The Great Escape: Months 87 + 88 Roundup
Where we’re at: I finished recapping my fall of 2018, of which this is a huge roundup.
These two months were wild ones — they were my final two months trying desperately to balance my work and travel obligations with being home as much as possible for my mom after her diagnosis. At the end of this period I came off the road entirely for three months full stop to care for her. These were essentially the final obligations that I couldn’t or wouldn’t back out of, and I’d be lying if I didn’t feel like I was torn between two worlds at the time. I did put on the brakes majorly and shorten every trip that I took.
Luckily, much of my travel these months was close to home — I actually only got on a plane twice; , the other for a conference in Austin. The rest of the time I was with my mom or within easy driving distance, which helped quell my always-rising anxiety at the time.
For these two months, everything came in doubles — two retreats, two conferences, two weddings, my heart in two places.
Where I Went
• Two nights in overnight transit
• Fourteen night on Koh Tao, Thailand
• One night in overnight transit
• One night in Albany, New York
• Five nights in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
• Five nights in Albany, New York
• One night in Rochester, New York
• Three nights in Corning, New York
• Two nights in Concord, New Hampshire
• Two nights in Albany, New York
• Three nights in Austin, Texas
• Two nights in Happauge, New York
• Three nights in Albany, New York
• Five nights in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
• Seven nights in Albany, New York
• Meeting my very first ever Wander Women! It was wild thinking this group of incredible women had trusted me enough to book international plane tickets, take time off — and in one case even get dive certified! — just to come on this first ever trip of mine. They just had such a great group vibe — so down for the adventure, so in for the fun, so bonded to each other, and so willing to roll with the Thailand travel punches! (Though my job was to soften the blow of those as much as possible, of course). They really set an amazingly high bar for all my future retreats and stoked the fire in me to continue to grow this new business baby of mine.
• Those amazing retreat vibes. Where do I even begin to chose the highlights from this inaugural event? It really was magical for me and so full of bliss. The gift bags! The SUP yoga! Sitting on the dive boat with great music on, girls gabbing and giggling, amazing treats in the cooler and my gorgeous Wander Women logo on a sign on the boat! The many pinch me moments, thinking back to sleepless nights when I was so afraid to launch and really feeling awash in gratitude to see it all coming to life. And finally, I loved bringing together my Koh Tao community to create something special together — cooking, teaching yoga, leading diving, and beyond. So many of the girls gave the feedback that that they felt inspired meeting so many entrepreneurs and badass women forging their own tropical paths. (And by the way, we have just three spots left for 2020’s edition.)
• Getting Dive Against Debris certified! I’m a nerdy card collector for sure, and so I was very excited to sign off on this new speciality focused on something I care so deeply about; sustainability. It also inspired me to make clean ups a more regular part of all my retreats from here forward, which I’m super excited about.
• The high of making it happen. I can’t sugarcoat it: pulling off my very first Wander Women Retreat under the conditions I did was actually insane. But I did it, or more accurately I should say we did it, and it made the victory all the sweeter. Even when things went wrong, I started to realize what a high that result in — I really felt like superwomen solving a crisis on zero sleep. I remember just feeling so overwhelmed yet so loved and supported in those crazy days. Friends showing up, unasked, to help me unpack upon arrival. Glue gunning on the floor of my apartment with my retreat staff right up to the last second. My Koh Tao community just blew me away with their support. I cracked up reading my retreat feedback forms when I asked if there was a staff member who stood out, and a bunch of the girls just named friends of mine who weren’t even working the retreat but were just always there, making magic happen. So much love.
• Cousin time. Again, the timing wasn’t exactly ideal, but nonetheless I really adored having my cousin Eric on Koh Tao for a few days and getting to show him and his friends around my island home. Any time I can put in quality time with my family, it makes my heart happy.
• Realizing how lucky I was to have a place that was so hard to say goodbye to. My friend Amy coming over from another island not once but twice to say goodbye. My friend Paivi pulling me aside to tell me that she was pregnant again, way before she planned to tell anyone, because she couldn’t imagine telling me over the phone. The goodbye brunch that was half laughs and half tears. All the hugs and the love and the helpers. Not even bothering to lock my door because someone was always coming over to lend a hand packing or give me a hug or just check in on me. Again, in Koh Tao, you don’t really have to ask for help. If you’ve done it right, your people just show up. It broke my heart in pieces to go. But wow did I realize how lucky I was to have built such a beautiful home that made it so hard to leave.
