Well hello, hello. Welcome to our 4th installment of annual Year in Review posts. This year, I am 30 and writing this while wearing a bathrobe and sitting at my desk in my home office, because I have both a home and an office now. Exciting!
Pull up a chair and a mug of coffee or wine (or in my case, a green smoothie made with home-fermented kefir, because 2020 is the year I go full granola, I guess) and let me tell you about my life at an uncomfortably intimate and long-winded level of detail.
Table of Contents
In case you need a catch-up on the last few years of my life, here are my previous year in review posts:
- 2018 in Review: The Year of High Risk … & High Reward
- 2017: The Year Everything Changed
- 2016: The Year of Travel Fails
Now seriously, grab a drink or something because this post is long AF. Let’s dive in.
2019: A Summary
It took me a few weeks to pull together my thoughts on the last year. I ended 2019 at a lower point than when I started it, and I needed some time to recover.
For me, 2019 was a year of huge growth in our business, saying “yes” to as many opportunities as I could, and traveling more than I ever have in my life. It was also the year that I leaned into my role as a voice of ethical and sustainable travel in a bigger way than ever before.
2019 is probably the only year in my life I’ll ever be able to say that I flew literally all the way around the world on a fully hosted trip. (Both because I doubt it will ever happen again, and also because that amount of over the top, carbon-producing air travel makes me cringe.)
This year was nuts, y’all.
2019 was also a challenging year personally. I lost my grandmother at the beginning of the year, and it hit me harder than I ever could have expected.
My grandmother was my travel icon: a badass, globe-trotting superwoman, a larger-than-life figure who lived a life that reads like a Big Fish style novel. It’s hard to capture how much she meant to me and how incredible she was.
That said, I’ve written something about it that I’m proud of, but I haven’t yet been able to muster up the emotional strength I need to be able to publish it and share it with you. I think it’s important that it be shared -- especially the incredible photos I have of her doing things like backpacking Lake Louise in her 70’s -- but I’m still working on it.
Something I’ve realized about myself this year that I take a very, very long time to process things, and I’m still processing her passing. I hope to share her with you all soon.
Edit: I published it! You can read it here.
Another personal challenge that both Jeremy and I struggled with at the end of this year was something that tends to go hand-in-hand with constant travel and saying yes to opportunities: Burnout.
Burnout crept up on me in July, hung around through October, and then smacked me in the face in December. I’m currently working on both recovering and fine-tuning things to avoid a repeat!
But enough vague generalities. Let me walk you through my crazy year in full, glorious detail!
Where I Went and What I Did
January: Canada, Norway, & Kentucky
I began the year in Banff, Canada, watching Jeremy shred the slopes from the safety and comfort of various lounges. Banff was snowy and wonderful and full of poutine.
At some point, probably while watching snowflakes swirl on the mountaintops and sipping hot chocolate from the comfort and safety of a leather couch, I thought to myself, “maybe I should give snow sports a try.”
That thought sat in my brain processing for literally 12 months before I acted on it, but spoilers: I eventually did. (Does anyone else take months or years to make hard decisions or build up their courage to do something out of their comfort zone, or is that just me?)
I returned from Banff and immediately turned 29. For my 29th birthday, Jeremy hosted me a fancy tea party complete with tiny sandwiches and scones, and I invited over a bunch of my friends and bloggers and forced them to drink tea with their pinkies out. I had a blast.
Less than a week later, I hopped on an incredibly comfortable Norwegian Airlines flight to Norway, to explore the Arctic Tundra and stay with Indigenous reindeer herders and literally live out a real-life Frozen (that’s not an exaggeration, FWIW -- Frozen 2 was actually based on the Sami people!)
It’s hard to explain how absolutely amazing this trip was, but I think my pictures do it some justice.
The trip was organized by one of my favorite ethical and sustainable travel companies, Impact Travel Alliance, and sponsored by Visit Norway, Norwegian Airlines, and Visit Natives, a fantastic travel company that organizes ethical and sustainable multi-day tours and immersive homestays with Indigenous peoples.
Here are all the reasons why this was one of my favorite trips of the entire year:
- There is nothing cooler than saying “when I stayed with Indigenous reindeer herders in the Arctic Tundra,” and I have yet to get sick of dropping this casually in completely unrelated conversations.
- I achieved peak Norwegian-ness by warming up in a sauna and then jumping into a freezing cold salty fjord. And loved it so much that I did it again! Who am I?!
- I LOVE THE SNOW. I love cold, I love ice, I love winter. And in Norway, I literally slept in a giant igloo on a bed made of ice and frolicked in the snow in -30 degree weather. It was heaven!
