On Dating After Long-Term Travel

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As he strolls up to me in the park, I’m relieved — he looks just like his picture and he’s wearing a nice outfit. I admire the whimsical navy-on-pale-blue paisley shirt, the slim dark pants, the warm leather shoes. He leans in for a brief, gentle hug.

It’s the most innocuous of first dates in Manhattan — a walk in the park followed by a coffee. No mind-altering substances, no major financial investment, and easy to escape if it comes to that.

After a stroll on this gorgeous spring day, we sit down at a cafe. We’ve gone through the pleasantries and talked about where we grew up, our families, the train wreck that is the 2016 election. Nothing about jobs, or how we spend our time, but that’s about to change.

“It’s so cool that you’re a digital nomad!” he exclaims.

I pause. I don’t tell anyone what I do for a living until the third date at least — the best option when a quick Google search could lead you to MY ENTIRE LIFE SINCE 2010. “What makes you think I’m a digital nomad?”

“I searched for ‘digital nomad’ on the site and your profile popped up!”

And then it hits me — under the “What am I doing on a Friday night?” tab, I put a list of wacky, whimsical activities in New York. Cocktails with friends. Coming up with new, awful phrases for Cards Against Humanity. Karaoke in Koreatown. The odd warehouse party in Brooklyn. And yes, some quiet nights on the couch with Netflix.

(Let’s be honest, though — on Friday nights I’m far more likely to be cleaning my apartment while listening to podcasts.)

And then I remember that I had listed digital nomad networking events on there as well. Why had I even written that in the first place? Most of my work-ish events revolve around entrepreneurship more than remote work. (Okay, let’s be honest again — most of my work-ish events are getting together with other travel bloggers, drinking copious amounts of wine, and gossiping.)

So that’s how he found me.

“I think it would be amazing to live in Thailand for a year,” he says.

I nod with a smile. Here we go. The travel conversation. Where I must strike the balance between being knowledgeable and not a know-it-all, experienced but not emasculating. The struggles that every straight woman faces when out on a first date. “Thailand is great. One of my favorite countries.”

“I haven’t been, but I want to go so bad!”

“You’ll love it,” I reassure him.

“Just — all that food. I hear that Thai food is so much better in Thailand than here. It’s so different. And it’s so cheap!”

“True. You can get a great meal for two bucks. Or even less.”

“So when you were traveling for five years, did you ever live in Thailand?”

“No. There was one point when I wanted to.” Large swaths of 2011, mostly. “It’s good temporarily, but ultimately, the bad outweighs the good for me.”

“How could you not want to live there?” he asks. “Thailand has everything!”

“Well, nobody ever talks about the downsides.”

“Like being so far away? I could live with that.”

“Yeah, that’s one thing. And it’s annoying being in the opposite time zone all the time.” I pause. “Do you really want to know about the bad stuff?”

“Yeah. Tell me.”

“It’s hard living in a culture that’s not your own, particularly when you don’t speak the language and especially when you’re in an Asian culture. The expat communities are great, but people are always arriving and leaving, and it’s hard when you’re constantly saying goodbye to your friends.

“And most people end up in Chiang Mai,” I continue, “because it’s the cheapest spot in Thailand that also has Western amenities and decent internet. And it’s a great city, but a lot of people think they’ll be on the beach and it’s a long way from the beach. Two hours of flying if you’ve got the cash, much longer by train or bus. Great food in Chiang Mai, though. Oh, just know that Thai food is full of sugar. Fruit shakes, too.

“And there’s this idea that Chiang Mai is full of brilliant entrepreneurs, and there are a few of them, but for the most part it’s full of people who can’t afford to live anywhere else. So you think you’ll be doing this amazing networking, only most people haven’t figured out how to make much money yet.”

His face falls.

“I mean, you never know,” I say, quickly backtracking. “I never rule out anything. I could go live in Chiang Mai for a few months if I wanted to reduce my living expenses and funnel all of my money into the business. And I’d still get foot massages every day. Seven bucks an hour.”

“What if I lived by the beaches instead?”

“They’re good. The really beautiful ones are remote, though. And it’s much more expensive there.”

“Cheaper than here, though.”

“Yes. Much cheaper than here.”

“And just imagine the quality of life — you can run on the beach every morning, you can work on the sand and watch the sunset every night.”

“Careful with that!” I laugh. “That’s one of the biggest myths — no one actually works on the beach. You don’t want sand in your laptop.”

“And I hear Thai people are so nice! Just, you know, the kind of people that would give you the shirt off their back. It must be the Buddhist thing. People are calm and happy.”

I smile tightly. “Yeah. I like Thai people a lot.” Though the words of a Singaporean bartender in Koh Lanta echo in my head: “You nice to Thai people, they’re nice to you three times. You FUCK with Thai people, they FUCK you three times!”

My date shifts in his seat and sighs. “Well, I can’t go to Thailand yet, anyway. I need to stay in this time zone for my job.”

“Oh. So you’re a remote worker?”

“I can work from anywhere as long as I can be on their schedule.”

“Ah. That’s cool.”

“Have you been to Medellín? I hear it’s so great there.”

“No, not yet.” (Though I would a few months later.)

“I hear it’s the most beautiful place in Colombia,” he tells me. “Just — it’s supposed to be a beautiful city.”

“Mmhmm,” I reply, biting my tongue. When most men talk about the beauty of Medellín, it’s not the city they’re talking about.

“There’s just one thing,” he says. “Why do you live in New York when you could live somewhere so much cheaper?”

I’m ready for this question. “Why would I live anywhere else if I could live in New York?” I say, tilting my head with a smile.

“Yeah, but you get so much more for your money everywhere else!”

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I think I get a lot more here. My friends. The culture. Networking. A major flight hub. I’m just a bus ride away from my parents. Everything happens here.”

“You have a bigger chance of being shot to death in New York.”

“That is true.”

“And the healthcare system is so bad.”

“Agreed, it’s awful. I couldn’t come back if it weren’t for Obamacare.”

“So what makes New York so much better?”

“New York is everything and everything is New York.” The words tumble out of me; I’m surprised at how much I like them. “I’m never going to be bored in this city. There’s always something new to discover. And lately I’ve been feeling an urge to work to make my country better.”

“I don’t know. I just think Thailand is a much better place to live.”

“Well, maybe for you,” I offer. “At any rate, I spent five years traveling the world and I chose to settle down here. Plus, there are crazy milkshakes in New York. And 90s parties. And tacos.”

He lights up. “A lot of people go to Mexico! I hear Playa del Carmen is the place to be. It’s so cheap and it has a great expat community. And so much good Mexican food.”

I smile.

“What’s wrong with Playa del Carmen?”

“Oh, nothing — I just have a ton of friends there.”

“Digital nomad friends?”

Why does this phrase always make me cringe? “Yeah. They work online.”

This guy is nice. A little mansplainey for my taste, but this first date is far from the worst.

Dating is weird in the world after long-term travel. Mention your travels in an online dating profile and you’ll attract a lot of people who would love to travel but haven’t yet and see you as the catalyst. Mention your desire to settle down and you’ll attract a lot of people who aren’t into travel at all. “I’ve traveled a lot but I’m content being more settled here” isn’t exactly a category.

I’m grateful to live in New York, though, home to many driven, entrepreneurial, creative people, even if they’re always searching for something better. If my suburban friends’ OkCupid matches are any indication, things are far worse in sparsely populated areas.

It just goes to show that sharing common interests isn’t enough — you also need to be on the same timeline. It’s not enough to enjoy travel to the same kinds of countries, or to be able to work from anywhere. One person wanting to live abroad and the other being content in New York is a fairly big dealbreaker.

“So.” He plays with his empty coffee cup. “I don’t know if you have somewhere to be, but do you want to get a drink?”

I’m certain that this guy isn’t a match. A drink won’t change that. We’ll loosen up, we’ll tell more stories, we’ll say goodbye for the evening, and if he wants to go out again, I’ll let him know kindly that I had fun hanging out but I don’t think we’re a romantic match.

But it’s not like I have anything to do. I’ve already cleaned my apartment and listened to my podcasts.

“Sure,” I say. “Let’s get a drink.”

