What I Spent on Wonderfruit

So, while I�™m still catching up on my ridiculously delayed 2016 travel recaps, I just can�™t wait to start sharing my big trip (thus far) of 2017. So I�™ll be jumping back and forth a bit again. Apologies for any confusion, my friends!

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It�™s one of the biggest questions on any ravers mind when they start flirting with the idea of a new feather-clad festival adventure. How much is this going to cost me?

One of the biggest excitements for me in attending Wonderfruit was getting to experience a festival produced at international standards but priced in Thai baht. While compared to the cost of living and traveling in Thailand Wonderfruit is surely still an enormous splurge, if held up to the bottom-line bills of festivals like Tomorrowland, Bonnaroo, and Burning Man, it�™s a bargain. Here�™s my baht for baht breakdown that includes four nights onsite at Wonderfruit, one night pre-festival in Pattaya, and two nights post-festival in Bangkok �“ and would reflect the week-long vacation that international travelers might expect to center their trip around.

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Essentials

Ticket: 4,950B or $138US

Full four day tickets to Wonderfruit are 5,500B, though we were able to take advantage of party pass pricing for bulk orders of six tickets, which worked out to 4,917B per person. There is a ฿26.75B service charge for each ticket, which works out to less than $1USD.

Tickets are slightly cheaper during the very early pre-sale phase and slightly more expensive at the door. Children under 12 are free, and there are reduced price tickets for kids age 12-19. Dog passes are available for 800B (possibly my absolute favorite aspect of Wonderfruit?) All tickets are sold in baht. There are no VIP options available �“ how refreshing!

(Note: I received a press pass to this event, but I am putting in the party pass price that I would have paid otherwise.)

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Boutique Camping: 5,000B or $140US

There are multiple different options for where to stay at Wonderfruit.

Camping

Regular camping in which you bring your own tent is included in the ticket price. If you go this route and don�™t want to fly internationally with camping supplies, look for cheap tents available on Lazada, Thailand�™s sort-of answer to Amazon. The regular camping area looked sparsely attended compared to the boutique area, but residents reported clean showers and toilets, secure lockers, and charging stations.

Boutique Camping

There is also boutique camping available at three levels. Prices are for four nights, and all tents sleep four people. The boutique camping area is totally separate and across the festival from the regular camping area, so if you�™re coming as a large group, you�™ll all want to choose one or the other together. You can get a great sense of the size of the boutique camping area from an aerial shot in this post.

• Safari tents with air con: 40,000B

These fully-furnished, stand-up tents almost went a little too far for me. I still like to at least pretend I�™m roughing it. But for those craving the ultimate comfort, you�™ll have two real beds, lighting, power strips, a lock box, air conditioning, and a tent big enough to stand up and walk around in. One thing I did really like about these were the two lawn chairs set up outside.

• Bell tents with air con: 30,000B

These beautiful and spacious bell tents came equipped with air mattresses, lighting, power strips with four outlets, a lock box, a large mirror, small trash baskets, and air conditioning. The lock boxes were enormous and easily fit four sets of valuables with room to spare. These two pricier options were the first to sell out, so hop to it if those are the ones you�™re eying!

• Bell tents with fans: 20,000B

Identical to the option above but with fans instead of air-conditioning. This is the option we went with, both for budget and sustainability purposes.

The prices are very reasonable when split by four people. If you�™re coming as only a pair, the prices are a little tougher to swallow, so bring friends! The fact that you can get a very VIP experience for only 5,000B a person is seriously wow-able if you�™re coming from the European or US festival scene. That�™s $35 US per person per day!

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

We were thrilled with our choice. Overall, I give the boutique camping team huge props, with some exceptions and issues. The bathrooms were fantastic, with cement and bamboo showers, real flushing toilets, and towels provided in every tent. There was shampoo, conditioner and soap provided in the bathrooms but the shampoo ran out by the last day of the festival, so you may wish to bring a small backup or be prepared to ask your neighbor.

The air mattresses deflated slightly over the weekend but the staff were more than happy to come give them a boost. I found them very comfortable! As with any festival, earplugs and eyemasks are an absolute must. The festival grounds are fairly compact and so the late night stages will absolutely project into your tent �“ if you�™re noise sensitive, pick a tent as far from the festival entrance as possible. They gave us a choice of tents when we checked in, which I greatly appreciated.

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

As I mentioned, the lock boxes in the tents, with locks provided, were enormous, which was much appreciated for our many cameras and other electronics. There are additional lockers available, but they are located on the opposite side of the boutique camping area from the festival entrance so only use them for things you won�™t need access to throughout the weekend �“ and you�™ll need to bring your own locks for those. Really, with the lock boxes being so large, it�™s doubtful you�™ll need them.

Remember, you�™re still camping �“ it�™s very cold at night, and extremely hot during the day. We weren�™t expecting the cold in the evenings but slept in several layers! During the day the fan only went so far to keep cool, and it was often better to nap in one of the shady chill tents inside the festival during the day, where there was a bit of a breeze.

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Our one major complaint about boutique camping was that power was shut off from 4-8pm. With the sun setting at 6:30pm every night, I literally can�™t think of a more inconvenient time to close it off. We always wanted to be back in our tents getting ready and changing out of our sweaty day clothes either immediately before or after sunset �“ before, it was boiling without the fan and after, we were stuck in the dark.

The boutique camping area had a dedicated check-in, a private bar and lounge �“ which was always fairly low key �“ and a coffee truck. Unlike other festivals I�™ve been to, people didn�™t really just hang out in the campgrounds, but they were an incredibly comfortable place to recharge and get ready for the festival every day.

Overall, while I hope they might consider the electricity-off hours for future editions, we were thrilled with the boutique camping experience.

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

RV Camping

Wonderfruit also has an option for RV camping! Four day RV passes are available for 15-16,000B depending on when you purchase for sites with electric and water hookup, and 8-9,000B depending on when you purchase for sites without hookup.

The RV area is separate from the other camping areas. There are RV rental companies in Bangkok �“ I would totally do this if I was coming back another year.

Hotel packages

There are also offsite hotel packages available, but with each located a 30-60 minute drive away and the camping being such a fun and integral part of the Wonderfruit experience, I can�™t imagine taking advantage of them.

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Getting There

Wonderfruit takes place at Siam Country Club, about 45 minutes outside Pattaya. You can technically fly into Pattaya airport but it�™s not much closer than Bangkok�™s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Flights to Bangkok�™s Don Muang airport will likely be the most affordable option from within Thailand and from some neighboring airports �“ check flights to both.

Since we are based in Thailand, and domestic travel within the country is so cheap, our transportation prices were insanely affordable. If you�™re coming from much further, read this post for tips on how to score a bargain international flight.

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Transport to Bangkok: 1068B or $45US

After nixing the once-per-day, $138 ferry and flight from Koh Samui to Pattaya –the fastest and most direct route, but also by far the most expensive — we settled on an overnight ferry from Koh Tao to Surat Thani (600B), a private transfer from the pier to the airport (165B), and a flight from Surat Thani to Bangkok (843B). Nok Air includes free checked bags, which was perfect for my extra festival stuff.

Note that I�™m only including one-way of travel here, as I flew onward from Bangkok to Penang post-festival. Most of my group returned to Koh Tao by overnight bus and ferry combo ticket, which is 1,100B, or $31.

Getting to Wonderfruit

Villa: 668B or $16US

We spent one night pre-festival in Pattaya. Our villa in Pattaya cost 668B per night each, and was a great way to kick off our group adventure with some serious camaraderie and recharge from our overnight transit from Koh Tao.

Getting to Wonderfruit

Private Driver: 953B or $27US

We hired a private van and driver to pick us up at Bangkok�™s Don Muang Airport and drop us at our villa, stopping for groceries en route. The next day he brought us to Buddha Mountain and a winery before dropping us at Wonderfruit. On the final day of the festival, he picked us back up at boutique camping and dropped us at our hotel in Bangkok, stopping as we wished along the way. It was the same driver we used for our wine tour last year.

The driver worked out to 833B plus a 120B tip per person. That included three days of his services and included the van, gas, tolls, etc. It�™s a really good deal, even for Thailand, and I was quoted up to double when researching other transportation companies in Bangkok and Pattaya �“ so really sniff around before settling on the first quote you get.

If you�™re in a group, hiring a private driver is the way to go. Otherwise, you�™ll need to take a taxi to the Bangkok bus station, catch a bus to Pattaya (about 150B), take a taxi to the Wonderfruit shuttle meeting point, and then take one of the official Wonderfruit shuttles (150B) to the festival site �“ and then do it all again in the other direction.

Getting to Wonderfruit

Bangkok Hotel: 1183B or $33US

We also spent two nights post-festival in Bangkok. So many Wonderfruit attendees live in Bangkok, the festival site is easily reached, and Wonderfruit doesn�™t really require the extensive preparations and breakdowns some festivals do, so for many this won�™t be necessary. However, in our case, Ian and I were flying to Penang two days later so it was the perfect buffer, while everyone else stuck around mostly to take advantage of being off the island and in a big city to run errands.

I booked Hotel Icon because it was in everyone’s budget and expected to feel very meh about it but — but found myself pleasantly surprised!

Hotel Icon Bangkok

Hotel Icon Bangkok

Hotel Icon Bangkok

Meals and Entertainment En Route: 2,930B or $82US

Basically, all food consumed between leaving Koh Tao and departing Bangkok — that weren�™t at Wonderfruit. I spent 735B on snacks (let�™s be honest �“ mostly airport fast food), 475B on my share of groceries for our two big meals in the villa (we bought too much and left a bunch behind), and 300B on lunch at the winery.

We also went on a winery tour in Pattaya and went to a movie in Bangkok.

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Supplies

Campsite Food and Alcohol: 1896B or $53US

This is the one category that really makes me cringe �“ we went way overboard. The Tesco Lotus in Pattaya was surprisingly pricey, and I ended up spending 2,071B on my personal festival snacks (fruit, granola bars, etc.) and booze for our night in the villa (some of the leftovers of which may have made their way to the campgrounds…) Everyone in our group agreed they were totally shocked when they got to the checkout counter.

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Costumes: 2,390B or $67

As usual, I had fun buying some fun personal and group costumes for this event �“ though I did have a shocking number of fruit related outfits prior to even being aware of Wonderfruit�™s existence.

Platinum Mall in Bangkok has a wealth of ridiculousness on its accessory floor, and I stocked up on beaded headbands (650B), fruit headpieces (400B), flash tattoos (300B), and fruit earrings (40B) a month before the festival. Wonderfruit definitely won�™t be their last appearance either!

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

My friend Will and I also surprised our group with custom Banyan Fruit t-shirts (Banyan is the bar that everyone in our crew is either an employee, owner, or obscenely loyal customer of). I bought the shirts for 1000B, and Will generously provided the designs and printing.

One funny note… the controversy over Native American headdresses has NOT hit Thailand. They were literally everywhere and in every direction.

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

On Site Purchases

Food and alcohol: 10,570B or $297

So this is where I went totally crazy. Oh well! With Wonderfruit�™s relatively strict policy on bringing in outside food and alcohol, this is the most I�™ve ever spent onsite at a festival �“ including pricey festivals like Tomorrowland!

But I�™ve always had expensive taste when it comes to food and booze, preferring fancy cocktails over beer and hipster cafes over street food. I also have Millionaire Syndrome when I�™m drinking and do things like dropping 700B on a golden bucket for the group in the Moon Shack bar. Oops.

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Prices, as at any festival, were inflated from what they�™d be in the �œreal world,” but they weren�™t particularly offensive. It was a lot of fun to eat at Wonderfruit. There were beautiful stall, well-curated food trucks and tents that almost became venues in themselves (I�™m looking at you, day-time dance parties in RocketFruit!)

A lot of our favorite trendy Bangkok restaurants had little outposts at Wonderfruit, and we found a few new obsessions, too. I was particularly in love with my morning acai bowls, the late night cheeseburger I couldn�™t stop talking about for days, and the entire menu at Straight Outta Thonglor — and I�™m still haunted that we didn�™t get a charcuterie board at the cheese tent.

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

You could find a meal for as low as 100B a plate and as high as 800B, though they generally fell in the 200-400B. Drinks ranged from 80-300B. I was a bad blogger and didn�™t record any particular food prices (too many golden buckets, ya know?) but here are a few examples I was able to glean from menu board photos:

Cold pressed juice from Fabb Coffee and Juice Bar: 135B

Whapow Coldbrew from Fabb Coffee and Juice Bar: 120B

Kai Jiew Egg dish from Egg Picnic: 100B

Thai sticky rice wine from Sato Bar: 100B original, 150B strong

Grilled camarelized bananas from The Thailand Young Farmers: 80 baht

Thailand�™s version of ginataan from The Thailand Young Farmers: 50B

Isaan pad thai from The Thailand Young Farmers: 185B

Ice cream from the reggae bus: 180B

One thing to note is that Wonderfruit is completely paperless �“ you�™ll have a band that you load baht onto and then pay for everything with a tap of the wrist. I was annoyed to learn there was a significant surcharge for credit card top-ups, which forced me to use cash (I hate using cash, as it�™s much harder to track.) If you have any credit left over when you’re ready to leave, you can get a cash refund from the top-up stations between 12noon on Sunday and 12noon on Monday.

One major Wonderfruit highlight? Free water refill stations throughout the festival and campgrounds. Considering the festival�™s commitment to sustainability, it was essential �“ and as a bonus, it saved us from having to buy multiple bottles a day.

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Splurges: 2,725B or $76

I splurged on a glitter application in the Wonder Salon for 500B, a rhinestone-encrusted antler headpiece for 1,300B, and a beautiful pair of handmade earrings for 350B. I only wish I was patient enough to get my hair and makeup done more nights �“ it was so much fun! I also spent 575B on pool floats, which considering how little time we spent in the lake was a bit excessive �“ but yet I can never regret a pool float purchase.

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Massages: 1,600B or $45US

I had one 45 minute foot massage for 700B and one 60 minute foot, head and shoulder massage for 900B in the cutely designed massage tent. Higher than typical Thai massage prices? Of course. But well worth it for restoring and refreshing �“ and escaping the sun!

Here�™s the full spa menu:

45 min foot reflexology:                700B
60 min foot, head and shoulder: 900B
45 min back and shoulder:           700B
60 min Thai massage:                   900B
60 min oil massage:                       1,200B
90 min foot reflexology + Thai massage:          1,350B
90 min foot reflexology + back and shoulder massage: 1,450B
90 min foot reflexology + oil massage: 1,600B

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Wonder Feasts: 1,500B or $42

Wonder Feasts are beautiful ticketed meals prepared by some of Bangkok�™s top chefs. There were four Wonder Feast options: two dinners with free-flow wine for 3,000B, and two brunches for 1,500B. I wasn�™t blown away with my experience.

Total cost for the four day festival:
31584B or $885USD per person

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Total cost for the full seven day trip:
37,433B or $1,061USD per person

I would say that I experienced Wonderfruit at the top end of the spending range �“ I did VIP camping, bought whatever food and drinks I wanted, and freely splurged on things like massages and a Wonder Feast. For all that, Wonderfruit clocked in at $220 a day. Comparatively, I did Burning Man about as cheap as it is possible to do and spent between $120-150 a day, and did Tomorrowland somewhere in the upper middle and spent $375-500 per day. So while Wonderfruit is an extremely expensive four days as far as travels in Thailand go, it is very competitively priced when you hold it up against other festivals from around the world.

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

I also included the total for the full week of our trip, including four nights at the festival, one night before, and two nights after.

Overall? Normally a very frugal person, festivals are my big travel splurges and I don�™t regret this one for a second. I�™d say they were baht well blown.

What do you think? Would you go to Wonderfruit?

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Also in this series: Wandering Through Wonderfruit: A Festival Review Part I • Feasting on Wonderfruit: A Festival Review Part II

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I received a press pass to Wonderfruit, however all other expenses were my own, and I will outline them in an upcoming budget breakdown. 

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Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Wonderfruit Thailand Festival Cost Breakdown

Beating The Post-Travel Blues with Skillshare

This post was written by me and brought to you by Skillshare.

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“Beating the post-travel blues.” It’s a popular topic for travel blogs, though I’ve never covered it here in Wanderland. Why not? Well, for one thing, I haven’t stopped traveling. While I may retreat to different bases throughout the year, I’m still very much on the move. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a taste of what it’s like to yearn for certain destinations, or know that sinking feeling when the thrill of a huge adventure is in the rearview. So what to do when you’re back at home nursing memories and a fun hangover?

