Most of my year in review posts have had some sort of theme to tie them together. The year I went full time in my blog, or the year a pandemic hit and we almost went under … you know, juicy stuff. This year? This was like the year of its-still-2020 and also the year of its-not-2022 yet. It was also the year I had some extremely unpleasant health complications. So the original working title of this post was “the year of in-between,” and then I added “and puke” to spice it up (there is … a lot of puke in this post, fair warning).
But as I wrote, I realized there were some big highlights: like, we got vaccinated (!!), and I got pregnant (!!!). And as my mindset shifted and I started looking ahead to what my life post-baby will look like, I started making significant changes in my business. I stepped way back from the day-to-day of Practical Wanderlust, empowered my team to make decisions without me, and even began sending them on trips on my behalf. I also started a whole NEW blog (because why have just a human child when I can also birth a brand new business baby at the same time?). And at some point, I stopped thinking of myself as a “travel blogger” – because at this point, am I? I’m really not so sure anymore…
So I’m calling this the year of metamorphosis. Not only did my body go through a Kafka-esque transformation that completely changed it into a foreign entity that I hardly recognized and had almost no control over (so much puke) – more on that later – but because over the course of the year, bit by bit, almost imperceptibly, everything shifted.
But before we dive into 2021, we have to do a little bit of time travel. Because I wasn’t entirely forthcoming last year…
Looking for more year-in-review posts? We’ve been writing them every year since the beginning of our travel blog. Here they all are:
- 2020: The Year of “Oh No”
- 2019: The Year of “Yes”
- 2018: The Year of High Risk … & High Reward
- 2017: The Year Everything Changed
- 2016: The Year of Travel Fails
What We Didn’t Tell Y’all in 2020
OK, so, quick recap: last year in August, there was this crazy lightning storm that lit 300 fires in California overnight. A few days later, the sun stopped rising, the air went a sickly shade of dark orange, air quality was 300+, and we were all hacking and coughing. A few weeks later, deeply anxious and worried about Mulan’s little lungs and our own mental health, we hopped on a plane to stay in Louisville with my family for 2 months. Which I wrote about in last year’s review, in detail.
But what I didn’t mention was that while we were in Louisville, Jeremy had the bright idea to go house shopping. He thought it would be fun. We’d been binging on House Hunters and late-night scrolling Zillow in a pandemic-induced, fire-crazed panic, and besides, we’d talked about maybe moving to Louisville one day for years. So why not just look at some houses? What harm could it do??
Well, my friends, 4 hours of house-hunting later, we’d put in an offer on a damn house.
Why, you ask? I don’t know. Like I said, pandemic-fire-induced terror. And I mean, this house was gorgeous – a fully refurbished 1870’s Victorian, all redone with brand new everything that same year. It was beautiful, and Jeremy fell in love with it immediately.
And I knew that if I was going to drag my California husband away from Lake Tahoe and Highway One and wine country and otters to go live in Kentucky, I needed to provide him with the perfect house, or (I feared irrationally) he would grow to resent me and we’d end up miserable.
So we put in an offer on the house. Could we afford it? I honestly had no idea. I’d been staring at my financial spreadsheets for so long I’d gone cross-eyed, and we didn’t even have financing lined up. But what harm could it do to put in an offer and just, I don’t know, see what happened? We’d have some time to call banks and arrange for a mortgage, right?
HA. We had no f***king idea what we were doing. We literally did not realize that an offer isn’t just a “see what they say” kind of deal, or that in Kentucky – unlike the Bay Area – you aren’t competing with 196287836 people who all have more money than you.
So even though we offered LESS than asking, our offer was – to our compete shock – accepted. And we were now in a legally binding contract with a home that we weren’t even sure yet that we could actually afford.
What the hell were we thinking? 2020 jumbled up all of my practical-ness, y’all. We got caught up in pandemic anxiety and fire season panic, and that house looked like an escape.
So we spent the next few weeks scrambling. I have never Googled so many things I’ve never heard of in my entire life. What is escrow? What happens if a home inspector misses something important? What does a house appraisal actually evaluate? (To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure I understand the answers to any of those questions.)
We managed to secure financing – not at the dirt-cheap rates I kept reading about on reddit, but whatever – and somehow managed to arrange for home inspectors, roof inspectors, foundation inspectors, and appraisers – all from my sisters house in New Jersey.
By the time we closed on the house, we’d spent about an hour total in it.
And then came the next incredibly stupid, jaw-droppingly obvious question: now what?!
It was November 2020, and we’d just panic-bought a house in Kentucky. But we lived in California.
We knew we couldn’t up and move right away. We had a lease, and Jeremy’s job could call him back from working remotely any day (they didn’t, though).
So, we figured, we’d just move in the summer of 2021. Except now we had a mortgage to pay. And a pricey AF California rent (which was, incidentally, double our mortgage in Kentucky).
I furiously played with several more spreadsheets, trying to make numbers work. It’s not exactly like our business was doing well – in fact, we’d barely begun earning money again around the latter half of 2020 when folks started traveling domestically again – but we were doing okay, and thankfully, we had savings to spare, since for absolutely no reason, the stock market was doing weirdly well.
But then we finally came up with an actually decent idea (maybe the first of this whole, hare-brained scheme): why don’t we get a tenant?? If we can find someone to rent out our house for the next 6 months, we can cover our mortgage and pretend this whole house-buying debacle was just a totally normal, reasonable decision we made to I don’t know, invest in real estate or whatever.
Cue more scrambling and calling people in Kentucky. A few weeks later, we managed to find a property manager with fantastic online reviews who seemed confident they could rent our place out at a rate that would cover our mortgage, property taxes, and home insurance. Only they recommended a longer lease than 6 months – a 6 month lease is really rare, especially in a market like Louisville where hardly anyone rents houses (because they’re cheaper to buy)!
