Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you all had an amazing Holiday season and are looking forward to what 2017 has in store. Stay tuned to the end of this post for where I’ll be exploring in 2017.
But first, let’s talk about December.
Where I’ve Been
Canggu, Bali (1 Night)
Tegallalang, Bali (12 Nights)
Bangkok, Thailand (2 Nights)
Koh Mak, Thailand (8 Nights)
Bangkok, Thailand (5 Nights)
I told you last month how I was returning to Bali, ready to settle in for a bit. And 12 nights hardly felt like settling in! Leaving on the 20th felt bittersweet. I was excited to see my family in Thailand, but reluctant to leave relative stability in Bali behind.
What I’ve Loved
-Having a routine in Bali. Waking up with the rooster’s crow (literally NEXT to my room), eating fruit on my porch while watching the butterflies flit about, going into town to grab a cup of coffee and get some work done, a yoga or meditation class in the evening, and getting dinner with new friends at night.
-Going to Women’s Circle every Friday. At The Yoga Barn, once a week women in the community and travelers who are passing through gather together to talk. The circle is led by Emily Kuser, a yoga teacher at The Yoga Barn and all around goddess. She brings up a topic for the week, which we all have an opportunity to share our feelings on. Something I learned in 2016 is that as women, we need to tell and hear stories. It’s how we feel connected to the world. That’s part of why blogging is so popular! These circles feel sacred to me. Plus, every time I go I meet some new kick ass lady who becomes a friend for life (or at least until they leave Ubud)!
-I found my new religion. Okay, it’s not that serious. I remember being a child during services at the synagogue (I was raised Jewish) and wishing that the entire service was just singing. That’s when I felt the most connected to God (even though the word God never quite fit with what I felt, and now I’ve replaced it with other words). Now, I’ve found a religion (sort of) that’s just singing! It’s called Kirtan. It basically involves call and response chanting of Sanskrit mantras. To be totally honest, I am not at all certain on what exactly Kirtan is, I just know I like it. And for me that’s enough right now.
-Meeting some life changing people in Ubud. What a bizarre place. I won’t deny the strangeness of a place where a bunch of rich (relatively) westerners come to “escape” and “find themselves.” It certainly turned me off in the beginning. The spirituality of Bali is not about Yoga or Kirtan or Ecstatic Dance or Full Moon Sacred Cacao Ceremonies. The Balinese people have had their own spirituality for centuries before Bali was a bucket list destination. And westerners have come in and co-opted this spirituality (what else is new?)
And yet. Compared to other places I’ve traveled, where westerners have co-opted sacred land for their own uses (namely getting as drunk as possible – think Kuta), Ubud feels like the more respectful older sister. The people who come to Ubud are, true to cliche, searching for something more in their lives. I can’t deny that I am one of those people. The people I’ve met in Ubud have inspired me in so many ways, in so many conversations.
-Living with my Balinese family. Way back when I was in The Philippines (okay, so I guess only October but MAN does it feel like longer than that..) I decided to stay an extra two weeks in Ubud after my WeTravel work retreat. I was browsing Airbnb properties and decided on a villa a bit outside of town in a village called Kalabang Moding. Something about the villa called to me from the photos. Upon arrival, I was greeted by possibly the sweetest woman in all of Bali, Wayan Sri. Wayan grew up in this small village outside of Ubud, and now owns various Airbnb properties around town, including one in her own family compound.
When I decided to return to Ubud, I knew I had to stay with Wayan again. She invited me to stay in her “charming house” in the family compound (Balinese families live in houses grouped together in the family compound, running down the husband’s side of the family. This means that Wayan moved in once she married her husband. Each family compound has its’ own temple.) This is THE way to stay when you’re in Bali. Not only do you get to know the local traditions, but you will be a PART of everyday Balinese life. Plus, school is not free in Bali, so if the family you stay with has children you are helping to pay for their education. When I return to Bali, I will absolutely be staying with my Balinese sister.
-Speaking of family, I got to spend the Holidays with MY family in Thailand! To be completely honest, I don’t know if I can even put into words how special this was for me. For my family to fly all the way around the world to spend the Holiday season with me, I am forever grateful. I am seriously the luckiest girl in the world to have been born into the family I was. Things have been FAR from perfect within my family unit in the past ten years. But the amount of healing that has happened has been astounding. This vacation really brought home how much progress we’ve made.
-I went to the most beautiful island in the world! Koh Mak is a tiny island off the east coast of Thailand, almost within spitting distance of Cambodia. One family owns this island and has for decades. This family has pledged to keep Koh Mak from being over-developed, and keeping the island Low-Carbon. From what I saw, they are holding true to their promise. The result is an island teeming with raw beauty. I can’t wait to share more about this special place!
As the sun sets on 2016 (no really it's less than 9 minutes to 2017 here in Bangkok!) I am looking back on my Top 16 Travel Moments of 2016. Number 5 has been spending the last few weeks on one of the most beautiful islands I've ever been to, Koh Mak in Thailand. But what's made it really special is the fact that my family flew all the way out here from New York to meet me for the holidays!
-I’m finally in Thailand! It feels surreal to be in this country I’ve read so much about. I’m already perfecting my ‘Sawadee Ka!’ and my ‘Kop Khun Ka!’ Bangkok is everything I thought it would be. From the Grand Palace to the hipster coffee shops. It’s making me wish I had more than a one month visa to explore!
-Seeing the movie ‘La La Land.’ Have you seen it yet? If not, get thee to a movie theater! It’s the most original, thought-provoking, joyous movie I have seen in ages. They really don’t make movies like this anymore. If I sound like a cheesy movie review, I apologize, I just can’t help it! Go see the movie and then comment below with your thoughts!