Enter Skillshare. Skillshare is a subscription service for online course. Think of it like Netflix for learning, or Rent the Runway for a new skill — but you get to keep what you learned! While many of the 16,000+ classes are free, the best of the best are part of a premium membership (which I’m gifting all of y’all two free months of!) With over two million students, it’s safe to say that there are several different reasons for being on Skillshare.

Skillshare For Travelers Review

Some are there for professional development – personally, I’ve bookmarked courses on increasing Instagram engagement, learning to write with humor, creating ebooks, food photography, creating Pinterest pins, and how to increase email productivity. Some are there to hone in on passion skills – I saved a class on perfecting yoga arm balances and another on how to learn a language in one hundred days. Some are there for self improvement – I can’t wait to take some of the courses on fitness and nutrition, and healthy cooking. And of course some are there for a bit of fun – to try something totally out of their comfort zone, pick up a new tool for the first time ever, or just switch on another part of their brain for a few hours.

I recently enrolled in three different Skillshare courses with the theme of kicking the post-travel blues – classes that can lift your spirits when you’re pining for a certain place. Here’s a little review of each!

How to Make French Macarons

by food writer and food stylist Marie Asselin

When I think of my travels in Europe, one memory always floats to the forefront: my chocolate and sweets tour of Brussels, where I truly fell in love with macarons for the first time. I’d always heard these heavenly desserts were insanely difficult to make, and so when I saw a Skillshare course on the topic pop up, I knew I had to tackle the challenge.

Once upon a time I was a passionate baker, loving to whip up something special for my family and friends at every occasion. I was somewhat intimidated by such a difficult project, but well, every macaron baker has to start somewhere, right?

Skillshare For Travelers Review

I was lucky to have most of the ingredients and tools needed on hand at my mom’s house, running to the store only to buy white baking chips and almond flour. I watched the entire thirty-two minutes of Marie’s Skillshare videos before even entering the kitchen, and then printed out the recipes and shell templates included in the course. Finally I dove in, rewatching the videos as necessary for important steps. Marie’s videos are filmed beautifully and were a joy to watch, and her instructions were detailed and clear.

How To Make French Macarons Skillshare Course Review

How To Make French Macarons Skillshare Course Review

Things were going pretty fabulously – until it was time to take the shells out of the oven. Marie warned that knowing your oven was key, and since I was using our family friend Noreen’s oven for the first time, that was kind of a wild card for me. My first batch quickly cracked and deflated when I took them out of the oven – oops. Checking the community section, where students upload photos of their macarons and Marie gives feedback, I saw I’d fallen prey to a common issue of undercooked shells.

How To Make French Macarons Skillshare Course Review

How To Make French Macarons Skillshare Course Review

The next batch came out better… but just slightly. I decided to forge forward and pipe them with icing regardless. The good news? They tasted delicious! The bad news? They looked like deflated little macaron contenders for a Skillshare Fail tumblr. But more good news? I’m definitely motivated to try again, learning from little mistakes I made along the way and experimenting with the oven temperature and bake length. I took plenty of photos which I plan to upload for Marie’s feedback before a second attempt.

How To Make French Macarons Skillshare Course Review

How To Make French Macarons Skillshare Course Review

Most importantly, I had so much fun getting back in the kitchen again to bake for someone – in this case, a thank you gift to my neighbor for taking me to the airport the next day! – and have a newfound appreciation for those gorgeous macarons I first fell in love with in Brussels, all those years ago.

How To Make French Macarons Skillshare Course Review

Urban Sketching for Beginners: Watercolour Sketch in 3 Steps

by illustrator, letterer, and urban sketcher and Julia Henze

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that one of my favorite places on the planet is our family cottage on Martha’s Vineyard. The last few years I’ve been making it a huge priority to try to spend at least two weeks a year there – more if possible! And believe me when I say I look forward to those two weeks all year.

Urban Sketching Course for Skillshare Course Review

So when I saw this urban sketching course pop up while browsing through illustration classes, I knew exactly what structure I wanted to sketch.

Now, this is where I remind you guys that I actually have a bachelor of fine arts from one of the top design schools in the US, which I’m kind of embarrassed to admit in this context because I think it might raise expectations a little too high. Really, I’m not sure what admissions was thinking.

Urban Sketching Course for Skillshare Course Review

Urban Sketching Course for Skillshare Course Review

The good news was that I had the vast majority of the supplies I needed for those course right in my mom’s basement with all my high school and university art projects. The only things I needed to go out and buy were some fresh watercolor paper and a brush pen, though my hometown craft store was out of the latter so I did without.

Urban Sketching Course for Skillshare Course Review

Digging through my mountains of old canvasses and paintbrushes made my heart ache, guys —  do I ever miss those days of staying up all night pulling screens in the printmaking studio or throwing paint on a canvas somewhere. I have been saying for years how much I miss making physical art with my hands, and so this was a long overdue start.

Like the first course, I watched Julia’s 28 minutes of instruction in entirety before starting in on my own piece and rewatching as I went. I particularly enjoyed the timelapses Julia included so that you could watch her complete an entire illustration as an example.

Urban Sketching Course for Skillshare Course Review

Urban Sketching Course for Skillshare Course Review

Urban Sketching Course for Skillshare Course Review

Urban Sketching Course for Skillshare Course Review

I felt pretty rusty going in, but quickly remembered the joy of having a paintbrush in my hands and the phenomenon of looking at something totally differently when you’re trying to recreate it. As I was in Florida and not Massachusetts when I took the course, I worked from a photograph that had me bursting with excitement at my upcoming trip to the island.

While I certainly made little mistakes and wish I’d had a mechanical pencil and a greater variety of pens, I was pretty pleased with the results! Like a little kid bringing home a finger painting, I can’t wait to give it to my mom. I seriously had so much fun making a physical piece of art again – and I’ll never look at that cottage the same way again.

Map Making: Learn to Communicate Places Beautifully

by design + communication guru Anne Ditmeyer

What traveler isn’t totally obsessed with maps? On the road, I often find myself scrutinizing them, and in the office, I spend much of my day thinking about how to visually communicate places and ideas to my readers. Which is what made this map making course in particular a must-take for me.

Map Making Printing Course Review for Skillshare

While this particular course was filmed over four years ago and thus might not match the image quality of some of the newer offerings, it has over 3,000 students who have produced over 460 projects – that success speaks for itself! In fact, being inspired by the maps of my fellow students in the projects section was one of the most rewarding parts of taking this course. One such project? A student’s subway journey home, mapped on a bright yellow banana.  Map Making Printing Course Review for Skillshare

Working on the computer is definitely my comfort zone, and so I was pretty pleased that much of this course involved just that – though there was also plenty of experimenting with hand-drawn maps, creating imaginary places, admiring the works of other map artists, and plenty of activities that get you away from a screen. I loved the enthusiasm and passion of the instructor Anne, who reminded me of so many of my design professors from college. She really pushed the idea of mapping not just places but memories and experiences, something I think most wistful travelers still aching for a trip would love to dig into.

Map Making Printing Course Review for Skillshare

Map Making Printing Course Review for Skillshare

I chose to focus on a project I’ve flirted with several times over the years – mapping my beloved winter retreat, the island of Koh Tao, Thailand. While I’ve made various versions in the past, this course really pushed me to think outside the box and produce something I could be proud of, commemorate my time on the island with, and even use professionally on my blog and in products I’m working on producing. (Final product to be revealed soon!)

Map Making Printing Course Review for Skillshare

Your Turn!

Inspired to try your own Skillshare course? (Or heck, even teach one?) You can use this link to try out two months of Skillshare premium – for free! And if you decide to stay on after that, you’ll find that Skillshare is about the same price as a Hulu membership. You can take as many classes as you want for every month you’re enrolled.

Skillshare is a unique opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top experts in their field (an SEO course by Rand Fishkin, for example) for less than the cost of a few fancy coffees. Most of the courses were shorter than I expected, yet still packed a massive punch — and can even be watched at 1.5x speed, if you’re in a big rush. If you’re a perpetual student, a budding entrepreneur, a lapsed creative or any combination of the above, don’t surprised if you’re quickly hooked!

Are you an online course addict like me? What Skillshare class would you take?

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Beating the Post Travel Blues with Skillshare

Skillshare for Travel Addicts

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I was provided with a free access code in order to review Skillshare and compensated for my time in doing so. Find more travel product and app reviews here!

Wandering Through Wonderfruit

So, while I�™m still catching up on my ridiculously delayed 2016 travel recaps, I just can�™t wait to start sharing my big trip (thus far) of 2017. So I�™ll be jumping back and forth a bit again. Apologies for any confusion, my friends!

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As we near the halfway mark of 2017, I look back and already can pull out one of the clear highlights: finally attending Wonderfruit Festival in Thailand. Combing my passion for festivals with my favorite home-away-from-home destination? Pure bliss!

Like Burning Man, I really can�™t define Wonderfruit as a simple music festival. I didn�™t know a single act on the lineup before arrival �“ and it didn�™t matter. What did matter was gathering eleven of my nearest and dearest fellow Southeast Asia expats for four days of amazing art installations, creative food, funky music, sustainability-focused workshops, and fruit-filled good times.

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

This was Wonderfruit’s third edition, with the fourth is coming up already this December — the passing of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej postponed the festival from December of 2016 into February of 2017 due the legally mandated country-wide mourning period. It also affected some acts who couldn’t reschedule, and was rumored to affect attendance numbers, though we had nothing to compare it to personally having never been before.

While there were some stumbling blocks along the way that I hope Wonderfruit will be striving to improve for future editions, we had an overall fantastic experience.

Boutique Camping at Wonderfruit 2017

After kicking around Pattaya for twenty-four hours, we arrived at the Wonderfruit gates not long after the camping area opened at 4pm on Thursday. After a brief foray though security and sign in, we made our way to our chosen tents. We’d all decided to splurge on boutique camping, which I was thrilled with — no hauling tents or sleeping bags, and all kinds of fun glamping perks!

I’ll have more details about the boutique camping in my upcoming budget breakdown, but suffice it to say I would book it again in a heartbeat.

Boutique Camping at Wonderfruit 2017

As the sun set, we couldn’t wait to get out and explore the festival grounds. However, we found that much of the festival was still being set up and the crowds were so small it was hard to get that festive feeling. There were no scheduled activities and very few musical acts on the stages.

Later, we’d reflect that Friday was the perfect warm-up size crowd, while Saturday was wild and Sunday was hot on its heels. In retrospect, I’d strongly encourage Wonderfruit to take a page from Tomorrowland’s book and host a small gathering for on-site campers the first night, either in the campgrounds themselves or in a small sectioned-off area of the festival grounds.

Boutique Camping at Wonderfruit 2017

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

That said, we didn’t regret arriving Thursday in the slightest — because it meant we got to wake up in our tents Friday morning! We got up early, threw on spandex and headed over to Guavafruit, a tent sponsored by the Classpass-esque GuavaPass.

Unfortunately, we arrived to find… a bunch of other people in spandex, and a photographer who insisted on taking photos of our disappointment as it slowly dawned on us that this Bootcamp class was not happening. One of the girls in the group told us she’d also come an hour earlier for an alleged Tabata class that also didn’t happen. We were bummed because we would have happily gone to yoga with some of the rest of our crew had we known that the morning classes were cancelled.

After that failed attempt at activity, we gave up and went to the lake!

Lake at Wonderfruit Festival Thailand 2017

Lake at Wonderfruit Festival Thailand 2017

After watching Wonderfruit promo videos and talking to past attendees, I was super excited for the lazy day parties at the lake. However, they never quite happened — the water levels were really low, which I think maybe kept people away? I’m not sure exactly the reason, but we had fun cooling off there for a few hours, even if we had it totally to ourselves.

Lake at Wonderfruit Festival Thailand 2017

Lake at Wonderfruit Festival Thailand 2017

Later, we continued our day of chill with a quick trip to the Wonderfruit spa — more on that later! — and donned spandex again for our second attempt at fitness. This time, we were headed to Liv Lo Yoga.

While the class was pushed back half an hour and the location was changed, we were just thrilled to finally be moving as we flowed through a sweaty and funky vinyasa class led by our energetic Singaporean instructor inside the Rocketfruit tent, one of my favorite spaces from the festival. It was great!

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

Yoga at Wonderfruit 2017

After, we rushed over to the Solar Stage, where our larger group had made plans to congregate. This would become our afternoon meeting point for the next four days, with shady spots all over the playground-like structure and some of our favorite acts performing beneath us. The music of the moment was the Filipino reggae artist Red-I, who would become one of my top discoveries of the festival.

Wonderfruit 2017 Review

Solar Stage at Wonderfruit Festival 2017

Solar Stage at Wonderfruit Festival 2017

That night, we started to take our dress-up duties seriously. After all, we had packed fruit flair for days!

What to Wear to Wonderfruit

What to Wear to Wonderfruit

Wonderfruit had so many amazing spaces to explore at night, and they really started to come alive on Friday. The Moon Shack was a speakeasy-esque, hidden-away little gem sponsored by Sangsom, where we listened to a live jazz band and split a hammered-metal bucket of Thailand’s favorite whiskey.

Next, we hopped around the stages that looked totally transformed in the evening’s colorful lights before making our way over to Forbidden Fruit, Wonderfruit’s first LGBT party hosted by one of Thailand’s top drag queens. Yes! Wonderfruit is fierce.

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

Eventually, we hopped on over to The Quarry, which is a brilliant idea — a hidden jungle late-night-only stage that is short shuffle away from the rest of the festival grounds, keeping the most intense beats from from the camping areas, and lending a cool “afterparty within a festival” vibe to the whole affair.

Though I have to say that personally, I hated it. Deep house is so not my vibe, and I fled quickly after both my short forays down the quarry. That’s just a me thing, though — tons of Wonderfruiters were obsessed with The Quarry! I was much happier back at Forbidden Fruit, joining a catwalk contest cattily-narrated by a drag queen — though nope, I didn’t win, ha ha.

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

The third day of a festival is always when recovery starts to be really essential. Luckily, Wonderfruit had us so covered with its onsite massage tent. Heather, Amy and I went straight for the full hour of indulgence and sat back to relax, recharge, and — duh — gossip about the festival so far.

Massages at Wonderfruit 2017

After, we felt ready for a few hours of exploring. We were pretty much melting while doing so — the normal festival month of December is a bit cooler than February, and we were definitely feeling each of those extra degrees of heat.

One really fun moment of the day was wandering by the Living Stage and hearing the night’s headliners — Rudimental! — doing a sound check. How often do you get to have such a behind-the-scenes experience at a major US or European music festival?

Eventually, we sought refuge in the Rainforest Pavilion; by night, an intimate dance party, by day, ground zero for sustainability workshops and talks. I chilled in the shady space while enjoying three brief presentations: Plastic Detox by Bangkok-based Madeleine Recknagel, Shark Tales by Andy Cornish, and The Fourth R with Indonesian entrepreneur Kevin Kumala, who invented a plant-based but plastic-like substance that gained notoriety when a video of him dissolving a “plastic” looking bag in water and drinking it went viral. After the festival I went on to Bali where I saw his #iamnotplastic straws being used everywhere — which made it even cooler to have heard him speak!

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

One of my favorite thing about Wonderfruit was the amazing amount of workshops, talks and classes. While I think their greatest area of improvement would be to facilitate them running more on time (or alerting festival-goers to cancellations and schedule changes via the otherwise-excellent Wonderfruit app), they really did represent amazing value as all are included in your festival ticket.

I’m so bummed I didn’t make it to workshops on silkscreening, raku ceramics, wood carving (which I tried to go to, but it was pushed back an hour and I had made plans to meet friends), mandala making, beadworking, hand lettering on plants, and more. If I returned for another year, I’d love to focus on making it a creative, hands-on festival for myself!

Many of the art-based workshops took place in The Sharing Neighborhood, which along with Rainforest Pavilion were two of the areas that were most consistently running on-time and as-scheduled.

Soon I was back at my favorite afternoon spot, The Solar Stage, this time for Thai-filipino artists Jess Connelly + Lustbass. This was one of my favorite sets of the entire weekend — there was so much great music to discover, and I loved how many of the artists were Thai or, more largely, Southeast Asian.