• Speaking at both TBEX and TravelCon. Living in Thailand and kind of doing my own thing and not always being super on top of the blogging industry, it can be easy to feel adrift from the community (or let my imposter syndrome get the best of me). But how honored was I to be asked to speak at both these conferences — the one where I really got my first taste of the travel blogging world so many years ago, and the new absolute powerhouse that’s now leading the industry. It was so so good to see friends new and old, hug some people in person that I’d only connected with online up until that point, and forge some really strong connections. (By the way — I’m speaking again at TravelCon in May of 2020. I can’t wait!)
• A night in Rochester. My plans for a leisurely weekend here got scrapped when my life turned upside down, but I’m so glad that as pinched as I felt, I still made time for a night in Rochester with my sister Margaret. She never fails to make me feel so warmly welcomed in her home, every time I go I want to make an effort to spend so much more time there.
• Boat pose with goats. My trip to Corning was also pretty brief and made me feel grateful I’d already gotten to explore much of the area on a previous trip, and had another coming up on the books. But thanks to TBEX’s great pre-BEX tours, which get you out exploring the day of the conference opening, I got to spend the day doing goat yoga — my favorite! — with some of my best friends in a scenic corner of upstate New York. It was a truly blissful moment.
• Adding two new states to my destinations page. Granted, New Hampshire I’d been to a million times before in childhood, but I’d never blogged about. An absolutely stunning wedding in Dunbarton was the perfect excuse. Hitting my 23rd state of Texas was pretty exciting too. It might sound silly but I really felt like I had my first “me time” in months there — taking some very brief spare time to get a manicure and pedicure at a fancy spa, go to a bunch of yoga classes, eat TV in bed while watching Netflix in my hotel room (you know, the really glamorous stuff), and sit down and actually pen my first blog post in two months. It might not have been the most bloggable trip I’ve ever taken, but it meant a lot to me.
• The Royal Wedding. That’s what I called Ashlee and J’s stunning weekend on Long Island! It really was special watching their vision come to life, and having our whole family be a part of it. This is going to sound perhaps a little silly to those that haven’t been in a situation like this, but I felt very pretty that night — which I hadn’t felt in a long time. Getting my mom all dressed up brought me to tears, too. It was a poignant family memory.
• Prada Comes to America. Wow, what an emotional moment it was opening up that crate and watching our Thai jungle baby dog bolt out and take her first steps on US soil. It was an extremely difficult journey getting to that moment and I had so many moments of asking myself if I was doing the right thing — which I plan to write a post about at some point — but she brought us so many moments of joy, even just in that first weekend holing up in a nondescript, dog-friendly Long Island hotel.
• My Martha’s Vineyard retreat. I’d had some really troubling memories there over the summer, bad enough to make me wonder if my happy place had been permanently tainted in my mind. This retreat was so powerful for me because right away, it showed me that no, there was still magic and joy to be had in this place — which is exactly what my mom wished for us when she created this home for our family. The highs were so high — showing everyone the house we love so much, all the meals around the dining room table. The amazing vibes radiating off our intimate group! Our rainy day at the beautiful Yoga Barn. Our hilarious sunset in Menemsha. Watching Jaws all cuddled up in the living room. Getting my teaching confidence in a beachfront class at Inkwell. Flying my drone over the girls stand up paddle adventure. Leaping for joy at a sunny day at the lighthouse in Edgartown. The most fun partner yoga and yoga portraits session with the most gorgeous sunset in Oak Bluffs. Our night out on the dancefloor. Such heartfelt goodbyes. I really hold this retreat dear in my heart.
