One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I just unpacked from it. This post is brought to you by VISIT FLORIDA.
So, usually you pick a destination then start looking for accommodation, right? In this case, planned a trip kind of backward — I started with a vintage vacation spot I couldn’t resist, and built a solo trip to St. Petersburg, Florida from there.
And on this trip I learned a secret – The Sunshine State is home to a treasure trove of hidden gem boutique hotels.
When VISIT FLORIDA invited me to explore one of the state’s beautiful boutique hotels, I knew I wanted to be on the ocean. I also knew I didn’t have huge budget tastes, but I craved great design. And I knew that anything that could further my obsession with classic retro Florida vibes was a win. That’s when I found The Postcard Inn on the Beach.
St. Pete has a laid-back beach vibe that’s reflected in the affordable, hip and casual Postcard Inn, originally built as The Colonial Gateway Inn in 1957. Before restaurateur Stephen Hanson gave the property new life as the surfer chic Postcard Inn, it was a Travelodge, and plans to demolish and rebuild were strongly opposed by the community, eventually encouraging Hanson to renovate and preserve the historical motel instead.
Postcard Inn avoids the downsides that can often befall famed boutique hotels – high rates and snobby attitudes. “Howard Johnson meets JetBlue,” is how the team behind the easy-going Postcard Inn creation described their end game.
The results are, in my humble opinion, the happy place where budget and bohemian make a baby, with room rates starting at $99 out of season (July through December) and $189 in season (January to June). Pets are welcome for a reasonable $75 fee per stay — as if there wasn’t already enough to like.
The chic lobby is lined with a bright rainbow of books on built-in shelves in one direction and a chalkboard displaying the times of sunset, sunrise, the tides and the temperature on another. There’s a cute breakfast nook, and in the mornings free coffee and tea are served, and a microwave is available to guests.
Although I was traveling solo, I opted for a classic double queen for my stay, drawn to the collection of surf photos by local St. Pete artists pasted into a visual headboard. I swooned over the full size surfboards in each room, the brightly colored Tommy Bahama toiletries, and the vintage table lamps on the desk.
Larger cabana-style rooms boast wooden carved headboards with detailed maps of the local area, chilled-out private patios with hammocks, and a small kitchenette. Other rooms feature floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall photo murals of longboard surfers catching a wave, or a series of bold quotes by legendary surfers — as well as Thoreau, the Beach Boys, Warhol, or Jay-Z.
The two-story, U-shaped motel is made up of just under 200 rooms, with an Olympic-sized pool and a lush garden patio in the center. Rooms facing into the courtyard and pool are slightly higher priced, while those offering the best value face outward toward the parking lots for each wing.
Bonus! Parking is included in the $25 per night resort fee, along with Wi-Fi, bicycle rentals, and use of the other hotel amenities.
The weather was unseasonably rainy and cloudy during my stay, which gave me plenty of time to explore downtown St. Pete, though less to explore the beach and pool. Still, when the rain paused one morning I walked down for a breakfast picnic on the sand and could see why beach bums flock here.
For those who prefer to stay busy, a serious of lawn games and two beachside gyms provide alternative entertainment. In the lobby, a vintage photo booth, a library of art books, and a caricature artist who set up shop in the corner offered even further distraction. “Dive in” movie nights, where films are projected over the pool, are a popular weekend event.
I found that the majority of St. Pete’s most alluring dining options were a 20-minute drive or so away in the downtown core. The onsite restaurant, The Boathouse Kitchen and Bar, is an exception – I had a lovely lunch here with my aunt one day before venturing out for the day to explore, and ordered room service another night.
Between the pool and the beach is the freestanding PCI Beach Bar, and an adjacent Snack Shack, which is open in high periods (during my visit, mid-week in June, it wasn’t open.)
One night, I held a reader meet-up for fellow travel addicts in the Tampa and St. Pete area. Fourteen of us kicked off at the PCI Beach Bar, where live music and a stunning sunset made a Sunday feel like a Friday. Reclaimed wood, a recycled tin roof and license plates from around the world made me feel like we’d washed ashore and come up in the Florida Keys. Locals promised me the PCI beach Bar was the perfect spot for my reader meet-up, and they were right.