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Key West, You Are My New Favorite

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I remember back in 2011 when my friend Chris and I were on the bus from Luang Prabang back to Vang Vieng in Laos. We had left Vang Vieng earlier than we had wanted in order to stay with our friends; now that everyone was going their separate ways, we could go back and party some more.

WE COULD GO BACK AND PARTY SOME MORE.

And we giggled like maniacs the entire six-hour ride back. We would look at each other and just start cracking up. My god, we even wore our VANG VIENG – IN THE TUBING shirts for the bus ride. Knowing that the party of all parties lay ahead of us.

Chris and Kate in Vang Vieng, because THIS PICTURE NEVER FAILS TO MAKE ME LAUGH. Oh, Chris…if you only knew that was car paint and it wouldn’t come off for days…

Times change. Vang Vieng is no longer the bacchanal that it once was, and my personal tastes in travel have changed as well.

But there are still destinations that make me giggle.

Vang Vieng made me giggle at 26. Prague made me giggle at 20. Las Vegas made me giggle at 23. San Pedro, Guatemala, made me giggle at 30.

And Key West made me giggle at 32.

Welcome to Key West

“Everyone here looks like Guy Fieri,” I whispered to Cailin. Similar to our earlier stops in the Keys, it seemed like everyone was tanned, bleached, spiky, or all three. But one thing was for sure — people were here for a good time.

Oh yes, Key West is a party place. Mostly for people older than us — while there were a handful of visitors in their twenties and thirties, I found most visitors to be 40+ and especially 50+. And the crowd was very white.

See that waving group on the top right? That’s the demographic, right there.

So if you’re in your twenties or thirties, don’t go expecting to meet lots of people around your age. You might meet some, but I wouldn’t plan on it. You’d probably be better off going to Las Vegas or New Orleans for a younger party crowd.

Key West has historically been a very LGBT-friendly destination, but I was surprised at a few things. First of all, while there were plenty of gay travelers and gay couples visiting, I didn’t see a single sign of affection or PDA between a same-sex couple. I also didn’t see a single gay bar or group of gay travelers, which seemed unusual.

Secondly, there were T-shirts for sale everywhere that read “I’M NOT GAY BUT $20 IS $20.” Kind of like the “UP THE BUM NO BABYS” shirts of Kuta, Bali. (There were also a lot of Trump-friendly shirts — “SPEAK ENGLISH OR GET OUT OF MY COUNTRY,” etc.) It surprised me that vaguely homophobic apparel would be so widespread in a prominent LGBT travel destination.

Now — take this all with a grain of salt. I’m a straight cis woman; I’ve never experienced the difficulties LGBT travelers face and I’d never claim to speak for the LGBT community. And perhaps I was obtuse and walked by a ton of gay bars without noticing.

But I will say this: don’t expect Key West to be like Fire Island or Provincetown or San Francisco, where tons of gay couples walk around arm-in-arm and nobody bats an eye. It may be different at different times of year. But if you’re gay and planning a trip, Florida Keys Tourism has an LGBT travel resource site here.

The Beauty of Key West

Key West is such a beautiful city and the buildings blend together beautifully. One of my favorite things to do was just walk around the town and check out the homes.

Here are some of my favorite shots:

Are you in love with Key West already or what?

Yes, there are some taller buildings, but they tend to be outside the town center. That’s why you’re best off staying in a small guesthouse in one of these traditional buildings.

Sunsets Are Life

Every night, the waterfront and area around Mallory Square come to life just before sunset. They call it the Sunset Celebration — the streets are live with performers and food and booze vendors as everyone gathers to watch the sun go down.

Cailin and I see bright green slushies from a wagon parked by the water. “What is that?”

“It’s The Green Thing!” the bartender announces with pride. “I invented it twenty years ago! Here, I’ll pour you a sample.” He pours us an extremely generous serving into a spare glass.

We sip the sample, our lips turning green. It’s fabulously strong, tasting of rum and limes. We order two.

“Can I try?” asks a forty-something man behind us.

“Um. Okay,” I say, handing him my glass and internally screaming, Why are you giving some stranger your drink, McCulley? You should have ovaried up and told him no!

(“Why did you give it to him?” Cailin asks as soon as we’re away from him. “I DON’T KNOW!” I exclaim. “It was a sample! What’s the etiquette for samples?!”)

Green drinks in hand, we make our way down to the greatest show of all — THE CAT MAN.

Imagine a French dude with long white hair performing “magic tricks” with a collection of cats and then lifting their tails and screaming into their butts. That’s the Cat Man, and his Key West show is famous! Whatever you do, make your way over to see the Cat Man’s show.

(No pictures because he doesn’t permit them — but you can check out his website here.)

Key West Sightseeing

Key West has plenty of places to explore if you’re into sightseeing. We didn’t go on a major tourism binge, but we did check out a few of the biggest sites.

First of all, Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West and you can visit his home. The Sun Also Rises has been my favorite book since I was 17, so visiting his home was a must for me.

You can see his typewriter. And a portrait of him painted, in Cailin’s words, “when he was young and hot.”

Most famous, however, are the Hemingway cats. The cats are descendants of Snow White, a white kitten given to Hemingway by a ship’s captain. The cats are polydactyl, or six-toed, a trait that has lasted down many generations.

Crazy cat lady Cailin made a new friend.

Across from the Hemingway House is the Key West Lighthouse. It’s 88 steps to the top…

…and you get a great view across the island.

Just down the street from the lighthouse is the Southernmost Point. It’s the furthest south point in the continental United States — only 90 miles from Cuba.

It’s fun to stand further south than everyone else there and know that you personally are the southernmost human in the continental US!

Foodie Fun — And Key Lime Pie

Key West is a casual place, and most of the dining options here are open, welcoming, and unpretentious.

Tons of my friends and readers told me we had to go to Blue Heaven — and wow. I fell in love with it the moment we walked in.

Ramshackle tables were set up outside. Two guys were playing guitars on stage and making jokes throughout.

All the seats were taken, so we headed to the bar for a drink.

And the bar was hopping, even as early as noon. (This was a pattern I noticed throughout the Keys — you can always find somewhere to drink.) Also, how great is that HELLO sticker in the background?

Key lime pie was had, of course. This wasn’t one of my favorites, though — the meringue seemed lazy to me. Too overly done. It’s supposed to be messier than that.

If you’re looking for something more upscale, head to Mangoes for dinner.

And they had one of my favorite cocktails: the watermelon margarita.

(Fun fact: Cailin is always getting me to say “watermelon margarita” out loud because it’s one of the few phrases I always say in a Boston accent. She then asks me what I put my clothes in and I say “drawer” without pronouncing the last two letters and she finds it hilarious.)

Other standouts: crab cakes made with macadamia nuts; a conch sampler featuring ceviche, chowder, and fritters; and a Caribbean-style steak frites with yucca fries.

Mangoes has both a traditional key lime pie and unorthodox key lime pie on the menu, so we went for the offbeat choice: made with mascarpone and a ginger-graham cracker crust. After trying several varieties of key lime pie all over the Keys, this was a nice detour.

The gingery crust was fabulous, though I do prefer the tart traditional filling.

And if you want even more famous key lime pie, head to Kermit’s. I found their pie filling to be a bit too on the mousse-y side, rather than gelled, but I really loved their frozen key lime pie on a stick, dipped in chocolate!

Boston Reunion on a Sunset Cruise

Sunset cruises are one of the most popular activities in Key West. For our second night, Cailin and I decided to join a schooner cruise with America 2.0.

“Everyone here is already loaded,” I whispered as we boarded the boat. It was true — we were the only ones under 40 and while we were sober, about 90% of our fellow passengers had clearly already been drinking.

We set off into the late afternoon sunshine, welcomed by our smiling crew. Oh, and they filled our glasses at the earliest moment possible and kept us topped up. For me and Cailin, it was rosé all day.

At this point, I should mention that a large percentage of passengers were decked out in Red Sox and Patriots gear, toasting to Tom Brady and the Super Bowl win the week before.

Yes. We had found the Massholes.

“I’m warning you,” I told Cailin. “Between the open bar and the Massholes, I’m going be speaking in the thickest Boston accent ever in about an hour.”