• New experiences in an old favorite place. Clearly, I have a thing for going back to the same beloved destinations over and over. But I work hard to keep them always fresh. I loved that this trip to Martha’s Vineyard encompassed two crazy new experiences — private alpaca yoga and a spontaneous biplane ride — and a third that was not exactly crazy but that I’d been wanting to try forever: bowling at The Barn! People ask if I actually have fun on my retreats or if it’s just all work and I think this paragraph answers that question 😉 I have a blast!
• Starting to settle into Albany. In my first week back in Albany, I went to see Girl with No Job with my friend Kenzie and went to Cider Sundays with my friend Matt. Each was just two or so hours out of the house, but it was the first time I’d done anything like it while being in Albany since my mom’s diagnosis. That drive back from Martha’s Vineyard, as I pulled back into my childhood driveway not knowing when I’d leave again, I started to accept that I really was going to live here again and so had to do things that kept me sane while doing so.
Lowlights and Lessons
• Backing out of bridesmaiding. It broke my heart to have to back out of being a bridesmaid for my friend Suze’s wedding. “She’ll understand!,” everyone kept reassuring me, as if that was my concern. It made me want to scream. Of course she would. But I was there when she and her fiancé met! I was honored to be asked to stand with them on their wedding day. I wanted to be there. Obviously, being there for my mom as she began her chemotherapy and radiation was the most important thing. But it didn’t mean I wasn’t heartsick about some of the obligations I had to miss to do so.
• Leaving Albany. I’m not kidding when I say it came together within the last day or two before I left — my mom’s condition had been changing rapidly, we’d been overwhelmed with tasks from the moment we woke up to the minute we collapsed at night into bed. It’s like we were all in denial that I was leaving and then suddenly we had to get it all together; accept that my mom wasn’t walking anymore and arrange a wheelchair; accept that we needed more help with me being gone for two weeks and finding a temporary helper (actually, our new cleaning lady who had a maternal streak and go-getter attitude); accept that my mom was not going to be able to live on two floors and creating a living space for her on the first floor. Feeling like time was slipping through my fingers, and I was just missing everything.
• Retreat woes. Okay so I think I will have to keep most of these confessions for a future book someday, ha. But needless to say my first retreat did not go off without its hitches — holy cow, did we have some hitches. Most of all, I’m insanely proud of the way we pulled it together with situations we never could have anticipated until they happened. From getting a guest going through a personal issue home early, to briefly losing enough rented camera equipment that the trip profits would have been cut in half replacing it, and an insane amount more in between, we really survived and thrived through a ton. We just marveled every time a guest told us how smoothly things were going, ha. I couldn’t be happier with how well it all went, and the incredible feedback we. received, in spite of so many challenges. We learned so much and really look forward to rolling it all into our next edition.
• Koh Tao chaos. Two weeks back in Thailand is a laughable amount of time to prepare and run a first edition eight day retreat, move out of your apartment you’ve called home for three years, and say goodbye to the people who came to be like family over the past seven. Suffice it to say I was running on fumes — and it wasn’t the goodbye I ever thought I’d have with perhaps my most special beloved place on earth.
• Moving out of my apartment. As I wrote in my goodbye to Thailand post, “I’d started the process of packing my apartment from pretty much the moment I’d walked into it, but the emotional weight really hit in those last few days as buyers started to come pick up the furniture I’d so lovingly shipped to the island, and my landlord who I loved so much came to say goodbye and wish me luck with my mom, and I started packing up boxes to send back to the states, and I started counting down on one hand how many nights I had left in my big, fairy-light strewn bed.” Handing over my keys for the last time and closing the door on that life really broke my heart.
• My last day meltdown. Of course, I wasn’t going to make it off that island without having a full-blown meltdown. Ian had arranged for my final night to be at a fancy spa where we had a voucher we’d never used, followed by an evening at these new glamping tents on the other side of the island. I’d resisted — I had so much to do, so little time left with my friends — but eventually acquiesced. We got to the glamping place and they brought us to a bungalow. We tried to explain what we booked but it was a huge communication meltdown, and the glamping tents take hours to set up. I don’t know why — oh, perhaps because I was on the brink of a mental breakdown — but I had a full blown meltdown, calling my best friend and just sobbing myself silly. Luckily I pulled it together and we had a sweet and sentimental final night. I look back and wish I hadn’t been such a brat but what can I say — I had to crack at some point.