So we thought about it. We couldn’t do a traditional one-year lease, because that would put us back in the middle of the school year. But we could do a year-and-a-half lease, ending in summer 2021. That would give us another year of Jeremy’s salary to make good and sure we were financially stable (since running a travel blog during a pandemic is not a safeguard for financial stability), and it would give us more time to say goodbye to our beloved California.
So, in mid-December we listed the house for EITHER a 6-month lease OR a year-and-a-half lease. We figured we might need to eat the mortgage for a month or two – I mean, who moves over Christmas? And we weren’t really sure we’d find tenants at all, since Louisville is not a house rental kinda area.
As we neared New Years Day, Jeremy and I both realized something: we were actually both ready to leave California and move into that big beautiful Victorian home in Kentucky. We wanted to move in the summer of 2021. And we really didn’t want to wait an extra year and a half.
But it was the week of Christmas, so we didn’t call our property manager to let them know that we only wanted to offer the house for a 6 month lease. The office would probably be closed anyway, and honestly, who rents a house on Christmas? So we figured we’d wait until after New Years Day.
We got a call on December 29th from our property managers. A tenant would be moving in on December 31st, and they’d already signed a 1.5 year lease.
We were shook. We honestly did not anticipate how quickly our house would rent, and we really didn’t think anyone would be spending their holidays looking at houses and moving! But the tenant was starting a job in January and needed to move to Louisville right away.
Honestly, we were gutted. It hit us then how badly we’d both been wanting to move, and how excited we were to move into this big, beautiful house we’d spontaneously bought.
So we did something kind of desperate: we offered to buy out their lease. Just throw cash at them so they’d forget they ever saw our house. It was unprofessional and probably made our property managers look terrible, but we were irrational and confused and emotional. (I cannot stress how much 2020 wreaked absolute havoc on my decision-making abilities, y’all, we were a HOT MESS).
But they didn’t want our money – they just wanted to live in our house! Turns out, they’d actually found ANOTHER home before ours, signed a lease, and were getting ready to move in – when they suddenly found OUR house listing, fell in love with it, and broke the other lease on the spot. They’d already lost a bunch of money breaking their lease because they were so into our house.
And I mean, we couldn’t blame them: this dang house has a logic-bending effect on people, it seems.
So, we entered into January 2021 feeling really, really sad. In addition to two close family deaths in the very last week of 2020, we’d gotten all excited about moving back home, being close to friends and family, exploring Louisville, and living in that stupidly beautiful house. A year and a half felt like a longggg time. And so we hunkered down to wait it out.
Psst: You probably want to see the house, right? (We’re not the only HouseHunters addicts, right?!) We’ve got a full walkthrough in our Instagram Highlights – feel free to skip the slides of me talking because I’m telling the same story you just read through!
2021 has to be better than 2020, right?
Although we began the year on a sad note, we also started 2021 with hope. A new president, a new vaccine on the way – surely, this would be the year we put this whole pandemic thing away for good, right?? HA.
But for the first several months of 2021, we were in a holding pattern, like the last year was just dragging on. We were still pretty much in lockdown, as we’d been since March 13, 2020. Jeremy was teaching remotely – both a blessing and a curse – and aside from the occasionally outdoor weekend day trip, we weren’t really going anywhere or doing anything.
Because, you know, horrifying terror plague lurked in the air all around us. Casually.
But with the rollout of the new vaccines, everything changed. Because he was a teacher, Jeremy was able to get vaccinated February, and because I have a pacemaker which makes me immunocompromised, I was able to get vaccinated in early March.
And honestly? Getting vaccinated was incredible. I honestly teared up both times. It didn’t hurt, but it was just such a flood of … overwhelming relief. The mental weight that had been tethering me released. We probably wouldn’t die every time we stepped within a few feet of someone! I hadn’t even realized how much constant, unending anxiety I’d been dragging around until the vaccine lifted it from my shoulders.
I would like to personally hug every member of the scientific community who made the vaccine possible. But I guess I’ll wait until the pandemic is really and truly over.
Getting vaccinated was the first step of our 2021 metamorphosis. With our newly vaccinated status, we were able to resume a level of normalcy that felt entirely foreign. We ate at restaurants again (still mostly outdoors, though). We took weekend trips and stayed in hotels. We saw friends!! Things we once took for granted came back in a flood of happiness and excitement.
And, of course, we started traveling again.
March-July: That Post-Vaccine Life
We started with a weekend getaway to Jeremy’s favorite place in California, Lake Tahoe. Snowboarding isn’t the riskiest activity even before we were vaccinated, but we waited anyway – we have a very low risk tolerance, y’all!
As spring blossomed, we foraged for flowers and celebrated the spring equinox. Jeremy made edible flower pasta and cookies, and we dyed eggs with cabbage and onion skins. Y’all, we have been sleeping on celebrating the solstices, and I’m so into it now! It adds a new holiday almost every month, and they’re so much fun!
For spring break in early April, we made what felt at the time like an extremely risky – but incredibly exciting – decision, to take a freakin’ vacation. Like an actual trip. On a plane! This would be our first vacation since 2019 , and we were so stoked.
We decided to visit Maui, Hawaii for a few reasons. First, because it’s a non-stop flight flight for us, and I wanted to minimize travel through airports (where mask wearing is not enforced like it is on a plane) as much as possible. Second, because it was one of the only places at the time requiring vaccines or negative COVID tests and enforcing quarantine. And third, because we had a free place to stay and a free car to use thanks to a family friend.
Besides, our first trip to Maui was only 3 days long, and it really wasn’t enough! I wanted to dive deeper and explore more of the island, and get to know more about Hawai’ian culture and history.
