My name is Erin and I’m a beach snob. I grew up ten minutes from the beach in South Jersey, sandwiched in between the popular resort towns of Ocean City and Sea Isle City. I cannot reveal the name of my favorite beach that I go to every day in the summer when I’m at my parents because I don’t want too many others to know about it. In college I had in my AIM profile: “Our life, your vacation.” I’ve been to beaches elsewhere in Jersey, but I’ve never been super impressed whether from the sand quality (it matters!), the slope of the beach as you approach the ocean (looking at you, LBI), or the clientele (no comment).
I know from social media that I’m not the only person who thought January was unusually long. Of course, it lasted 31 days as it always does, but it just felt like it was never going to end for some reason. Maybe because of the cold weather? Maybe because there were 5 Mondays? Maybe because of all the nonsense going on in the world? Whatever it was, it’s nice to finally be in February now.
Many people get excited about the end of the year because of the holidays, the time off, the food, and seeing family and friends. Don’t get me wrong, all of that is awesome (duh), but another tradition I get excited about around this time is seeing the next year’s “where to travel” lists, the pinnacle, of course, being the NY Times’ “52 Places to Go in 2018.” Yes, I was one of the 9,000 people to apply for the job of visiting and writing about each of the 52 places over the upcoming year. I didn’t get it.
As you will understand from reading this post further, I am a sensitive person. And while this affects many aspects of my life, I don’t know if it had ever affected my tastebuds until I ate at Divya’s Kitchen on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in mid-December. With the first bite of each dish I sampled, I felt like I was going to cry. I can’t tell you if it’s because of how the spices brought me back to Bangalore (where I spent four magnificent weeks in 2016), or because the experience was so beyond what I was expecting, or because the food was exactly what my body needed at that exact time, but the emotion was there.
I already published one recap last week, but it can’t replace this post because it’s my 24th monthly recap without skipping one and I need to keep it up or else you’d forever be wondering what I did this month, right?
How do you measure, measure a year? 2017 was the year I spent time in 13 different countries and 11 different states. I traveled to Europe three times. I set foot on my fifth continent. I revisited London, Indianapolis, Ireland, and Portugal. I reunited with friends from college in Prague and Dublin and old coworkers in London, Chicago, and Dubrovnik. I traveled for 10 days in Cape Town with someone I met in Mandalay and for 12 days in Croatia with someone I met in Dublin. A twelfth of my year was spent dog-sitting, both in Chicago and Jersey City. I added Shenandoah National Park to my list of U.S. National Parks.
I’ve taken the NJ Transit train from New York City to Hamilton, NJ and back, maybe fifty times. At least forty of those times, I’ve been fooled into thinking that the human-sized sculptures of people scratching their heads while they stare at a giant sculpture of a tooth outside of the train station, were actually human. It wasn’t until years and years after making the journey to meet my family at home base (my grandmother’s) did I realize that the sculptures (there are also huge mariachi dancers when you turn into the train station) were there for a reason.
In November, I had the closest thing to a regular schedule than I’ve had in over a year, and I actually really liked it. I felt like I was going to the office every morning, even though “the office” was every library and coffee shop within a 20-minute radius and my coworkers were the woman who works at the doughnut shop in Ocean City, an octogenarian with a MAGA hat, and my 9th-grade English teacher who now works at one of my libraries (Hi, Mrs. B!).
Just as all parents hear advice on raising children from people who don’t have them, all travelers can relate to people who “poo-poo” on where they are going without having been there themselves. I get so annoyed with the people who say: “I hear Rome is overrated.” “I hear India isn’t safe.” “I hear the French ask Americans to stop butchering their language when they speak French.”
This time last year I was spending my last few days in India, a country that means so much to me. I spent the first four weeks of my trip in Bangalore and fell in love immediately with the food, the people, and the chaos. My last two weeks in India, in Goa, were very different and much more challenging for a few reasons, but my time in Bangalore remains one of my favorite experiences of my gap year (and a half). Bangalore is also where I’ve spent the most time aside from NJ and NYC in a number of years.
I had trouble with Vienna. It was the halfway point of a six-week trip after two weeks in Cape Town with two friends, a wedding in London with many friends, and a few solo days in both Budapest and Bratislava. I love traveling by myself, but for some reason, in the middle of February in Central Europe where I seemed to fit in with the crowd, I hadn’t had any conversations of value in a week.
When I returned from Ireland and Portugal in August, I have to admit I was in a mood. I’m so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had and the decisions I’ve made that have allowed me to travel so much this year and last, but I was sad that it was coming to an end. I couldn’t stop thinking about traveling and couldn’t stop messaging with people I’d met during my travels and so, I took off again. A friend I’d met in Dublin was heading to Croatia, which has been on my list for ages, at a time when I had nothing else planned. So I found a cheap flight and flew back to Europe, feeling normal again on the way there.
I don’t think I’ve ever spent less time planning for a trip as I did when I traveled to Lagos in the Algarve solo after spending time with my family in Ireland. It wasn’t until a week before I left home that I finally booked my flights and Airbnb in Lagos and that’s because before it was a trip to Portugal, it was a trip to Scotland, then a trip to Wales, and then a trip to Norway. I’m so glad that none of the other trips ended up working out and that I settled on a few days in Lagos. But trust me, I was not “settling” at all. Lagos is an incredibly beautiful destination with a party vibe that reminded me of a fun Jersey Shore resort (think Sea Isle City) except with charming centuries-old buildings and winding, cobblestone streets. Here’s what I recommend doing on your own trip to Lagos:
When I returned from India, someone I hadn’t seen in a while said, “Welcome back from vacation!” Though I know he meant, “Welcome back,” part of me wanted to say, “Vacation?!?!?!?! That wasn’t a vacation!!!!!” I loved India, but volunteering there had taken a lot out of me, and I certainly didn’t feel like I’d been on a beach with a drink in my hand. In Croatia this month, I was working on my laptop in a caffe for a few hours almost every day. Even when I’m not volunteering or working, I’m trying to experience and photograph as much as possible or I’m exhausted from catching a bus or train every two days. A few days after working my booty off in Croatia, I arrived at the Holiday Inn Resort in Jekyll Island, Georgia. For the first time in years, I felt like I was truly on vacation.
This time last year, I was traveling throughout Myanmar on my first trip of my gap year. This year, I was home with no upcoming travel plans, feeling a little bummed about that but also feeling wonderful about many other things. I had lots of visitors, my longest stint back in the NYC area in a year, and started a few new exciting projects.