And once they found out I was from their home state, too, we became the best of friends.

“TO TOM BRADY!” we cheered, toasting each other. “GREATEST OF ALL TIME!”

To be honest, Boston’s crazy sports culture is a major reason why I left the city in the first place. I got tired of sports dominating every conversation and not being able to talk to a guy in a bar, ever.

That said, now that I no longer live in Massachusetts, I love running into that culture on the road. Go figure.

Also, the Massholes told me that Gronk (the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski) was in Key West at the moment. I had to text my dad: “GRONK IS IN KEY WEST. THIS IS NOT A DRILL!!”

So yes. We drank a lot of wine. We gazed at another beautiful sunset. We got back on shore far more inebriated than when we got on board. Our new best friends took us to an Irish pub (because Boston). And before you know it, guess who jumped on stage for a Guinness-chugging contest?

I came in last place. Cailin did much better than me.

That is probably all that should be said about that evening (except later we got hot dogs and in my addled state I was wise enough not to eat the bun, which I’m pretty sure didn’t even matter if I was chugging bloody Guinness earlier that evening).

So. If you’re looking for a party, Key West is definitely the place. I’m really glad we got to have a party night there!

Where We Stayed — Not Your Average Hotel

First things first: accommodation in Key West is surprisingly expensive. Prices often exceed what you would pay in New York for a similar property. And because it’s a small island, there’s a limited amount of inventory (though we did meet some people camping on Stock Island, the next island over).

Even so, you want to be in the center of town in Key West. The town is such a beautiful place and it’s so nice to be able to walk home instead of tracking down one of the pink taxis that dot the town (there’s no Uber or Lyft).

There is, however, a much more economical option that doesn’t sacrifice on style or amenities: the Not Your Average Hotel. Cailin and I were comped two nights here but even if we weren’t, this would be one of the best priced options in town.

Many of the private rooms are set up dorm-style, with up to three sets of bunk beds and an ensuite bathroom. The rooms are customized and beds can be converted into kings if you’d like. The rooms are relatively simple, but the bunk beds do come with their own cubbies and reading lights, like nicer hostels, as well as lockers.

On the grounds, there are three swimming pools and two jacuzzis. We found the crowd to be a bit younger than most Key West visitors, which was nice. Starbucks coffee is available 24/7 and they have a pretty decent continental breakfast, as well as happy hour specials from the bar.

Best of all, it’s in a central location, a short walk from Duval Street, the waterfront, and most area attractions. And there is a wonderful juice bar next door called Date and Thyme (I love that name!). They make a lovely beet juice if you’re like me and like to pretend you’re drinking blood.

The Not Your Average Hotel was great and I would absolutely stay there again. See Essential Info for pricing information.

The Takeaway

Would I go back to Key West? HELL YES I WOULD! Just tell me when! I can be at Newark Airport in 30 minutes and they fly direct on United!

Seriously, I would go back to Key West for an escape from the cold northeastern winter. I would love to bring a group of girlfriends, especially for something like a bachelorette party. Cailin and I talked about having another blogger girls’ getaway here, like we did in Mallorca in 2015. And I would love to return for Fantasy Fest, Key West’s racy Halloween celebration.

I would probably not come back to Key West during one of my sober months.

Because when I think of Key West now, I invariably start to giggle. I know how fun this place can be.

Essential Info: As much as I loved Key West, I found activities and especially accommodation to be very expensive. For that reason, you might want Key West to be a brief component of a longer trip, though I do wish we had stayed for three nights.

Rooms at the Not Your Average Hotel start at $152 for two, $161 for three, $170 for four, $186 for five, and $196 for six in low season. Those rates are generally about 50% more in high season.

For more Key West hotels, check out rates here.

Our sunset cruise was with America 2.0 and costs $85. The sailing lasts two hours, offers a variety of passed apps, and is open bar with beer and wine available. The staff keep your glasses filled!

Admission to the Ernest Hemingway House is $14 and includes an optional 30-minute tour. Please be respectful of the cats and don’t antagonize them. Admission to the Key West Lighthouse, along with its museum, is $10.

Street parking in Key West is common and you can park in the same spot for up to three days for free. We took this option. There are also parking garages. Neither Uber nor Lyft is available; grab one of the pink taxis instead. Better yet, stay in a central location so you don’t need to get a ride.

Don’t visit Key West without travel insurance. If you get sick or injured while in Key West, which can happen even if you’re careful, travel insurance will protect you and your finances. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Many thanks to Florida Keys Tourism for supporting this part of our trip. We received a press pass and received two nights’ comped accommodation at Not Your Average Hotel, a comped meal at Mangoes, a comped America 2.0 booze cruise, and free admission to the Hemingway House and the Lighthouse. Everything else was at our own expense. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Have you been to Key West? Is it your kind of destination? Share away!

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The Worst Books I’ve Ever Read

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Every month, I tell you what I’m reading; every year, I rank my favorite books of the year. Reading is a huge part of my life and I make an effort to read the best books I can find. (See the best of 2016 and best of 2015 here.)

That being said, anyone who reads this much knows that there’s no attraction in, “This is good, this is good, this is also good.” The bad stuff — the drama, the conflict — is what gets readers really interested.

And so I think it’s time to talk about the WORST books I’ve ever read.

I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey and don’t plan to, so you won’t find that here. Nor anything by Ann Coulter — in fact, I’ll exclude political books altogether. Nothing by L. Ron Hubbard. The Da Vinci Code won’t be on this list, either (Dan Brown gets a lot of hate, but dude knows how to write suspense and I can’t hate on him for that). And while some people can’t stomach it, I happen to love Lolita.

Here are the worst books I’ve ever read, in my opinion. Some are great works of literature that happened to rub me the wrong way. Some are more embarrassing than that.

And the worst book of all, a book that made me physically angry for having read it and forever changed my opinion of the author, is listed last.

The Worst Book from High School: Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Sophomore year was tough for me, capped by my experiences in Honors American Lit. My teacher and I butted heads from the start and I disliked much of the literature we read. I struggled to keep up, even deciding to drop Honors British Lit the following year in favor of English electives. (This is why I didn’t read Hamlet until 2015.)

And then came Walden near the end of the year. A book lauded by so many people — often including the travel blogging community. A book that took place and was written just a few miles from where I grew up.

Henry David Thoreau moved into a cabin in the woods. He read, he wrote, he observed nature and grew his own food and tried to create art from it.

“Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.

Revisiting Walden after years of reading about privilege in America, it becomes more striking that Thoreau was only concerned with what a wealthy independent man could do with his time, ignoring everyone else in society.

Another problem was that much of what Thoreau actually wrote was cloaked in hypocrisy. In between talking about the beauty and fragility and nature, he described how much he loved burning down half the forest. He would go on and on about how the only books people should read are classic Greek literature — as he writes a new book for them to read. Also, his mother would do his laundry.

I wrote a scathing paper decrying Thoreau’s hypocrisy.

My teacher gave me an A-.

I consider that one of my greatest academic victories.

What To Read Instead: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. It’s pretty much as much an opposite of Walden as you can get, and I found it far more entertaining.

The Worst Conclusion to a Series: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

I get it — it’s hard to write a good ending to a book, much less wrap up a three-book series. But I haven’t seen anything crash and burn as badly as Allegiant, the conclusion of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series.

The series as a whole intrigued me a bit but ultimately made my eyes roll. In a futuristic society, teenagers take a test and are sorted into one of five groups based on their personality: Abnegation (the selfless), Erudite (the intelligent), Candor (the honest), Amity (dirty hippies), and Dauntless (the brave). But when Tris displays the traits of multiple groups in her test, she finds out she’s Divergent and she could be killed for it.

Now: the first two books were told from Tris’s point of view. In Allegiant, the story is suddenly told from two points of view, Tris and her lover Four — but both voices are exactly the same. They witness the same events. They have the same feelings. Their vocabularies and cadences are identical. I could never tell who was speaking.

Beyond that, the “big revelation” at the end of the book landed with a thump, and so many people died throughout that the deaths became meaningless.