Back in 2019 I wrote about how I travelled so much, I’d started to take it for granted a little bit, and I wished for a break to help me regain my sense of wonder and awe for traveling (lol, f**k 2019 me). Well, wish freakin’ granted. I can’t remember the last time I had this kind of excitement for a trip, like, keeping me awake in the middle of the night levels of excitement. I savored it.
I packed like 2976827678 bathing suits and we were off. The plane wasn’t full, the island was blooming and half empty, and we took full advantage! We spent an absolutely heavenly week eating outdoors, snorkeling, swimming, taking a whale-watching cruise, watching the sunset, and taking long, luxurious walks on the beach in the warm evening air. You can see exactly what we did in this Instagram highlight!
It felt like we were finally, finally getting back some level of normalcy, and it rejuvinated us both.
For the rest of April, I reveled in springtime. I sat outside under our wisteria-covered pergola eating strawberries and painting or reading. We took Mulan to the beach almost every weekend and discovered several new favorite parks.
Around this time we received some incredibly disappointing news: the owners of our home were returning from where they’d been living abroad due to the pandemic, and we would need to leave our rental.
Honestly, we were gutted. That house was the perfect place to hole up during a pandemic, with its enormous, beautiful backyard, garden plots, lemon trees, and a spacious bathtub that I still dream about. It was where we’d brought Mulan home and the first place that really, truly felt like a home and not just an apartment we were renting!
But, that’s the life of a renter. So we started looking for a new place to live – thankfully, we’d been given 3 months notice, which was huge because finding a house to rent in the Bay Area is incredibly difficult. Most of the open houses we went to were so competitive we knew we didn’t stand a chance.
One place rented out while we were touring it – the property manager awkwardly kicked us out before we’d even had a chance to see the place. Another place promised us to send us the application to submit and we thought we had a good shot – only to email us an hour later and tell us they’d rented it to someone else. We were having no luck, even after raising the amount we were willing to pay in rent by a ridiculous amount over what we’d been paying!
In between house hunting, we took two more weekend trips in April and May, both times heading down Highway One to the Central Coast (where Jeremy grew up) for a weekend of wine tasting in Paso Robles and otter-spotting in Morro Bay. Like our trip to Maui, this was just for us – not for work. This year was definitely the year of revisiting places I’ve already visited and gloriously leaving my camera tucked away in the hotel room!
For our 5-year wedding anniversary in May, we took a staycation in San Francisco. We booked one of the hotels from our Where to Stay in San Francisco post, took a food tour through Chinatown, and bought tickets to a Giants Game (major kudos to them for requiring & enforcing vaccine cards)! It was romantic AF, and a ton of fun to be a tourist in our own home.
We spent Mother’s Day with Jeremy’s mom in Los Angeles – it was the first time we’d seen them since the pandemic began, and it was soul-quenching. Being able to see and hug our family meant the world to us.
Oh, and during the pandemic they’d put in a really baller pool, which I didn’t leave for the entire weekend.
In June, we were still scrambling to find a place to live, with only a few weeks left to go. We raised our rent comfort level even higher – cue me panicking and refreshing Practical Wanderlust’s financial spreadsheets – and begged our current property managers to help us out. Did they know of anything, anything that wasn’t on the market yet? We were striking out like crazy, and we figured knowing about a place before it listed would help our odds.
As it turned out, it did! Our property managers had a tenant moving out of a place in our old neighborhood, just a few blocks from the apartment we’d left only 2 years before. The house was bigger than our current home, still a 3-bedroom, but with a much smaller backyard that was shared by a tenant in another unit in the back. Oh, and it was about $1,500 more than what we’d been paying.
Whatever. F***k it. We jumped on it, signed a year-long lease, and moved for what we knew would be the last time in the Bay Area.
In June, we mostly stayed at home, unpacking and settling into our new place. Moving is stressful both for people and fur-babies, and we didn’t want to stress Mulan out further by leaving her at home(even though she’s quite used to it by now).
We did, however, take a glorious road trip all the way down to San Diego, stopping along the way to visit family again. We booked a lovely dog-friendly hotel near the dog beach and found an awesome doggy daycare to drop Mulan so we could spend a day at the Zoo. And we pretty much followed our exact 3-day San Diego Itinerary (which was already published, so again, very little work for me to do. Love it!)
I also picked up a new hobby: swimming! In our old house, we lived just down the block from a pool – but it closed down in March 2020 and didn’t open back up until over a year and a half later, when we’d already moved a mile away. And y’all, I was so damn excited to use that pool. I was going to walk there 3x a week – as soon as it got warm again, I said. But we moved in November, and the pool shut down in March. Dammit.
Well, the minute it opened back up, I was the first one in line, fully outfitted in my beloved swim leggings. I started swimming laps 2-3x a week and within a few months, I was swimming a mile at a time.
In July, we took our first big, international trip since 2019 and headed to Costa Rica for 10 glorious days!
At first, I was nervous – traveling is like a muscle, and I hadn’t exercised mine in a while. On top of the usual traveling-in-a-pandemic anxiety, I was worried about all the usual pre-trip things. Would we be able to communicate, or was our Spanish too rusty? What if we got lost? Would there be enough WiFi or should we get data plans? Did we pack everything we needed, what if we forgot something? Should pack our stuff in suitcases or would a backpack be better? It had been such a long time since I’d traveled internationally, I felt like I was brand new to it again!
But as soon as we arrived in Costa Rica, tired from the flights and thrown headfirst into a new place where we only half speak the language, we felt … at home. Stepping into the humid tropical air, speaking not-great-but-also-not-terrible Spanish to taxi drivers, and trying to navigate our way through a new, unfamiliar place together felt like slipping on a favorite pair of worn-out jeans thinking they might not still fit, only to find that they still fit perfectly.
Honestly, it was incredible. Since it was our first big trip in years, we splurged, booking all private shuttles rather than taking public transit (honestly, it barely even cost much more and was well worth it for how much easier it made everything) and even spending several days staying in a luxurious eco-resort.
