AK Monthly Recap: September 2016
On one day this month, I woke up on a vineyard in rural southwest Wales and went to sleep at dawn in an offbeat city in eastern Slovakia. I think it’s fair to say this will never happen again!
This month was so much more hectic than I expected it to be. I planned out a 50/50 month: 15 days at home, 15 days traveling. And while the beginning of the month was mostly calm, I once again bit off a little more than I could chew in the travel planning department.
Sometimes that goes badly. This time it went very well. I had a ball on my travels in September, craziness notwithstanding!
Also, I barely wrote this month. I hate whenever bloggers start posts with, “Wow, I haven’t blogged in forever! Sorry, you guys!” so all I’ll say is when it’s quiet here, it’s for a reason. You’ll find me active on social media, though!
New York, NY, USA
Kent, CT, USA
Inverness and Loch Ness, Scotland
Cardiff, Penarth, Tintern, Abergavenny, Haye-on-Wye, Llandeilo, Laugharne, Pendine, Amroth, Saundersfoot, Tenby, Narbeth, Whitland, Swansea, The Mumbles, and Gower, Wales
Zakopane and Kraków, Poland
Kraków. One of my new favorite European cities and pleasant in every way.
Hay-on-Wye. A tiny town filled with used bookstores.
Košice. A little beauty of a city and definitely off the beaten path.
ADULT SUMMER CAMP. Yes, it’s a thing. I went to Club Getaway with my sister over Labor Day weekend and I had a stupendously fun time! Adult summer camp is just like regular summer camp — with far more freedom. During the day I took dance classes, took a golf lesson, painted, jumped on a giant trampoline, and hung out by the lake. In the evenings were theme parties, dance parties, silent discos. And the food was fabulous (what kind of summer camp serves lobster?!).
Club Getaway was honestly the purest vacation I’ve had in forever. Not only did I not work one bit, I also didn’t bring my camera, barely took any photos on my phone, and didn’t tell anyone at camp what I did for a living. It was so nice to just be Kate from New York, not Adventurous Kate, and not have to constantly field questions about travel and blogging and how to get a lot of followers on Instagram.
My dad came to New York. He’s loved visiting my sister for six years, but this was the first time since I moved there! We had a lot of fun, visiting breweries, seeing Something Rotten on Broadway, and exploring new neighborhoods, and we all went on my friend Jessie’s Bushwick Tour (which I wrote about here).
Seeing my beloved friends. Since moving to New York, I don’t see my European blogger friends nearly as often as I used to. And I miss them a lot.
I actually felt a lot of nostalgia while in Scotland — so much that I constantly felt tears at the back of my eyes. As of this fall, it’s been five years since I went to my first blogging conference and became part of the European travel blogger community. Back then, hardly anyone in the travel industry was taking us seriously.
Times have changed so much. I can’t believe how far we’ve come. I love my friends so much and I’m so proud of them.
Speaking on passive income and affiliate marketing at the Social Travel Summit. I love these topics and I was happy to share these tips with the community. The affiliate panel in particular was a hit!
Another highlight was when I sat down to dinner (in a castle, of course) and by chance was sitting next to the Visit Faroe Islands team! I was actually their first hosted blogger ever, back in 2012 (see all my Faroe Islands posts here). We delighted in reminiscing about my trip and discussing all things Faroese. I love the Faroe Islands and would relish the opportunity to return!
Eating and photographing my way through South Wales. I signed up for a culinary tour of South Wales following STS and it did not disappoint. Wales is incredibly beautiful, very interesting, and full of delicious surprises. My top three highlights were the bookstore-filled town of Haye-on-Wye, the colorful coastal village of Tenby, and doing a Cardiff food tour from Loving Welsh Food. I can’t wait to share it with you!
Visiting Slovakia for the first time. With limited time, all I could see was the offbeat city of Košice, which I loved! I also enjoyed the drive through the High Tatras. I think Slovakia would make a wonderful cheap mountain getaway.
Visiting Poland for the first time. Kraków completely stole my heart. I can’t recommend it enough — even if you’re a beginner traveler. Zakopane was nice (and probably would have been better if I had time to hike); Warsaw was a worthwhile stop as well. Also, I had no idea that Poland had so many interesting soups (apple parsnip was a favorite) and Polish ice cream was so delicious!