What I’ve Learned
-Are you sensing a theme from above? Dancing, singing, telling stories. These are the things that make me feel alive! For most of my life, I was convinced I was going to be an actress when I grew up. Singing and dancing took up approximately 85% of my life before the age of 22. I need to make creating in that way a bigger part of my life again. The night before I left for Thailand, I learned that there is improv in Ubud! I can’t wait to get back and check it out. One of my resolutions for 2017 is definitely to express myself more through song, dance, and (offline) storytelling.
-In one of our women’s circles (see above) the topic was destruction. A fitting topic for the end of 2016, a time when it felt like everything we ever knew was being destroyed. The frame for destruction, however, was destruction in order for there to be a rebirth. In order for something to be created, something must die. It’s the cycle of life, nature, everything. 2016 was a year of destruction. It’s quite rare, (at least in my living memory) that a year harbors as much pain and bitterness around it as 2016 did. On a personal level, I’ve been in the process of destroying the parts of myself that no longer serve me. The voices in my head that tell me I’m not good enough, cool enough, worthy enough to receive good things in life. We all have these voices. But it’s our choice whether or not we listen to them.
The leader of our circle brought up the life cycle of the butterfly as an example. In order for a caterpillar to become a butterfly, it must cocoon itself and continually break itself down (it actually digests its own body!) until it becomes a butterfly. We have all been through those dark times. Times when we feel like we are breaking down. I challenge you to embrace those times as your ‘cocoon’ times. They are just as important as the times when you flit about, a carefree butterfly. They show you how strong you are. You have everything you need right inside of you, you’ve had it all along.
-I’ll admit, it’s no longer enough for me to simply travel. To see the tourist sites, drink some amazing coffee and leave. I am looking for more out of my travel. Conscious travel, if you will. To me, it means getting to know the people who live in the places you visit. Asking them about their lives, their opinions, their fears, and dreams. It means supporting businesses that give back to the community around them. It means leaving only footprints and taking only memories. It means meeting fellow conscious travelers. Having meaningful conversations about how we can make a difference in the world. Then actually walking the walk. What does conscious travel mean to you? Is it a concept you are interested in applying to your own life and travels?
-If this Holiday felt more painful than pleasurable, if you’re afraid your family will never be whole again, choose love and compassion. Forgiveness is more for us than for the person we are forgiving. Don’t live your life in regret. To be human is to be flawed. The people who have hurt us the most are sometimes the ones who are hurting beyond our understanding. I feel incredibly lucky to have been given the chance to rebuild my relationship with my family in the past few years. The road has not been an easy one, and I know there is more work to do, but I am so grateful to have chosen compassion and forgiveness.
-The world is changing, and not in the horrifying ways the news would have you believe. For every hateful person spewing garbage on the television, there are more gathering in love and friendship. We are craving authenticity and connection. Do you see the signs? Instagram is cracking down on fake automated engagement. Snapchat is catering to our real need for honesty and candor. Everything is ‘live.’ No room for faking it, airbrushing or applying a glossy finish to our lives. And collectively, we are awakening. It may not seem like it. It may seem like the world is trying it’s best to implode on itself. But there is an energy amongst us that cannot be stopped.
There is no more darkness to hide in. 2016 has ripped off the covers of our deepest, darkest secrets and pain. Our choice now is what to do with all that we know to be true. Are we going to run from it? Knowing there’s nowhere to hide, we will be running for a long time. Or are we going to run to it? Get messy. Dismantle the fragments of the systems that brought us to this point. Above all, we will live the most authentic versions of ourselves. Share our truth with the world. By sharing your truth, you are allowing others to feel safe to share theirs. And a world where people are living on purpose? That’s the world I want to live in this year. How about you?
Where I’m Going Next (In 2017!)
Technically, I have nothing booked yet for 2017. But in true to me fashion, I have it all scheduled out in my mind.
January will see me heading to Northern Thailand, to check out the digital nomad hub of Chiang Mai. Many have compared it to Ubud, and so I am eager to see for myself. My visa runs out January 18th, so I have to leave the country. Back to Bali? Or on to adventures in Cambodia or Laos? We shall see.
February and March are going to be all about nesting. My body is telling me to sit still. And after a crazy 2016 full of travel, it’s no wonder! The question is..where will I be nesting?
April, May, and June are some of my favorite months of the year. My current plan is to spend them back in Europe. There’s just something about the changing seasons that I love and hate to miss. Plus, it’s no secret that I am obsessed with Europe. But where in Europe will I be spending the spring months? Will I finally fulfill my lifelong fantasy of living in Paris for a month? There are also so many countries in Eastern Europe I have yet to discover! And I couldn’t be in Europe without visiting my adopted home in Helsinki.
I spent last summer living at home with my parents in Syracuse, New York for the first time in 9 years. I was apprehensive about how it would go, but it turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the year! I will definitely be back home again this summer. Possibly splitting time between Syracuse and one of my favorite cities in the world, NYC. And road trips. Lots of road trips.
Remember in 2016 when I attended my first travel blogger conference? It was so fun that I want to do it again! TBEX Europe ’17 is happening in Killarney, Ireland. Ireland is where my Dad’s half of the family is from. It’s been a dream for a LONG time to take a family trip to Ireland. Will 2017 finally be the year?
I had such an amazing time spending fall 2016 in Europe that I want to do it again in 2017. And this time I want to stay long enough to get to some Christmas markets. I can’t do another Holiday season watching my Snapchat feed forlornly as you guys gallivant around a Winter Wonderland. In 2017 I will be Home for the Holidays.
Happy Exploring, Wherever You Are!
As you’re reflecting on your own 2016, what themes emerge from the year for you? And what do you hope to accomplish in 2017? Let me know in the comments!