“When her body first hit the net, all I registered was a gray blur. I pulled her across it and her hand was small, but warm, and then she stood before me, short and thin and plain and in all ways unremarkable- except that she had jumped first. The stiff had jumped first.
Even I didn’t jump first.
Her eyes were so stern, so insistent.
Beautiful.” –Vernoica Roth, Allegiant

Another theme throughout the first two books is that characters would occasionally get injected with serums that would create simulations — and sometimes led them to do evil things. The final book was a series of, “Okay, it’s time for another serum!” “Wait, here’s a serum to override that serum!” “No, that’s a bad serum, we’re the good guys, this one’s a GOOD serum!” Again and again, another serum. You’d think Roth owned stock in skincare products.

What to Read Instead: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Not only is it a fantastic novel, the story is told through several different narrators and each of the voices are unique and different.

The Worst Book Receiving Bewildering Levels of Praise: The Girls by Emma Cline

One of the buzziest books of 2016, The Girls is a fictionalized retelling of the Manson murders of the 1970s, focusing on the relationships between the women in Not Charles Manson’s cult.

One of the things I can’t stand the most is wasted potential. This book could have been so good in the hands of another author!

Emma Cline focused more on creating elaborate prose than telling a story. And when I say elaborate, that’s not a compliment — she stuffed her paragraphs with enough bewildering metaphors and similes as if they were banana peppers on a Subway sandwich (yes, I know what I did there). It goes to show that no matter how you write, if you don’t know how to tell a story, you’ve got nothing.

“Poor Sasha. Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of life. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get. The treacled pop songs, the dresses described in the catalogs with words like ‘sunset’ and ‘Paris.’ Then the dreams are taken away with such violent force; the hand wrenching the buttons of the jeans, nobody looking at the man shouting at his girlfriend on the bus.” –Emma Cline, The Girls

At the same time, the book moved at a glacial pace. By the time the action started, I was psyched to finally have some excitement — only it withered and died instantly. The big showdown I had been expecting didn’t even come to fruition.

What To Read Instead: American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin, a much better book about 1970s Bay Area counterculture. This one focuses on the kidnapping of Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army, and it was so exciting I couldn’t put it down.

The Biggest Disappointment From An Author I Love: A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain

I love Uncle Tony. I worship the man. But A Cook’s Tour was not his best work.

You think combining Anthony Bourdain and world travel would be amazing, especially after his wild and raw Kitchen Confidential (one of my all-time favorite memoirs). This book is a collection of essays about his first major international trip as a food writer and personality. And he loved every minute of it.

But that was the problem — Kitchen Confidential was full of conflict. Pirate-looking chefs fucking brides in their wedding dresses in the walk-in. Crawling along the bar after work, snorting six-foot lines of cocaine. Going from cooking in world-class restaurants to flipping burgers in a crappy diner, the metallic taste of methadone in your mouth. It was gritty and ugly and utterly compelling.

A Cook’s Tour was just Uncle Tony eating food and having a good time traveling. There was no story, no narrative arc. It was just a lot of, “Hey, this is great.”

“What is love? Love is eating twenty-four ounces of raw fish at four o’clock in the morning.” –Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour

And while I enjoyed his stories from Russia and San Sebastian, Spain, they weren’t enough to sustain a full book.

Luckily, his writing changed direction in his subsequent collections, and I suspect he had a better editorial team behind him. Uncle Tony is at his best when he’s ripping on people he can’t stand.

What To Read Instead: Kitchen Confidential is great, but Bourdain’s best post-fame work is The Nasty Bits. It still has a lot of food and travel, but with a sharper, more ardent point of view.

The Worst Impulse Kindle Buy: On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves

On the Island was an Amazon bestseller and I liked the concept: a teenage boy and his thirty-year-old tutor survive a plane crash in the Maldives, end up living on a desert island for years, start a romantic relationship after he turns 18, and are rescued following a tsunami and have to deal with the aftermath at home.

And absolutely nothing that happened was believable. This sixteen-year-old boy acted like a 40-year-old man the whole time. Neither character changed or transformed in any way. And even after being rescued after living on a desert island for THREE YEARS, the only thing they worried about was how people would judge their relationship that they started after the kid turned 18.

“You weren’t supposed to fall in love,” she whispered.
“Well, I did,” I said, looking into her eyes. “I’ve been in love with you for months. I’m telling you now because I think you love me too, Anna. You just don’t think you’re supposed to. You’ll tell me when you’re ready. I can wait.” I pulled her mouth down to mine and kissed her and when it ended, I smiled and said, “Happy birthday.” –Tracey Garvis Graves, On the Island

Yes, that’s an actual quote from a bestselling book.

It’s been translated into 27 languages.

I hate people.

What To Read Instead: Euphoria by Lily King. Now, THAT’S a great controversial love story set in a remote location — in this instance, Papua New Guinea in the 1930s.

The Worst Smash Hit: The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer

I’ll be honest — I was hooked on the Twilight books during their height of popularity. I didn’t like them, but I couldn’t stop reading them. And my friend Beth and I made a tradition of seeing the movies on opening night amongst the superfans, only somewhat ironically.

Nothing I say here is anything you haven’t heard before. These books are poorly written. The character development is scant at best. The plot holes are the size of football fields.

But the worst part is that these books glorify intimate partner abuse to an impressionable audience of young women. The behavior that Edward exhibits — stalking, controlling, threatening, saying “no one will ever love you like I do,” leaving you with bruises and suggesting you tell people you fell down the stairs, and ultimately leading you to give up your future for him — should be recognized as alarming, not held up as a model for romance.

“The waves of pain that had only lapped at me before now reared high up and washed over my head, pulling me under. I did not resurface.” –Stephenie Meyer, New Moon

Also, a werewolf falls in love with a baby.

What To Read Instead: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It’s a much better, more intellectual book for teens that focuses on issues of justice, bravery, brutality, media culture, and utopianism, just to start.

The Best Book I Happen to Hate: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road is a fantastic, gorgeous book worthy of its Pulitzer Prize and every other honor it’s received.

And I fucking hated every word of it.

It’s an incredibly frightening tale of a post-apocalyptic world after a series of unspecified disasters — a barren planet where survivors hide in the shadows and the world is pillaged by tribes of cannibals and rapists. Through the book, a dying father takes his young son on a journey to the sea, not knowing what lies there but hoping they’ll find something better than what they’ve left behind.

“Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.” –Cormac McCarthy, The Road

This book is terrifying. And realistic. And that’s why I hated it with everything I had.

Maybe it shouldn’t be on this list. I appreciated every beautiful word. But it still makes me upset, years after reading it.

What To Read Instead: The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Also a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, it starts with an incredibly bleak beginning but blossoms into joy and forgiveness.

The Worst Book of All Time: Cleaving by Julie Powell

Julie and Julia was a commercial success, and deservedly so — a sweet if not overly literary memoir about how a directionless woman finds joy and meaning in cooking all of Julia Child’s recipes.

A feel-good tale about an everywoman with a sweet husband who supports her, encourages her, and makes her a better person. It got some hate, but it was overall a fun and engaging memoir, and it was commercial as hell, working even better as a film.

Cleaving, the sequel, destroyed all the goodwill Powell earned with her first book.

Following the success of Julie and Julia, Powell began an affair with a former boyfriend. Her husband found out. They decided to open their marriage, though it seemed like they didn’t want to actually work on their marriage, either. And she decided to go apprentice at a butcher upstate because…food is continuity? And this memoir is about, um, all of that. It’s unfocused at best; I suspect her publisher rushed it.

But it mainly focuses on Powell’s affair with the former boyfriend, her enjoyment of the affair and obsession with her lover, and her complete lack of remorse while her husband waits in the background.

The worst part is when Powell is out with her lover and gets recognized by a blog reader. Her lover introduces himself as her husband to save face and they both get off on the scenario. This sums up the book: Powell runs wild with her id, doesn’t care about who she hurts in the process, and learns absolutely nothing.

How did her publisher agree to release this?!

“Like the muscles knew from the beginning that it would end with this, this inevitable falling apart… It’s sad, but a relief as well to know that two things so closely bound together can separate with so little violence, leaving smooth surfaces instead of bloody shreds.” –Julie Powell, Cleaving

I’ve read raw memoirs that overshare the intimate details of a marriage — Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior comes to mind. But Cleaving is far worse. I find it to be a cruel book. Cruel in its lack of accountability.