The worst lost luggage episode of my life. To condense it as much as possible: I had a direct flight on Norwegian from JFK to London Gatwick; JFK was a mess, none of Norwegian’s kiosks were working, and the luggage tracks were breaking down; as a result, tons of people on my flight lost their luggage even though it was a simple nonstop flight.
Now — I’ve dealt with lost luggage twice before and both times it showed up at my door within 24 hours. No big deal. But in this case, Norwegian had no idea where it was. And that was what made it so bad — the uncertainty. I flew on to Inverness without luggage and worried that I would move on to Wales and even Slovakia without my bag!
I was a wreck. (A special thank you to my Inverness friends for tolerating my moaning and groaning.) I bought some clothes in Inverness, including a nice black midi dress that I can continue wearing for work or funerals, and a pair of pumps that I limped in and left behind at my guesthouse. (Also, you know you’re used to Too Faced’s Better Than Sex mascara when you buy a tube of Maybelline for the interim and you’re convinced it’s nothing more than a lash comb!)
Finally, after more than two days, my bag showed up. Norwegian told me they had no record of my bag as recently as two hours before the bag was delivered to Inverness Airport. I cannot describe the degree of happiness and relief I felt.
Everything else this month pales in comparison, but there were a few other incidents:
Bedbugs. Again. In Košice. I hate when you don’t notice bedbugs until it’s late at night, especially when you’re staying in a guesthouse nobody is in reception after midnight. I killed the bug, looked for others, found none, and went to bed.
Then just as I feel asleep, I felt a bite on my shoulder and reached down and definitely felt a crawly bug. UGH! I killed it, but I woke up to six new bites on my back.
It’s been a week and the scarlet splotches on my back are finally beginning to fade. Taking Zyrtec kept the itches mostly away.
I accidentally withdrew WAY too much money. I haphazardly calculated the Polish zloty exchange rate and pressed the button for 3000. Turns out 3000 zloty is $785. EEK! Considering that’s the account from which I pay my rent, I would have been in trouble if I hadn’t had my end-of-month Amazon affiliate payment coming in!
But seriously, what kind of ATM lets you take out $785 at once?!
The Only Post
Traveling in Colombia — The Best Moments. A great overview of why to travel to Colombia!
Most Popular Photo on Instagram
Lower Manhattan, as seen from Governor’s Island. It seemed like the right photo to share on September 11.
What I Read This Month
After getting my book club pick, I decided this month’s reads would have a theme: biographies and memoirs of strong women! I also spent a lot of time in transit this month, which helped me get through five books.
Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik –This was my book club’s pick of the month, and we decided to switch from our usual fiction to biography. What a great decision!
I always liked Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but after reading this book, she rocketed to the top of my list of heroes. RBG has spent her career working toward gender equality in America — and she was successful because she was incredibly pragmatic, working on small incremental steps rather than huge overhauls. She also lasered in on cases where men were denied women’s rights (like the right to collect a deceased spouse’s social security) because the judges were more likely to rule favorably and thus institute equality across the board.
The book is structured a bit strangely and I skimmed some of the legalese-heavy parts, but it’s a comprehensive and revenant account of Justice Ginsburg’s career, as well as her personal life, her working life, her wonderful marriage, and her close friendship with Justice Scalia. It’s also worth noting that Justice Ginsburg’s own memoir came out today!
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton — I wasn’t familiar with Melton’s hugely popular blog, Momastery, but huge endorsements from Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert were enough to get me interested. This book is a personal account of how Melton’s husband confessed to infidelity throughout their marriage, the subsequent turmoil, how she worked on becoming a stronger person because of it, and how she and her husband rebuilt their relationship from square one.
Not being a wife or mother, I didn’t think I would relate to this very much, but there was one part that hit me hard. Melton talks about how her introversion has served as a crutch of sorts, something she relies on to stay comfortably within her shell. I think I’m the same way. It’s not enough to say, “Well, I’m an introvert!” and use that as an excuse to avoid parties and socializing. We need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone for the sake of our relationships and well-being.
This book also gave me one huge confirmation — I’m so glad I decided to take some aspects of my private life off the blog. Melton shares a lot of ugly parts of her marriage, and while part of me enjoyed getting to see the truth in its unvarnished glory, another part of me felt uncomfortable knowing such intimate things. I don’t want people to think about me that way.