We also learned from chatting to fellow Solar Stage fans that the structure was built by regular Burning Man artist Gregg Fleishman, and had actually been transported all the way from The Playa to Pattaya just for Wonderfruit! The stage was made entirely out of sustainable wood panels slotted together sans screws.

Lust Bass at Wonderfruit

Lust Bass at Wonderfruit

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

And then we were off to prepare for a big Saturday night… and a surprisingly eventful Sunday. Stay tuned!

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

Does Wonderfruit sound like your kind of festival?

3-devide-lines

I received a press pass to Wonderfruit, however all other expenses were my own, and I will outline them in an upcoming budget breakdown. 

The Great Escape: Month 60 Roundup

Oh, my monthly roundups. They are so ridiculously out of sync with real time now (this post is basically eleven months late, whoops!) that I recently considered axing the series, but I decided to play catch up instead — so brace yourself for a couple of these coming up! However, now that I’m writing on multiple timelines they do serve as a nice roadmap of my archives for those who want to follow my travels chronologically.

Apologies for the delay, but I suppose better is late than never… right? 😛

3-devide-lines

My first month in Brazil was this roller coaster in which I would be having this unbelievable experience or this really authentic connection or seeing this amazing sight and my heart would be bursting with how lucky I felt to be there, and then moments later something would happen that would leave me baffled or fuming and I’d have to just hold back tears.

A lot of minor things went wrong in Brazil on a regular basis (major attractions being closed, tour disappointments, communication breakdowns) and for some reason I really took them to heart more so than I did on other trips. Maybe that’s because my expectations were so high, maybe it’s because I was nearing heart-attack level stress over work, maybe it’s because I planned a relatively ambitious itinerary. Maybe I just got into a funk early on and had a hard time shifting my attitude. Even so far after the fact, when I hoped to have some clarity, it’s hard to parse, exactly. It terms of frustrations it was up there with Vietnam, which until now was the most challenging trip I’ve ever taken, mentally. Yet there was so much incredible joy in there, too. Like I said — a roller coaster!

Sao Paulo Travel BlogSão Paulo

Indeed, my trip to Brazil was a wild ride. It was also a full six weeks, so it will end up being split up into two roundups — this one here I believe is the longest post I’ve ever written!

Where I Was

• Fifty-two hours in overnight transit

• Two nights in São Paulo

• Four nights in Itú

• Two nights in São Paulo

• Five nights in Paraty

• Three nights in Ilha Grande

• Seven nights in Rio de Janeiro

• Five nights in Buzios

• One night in Rio de Janeiro

Highlights

• Honestly, getting there. Why? Because it was nowhere near as bad as I imagined! A motorbike ride, a ferry, a shuttle, four flights on three itineraries, and a cab ride equaled fifty-two-and-a-half hours in non-stop, door-to-door transit to get from my apartment in Koh Tao, Thailand to my hostel in São Paulo, Brazil.(Normally I would never do a nutso travel itinerary like this, but I had a really short window of time between Songkran in Thailand and Tomorrowland in Brazil!)

It was my longest stretch of uninterrupted transit ever. No fun layovers, no leaving the airports. Just one big blur of boarding passes, security checks and baggage claims. What made it tolerable was flying airlines I love, and having a lounge pass at JFK (thanks for the spare, dad!) that meant I could take a shower and chill a bit before boarding my last red-eye flight to Brazil.

• Falling wildly in love with São Paulo. Honestly, it’s just such a cool place, and I adored both places I stayed there, my hostel in Vila Mariana and my Airbnb in Vila Madalena (where our hosts were some of the sweetest people ever). Both places were both trendy reflections on the city they were set in — which had fun yoga studios, a hoppin’ healthy food scene, and so many chic bars and cafes I could barely stand it. It was good that I loved my accommodation so much, because I spent a lot of time in it — between recovering from my travels and recovering from Tomorrowland, I didn’t do nearly as much as I’d hoped in my two short stints in São Paulo, other than chill.

• Soaking up so much street art. My Instagram tour around the hippest haunts of São Paulo — street art included — was so inspiring and fun, I don’t think I would have appreciated the city half as much without it. I didn’t think it could possibly be topped by the street art tour we took in Rio, but I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite! Both were led by creative, passionate, badass ladies — my favorite kind of businesses to support.

• Dancing my heart out at Tomorrowland Brasil! While there were a lot of disappointments — see below — those couldn’t take away from the hearts-and-rainbow soaked good times we managed to have despite them. Guys, I just love festivals. At this one, the weather was stunning, the natural setting was beautiful, the stages were fun, we loved the cashless wristband system, and in comparison to the Belgian version the music was a little more accessible and the food and drinks were a little cheaper. And oh yeah, champagne was everywhere!

• Dressing up for Tomorrowland Brasil. In comparison to the Belgian original, we noticed that festival go-ers at the Brazilian spin-off were way more into dressing up in crazy outfits — so yeah, we blended right in.

• Making the most of Paraty. After having gorgeous weather for the first week of my trip, Paraty really tested us. But again, we really tried our best to look on the bright side and enjoy the highlights of the seaside town, even when it was darkened by rain clouds — wandering around and photographing the beautifully preserved colonial architecture, a private yoga class and spa day at a really unique, lush villa, and a delightful dinner party and cooking class with two of the most colorful characters in Southern Brazil.

• Soaking up the sun again in Ilha Grande! Oh how happy we were to see blue skies! And we sure made the most of them, wandering every little lane in the charming Vila do Abraão, stand up paddling in the idyllic bay, and tackling three of the island’s sixteen marked hiking trails. Ilha Grande is packed with free and reasonably priced entertainment options — it’s a nature-lover’s playground!

• Being literally the first two people at the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. What a rush! …And a photo op! Getting up and out the door early — rare for this pair — also meant we had plenty of time to explore Lapa and Downtown Rio after, too. We had so much fun spotting tiles from our favorite destinations all over the world in Lapa steps — it was the perfect sightseeing morning.

• Experiencing humbling hospitality in a favela. One of the most eye-opening and enlightening days of our trip was in Santa Marta, where we were welcomed into the home of our tour company owner and got invited to a football game the next day (I wish we’d gone!) by our tour guide. The favela was nothing like I thought it would be — and it’s something I’m so grateful to have experienced. The art project at the base of the hill that made this particular favela famous was the icing on the proverbial cake!

• The rush of hang gliding! I do love my “adventures in jumping off things” series, but somehow hang gliding had alluded me up until this point. What an iconic city to check it out in! Hang gliding is a major industry in Rio, which made it feel very routine, regulated, and safe — can’t recommend a better place to give it a whirl.

• Beach bumming. We were lucky to have beach time in Ilha Grande (so gorgeous!) and Buzios (briefly!) but my favorite beach days were on Ipanema Beach in Rio. In all my years of sun-chasing, I’ve never experienced anything like Brazilian beach culture — one of the biggest reasons I plan to return to Brazil someday despite all the challenges. I loved every second on the sand!

• Playing house. The hostel from our first few days in Rio was a bit of a disappointment, so we were extra wild over our insanely adorable Airbnb by the beach. It was full of charm and character, and was just a really comfortable place to chill out and take a breather from travel — watch movies, order take-away, do some laundry (a surprisingly difficult task to achieve otherwise in Brazil), and generally re-group. I’m a big fan of apartment rentals in general, but in Brazil they are particularly necessary for long trips!

• Going diving in Buzios. After failed attempts in Paraty and Ilha Grande and our first booking being cancelled in Buzios, we were so relieved we got to go diving! And despite the disaster it was to get there (see below) once we were on the Seaquest boat we had a really chilled-out, nice day of diving. I found lots of exotic little creatures to bug out over, and it just felt good to be underwater — in my happy place! — again.

Canceling our trip to Iguassu. It was a hard decision, because I hated wasting the money we spent on what we couldn’t get refunded from our flight and hotel, but I felt ten tons come off my shoulders as soon as we made the call. Honestly, it was a harder decision for Heather than it was for me as she feels less confident that she’ll return to Brazil someday, but I just know that we would have been miserable rushing around in the rain. 

• Getting a bonus day in Buzios. It meant we got another night in our insanely adorable beachfront hostel, we got to go out and experience Buzios’s infamous weekend nightlife, and we got a day of beach-hopping in a buggy! Were we hungover and did we wish we woke up earlier? Yes and yes. But it would have been practically criminal to leave Buzios without checking off this flagship activity. I’m so glad we didn’t have to!

• Getting a bonus night in Rio. We did our week in Rio fairly off-the-beaten path — we split our time between a funky hostel in Botafogo and an Airbnb in the winding hills behind Ipanema. So for our final, spontaneous night back in the city, we booked the first beachfront hotel with a rooftop pool that popped up on Tripadvisor. For $80 each, it was a crazy fun and relaxing splurge!

• Catching epic sunsets. As you’ll read below, the sunset time was a bit of a sore spot for us in Brazil. But we did have a couple spectacular ones — a stunning final sunset behind the main stage at Tomorrowland, a giddy night drinking champagne and watching surfers at Aproador and an evening watching the lights of Rio going on from atop Sugarloaf in Rio, and a beautiful sunset from the dock in Buzios.

• Generally feeling much safer than we anticipated. We were a bit on edge about bringing out expensive electronics to Brazil, mostly in Rio, and ended up relieved not to experience any crime — or feel particularly threatened by it, either.

Tomorrowland Brazil BlogTomorrowland Brasil

Lowlights and Lessons

You’ll notice that a lot of the highlights and moments I loved from my trip were almost universally tainted with disappointments and frustrations, too. I think if I had read a post like this that basically told me to brace for impact, I would have been mentally prepared and been able to adjust my expectations and attitude before walking in. So consider this my gift to you.

Also, this is where I hope to work through all my lingering resentments from Brazil so just be warned, this is going to be one of those months where the lowlights are longer than the highlights and I’m going to get petty AF. It’s so much cheaper than therapy!

• Moving way too fast. Seriously, when will I learn. Twelve different beds split across five cities and one festival, all in thirty days? I know better than to think I could do that while working from the road and without burning out — but I forged ahead anyway. This one was my bad, not Brazil’s!

Also, we moved accommodation in three out of those five cities, which added to the sense of chaos. In retrospect, I would have skipped the two comped hotels in exchange for just hosteling all the way through, if it meant less moving parts and check-ins and check-outs.

• Sunset time. It sounds like a hilarious thing to complain about, but seriously, the sun was setting at 5:15-5:30pm throughout our trip. As someone who has hated the dark and suffered from an animal-like craving for Vitamin D her entire life, I am all about the 9pm summer sunsets. The later the better. And when you happen to be on an insane sightseeing schedule like we were, an early sunset just becomes an enormous hassle.

My work productivity starts at an all-time peak the moment I wake up and basically nose-dives throughout the day, so when I’m on the road I try to wake up early and get as much work done as possible before leaving my accommodation. In Brazil that left us with a small window between work time and sunset, and it always felt like we were scrambling against the clock to get everything in that we wanted to do during daylight hours.

• Weather. We were woe-fully unprepared for both the rain and the low evening temperatures we encountered. Oops.

• Festival flops. So, in a lot of ways Tomorrowland Brasil was a complete organizational disaster, so much so that I was not really surprised to hear it was cancelled indefinitely in anticipation of its third year. I don’t want to take away from what a serious blast we had making the best of it… but Rome was pretty much burning around us and we were just dancing in the flames.

The magnitude and frequency of the issues at this particular event were just plain unforgivable given the ticket price, and they really put a damper on the overall experience. The big three were the camping situation outlined below, almost getting locked out of the festival when trying to upgrade to VIP, and our daily struggle to find one English speaking staff member at a festival with thousands of attendees from English speaking countries. Normally I am super careful to frame my frustrations with my communication issues in Brazil to take all the blame for not speaking Portuguese. But not here — if you aggressively market an international music festival to English speaking countries and have an English-language website and exclusively sell tickets in US currency, you sure as hell better make sure you have at least a handful of staff who are comfortable speaking English so that those guests feel safe and informed.

• Wasting $700 on “VIP” camping. We were extremely disappointed with the Dream Lodge situation and one of my biggest regrets from Brazil is not saving nearly a grand by doing Easy Tents instead. Among a million minor disasters and disappointments, we were literally held hostage on check out day. Also, the layout of the campground was so illogical it hurt our brains, things were stolen from our tent, and staff at our “VIP” campgrounds were indifferent and inefficient and frequently gave us incorrect information or shrugs when we requested help. It just felt like a huge rip-off, particularly painful after it was one of the highlights of our festival at Tomorrowland Belgium.

• Getting booked out. In a way, I really regret not being more spontaneous in Brazil — but in another, I realize that even planning ahead like we did, I struggled. The private room I wanted at my hostel in São Paulo? Only available one night, had to switch into a dorm after that. The room we requested at our hostel in Rio? Snapped up before we got the chance, as were so many of the amazing Airbnbs we first bookmarked. Some adventure tour companies I contacted were booked a whole month in advance, and flights skyrocketed in price if you didn’t book crazy early. It drove me crazy to feel like I was doing so much research and planning so far in advance, and still not getting exactly what I wanted.

I’m trying to use my frustration and disappointments to finally learn this lesson once and for all: JUST BOOK IT. My wavering and wishy-washy decision making over trivial details meant I missed out on AirBnBs and hostel rooms that I knew I wanted right from the get-go! I wondered if I could reach out and partner with those brands, I wondered if maybe I wanted to tweak the itinerary by a day or two here or there, I wondered if I might magically find an even more perfect unicorn of an apartment the day after. My indecision really makes me want to punch myself in the face sometimes.

• A total washout in Paraty. I honestly have concluded that Paraty is a fabulous destination — that we really didn’t get to enjoy because it downpoured the entire five days we were there, with the sun finally breaking through the morning we left. In retrospect, I wish we’d just accepted that it was going to rain the whole time and embraced the time to get work done. But instead we spent a lot of time agonizing over weather reports and trying to run around and reschedule stuff every time there was a momentary break in the clouds. It was a huge waste of time and mental energy, and it would have been better to just get ahead on work.

• When it rains, it pours. Paraty is a pretty good example of the “even when things went right they went wrong” phenomenon. That fabulous dinner party? We had a booking snafu that left us both sick to our stomachs with stress. That spa day we adored? Well, we were pretty bummed when a power cut meant we had to cancel half of it. And yeah, our horseback trip? Well, nothing went right there, other than the fact that we were out of our rooms and the rain was holding off and technically, we were sitting on horses — otherwise it was a complete mess on my part.

Paraty Travel BlogParaty

• Running around Rio. I actually loved every single tour we did in Rio and would be very, very hard pressed to pick a favorite. Our only major “time wastes” were transportation snafus and going to Sugarloaf only to find it closed. That said, we had a very packed itinerary and I left craving more chilled-out beach days! In retrospect, I think I would have been much happier if we’d taken our exact itinerary for Rio and stretched it from one week to two, allowing the extra time to be filled in by work time and morning runs and drinking caipirinhas on the beach. When you schedule things down to the minute it leaves very little room for those inevitable little disasters, like when I had a last minute work call pop up that I had to clear and afternoon for, or when Heather took an unexpected trip to the hospital for an infection.

• Sugarloaf frustrations! Wow, was this iconic Rio site hard to see. Our first evening in Rio, we threw down our bags, rushed like crazy people to get into an Uber, and arrived to find… that the cablecar was closed for three days due to construction. Buzzkill! Later, on our Christo Redentor tour, the guide was talking about taking the other guests there after and we were like, oh gosh, luckily you mentioned this to us because it’s actually closed! And he kind of shrugged and said maybe it was open. And we told him the guards very clearly informed us that it would be closed for three days and he seemed irritated — I couldn’t believe he was going to waste the other guests time like that.

And then it was our final night in Rio and our last chance to go. Our Uber driver was literally the worst I’ve ever had and ignored the apps directions, got lost, and made us frantically late. I was almost in tears in the cab! We made it just in time, and ended up with a stunning sunset… but suffice it to say that it was a microcosm of our time in Brazil.