• That phone call. My family had put on a brave face while I was back in Thailand, but when I landed in JFK my sister called me while I was at baggage claim. “I just want you to brace yourself,” she’d said gently. “Mom’s losing her speech quickly.” My heart had dropped into my stomach. I’d just been gone two weeks, how much had I missed? It was just awful, back then, how impossible it was to stop time.
• Martha’s Vineyard. I can’t even bring myself to really write about everything that happened when I got back from Thailand and we brought my mom to Martha’s Vineyard, other than to say they were some of the hardest and saddest days of my life. I was jet-lagged out of my mind and would spend the nights walking through our neighborhood, my mind racing with my past in Thailand and my future in Albany.
• Half-assing everything. I hate doing anything halfway to an OCD level, so leaving TravelCon halfway through really bummed me out — as did not being able to take advantage of any of the post-BEX tours at TBEX, which I normally really enjoy. I also axed so many parts of these plans that I really had looked forward to — a weekend in Rochester with my sister, road tripping from the Long Island wedding to Martha’s Vineyard via North Fork’s dog-friendly wineries, time to explore Austin, a camping road trip around Thailand. Pretty small stuff in the grand scheme of things, but at the time I felt like everything was slipping through my fingers as I constantly raced against time to get back to Albany.
• Heartsick in New Hampshire. Traveling with a completely paralyzed person? It is no joke. I’m so impressed with us that we pulled it off as many times as we did and have so much respect for the people that make it happen on a regular basis. One of the memories that just breaks my heart so much it physically pains me to write it was during one of our trips with my mom to a hotel. We’d reserved an accessible room and triple checked everything and packed the ten million things you have to pack and gotten on the road. I was so excited because the building next to ours had a pool which I’d called to confirm was handicap accessible, and I’d been so eager to get my mom in a pool — I just thought that weightless feeling would be so healing to someone who had so recently lost control of their limbs. I’d felt guilty that we hadn’t made it happen all summer or fall and was so, so giddy we were finally going to do it. We got all in bathing suits and went over and my heart absolutely sunk when I saw there was no wheelchair lift — a ramp into the pool room itself, but no way to get in the pool. I could see my mom, who didn’t react to much at that point, tearing up a little, and I just wanted to crawl into a ball and cry forever. We never did get her swimming again.
• Wedding heaviness: The two family weddings we went to were beautiful and full of love. But there was a sadness in the air, one that hit us hard, an unspoken acknowledgment that since her terminal diagnosis, my mom will never see my sister or I walk down an aisle. It’s one of those heartbreaks I can’t imagine ever healing — the idea of getting married without my mom is just unbearable. And in fact, my mom was planning a wedding of her own. She and her fiancée have been together for eight years, and planned to get married in 2020 on their 65th birthdays in Martha’s Vineyard. I had proposed a bachelorette weekend over in Nantucket. I think it’s one of the hardest parts of losing someone — letting go of all the plans you made and dreams you dreamed.
• Retreat anxiety. Honestly, Wander Women Martha’s Vineyard went super smoothly! There were far less moving parts than Thailand, which made it feel like a bit of a breeze. Still, of course I had my stressors — getting totally flustered teaching my opening class and having that true nightmare teaching moment that they promised us would come in my yoga teacher training. Feeling a bit of imposter syndrome about teaching photography. The SUP yoga class not being a yoga class at all. Not feeling we prepared as thoroughly for the dietary restrictions as we normally do. Some major scheduling anxiety trying to get the alpaca yoga in last minute. The car dying constantly and wildly increasing our transportation budget. The weather not really cooperating. Still, pretty minor stuff for a retreat that overall went fantastically and we got rave reviews for.
• Leaving Martha’s Vineyard. We’d pretty much just waved goodbye to our last retreat guest and spent less than an hour riding the high of that amazing success and planning Ian’s special birthday together the next day when we got the call — my mom had had her first seizure. I was terrified and wanted to get off the island immediately, which was inconvenient considering we (A) needed to close the house for the season (B) the car wouldn’t start and (C) Ian had a flight the next night from Boston Airport back to Bangkok for the job he’d accepted at a Michelin-starred restaurant. It was a panicky night of trying to decide if we ditch the car and get off the island and rent one on the other side, or stay and try to get it started, etc.