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer — I love Schumer’s comedy, especially Trainwreck, so I was eager to read her long-awaited memoir. So where does it fall on the scale of contemporary female comedian memoirs? Hmm. It was good, but not one of the best. (I still think Tina Fey’s Bossypants is the best of the bunch.)
The book had a lot of comedy in it, but it was actually a lot more serious than I expected. As much as I appreciated her writing frankly about topics that need to be talked about, like how easily women can end up in abusive relationships, I didn’t feel at ease with her voice, which is rare for a memoir. I almost felt like she was trying to make herself sound as good as possible. Not in an “I’m so awesome” way, but an “I sometimes give $10,000 checks to my best friends” and “I do nice things for my coworkers” way. Trying to sound like a good person as much as possible.
That said, I’m glad I read it, and I enjoyed many parts of it, especially hearing how she came up as a comedian.
I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi — Awesomely Luvvie is a blogger whom I’ve seen pop up every now and then, so I decided to try her book after my friend Oneika recommended it. This is less of a memoir than the others — it’s more of advice and commentary on everything from relationships to race to politics to internet fame.
I love Ajayi’s voice and she writes in such a funny and inviting way that you’ll end up reexamining your own views. But I found the chapters a bit uneven. Some, like the relationships chapter, were so funny and true I was covering my face and cackling while reading it on the plane! And others fell flat, like the chapter that listed all the other stuff besides sexuality the Bible says is an abomination (Shellfish! Mixed fibers! Not being a virgin on your wedding night!) — which I’ve read a million times already.
I think the strongest part of the book was the section on internet fame, Facebook drama, the rise of influencers, and more. Luvvie takes no prisoners and is hilarious doing so. And the chapters on race should be required reading for white women.
Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim — This book caught my attention when Kim started talking about how she thought it would be promoted as a piece of groundbreaking journalism in North Korea, only for it to be “given the Eat, Pray, Love treatment” and packaged as a chick-lit memoir. That sexism was enough to get me to buy her book immediately, and I hope that anyone who is curious about North Korea reads this book as well.
Kim, who was born in South Korea and moved to America as a child, was fascinated with North Korea and visited several times before securing a job teaching English at a North Korean university funded and staffed by American evangelical Christians. She was an undercover reporter masquerading as a teacher (to North Koreans) and as a Christian (to her colleagues).
While most accounts of contemporary life in North Korea are shared by defectors, who often come from poor backgrounds this book is a very rare glimpse into the life of the children of the most powerful people in Pyongyang. The college-aged boys are childlike, industrious, devoted, and they lie with shocking ease and frequency. I was deeply drawn in and my heart broke for the boys she taught, knowing they can’t escape. This book will stay with me a long time.
And a quick note — there’s a pattern that I’ve noticed more often in recently published memoirs by women. They make a statement, then qualify it on both sides, seemingly to defend themselves from any resulting disagreement.
Here’s an example I just made up: “I think pugs are adorable. I’m not saying other dogs aren’t cuter, and I’m not saying there aren’t any ugly pugs out there, but they’re my favorite.”
Seriously, what’s wrong with just saying, “I think pugs are adorable” and leaving it at that?
I noticed that Ajayi did it a bit and Schumer did it constantly. I hope this doesn’t become a trend. If you have a statement, own it!
Coming Up in October 2016
I started in Kraków, briefly passed through Warsaw, and am now in Leipzig, Germany, for the Video Summit, where I’ll be speaking about Snapchat with a few top influencers, including my bff Cailin. Leipzig (pictured above) is as offbeat as it is lovely and I’m glad to be back.
After that, it’s a few days in Luxembourg (my final country to visit in Western Europe!) and a week in my beloved Paris. I might throw an extra destination or two in there.
After that is when things get weird.
I was supposed to go home after Paris, but I got offered a last-minute gig on another continent. I can’t reveal details just yet, but I will say three things: it’s a return to a country I love, it’s a visit to an entirely new region of that country, and I did not pack appropriately for this kind of trip whatsoever. Stay tuned!
I will likely be abroad through the end of October, but I will definitely be back in time to vote in the US election.