• Biking blues. In what is pretty much another perfect metaphor for our time in Brazil, we were extremely excited that Rio had a bike share program, with a bike stand right next to our Airbnb! What an affordable fun and sustainable way to get around the city for two bike lovers! Fast forward a few hours and a few handfulls of hair: the bikes required a local SIM card to be unlocked, and we only had one SIM card, and reservations online could only be made for one person, and reservations in person blah blah blah it was completely impossible to do. This was when all the stories about Rio not being ready for the Olympics were reaching a fever pitch and I was reading them thinking… yup.

• Fabulous as our tours in Rio were, there were some minor frustrations — forgetting my camera battery on our favela tour (my fault), not getting the full street art tour because other guests had refused to go into a pacified favela (eyeroll), getting blatantly misled on the hang gliding photo package (such a rip off), having to reconfirm our Christo tour not once, not twice, but three times (and then getting annoyed at our guide when he told us to buy snacks and then immediately insisted we board a shuttle where no food or drinks were allowed and sniffed at us for holding up the group), canceling our favela nightlife tour and not being able to get a refund (actually, the manager kindly offered to give it to us in cash, but it would have taken hours to cross the city to get it so we passed — and this one was our own hungover fault anyway).

Between the poor transportation infrastructure for tourists and the struggle to obtain correct information when booking tours and planning outings, I have concluded that it is very hard to “do stuff” in Brazil and really rewarding and amazing to basically do nothing in Brazil. It’s more or less what I finally gave up and did for my final week in Brazil (coming up next roundup) and, well, it was way better.

Ilha Grande Travel Blog

 

• A professional meltdown. As I alluded to in this post, I had one of the greatest communication disasters of my entire blogging career while in Brazil that landed Heather and I in deeply awkward, horrible situations I simply felt powerless to disentangle us from. I still don’t feel comfortable sharing every dirty detail (as I can’t find a way to do so without being unprofessional myself), but suffice it to say that it really taught me some huge lessons: the importance of being clear in my requests to and expectations of the brands I partner with, the self-respect to pull the plug when I see so many red flags that there’s a sea of crimson in front of me, and the need for a business manager in my life who stands up for me when I am being treated unfairly.

I was also reminded that sometimes, the risks of partnering with travel brands outweigh the benefits, and that my focus should always be on increasing my income rather than arranging so-called “freebies” that come with a million strings attached.

The entire situation was undoubtedly the greatest mental burden on my time in Brazil, an ordeal that left me sleepless and my stomach twisted with stress and terrified to look at my inbox from the day we left for Tomorrowland to the moment I finally felt free of the situation half-way through our time in Buzios. Dying of curiosity? I promise, the whole story will come out some day… hopefully when I can tell it in print.

 

• Our symbolically loaded failed transfer to Buzios. It was, in short, a total nightmare. I described it pretty well here, but the bottom line is it was arranged by the organization from my previous bullet point — so, yeah:

The transfer we’d literally triple confirmed from Rio to Buzios left us cooling our heels on the sidewalks of Copacabana for two hours after handing in the keys to our Airbnb, and we eventually had no choice but to take a $90 Uber if we were to reach our accommodation by nightfall.

Frankly, it was one of the most stressful days we had in Brazil — sitting on the hot curb of a notoriously crime-heavy city with thousands and thousands of dollars in electronics and one slowly dying phone, surrounded by dog poo and waiting for a confirmed transfer that never arrived and then later being reprimanded for missing it — and it put us in a pretty funky mood.

• Another spa “situation.” Heather felt so bad for me after everything came to a head in Buzios, she treated both of us to spa day at Casas Brancas. It was kind of a hilarious example of even on the good days, things went wrong. We shivered in the plunge pool until realizing it was, in fact, a broken hot tub, and I found myself wandering around the spa unattended after being left alone, explanation-less, moments into my facial. At least at this point the little stuff just seemed funny.

• Post office rage. Wow, did this little thing not seem funny at the time though: in Buzios, I put together a pile of gifts to mail home rather than continue traveling around the country with. We arrived to a ridiculously long, slow line. I tried to look around for a box to purchase, but unlike US post office, all the mailing supplies are kept behind the counter. I tried to quickly and politely grab a box from an employee in between customers so I could prepare and label my package while I cooled my heels in line for nearly an hour, but they just angrily yelled at me to get back in line, and I watched while every single person in the line went up one by one, got a box/envelope/whatever, and stood there painstakingly preparing their package while the employee just stared at them. This post office is where efficiency went to die. It was the worst system I’ve ever seen, and I couldn’t believe everyone just accepted it! Basically I was the stereotypical traveler who can’t accept why things aren’t done the wonderful way they are at home (who would have ever guessed I’d be longing for the coherence of the US postal system) and rather than just patiently accept things for what they were I stood there burning from the inside with rage. Totally not embarrassed about that in retrospect at all.

• Our diving near-disaster. Our first diving attempt was cancelled by wind and when we finally made it, the visibility wasn’t great. But you can’t do much about weather. You can, however, do something about not being a jerk to your customers. From the moment we were picked up by Pablo, I had a bad feeling. He was downright rude, and totally ignored my attempts to speak to him in Spanish when I realized he was from Argentina (I thought perhaps he just didn’t speak English comfortably as first). Then, he gave us the wrong wetsuits — and was totally rude about it! Thankfully our dive day was rescued by the company he handed us off to upon arrival in Arraial do Cabo, because it came really close to being a total wash.

• Losing my dive computer. Yup, that was an expensive mistake. I can’t really be sure when exactly this happened, but my suspicious is it may have been stolen somewhere in Brazil. However, I can’t confirm it — there’s a chance I misplaced it when moving out of my apartment in Thailand, too. Regardless, it stung.

• Sticker shock. Back in Rio, my computer charger died. No big deal, I thought, at least I’m in a big city. Until I saw the $200+ price tag! Say what?! They weren’t kidding about electronics being marked up in Brazil. I literally cried in the store. Thankfully I was totally rescued yet again by Heather, who gave me her charger and let me send a $50 Amazon one to her next stop in Chicago. She’s such a good friend.

• Wanting more. This is just me being greedy, but I wish I’d had more time in a few destinations! There were so many things I wanted to do that I didn’t have time for in São Paulo in particular — parks, museums, walking tours, etc. In Ilha Grande, I’d loved to have tackled more hikes and in Rio I was down for more beach days. In Buzios and Paraty, we definitely scheduled the perfect amount of time, had we not had rain.

• Communication. I wrote extensively about our communication struggles in this post, but suffice it to say I’ll never again brush off someone’s concerns about language barriers. I guess my first 30ish countries just didn’t prepare me for the fact that sometimes, communication frustration can seriously damper a trip.

Rio Travel BlogRio

LOLs

• Google Translate saved our bums many times. This wasn’t one of them — but these wine list translations from Paraty still makes me belly laugh when I look at them.

• One of my more comical misunderstandings from Brazil involved bubbly — my thirty minute attempt to purchase a glass of champagne in which I was continually pointed from one line to another until a frightened-looking employee thrust an empty champagne flute into my hands and ran away. That was one of my favorite laughs from Tomorrowland Brasil.

This sign.

• We planned our trip at the height of Zika mania, and my dad showed an uncharacteristic concern for my well-being on this trip. On one heavy phone call where he actually asked me to consider postponing it, he asked me for Heather’s parent’s phone number 😂 Heather is a grown woman in her thirties with her own business who hasn’t lived at home in nearly two decades, so that really tickled my funny bone. And it was also really cute.

Best and Worst Beds of the Month

Best:  We loved both our Airbnbs so much, and I adored our ocean-front hostel in Buzios and my charming colonial one in Vila Mariana

Worst: Our hostels in Rio, Paraty and Ilha Grande were nothing to write home about. Rio was particularly disappointing — didn’t get the room we thought we booked and felt kinda meh about the whole place (which later closed, so apparently we weren’t alone.)

Best and Worst Meals of the Month

Worst: I’m going to level with you — really, aside from the specific meals I will list below, we were very underwhelmed by the overall restaurant experience in Brazil. On the whole, prices were very expensive, service was so-so, and meals were, well, often just okay. This is one of the reasons I was thrilled to break up our hotel stays with Airbnbs and hostels that had kitchens — and to have some beach snack picnics along the way!

Best: Normally I pick one standout, but for the reason listed above I’m going to list out all my highlights in one place for anyone who might be planning a trip to Brazil. I loved Raw, Maha Mantra, Biozone, and Motocó Cafe (order the dadinhos de tapioca com queijo coalho and a Guaraná for a super Brazilian snack!) in São Paulo, Banana da Terra and Thai Brasil in Paraty, Meza, and Zaza in Rio de Janeiro, and Salt and Rocka in Buzios. More recommendations can be found in my posts for each destination. Bom apetite!

Buzios Travel BlogBuzios

Spending

This Brazil trip cost a fortune — my four days at Tomorrowland Brasil alone cost almost what an entire month does for me in Thailand! Read the breakdown for more details. This was my second most expensive month of the year, only beat out at the last moment by my month spent in Hawaii. Food, accommodation and transportation all gave me sticker shock in Brazil! It’s wild to think I spent so much even considering some of the work perks I was able to take advantage of — comped tours, transfers, a few nights of accommodation, and using some of my Airbnb credit took some of the sting off what could have been an even bigger bill.

My biggest stand-out expenses were our group transfer from São Paulo to Paraty ($70) our cooking class in Paraty ($80) our unexpected cab to Buzios ($45), our diving day in Buzios ($90) and various cancellation fees for our non-trip to Iguassu Falls ($100, and the best money I’ve ever spent on nothing!)

One thing I nailed was flights, after several hours spent pouring over spreadsheets and search engines trying to figure out the cheapest and most efficient way to get from Thailand To Brazil and eventually back to New York was this:

• I booked a round-trip flight from New York to São Paulo for $508 after watching for weeks. Flights kept dropping due to zika madness and political instability and for once I got them right at the bottom of the curve. One way flights along this route were more than a round-trip ticket!

• I used 35,000 AA frequent flyer miles to fly from Bangkok to New York one-way, paying $60 in fees.

• Knowing how long I was going to be in transit already, I majorly splurged and bought a flight from Koh Samui to Bangkok for $144, basically the priciest way to get from Koh Tao to the international airport in Bangkok — but also by far the fastest and most comfortable. With the insane journey ahead, it was a guilt-free splurge!

I also did something very out-of-character for myself and did a lot of shopping in Brazil! Brazilian bikinis, beach cangas, Havianas, and colorful Brazilian work-out wear were just too fun to resist and I found myself filling my already over-packed bag even further to the seams. It was fun!

Saving

For better or for worse, I had a flood of projects come in while I was in Brazil. For one, I scheduled tons of tour reviews with Viator, which are fun but indeed time consuming. I also picked up projects with a sunscreen brand, a new travel app I hadn’t worked with before, and an old travel app I had worked with before. Between those and my standard annual contracts, it was a very busy month behind-the-scenes, too. I’m amazed I produced any blog content at all! (At the time, it was my lowest posts-per-month rate in five years! I’ve since lowered the bar again, oops.)

In addition to the major professional disaster that I went into detail about above, it was a tough month for making work work. I had a client for a very simple project who absolutely insisted we “hop on a call” and also pushed for a crazy deadline that messed with our plans one week, and I literally spent hours on the phone and in tears trying to track down a product that had been shipped to me for another project the next. Thankfully, it was a very profitable month, which helped offset the crazy cost of Brazil and made the suffering worthwhile! I just barely made it out in the black.

Rio Travel BlogRio, again

Health and Fitness

Real talk: Brazil was BAD for my waistline. And I definitely let it get to my head after working so hard to get back on track in Thailand. Outside of the amazing vegetarian food we sought out in São Paulo, we found Brazilian fare to be heavy, fried, and composed primarily of meat and cheese.

Heather is one of those tall, naturally slim chicas who can literally eat pizza every night and still look like a glamazon. I, unfortunately, blow up at the simple contemplation of cheese plate, and though Heather and I travel together frequently, I found it challenging to be in Brazil with someone who happily eats heavy bread and pasta at every meal. It was so hard to avoid them and seek out healthier food, and it was made a lot harder by traveling with someone who didn’t have much incentive for doing so.

And unfortunately, the insane-in-the-membrane itinerary I created for us didn’t leave much time for working it off. One thing I noted was that yoga isn’t super popular in Brazil. While Sao Paulo had a few studios, Rio had a shocking dearth of them! Ashtanga, Iyengar and Hatha were the styles of choice in Brazil over the Vinyasa and Yin that I favor.

I went to one studio bikram yoga class and used our Airbnb gym once in Sao Paulo, went for one run and a private yoga class in Paraty, went hiking and stand up paddleboarding in Ilha Grande, went to a hotel yoga class in Buzios, and used the hotel gym on our last night in Rio.

What Was Next

Two more weeks in Brazil, followed by summer in the USA!

Thanks for coming along for the ride, my 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.

Father’s Day from Above: A Helicopter Ride over Los Angeles

When you travel or live abroad long term, it’s inevitable that you’re going to miss a lot of the important little holidays and events that you don’t really realize are so special until you don’t have the choice to be around for them. Like Father’s Day, for example. Ever since I started spending more of them away from my dad than with him, the ones we do get to celebrate together have become infinitely more significant.

Four years ago, all four of the Baackes sisters gathered in Philadelphia for a weekend of fun. Two years ago, my younger sister and I flew to Los Angeles for the first time to help my dad settle into his recently purchased house. Last year, I made my way back to LA, but I was on my own. I knew I had to plan something epic.

And what could be more epic than a surprise helicopter ride over my dad’s new city?

I had considered plenty of other options for the day before settling on this particular aerial adventure. An architecture tour of downtown? (Already booked up.) A paraglide from Malibu? (Perhaps a tad too adventurous.) A brunch cruise from Santa Monica? (Ugh, beach traffic.)

But a helicopter sightseeing tour with a mountaintop landing and a champagne toast? Couldn’t find any complaints there. Best of all, the departure point of Atlantic Terminal in Burbank was less than a thirty minute drive from my dad’s home base in Koretown — in Los Angeles, that made them practically neighbors.

Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour by Helicopter

Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour by Helicopter

Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour by Helicopter

I was thinking of keeping my dad in the dark until we pulled into the airport, but it was too tricky — I ended up spilling the beans that morning so he would know what to wear and how to prepare. Speaking of what to wear, here’s a tip from a girl who has found herself on many a helicopter: wear black! It doesn’t reflect into the windows, allowing you to get much clearer photos.

He was so excited! As an architecture buff, geography nerd and all around lover of all things mapped and gridded, getting to see his new home from an aerial viewpoint was just perfect. I was thrilled. After a quick check-in and weigh-in and introduction to our pilot, we were off!

Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour by Helicopter

Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour by Helicopter

Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour by Helicopter

First, we made our way toward Downtown Los Angeles, passing over Universal Studios California, The Hollywood Sign, and Griffith Observatory. I was I was on the lookout for hikers at the Hollywood Sign after my own adventure doing so the year prior, but apparently the 109 °F temperatures that record-breaking day kept them away — we didn’t see a single one.

Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour by Helicopter

Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour by Helicopter

Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour by Helicopter

Our pilot was super accommodating — while he couldn’t get close to my dad’s downtown office building for zoning reasons, he was more than happy to hover around and let me get a great photo when I realized we were right above my friend Lindsay’s house off the Sunset Strip. It was super fun to send her the below photo after with a creepy message that I was watching her.

Thankfully, she shares my sense of humor — and loved seeing her house from above!

Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour by Helicopter

And that was only the start of the house peeping. From there, we flew onward to the mega-mansions of Beverly Hills and Bel Air, and I knew there was no way any dinky celebrity homes bus tour could ever top what we were seeing. We just gaped at the compounds below, wondering how much the electricity bills must be on such palaces.

I also knew I was really starting to think like an Angeleno when I mused that lovely as those houses were, the traffic to get anywhere worth going must be really killer.

Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour by Helicopter

Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour by Helicopter

My favorite sighting of the day? The Playboy Mansion! I admit, repeat viewings of The Girls Next Door when I was in high school made the place feel larger than life — it almost seemed too normal looking down on it with it’s super close neighbors, and its pool that seemed way too small for the legendary parties that were held there.

Playboy Mansion from Above

Soon, we were swooping down the coast to the famous Santa Monica pier — an LA landmark I’ve yet to see from sea level. This was to be my favorite part of the whole day. The beach was packed, and it made me smile to look down and see so many people outside and enjoying the beautiful ocean!

Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour by Helicopter

Santa Monica Pier from Above

Santa Monica Pier from Above

Santa Monica Pier from Above

Santa Monica Pier from Above

I think I’d like to canvas wrap the above photo someday and hang it above a couch somewhere.

The final stretch of our ride followed the coast up to Malibu, and then turned east and up into the hills.

Helicopter Ride over Malibu

Helicopter Ride over Malibu

Then came the really special part — landing in the Malibu Hills. This particular helicopter operator is the only one with a permit to land in this particular location, making it an incredibly exclusive experience.

We marveled at the views… and the heat. Did I mention it was literally one hundred and nine degrees? While our pilot broke out the bottle of champagne, I munched on ice chips from the ice bucket. It was another level of heat.

Helicopter Landing in Malibu

Helicopter Landing in Malibu

Helicopter Landing in Malibu

We toasted to Father’s Day, of course!

As I’ve mentioned before, I was skeptical of my dad moving to Los Angeles — I was happy for the exciting opportunities that awaited him there, but I was worried we’d see each other less and that he was maybe taking on too much. A year later, I felt he couldn’t have made a better call. My sun-worshipping dad is a perfect fit for California, and so we toasted, too, to his ne

Champagne Helicopter Landing in Malibu

Helicopter Landing in Malibu

On the return ride, we chatted over the intercom and agreed we’d made the right call not bringing our beloved cocker spaniel, Tucker. I’d waffled back and forth all week after calling the helicopter company and getting the okay to do so — would he like it?

He’s an easygoing dog who loves nothing more than a long car ride, but we were worried the noise would have gotten to him. Once the day ended up being such a scorcher, we were relieved we hadn’t chanced it!

Canine companions aside, us humans had a blast. While this was, I believe, the most expensive helicopter tour I’ve ever taken, it was also a memory we will have for the rest of our lives. If you are looking for a seriously wow way to celebrate a special occasion in Los Angeles — this is it.

Father's Day Helicopter Ride

Father's Day Helicopter Ride

Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour by Helicopter

Father's Day Helicopter Ride

It was already the perfect day, but I had one more trick up my sleeves — pancakes! One of my most resounding memories of my childhood is my dad making pancakes for us on Sundays, which my sister and I obsessed over. So I knew I wanted to take my dad somewhere fun for pancakes to celebrate our flight. Imagine my excitement when the internet informed me that the best pancakes in Los Angeles were right in Burbank at Bea Bea’s!

With flavors like S’mores, Thai Iced Tea and Super Pumpkin, I knew we were in for a treat. My green tea version were fantastic, as were my dad’s classic buttermilk. The staff couldn’t have been sweeter or more friendly, and it was the perfect nostalgia bomb to cap off a day of thrills.

Okay, now here’s the real dilemma… how will I ever top that?!

I am a member of the Viator Ambassador initiative and participated in this tour as part of that program.

Summer in San Francisco

Last summer, while planning my now-annual visit to California to visit my dad, I added in a new stop that I hope becomes a regular one — San Francisco. One of my hometown best friends had recently moved cross-country to settle in Lower Pacific Heights, and I couldn’t wait to explore the amazing life she’d created for herself out west.

Presidio San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge San Diego

After a long flight from Albany, where I’d barely caught my breath after my Boston and Martha’s Vineyard trip, I couldn’t wait to give Michelle a squeeze — and enjoy four days in a city I hadn’t properly explored since a school trip when I was thirteen.

San Francisco Nightlife

After losing my mind at the amazing-ness of Michelle’s brownstone apartment (she lucked into the third bedroom of a rent-controlled apartment her two sweet roommates have rented for more than eight years), we headed out for drinks. San Francisco, I’d learned, isn’t huge on rooftop bars — so the heated “roof-ish” patio at Jones was a pretty big deal.

I was immediately glad Michelle had insisted I bring a sweater. You know that famous Mark Twain quote, “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco?” THAT DUDE KNEW WHAT WAS UP.

We continued our reunion celebration with dinner at Hops and Hominy and bar hopping what felt like all over the Bay Area. As someone who is often in serious trip planning and logistics coordinating mode, there’s nothing I love more than visiting my friends and just blindly following them around for a few days with little to no awareness of where I actually am. Makes blog writing difficult in retrospect (ha!) but it’s such a treat at the time.

San Francisco Nightlife

The next day, Michelle had an amazingly fun itinerary planned with hiking and brunch and so many of my favorite things. Unfortunately, I was feeling sicker than I have in ages and so was basically a useless blob the entire day — more on that later. But leave it to this super host to find the perfect activity even for an invalid houseguest: a feel-good movie at the fancy Kabuki 8 theater.

Golden Gate Bridge San Diego

Golden Gate Bridge San Diego
Golden Gate Bridge San Diego

The following morning, though still feeling pretty weak, I couldn’t stand the thought of wasting another day on Michelle’s lovely itinerary, and so we set off for a gentle walk through Crissy Field. It was a chilly and windy morning, and fog dramatically clung to the bright red Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.

At the base, we climbed up the Fort Point tower for better views, and could only take our hands out of our pockets long enough to snap quick selfies before they felt like they were freezing again! I could not believe that it was June in California and I was so cold (and yes, in fact, I am writing about this trip nearly a full year later — whoops.)

Golden Gate Bridge San Diego

Golden Gate Bridge San Diego

Thankfully, things started to warm up by the time we got back to the car. The walk had wiped me out but also worked up the first bit of appetite I’d had in over 36 hours, so I was pumped for our next stop — Chestnut Street in Pac Heights.

Golden Gate Bridge San Diego

Golden Gate Bridge San Diego

We could have spent all day strolling this too-cute neighborhood. After evaluating several options, we settled on lunch at Tacolicious, where I nodded in agreement to their signature tagline, “fingers over forks.”

Tacolicious San Francisco

Presidio San Francisco

When we emerged from the restaurant, I was shocked by what awaited us outside — bright blue skies! I never would have guessed based on the morning that our day would turn out this way. Michelle was kind enough to drive me back to see the bridge from another vantage point so I could obsessively take photos with this beautiful gift of sun. Ah, tourists.

But seriously… how beautiful is this?!

Golden Gate Bridge San Diego

Golden Gate Bridge San Diego

Golden Gate Bridge San Diego

We ended up going for another wander, this time down to the harbor. The views looked familiar — they were the same I’d seen from my Alcatraz Cruise, my one little pop-in to San Fran since my last proper visit almost fifteen years prior.

Harbor San Diego

Harbor San Diego

But sometimes, when you’re catching up with an old friend, it doesn’t really matter so much where you are or what you’re doing… it’s all just background to a great conversation, anyway.

Golden Gate Bridge San Diego

Golden Gate Bridge San Diego

Golden Gate Bridge San Diego

The morning’s activities left my still-rough-self pretty wiped, but Michelle knew just what to do: a driving tour! I did get out of the car at our two main destinations, but mostly I was quite happy to watch the city go by from the car window, listening to my friend’s narration about her new home.

Perhaps my favorite stop was the Painted Ladies. This famous row of Victorian Houses got its big break in the opening credits of Full House, but fame hasn’t gone to its head.

Painted Ladies San Francisco

Painted Ladies San Francisco

A little less overwhelming was Lombard Street. In theory, the world’s second windiest road sounds very cool, but in reality it’s actually pretty hard to appreciate (or photograph) unless you’re taking in an aerial view. Still, we drove down it, which was cool, and it was fun to see the huge tour group all angling for the best photo.

Lombard Street San Francisco

Lombard Street San Francisco

Lombard Street San Francisco

That night, we went to Tony’s for pizza and the Warrios game. While the waits are notoriously crazy at this popular eatery, we beat the system by sitting at the bar — a trade off I’m almost always happy to make when dining as a pair.

The next day was the first that I truly had my appetitive back, a terrible thing to lose in a city so famous for its cuisine. Michelle was working from home this day and it was so nice to just have side-by-side laptop time. As someone who often works alone, it really makes you appreciate the silent company of someone else doing the same. Other than a quick lunch outside on the street at The Grove, we chilled from our office on the couch all day.

And suddenly, it was my last night in San Francisco. We ran around town meeting up with various friends — dinner with Michelle’s roommate, drinks with my childhood neighbor and friend — and discovered two gems in the process. The first was Smuggler’s Cove, an intensely-themed pirate bar that would put most tikis to shame. While the night we visited was a little weird (there was no music playing, which I hate in a bar), I’ve had enough personal recommendations for this place to conclude that we just had an off night. I’d love to give it another chance and really work my way through the rum menu someday!

San Fran Girls Weekend
Smuggler's Cove San Francisco

And our next stop was Chambers Bar, which looked like it was made for Instagram. Though we arrived not long before closing, this was one of my favorite finds from the whole trip, and also left me itching for a return.

We turned in after, as the next morning Michelle was back to the office, and I was on to San Jose for a night with my friend Abby before flying to Los Angeles. I always love visiting Abby — when travel bloggers get together they do boring stuff like go to the gym and go to nondescript restaurants and sit on the couch and watch TV and basically do nothing but catch up and gossip about our weird and wonderful industry. Well, at least these travel bloggers do. (And clearly, based on the zero evidence I have of these 24 hours with Abby, we don’t take many photos either.)

Five days in Northern California flew by.

Chambers Bar San Francisco

Chambers Bar San Francisco

Chambers Bar San Francisco

They did so in large part due to the illness I mentioned before… which wasn’t just a bug.

I really hesitated on if I wanted to write about this or not, but I am pretty sure that I was drugged on our first night out. I have many reasons for thinking so, the primary one being that at our last stop for the night, Michelle and I were approached by a sketchy guy who tried to sell us drugs. We laughed off his dancefloor sales pitch (um yeah NO THANKS) but he wouldn’t quite leave us alone. Michelle says she noticed I started acting funny and the guy started speaking to me in Spanish, and I replying in it, so she couldn’t follow what was going on. I don’t remember any of this — because him buzzing around us like a fly you just can’t swat was my last memory of the entire night.

And so I also don’t remember that shortly after, as Michelle was putting us in an Uber, that same man muscled open the door or our car and forced himself into the vehicle just as we were pulling away. Michelle screamed that he wasn’t with us, and our driver screeched to the side of the road, yanked the guy out of the car and onto the curb, and hightailed us home to safely.

I was violently ill for two days; nauseous, weak, and unable to keep food or even water down. While I definitely considered the possibility that I was having a very weird hangover (for better or for worse, at this point I know my body’s reaction to excessive partying pretty well, and vomiting just isn’t party of the equation) but a call to my doctor back east confirmed that my symptoms were in line with those of date rape drugs. He encouraged me to go to a hospital for testing and treatment and  to file a police report, which in retrospect I wish I had done. But I didn’t have health insurance at the time and was worried what it all would cost, and I was also fearful of the reaction of whoever I might report what happened to, considering nothing really happened.

It was a reminder that with all the far flung, exotic destinations I travel to, terrible things can happen anywhere and women especially must always, always be vigilant when it comes to their personal safety. While it was a very unsettling experience and I can’t remember the last time I felt so physically terrible, I am so grateful to have escaped the situation relatively unscathed and to have had Michelle take such good care of me while I recovered.

Golden Gate Bridge San Diego

As for all the things I missed while I was healing… I’ll just have to go back. I’ve got the perfect host to crash with, after all.

Till next time, San Francisco…

Twenty Four Hours in Pattaya (Without a Prostitute in Sight)

So, while I’m still catching up on my ridiculously delayed 2016 travel recaps, I just can’t wait to start sharing my big trip (thus far) of 2017. So I’ll be jumping back and forth a bit again between two timelines — this recent trip and the old ones I’m still catching up on. Apologies for any confusion, my friends. One of these days I promise to lock myself in a dark room and not travel again until I’ve published every past trip in my drafts folder, but that day is not today. 

3-devide-lines

In all my time in Thailand, I was absolutely vehement there was one destination to which I would never go: Pattaya. I’m not normally one to write off a destination with a fake gagging gesture, but what can I say. The seedy, sex-tourism capital of Thailand just isn’t for me — and everyone I know who’s ended up there somehow has been horrified by their time there. Just Google “Pattaya is disgusting” to see what my fellow travelers have to say! (To clarify, it’s the tourists that make it so repulsive, not the residents.) I literally could not think of one, single, teeny tiny reason I had any interest in ever so much as passing through such a hell-hole.

Until I decided to attend Wonderfruit, a festival held in the countryside forty-five minutes outside the city.

Wonderfruit 2016 Review

Okay Wonderfruit, you got me — and more on that festival coming up soon. After weighing up dozens of plans for getting my crew all the way from Koh Tao to our camp site, we realized that it was going to be a heck of a journey, and we might need a night to chill before heading into party mode.

So after an overnight ferry to the mainland, a private shuttle to the airport, a cheap early morning flight to Bangkok, and finally being picked up by another private shuttle at the Bangkok airport, we were on our way down to Pattaya, DIY paper cup mimosas in hand! The nine of us who had traveled together from Koh Tao were joined by my frequent travel buddy and honorary Koh Tao Crew member Heather, who flew in from Bali to meet us.

(Technically we could have ferried from Koh Tao to Koh Samui early in the morning and caught the once-per-day Bangkok Airways direct flight from Koh Samui to Pattaya, but that particular flight was out of the price range of most of our crew.)

Wonderfruit 2016 Review

Wonderfruit 2016 Review

Our first stop was one that will ring of enormous excitement to expats on tiny thirteen square mile islands everywhere: a proper grocery store, in the form of Central Pattaya’s Tesco Lotus. We had a couple missions here: get groceries for the next twenty-four hours, buy whatever snacks we wanted for the festival, and stock up on booze.

The latter become a major issue when we were casually strolling the aisles and an employee came up and breathlessly alerted us that alcohol sales were halted at 2pm, which was in approximately seven minutes. (Technically, alcohol sales are banned in the after-school hours of 2-5pm throughout Thailand, though it’s not enforced in Koh Tao). CUE PANIC! You have never seen farang pushing shopping carts with such unbridled anxiety as we did until we were safely through the checkout six minutes and fifty-nine seconds later. Crisis averted.

Next stop, our villa for the night! One bonus of Pattaya’s popularity is the market is flooded with cheap villa rentals — we nabbed this four bedroom for a mere $139 per night. Well, that’s the price we paid after having the $50 cleaning fee refunded because, ya know, we arrived and the place wasn’t cleaned. Frankly, we didn’t mind the discount! For $13.90 each per night, I was more than happy to fluff a few pillows upon arrival. Want to score a similar deal? Get $40 off your first Airbnb booking by using my coupon!

Jomtien Airbnb Rental

Jomtien Airbnb Rental

Yeah, the villa was a bit tired and the downstairs hadn’t been cleaned when we arrived, but we were thrilled with it, considering our very low expectations. It was located on Jomtien Beach, just far enough south from the prostitution circus of downtown that we could pretend we were somewhere else entirely.

Jomtien Airbnb Rental

Jomtien Airbnb Rental

After an afternoon of unwinding from eighteen hours of travel, the boys cracked into cooking a feast for dinner while the girls wandered the hundred meters down to the beach for a sunset drink on the seawall.

This was far and away my favorite moment from our brief time in Pattaya — marveling at the sight of skyscrapers on the beach, watching the sky turn from brilliant shades of blue to pink, and gossiping and giggling with some of my favorite girls.

Twenty Four Hours in Pattaya

Twenty Four Hours in Pattaya

Twenty Four Hours in Pattaya

Back at the house, the boys had outdone themselves! I’ve mentioned before around here the irony that because expats on Koh Tao eat out so regularly (it can actually be cheaper than cooking at home!) and have relatively small living spaces, it’s actually the biggest treat of all to get to share a big home-cooked meal together.

While going out to a big dinner at a restaurant might be the highlight of a vacation back in our Western homes, the ability to make one for ourselves is something to celebrate here in our adopted one.

After dinner, we toasted to Janine’s birthday — the second in a row we’ve celebrated with a big group trip! — and turned in early to prepare for the big events ahead.

Twenty Four Hours in Pattaya

Twenty Four Hours in Pattaya

Twenty Four Hours in Pattaya

The next morning, our crew of ten grew by two more, our friends Ryan and Bron, fresh off a flight from Australia! With several hours to kill between checking out of the villa and checking into the Wonderfruit campsite, I’d done some serious research into activities in the area that didn’t involve red-light districts — and to my surprise, we planned a really fun day.

