Florida Fanatic: My Summer Plans for the Sunshine State

Happy Thursday! This post is sponsored by AVIS
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“How did you end up here?”

I can’t help it – it’s one of my favorite questions. When I talk to other travelers on the road, my insatiable curiosity kicks in and I always want to know how they picked this destination, what their itinerary is, and why they chose that particular route. I just love to know how people’s minds work when it comes to travel!

Florida Travel Blog

Florida Travel Blog

That’s why sometimes I like to give you a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into planning a trip before takeoff. These posts are a good reminder that a big part of my “job” happens off-screen – coordinating my Tetris-like calendar, figuring out when I need to be where, and what I’ll be doing when I get there.

Last year I shared a post about my holiday getaway to Siem Reap and Bangkok as a real life example of how my Wanderland Guide to Travel Planning comes to life! Now, I’m going to give you another glimpse into the planning process for an upcoming trip to Florida. Or as I like to say, here’s how I got from daydream to departure gate.

Florida Travel Blog

1. Picking a Destination

The destination was pretty much picked for me! Last summer one of my best friends from high school announced his wedding in Sarasota in May.

Florida is the punchline of a lot of jokes (I’m looking at you, Florida Man Twitter account) and to some seasoned adventure travelers, might not seem like the most exotic destination. But I love it. For me, since I was little, Florida has meant family and kitschy fun in the sun. Now, I have even more family members (and friends-who-feel-like-family) there than ever, so I knew I’d want to turn this wedding into a larger, multi-destination trip.

Miami Scenic FlightFlorida with friends…

St. Pete Florida Color Run…and family!

Feeling out my dates was the first step. As usual, I’m currently spending the winter in Southeast Asia, and so this year I booked a flight back to New York landing just in time to make it up to Albany for Mother’s Day weekend. I gave myself just four short days of jetlag restoration and repacking there before jetting off to Florida on May 16th (a full week would have been ideal, but you can’t have it all!)

On the other end of the calendar, I’m going back to Bonnaroo! So I knew I had to touch down in Nashville by June 7th. That gave just around three weeks in Florida to play with.

Florida Post Office

Florida Beaches

2. Booking Airfare

Traditionally, the next step is to book flights. Now I know I’m going to fly into Tampa, however some of the trip is still up in the air (and you’re going to help me finalize it!) so I’ve held off booking the return trip. And it’s a good thing, too, because I ended up fitting in a work opportunity that will take care of this for me.

USA Travel Tip: Booking with Southwest is a perfect choice for those who need a little flexibility in their schedule. Technically I booked a Southwest flight from New York to Florida using miles a while back when I saw they were having a sale, but thanks to Southwest’s amazing flexibility, I can easily get a refund for those miles and use them for another summer flight.

Florida Food

Florida Travel Blog

3. Creating an Itinerary

With quite a few items on my Florida bucket list and not enough time to pull them all off, creating an itinerary was (and actively is!) the struggle of this trip.

• First stop: Tampa

Family time! There are several direct flights from Albany straight to Tampa, and so that will be my first stop to soak up time with my hilarious aunts.

I’ve been to Tampa a billion times but I always look for something new to do when I’m there. A walking mural tour through the Central Arts District and a visit to the Tampa Museum of Art are calling to me for this trip.

The Florida Aquarium Tampa

Scuba Diving in Florida

• Next up: Sarasota

Wedding time! I’m super excited about watching Steve and his gorgeous wife-to-be Ali at the end of the aisle, but I’m also looking forward to time with my fellow wedding guest and childhood BFF Kristin. I’m also hoping to take in some of Sarasota’s big sights – the Ringling Brothers Museum is top of my list, as well as a possible boat tour of the tiki bars strewn around the surrounding Keys.

Florida Yacht Miami

• And then: Orlando

I am actually obsessed with water parks but strangely as a woman in her late twenties, I struggle to find friends to join me (so weird right I know). So basically I could not be more excited to be attending the opening of Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando Resort from May 22-26th!