- Turns out I also love polar winter. The Arctic is one of the most visually mind-blowing places I have ever seen. Imagine the most beautiful sunrise you’ve ever seen, followed immediately by the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen. It’s like 4 hours straight of vibrant cotton-candy pink and peach-orange skies, followed by lilac and periwinkle twilight. The colors are UNREAL. I risked frostbite multiple times just so I could take my goggles off and watch reindeer bounding through the snowdrifts past me against a vibrant pink sky. Even thinking about it again gives me chills.
- I managed to capture an epic snowmobile crash on video! I am very proud of myself for not breaking my camera or losing my phone in the snow. No bloggers were harmed in the making of this video, but our sled definitely broke and we were totally stranded in the Arctic for like an hour. It was awesome! Here, watch this awesome video:
I’ve fallen absolutely head over heels in love with Norway and cannot WAIT to go back and explore it again. And next time I’ll take Jeremy with me -- he was so sad he had to miss out! His teaching schedule limits him from joining me on a lot of trips, like this one.
Unfortunately, near the end of my trip, I received news that my Grandmother had suffered a stroke and was in the hospital. I flew home to Oakland, changed clothes, and immediately flew to my hometown -- Louisville, Kentucky.
I’m not ready to share the details from the week I spent in Louisville, but I can say this: one of my most precious final memories of my Grandmother was showing her my photos and videos from Norway and watching her eyes light up. Our shared passion for travel connected us even in her final days.
February: Lake Tahoe & Home
I spent most of February crying.
We’d planned to spend a week in Panama, but as the trip got closer and closer, we were feeling unexcited and unprepared.
So we did something we’d never done before: we canceled our entire trip. Spoilers: It would not be the last time this year we scrapped a trip at the last minute…
I did manage to make it to Lake Tahoe for our annual friends ski trip, which was a welcome escape. We went sledding with giant inflatable innertubes -- most of which popped immediately -- and made a giant lasagna and a vat of feuerzangenbowle.
During this month I also began regularly seeing a trainer. Fun fact: I do powerlifting! I’m not like, good at it, but I do it and I love it and it makes me feel amazing.
Having a weekly standing appointment with her was exactly what I needed to get my butt back in the gym 3-4 times per week, which I’ve learned is vital to both my mental and physical health.
There is no better feeling than lifting heavy sh*t, especially in a gym full of people who look like you and who do not mind that you are crying in between sets. Literally I stopped typing this and went and emailed my wonderful trainer, who, spoilers, I haven’t seen since May…
March: Savannah & Florida
March was a bit better emotions-wise, and travel-wise, it was fantastic. We went on probably my other favorite trip of the year: a weekend getaway to Savannah, Georgia!
Jeremy and I both fell head over heels in love with Savannah, in a way that’s not just like our typical “we love this place” feeling but like a “could we live here? Let’s look at houses” level of obsession.
We LOVED SAVANNAH and are definitely planning to visit again ASAP.
Modern-day Savannah is charming, beautiful, haunting, quirky. It is Weird with a capital W. It is a cultural and artsy city. It is a foodie city, and in fact, it is The Best Foodie City we have yet to visit -- the food in Savannah was UNREAL.
Savannah is as gorgeous as any historic Southern city, with its stately ornate homes, fragrant blooming azaleas, and towering oak trees dripping in Spanish Moss.
But like all historic Southern cities, it has a dark and disturbing history: its beauty was built on the backs of enslaved people and came at a terrible price.
There is something about this chilling juxtaposition of objective beauty with shameful, horrifying history that we find incredibly compelling. We began planning more trips to visit Southern cities to illuminate that history and to confront the way it has contributed to our own privilege, and also to celebrate the strength and power of the people who lived through the atrocities of slavery and are shaping the country that we know today.
Savannah is not just a city with a dark past; it is also a thriving city with a beautiful and flourishing present that is shaped by Black and Brown folks who have passed down generations of trauma, endurance, and cultural heritage.
Doing our part to shape the way that tourists approach these cities and their history is an important piece of our anti-racist activism, and thankfully, Savannah shares that sentiment: as part of our trip, we toured a historic house museum that has been re-interpreted with a more honest and academic lens.
While most historic Southern house museums focus on the lives of its wealthy white residents and their fabulous furnishings, the Owens-Thomas house gives equal importance to the lives of the enslaved Black residents of the household (a concept!), and it does not hold back.
We need more attractions and more cities taking this honest approach, and I consider it a crucial part of my job to help make that happen.
From Savannah, I flew to Florida to spend a few days with my mom. We were both feeling raw and emotional in the wake of my Grandmother’s passing, and it was wonderful to spend time together relaxing, birdwatching, going to classes at the gym, and swimming.
I was also avoiding yet another cross-country flight, because my next destination was close by …
April: New Orleans, New Jersey, & Colorado
From Florida, I flew to meet Jeremy in the city he’d chosen to spend his birthday in this year: New Orleans!
This was our first-ever trip to New Orleans, but luckily we had a local guide: one of Jeremy’s closest friends.