The other part I hated was that Powell clearly discovered she was into rough sex — only she never explicitly says so. She implies things and hints at others, conveniently evading details. Dude, you’re not the first person to suddenly realize you’re into a new kind of sex. Stop patronizing your readers and actually say it.

The book ends with what I’m sure she imagined was a heartfelt revelation: her lover, who had been called D up until the final page, was actually named Damian.

Hey Julie — nobody cares. Literally everyone hates that guy.

Many reviewers focused primarily on Powell’s infidelity; I don’t thick that’s fair, and much of that criticism is rooted in sexism. Infidelity itself is not the issue here. What matters is that she went about her infidelity, as well as her apprenticeship and travels, with a complete lack of self-awareness. Powell wrote a sloppy memoir about her darkest, most selfish moments without a shred of insight or transformation by the end of it. The Julie at the end of the book is the same Julie at the beginning of the book.

This book is the reason why I eat grass-fed beef today, and that just makes me hate it more. I hate that something good came out of it.

What To Read Instead: Wild by Cheryl Strayed. She flew into a tailspin after her mother’s death, cheating on her husband and using drugs, but she acknowledged her failures, strenuously worked through her shit, and transformed as a result.

What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?

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AK Monthly Recap: February 2017

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After a quiet January, I got back to the road in February with two trips that were out of the norm for me. A trip to Florida and a cruise — two very typical American vacations, but not the usual kind of trip I take. Even so, I had a blast on both trips!

Best of all, these were trips with friends — a road trip through Florida with Cailin and a cruise through the Caribbean with Jeremy.

Punctuated with some fun times at home in New York, it made for a very satisfying month. Here’s everything I got up to in February!

Destinations Visited

New York, New York

Orlando, Islamorada, Key Largo, Tavernier, Marathon, Key West, and Miami, Florida

Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Favorite Destinations

Key West is one of my new favorite places in the United States!

San Juan is a fabulous city and I was happy to return.

And I’m just discovering how awesome Miami Beach can be.

Highlights

Having fun at Universal Orlando. Universal Studios was the main reason for our Florida trip. Cailin is an ambassador for the park, and part of her partnership is that she gets to bring friends with her to experience the park for themselves. She kindly invited me and I was happy to join her. We had a great time!

Some of the highlights: throwing out beads on a Mardi Gras float, going to the actual Moe’s Tavern from The Simpsons, wearing our hot pink BEST FRIENDS shirts, experiencing The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (and doing a hilarious Bertie Botts Roulette video on Facebook live!), having breakfast with the Minions, riding The Mummy over and over (flying around in the dark, fiery explosions, Brendan Fraser demanding a cup of coffee — what’s not to love?), and THE FOOD. Seriously. I did not have high expectations for the food at Universal but the restaurants at CityWalk were excellent, especially Antojitos. They made the best salmon over sweet potatoes…

Road tripping down the Keys. The Florida Keys were amazing and both fulfilled and defied my expectations. They were absolutely beautiful, gritty in all the right ways, and surprisingly a lot like New Hampshire

Having a little too much fun in Key West. Let’s just say that at age 32, Key West is for me what San Juan del Sur was at 30, Vang Vieng was at 26, Las Vegas was at 23…it’s a fun place. And wild. And incredibly beautiful and historical as well, but still — this is a place where you come for fun. The highlight was our sunset cruise with a bunch of rowdy Boston sports fans and unlimited rosé…

Trying all the key lime pie. This was my major diet fail this month — but I did eat clean otherwise. Cailin and I decided to go on a quest to find the best key lime pie in the Florida Keys and we sampled eight different top recommended pies across the archipelago. Stay tuned for a post on the best slices!

Kicking back in South Beach. We had two nights in Miami at the end of our trip and decided to just chill out — we ate ceviche, relaxed on the beach, and vegged out at the W’s pool.

Enjoying my first cruise ever. Jeremy kindly invited me to join him on a weeklong cruise on the Carnival Vista. The cruise was split between February and March, so it seems a bit weird only writing about the first half of it here. I’m still on it as I write this, and I’m having a blast. It did take some getting used to (it was SO OVERWHELMING at first!) but once I found my zone (balcony, adults-only deck, fitness center, spa, and sushi bar), I was happy as a clam. And my favorite part was getting to know the staff. I’ll be writing more about my introduction to cruising in the future, so stay tuned.

An awesome catamaran ride in Grand Turk. We booked only one official shore excursion and it was a good one — a catamaran ride with snorkeling and a visit to a private beach. The water in Grand Turk is an UNREAL shade of blue and the beaches are fine white sand — Jeremy and I definitely chose the perfect excursion.

Revisiting Old San Juan. Jeremy and I had both been to San Juan previously, so this day was about wandering the town, revisiting some of our favorite places, and taking photos. Puerto Rico is a fantastic place and I’d love to return for a third time and see new spots (Culebrita, yo vengo!).

Meeting up with blogger buds for the first time. This month I met Hannah and Adam from Getting Stamped at Universal Orlando and Gloria from The Blog Abroad came to visit me in Harlem! It’s so nice to meet blogger friends in real life.

I also got some nice plane views over New York en route to Orlando. So pretty!

Challenges

As far as months go, there were no major personal challenges, and for that I am grateful.

From the “learn from my mistakes” files — Cailin and I decided to save money and have me be the sole driver on our Florida road trip, but we really should have paid more and shared the driving. Orlando to Islamorada took six hours and was a slog, especially through traffic around Miami!

Post of the Month

You may have noticed publishing was much lighter than usual this month. I only have one non-recap post, but it’s a good one: Where to Stay in Barcelona: Best Neighborhoods and Accommodation

Most Popular Instagram Photo

This is a bit of a misnomer — my actual most popular Instagram photo was the recipient of roughly 2,000 fake likes from a spammer that has started targeting me and a host of other travel bloggers. (Their method: give 2k bogus likes “as a gift” and then ask us to sign up for their paid service. No thanks. Plenty of travel bloggers use bots to artificially inflate their Instagram numbers, but I refuse to play that game.)

But this is the most popular photo minus the spamming — one of Key West’s legendary sunsets.

For real-time updates from my travels, follow me on Instagram and Snapchat at adventurouskate!

What I Read This Month

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (2016). Kathleen Collins was one of the first prominent black female filmmakers, and she died in her 40s in the 1980s. This collection of short stories she wrote was only recently found among her belongings and published last year. Some stories read like poetry, some like prose, some like plays.

More than anything, this book is about how black women love and the sacrifices they make as a result. I loved these stories of women who fell in love, women who stayed by their cheating men, women who attempted to carve out a life of their own. You could call it a companion piece to Beyonce’s Lemonade. It’s a relatively quick read and one that I highly recommend. Category: A book by a person of color.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016). I was afraid to read this book for a long time, despite its stellar reviews. I tend to avoid books about confronting death and grief (the same reason why I haven’t read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking), and I didn’t know how I would handle reading about a brilliant young neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal cancer. This book is about how he evaluates his life prior to diagnosis and his outlook afterward. I shouldn’t have avoided it.

This book is written so beautifully. The best memoirs are fascinating stories that are told well, and this absolutely fits the bill. Dr. Kalanithi wrestled with whether to become a doctor or a writer, and tentatively planned on leaving medicine to focus on writing later in life. But what a way to leave the world — this book is a treasure. I read it in one sitting. I’m grateful that I got to know Dr. Kalanithi, if only posthumously. Category: A book about a difficult topic.

What We Do Now: Standing Your Ground in Trump’s America by various authors (2017). This book, obviously published quickly following the 2016 election, is a collection of essays by liberal leaders talking about what needs to be done in the resistance against Donald Trump. Some of the authors include Elizabeth Warren, Paul Krugman, Bernie Sanders, and the first Somali-American legislator, Ilhan Omar.

I had read a handful of the essays before, including Warren’s and Krugman’s. Everything was organized by topic, from LGBT rights to the environment. And honestly, this is a very preaching-to-the-choir book, especially if you’re a liberal who follows the news, but I enjoyed reading it nonetheless and got some new insights. Category: A book with multiple authors.