I will in fact be seeing a lot of Orlando this summer — at some point I’ll also be bringing my sister and our friend Ashlee for a little Muggle Marriage Harry Potter themed bachelorette party! We can’t wait – though I suppose first I should actually, er, read the books.

Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Orlando Resort

Plus, though I’m generally not a Disney World fan (I FAR prefer Disneyland in California), I am also super excited about Pandora, the long-awaited Avatar themed land opening in Animal Kingdom this summer. My dad is a DVC member, and so we might do a family weekend there at some point as well – though we will definitely give it a few months post-opening for the crowds to thin out.

Universal Orlando Resort

• After: St. Petersburg 

Breaking news: I’ve just confirmed I’ll be partnering with Visit Florida in May to promote the state’s fabulous array of boutique hotels. I’m super excited to be spending three nights exploring St. Petersburg, a destination I’ve spent so much time near — it’s Tampa’s neighboring city! — and so little time actually in. This is my absolute favorite kind of project.

Dali Museum St. Pete

Dali Museum St. Pete

• Finally: You pick!

From May 26th-June 7th, the calendar is wide open (apart from whenever I fit in the aforementioned campaign). What to do with those beautiful twelve days? Well, I have a lot of options! The most sensible one would be heading back to Albany to rest and regroup before Bonnaroo. But I think we all know I’m rarely sensible when it comes to booking a trip. Which is why I’m also considering these three options:

— Central Florida diving trip: A road trip to Central Florida’s amazing dives (Blue Grotto, Devil’s Den, etc.) via an adorable vintage VW vans… with some mermaids and a paddle boarding side trips thrown in!

— Florida Keys camping trip: Enjoying all the great campsites and natural adventures throughout the Florida Keys from a brightly painted camper van… do you sense a theme here?

— Jacksonville and Amelia Island friendcation: Now that Angie’s officially a homeowner (!) I’m dying to get up to Jacksonville and see her new digs, hang with the extended Orth crew, and get a proper tour of the city (we never left her apartment last time I visited due to an unexpected cold snap and our resulting panic). My friend Kristin’s coverage of her recent visit has me even more excited. Plus, we’ve been throwing around the idea of sneaking off to Amelia Island for a little friend-cation, too!

Which trip would you like to see me go on?

Florida Manatees

Homosassa Manatee

4. Booking Ground Transportation

Since Florida’s destinations are relatively compact, air travel within the state is a bit silly – you’d spend as much time going through security as you would hitting the highway.

Enter Avis. I’ve been dying to put their new Avis Now app into action since reviewing it for this blog, and this is my big chance. I know that I’ll be flying into Tampa so I used my phone to reserve a car with a few simple swipes. When I land, I’m going to receive push notifications to my phone letting me know where my car is located so I can simply bypass the rental counter, find my car in the parking lot, and unlock the car straight from my phone. I’ll be able to save time and best of all, drive off the lot having never made contact with another human. Sound intriguing? Read my full review here! Fellow introverts, I know you feel me.

SUP Yoga Tampa

Miami Florida

Right now I’m thinking that I’ll want to drop off my rental in Orlando, since I won’t be leaving the property once I arrive at Universal. Avis is the Official Car Rental Partner of Universal Parks & Resorts, which means I’ll be able to drop the car right at my hotel when I check in! How dang handy is that?

But – if I decide to change that last minute it’s not a problem. The app allows you to modify your reservation, extend your rental, and even change your drop-off location on the fly.

Sapphire Falls Resort Orlando

5. Booking Accommodation

Like flights, booking accommodation was an unexpected breeze for this trip – so far, at least.

In Tampa, I’ll be crashing with my aunts. In Sarasota, my friend and fellow wedding guest Kristin and I debated several of the official wedding hotels but decided to crash with her mom and dad, who are like my second parents and will be renting a house nearby on Siesta Key for a few months to celebrate their retirement (how perfect is that!).

In Orlando, we’ll be staying at the budget-friendly onsite Cabana Bay hotel, which I’ve been dying to check out since I toured it briefly during our retreat in October (which yes, you’ll read about eventually!)