In the same vein as Savannah, New Orleans is an amazing city with a dark past. One of the most popular things to do in New Orleans, somewhat oddly, is to visit a plantation -- and yet only one of the plantations near New Orleans is actually honest about what a plantation is.
The Whitney Plantation is an homage to the lives of the Enslaved people who lived there and throughout Louisiana, and a gut-wrenchingly powerful memorial.
The rest of the plantations we visited -- one in particular, which also happens to be the most popular -- were disgustingly racist. I can’t sugarcoat it: that’s what it was.
Imagine visiting a Concentration Camp in Europe and going on a tour that focused on the lovely architecture of the gas chambers and the fabulous lives of the rich Nazis who ran them (as a Jew myself, I haven’t actually been able to muster up the strength to visit one myself, but I rather assume that’s not what they’re like).
Disgusting, right? Well, that’s exactly what it’s like going on a plantation tour at Oak Alley or any of the other “scenic” plantation tours in the South.
It’s disgusting. It’s inexcusable. It’s fucking 2020, and it’s racist as sh*t.
Part of my job is to drive tourism dollars to destinations and attractions that align with my values, and to organizations that are making the world a better place. So I can’t emphasize enough: vote with your wallet. Speak out.
It does make a difference: Oak Alley has already made some changes in response to competition from Whitney Plantation (not enough, but some). Wedding companies like The Knot have stopped allowing plantations to advertise themselves as wedding venues (because like, what could be more romantic than celebrating your union on the bloody ground of a genocidal torture farm?)
Personally, we’d like to see all plantation tourism that isn’t focused on memorializing and honestly depicting the atrocities that occurred there entirely wiped out. Gone. A relic of the past. Sadly, that’s currently a very far away goal.
That said: we did find some fantastic places and tours to recommend that are well-researched and historically accurate, and I feel good about the content we’ve created for New Orleans thus far (including this 3-day itinerary).
It is one of my goals to continue visiting places like Savannah and New Orleans and highlighting places and activities that are ethical, thoughtful, and historically accurate.
New Orleans is one of the most unique cities in the USA, with incredible food and complex and fascinating culture. I didn’t quite have enough time to wrap my mind around New Orleans on this trip, but luckily, it wasn’t the only chance I’d have this year…
From New Orleans, we flew to New Jersey to celebrate my niece’s 4th birthday (and my sister’s birthday, and Jeremy’s birthday, but let’s face it …. my niece’s 4th birthday takes major priority).
From there, I flew to Denver to spend a week with two of my besties on our annual friend trip! When I arrived it was warm and sunny, and the next day everything was covered in several feet of snow. Just Colorado things.
Honestly, at this point I was feeling ill and exhausted from a ridiculous chain of travels, so we took it easy and barely left the house.
Which was fantastic. There is nothing better than spending a week doing absolutely nothing with two people you love.
May: Los Angeles & Austria
After a much needed month at home, we flew to Los Angeles (a short trip that we make frequently) to visit Jeremy’s family and celebrate my grandfather’s 95th birthday.
By the way, if you need a refresher on Grandpa Bob, he’s my ridiculous grandfather who faked his death during our year-long honeymoon. He’s alive and well and frankly seems to be getting more and more invincible each year.
Every time we visit Grandpa Bob, he tells us it will be the last time, so every time we leave, we’re like “it was really wonderful to have you in our lives, Grandpa Bob! We love you!” and then we show up a few months later with ham sandwiches like “heyyy look who’s still alive!”
My family is weirdly comfortable with their own mortality.
Jeremy and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary at the end of May, and a day later I hopped on a flight to Graz, Austria to speak at the Propel Conference! (I actually arrived late because I couldn’t bear to miss yet another anniversary due to work and travel -- bless the organizers of Propel for understanding.)
Graz was fantastic. It was a beautiful city, the conference was lovely and small, and I got to know just about everyone who attended. I spoke about the magic of passive income and everyone seemed really impressed, which is the exact reason why I love speaking.
JK, I also really enjoy helping people. But let’s face it: I don’t hop on stages because I DON’T love attention and admiration.
I also learned a lot from the other speakers at Propel. The conference is designed for intermediate and advanced bloggers, so the presentations were all detailed, actionable, and high-level, and I learned so much!
During a video workshop at the conference, I even created my very first ever Vlog (when I say “created” I actually mean “shot a bunch of crappy footage and then made my amazing video editor deal with it,” but hey, it’s something).
Watch it below!
I’ll be speaking at Propel again this year, and I’m really looking forward to it.
From Propel, I headed to Vienna on a train -- helped by some wonderful German-speaking travel bloggers who prevented me from getting completely lost in the Austrian countryside -- and spent 24 hours in Vienna, TOTALLY ALONE. (Well, except for a lovely dinner with some wonderful Vienna-based bloggers, but I had to get myself to the restaurant TOTALLY ALONE.)