Wendy Darling, Volume II: Seas by Colleen Oakes (2016). My cousin Colleen is an incredibly prolific author and the mind behind two young adult series of retold fairy tales. My favorite books of hers so far are the Wendy Darling books — a dark retelling of Peter Pan from Wendy’s point of view. These books are visually lush and much more mature.

In the first book, Wendy realizes that both Neverland and Peter Pan are far more sinister than they appear, and she escapes with her brother Michael. In the second, she joins Captain Hook and his crew as they sail Neverland, trying to stop Peter Pan with the help of bloodthirsty mermaids and deranged fairies. And if Peter Pan was sexy in the first book, CAPTAIN HOOK was sexy in the second! I love Colleen’s view of Neverland! Category: A book involving a mythical creature.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934). I’ve actually never read a book by Agatha Christie in my life (!) but I needed a book that’s becoming a movie this year, and I got excited when I saw that not only is Murder on the Orient Express going to be a movie in December, but Leslie Odom Jr. (a.k.a. Aaron Burr from Hamilton) will be in it! It has an awesome cast: directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh with Odom, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, and DAME JUDI MOTHERFUCKING DENCH.

This iconic mystery takes place on the Orient Express from Istanbul to Calais in the 1930s. A passenger is murdered and the train gets stuck in a snowstorm, which means the murderer is one of the passengers in the car. Good thing detective Hercule Poirot is on board and is able to deduce who the killer is.

One thing I didn’t expect…the surprising amount of casual racism about Italians and Italian-Americans. According to one character, the Italian must be the murderer because Italians love to stab people…That said, it’s a reminder that Italians and Irish were once treated with the prejudice and scorn that Muslims, Latinos, and Africans receive in America today. I’m eager to see how they modernize the film. Category: A book that’s becoming a movie in 2017.

What I Listened To This Month

“Etunnel” by Primary feat. Gaeko. Another one of Spotify’s picks for me (seriously, Spotify knows my tastes inside and out), this is a lovely Korean electronic/hip-hop song with a touch of Burt Bacharach. Give it a listen; I bet you’ll love it!

Fun fact: I didn’t even know it was Korean until I looked it up just now…

What I Watched This Month

I’ve started watching Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix. This comedy stars Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as boring-yet-happy realtor couple living in the suburbs with a teenage daughter — until one day Barrymore’s character suddenly turns into a zombie and starts eating people.

It’s not the sharpest or most cutting-edge comedy of all time, but it’s wacky and I love it! The cast is great, and it has a very sweet message of doing everything you can to protect your family, even if that means killing people you can’t stand in order to eat them.

What I Cooked This Month

No pics, but I am cooking these turkey spinach burgers all the time. They’re super healthy and a good source of protein, and I love making four at once so I have a few ready to go in the fridge! Plus, they look like Oscar the Grouch.

Four pieces of advice: 1) This recipe calls for a truly insane amount of spinach — just go with it. 2) Be very gentle when mixing the turkey; if you mash it too hard it will be too dense. 3) They will fall apart if you grill them, so bake them in a glass dish. 4) Top them with avocado or guacamole — it’s the best! Avocado is my main substitute for cheese these days, and I find it just as satisfying.

Fitness Update

I’m still working hard on my fitness and I think I’ve been making progress at a much faster rate lately. Something has shifted — I work harder and better and am feeling great!

That said, this was also my first month traveling since starting my fitness regimen, and it was challenging to keep up workouts and eat well on the road. I could have done better with both, but I’m glad neither trip turned into a gluttonous free-for-all, as it would have in the past.

I tried two new classes this month — Pon de Flo with Oneika, and IMAXShift with Beth. Pon de Flo is a Caribbean dance class in SoHo that includes HIIT segments — think Zumba but with more push-ups. IMAXShift is a spin class in front of an IMAX screen located in DUMBO — you ride through space and lasers and the sky.

I only lost a few pounds in February, but I don’t mind — according to my body analysis I’m gaining a ton of muscle, which is heavier and cancels out a lot of fat loss. Weight isn’t as important as you think. More important is that I look and feel different — especially in my face, my upper arms and my thighs. And I’ve lost three inches off my waist since December.

Also a bonus: I went bathing suit shopping and found three suits that I loved and felt great in!

Coming Up in March 2017

I have a few more days on the cruise at the beginning of March, and beyond that, I have no travel plans scheduled in March. Which, once again, is great. I feel like I’m actually starting to live my goal of traveling 25% of the time or less.

I do have a lot I want to do in New York this month, including visiting the new Golden Girls cafe in Washington Heights, so stay tuned for more local coverage!

Plus, Cailin is coming to stay for a few days (amusingly, she’ll already be at my place when I get back from the cruise). I’m also looking forward to hosting my book group at my apartment, which is shockingly the first time I’ve invited more than two people into my apartment simultaneously!

What’s coming up for you in March? Share away!

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Welcome to the Florida Keys

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Most of the time when I start dreaming of a new destination for the first time, I can point to several factors. Maybe it’s the setting of a book I’m reading. Maybe it’s getting a lot of press thanks to a news story. Maybe I have a blogger friend or two who visited recently and loved it.

In the case of the Florida Keys, one of my top dream destinations lately, I can point to one source. Bloodline.

My sister had been recommending the Netflix drama for quite a while, but it took me forever to sit down and actually watch it. Bloodline is about a prominent family in the Florida Keys: the parents (Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard) own a luxury resort in the Keys; they’re pillars of the community. They have four children: a detective (Kyle Chandler), a lawyer (Linda Cardellini), a shipyard owner (Norbert Leo Butz), and a burnout who waltzes into and out of his family’s lives (the excellent Ben Mendelsohn, who won an Emmy for his role).

But behind this picture-perfect family are secrets, and crime, and murder. And the show raises questions about how far you’d go to protect your family.

(Just know one thing — Bloodline is a slow burn. I think it took me about four episodes to really get into it. I highly recommend you keep going even if you’re not sure how you feel about it — trust me, it’s worth it!)

What I love most about Bloodline was how it captures the Keys, and particularly paints a gritty image of the Keys — ratty local bars, grungy docks, and dirty trailer parks interspersed among the resorts.

I always had an image in my mind of the Keys being nothing but jaw-dropping beauty and luxury properties. This gritty portrayal was nothing like what I had imagined. And for that reason, I became obsessed with visiting this destination for myself.

I knew I had to visit the Florida Keys.

My friend Cailin and I decided to do a road trip through the Keys and Miami as an add-on to our trip to Universal Orlando. This jaunt would give us two nights in the mid-Keys, based in Islamorada, and two nights in Key West. (We were supported in part by Florida Keys Tourism; see the end of the post for details.)

Key West is like a completely different planet from the rest of the Keys — and for that reason will be covered in a different post. THIS post is about the Mid-Keys, stretching from Key Largo in the northeast to Big Pine Key in the southwest.

Here is the story of our trip to the Keys, told in a series of vignettes.

The New Hampshire of the South

As we drive into the Keys, I’m struck by the sensation that I’ve already been here — that this is a place I knew well.

It hits me when we drive into a sandy parking lot punctuated with palm trees. I’ve seen parking lots like those many times — only with pine trees. In New Hampshire.

Rural streets filled with discount souvenir shops, hawking cheap t-shirts and pool floats. Lots of prime waterfront space without any exceptional beaches of which to speak. Unpretentious restaurants where the dress code is nonexistent and hits from decades ago play loudly. Loud, warm locals that lean into your conversations and give no-nonsense answers.

Not to mention the sneaking suspicion that you would never want to get on the bad side of one of these locals.

This was what I grew up with during my summers camping in New Hampshire. Turn up the heat and humidity, add palm trees and mangroves, and the Florida Keys could be the same place.

Keys Drinking Culture

People in the Keys do seem to drink a lot. Locals do as well as visitors, a great number of them in their fifties and older. And this is a place where you can drink in abundance.

Cailin and I have driven all the way down from Orlando, a six-hour drive. It’s time to start our night at Ciao Hound, near Islamorada, a brand new Italian restaurant.

