memphis, Tennessee
I had the chance to explore Memphis as I returned for the third year as a Bloghouse mentor and speaker on writing and social media. The highlights for me, outside of barbecue and fried chicken (because that goes without saying,) were the live music I stumbled upon (hello Blues,) the National Civil Rights Museum (moving beyond belief,) and the true delight that is connecting with good people. I haven’t been doing as great job of attending workshops and conferences in my industry as I was when I began (but I am teaching at them!) This reminded me why it’s important: I am fortunate enough to still call some of the people I met at my very first conference (Bloghouse) some of my closest friends to this day.
I then journeyed to Nashville for my second time in Music City. I got to know the city a little better, seeking out some neighborhoods I hadn’t visited (shoutout to East Nashville!) explored with a friend from SF who came to meet me there, and of course, delighted in a Nashville Eats food and walking tour to dive a little deeper into the local food scene.
Although I’ll never leave California without kicking and screaming (you can quote me on that…) I find Tennessee to be one of my favorite states to visit and I always leave wishing I had more time there.
What is Japan if not a dream trip come true?
I returned to Japan (this time on purpose lol) for parts of August and September. For years I had put off planning a trip there, mostly because I misjudged the cost of going. It’s true that Japan is more expensive than many other destinations in Asia, but at the current moment (especially coming from SF,) it seemed no more expensive and often cheaper than being home — especially when it came to the cost of good meals (majority of my budget, let’s be honest.)
I went with my forever travel partner-in-crime, and she’s half Japanese American so we had the added bonus of meeting some of her family (including an uncle who is a sake sommelier, what what!) during our three week stay. After getting a Japan Rail Pass (three weeks is by far the best deal, if you can swing it!) we planned a just-packed-enough itinerary that took us all over the country.
From neon nights and sushi stalls of Japan’s biggest cities to remote art islands, a labyrinth of alleyways in Kyoto, and staying in a monastery on a sacred mountain…we experienced a lot of what the country has to offer. Yet…I feel like I hardly scratched the surface and I already can’t wait to get back.
Japan made its way into my heart (and also my top five countries list) quite quickly. My lesson from that is: if you feel drawn to a place, if you keep going back to one country or one experience whenever you daydream about traveling…go there already.
Somehow I made it to three Hawaiian islands on my way back to California from Japan.
But not without some travel drama. See, I found a flight from Osaka to Honolulu for a mere $120 (insane.) The plan was to stay with my friend’s family on Oahu and then Kauai before heading home to SF.
Ah, when life hands you a typhoon and decides to laugh at your plans.
After we discovered the runway we were supposed to fly from was completely submerged underwater, we were forced to seek an alternative route out. By the grace of having accidentally started our rail pass a day late, we were able to depart for Honolulu via Tokyo. I then unexpectedly (sensing a theme here?) also ended up on the Big Island, a place I grew up going to every year and was happy to return to for a few days.
My time in Hawaii consisted this time mostly of being shown around by locals and taken to all the best food. So you can expect Oahu, Big Island, and Kauai food-focused guides, as well as an update to my popular Kauai itinerary, soon.
Read: One Week in Kauai (updates forthcoming!)
London + Paris + Provence + Barcelona
In yet another twist of life and timing and travel, I landed home from Kauai with approximately eight hours to sleep and repack before heading back to the airport and flying off to Europe. Because when you start dating someone who loves London as much as you do, but has yet to see Paris OR Barcelona…you go.
I was admittedly a little nervous to travel in Paris with someone, especially a romantic partner. Paris has always been the city I go to alone. It’s the place that taught me how to love being on my own.
Turns out there is something to sharing a bottle of Bordeaux under the Eiffel Tower and holding hands as you walk along the Seine. Who knew!? 😉
So I got to show my boyfriend two of my favorite cities in the world. And I was lucky enough to squeeze in some new parts of Provence — Avignon, the Luberon, and Cassis to name a few — along the way. Look for posts on each in the coming months!
New York City
We made a quick stop in NYC — a city that I continue to love to visit but could never live in (controversial opinion alert) — for a wedding on the way home from Europe. I got to hug some friends who live there, eat some classic NYC foods (hello, Prince Street Pizza and Levain Bakery cookies,) and then attend a traditional Chinese wedding (with alllll the dumplings) in Flushing!
As someone who has learned that two, maximum three, weeks on the road without time at home is when I really begin to fall out of the balance I work so hard to create, it was a challenge being gone for nearly two months. I wouldn’t trade any of those trips for anything, but the extended time away from home reinforced what I have always known about the need for part-time (as opposed to full-time!) travel.