Interior designer Tara Oxley said in an interview that photographer Stephen Shore’s 1970’s American road trip images and a passage from Jack Kerouac provided some of her primary inspiration. That free-spirit, travel-loving vibe was there from check-in to checkout.
There’s so much that I adored about my stay at The Postcard Inn on the Beach, my only complaint is that I didn’t have more time to spare. But I’ll be back. Between the love of a community that spared this Gulf Coast gem from being dozed and developed, a design team that believed style is for every budget, and the picture-perfect location, this place has a lot to love.
The hotel truly reflects St. Pete, which I quickly learned is itself a funky and affordable, no-fuss kind of city, from the retro beach to the hip downtown. Even at its most upscale, St. Pete is unpretentious, the kind of city where flip-flops feel more at home than high heels. Barefoot? Even better.
Other Boutique Hotels in Florida
Looking for somewhere affordable and stylish elsewhere in the Sunshine State? Check out these other boutique hotels I’ve bookmarked for future trips.
• One Ocean Resort in Jacksonville: A slick resort with a spa and ocean views. Rates starting at $219.
• Postcard Inn in Islamorada: The sister hotel to St. Pete’s Postcard Inn, the Florida Keys location brings all the charm of the original down South. Rates starting at $209.
• Hotel Cabana in Clearwater: Another recently renovated motel with stylish rooms, affordable rates, and an Instagram-able pool. Rates starting at $120.
• Sense Beach House in Miami: This sleek and stylish 18-room boutique hotel in South Beach boasts a rooftop pool and a happening restaurant. Rates starting at $170.
What’s your favorite Florida boutique hotel? Does the Postcard Inn look like it’s your style?
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA. The opinions and text are all mine.
One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I just unpacked from it. This post is brought to you by Universal Orlando Resort.
If there is one wedding trend you will never hear me grumble about, it’s destination bachelorette parties. A chance to get away with a group of my best gal pals? Sign me up! Let’s face it — the opportunities for girlfriend getaways are fewer and far between as time goes on, families get started and responsibilities pile up. So I’m all for making the most of indulgent time away while we can.
Plus, you know I can’t pass up an opportunity to raid the closest arts supply store! If my girl Angie’s Bachelorette Bonanza in Bonaire was any indication, it’s not a Wanderland-stamped bachelorette bash unless it’s replete with crafted and curated goody bags and coordinating outfits. Crafting is my love language, guys.
When I first told our dear family friend Ashlee that I was working with Universal Orlando for the year, she nearly fainted with excitement at the mere thought of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Not long after, she got engaged. My travel-idea wheels started turning, and soon a Harry Potter Bachelorette Party for Ashlee, my sister Olivia and I was born.
Both girls arrived on a Friday afternoon, and we spent a low-key evening enjoying dinner and girly giggles at the Royal Pacific Resort. I’d had a big week at Volcano Bay, and so I was thrilled we were having an early night in to prepare for the big day out ahead!
While we had a few delays in the morning and weren’t the first ones banging down the gates at opening time, we did take advantage of the extra hour of park admission for onsite hotel guests. We were visiting on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, so crowds should have been crushing. But by planning out our route and taking advantage of onsite guest perks, we really did make the most of our visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
My advice? Check to see which parks have early admission — on this particular day, only Islands of Adventure did. (Remember, Hogsmeade is in Islands of Adventure, while Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios, and they are connected by the Hogwarts Express ride. Thus, a park hopper pass is required to visit both in one day.) So we started our day in Hogsmeade, and rode all three rides there as soon as we arrived, waiting only for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey — which in retrospect, we totally should have sprinted to first out of the three rides, since it’s the only one that doesn’t accept the Express Passes that we received included in our stay at Royal Pacific.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is definitely the standout of Hogsmeade, and it truly left me speechless! Dragon Challenge is a traditional crazy coaster that you could ride twice and have two totally different experiences, and the Flight of the Hippogriff is a more family-friendly roller coaster.
Once we had all the rides under out belt, we wandered in and out of the beautifully themed shops, took a million photos, and giggled while Ashlee did spells. While neither Olivia nor I are huge Harry fans — though believe me, it’s growing on me! — we seriously were having a blast and loving how much fun Ashlee was having.
“Is this what it’s like to be parents?,” Olivia mused, as we watched Ash waving her wand around with huge smiles. While I’m normally not much of a souvenir-buyer, wands are an absolute must for the true Potter-head. They allow you to perform spells at mapped locations all over the Wizarding World!