Beyond that, it will depend on which final leg of the trip I choose! But it looks like I’ll either be camping or crashing with Angie. Both options I love!

Miami Restaurant

The Freehand Pool Miami

Florida Food

 6. And beyond!

And then comes all that good stuff that’s planned after the big decisions are made and the important stuff is booked – decisions like which artisanal donut to eat in Tampa or which tiki bar to hit up along the Sarasota Keys.

My research for my first three destinations was pretty minimal considering I’ve been to Tampa a million times, I’ll be in Sarasota with a group, and in Orlando I’ll be on a work trip where I won’t have too much control over my schedule. In St. Pete, I’ve already thrown myself into a super detailed itinerary with museums, active adventures, beach bars and more!

Everglades City City Hall

Weeki Wachee Mermaids Florida

Weeki Wachee Mermaids Florida

But whatever destination I chose for my final week, I can’t wait to really dig deep into planning some fun adventures… and man am I curious to see which trip you all are most interested in.

Airboat Rides Everglades

Florida Travel BlogDid you enjoy this behind-the-scenes peek at how my May came together? Let me know and I’ll write more of these! In the meantime, help me decide which trip to take for my final week – and give me your Florida tips in the comments!

How are your summer plans coming together? Tell me all about your planning process below!

Florida friends

Miami Sunrise

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 Many thanks to Avis for sponsoring this post! As always, you receive my honest thoughts and opinions regardless of who is footing the bill. 

New Year, New Passport Stamps: My Travel Plans for 2017

Hello, 2017. You’re a sight for sore eyes.

You’re also, so far, a bit of a mystery. Since I started this blog, I’ve never kicked off a year with less travel on my plate. In a way, it’s thrilling — anything can happen! — and in another it’s a little scary. Can I really let a year pass by without ticking one of my dream trips off my list? For someone who often can’t fall asleep at night because they are so consumed by all the places in the world they still have yet to see, it’s kinda of a panic-inducing thought.

Travel Plans 2017

And yet I find myself quite content, settled back in Koh Tao with a bright and cheery little apartment, a faithful little motorbike and unpacked bag nestled in the corner of my closet. As I do weigh up options for the year, I’m torn as always between revisiting old favorites (oh hello, island I’ve been returning to for seven years and currently living on again) and big bucket list dream trips (oh hey there, diving in Mozambique, which I daydream about constantly yet have no plans to actually make a reality).

Anyway, last year’s post outlining my 2016 travels was fairly accurate — it will be fun to see how this one fares!

January-May // Asia

I state this with a pretty inordinate amount of pride for someone who makes a living as a travel blogger, but at the moment literally only like 14 out of the first 120 days of 2017 will be spent not in my bed here on Koh Tao. I need this for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being I am so backlogged on content here on Alex in Wanderland. I just need to lock myself away and furiously type until I’m caught up writing on all my trips! I’ve already nixed two opportunities to travel to new countries in the first quarter of this year, with this being one of my primary reasons.

So what will I be getting up to?

In January, I will spend just three nights off Koh Tao — a quick trip to Bangkok to see my sister off. (In fact, I’ve already come and gone!) I actually wasn’t planning to leave the island at all as I really just got here in December, but alas, I can’t say no to Olivia — nor can I turn down a weekend in one of my favorite cities in the world. In fact, what started as a fun fantasy over the years solidified on this quick jaunt into a very strong determination to rent an apartment in Bangkok for a month or two someday, and see what it’s like to experience one of my favorite places for longer than just a few days at a time. Maybe in the fall that will come to fruition.

Bangkok

I have some pretty exciting plans at home for the rest of the month, though, like a week-long aerial silks workshop with Flying Trapeze Adventures and all my favorite shows re-starting after their winter hiatuses (don’t judge).

In February, I’ll be taking my “big trip” of this Southeast Asia stretch. First, I’m cobbling together a big crew to take to Wonderfruit, a festival in the Pattaya countryside that I couldn’t be more excited about attending. Between the fanciful stages hosting musicians from around the world, the wonderfeasts by some of Thailand’s top chefs, and the workshops on everything from yoga to living a plastic-free life, I’m not even sure which aspect I’m looking forward to the most.