Wonderfruit 2016 Festival Review

After nixing, much to my heartbreak, a day at the largest waterpark in Thailand, we settled on two much drier stops — first, a short stroll around Buddha Mountain, and second, a tour of Silverlake Vineyard.

While Buddha Mountain didn’t hold our attention much beyond a simple group photo-op, it was a very cool variation on the typical Southeast Asian Buddha statue and made for a quick and quirky stop. (Though not, admittedly, as quirky as the Upside Down House Pattaya, or the Pattaya Sheep Farm, where real sheap mingle with their statue counterparts, both of which we also passed en route.) Bonus, Buddha Mountain is free to enter!

Buddha Mountain Pattaya

Next up, the real star of the show — Silverlake Vineyard. As many of you know, I’m on a mission to visit every winery in Thailand, and so visiting this one was a major motivation for tacking on extra time in Pattaya pre-Wonderfruit.

So you can imagine my annoyance when we arrived to a notice that the winery was currently closed. Great. Well, we were there anyway, so with no option to take the full winery, vineyard and tasting tour (for 250B) we settled on taking the vineyard and grape juice tour (for 100B), and buying a couple of bottles of wine to try with lunch.

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

I’m not going to sugarcoat it — the “vineyard tour” was a bit of a joke. I’d gleaned from the research I’d done that this was going to be miles away from the stunning and sophisticated vineyards we’d visited in Khao Yai and in Hua Hin. But this was even more of a bizarre celebration of kitsch than I’d expected, with about half a dozen wordless stops at strange photo-props followed by a quick glance at some grapes before being dumped at a grape juice processing plant.

Thankfully, I had a group who made the absolute best of it, and we had so much fun you wouldn’t believe we hadn’t cracked into the wine yet.

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Can you even imagine a better crew to tour a fake winery with?

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

At least, I must admit, the grape juice was delicious. We peeked into the temporarily-closed winery building next door, and the tasting room did look quite nice.

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

After the tour, we had a lazy lunch at the winery’s onsite restaurant, where we ordered a carafe each of the shiraz, rosé, and sauvignon blanc to do our own DIY tasting. The restaurant was a good call — the wine was nice, the food and service were good, and the prices were reasonable.

It really was a shame that the winery building wasn’t open — I think it would have balanced out the silliness of the “vineyard tour” with some explanation of what were a couple decent wines. But, such is life. And there wasn’t much time to mull it over — we were en route to Wonderfruit!

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Will I be rushing back to Pattaya? No. (Though the checklist-lover inside of me is tormented that I didn’t technically visit the Silverlake Winery. Curses!)

But we really did make the most of our twenty-four hours there. Between quirky quintessentially Thai attractions, quality time with my favorite crew, and a bargain of a villa to rest our heads in at night, it was the best trip to Pattaya a girl not interested in go go boots could ask for.

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Stay tuned for my next dispatch from Wonderfuit!

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Martha’s Vineyard On a Budget — Yes, It’s Possible!

Martha’s Vineyard… on a budget? I admit, it doesn’t sound right. Like Thailand and good bread and cheese, or Brazil and being on time, or England and a reliably sunny weather forecast, it just doesn’t feel like a feasible travel combination.

But lean in, because I’m about to spill what feels like a major secret. The rumors aren’t true – Martha’s Vineyard isn’t an uber-exclusive, snobby haven reserved for only the insider elite. That’s Nantucket! (I kid, I kid – though there’s always been a friendly rivalry between the two islands.) First time visitors to the island are often surprised to find a thriving arts community, a strong agrarian culture, and a laid-back and barefoot feel.

Martha's Vineyard On a Budgetsource

Martha’s Vineyard is expensive. But it’s also one of the most magical places in America, and this community-focused island, where humble houses still outnumber mega-mansions, is proud of its inclusive history of welcoming all. You could be next.

Admittedly, I have been blessed with the unique opportunity to fall in love with Martha’s Vineyard in a way most people don’t have access to – my family vacationed on the island nearly every summer when I was a girl, and my mom now lives seasonally in Oak Bluffs. I know from your comments and messages that many of you feel Martha’s Vineyard isn’t an accessible travel destination for you, and I’m hoping that the insider secrets and stories I’ll share here might convince you otherwise.

You’re not going to travel Martha’s Vineyard on a shoestring. But you also don’t need a private jet, a beach mansion or a Kennedy bank account to make it happen. Here’s a guide for those looking for something in between.

Martha's Vineyard On a Budget

When to Go

Timing is everything when it comes to planning a budget-friendly trip to the Vineyard. If you’re really on a shoestring, aim for anytime before Memorial Day at the end of May and after Labor Day at the beginning of September. If you have a bit more wiggle room in your budget, come between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, when the weather is slightly warmer, the crowds are still manageable and prices not yet peak. Heart set on July and August? God bless you.

While July and August undoubtedly have the best beach weather with average temperatures in the 80’s, June and September are still lovely, mostly hanging in the 70’s. Pushing further into the shoulder seasons, May and October are definitely sweater weather, with highs only in the 60s.

Choosing these off-peak times means not only will crowds be thinner and reservations of all sorts easier to come by, but accommodation prices will be significantly more manageable, and transportation will often be impressively discounted. And events like The Martha’s Vineyard Wine Festival in May and the Food and Wine Festival in October prove there’s plenty going on outside peak season.

Martha's Vineyard On a Budget

Getting There

Martha’s Vineyard is an island, so eventually you’ll end up on a ferry or a flight in order to arrive.

First of all, don’t rule out air travel entirely. I’ve nabbed midweek JFK to MVY fares for a mere $75 before, and I’ve seen them as low as $60. Book early, fly off-peak, and travel off-season for your best bet at scoring similar fares. (Book at the wrong time and you’ll see fares of over a thousand bucks round trip from New York — for a 40 minute flight!)

Flights generally connect through New York and Boston. You can also fly via Washington DC, Nantucket, Hyannis, Providence, Westchester, New Bedford, White Plains – some only seasonally. Read more about how to generally find cheap airfare here.

Most frequently, however, budget travelers will travel by ferry. If you’re planning to bring your car onto the island, your only option is the Steamship Authority, which departs from Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts. Seasonal passenger ferries also leave from New York and New Jersey, from Quonset Point in Rhode Island (which you can connect to via Amtrak from New York), and from Nantucket, New Bedford, Falmouth, and Hyannis in Massachusetts. Learn more about the various ferry options here — or just read on below.

Getting to Martha's Vineyard on a Budget

But back to the Steamship Authority from Wood’s Hole – because it’s by far the most budget friendly option at just $8.50 a pop each way. In contrast, the Seastreak Ferry from New York City is a cool $155 each way (and only runs in each direction once a week).

So now you have to get to Wood’s Hole. If you’ve decided to bring your car onto the island, you’re all set (more on that below in the Getting Around section). If not, you can still reach Wood’s Hole via your own vehicle, but you will have to pay to park it.

Parking in the Steamship Authority lots ranges from $13-15 per day, depending on the distance of the lot. Frequent complimentary shuttles will bring you from your vehicle straight to the ferry. There’s no cheaper option – once, after hearing a rumor that Wal-Mart often looks the other way for long-term parkers in its lots, my mom’s boyfriend tried calling the closest one on the Cape to see what the manager said (apparently they will tell you if they do allow it.) It’s not one of those locations.

But, if you’re staying on the Vineyard for more than seven days, feel free to loose your parking ticket. The maximum fee for a lost ticket is $105, which becomes the cheaper option after a week.

Another incredibly convenient option for reaching Woods Hole is the bus. Peter Pan Bus Lines will delivery you straight to the dock from Boston’s South Station and Boston’s Logan Airport as well as New York, New York and Providence, Rhode Island. I’ve used Peter Pan to travel from Albany to Boston and Boston onto Wood’s Hole for $53 and it was a comfortable, seamless ride. If you find a cheap flight into Boston, it’s only $55 round trip from the airport to the ferry terminal and back – that’s cheaper than a one-way cab fare from the airport in some major cities.

Getting to Martha's Vineyard on a Budget

So while there are dozens of options for reaching Martha’s Vineyard, my favorite options are (1) to fly straight to the island, (2) fly to Boston and connect to the Peter Pan bus, or (3) drive or bus to Wood’s Hole.

Where to Stay

This is where the “ouch!” factor comes in — accommodation on Martha’s Vineyard is steep. But you don’t have to rent a $5,000 a week beach house to make it happen, obviously.

• The Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground

Not to be confused with the Campmeeting Association, commonly and confusingly referred to as “The Campground,” the Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground is the one and only official place to pitch a tent. My mom, her boyfriend, his daughter and I all stayed here years ago before my mom became a part-time resident on the island (in fact, it was on that trip that we stumbled on our future home!) and I highly recommend this clean and organized option for those on a budget.

The Campground offers tent camping sites, RV and trailer hook-ups, and modest one and two bedroom cabins. All camp sites have picnic tables and fire pits and cabins come with a small grill. Shared bathrooms have hot water showers, and an on-site laundromat, playground, convenience store and rec room make this a one-stop shop for campers. There is a bus stop right at the campsite, which is located between Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, and buses stop every 30 minutes. Bike rentals are also available and it’s a convenient way to reach both towns (we rode bikes to and from each so I could take photos for this post.) The biggest downside? You have to bring your own bedding.

The Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground is open from May 25th-October 11th for the 2017 season. There’s no maximum stay – you can post up for the whole summer, and many do! Two person tent sites start at $60 per night or $371 per night (there’s a discount for single campers outside of peak season.) Four person cabins start at $150 per night or $945 per week.

The Martha's Vineyard Family Campground

The Martha's Vineyard Family Campground

The Martha's Vineyard Family Campground

• Hostelling International Martha’s Vineyard

Yes, Martha’s Vineyard has a hostel! In fact, in 1955 it became the first purpose-built youth hostel (meaning it was built specifically to be a hostel) in the USA. Last summer, I stopped by to see what the Vineyard’s most affordable sleep was like.

The rural surroundings of the HI Martha’s Vineyard lend it the feel of a summer camp, as do the frequent bike tours, scout groups, and families that sometimes fill the sixty-seven beds spread across dorms and private rooms. Unlike many US hostels, this one is filled with primarily domestic travelers – as well as the occasional Europeans or more far-flung wanderers. The downside of the hostel is it’s somewhat remote location near the airport, though there is a bus stop directly in front of the hostel that will whisk you all over the island.

The Martha’s Vineyard hostel is open from May 20th-October 8th for the 2017 season. The maximum stay is one week. Dorm beds start at $38 per night, private rooms with shared bathrooms start at $82 per night. All rates include breakfast. Though I can’t give it a personal recommendation, my mom’s boyfriend’s daughter (whew!) stayed here with a bike tour and gave it two thumbs up. You can also read another blogger’s review here.

HI Martha's Vineyard

HI Martha's Vineyard

HI Martha's Vineyard
HI Martha's Vineyard

• Hotels, Inns, Airbnbs and beyond

Believe it or not, there are plenty of small hotels, motels and locally owned inns that charge less than $100 a night – several of them can only be booked directly though and don’t have a huge online presence, so poke around. This is where the timing of your trip is huge. A room at the centrally located and charming Dockside Inn starts at $99 a night midweek in May – and shoots up to $279 a night midweek in August – and is back down to $109 in September. Edgartown will generally fetch the highest accommodation costs.

Airbnb is also becoming popular on the island, with 19 listings currently available for under $100 a night, and 103 listings currently available for under $150. Get $40 off your first booking here!

Budget Accommodation Martha's Vineyard

Getting Around

If you are staying in the towns of Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven or Edgartown, chances are you will be in close walking distance to restaurants, shops, beaches, and other attractions. To get further afield, you have several options.

• Bus

Sure, you could get around the island on a pricey tour via trolley or van or brightly painted school bus. But you’ll be joined by just as many tourists – and plenty of locals! – on the public Vineyard Transit Authority bus.

The buses on Martha’s Vineyard are reliable, efficient, and affordable, and reach every corner of the island in the summer season. If you’re staying down-island, there’s really no reason not to use them as your primary mode of transportation. There are bus stops at the airport and all major ferry terminals. Fares range from $1.25-$6.25 per ride, though one day passes are available for $8, three day passes for $18, and seven days for $30. Bring exact fare if you plan to purchase your pass or single ride on the bus directly.

Download the Vineyard Transit app to plan routes and track when the next bus is your way. And bonus! There are bike racks on most busses – so feel free to combine a long bike ride out to a destination with a relaxing bus ride back home.

Martha's Vineyard Bus System

Getting Around Martha's Vineyard on a Budgetsource

• Bicycle

Martha’s Vineyard is a cycler’s paradise, covered in over seventy-five miles of dedicated trails. Find a map of the island’s bike trails here. Also check Google Maps, which shows a bike option when you search for directions for the island! Even with a car on the island, I love the ride between Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven, and Oak Bluffs and Edgartown – no parking stress!

All passenger ferries allow bikes onboard for a modest fee, if you wish to bring your own. Rental companies in Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown offer rentals starting at $22 a day or $95 a week – call around for the best rates.

Biking on Martha's Vineyard
Biking on Martha's Vineyard

• Cabs

Uber and Lyft are now available on Martha’s Vineyard – rejoice! Get a free ride of up to $20 here with Uber, and up to $25 with Lyft here. I always check the quote for both since it varies which is cheaper. If a heavy surge is happening, keep in mind that a local taxi may be cheaper – call one to ask. Already steep rates double from midnight to 7am, so if you really want to enjoy the local nightlife you might consider staying in Oak Bluffs or Edgartown.

If you’re on a budget, local cabs should be used quite sparingly – a bike or the bus are great alternatives.

• Your Own Vehicle

If you’re set on having your own set of wheels, start crunching numbers. Depending on where you’re coming from and how many days you’re staying, it might be most cost effective to bring over your own vehicle, if you have one, on the Steamship Authority ferry.

It costs $137 round trip, not including any passengers, and reservations are absolutely essential. Make a booking as early as possible – like, yesterday – though you may have more wiggle room traveling off-season. If the ferries are full, try for the waiting list. We usually wait list a reservation a couple times a year and often they come through. Fill up your tank before you arrive on the island to save on inflated gas prices.

If you’re planning to rent a vehicle on island, try calling around to local island agencies in addition to checking the usual big booking sites. Car rentals start at around $60-$85 a day. Mopeds are often pricier to rent than cars, rarely starting at less than $100 per day. Keep in mind that depending on the season, parking on the island can be extremely limited.

Getting Around Martha's Vineyard on a Budget

What To Do

This is the easiest area to save – the best things to do on Martha’s Vineyard are free or nearly so! Wandering the island’s six charming and distinctly different towns, and spreading out on its classic New England beaches, should be top of your list. Honestly, my happiest childhood memories of Martha’s Vineyard are of doing a whole lot of nothing – it’s a place you come to relax and recharge.

Yet here are a few other ideas for $5 and under:

• Jump off the infamous Jaws Bridge – or enjoy the spectacle of those who are crazy or brave enough to do so: Free

• Climb to the top of the Edgartown Lighthouse, the Gay Head Lighthouse, or the East Chop Lighthouse and admire the view: $5

• Ogle the Aquinnah Cliffs, a favorite local photo op: Free

Budget Things to Do on Martha's Vineyard

• Take a community yoga class at the beyond beautiful Yoga Barn: Free

• Make furry friends and check out a local farm at Island Alpaca: $5

• Watch the sunset in Menemsha: Free (Plus the cost of whatever beach picnic you put together from local seafood shacks and the case of wine you brought to the island – no? Just me? Do like the locals do and bring a blanket and a beach chair and clap when the sun dips below the sea.)

• Ride the famed Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs: $2.50

Budget Things to Do on Martha's Vineyard

• Check out the galleries and weekly Vineyard Artisans Festival in West Tisbury: Free

• Work on your tennis swing on the local high school courts: Free

• Take photos of the colorful gingerbread houses of the Martha’s Vineyard Campmeeting Association: Free (Or pay $2 to visit the museum, or really splurge on $12 for an official tour of the neighborhood– my mom might be your tour guide!)

Budget Things to Do on Martha's Vineyard

And for $10 and under:

• Grab a hotdog and hit the stands to see local baseball team The Sharks play: $7

• Tour the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in Edgartown: $10 in the summer, $8 in the winter ($12 combo passes provide admission to both the museum and the Edgartown or Gay Head lighthouses.)