The eco-resort was a place my parents took us on a family vacation when I was 8 is called La Paloma Lodge, and I’ve been dreaming of returning to it for literally over 20 years. It’s the kind of place you go on during your honeymoon, and in fact, my sister actually did honeymoon there! (During the part of our year-long-honeymoon that spent in Costa Rica, we only stayed in hostels.)
To my delight, it was as wonderful as I remembered it being decades ago – and although it was certainly much pricier than we usually feel comfortable paying, the price felt justified as it includes meals, activities, transportation (it’s in a fairly hard-to-access part of Costa Rica).
We went snorkeling, rode horses on the beach, attempted to go kayaking but got freaked out by rapids and crocodiles and wimped out, saw a bunch of sloths and monkeys and toucans, hiked through a cloud forest, crossed hanging bridges in the tree canopy, ate Costa Rican food in a treehouse restaurant, and revisited a hostel we stayed at during our honeymoon 5 years ago. It was heaven.
I am fully planning to write up our entire itinerary, but it’s a beast and I’m still slowly working away at it! In the meantime, you can see everything we did in this Instagram highlight, and I published 35 Things Nobody Tells You About Visiting Costa Rica.
The memories of our time in Costa Rica will stick with us forever, and we fully plan to return again. But I have no idea when the next time will be that we’re able to travel internationally, because ….
Surprise, I’m pregnant!
If you follow us on Instagram or are on our email list, this probably isn’t a surprise – I’ve been complaining about being pregnant for a solid seven months now. (For everyone else, surprise!)
We found out that I was pregnant a few weeks after returning from Costa Rica (I cannot wait to bring our kid to La Paloma Lodge and thoroughly traumatize them by pointing at various beds and telling them that’s where they were conceived). It was very much planned – after several months of low COVID rates, it seemed like everything was finally getting back to normal (haha) so it seemed like a good time!
We’d actually pushed back our timeline by a year to account for COVID already, which really just helped me to feel extra-ready. (Jeremy has been ready for the last decade, and I’ve been working on feeling ready for the last decade.)
So anyway, I was feeling emotionally ready, finally, and I’d been swimming my a** off getting my body physically prepared for whatever the hell it was about to go through.
Too bad none of that would prepare me for the absolute hell of first trimester…
First Trimester SUCKS
I wish I could put this in like, all caps on a banner and fly it all over the world letting everyone know, because nothing prepared me for how brutally, horrifyingly awful first trimester was. First trimester SUCKS. HARD.
When I first found out I was pregnant – which actually means I was about 5-ish weeks along by medical standards, but only 2 weeks post-conception, a concept that still confuses me and most lawmakers, it seems – I was still super fit and active. I had plenty of energy. I was still swimming a mile at the pool a few times a week, walking a few miles a day and even biking a few miles a week I felt great! Pregnancy was going to be no big deal!
And then, in week 7, it all came crashing down.
First came the unrelenting nausea. Y’all: the phrase MORNING SICKNESS is a f***king LIE. It is ALL DAY, NONSTOP, NEVER ENDING SICKNESS.
I woke up needing to puke and went to bed needing to puke. And in between, I puked. Anything triggered the absolute gut-wrenching nausea: eating. Not eating. Thinking about food. Smelling food – that was the worst.
One time Jeremy innocently asked me what I wanted to eat for lunch, and at the word “lunch,” I immediately projectile vomited across our bedroom. I wish I was exaggerating.
I had food aversions to literally everything. The only thing I could usually stomach was sour candy and the smell of lemons. So I went around all day with a lemon in my pocket, huffing it like a drug and dry-heaving.
Finally, my OB put me on Zofran, the drug they give to cancer patients who have severe nausea during chemotherapy. It didn’t resolve my nausea, but it took the edge off of it, which helped me to manage a few morsels of food a day.
I still ended up losing about 10 pounds during my first trimester, despite only eating sour candy.
But nausea is only ONE horrible symptom of the first trimester! What they don’t f***king tell you in health class – what NOBODY tells you until you’re pregnant and suddenly inhabiting the body of the main character in a Kafka novel as it goes through a horrifying and unfamiliar metamorphosis – is that you will experience every horrible feeling ever, and it’s all incredible normal.
You will be so tired you will sleep all day. You won’t be able to leave the couch, you will be so exhausted. The thought of leaving the couch will make you cry, because it feels like you have to go climb Mount Everest.
This is normal: it’s because your body is currently not only growing a human, it’s also growing a literal BABY-GROWING, LIFE-SUSTAINING MACHINE at the same time, as well as creating 50% more blood, ALL FROM SCRATCH. Everything else is secondary. You are now a baby-machine-growing-robot, and you might as well tuck the lifeless husk of yourself away in a closet for a while and wait it out.
In addition to creating a human, an organ, and a bunch of blood out of THIN FREAKIN’ AIR, your body is also busy rearranging all of your organs to make room for all the new stuff it’s growing from scratch.
So around week 10, I lost the ability to use my abs, because they … just… stopped being where they used to be, I guess? I couldn’t sit down or stand up without excruciating pain.
This lasted for about a month. During this time, I attempted to go back to the pool and swim the mile I’d swim just 4 weeks earlier.
I could not even make it a single lap. My abs would not work. I could not make my body go straight in the water. I could not use my legs. I had to keep my legs tucked up under me, like a shrimp, and doggy-paddle with my arms. I made it one horrible, slow, miserable, embarrassing lap and then collapsed in Jeremy’s arms sobbing so loudly that the 3 surrounding lanes stopped to stare (and then immediately console me when I told them I was pregnant).
I was only a few weeks pregnant, and I didn’t recognize my body. It didn’t work anymore. It was just this constantly tired, permanently nauseous, non-ab-having baby-growing machine that I happened to be trapped inside. And it was a mind-f***k.