While this was my third trip to Universal Orlando, I had never truly experienced Hogsmeade before, so it really was a blast for me. After a Butterbeer toast to seal the morning, we were off on the Hogwarts Express — which again, thanks to our Express Passes, magically had no line!
And after a whirl on the world’s only inter-theme park ride, we arrived in Diagon Alley! I was so excited to see the girl’s reactions to this truly magical place, one of the greatest themed lands I’ve ever seen in any theme park anywhere in the world.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts was down temporarily, so we wandered the alleys doing more spells, splitting an ice cream, and checking out all the fab little shops and details.
Throughout the day, we were overwhelmed with super sweet and sincere compliments from Universal employees on our outfits, and Harry Potter glasses specifically. Considering they’ve seen it all, we were pretty dang proud of ourselves. The best part was, since I’d had to order an eight pack, we had extras to hand out to strangers who asked us about them — so fun!
Next up, it was time for a lunch — and air-conditioning! — break at The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar in CityWalk. I’d heard raves about this spot and while we were all boring and ordered (super delicious) salads and soda waters, I am totally coming back some night for their craft cocktails and signature Burgushi®.
After lunch, we headed back into Islands of Adventure to hit my favorite area of Universal Orlando… Seuss Landing! The girls humored me with spins on both The Cat in The Hat (which I’d been on before) and theThe High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride (which I hadn’t.) Neither had more than a two minute line.
Turns out the train ride has some of the best photography vantage points in the entire park — it’s so cool to see it all from above! So whether you’re a Seuss fan or not, if you’re coming with a camera you might just want to hop aboard for a spin.
After, we headed for my favorite ride in the park — Jurassic Park River Adventure. At this point, the late afternoon holiday weekend crowds were at their peak, so we decided to head back to the hotel for a dip in the pool and a nap before the rest of the day.
My big regret of the trip? Not taking the girls on my beloved Hulk coaster and not trying out the two water rides, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, when it was blazing hot! Sure, we could have fit it all in if we’d stayed in the park from open to close, but with a long weekend of fun ahead, we chose to pace ourselves — which is the exact reason I’d recommend travelers invest in at least a three day park-hopper pass so they don’t burn out while trying to enjoy all Universal Orlando Resort has to offer (which is, if you haven’t picked up on it already, a lot.)
Thankfully, by the time the sun set we were well rested for a night on the town — the town, in this case, being Universal’s CityWalk! One of my favorite things about a Universal vacation is you don’t have to get in a car once if you don’t want to.
You can eat, stay, play all in one compact, well-connected resort without fussing with rental cars, cabs, or Ubers. It actually makes it the perfect bachelorette bash port of call — between the security checks into CityWalk, the free water taxis back to the onsite hotels, and the peace of mind of keeping everyone in one place in a big group, you really couldn’t ask for a more worry-free destination for a girl’s night out.
CityWalk is bursting with dining options, which made it hard to narrow down our dinner reservations, though we finally settled on Antojitos for a festive Mexican meal. It did not disappoint! The modern and colorful interiors left us swooning — table for three in a birdcage? yes please! — and the menu left us drooling.
Don’t miss the ginger mojitos or the fresh guacamole made to your specifications right at the table!
After dinner, we rushed back into the park for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, which we literally sprinted to when I read on the Universal App had reopened! With late summer hours, you really can make the most of your day — and night. Diagon Alley looks totally different at the dark, which made the ride being closed earlier in the day actually feel like a blessing in disguise. We got on what must have been one of the very last runs of the evening, and exited right as the nightly fireworks were going off. Talk about timing.
After, we strolled back into CityWalk ready to dance — and sing. We kicked things off at my personal favorite venue, Rising Star Karaoke, where you can croon with a live backup band and backup dancers. Unfortunately we arrived right as the band went on a lengthy break so the girls didn’t really get to experience Rising Star in all it’s glory, but our friendly waiter conceded that on a busy weekend you really need to arrive at opening to have a good chance of singing, anyway.