• Take an hour-long farm tour at The Farm Institute or The Grey Barn and Farm: $10 (cheese tasting and milking tours are also available for $20 at Grey)

• Ride your bike over to Chappaquiddick and tour the Mytoi Gardens: $6 round trip for the short ferry ride across the sound with a bicycle, an attraction in and of itself, and the gardens are free.

Budget Things to Do on Martha's Vineyard

Where to Eat

No surprise here – bargain eats are hard to come by. If you’re traveling on a tight budget, staying in accommodation where you can cook many of your own meals (the hostel, the campground, or a rental with a kitchen) will be a huge boon. We always arrive on the island with a huge haul of groceries, which my mom reckons are about 20% cheaper on the mainland. You can supplement the basics with fresh produce from local up-island farms, often available at roadside stalls outside the entrances.

Eating in Martha's Vineyard on a Budget
Eating in Martha's Vineyard on a Budget

Yet even if you cook the majority of your meals, you can still get that “on vacation” feel splurging on casual treats like ice cream at Mad Martha’s (literally, a Martha’s Vineyard must), apple fritters at Backdoor Donuts, or casual picnic eats like lobster rolls or clam chowder packed up for sunset.

Like most of the US, portions are huge in the Vineyard, so don’t be afraid to split an entrée if you do venture out for a splurge. Here’s a list of my favorite restaurants to do so at.

And here are a few other budget eat ideas:

• Seafood: On Fridays at Grace Church, you can get a massive lobster roll, chips, and a drink for $22. My mom says you get the best deal ordering them “unconstructed.” Available in season only, on Fridays from 4:30-7pm. Other affordable seafood favorites include The Net Result in Vineyard Haven and The Bite in Menemsha.

• Picnic supplies: Grab sandwiches and other to-go treats from 7aFoods in West Tisbury, Skinny’s Fat Sandwiches in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, and Slice of Life in Oak Bluffs.

• Sit down specials: My beloved Sharky’s Cantina has 50 items under $10 on their menu (my go-to order of a pulled pork quesadilla is just $9.99, and I always have leftovers), the lunch specials at Bangkok Thai Cuisine are a bargain (and the owners are Thai and couldn’t be sweeter), Biscuits offers sit-down breakfasts at low-down prices, and the cheese and charcuterie boards (starting at $11.99) at Bad Martha brewery are more than worthy of a meal. The chef at my favorite restaurant on the island, Red Cat Kitchen, recently recreated the bar menu at the casual local pub The Ritz – an amazing opportunity to try his creations at a fraction of the price.

. . . . . .

Bottom line? If you want to visit Martha’s Vineyard on a budget, you will probably have to compromise on something. If you love having the freedom of your own wheels, consider the hostel or campground. If you’d rather get cozy at a front and center inn, take the bus around. If you absolutely must visit in peak season, start pinning some fun summer recipes and planning some beach picnics.

That said, compromise tends to have a negative connotation, and in this case I don’t think it’s true – it’s really quite hard to do Martha’s Vineyard “wrong.” Come with a smile and regardless of how budget or bottomless your wallet might be, you’ll inevitably be swept up in the charm of — what one very biased blogger feels is, at least — one of the most magical islands in the world.

Any questions? Ask away! Are you a Vineyard regular who noticed something I missed? Feel free to add in the comments!

Surprises From Six Weeks in Brazil

As my biggest getaway of 2016, I spent plenty of time meticulously planning my six week trip to Brazil. And yet for all my research and reading, nothing can actually prepare you for the culture shock of completely immersing yourself in a new country, new language, and new lifestyle.

So many aspects of Brazil took me completely by surprise — both good and bad! While I’ve sprinkled in plenty of stray observations throughout my coverage, here are a few final thoughts on the biggest bombshells of my trip. Of course, in the end these are just the musings of a tourist — my experience was shaded heavily by my luck and by my mood. Others might have a different take. Brazilians, feel free to set me straight if I’ve misinterpreted your culture in any way.

Brazil Travel Blog

How safe we felt

One of our pleasant surprises of the trip was how comfortable Heather and I felt as two women traveling alone through what is often considered a very dangerous county. I should note that we had very low expectations in this regard. Stories of theft in Brazil are so rampant that I literally considered buying a backup iPhone before this trip, because that�™s how much I had pre-accepted that I was going to be robbed blind. My first day in São Paulo was a hilarious wake up call that I really needed to chill.

While we were constantly — like literally, constantly — warned by everyone we encountered to be careful with our cameras (to which we were like, yeah, duh), we were vigilant and cautious and had zero issues and really felt surprisingly safe and secure throughout our time in Brazil, with a few uneasy but brief exceptions. Of course many travelers do experience crime in this country, hence the constant warnings, but our experience was a reminder that there are plenty of travelers who move through the country grief-free, too.

Brazil Travel Blog

How no one gave a flip about Zika

Our trip was at the HEIGHT of Zika mania. My dad, a busy CEO who probably isn’t really sure what country I am in the vast majority of the time, called me specifically to ask if I might consider postponing or canceling my trip — Heather’s parents did the same.

So I arrived half-expecting some sort of Hazmat-covered country under quarantine. And seriously? No one cared. No. one. cared. The first few times Heather or I casually brought up Zika to Brazilians, they looked at us like we were paranoid nutjobs. When we told them that Zika was still headline news every night in the US, they were baffled. “Oh yes, Zika. I had it last year. Dengue is much worse,” a doctor we met at Tomorrowland told us flippantly before casually ordering up another caipirinha. As someone who is kind of the opposite of a hypochondriac, I found the whole attitude very refreshing.

Also? We literally did not see one mosquito. Anywhere. Ironically, our two biggest fears before arriving in Brazil could not have been less of an issue.

Brazil Travel Blog

How hard it was to communicate

Yet the thing I didn’t think to fear left me so frustrated I nearly flew home early. Living in Thailand, a country where I speak no more than a pitiful few throwaway phrases in the country’s notoriously difficult and tonal language, I have done plenty of pantomiming and getting by with little-to-no shared vocabulary. I’ve traveled to 37 countries now and before Brazil, communication has never been an issue beyond a passing flicker of frustration — I certainly never imagined that a language barrier would negatively influence one of my trips.

It started with a very misplaced sense of confidence. I like to classify myself as a “blissfully barely-competent Spanish speaker.” Which is a winking way of saying that while I’m far from fluent, I love speaking Spanish and embrace the challenge with gusto, never letting an improperly conjugated verb get in the way of a productive conversation in Latin America. And I thought, how different can Spanish and Portuguese be?

Ha! That false sense of security was only heightened by the planning stage of our trip, in which I was able to fairly easily understand several all-Portuguese websites. Oh, how naive I was! I’d soon learn that written Portuguese and spoken Portuguese are two entirely different beasts. While the former is quite similar to its Spanish cousin, the ladder was unlike anything I’d ever heard. “When we first boarded our plan to Brazil for Argentina, we wondered why they were giving the announcements in Russian,” confessed my Israeli travel companions in Jericoacoara. At the risk of offending my Portuguese-speaking readers, the primary adjective I’d use to describe Brazilian Portuguese was mushy. Without the sharp clarifying corners I’d grown to love in the Spanish language, I couldn’t even pick up the different words when spoken to in Brazilian Portuguese. And again, I greatly hesitate to write this and offend any Portuguese speaking readers, but the truth is the language didn’t agree with my ears. In the same way that some people’s taste buds are predisposed to certain foods, the sound of different languages appeal to different people. Portuguese just isn’t my jam.

Of course, I accept full responsibility for not knowing more than the basic guidebook phrases when I arrived in Brazil. Translation apps can only go so far, and I should have been better prepared.

But regardless, you must be thinking, surely there are plenty of Brazilians who speak English? Nao muitos! Studies claim only 3% of Brazilians speak English as a second language. And I found that those who might were extremely reluctant to speak it.

In Southeast Asia, for comparison, my experience has been that there is no expectation among locals that foreigners will speak Thai, Khmer, or Laotian. Fluency in English is also a rare trait in this region, though communication between traveler and local is generally light-hearted and earnest. There’s a sense of, we’re in this together, and neither of us is leaving until we figure out how many papayas I want to buy and how much you’re going to charge me for them, gosh darn it. 

Brazil Travel Blog

But I found that in Brazil, it was harder to get anyone to even attempt to communicate �” my apologetic English or hapless attempts at Portuguese were frequently met with terror, blank stares, and the person I was speaking to simply walking away from me. At Tomorrowland Brazil, I was unable to hear an employee at the information booth’s hesitant reply to me in English due to the loud music playing; when I asked her to repeat herself, she shook her head over and over again in mortified horror until I finally gave up and walked away. In Duty Free at São Paulo’s international airport, multiple employees practically sprinted from me in fear when I, again, always apologetically, requested assistance in English. When I wrote emails to hostels with English websites, they went unanswered. And more than once, I called a business and was told harshly, in perfect English, “we don’t speak any English,” before being hung up on. Needless to say my attempts to politely ask, “puedo hablar in Español?” were, with a few exceptions, also a giant flop.

I don’t think any of the people — just a few random examples plucked from six weeks of exasperation — were trying to be rude or unhelpful (in fact, the Brazilians we met who were comfortable speaking English were overwhelmingly warm and bubbly.) It was explained to me that many Brazilians are simply embarrassed by their lack of English abilities. In fact, one Brazilian I met explained that the reason we’d encountered so many domestic travelers at the hostels we stayed at was that Brazilians are often hesitant to travel to other countries, given their limited English abilities. It affects not just travel but business, too. And while many articles I’ve read in researching the lack of English speaking in Brazil assured me that locals would go out of their way to help me despite our lack of shared languages, I unfortunately did not find that to be the case. Maybe we just had bad luck.

Heather and I spent a lot of time reflecting on why we personally found the language barrier in Brazil so upsetting. We met quite a few men on the road (women traveling without male companions in Brazil were rare from our observation) who were basically like, “ha ha yeah we don�™t understand anything! Who cares!”

Is it that as women we have to be more concerned about our physical safety? Is it that we are highly attuned to being talked over and brushed off? Do we just find communication to be more important? Whatever it was, I found myself very on edge knowing that I was unable to express myself in the local language, and that if I were to try to use body language or, heaven forbid, my mother tongue, I’d clear the room. I felt invisible and vulnerable in a way I never have before while traveling.

Brazil Travel Blog

The champagne campaign

On a lighter note, I couldn’t believe how much Brazilians LOVE bubbly. I was extremely onboard with this. Tomorrowland Brasil had more champagne tents than beer ones, our brunch restaurant in Rio de Janeiro had a DIY Bubbles Bar for creative mimosas, and at three out of the five hotels I stayed at on the trip, sparkling wine was handed to us at check-in — at in some cases, again at check-out!

We learned at our cooking class in Paraty that the sparkling wine industry in Brazil is booming, which made it all click.

Brazil Travel Blog

How diverse it is

One thing that struck me immediately is how many nationalities Brazil encompasses, especially coming from uber-homogonous Thailand. Brazil is enormous and incredibly ethnically diverse, and there is no one way to look Brazilian.

From the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, German-descended Brazilians of the south to the Afro-Caribbean Brazilians of the northeast to the indigenous tribes of the Amazon and everyone inbetween, Brazil is a really beautiful mosaic of different faces.

Brazil Travel Blog

What novelties we were

I mean hello — this is the country that has hosted the World Cup and the Olympics in just a few short years! Surely a few blonde gringas wandering around would be no big deal? Yet even in one of the most famous cities in the world, we were blessed with some very authentic little interactions that reminded us that we were a fairly exotic sight to some, and provided a sweet and refreshing counter-point to the frustrating anecdotes I outlined above.

It started with the dozens of Brazilians whose eyes lit up with excitement when they saw the American flag I was waving at Tomorrowland and came over to give me a high five — a refreshing reaction, as a citizen of a country that tends to take a lot of international flack.

And it continued with the hilarious National Park Ranger at Christo Redentor who whipped out a notebook and solemnly quizzed us on random English slang and insults after hearing us chatting; furrowing his brow and taking detailed notes at each of our replies. The employees at the pet supply shop it Botafogo who were very indiscreetly taking photos of us with their cell phone until we started chatting in broken Spanish and showing them pictures of our dogs, at which point they dropped the secrecy and each took turns taking photos with us and shyly gifting each of us a special free dog toy to bring home to our pups. The man in the favela who waved us over and insisted I try his BBQ meat straight off the grill, wanting only a smile in return. The salesgirl who sold me a $12 dress and gave me a huge, heart-felt hug before I left the store.

The Uber driver who saved us from disaster and drove us all the way from Rio to Buzios, calling everyone in his phonebook and excitedly repeating the same story — we got the gist of it when we heard “Americanos!” sprinkled in over and over again. Though he didn’t speak a single word of English, he chivalrously tried to be of assistance when we stopped at a rest area for snacks, hugged and kissed us when we got to Buzios, and looked back at his star fares with pride as he started the long three-hour drive back to Rio.

Brazil Travel Blog

How much I loved São Paulo

While planning this trip I kind of considered São Paulo a necessary evil; a place we had to fly into and out of and stop in on the way to and from Tomorrowland. And yet it literally turned out to be one of my top two favorite destinations of the trip (alongside Jericoacoara, its polar opposite).However, while São Paulo might have been the greatest surprise, all the destinations I visited were great in their own ways. There’s not one stop on our trip that was a disappointment in and of itself, though some were somewhat marred by terrible weather and other circumstances.

I originally only planned four nights in São Paulo, but it was long enough to have lingering moments of wondering what it might be like to move there. (And also to my great surprise, I never once had that “if I lived here…” daydream in Rio.) I loved South America’s largest city so much, however, that I ended up stopping there for three more nights on my way back out of the country.

I spent most of it chilling out and reflecting on the six weeks behind me and little else (hence the lack of a blog post on this time), and what a better place to do so than Hotel Unique, where I wildly splurged on one last night of luxury. One of the most architecturally distinctive hotels I’ve ever stayed in, Hotel Unique summed up the cutting edge art, stylish design and bold style that made me fall for São Paulo in the first place — what a perfect note to say goodbye to the city, and the country, on.

Brazil Travel Blog

Brazil Travel Blog

Brazil Travel Blog

Brazil Travel Blog

Brazil Travel Blog

The crazy kissing culture

Heather and I didn’t go out much for the first five weeks we were traveling together (my final week, when I was itinerary-less in Jericoacoara, I let loose a bit more.) However, we had one big night out in Rio and one big night out in Buzios, and both of them had one common theme — we were fending off random liplocks left and right!

In Buzios, we actually ended up chatting to a group of guys away on a bachelor weekend who spoke great English, and playfully confronted them about the apparent Brazilian preference for kissing first, asking names second. They conceded with a laugh that it was true, but countered with a scandalized observation of their own. “But American women… it’s crazy… they dance like they want to [redacted term for intimate activities]!” 

The finer nuances of twerking, it seems, have not reached the shores of Brazil. We couldn’t stop laughing. But it’s true — in the US, it’s fairly common sight in nightclubs for people to wordlessly approach each other and dance pretty intimately, which we were learning was as shocking to Brazilians as their saying-hi-with-a-snog was to us.

Brazil Travel Blog

That Brazil is not a year-round tropical paradise

Perhaps some of you will read this and say “duh.” But Heather and I were ridiculously unprepared for the weather we encountered throughout April and May in Brazil, which is their autumn. Our first week was glorious (residents of São Paulo complained of a heatwave but it felt great to us!), our second was a disaster (it downpoured in Paraty non-stop for days), and the two weeks that followed were mostly nice with a few full days of rain tossed in to keep us on our toes. We had to cancel a bunch of activities as a result, which was a bummer.

However, the larger issue is that we were just completely unprepared for the evening temperatures. During the day, these two Southeast-Asia expats were happy and smiling in sleeveless tops and sundresses. But as soon as the sun went down at 5:30pm, the temperature would drop down to the fifties — omg! — and we would literally be sent into a frenzied cold panic. Neither of us had anything more substantial than jeans and a cardigan, and I kid you not when I say there were multiple people in Paraty wearing puffy coats and winter hats to keep warm. There were many days where we’d make big plans to go out for a few drinks in the evening and as soon as we felt that chill in the air we would freak out, run back to our rooms, put on as many layers and possible, make ourselves into bedding burritos and wish for for the warmth of the sun until morning. Dramatic? Abso-freaking-lutely. But there is very little that I loathe more than being cold — I’ve literally designed my entire life around avoiding it. And I didn’t do a very good job in Brazil.