I know, that doesn’t seem like a huge deal. But you guys: I never, EVER travel alone. I’m always with either Jeremy, friends or family, or a group of bloggers.
I hate traveling alone. Mostly because I’m a codependent space cadet with no sense of direction who gets lost trying to find her own house.
I can never just relax and enjoy being lost in a new place because I just feel anxious and overwhelmed in new places without somebody to help me figure out where I am and how to get to where I need to go.
Which is weird, because I’m an introvert! I love being alone at home! I spend all of my time, every single day, alone at home, talking myself on walks and accompanying myself on meals solo. Why do I hate being alone on trips? I don’t know. But I do.
I just prefer to explore new places with other people -- sharing experiences with other people is one of my favorite parts of traveling, I’ve come to realize.
Should I practice traveling alone more? Probably. Which is why I’m currently averaging 1 night per year alone in a foreign country: in 2018 it was Rome, in 2019 it was Vienna, and in 2020 it’s Istanbul -- which, incidentally, is the also first city I’ll be visiting as a solo female traveler that I’ve never been to before.
So you see, I’m working really hard on this whole self-improvement thing.
June: Nepal, Hawaii, & Colombia
This was a trip that came together at the last minute -- we’re talking like, my flight home didn’t get booked until midway through my time in Nepal -- so I panic-packed and was lugging around 2 giant suitcases filled with Professional Conference Clothes, makeup, hair-styling tools (curly hair is not low-maintenance, y’all), and jackets for Austria; and hot-weather clothing, hiking gear, and various water purification devices and health-related things for Nepal.
I felt like the most extra person at the conference and kept shamefully muttering “I usually travel carry-on only” to anyone within earshot.
Luckily, I was able to leave one of my massive suitcases behind in Kathmandu while exploring Nepal on an incredible road trip organized by the conference hosts.
I was piled into a van with about 12 other industry professionals, primarily travel agents and just a couple of other bloggers and writers.
It’s always interesting traveling with folks who aren’t bloggers. On a press trip filled with bloggers, everyone seems to understand the unspoken rules: nobody eats until all the photos have been taken, always take your fellow blogger’s photo if they happen to look fly AF while gazing off into the distance or whatever, always help with shots so that we don’t all have to lug around our tripods constantly, always assume that an activity will take 3x as long as it should because we all have to shoot it before we can move on, always move out of the way of your fellow blogger’s shot, and so on.
On this trip, while the company was fantastic, bloggers were outnumbered. That meant that things were moving a lot faster (like, a completely normal pace), which meant that sometimes I didn’t have time to actually experience an activity before we moved on, because I needed to get my shot.
So I’d have to choose: experience, or footage? I need experience for writing and research, and I need footage for social media, blog posts, and videos. Neither are expendable. It was anxiety-inducing.
There also weren’t extra hands available to help with photos (because everyone was actually doing the activity, not standing around taking photos of it) so I did a lot of running back and forth, begging people to move out of the way of my tripod before my self-timer went off.
Like a good Professional Travel Blogger, I woke up before dawn to get footage. I took pages and pages of notes and drafted posts on the 10-hour long van rides, popping Dramamine to keep from throwing up. And, as contracted, I did my best to post Instagram Stories each day, despite frequent power outages and incredibly weak WiFi. This usually meant staying up for hours after everyone else was asleep, waiting for my uploads to finish.
It was exhausting.
If you ever want to change your assumptions about travel blogging being an easy and glamorous job, just travel with a few hardworking travel bloggers. It’s a lot less “get paid to travel the world and your job will become a vacation” and a lot more “turn every vacation into work!”
Not that I’m complaining, mind you. My job is f**king awesome. It’s just also a lot of work!
Other than the demanding schedule, the trip to Nepal was absolutely incredible. Nepal is a country I’ve long wanted to visit, in no small part thanks to my Grandmother, who hiked the Annapurna Circuit in her 70’s.
Visiting Nepal just a few months after her passing felt like I was stepping into her shoes and seeing the world as she did. Although I didn’t actually get close to the Himalayas this time -- I’ll have to revisit for that!
The highlight of my trip was Chitwan National Park, where we stayed in an eco-lodge and went on what felt like 80 safaris and saw 29869268 rhinoceroses.
I’m still lagging on producing content from my trip, but more is coming, I promise! (This is also the start of me being horribly behind..) But I do have a video that we created from my trip:
I flew home from Nepal -- thus completing my fully hosted trip all the way around the world -- just in time to attend Graduation at Jeremy’s school. He teachers seniors, so Graduation is always an incredibly emotional time for him.
Because his school is small, each graduating senior is given a speech from a teacher talking about their accomplishments and growth as a student and as a young adult, which sounds a lot less raw and emotional than it actually is.
Put it this way: you can’t get through Graduation without sobbing.
This year, Jeremy gave the commencement (and killed it!) as well as several speeches. We both cried a lot.