Wonderfruit(source)

After the festival, Ian and I are off to Penang, Malaysia — Ian has to go to process his Thai work permit, and I’m tagging along for fun (and to reactivate my own visa.) I’ve never been to Penang other than in transit and look forward to exploring the city of Georgetown and hiking in Penang National Park. I’m still fairly bitter that the direct flight to Penang from Koh Samui has been discontinued, but alas, I still want to go. Who knows, we might even tack on a few days in Bangkok in-between!

Penang(source 1, 2, and 3)

In March, I currently have no plans to leave Koh Tao. Gasp! Now that you all convinced me to get PRK surgery I am considering blocking off a week to go to Bangkok and do it then, but I also might also put it off until the fall. Back on Koh Tao, there’s going to be a big new festival that I’m pretty excited about (if you haven’t sensed a theme for the year yet, you will soon!)

In April, I’ll pop over to Koh Samui for a few days to meet a friend and possibly attend Paradise Island Festival. Otherwise I’ll be on Koh Tao enjoying Songkran, Easter, and my last long stretch of stillness for a while.

In May, I have a one last little trip in the works before catching my flight to the US for the summer. It’s all in pencil now but it involves a river cruise, showing Ian around one of my favorite Thai cities, and (duh) more Bangkok. Fingers crossed it all works out!

Ayutthaya(source 1, 2, and 3)

May-August // USA

I’ve fallen into a pattern of spending more and more time back in the US every year, however I have to be frank — our current political climate makes me want to spend less time there than ever before. I’m not being defiant or trying to make a statement. It’s just that my heart literally sinks out of my chest every time I think about home, and unless that starts to fade I don’t know how many consecutive months I can walk around with that heaviness. I’ve never felt more disconnected from the place that made me. I’m adrift. Here’s hoping some peace and clarity find me in this department in 2017.

That said, I have three confirmed weddings and one other up in the air, one confirmed festival and a few others on the back burner (wink wink, fellow playa fans!), and lots of family and friends I love dearly and need to catch up with, regardless of what else is happening around us. Here’s a peek:

In May, I’m flying to Florida for the wedding of one of one of my closest high school crew in Sarasota. I’ll also be visiting my girl Angie in Jacksonville, heading to Orlando for a bachelorette weekend I’m planning at Universal Orlando, and hanging with my two favorite aunts in Tampa. I’m obsessed with Florida and would be thrilled if time allowed for me to dip over to Miami to see my cousin Eric, do some diving, or maybe even take that road trip down to Key West I’ve been dreaming of… but allegedly there are only thirty days in this particular month, so we will have to see how flexible the time space continuum ends up being.

Florida(source 1, 2, and 3)

In June, I’m going back to Bonnaroo. Even better? I’m bringing my mom and her boyfriend Miller! The two of them hit it off big time with blogger bestie Kristin this past summer, and we all vowed this would be our year for fulfilling Miller’s dream of making it to ‘Roo. A festival as a family affair? I can’t wait to try it.

In July, I’m going to Maine! This is actually the only new state and/or country I currently have on the docket for the year, which is kind of crazy pants. Another one of my dearest friends from high school is getting hitched in Harpswell, and I’m pining to turn it into an excuse for a full-blown road trip. At an absolute minimum I want to spend a few days in Portland and check out Kennebunkport — and if the calendar shakes out enough days for me, I’ll venture north to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, too!

Maine(source 1, 2, and 3)

In August, I’ll head to Chicago for my cousin Kirsten’s wedding (congratulations to the beautiful bride-to-be!).

Aside from those anchors, the summer is still fuzzy. Here are some maybes: I might be sticking around post-Bonnaroo for a bachelorette party in Nashville. I will most likely be in Martha’s Vineyard the first week of July for family time — and I’m also considering popping over to Nantucket for the Nantucket Yoga Festival! I may have another family wedding in Illinois before the year is out.