We start with prosciutto-wrapped shrimp and vegetables, then move on to heartier fare, a local beer, a sparkling water. It’s like heaven after a long day of driving. (Also, dogs have their own fancy dining area and menu here!)

Next we’re led back to the Tiki Bar behind the restaurant, torches flaming in welcome.

Cailin opts for their signature drink, a strawberry daiquiri and piña colada hybrid with a floater shot of rum on top. I’m driving that night, so I order a mojito and sip it slowly. Made with key lime-infused rum, I think that this is the best mojito I’ve ever tasted.

Didn’t you say the same thing about the mojitos at that salsa club in Cartagena, Kate?

I might have.

“Get off your phones!” the bartender yells at us. “You’re on vacation!”

Cailin and I stiffen. The reaction is to respond, “We’re working,” but that’s problematic. Sure, we don’t have to snap and Instagram and Facebook every moment of the trip, but we know our readers and our readers would love these pretty drinks. And most people would kill to do what we do for work, so to draw attention to what we do seems to be rude at best.

Where is the happy medium? Seven years into professional travel blogging, I haven’t found it yet.

We do at least put our phones away and walk over to the dance floor. A cover band is blasting “Beat It” while the intoxicated jump up and down, updating Michael Jackson’s iconic 80s dance moves with some modern twerking.

Cailin and I pose for snaps with a giant monster truck parked nearby and drive to our hotel.

Later on, we read about Snappers, a brunch spot in Key Largo with a make-your-own-Bloody-Mary bar. Might as well start the day right!

Reservations are necessary at this restaurant, I hear, and I make the requisite phone call, despite having developed a fear for calling strangers on the telephone in the age of texting.

Now — a brunch place with mandatory reservations sounds like it might be fancy or formal. Not whatsoever in the Keys. We dine outside underneath Samuel Adams-branded umbrellas, watching locals jet ski their way up and down the waterways.

The Bloody Mary bar is worth the hype. We’re each given a glass filled with vodka, ice, and a single shrimp, then are led to a table covered with bottles of juices, sauces, and accoutrements. Cailin is thrilled to discover that they have clamato juice and she can make a Caesar, Canada’s answer to the Bloody Mary. (Me: “So you’re saying there are clams in your tomato juice?”) I fill mine with pickles and peperoncinis and enough horseradish to clear my sinuses for the next month, then only drink a quarter of it because I’m still driving, after all.

The Keys has such a strong drinking culture, yet it’s a place where you can’t get by without a car. What did people do before Uber?!

Sunset Time

One night we head to Lorelei, a popular waterfront bar and restaurant in Islamorada. It’s a prime sunset spot, famous for its giant mermaid painted on the side of the road.

The drinks at Lorelei are terrific — Cailin and I both get key lime coladas. The food is meh. The key lime pie is an abomination. But that’s fine — the band consists of several men in their fifties playing covers of Green Day and Red Hot Chili Peppers songs.

People are dancing and partying until the band grinds to a halt and gives a speech talking about why we need to support our troops. (My non-American friends are always surprised to see this when they visit the States. It’s not common in other countries to talk this much about the military.) The band then transitions into a 3 Doors Down medley.

“3 Doors Down was one of few bands who actually played at the inauguration,” I tell Cailin.

Monroe County, home of the Keys, narrowly voted for Trump in the 2016 election.

We don’t talk about politics with any locals on this trip.

The sun goes down and everyone jumps up with their phone to photograph it.

“This is it. I love this,” says a white-haired man snapping shots with his Android, the brightness of the sun blowing out the rest of the sky.

“It’s great,” I agree.

“I know! I live here!” he exclaims, swaying in place to the band.

It’s something that I had missed for quite some time. American exuberance. Going up to strangers and starting a conversation for no reason at all. Less common in urban areas and the northeast but present throughout the nation, especially in this very American vacation destination.

It happens again on the trip. At a souvenir shop, I take of a picture of a bumper sticker reading SURRENDER THE BOOTY to text to my bud Jeremy, knowing he’ll love it. (Best left unexplained.)

A sixty-something woman sees me taking the photo and grabs my arm. “That’s my–” and she starts laughing so hard that she can’t get the words out. “That’s my — my — husband’s nickname!” She collapses in laughter; I tentatively join in before edging away.

How to Spend Your Days

Now, lest you think that the Keys are only for relaxing and doing little to nothing, you can fill your days with activities here, too.

Cailin and I start at the Florida Keys Brewing Company. It’s filled with all kinds of art, neon growlers and mermaid-tipped taps. The staff couldn’t be friendlier or more warm as they pour us a ring-shaped sampler.

The ingredients here come straight from the Keys — like Iguana Bait, a hibiscus-flavored beer. Go for the flight of 10 beers, featuring the best of what they have at the moment. I’m a big fan of the Coffee Stout and the Hurricane Hole Red.

The brewery is actually part of the Morada Way Arts District, a small collection of galleries and artists’ studios. Like most galleries I’ve seen in Florida, the landscape is the main subject. You won’t find gloomy art here.

For something quirky and different, Robbie’s Marina, just south of Islamorada, features tarpon feeding. you can buy a bucket of small fish and feed them to the huge, biting tarpons penned into the water.

It’s scary enough on its own. It becomes even more terrifying when the pelicans start chasing you, trying to snag the smelly fish for themselves.

Have I mentioned that my two biggest fears are fish and birds?

Despite that, it’s a lot of fun. Stay for lunch at the Hungry Tarpon.

For something more docile, visit the Turtle Hospital in Marathon and learn about the work that they do to save sick and injured turtles around the Keys and beyond.

Many of the turtles have “bubble butts” from damage that keep them floating on the surface. The hospital attaches weights to them to help them swim normally.

Panicking at the thought of being away from my gym for ten days, I look for Zumba classes and find one scheduled at the Cheeca Lodge, a gorgeous luxury property in Islamorada. As I drive onto the property, I grumble at being stuck behind a red SUV driven by a woman having a full-blown conversation with the security guard.

Eventually she leaves and I drive up.

“I’m just here for a Zumba class,” I tell the security guard.

“Oh, that’s your teacher!” she says, pointing to the SUV. I promptly drive after the vehicle to make sure I don’t get lost on the vast property.

Here’s something awkward: I’m literally the only person who showed up for class. That’s never happened before!

We do Zumba one on one, me dancing behind her in an upstairs ballroom. She’s got Pitbull on her playlist, which is my benchmark of a good class.

My teacher’s name is Denise. She’s from Germany. Like many people, she came to the Keys on vacation, considered spending longer, and when a job fell into her lap, it seemed like a sign.

I couldn’t imagine a place less like Germany. Perhaps that’s why she fell in love with it so much.

A Certain Kind of Girl

After several days in the Keys, Cailin poses a question: “There’s a certain kind of girl who lives here, don’t you think?”

“What do you mean?”

“They all have that look.”

Immediately, I know what she’s talking about.

The girls around our age work in the brewery and wait tables along the waterfront. They love to fish and go out on the water whenever they can. They’re open and friendly and loud, and they’re not afraid to call you on your bullshit.

These girls are deeply tan, what my family members would call “brown as a berry,” clad in denim shorts and worn tank tops with cheap sunglasses perched on their foreheads. Their hair is pulled back into sensible ponytails or worn down and wild, glinting in the sunlight in several different sun-bleached shades.

Could I live here? is a question that I always ask myself, everywhere I go. Could this be my life?

Living here would mean subverting the vast majority of my life. I could not be less like these girls. And not only  because my uniform is jeans, black tops, and tall black boots, which wouldn’t work for one minute in the Florida Keys.

These girls are interesting. Maybe it’s that they’re so different.

And then there’s the pie.

Key Lime Pie. World-famous, sweet and tart, made from the tiny limes that grow on these islands.

Every restaurant claims the best key lime pie of all. Most of them are lying. But taste is a subjective thing — you never know which one will appeal to you personally. The only thing to do is to taste them all!

If you’re in the mid-Keys, I recommend heading to Ma’s Fish Camp in Islamorada, the Blond Giraffe in Tavernier, or Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen in Key Largo. All of them serve excellent key lime pies.

Where We Stayed — Islander Resort Bayside

Islamorada was the perfect place to base in the Keys, and we stayed at a lovely little town home, the Islander Resort Bayside, for our two nights there.