I’m so, so glad I was able to attend. I’m forever worried that being travel blogger makes it harder for me to be a supportive wife, and it’s really important to me to be there during the important moments.
And although we have very different jobs, we are each equally obsessed with them -- Jeremy is as passionate about teaching as I am about travel. Except he also works with me, too! The least I can do is be as supportive of his passions as he is of mine.
So after graduation, I whisked Jeremy away on a 3-day trip to Maui, Hawaii (shout-out to Southwest’s hella cheap tickets from the Bay Area to Hawaii).
It was mostly a vacation and reward for finishing another school year, but as usual, I managed to work during the trip just enough to write a blog post and produce a vlog. Which you can watch here:
From Maui we flew back home to Oakland for a week, so that Jeremy could attend end-of-year Professional Development at school and I could recover from a month of non-stop travel. Note: a week is definitely not enough to recover from a month of non-stop travel.
And then we were off to Colombia! And this … THIS was my favorite trip of the year. Hands down.
Although this was our 5th time returning to Colombia, this trip was like no other we’ve ever taken because this time, we were joined by 16 of Jeremy’s students and 3 of Jeremy’s co-workers! The trip was paid for by one of our favorite travel non-profits, FLYTE, and I paid my own way so that I could document the trip.
The trip combined our two passions: teaching and travel. Jeremy was awarded 2019’s FLYTE grant for developing a curriculum and itinerary that made connections between Oakland and Colombia, exploring the complex history and diverse present-day of each while working in lessons in history, culture, and colonialism in Cartagena and Bogota.
It was emotional AF.
Like, I love travel. But travel with teenagers? It is a new level of incredible.
For many of the students, this was their first time traveling. Watching the kids learn and explore, grow and blossom, emerge from their shell, venture out of their comfort zone, try new things, form connections, bond with each other, and piece together truths about the world they live in … it gives me chills.
I feel so incredibly lucky to have been able to join the trip to document it in photos, videos, and stories which will hopefully help FLYTE grow and build their resources to provide more of these life-changing trips to high school students in underserved communities.
I’m long overdue to create a blog post about this experience, so until I do, if you’d like to know more about this incredible trip and the amazing, brilliant students who participated, I suggest watching the Instagram Story highlights I created on FLYTE’s Instagram. I think the stories are one of the best ways to see impactful the trip was for the students who participated and to hear about that impact in their own words. There’s also a detailed recap of the trip itinerary posted on FLYTE’s website.
July: Colombia & Panama
After the kids (and chaperones) boarded their flight home, we booked it to another gate to catch a flight to Panama! Panama borders Colombia to the north and flights are cheap and quick, so it made perfect sense to move our original plan to smush Panama into a week in February to a full 2 weeks in July.
We began our trip sitting on a tiny island -- of the San Blas islands, an Indigenous-owned territory off the coast of Panama -- and doing nothing. Nothing at all.
It actually drove us insane at first. There literally was just nothing to do.
No WiFi, no electricity except for a couple of hours a day, no library, nothing to do at all. But sit. And relax.
RELAX?! On a trip?! We were scandalized.
Although our overly-anxious brains rebelled at the idea of switching off at first and were enraged at the lack of entertainment, by the end of our 3 days in paradise, we’d finally adjusted.
It turns out there were plenty of things to do: snorkel, swim, watch the sun rise and set, eat incredibly fresh fish, read the books we’d brought, nap in hammocks, sit in peaceful silence. It was heavenly, and after 3 days, we were sorry to leave.
After returning to mainland Panama, we were joined by one of my best friends, who’s traveled with us a few times and is always a welcome travel companion, especially because she speaks fluent Spanish.
But while I was thrilled to spend time with my bestie, I had absolutely no energy for doing actual activities in Panama.
For nearly a week in Bocas Del Toro, I sat in our (gorgeous) hostel and worked, while my friend went hiking through the jungle and Jeremy scuba dived in the Caribbean. I didn’t even go on the giant waterslide leading from the hostel lounge to the warm sea below (although I did at least make an attempt at stand-up paddleboarding).
In El Valle, my friend climbed a volcano and returned for breakfast before I’d even woken up. And in Panama City, I barely ventured outside of the block our hostel was located on.
I was burnt out AF.
Thankfully my friend is fully capable of exploring on her own and Jeremy doesn’t mind sitting around and doing nothing with me, so we still had a great time. But I was disappointed in myself. I’d traveled too much, said yes to too many opportunities, and paid the price of wasting the precious little time I had to explore Panama and hang out with my best friend.
I spent the rest of the month at home, feeling guilty.
Thankfully, we only had one trip scheduled in August: we were heading back home to Louisville, Kentucky, for the 2nd time in a year.