I’m SO excited that this week, after eight months of planning, my dear friend Jessica of Bon Traveler and I will be launching our debut retreat for emerging bloggers. The idea for Gather + Getaway was born over coffee in San Francisco, and we found a wonderful partner in Visit Carmel to have our very first gathering of creative women on the beautiful California coast we both love.
Expect to see more of Carmel and Big Sur as we showcase the area to our brilliant attendees! If you’re a female creative and want to know more about our next retreat this year, do sign up for our mailing list to be the first to receive announcements and openings (our first retreat sold out!)
I’ve been saying that I wanted to spend more time in Northern California wine country for ages, and this turned out the be the year I got to know the area a bit better. From Healdsburg with friends to winery work trips to covering Downtown Napa, it was lovely to see the wineries bouncing back from the terrible fires that have happened over the past few years.
Living in such a region with such an abundance of excellent food and wine is one of the primary reasons I love living where I do (and a compelling reason for you to visit the area!) Yes, they’re still making incredible wine up there and yes, it’s still very much worth every day trip or weekend you can manage.
I’m planning to share a lot more of my local knowledge about how to enjoy San Francisco, and its surrounding areas, in the coming year. You can expect to read a lot more here about how to experience my Bay Area backyard in 2019.
:: home/personal/work ::
I started the year finally feeling at peace with the patience and process required of dating and being single (thank you, yoga in India + ashram stay.) Of course, it was only then that I met and began a relationship with a truly incredible man that I’m thankful for every day.
I have learned so much from years of being and choosing to stay single — about showing up, about surrendering and trusting in what is beyond my control, about letting go of outcomes. (But this reflection is for another time.) It took many years of self-doubt (and too many bad dates) to now find myself falling asleep most nights with a little smile on my face, thanks to this person. It has made me trust the timing of life a little bit more.
I never take it for granted.
I watched some of my very best friends cope with heartbreaking hurdles such as loss, life-threatening illness, and addiction — and then bounce back, and begin to heal and strengthen. I was reminded more than ever that life can be heavy and it is, in a word, short. Things can change in an instant. Empathy for the human experience, and true friendship, is everything.
I saw my relationship with San Francisco continue to evolve. I got more frustrated than ever with the changes facing my city.
I can’t tell if it’s the city that’s changing, or me, or if it’s just the nature of no longer being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about living here. It’s probably all three. Yet along with some conflicting feelings about it, I also feel a deeper love for the city than ever before. I’m not going anywhere.
I’m also exploring the ways in which we can thrive by identifying the place that’s truly right for us — whether that’s living or visiting there — and I’m also exploring writing a book about it (!) What are your thoughts?
I felt the travel writing and media industries shift enormously, and at times I felt saddened by the changes and if I’m being honest, a bit left behind. In truth, I did not meet many of my ‘on paper’ professional goals for the year. I did more thinking and planning, laying foundation, and shifting this year than the super-driven side of me would have liked.
Still, so much to celebrate: I launched a business I’m truly passionate about with a partner/colleague I respect, I redesigned/updated my blog (hi there,) and I supported myself fully and successfully as a freelance writer for a fifth consecutive year. (!!)
All this questioning I had about my self-designed career did lead me to some a-ha moments about where I want to go next (and no, I don’t mean travel destinations!) I tested out opting for long-term investment in my own pursuits, instead of always choosing tasks for others to meet short-term income goals (and I plan to do a hell of a lot more of this in 2019. Eek!)
Although admittedly a bit scary to do so, I’m already starting to see the benefits. Going into the new year I’m feeling more motivated and confident in my direction than ever, enough to take some risks and place some bets on myself in ways I haven’t before. Much of that you’ll see reflected here on the blog, and I truly thank you for being part of this journey with me.
Also I think it’s important to reflect not just on how society deems our years worthy and goals met, but how we ourselves do. For me, this means waking up happy most mornings, having great people to love in my life, and feeling balanced and aligned (and not too stressed or overwhelmed.)
In that regard, this was one of my most successful years to date.
Even more gratitude…for:
Love and tacos. My 2018 aspirations. Once again be careful what you wish for!
My meditation habit and yoga practice. My loved ones’ health and well-being.
Working through perfectionism and impostor syndrome in my work. And…
Stretching myself to be comfortable with a little more risk in my business.
Learning to say ‘no’ more often. “Say no to what doesn’t serve you well so you can say yes to what does.”
Trusting in the flow of life. It’s not always easy, but it hasn’t steered me wrong yet.
As for next year? I’m looking forward to a road trip around Sicily and showing Rome to my favorite person. I’ve got my eye on Oaxaca and Mexico City, some U.S. national parks, and maybe even a return trip to Japan.
That’s just the travel part. The rest? I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see.
Wishing you a year to be grateful for in 2019.