And you know what’s crazy?? My experience isn’t unusual. MANY pregnant women go through this (though, I should add, some pregnancies are much easier than mine). Everyone’s mother has to go through pregnancy.
And despite that, pregnant people still have to go to work and function as usual. We don’t even have paid maternity leave, the idea of paid sick leave to cover the agonizing first trimester, or any of the difficulty of pregnancy, is a laughable DREAM.
I have no idea how anyone functions during first trimester. I literally spent 3 months laying on the couch, puking, and crying. And I feel lucky that I was able to do that from home, on my couch.
The Second Trimester Doesn’t Suck (As Much)
By the time 14-ish weeks rolled around, I was feeling a bit better. My nausea was not reducing me to a vomiting puddle of tears on a daily basis anymore (just some days), and there were days that I was able to work from the couch and occasionally even go on a very short stroll around the block. This was a massive improvement!
The reason why most pregnant people feel better in their second trimester is because after the incredibly taxing work of the first trimester, the fetus is now relying on the placenta to sustain it, rather than sucking the literal life-force out of the human it is inhabiting. So yeah, it was worth all that effort for my body to grow a baby-sustaining machine.
Y’all, the placenta is a ridiculously rad organ. The female human body is incredible. I mean, pregnancy is a super sucky process, but it’s still pretty darn neat.
Anyway, me feeling a little bit better meant we could tentatively start doing some fun stuff again. In September, we flew to Portland, Oregon for a beautiful outdoor wedding of a close friend, and it felt semi normal (thankfully we rented a car so I didn’t need to walk much).
Here is one thing about travel that I never quite realized: airports are HUGE. Walking through airports is SO MUCH WALKING. Like you have to walk in, stand in security, walk to your gate, walk out of your gate – I mean, it’s a LOT. I had to sit the entire time in security and take breaks every few minutes during the incredibly long walk to and from our gate.
Thankfully, there are resources like wheelchairs and golf carts for folks who aren’t able to walk for very long, and I happily utilized them. I will never take my ability to walk through an airport for granted again!
And in late October – after we’d both been boosted – we hopped on a flight to one of my favorite places in the country: Savannah, Georgia!
Every year, 2 of my best friends and I (including Practical Wanderlust’s Editor-in-Chief) take a friend trip. We’re all spread out across the country, so we make it a priority to travel somewhere together each year – sometimes with husbands and partners in tow, sometimes without. This year, we were celebrating Halloween in Savannah – something I’d been wishing to experience for years!
We truly and deeply love Savannah – we fell in love on a 3-day springtime trip back in 2019 – and this trip only deepened our enchantment with this incredible, beautiful town. The food, the ghosts, the gravestones, the nightlife, the riverfront – it’s just freakin’ amazing.
And to my delight, I was actually feeling pretty okay, most of the time! I was even able to walk, like, a LOT – one day, I walked 14k freakin’ steps, which felt like a damn marathon.
Well, I mostly felt okay…
Yeah, so I have this ear thing?
You see, I have this other health issue that popped up this year. I’ve been having like, ear issues? Basically, overnight, I lost hearing in one ear. And also developed an extremely loud, disorienting ringing in that same ear. Which was terrifying.
Tinnitus and hearing loss, it turns out, are not reversible. There’s no cure for tinnitus. And it sucks.
But then a few months later, it got worse. I started getting debilitating episodes of vertigo, which were so bad that I couldn’t even move my eyeballs without the world spinning and me projectile vomiting. (You guys, maybe this post should be called “The Year of Projectile Vomiting,” because I did a LOT of it in 2021.)
It was incredibly scary. I couldn’t figure out what was causing my vertigo. I’d literally wake up, try to get out of bed, and immediately fall over puking while the world spun around me. And then just have to lay there on the ground, for hours, waiting for everything to stop spinning enough to make it to the couch.
I had no clue what was happening to me.
I took an MRI, a hearing test, and saw 3 specialists. Basically, everyone was kinda stumped. I had some symptoms of Meniere’s Disease, some symptoms of Vestibular Migraines, and some symptoms of a post-viral infection that caused vestibular neuritis (feel free to google any of those things if you’re curious, but I couldn’t really even begin to explain them).
There has been some evidence linking these kind of symptoms to COVID-19, but I’ve never tested positive for COVID. The only time I suspect I may have had it is in February 2020, right after a trip to Disney World and right before we all started paying attention to symptoms that, at the time, I brushed off as a very mild cold. At this point, I’m not sure I’ll ever know.
Long story short, the doctors were all kinda stumped. I didn’t get a diagnosis. I did get a suggestion for a bunch of stuff to try to see if it helped, and some of it did. For instance, cutting out salt helped a LOT. So did cutting out sugar.
Unfortunately for me, not being able to eat salt or sugar without immediately developing debilitating vertigo f***king SUCKS when you are pregnant and extremely nauseous with food aversions to everything. On the rare occasion when I’d get a craving for something I thought I might actually want to eat, I’d have to make a no-salt version of it that tasted like stale cardboard and held absolutely no appeal for anyone, especially not a pregnant person whose body has decided to reject the concept of food. I’d like, sadly dip salt-free potato chips into straight vinegar trying to pretend I was eating salt and vinegar chips. It was not the same.
Everything I ate made me sick, and eating nothing … also made me sick.
I was living in a 24/7 hell of nausea and food aversions, and also a 24/7 hell of of dizziness and vertigo after eating. For months.
At one point, during our trip to Portland, I lay on our hotel bed sobbing because I knew I needed to eat, and that we needed to go get food at a restaurant, but I also knew that eating was f***king torture. I just kept crying “please don’t make me eat” to poor Jeremy and panicking over the thought of smelling food, and the inevitable vertigo attack that would come afterwards.