In terms of my energy reserves, Louisville is a fairly low-key travel destination for us because it’s my hometown and I know exactly where I am at all times. The nostalgia fuels me rather than drains me, the way a brand new and unfamiliar destination sometimes does. Which is lucky, because my energy reserves for travel were tapped from Panama.
However, we had a reason for visiting: my late grandmother’s memorial service.
Emotional energy required: 100%. Burnout recharge potential: 0.
It was wonderful to see family and old friends, to share stories about my late Grandmother, and to read what I’d written about her which I swear I will eventually publish because I really, really want to.
But honestly, I didn’t do a damn thing other than eat and enjoy time with family.
I had a month in between trips to relax at home, which was sorely needed (but not, as I would later learn, enough time to fully recharge and recover from my whirlwind of summer travels).
This was my first time attending any blogger conference as an attendee rather than a speaker. I spoke at TBEX last year and was able to make some fantastic connections which resulted in some of my favorite collaborations this year.
So my goal for the conference was to network, make connections, and -- of course -- explore Montana on a week-long road trip hosted by the Glacier Country tourism board.
The press trip was a lot of fun, and included one of my favorite activities EVER: llama trekking! I am working on a vlog that’s SOLELY DEDICATED to this momentous activity, but if you want to watch me freaking the f**k out about llamas, watch the Montana highlight on my Instagram Stories.
My time in Montana also served as an eye-opener to a massive blind spot in my efforts to educate myself on ethical and sustainable tourism: I realized that I know almost nothing about Indigenous tourism -- or in fact, Indigenous culture altogether -- right here at home in the USA. What the heck!?
I’ve been working on rectifying that and seeking out resources to help me learn so. that I can pass it along to my readers. For now, I think I did an OK job in my Montana coverage. If you have any suggestions, please drop ’em in the comments!
October: Chico, Nevada City, Lake Arrowhead, & New Orleans
As you can see by that very long list of destinations, we traveled once a week for the entire month of October. I was craving colorful leaves, so we headed to charming Nevada City in the hopes of seeing some.
We only peeped about 3 leaves, but it was a really cute town with plenty of fascinating pioneer history.
The rest of our trips in October were with family and friends. We visited one of our best friends up north in Chico, spent a weekend with Jeremy’s family in Lake Arrowhead, and flew to New Orleans to celebrate one of my best friend’s 30th birthdays and Halloween!
This was our 2nd bestie trip of the year, so this time we all brought along our partners. We had so much fun being ridiculous and witchy, and I definitely connected with New Orleans on a deeper level on this trip.
One of the major highlights was a Voodoo Tour with New Orleans Secrets, led by a member of the Voodoo Church. It was educational, ethical, and enlightening, and truly well done!
That said: was I fully recovered from burnout? Not really. Did I start to fall behind on content? Oh yes.
Somewhere around this time, I stopped posting on my usual once-a-week blog schedule and fell into a once-or-twice-a-month-maybe schedule, which I am still trying to recover from.
I don’t even think I posted Instagram Stories for any of those destinations, even though I took plenty of them fully intending to. I did manage to produce a vlog, though… enjoy:
November: Austin, Salt Lake City, New Jersey
After my insane weekly travel schedule from October, I continued traveling way too much in November and was gone for exactly half of the month.
We also, somehow, squeezed in a move. Yep: that’s right. We’re insane. But we’d been trying to find a bigger space to live in for months (on the random weekends when we happened to be home, at least) and we’d finally been approved to rent a beautiful 3-bedroom house just a mile away from our 1-bedroom apartment in Oakland!
Finally, I would have a real office to work in, and my assistant and I wouldn’t have to squeeze behind the couch all day. (Ahem: more about my assistant, and the rest of the team members I haven’t mentioned yet, later in this post.) It would be my first time living in an actual house in 12 years and I was SO excited.
I had a grand total of 4 days at home to help pack before New Orleans.
Then, I flew to Austin, Texas to speak at the Mediavine Conference. I spoke about Campaign Reports and sang karaoke with the Mediavine team, who I love to pieces.
Mediavine is our ad management company, so all those ads you see in our blog posts and playing before our videos are thanks to them. Which, incidentally, means they (along with you, dear reader) also pay our rent and make my crazy dream job a reality. Thank you, Mediavine! Thank you, readers, who don’t use adblockers! You are the best and we love you.
By the time I flew home, Jeremy and my amazing assistant had packed up the rest of our apartment, which was a HUGE relief -- they were SO helpful! We had 2 days to get everything moved in, so we took the shortcut and hired some movers. That was one of the smartest decisions I made all year.
Before we had time to unpack, we headed off again for a weekend in Salt Lake City learning about pioneer history and drinking all of the beer in partnership with Visit Salt Lake.
Jeremy created a fantastic Salt Lake City Brewery Guide, and I… had to stop on day 3 for a wheatgrass shot as my body slowly gave up on me.
For Thanksgiving, we flew to my sister’s house in New Jersey, where we launched our new podcast from her couch.