After a few drinks and sing-alongs, we were off to check out CityWalk’s two nightclubs, The Groove and Red Coconut Club. As very dedicated researchers, we did a thorough comparison of both — and while the dancefloors were packed and we had a blast at each, Red Coconut won out as our favorite for the retro kitsch decor (The Groove was more general-Myrtle-Beach-nightclub in comparison.) Both were totally unpretentious, with an all-age crowd all just looking to have a good time. And if you’re staying onsite, you’ll get free entry to every CityWalk venue by showing your room key — so why not check out both?
Not so much for the club scene? There are also some great bars in CityWalk — Bob Marley–A Tribute to Freedom has great live music (and Jamaican specialities on the dinner menu), Pat O’Brien’s boasts dueling pianos (and cajun food), and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville has, well, a margarita-filled erupting volcano (and cheeseburgers in paradise, duh).
CityWalk’s last call is 2am, but make sure you close out your tab a bit earlier to grab late night slices at the Red Over Pizza Bakery. We took them to-go and hopped on the last water taxi of the night back to Royal Pacific, which turned out to be one of my favorite moments of my entire eight days in Orlando. Why?
When we boarded the boat, I noted that the professional young captain was a girl around our age. The only other group on the boat was another crew of ladies coming back from a big night out. As we pulled away from the dock, the captain wordlessly turned on a speaker and started blasting Madonna’s classic hit Lucky Star. When she started busting some serious dance moves at the wheel, we excitedly began belting backup from out seats. We might not have made it onstage at Rising Star, but the boat become our grandstand, the seven of us aboard rocking out for a one-song headline.
When we docked, we laughed and thanked our lovely captain for an unimaginably perfect ride home. “Well, I figured it was just us girls,” she said with a wink.
Just us girls indeed! It was the perfect day at the parks, and a bachelorette for the books.
What’s the best destination you’ve discovered for a bachelorette weekend?
This post is brought to your by Universal Orlando Resort. I am a member of the Universal Blog Squad, and have been compensated for this partnership. I maintain full editorial control and as always all thoughts, opinions, and over-ambitious craft projects are my own.
One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I haven’t unpacked from it yet.
I won’t lie — before my childhood friend Steve announced his wedding was taking place in Sarasota, Florida, I don’t think I could have pointed to the place on a map. But I was thrilled to make my way there regardless, one stop on a long road trip through Florida that worked out to be more perfectly timed than any of us could have imagined.
Why? Because while my other childhood friend Kristin and I — who was also making the trek south with her boyfriend Mark — were weighing up the various wedding hotels, we realized that her recently retired parents Marc and Laura would be renting a house in nearby Siesta Key at the same time while they explored future relocation spots. It just so happened to be a three bedroom house. And they just so happen to be the people I consider my second parents. And so we decided to all have a massive weekend-long sleepover party. What could be more perfect?
After a night in Tampa with my aunts, I drove down to Sarasota just in time to spend a few hours oooh and aaaahing over Marc and Laura’s cute rental before getting ready for the rehearsal dinner at Michael’s Wine Cellar.
It was a beautiful night! We got to connect with several other wedding guests, meet the beautiful bride Ali’s family, and beam through sweet speeches from family and friends.
Kristin and I even made an appearance in a giggle-worthy photo from a high school homecoming dance in the slideshow — what’s a childhood BFF’s wedding without a reminder of how badly you used to do your eyebrows?
The next day, Marc and Laura treated us to a beach day at their favorite stretch of sand on Siesta Key. I could see why they loved the place. The beach was almost Caribbean feeling! I couldn’t be happier to be kicking it in a beach chair with some of my favorite people — and a guidebook.
We didn’t linger too long of course — we had a wedding to get ready for! The nuptials were taking place at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota, so I knew we were in for a treat.
Sadly, after months and months of drought, Florida was hit hard with storms that week, and the ceremony had to be moved inside. My heart broke for the bride who’d planned such a beautiful outdoor ceremony, but I don’t think anything could kill the vibes once the live music cued up for the bridal party’s stroll down the aisle. Our friend Chris was one of the groomsmen and it was hard not to cheer when he started off the procession!
I love the Jewish wedding tradition of having both parents walk the bride down the aisle.
It was very surreal watching someone I’ve known since we were both in braces make such a beautiful commitment. I’ve grown to love Ali over the years of crashing with the two of them on some of my trips through New York City, and I truly can’t imagine a better fit for Steve — he really did crush this whole “choosing a life partner” thing.