It was truly awful. (Though I should say that I am incredibly thankful that none of this seems to have triggered the eating disorder I’ve been in recovery from for the last 16 years! Yay for that.)
So … it was rough. Eventually, another doctor suggested I start taking some supplements that helped people with migraines, including magnesium, COQ10, and Vitamin B2. And later, yet another doctor suggested I try popping Benadryl to help fight the constant, debilitating vertigo.
All of these suggestions helped a LOT. The benadryl did indeed significantly help the vertigo episodes, so I started popping the maximum safe amount, which is 3 pills a day. Was I awake at any point? Mmmmm … Kinda?
But the pills and supplements and being extremely careful about what I ate did, mostly, keep my symptoms somewhat manageable.
Although there were a few slip-ups here and there. The worst was during our trip to Savannah.
You see, it was my best friend/Editor-in-Chief Richie’s birthday, and he wanted to celebrate at the nicest, most beautiful historic restaurant in Savannah: the Olde Pink House. It’s a beautiful Victorian mansion serving up some of the best food in a town full of incredible food, it’s super haunted, and our server was telling us ghost stories. We were having the best time!
I’d ordered carefully – literally just some scallops and asparagus with absolutely no salt or seasoning on them – but somehow I guess not carefully enough. About 10 minutes after I finished my meal, I felt the world starting to tilt. A vertigo episode was coming on – fast.
I hustled/waddled my pregnant a** to the bathroom and made it just in time to projectile vomit (bingo, if you’re playing) all over myself, the stall, and the entire general area. In between heaves, I apologized to the other horrified patrons. “Don’t worry,” I heaved, “it wasn’t the food, I’m just pregnant.” Everyone was very understanding.
I limped my way out of the bathroom and went right outside, completely covered in vomit and barely able to walk because the entire world was spinning like a top.
The poor employees were so nice, y’all. I mean it’s not every day that a puking pregnant woman collapses on your front steps, and they could NOT have been kinder about it. They went and got me water (which I promptly threw up) and collectively sympathized with me.
I sort of just lay outside covered in vomit and answering polite questions about my pregnancy (17 weeks, no we don’t know the gender yet, I’ve been craving sour candy, etc) until someone went and told my friends what was going on, at which point they all came outside and found me puking in a bush. I was later informed by my extremely understanding friends that the bush I’d chosen to discreetly puke into was directly next to a table occupied by a couple celebrating something romantic and important. Oops.
That night, my darling husband carried me up to our vacation rental and gently sponge bathed me and detangled the vomit from my hair while I tried not to move my eyeballs too much, lest I puke again.
One thing I’ll say about my marriage this year is that it has really reached new levels of intimacy. Levels that I really never wanted to reach, but here we are. So sweet.
But you know what? After sleeping through a walking tour the next day and popping 3 benadryls, I was able to keep everything down for the rest of our trip to Savannah. And that is … honestly, a huge victory! I truly had the best time on that trip. Puke notwithstanding.
Want to see everything we did? Head to this Instagram highlight for our Savannah stories.
October through December: Travel and Stuff
After Savannah, my health did actually continue to improve. At this point, I was ready to just go all in. I didn’t know how long I’d be feeling up to traveling, rates were pretty low, we were boosted, and I wanted to take full advantage. So for a solid 2-month stretch, we booked a trip every single weekend. What is this, 2019?!
Since rates were low and we felt fairly confident about hopping on a plane, we were able to spend Thanksgiving with my family in New Jersey. As a major win, I was both able to eat a bit and also did not puke at all (!!!). It was wonderful being able to spend the holidays with my family – we missed them so much!
By our next trip – a lovely paid partnership to nearby Monterey, sponsored by a luxurious hotel brand who put us up in the most comfortable hotel bed I’ve ever slept in – I was feeling pretty darn okay. I did have to get pushed around the Monterey Bay Aquarium in a wheelchair, but … you know, I didn’t puke, so. (Psst: you can see those stories on Instagram.)
A few weeks later, we headed down (yet again) to Jeremy’s hometown, Morro Bay – this time so Jeremy could complete a sprint triathlon! You see, a million years ago when I was like 5 weeks pregnant and felt like a young, healthy woman and not a decaying, decrepit half-human, I had the brilliant idea to start training for a triathlon. I was already easily swimming the distance I needed, I was pretty sure I could train myself to bike 12 miles without too much difficulty based on my fitness level, and the running bit – well, you can just walk that, right?
Anyway, it was a pipe dream that I’ve officially shelved for post-baby. But Jeremy caught my enthusiasm and signed up for a beautiful half-tri in his hometown. The route is a freakin’ dream: first you swim in the Pacific Ocean in a bay surrounded by otters, then you bike 12 miles up and down Highway One with sweeping ocean views, and then you run 3 miles along the beach while dolphins and sandpipers serenade you. Y’all, his hometown is ridiculous, I’m barely even exaggerating.
Jeremy did a pretty good job training for his tri … for like 3 weeks. Then he fell off the wagon, never to recover. (To be fair, he was waking up early every morning to clean the house, running out at all hours to pick up random food and pills for his pregnant wife, and generally keeping everything together while I mostly lay around crying in a puddle of vom.)
But thankfully, he’d gotten one of his best friends to agree to it. So a few days before the tri, when he was fully ready to just not show up and eat the $100 entry fee, his wonderful friend talked him back into it with a pep talk that I can only assume was similar to the one he gave me when I wanted to not hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and eat our $400 downpayment.
Luckily, their triathlon turned out much better than our Inca Trail disaster! Jeremy completed the triathlon (despite possible the least amount of training that anyone’s ever done for a triathlon). I have no idea what his finishing time was, but I do know that he finished dead last – not actually just because of his (lack of) training, but because he and his friend wanted to complete the triathlon together, and her start time was like 15 minutes after his. The time isn’t what matters, anyway: they had a blast together, and most importantly, he DID IT! He’s already looking forward to seeting his sights on another one in 2022.