And then there’s Nevada. I may return to the playa — Burning Man is still very much on my radar. I may put into action the Nevada road trip I’ve had percolating for the last year or two (I need to see Britney’s revamped show, visit the Seven Magic Mountains art installation and camp in Valley of Fire National Park, stat) so if those came together it would be pretty perfect.

Nevada(source 1, 2, and 3)

Also, some big changes are heading my way and while I’m not ready to discuss them publicly just yet, I might be popping down to Central America for a bit over the summer to let them percolate in private first. More details coming your way soon.

September-December // And beyond…

Nine months down the line is simply too far to predict with too much accuracy where I’ll be. This time last year, I could have never guessed I’d spend these months in the United Kingdom, Hawaii and Jamaica (content coming soon!)

In the last month, as I started to feel the pressure of writing this post and having basically nothing on the horizon — a lot of the above has come together in the last thirty days! — I started to think more about really prioritizing my dream trips rather than just waiting and seeing what the universe throws at me or what’s convenient, as I have fallen into a habit of doing. In fact, I recently started working on actually putting pen to paper and writing a comprehensive travel bucket list, which I may turn into a blog post soon.

So in that spirit, here is a sampling of some of my dream trips that feel feasible for 2017, which I may work on slotting in somewhere from June onward, en route back to my winter basecamp of Thailand.

• Uruguay: I just really want to go here. I don’t know why. I feel like Uruguay is usually an afterthought tacked on to trips to Argentina or Brazil but I’m completely captivated by this little country. Maybe it’s my obsession with tiny nations, maybe it’s my love for their famously humble ex-president, maybe I just like beaches and wine and yoga. Bonus! This would be a new country for me. However, Uruguay’s beach cities and towns have a fairly tiny window of action in December-March, and since I’m in Asia through May this would have to be a December trip.

Uruguay(source 1, 2, and 3)

• Burma, Borneo and/or Brunei: It’s now been eight years since I first began traveling to Southeast Asia, and I regularly marvel that there is still so much I have yet to see. Including both the countries of Burma and Brunei (I still have Timor Leste still to visit as well, but I’m shelving that one for the moment) and the Malaysian state of Borneo. Eventually visiting every country in this region is important to me, and so I hope that either a trip to Burma or a joint trip to Borneo and Brunei is in order for late 2017.

• Jamaica:  I’ve had a Jamaica road trip on the noggin for a while now. My surprise trip here at the end of 2016 (more on that coming soon!) only made taking a big one feel more urgent. I want to rent a car, hit the open road, and explore the raw, soulful side of this island nation in a way that few get the opportunity to do. Unlike Uruguay, Jamaica is a place I’d be thrilled to travel in the low season, and so summer or fall might be the perfect fit.

Jamaica(source 1, 2, and 3)

• Mexico: There’s a glaring un-scratched swath on my scratch-off travel map, and it’s Mexico. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to wait and really do justice to, but I’m starting to think I just need to start somewhere and dive in there and get hooked so I can keep coming back over and over again. It’s hardly unchartered territory, but The Yucatan Peninsula is calling me pretty loudly. Whale sharks of Holbox… here I come! And yup, this would be another new country to add to the list.

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I have a lot of other dream trips rambling around in my mind — CONTINENT OF AFRICA HI I WANT TO BE IN YOU — but these are the ones that I feel I could realistically tackle right now given my current energy levels and priorities and desires, though clearly, a lot can happen in a year. I think I kind of need a lower-key year in order to get my house in order — lol JK I don’t have a house but it’s a thing people say right? — and get really whipped up into a travel frenzy again for some wild adventures in the future.

When I first began this post I fretted that you all might think it a bit boring. Now that I’ve put it together, I couldn’t be more excited about the year ahead! Festivals, weddings, and so many favorite old places to fall even further in love with.

Love 2017

Okay so now that I’ve dished… what are your travel plans for 2017? Which of these trips are you most excited to virtually come along on?

Looking forward to talking all things travel in the comments!