And then the party got started! Since I know how much work brides and grooms put into their weddings, I texted them the next morning with a detailed list of everything I loved: the food was phenomenal; the band was so much fun; the room was grand and stunning.
I absolutely loved dancing the night away with some of my hometown besties!
The next morning, we went with Kristin’s parents for a hangover brunch and wedding recap at Sun Garden Cafe, which was my personal favorite meal of the trip. The outdoor seating area was adorable, and my fresh veggie omelette was just what I needed. After, we cruised around to Lido Key — which I didn’t find anywhere near as impressive as Siesta Key — and finally up to St. Armands Circle.
There, we found ourselves at the roof deck of the Tommy Bahama restaurant, where the tropical drinks cemented the magical feeling I had that I was truly on vacation. (It might have been the company, too, who I have years of traveling to Myrtle Beach with under my belt.) How I resisted the dessert tray, I’ll never know.
That night, Marc and Laura treated us to a very special goodbye treat — a sunset cruise to the sandbar off Siesta Key.
It was a very cool trip that included beer, or you could bring your own booze — however, the second I realized there was no bathroom onboard I abstained from all liquids. Better safe than sorry, y’all.
The tour kicked off with our guide pointing out all the notable real estate in the area, either homes built by celebrities or with wild stories of wealthy owners. We ate it up like the good little tourists we were.
We also passed a bird sanctuary, some interesting mangroves, and most excitingly — dolphins! I smiled at the memory of seeing them underwater on a dive in Honduras years ago, and found myself feeling lucky to get to be in their presence out in the wild again.
Yet the highlight was still to come — pulling up to an expansive sandbar in the sea. We were set loose to hunt sea shells, stick our toes in the sand, and wade around into the sunset.
That weekend, Marc and Laura had told us that Marc’s other daughter would be visiting the next weekend — and her boyfriend was planning to propose! We were so enamored with the sandbar that we all hatched the plan that her boyfriend should pop the question in this exact spot… complete with Kristin and I doing a full pre-enactment so Marc and Laura could work out their photography angles, ha ha.
Post-cruise, we grabbed a pizza from hip and happening Siesta Pi Pizza before turning in for the night. I couldn’t think of a more perfect note to end the weekend on.
It was such a lovely weekend full of amazing friends, and friends who feel like family. I was so grateful to Steve and Ali for bringing us all together to celebrate, to Marc and Laura for opening their home-away-from home, to Chris for being my dance-floor buddy and to Kristin and Mark for letting me be their third wheel.
I couldn’t ask for a more relaxing way to kick off Florida!
Next up, Orlando, Tampa, and St. Pete!
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!
I’m not saying I did Bali wrong in the past. But I definitely didn’t do it this right.
In March, I spent nearly three weeks in Bali, a trip that left me walking around like a heart-eyed emoji and dreaming about dropping everything and moving my life to another little island in Southeast Asia. While it was technically my third trip to Bali, I absolutely felt like I was truly seeing and experiencing this magical island for the first time.
It all started at The Chillhouse. I had five days between flying out of Penang and the start of my ten day coding bootcamp with Institute of Code, and I knew I wanted to find somewhere where I could chill out, recharge, focus on my pre-course work, and get into the Bali groove. I literally could not have picked a more perfect place.
Do you ever stay at a hotel that is so perfect for you it almost creeps you out? Like somehow someone tapped into your brain, figured out everything you’re obsessed with, and made it into the world’s most Instagram-able accommodation? Because that is how I felt at Chillhouse.
Chillhouse is kind of a one stop shop for everything that makes Canggu the magnetic town that it is — great surfing, fabulous healthy food, lush yoga, and above all, incredibly design.
Every room at The Chillhouse is different, and I was thrilled to be bunking down in one of the beautiful double bungalows.
My room featured an outdoor bathroom where I showered under the stars, a spacious porch and garden where I watched Institute of Code prep videos on HTML and CSS, and a chic bedroom where I caught up on sleep after running around Malaysia for a few days. It was just what I needed, and it really felt like home even after a few very short days.
I was pretty obsessed with the food at Chillhouse. Dinner is served communally, which I love. Some of my favorite places to stay around the world — including La Iguana Perdida in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala do this, and it’s such a lovely way to get to know the other travelers you’re sharing your space with.
I learned from these dinners that Chillhouse is an addiction. One expat couple living in Singapore told me this was their sixth trip! Several others I spoke to were return visitors as well — like I too hope to be someday.