Meanwhile, in the time it took Jeremy to bike 12 miles, I managed to waddle across a parking lot, use the bathroom, and find a nice spot to sit and wait with Mulan. (They say that pregnancy is the equivalent to running a marathon every freakin’ day, though, so … there’s that.)
Around this time, my mom drove across the country in an RV to visit us and also drop off the RV. Yes, y’all: my mom bought an RV. And she’s letting us use it! (Though we are paying her to rent it.) It’s a beautiful Winnebago Solis Camper Van, and we’ll be using it to drive cross-country next year with the baby when we move back to Louisville. (And then, at some point, go camping in like, as often as possible.)
Shortly afterwards, we drove up to Lake Tahoe to cozy up in a cabin with Jeremy’s little sister. Jeremy went snowboarding, I lay around by a fire, it was wonderful! On the way out, though, we did get caught in an insanely bad snowstorm – we made it out (barely) but Jeremy’s sister was stuck in Tahoe for the next 2 days. It was very Donner Party.
And then, it was Christmas! We usually travel on Christmas because Jeremy gets a nice long 2-week break from teaching, and this year would be no different: we decided to head to Maui, Hawai’i.
Yes, again. For, honestly, the same reasons as we did in March: a short(ish) and inexpensive direct flight, good vaccine and masking requirements, and a free place to stay and car to use. Only this time, instead of it being just the two of us, we’d be joined by my mom!
Our two weeks in Hawai’i was a dream. Jeremy spent a few days getting scuba certified, and my mom and I went off on our own adventures. Y’all, my mom is a daredevil. I mean, my dad may have backpacked all over Southeast Asia and Europe in the 60’s, but I’m pretty sure my mom’s side – including her mom, Katy, my travel idol – is actually where I get most of my wanderlust gene.
One rainy day, my mom was like “let’s go on a scenic drive!” And I was like yes great that sounds up to my pregnancy abilities. We stopped at Safeway to get me fried chicken and potatoes, because in 2nd trimester all I’m eating is junk food and I’m honestly just glad to be able to eat anything, and then she took me to what I can only describe as the most terrifying road I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving on.
Y’all, they say Road to Hana is scary. No. Road to Hana is like Highway One: kinda windy and next to the ocean. But the Kahekili Highway?! IS TERRIFYING. It is a road full of hairpin turns, one-lane death traps, and cliffside plummets to unseen horrors below. You spend most of the road terrified that another car might come, at which point one of you has to pull over and let the other pass, or you both end up careening off a cliff, probably in flames. (Apparently, tourists aren’t even supposed to be driving on it, but I’m not sure whether that’s actually true.)
My mom, of course, knew this. She’s spent a lot of time in Maui, and she’s driven this highway before. When she said “let’s go on a scenic drive,” what she really meant was “let’s go on a death-defying adventure.” Only – she admitted – she didn’t tell me that, because she knows I am a ball of anxiety and might not agree to come. Then she lured me with grocery store fried chicken and took me (and her unborn grandchild) on a death-road to a lava field full of geysers where she once broke her ankle (keep your mothers away from the Nakalele Blowhole, y’all).
Incidentally, my mom turned 70 this year. Y’all: I have great genes.
Anyway, other than white-knuckling my way down theKahekili Highway, we had a very relaxing time. My mom was in no rush to do anything, nor was I, so most days we just sort of lazily went to the beach, or to an outdoor restaurant, or to the outdoor aquarium (Jeremy pushed me in a wheelchair). Every evening, we watched the sunset. One night we saw 6 manta rays feeding in the waves as the golden sun descended and a rainbow appeared overhead.
It was heavenly, and the perfect last-trip-for-a-while.
A lot of things shifted this year in the blog. For one thing I took several steps back, and for another thing, my mindset shifted – a lot. And honestly, I’m not really sure I’m a content creator anymore … or even a blogger.
It’s not that I don’t like my job anymore. But my job has changed. Frankly, I don’t have the creative energy for it anymore.
The reality is that travel for the purpose of content creation is exhausting. Before your trip, it starts with weeks of researching and planning your itinerary, plus researching photo spots and planning in time on your itinerary to collect content (we usually reserve a full day just for photos). We even pack for the photos we’ll be shooting, choosing our outfits based on our selected photo spots. And we’re often researching and purchasing new travel gear to bring with us for the purpose of testing it out, shooting it, and reviewing it on the blog.
Then during your trip, in addition to the usual stressors of travel, you’re constantly shooting photos. Just a never ending stream of shooting. That means timing everything ~just right~ with the lighting – lots of waking up early and rushing to get places during golden hour (which, to be honest, we’re too lazy to do most of the time).
And if you need to hop in front of the camera like us, there are extra complications. You gotta make sure you look camera-ready all the time, which does not come naturally to me. You’re schlepping around a tripod, setting it up and putting it away all the time. And you’re spending so much time waiting patiently for crowds to clear so you can nail the shot (all while ignoring the judgemental looks you’ll probably get while you pose, waiting.)
Shooting while traveling means that rather than being in the moment, you’re constantly stepping out of it to document it with your camera (and phone) and taking notes for the posts you plan to write.
Add on video and it’s another layer of complication – now you’re shooting for two separate mediums, while running around experiencing stuff and taking notes on it. Add in tiktok or instagram reels/stories and that’s a 3rd shot you have to get of everything you do and see. Now in addition to posing for photos, you’re also shooting videos of your travels, and you need to be “on” and funny and entertaining and creative (at least we do, since let’s face it, cinematography isn’t our strong suit and never will be)!
Posting stories on IG that night? Add on 2-3 hours of extra work each day of your trip, making sure everything is properly tagged and referring back to your notes to make sure you’re giving accurate information.
