My blog might not reflect it, but 2015 has been a crazy, intense, and wonderful year filled with new adventures, new challenges, and lots of travel.
I’ve managed to end up in Thailand every year since Brent and I first visited in 2012. This time, my visit was part of a preview trip for the TBEX Asia conference in Bangkok. It was a whirlwind one-week trip, which involved a visit to a new part of the country (Trang, which, it’s worth mentioning, has some insanely beautiful beaches and distinctive Thai Muslim cuisine). Thailand has a way of following me everywhere I go (like when one of the hotels I reviewed in Acapulco had mainly Thai staff), and although I have no plans to return right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if I find myself there again in 2016.
Most of my other traveling this year has been on assignments as a writer/photographer for Oyster.com. The transition from traveling slowly and mainly with Brent to traveling alone with a bursting schedule has resulted in dizzying highs and dark lows. I’m unbelievably grateful to be getting paid to do things I would truly do for free (and totally have done in the past!)
My first assignment in June took me to Isla Mujeres, a low-key little island located off the coast of Cancun. It was my first time visiting Mexico, and I lucked out hugely with this picturesque, walkable, and unintimidating destination. I took lots of long beach strolls and squeezed profuse amounts of lime over endless fish tacos.
I was back in Mexico again in July — this time visiting Acapulco. Big, brash, and fringed with the kind of violence that makes many people afraid to travel to Mexico, Acapulco couldn’t have been more different than Isla Mujeres. I didn’t connect well with Acapulco, partly because I didn’t feel comfortable exploring certain neighborhoods and partly because the city’s focus on nightlife and mega resorts doesn’t jive with my locally-minded style of traveling. It did, however, provide an interesting perspective on solo travel safety. I spent several stressful weeks before the trip sorting reliable sources from hype as I tried to determine if Acapulco was a destination that I could safely travel to alone.
In October, I kicked off what is likely to be many more Caribbean travels in Aruba. I initially felt a bit turned off by the country’s tourism slogan, “One Happy Island,” which seemed pandering, but I was pretty much sold on it by the end of my trip. There are more than 40 nationalities living on this 193 km² patch of land, and by all accounts they live peacefully together. Warm, welcoming, and multi-cultural, Aruba definitely had a Utopian feel.
The truth is that I’m still finding my love for the Caribbean. It seems like most residents on most islands earn their income from tourism, and when you add in complex histories with multiple different foreign rulers, the result is that the identity of each island seems kind of muddled and hidden. I’ve found I’ve had to work harder here than in other countries to find something real beneath the seashell souvenirs and flashy resort pools. Finding restaurants specializing in local cuisine has become part of my strategy, along with taking advantage of my rental cars and immersing myself through long drives.
In November, I headed to Puerto Rico for another two-week-long assignment. After visiting so many beach destinations, the colorful, cobblestone-paved streets of Old San Juan offered a welcome change of pace (although, of course, Puerto Rico has some awesome beaches too). The trip was also filled with peaceful drives through dramatic, hilly landscapes, including a visit to the lechoneras found along Guavate’s popular Pork Highway.
I closed out 2015 with a quick one-week assignment in St. Martin. Like Aruba, St. Martin is a tiny island that’s home to an incredible mishmash of cultures. The island is split into a Dutch side (Sint Maarten) and a French side (Saint Martin). The countries share the island amicably, with an open border connecting the two sides. I preferred the easy-going French side over the touristy Dutch side, which is where most of the cruise ships dock. Of course, my opinion is also heavily influenced by the French side’s lolos — casual, roadside restaurants that serve mind-blowing Creole food.
I’ll be traveling on more assignments for Oyster.com in 2016. So far I know I’ll be heading to Nassau in January and Grand Cayman in February. My other trips this year will likely continue to focus on the Caribbean, but anything is possible.
I’m sure it’s obvious from my infrequent posting schedule that my relationship with this blog has changed this year as well. I’ve come to realize that this blog serves me better as a leverage for income rather than a direct source of it. I’ve been spending more and more time focusing on the freelance work the blog helps me score, and less time on the blog itself.
This said, I’ve been noticing my voice as a writer has weakened over the past year. I’m writing more than ever — virtually every day — but that writing is almost always for clients and therefore requires me to write in a specified tone and style. Now when I sit down to write for no one but myself, I feel kind of lost without a style guide. While I’ll likely never return to weekly posts, I’m aiming to write much more on this blog in 2016 — if only because I think it’s important protect and nourish my unique writing voice independent of paid assignments.
It’s been a while, guys! Where did you go in 2015? Any advice for Nassau and Grand Cayman?