During the day, there’s an a la carte fully organic menu that includes salads, wraps, and of course, Bali’s famous smoothie bowls. My only criticism of the meals at Chillhouse was that the breakfast specials weren’t available until 9am — since a lot of the yoga and surfing activities kick off earlier, it would nice to have those as an option as soon as the restaurant opens at 6:15am.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Bali retreat without yoga. Chillhouse’s onsite open yoga shala is one of my favorites anywhere — and not just because of the bold “kiss my asana” yoga pun on the wall. (I bought two totes from the onsite boutique with the same phrase.) They offer one or two classes per day in vinyasa, hatha, yin, guided meditation, and kundalini. Classes are IDR 120,000 per class or ten classes for IDR 1,000,000.
I made it to one vinyasa class and one yin class and really adored them both. Other health and wellness options include an hour of personal training at IDR 700,000 per person, a mind and body coach for IDR 1,400,000 per session, and The Dose, a popular health and electrolyte IV drip for dengue, hangovers, food poisoning, and beyond. (I didn’t actually use The Dose while I was in Bali but I was beyond obsessed with the idea and actually couldn’t stop talking about it anyone and everyone in my path, ha ha.)
Chillhouse also turns its attention to surfing and biking. There are daily downhill tours to Bali Bike Park, which is like a ski resort for biking with various downhill rides and uphill shuttles, and multiple daily surf sessions for various skill levels. I made the mistake of signing up for an afternoon class that was a little above my skill level — and lacking in waves — but still had fun, as always, being out on the ocean.
Some guests told me that they preferred taking cheaper surf lessons from the beach, but one benefit of booking right through Chillhouse was that transportation is included and there’s always a ratio of one surf coach for two guests. Prices are IDR 750,000 for one lesson, three lessons for IDR 2,240,000 or five for 3400,000.
After all that surfing, biking and yoga-ing, you’re probably going to start aching for a massage. Lucky you — you can have one steps away from your room! I had a truly unbelievable treatment at Chillhouse, and the best part is the rates are incredibly competitive with local spas. Body massages are IDR 1700,000 per hour, while foot massages are a mere 150,000 per hour. Four hand massages are also available, though I learned from my last trip to Bali that it’s just not my thing. Those are almost too much of a good thing… I don’t know where to focus! (And I do wonder how all three people would fit in the tiny treatment rooms!)
If you’re feeling even further pampering is necessary, a manicure pedicure can be had for IDR 450,000.
And for all my fellow digital nomads, or anyone wanting to take an online course, or travelers who just need to catch up on some computer time, (personally, I was all three!) Chillhouse has a beautiful coworking space.
My previous two trips to Bali were quick breeze-throughs for a few days before flying out of the Denpasar Airport when I was doing my diving courses on neighboring island Gili Trawangan. I basically just stayed in Ubud, Kuta and Legian and soaked up all the fresh water showers and air-con I could get (I was living in a basic room with a fan and brackish water on Gili T, so those felt like unbelievable luxuries!)
This time, I really found “my” Bali in Canggu — I’ll have a post coming up soon of my favorite spots, which were easy to explore with Chillhouse’s free bikes.
Checking out of Chillhouse, I was sad to go! But like the many repeat visitors I met over communal dinners, I hope that I too will be back soon. And I didn’t have much time to be wistful, since I was quickly off to my next adventure…
Stay tuned for stories from my time at Institute of Code!
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!
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.
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.)
Boutique Camping: 5,000B or $140US
There are multiple different options for where to stay at Wonderfruit.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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?
Also in this series: Wandering Through Wonderfruit: A Festival Review Part I • Feasting on Wonderfruit: A Festival Review Part II
I received a press pass to Wonderfruit, however all other expenses were my own, and I will outline them in an upcoming budget breakdown.
This post was written by me and brought to you by Skillshare.
“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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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?
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
That night, we started to take our dress-up duties seriously. After all, we had packed fruit flair for days!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
And then we were off to prepare for a big Saturday night… and a surprisingly eventful Sunday. Stay tuned!
Does Wonderfruit sound like your kind of festival?
I received a press pass to Wonderfruit, however all other expenses were my own, and I will outline them in an upcoming budget breakdown.
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?
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!
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
• 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.
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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.