Don’t let the pictures of palm trees fool you. Brazil is an enormous country with four seasons and a major range of eco-systems. Do your research and pack accordingly!

Brazil Travel Blog

How carefully you need to pack

In addition to the weather wake-up call above, we also discovered a few other surprises that make packing well essential for a happy trip to Brazil. First of all? Laundry is surprisingly tough to do. Hostels don’t offer per-kilo laundry service like travelers might be used to in Southeast Asia or other parts of Latin America, and laundromats are few and far between.

Second? Electronics are insanely taxed and tough to track down. For long trips, bring extra camera batteries, a spare laptop chargers, the works. I got the shock of my life when my MacBook charger fried and it was going to cost a cool $17oUSD to replace it. No joke! I heard at least one Brazilian explain that Apple products in particular are harshly marked up by both authorized and off-the-books retailers — one of the reasons iPhones are one of the prime targets for street snatchings.

How few backpackers we met

I’ve touched on this before, but in our weeks of traveling through Brazil, I was absolutely blown away by the lack of English-speaking travelers we encountered (which meant, compounded with our issues communicating with locals, Heather and I got to have a lot of deep and meaningful conversations with each other. I’m pretty sure she was ready to never, ever hear the sound of my voice again by the time she headed home.)

Having experienced the Gringo Trail full blast in Peru and Ecuador and throughout Central America, I found it baffling at first. Hello… where are all the battered-passport, backpack-toting Europeans, Australians, and North Americans on long haul trips around the continent?! Where are the retirees in zip-off pants? Where are the honeymooners? I didn’t find a heavy concentration of any of them, or any sort of traditional backpacker scene, until I hit Jericoacoara.

Why? Brazil has more visa restrictions than its neighboring countries, it is bigger and more expensive and thus a bit more intimidating to travel. Plus, six of the seven hostels I stayed in throughout my six weeks in Brazil were overwhelmingly populated by domestic Brazilian travelers. The cool thing is that the Brazilians staying in hostels are more likely than the rest of the population to speak a bit of English, and getting to bond with locals who are also traveling is pretty unique and fun — I went to the beach and to dinner with Brazilians in Jeri, we partied with Brazilians at Tomorrowland and I had some awesome chats over breakfast with Brazilians in São Paulo. However, those were kind of the exceptions and for the most part, everyone in the hostels spoke Portuguese and it was hard to break into that clique as an English speaker. Speaking Spanish does help, as many non-domestic travelers hail from neighboring Spanish-speaking countries, specifically Argentina.

Typically I love traveling alone, however in this case I was incredibly grateful to be on the road with Heather for the majority of my trip, lest I feel totally linguistically isolated from the world for six weeks straight.

Brazil Travel Blog

How unique the beach culture was

As a certified beach girl, I thought I knew a think or two about spending a day on the sand. Nah. Brazilians have the most unique beach culture I’ve encountered anywhere in the world — I wrote a whole post about it! People always talk about how Brazilians can teach the world a thing or two about how to party. I think they can also show us how to go to the beach!

Brazil Travel Blog

How tough it was to get a visa

Seriously, hats off to those of you who have to go through the difficult process of procuring a visa for every country you travel to. As a US citizen, most of the visas I’ve applied for in my life have been because I have desired to stay in a specific country longer than the standard visa-waiver would allow. And while they’ve often been a headache to procure, Brazil was the biggest eye opener by far.

First, I had to travel in-person to Bangkok to apply, and by that point I’d already gone back and forth with the embassy multiple times with questions about the application questions and procedure and other logistical issues. The amount of information I had to procure was astounding and I felt like I had assembled approximately twenty-seven documents by the time I was finished. My appointment was stressful, with my interviewer grilling me on minute details of my trip, cross checking my application with Heather’s (who had gone in separately) and berated me for not photocopying my passport ahead of time to the point that I broke down after my appointment worried that my application was going to be denied.

And it was expensive! The whole shebang set me back about $230, not including the cost of a trip to Bangkok, where thankfully I was going to be anyway. I was definitely left with a newfound respect for my fellow travelers who have to cut through this much red tape and more for every trip.

Brazil Travel Blog

Have you been to Brazil? If so, what surprised you about your trip? If not, which of these would catch you off guard?

Kicking the Can: How I Broke My Addiction to Diet Coke

For about a full decade of my life, I was a full fledged Diet Coke addict.

It was a part of who I was — I cracked open a can first thing in the morning, friends sent me Buzzfeed articles about things only Diet Coke addicts could understand, I had a little Diet Coke keychain and a Diet Coke mousepad, and my family I would send each other level red, full blown SOS texts when the fridge was running low. I was drinking 2-3 cans a day, plus fountain (my preferred delivery of choice) whenever I could get my hands on it, and I really had no true interest in stopping.

Breaking a Diet Coke Addiction

And then, suddenly, I did.

On March 1st of 2016 I started a one month Diet Coke free month while in Thailand, and on April 1st I decided what the heck — I extended another two weeks until I flew through the USA. After six weeks, the spell was broken, and I no longer feel powerless over the pull of the silver can.

So why cut the cord? I admit, of the many reasons people kick Diet Coke habits, I did so for pretty superficial reasons. I wasn’t getting headaches, or staining my teeth, or having any negative health repercussions — yet, anyway. But I was trying desperately to lose ten pounds that had creeped on slowly, and the connection between diet sodas and out-of-whack metabolisms and insulin production are hard to ignore. The more I learned the more convinced I became that a trial period without it was something I needed to try.

But in addition to hoping to drop some weight, it was also at times a very inconvenient addiction and I hated feeling so beholden to a particular can of fizz. When I woke up in the morning, it was the first thing I drank, and I was cranky and irritable all day when I couldn’t source it — which was fairly often, considering I often travel to remote areas, and diet sodas are still rare in many corners of the world.

At the time, I searched pretty desperately for first-hand accounts those who were also trying to kick a soda habit, and came up surprisingly empty. So, my carbonation loving friends, here is mine.

Breaking a Diet Coke AddictionMy uncle — who once ran a Coca Cola museum! It runs in the fam!

How I Did It

I never intended to cut Diet Coke out of my life entirely. Drinking Diet Coke was so much a part of both my daily routine and my identity I don’t think I ever could have started had that been my intention. Yet after years of trying to casually “cut back,” I knew I had to do something drastic if I ever wanted to make it a reality.

Today, I am no longer addicted to Diet Coke and that is all thanks to the initial six week cleanse in which I did not consume a single sip (more about my current consumption later.) In fact, it started as just a month long challenge which I extended for two weeks based on how good I felt! That cleanse was completely necessary to sever my dependence to the stuff and allow me to start living with a normal, non-crazy person’s relationship with soda after it ended.

I should probably note that Diet Coke was the only soda I ever really drank — I think Coca Cola tastes repulsive and outside of the rare diet root beer or craft soda on some sort of special occasion (hello, artisanal sodas at a county fair!), Diet Coke and I had a pretty monogamous relationship.

Everyone warned me about the withdrawal symptoms I’d have. Aside from a few terrible headaches the first few days, I actually didn’t find the physical side-effects to be too dramatic. I attribute the ease with which this cleanse went to these steps:

Breaking a Diet Coke Addiction

Breaking a Diet Coke Addiction

1. I did a ton of research

Once I decided to do the cleanse, it was actually pretty easy in practice. And that steely resolve was inspired by research I did as part of my DIY Health Retreat.

Documentaries like Fed Up and books like What Are You Hungry For? really spoke to the specific reasons I was personally looking to cut back — vanity, duh. They dove into how aspartame disrupts the body’s metabolism and craving systems and leads to unintentional weight gain, despite being zero calories. I was also recently recommended the documentary Sweet Misery, which I plan to watch on the plane back to the US to strengthen my resolve for another addiction-free summer.

Also, I read several interviews with skinny people — LOL — who said that they never drink diet sodas, and message board accounts from those who dropped pounds doing so. In the spirit of full disclosure I also read a ton of comments and message board posts from those who quit and never lost a pound, but everyone who did so seemed to feel it had a positive impact on their life.

Now look, it’s not like until last year I was walking around thinking Diet Coke was this super healthy product that I was treating my body like a temple by consuming. Not in the slightest — I knew Diet Coke was bad for me and I literally did not care, at least not enough to make me change. Thankfully, in this case, my desperation to lose a few pounds led me down an unlikely path that has had a holistic and positive effect on my life.

Breaking a Diet Coke Addiction

2. I told my friends

So strong was my resolve that the only serious cravings I had in those first six weeks were the two times I was tragically hungover. And because I had already told my friends what I was doing and they knew how important it was to me, they stopped me from giving in, reminding me how proud I’d feel when I hit the four — and then six — week mark.

3. I replaced it with something else

One of my primary concerns going into this cleanse was that Diet Coke made up the vast majority of my beverage consumption. Like literally, what was I going to drink?! Because in those days the only water I consumed was what I had while I was working out. Well, I now drink tea like it’s going out of style, as well as one or two carbonated waters per day and a TON more straight up tap water than I’ve ever drank in my life. Let’s get into each of those:

Tea

I have never been a tea drinker and so I did a bunch of research to find out which teas had caffeine — which I wanted — and which I would actually like. I absolutely loathe black tea, still to this day (sorry, Brits) but found green tea sort of tolerable, so I started out by putting one green tea bag into a mug with another herbal flavor that I enjoyed more, like lemongrass. For the first week or two of my cleanse, I sweetened my tea with local honey, though I quickly phased that out and I now drink my tea straight up, no sweetener.

A year later, I am a complete and total tea fiend and start every day with a mug of green tea rather than a Diet Coke, and usually go for an herbal tea over ice in the afternoon. I love trying new flavors — this brand from Hawaii is a recent obsession.

Water

I have struggled my entire life to drink water. My cleanse kick started a new habit in which I drink more than ever. I generally try to drink a full 17 oz. bottle between breakfast and lunch, between lunch and dinner, and whenever I work out. Combined with my carbonated water at meals and my morning and afternoon tea, I now easily exceed the recommended 64 oz. per day without too much trouble.

My recommendation? Get a fun, easy-to-drink stainless steel bottle that you love and will want to take everywhere, and have a jug or filter in your fridge so you have easy access to cold, ready-to-go tap water anytime. If you live somewhere with great water you can literally just use a nice pitcher, if you live somewhere where drinking tap water isn’t advisable — like I do — I highly recommend this Clearly Filtered Pitcher, which filters all bacteria, viruses, and other no-nos.

Breaking a Diet Coke Addiction

Breaking a Diet Coke Addiction

Carbonated Water

Or seltzer, or if you’re here in Thailand, soda water. To this day I can’t stand to drink straight up tap water with meals, it just doesn’t feel right. Seltzer is literally just regular water infused with air, and is just as safe and hydrating to drink as regular water (though studies do show it can be slightly more filling, and does have some extremely mild effect on dental health.)

So I now have unflavored seltzer with pretty much every single lunch and dinner. When I’m in the US, I sometimes go wild with the naturally flavored ones. I drink so much of the stuff I’m thinking of getting a seltzer machine like my mom has at home, and bringing it with me back to Thailand.

4. I did it somewhere away from the USA

I know this probably isn’t exactly replicable for most people, but it was a huge factor towards my success. Doing the Diet Coke cleanse in Thailand, where I’m not a fan of the local formula, made it so much easier than had I tried it stateside. If you can find some way — any way! — to shake up your routine, I think that will make all the difference in helping you to snap out of deeply ingrained habits.

While you may not want to mar a trip or vacation with withdrawal symptoms, starting a few days before you leave and your enthusiasm is still strong and arriving in a new destination just as your willpower might be wearing off could be the perfect way to distract yourself. (And ya know, now that I added this, it’s totally relevant fodder for a travel blog! Nailed it!)

5. Make a calendar

I actually didn’t do this, but if I started to struggle or stumble I would have bought or printed out a calendar, and marked off each day I made it without Diet Coke. I always find tracking and visual aids to be incredibly effective in helping me meet goals and stay strong through a challenge.

Breaking a Diet Coke Addiction

Breaking a Diet Coke Addiction

What I Learned

I have always considered myself to have an insane sweet tooth and ravenously consumed candy, desserts and all kinds of sugary goodness on a near-daily bases. Very quickly after giving up Diet Coke, those cravings all but disappeared. I still loved my sweet treats but I noticed that I didn’t HAVE to have them, and so throughout the course of my cleanse they were more of an actual occasional treat instead of a daily obsession. I even noticed my cravings for/consumption of things like bread and pasta subsided.

It was somewhat disorienting to realize that this thing I thought was just a core part of who I was was actually induced by a chemical I’ve been consuming daily for the last decade and a half. Some researchers believe artificial sweeteners like the aspartame in Diet Coke actually fuel the brain’s desire for the real thing, and after six weeks, I agreed with them.

Today, recognizing that my cravings are at least partially a result of choices I’ve made has actually been incredibly empowering. When I’m perusing 711 for snacks before a late night work session, I can no longer grab a bag of M&M’s with the excuse that, “Well I’m just a sweet-tooth having, sugar-loving fiend and there’s nothing I can do to change it!” Instead I think, “Well, I’m craving candy right now because I made the choice to have Diet Coke with my lunch. I can choose to go for it, or I can choose to have a banana instead.” It actually feels really good.

No, I didn’t drop a dress size. But I did find a new awareness of what was fueling my cravings. And as someone who considers herself to have like, zero willpower, it was kind of cool to set such a lofty goal and not just meet but exceed it.

Breaking a Diet Coke Addiction

One Year Later

Like I said earlier, I never intended to give up Diet Coke entirely — and I didn’t. Some warned that after six weeks I wouldn’t be able to stand a sip of the stuff, and I can assure you that did not happen. But I do feel like I have a normal, non-psycho person’s relationship with Diet Coke now, and that is a beautiful thing.

For the most part, I probably average about a can a week. When I’m extremely stressed and sleep deprived, I definitely fall back into a can a day. But that has only happened a couple times and within a few days I actually now see it as a big red flag I’m waving at myself — whoa girl, pull in the reigns on your life. Something isn’t right.

Breaking a Diet Coke Addiction

Breaking a Diet Coke Addiction

I split my year between Thailand and the US, and I admit that it’s much easier to go without here in Thailand, where I never even really liked the local formula but drank it out of pure dependence. In the US, I still love the taste of the stuff, especially the fountain version, and so it is much harder to avoid — especially because when I’m stateside I bounce between staying with various family members who are all still hardcore hooked.

What I tried experimenting with last summer was not allowing myself to drink cans at home, and instead only treating myself to fountain Diet Cokes when I was out and about running errands. Therefore it felt more like a special treat that I savored every second of, and less like something I was mindlessly downing out of habit. If I’m staying in a house where I have any input over what’s in the fridge, I keep it Diet Coke-free to avoid the temptation.

While there are definitely certain locations that tempt me to spiral out of control again (hello, my mom and dad’s houses!), overall I feel incredibly free from my old aluminum shackles. It kind of grosses me out now to think that in the past I would drink Diet Coke out of a plastic bottle, or even, heaven forbid, the occasional fountain Diet Pepsi at a restaurant — thing I literally don’t even like — just because I was so hooked.

Breaking a Diet Coke Addiction

It feel so good to go to a four day festival where there’s no diet version of Coke and not lose my shit. It feels so nice to stay at a resort that stocks Pepsi (gross) and not freak the flip out. It feels very freeing to no longer wake up in the morning, bug out that the fridge is empty, and disrupt my day by sprinting to the closest minimart to stock up before my dang morning can start.

While breaking my Diet Coke addiction didn’t make me the size zero supermodel I had hoped — just kidding, there are no catwalks in the future of this 5’2″-er — it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. It made me feel empowered, it removed a frequent hassle from my life, and it was a major game-changer in the healthier lifestyle I am always trying to cultivate.

Are you a current or reformed diet soda addict? Tell all in the comments!

3-devide-lines

Please note I know there are a lot of different opinions out there about food and addiction and if you happen to disagree with what I write here, please know it isn’t meant to offend you — I’m just sharing my own personal experiences and thoughts, and I respect that other people’s will be different! Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments.

Want to learn more about the science behind Diet Coke addiction? This article is a good place to start.