Oh, did I not mention we’d been recording and producing podcast episodes for the past 3 months? It’s because I don’t have a clue how we managed to fit that in. I literally have no idea when we did that.
But I am actually really, really excited and proud of the Podcast, so .. here, listen to our latest episode:
The day after Thanksgiving, we headed into New York City for a fun day of playing tourist with two of Jeremy’s recently graduated students, who joined us for Thanksgiving rather than fly all the way home from their colleges on the East Coast. I absolutely adore Jeremy’s students and spending time with them is incredibly energizing, so I was almost able to ignore how completely burnt out I was at this point.
December: Lake Tahoe, Los Angeles, & France (Almost)
For those of you keeping track at home, by this point, I have been traveling every week for the past 2 months, which doesn’t even account for the rest of the year. I’d given myself almost no time to recover from burnout and had fallen extremely behind on blog posts and content.
Oh, and I still had a house to unpack.
So, like the rational human I am not, I took off for a weekend in Lake Tahoe. It was our annual friends trip, one of the weekends Jeremy most looks forward to come ski season. I finally managed to buck up my courage and hop on a pair of skis, but only because one of our friends and Jeremy agreed to do it with me.
I cried the whole time. If you’re concerned about my mental state at this point … yes.
We pulled together our new house just in time to host the annual Holiday Party for Jeremy’s school staff members, which was an exciting escape from my own work. So instead of catching up on blog content or tackling my email list, I spent a week running around reserving honey-baked hams, picking up pies, and baking mountains of biscuits. Like a Stepford Wife. The party was amazing.
And then, literally the next morning, we packed our bags for Christmas in Los Angeles with family and then 2 weeks in France.
As you may have guessed already, we did not make it to France.
Somewhere around Christmas Eve, as I shoveled Jeremy’s mother’s delicious Prime Rib into my face, an email arrived in our inbox letting us know that our train from Paris would be affected by the country-wide strikes that had been going on for 3 weeks.
As we read that email and researched the strikes, we found that we were dreading our trip. The trip that we’d looked forward to for months: snowy Christmas Markets in Colmar, Strasbourg, and Paris -- a dream trip.
But at this point, I was barely hanging on, and Jeremy was exhausted after a challenging semester at school. So burnout decided that it wasn’t going to just lay low in the background robbing us of creative and emotional energy. It was going to force us to recover, whether we liked it or not.
So, we canceled our trip. The 2nd canceled trip this year.
Instead, we went home, utterly exhausted. We sat in our new house. We took morning walks together. We sipped coffee and watched birds in our backyard.
And I didn’t open my computer once.
We spent New Year’s Even with friends in our new home. We cooked a delicious meal together and ate it in our new dining room, then sat around the fire pit in our backyard drinking champagne and listening to the fireworks as the clock struck 12. And it was the perfect, relaxing end to the craziest, busiest year of my life.
Blogging: Behind the Scenes
What you didn’t see in that insane rundown of the 26 trips I took and 18 that Jeremy took with me, was all the work that went into keeping the blog running, and the amazing things that we managed to achieve while I was running around like a headless chicken.
In 2019, our humble little blog…
- Was read by 2.5 million people
- Received 4 million page views
- Convinced 35k people to subscribe to something
- Published 30 new blog posts
- Launched a monthly newsletter
- Launched a Podcast
- Launched a YouTube channel
- Earned an annual revenue that allows me to say “I am a multi-6-figure earning travel blogger”
It was, all things considered, a pretty darn incredible year.
That said, my goal is always to be transparent. So while our blog’s growth is fantastic and exciting, I want to be honest about what comes along with that…
The bigger our blog gets, the more we receive unkind, uncomplimentary, and occasionally downright mean comments and messages.
The bigger our blog gets, the more frequently my ideas, words, and images are stolen, copied, or republished without my consent.
The bigger our blog gets, the more I wonder how the hell I got here and what the hell I’m going to do to keep this ship afloat.
The bigger our blog gets, the more nervous I get that something is going to happen to pull the whole thing out from underneath me -- like, say, a devastating Google update.
The bigger our blog gets, the more help I need.
I am no longer at a point where I can do this alone. To my astonishment and delight, Practical Wanderlust has grown bigger than I ever could have dreamed.
At the end of last year, I set a goal for myself to outsource as much as I possibly could, and I think I’ve made huge progress on that goal. I’ve grown a team of 8 wonderful freelancers, spread out all over the globe, who help me run the blog.
I am no longer doing this alone, as I have more or less been doing since Jeremy returned to teaching, and I want to extend an immense amount of gratitude to the team I now have helping me:
- We have talented videographers who pull together masterpieces from the shaky cell phone footage I send them over bad WiFi.
- We have a wonderful audio engineer who helped us set up our podcasting studio at home, edits out all of our weird, awkward pauses and adds in hilarious sound effects.