Then when you get back home, you have hundreds or thousands of photos to go through and edit. Video footage to sift through. And several 4-6k word blog posts to write, all of which will need additional research because your pre-trip research and notes are never enough – you will always have discovered something during the trip that needs more digging into.
All in all, a single blog post takes me about a month to create from start to finish – at minimum. And then the marketing and promotion for that blog post takes about another week or two, or else nobody will ever read it.
Content creation and traveling is easily a full time job, and it’s why so many full-time travelers are also full-time creators – they go hand in hand!
But my energy for this kind of travel has been depleted. Honestly, it was depleted after the ridiculous amount of travel I did in 2019, and 2020 just sucked the life out of me in new and different ways. I felt it coming back in Costa Rica my creativity always feels the most fueled when we’re traveling, and I wrote this post mostly during our trip. But then, ya know, pregnancy – and there my creative energy went again!
The truth is that the majority of our blog posts published this year were written by contributors (look for their bios at the end of each post) and edited by my amazing editor-in-chief, Richie, (who I was able to expand to a full-time role this year!) and that most of our social media posts were published by my wonderful social media manager, Melissa.
And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s just different. I’ve moved into a new kind of role: I’m no longer a travel blogger or content creator, but the CEO of a travel publication (er, two).
These days, when Jeremy and I go on trips, we don’t find ourselves as excited to document the experience. We’re more content to just experience it. And that’s OK, because it’s more important for me to remember why I’m so passionate about travel than it is to churn out content about my travels.
I’ve also been incredibly quiet on social media. As an introvert, I have limited capacity for being “on” and for social energy – and this year, in between growing a child and constant vertigo/puking attacks, I had hardly energy at all. Besides, though this may come as a surprise from someone with a public platform, I hardly use social media at all in a non-work capacity. (Like, I have absolutely no desire to download TikTok, although my social media manager is working on getting our account up and running. If you use TikTok, want to follow us?)
Sharing my private life publicly feels draining and emotionally exhausting, and scrolling for too long pulls up all these amazing, talented content creators doing better than I am at using social media, which just makes me feel like sh*t. It’s just not good for me. So I don’t do it very often.
Which means that my energy – that silly, fun, talkative energy I used to share daily on Instagram Stories? These days, it’s pretty much all going towards my team. I’m spending all of my social energy to support them, guide them, train them, make sure they feel appreciated and that they have what they need to succeed.
Over the past year, I’ve stepped up for my team in ways I’ve never been able to dream of before. We have weekly team lead meetings and quarterly all-team meetings. I’m able to send my team on my behalf on press trips and sponsored travels, equipped with a company camera and credit card and the full support of myself and the rest of the Practical Wanderlust team. And I’m able to help my team to chase after their own dreams by sharing with them everything that I’ve learned and all of my experience, so that they’re able to run their own businesses while traveling and seeing the world, too.
With my time freed up from the content creation side of the business, I’m able to focus on expanding Practical Wanderlust’s reach in exciting new ways. I find that running a business requires a different kind of creative energy, which I also deeply enjoy. It’s not just about growing bigger and earning more money, but about growing more meaningfully – because I find that there’s no point in running your own business if it’s not fulfilling. If I wanted to be unfulfilled, I’d just go back to the corporate world!
Without needing to spend my creative energy on content, I’m able to explore our core values. Like, what do we stand for? How can we help our readers connect more deeply with destinations, and have more meaningful experiences during their travels? How can we ensure that our impact on the destinations we cover is positive? How can we have a larger, more positive impact? Those are the questions that I’m able to think about now, come up with solutions for, and then execute with the help of my team.
And that creative energy is going towards new endeavors, like my new Louisville blog, Let’s Go Louisville, and a really exciting new business in Louisville that I can’t tell y’all about yet (because it might jinx it), and the non-profit that we put on hold this year to wait for the pandemic to improve.
By not shouldering all of the responsibility of the business anymore and instead stepping back to take on a leadership role instead of a solo-preneuer role, I’m able to expand and do more. And, if I’m being honest, I’m able to better conserve my energy. Because living even slightly in the public eye is exhausting. Being “on” is exhausting. Documenting what you’re doing makes it incredibly difficult to be in the moment while doing it. And I want to be in the moment as much as possible.
And so, to wrap up this insanely long, monster of a post… here’s how Practical Wanderlust did this year. And to reward y’all for making it this far, I’m going to do something I haven’t done in YEARS (since I stopped posting income reports back in 2018) and share some of our 2021 numbers:
- Total revenue: Multiple six figures
- Total traffic: 3.9M page views, which is 30% higher than 2020, but still -11% less than 2019. The pandemic + a Google Update affected our numbers quite a bit. Sadly it’s still way less than our early 2020 numbers, but we’re slowly getting back to pre-pandemic levels.
- Social followers: 65k total. Social has never been our strong suit and probably never will be!
- Email subscribers: 29k
- Posts published: 26 on Practical Wanderlust, 12 on Let’s Go Louisville
Next year, I’m aiming for some major growth. Fingers crossed that the pandemic is FINALLY over and we can get our two Louisville businesses up and fully launched!
Oh, and we’ll be moving across the country. And having a baby. Just a few major changes…
So, in an extremely long nutshell, that’s how 2021 went. And if you made it this far,
you’re probably my mom I just want to give you a huge THANK YOU. Because as always, absolutely none of this is possible without y’all. I hope our blog has helped you in some way to chase after your dreams this year, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me to chase after mine.
See ya next year!
Looking for more year-in-review posts? We’ve been writing them every year since the beginning of our travel blog. Here they all are:
- 2020: The Year of “Oh No”
- 2019: The Year of “Yes”
- 2018: The Year of High Risk … & High Reward
- 2017: The Year Everything Changed
- 2016: The Year of Travel Fails
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