Finally my stepdad convinced me it was unnecessary to get off the island that same night so we spent it getting the house in order to be left for the season if necessary. The next day was Ian’s birthday, which I felt so guilty we celebrated by… more house cleaning and shut down. We finally got on the ferry in a whirlwind of chaos, and drove to Boston where I looked for a nice dog-friendly restaurant (not easy in a very non-dog friendly city like Boston) where we could have a birthday dinner before our flight. Of course, a huge storm rolled through, and everywhere closed their patios, and we hit traffic, and by the time we got to Boston I’m not even a little kidding, we ate takeaway, soaked by rain, in a gas station parking lot (the only parking we could find). I felt confident it was the worst birthday of all times and I cried the whole drive back to Albany (while Prada freaked out running around in the car because she still wasn’t used to driving in the car.) All I could think about was the year prior, when we celebrated Ian’s birthday surrounded by a million friends at a huge island-wide wild pool party with gifts and a specialty taco-shaped cake and fun t-shirts and so much sunshine and smiles… I really felt a world away.
Best and Worst Beds of the Month
Best: My bed in my beloved Koh Tao apartment — I wasn’t sure whether to list this as a highlight or a lowlight, as my final nights here were so bittersweet. But I can tell you this apartment brought me so, so much joy and was the single place I lived the longest as an adult. I cherished my final nights there, knowing full well how truly and deeply I would miss it.
Worst: It wasn’t really terrible, but if I had to choose — my own living room. Ian and I ended up sleeping in the living room of the Martha’s Vineyard house during my retreat there, which was a tad hectic. However, it was practical — I can’t really think of a better solution for future hypothetical editions! There are definitely a few quirks to running a retreat there, but they sure are worth it.
Best and Worst Meals of the Month
Best: Is it a cop out to say all the meals on my retreats? I don’t care — they truly were beautiful, and I was truly proud! Healthy at times, gloriously indulgent at others, always made with endless amounts of love and enjoyed over fabulous conversation, just the way we ate around my dining room table growing up.
Worst: Easy — Ian’s birthday dinner at a gas station parking lot. Sigh.
Wander Women: Martha’s Vineyard
Well, after a full two month hiatus, I posted for the first time in two months while in Austin, which felt really good. I can’t say I came back with a vengeance, sadly, but I did at least restart making a major effort to resume my travel recaps here. Overall, I struggled with the same crisis I did for the year ahead — how to balance the uncertainty of my life with any sort of work commitments that included travel, and how to balance the gravity and confusion of my current state of mind with the lighthearted memories of the travels I suddenly missed so dearly.
Thanks for being patient with me while I forge this new path, even today.
Health and Fitness Update
Suffice it to say that my summer of training and planned practice teaching went out the window with our life changes — I felt wildly out of my yoga practice, which was not how I wanted to feel going into my first two retreats. Retreats are always physically demanding because they are go go go from wakeup to pass out and I definitely was not quite myself. But alas, life is what happens when you’re making other plans.
Like I shared above, Austin is where I finally had a bit of me time — I did some great yoga and spin classes that reminded me of how important it is to my mental health to move. They were a great motivator to start looking for new studios and classes when I got home to Albany.
What Was Next
Three more solid months in Albany, New York.
I truly appreciate this space to share the behind-the-scenes of it all and stories that just didn’t fit in elsewhere. Thanks for reading my recap ramblings, friends.
Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here.
- ^ an amazingly high bar (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ The many pinch me moments (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ for 2020’s edition (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ sign off on this new speciality (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ explore much of the area (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ my favorite! (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ truly blissful moment (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ stunning wedding in Dunbarton (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ our whole family be a part of it (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ magic and joy to be had (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ dear in my heart. (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ private alpaca yoga (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ spontaneous biplane ride (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ back in Albany (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ kept me sane (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ goodbye to Thailand post (www.alexinwanderland.com)
- ^ Roundup Posts (www.alexinwanderland.com)