- We have an incredible and talented editor who manages our guest submissions and works with guest writers to publish high quality, well-researched articles that fit our brand guidelines.
- We have flexible and adaptable team members who help us with tasks ranging from affiliate marketing to email marketing to SEO to social media management, often with little direction to go off of.
- And we have an amazing assistant who works here in the office with me, balancing her myriad of tasks for Practical Wanderlust with her workload as a full-time college student (oh, and she’s a former student of Jeremy’s!).
And then there’s you. Yes, YOU, wonderful reader.
You make all of this possible. Every time you read our posts, download our podcasts, “like” our photos, book trips using our itineraries, or purchase things using our links, you are helping make all our dreams come true: mine, Jeremy’s, and the entire Practical Wanderlust team, too.
Because of you, I am able to help my team chase after their own dreams. My team is filled with inspiring people who, much like me, are defining life on their own terms: living abroad, working for themselves, traveling the world, growing their own platforms and channels. Each and every one of them does something radical and amazing and incredible, and I am in awe of them every day.
My deepest gratitude to them, and to you for making it possible for me to fairly compensate them for all that they do.
My Plans for 2020
I’ve spent the last few weeks quietly wrapping my mind around my plan for 2020, and I’m not entirely there yet (because as I’ve said, I take a looooong time to process things). But here is what I’ve got so far:
In 2020, I plan to take fewer sponsored trips. The beauty of earning a fair amount of revenue from sources other than brand partners is that I can be a lot pickier about who I work with. Paying for my own travel gives me creative liberty, freedom from deadlines (which isn’t necessarily a good thing for me, tbh) and a whole lot less anxiety. It lets me travel slower and feel less pressured to constantly be gathering content.
That said, I do have a few brand partners I really loved working with, so fingers crossed that they liked us enough to partner with us again!
In 2020, I plan to continue growing my team. I want to invest more in my existing team and continue to carefully and slowly grow the tasks that I’m outsourcing. I’d love to add a few more members to our team as well, like a writer, a photo editor, and someone who can go on trips in my place.
In 2020, I plan to work less than 40 hours per week. I actually did a great job in 2019 setting work/life boundaries at home! I’m now firmly in the habit of a 9-10am to 5pm workday, with a nice long hour or two for lunch and several walks throughout the day. I also refuse to work on weekends.
Because what the hell is the point of working for yourself if not to spend LESS TIME WORKING?? Like, is that not the point?!
I could go on a whole rant here about the cult of success in the USA and how entrepreneurs who work 80-hour weeks sending themselves to an early grave are somehow seen as heroes, but instead I’ll quote a random meme that a friend sent me, which perfectly sums up my feelings on the matter:
“Every dead body on Mount Everest was once a determined individual, so … maybe calm down.”-- Some random meme on the internet
In 2020, I plan to expand. In almost direct opposition to everything I just said, I have big plans for our little business this year! (But I plan to execute while sleeping in and taking 2-hour long midday breaks to look at birds or. whatever.)
In terms of growth, I’m aiming big … again. I have a crazy, unrealistic goal in mind of doubling everything for the 4th year in a row, which is nuts and probably won’t happen, but I’m going to try anyway because well, I’m a little nuts.
I can’t give you too many details -- not because they are secret, but because I can’t stand to publicly say I’m going to do something and then not do it, and it would make me cranky to announce something that doesn’t end up coming to fruition -- but one thing I can tell you is that podcasting will be one of our biggest focuses this year. I am so excited about our podcast and I cannot wait to see where that takes us! (Psst: have you listened to it yet? You made it this far, you clearly like us. Subscribe!)
In 2020, I plan to slow down and travel less. I am no longer a “yes” girl. 2019 was the year of yes; 2020 is the year of “I’m sorry, I can’t.” I started out the year by turning down 3 absolutely incredible opportunities, and I’m finding that with practice, it does get a little bit less painful to disappoint people.
This year, I want to spend more time in my amazing, beautiful home. I plan to bake more unnecessary bundt cakes, take more long and pointless walks, sit in my backyard and befriend all of the birds in it, and host over-the-top, unnecessarily specific themed dinner parties for all of my friends.
It may even be time to start thinking about adding to our little 2-member family…
But that’s a question for next year, don’t you think?
Have you experienced burnout before? What are your recommendations for us for 2020? Drop us a comment below!
If by some miracle you feel like reading MORE about me/my life/my feelings, here are a few of our favorite personal posts:
- 2018 in Review: The Year of High Risk … & High Reward
- Katy: My Incredible Grandmother, My Travel Muse
- 30 Things Nobody Tells You About Quitting Your Job to Travel
Oh, and if you REALLY want more of us in your lives … check out our podcast! Or subscribe to our newsletter, and you’ll know exactly what we’re doing every month. Or ya know … you can just wait until next year’s year in review to find out how things worked out for us 😉