I can’t tell you what we were more excited about — the fact that it was a two-bedroom apartment and we each got our own room, or that we had a washer and dryer! It was the halfway point of our trip and couldn’t have been better timed on either side!

I loved our little home. It was ideally located in central Islamorada, a short drive (or even a walk) from lots of attractions. There was a pool in the back overlooking the water.

It’s expensive to stay here, with nightly rates starting above $300. The Keys are incredibly expensive, though, and this is a standard price for a property of this quality. That said, you can save money by making use of the kitchen and cooking some of your meals.

The Takeaway

My time in the Keys feels like a dream. Not in a conventional sense when you can’t believe that you traveled somewhere so beautiful, but more like you just got back from a bizarre destination and you’re still trying to wrap your head around it.

 

Would I want to go back? Would I EVER. I feel like I barely scraped the surface of this destination. Plus, Bloodline has a third (and sadly final) season coming up. I’ll be Keys-crazy once again!

If you’re looking to plan a trip to Florida, I highly recommend the Keys. It’s a far cry from more conventional destinations like Orlando and Miami, and very different from beach destinations, but I think it’s the overall culture and feeling that makes it so interesting. I hope you agree.

Essential Info: While we based two nights in the mid-Keys and two nights in Key West, I recommend spending more time if you can, especially if you’re driving from far away. Budget at least three nights for Key West, possibly even more if you can afford it, and three nights would be great for Islamorada or elsewhere in the mid-Keys as well.

Feeding the tarpons at Robbie’s costs $1 per person and $3 per bucket of fish.

Tours of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon are $22 for adults and $11 for children.

The hourlong Zumba class I took takes place on Saturdays at 10:00 AM at Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada and costs $15. I recommend verifying before you arrive. You must call and book the day before.

The Keys, as you may have noticed, can be shockingly expensive, especially when it comes to accommodation. Rates at the Islander Resort Bayside start at $317. Find more hotels in Islamorada here.

If you’re a Bloodline fan, my friend Andy wrote a guide to the series’ season one filming locations.

Don’t visit the Keys without travel insurance — if you get injured on your trip, it could save your finances and your life. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Many thanks to Florida Keys Tourism and local partners for supporting our trip. We received several comps including accommodation at the Islander Resort Bayside, visits to the Florida Keys Brewing Company and Turtle Hospital, and meals at Ciao Hound and The Hungry Tarpon. Other expenses, including all other meals, activities, car rental and gas, were paid in full by me and Cailin. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Do the Florida Keys look like your kind of destination? Share away!

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Where to Stay in Barcelona — Best Neighborhoods and Accommodation

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Where’s the best place to stay in Barcelona? I called in the experts! After writing my Where to Stay in Paris post, I was inundated with requests to do one for Barcelona, too. At the time, I grumbled, “I’m only one woman — I’m not an expert on every city in the world!”

But you know what? You really want to know. And while I’ve been to Barcelona several times, I don’t know it like I know Paris (and I can’t stand when travel bloggers write ultimate guides to places they barely know). So I hired two Barcelona experts to write the best, most detailed Barcelona accommodation guide possible: Ashley and Alex from the blog In Pursuit of Adventure.

And for the record — my personal favorite Barcelona neighborhood to stay in is Gràcia!

Take it away, guys!

Kate

The enchanting city of Barcelona is our favorite city in Europe to explore, and we love indulging in its unique culture. We’re not alone — tourists around the globe flock to this coastal Mediterranean city year-round, seeking out beautiful beaches, a vibrant culinary scene, and lively nightlife.

Barcelona is part of the region of Catalonia in northeast Spain, and the independence flag hanging off balconies reminds us that they are Catalan, not Spanish. The Catalan residents are proud of their city, their culture, their heritage, and of course their fútbol team, FC Barcelona! Their spirit of independence is contagious and gives the city so much character.

But choosing where to stay in Barcelona can be overwhelming, as it’s a large city broken into many different neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has its own distinct feel, charm, and loyal locals. So what do you do? That’s where we come in!

We know each of these Barcelona neighborhoods like we know the stamps in our passports. So here are our favorite neighborhoods to make your trip memorable. Just remember, no matter where you end up staying in Barcelona, be sure to venture out and sample the charms of each neighborhood from the touristy yet hipster neighborhood of El Born to the gritty and diverse El Raval.

Best Neighborhood Overall: El Born

El Born is the neighborhood to stay in if you are looking to be in the heart of the old city with fantastic artisan shops and hip restaurants. While it can be touristy, El Born is one of our favorite neighborhoods.

El Born is also perfect for anyone looking to be in the heart of Barcelona, as it’s walking distance to Barceloneta, the beach, the Gothic Quarter, and several metro stops that can connect you to all the different major sites in the city.

This neighborhood is perfect for exploring little local shops full of amazing products from handmade ceramics to custom leather aprons (which every trendy restaurant seems to have their waiters wear!) to art galleries. The alleyways are filled with street art, especially la bomba (the bomb), which represents Barcelona’s anarchist spirit, and flags and buntings for the perfect photo opportunities.

Be sure to pop into the Picasso Museum, which showcases the artist’s work from an early age to some of his most famous paintings. Try to visit on the first Sunday of the month when it’s free! Then grab a coffee or a vermouth at one of the many outdoor patios and soak in the relaxed lifestyle here.

Lower El Born is the more touristy side of the neighborhood with the church of Santa Maria Del Mar dominating the area and a large pedestrian area lined with hip restaurants, cocktails bars that go all night and boutique shops.

Upper El Born is quieter, filled with more residential apartments, local bar, and the famous Mercat Santa Caterina where you can go for the best local menú del día, or lunch special, at Bar Joan, which we think is the best lunch deal in town.

Check out hotels in El Born here.

Best Neighborhood for Beach Lovers: Barceloneta

Barceloneta is probably the proudest Catalan neighborhood in Barcelona and you’re never further than five minutes from the beach. The independence flag of Catalonia flies proudly from almost every balcony here.

Barceloneta is also the neighborhood where you will see the most backlash on tourism. Residents want to keep the neighborhood local and have fought ardently to keep it that way.

That doesn’t mean you should stay away, though. Thoughtful tourists who respect the locals are welcome. That means that when you leave the beach, put on some clothes before you pop into a shop or grab a bite to eat. If you are out until the early hours of the morning (which happens easily here), keep your voices down to avoid disturbing people who are asleep.

Also, make an effort to support local businesses here. Head to small, family-run restaurants like La Cova Fumada, where la bomba (not the street art — in this case, a glorious ball of fried mashed potatoes stuffed with minced meat and topped with aioli and bravas sauce) was first invented back during the Civil War. Or head to Vaso del Oro, where they have been brewing their own beer and serving it up in flautas, or beer flutes, for over fifty years.

Take a stroll along the sand and notice all the locals out walking, rollerblading, biking, and soaking up the Mediterranean sun. Barceloneta will treat you well if you treat it well.

Check out hotels in Barceloneta here.

Best Neighborhood for a Cultural Mix: El Raval

El Raval is the infamous neighborhood once known for drinking establishments, cabaret shows, prostitution, crime and Hemingway — and that’s exactly why you should stay there.  This neighborhood embraces its gritty past while looking to a modern future. Centrally located near the main port in the historical district of Barcelona commonly known as Ciutat Vella, today El Raval is far more charming than seedy.

The neighborhood is known for its diversity and often referred to as Barri Xinès, or Chinatown, by the locals. Today Chinese, Pakistanis, Filipinos, South Americans, Eastern Europeans and Middle Easterners inhabit the neighborhood, creating a unique melting pot of cultures.

Here you will also find one of Gaudi’s earlier works, the Palau Güell, and the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, more affectionately called MACBA. Here you will find locals of El Raval on the steps drinking wine and watching the skateboarders do tricks in the streets.

Today El Raval has become a treat for young foodies and boozehounds. The neighborhood is filled with restaurants and bars like Bar Marsella (pictured above), an old absinthe bar stuck in the time of Hemingway (the writer himself used to drink here quite often), or Bar Cañete, a modern player in the Barcelona culinary scene using classic Catalan ingredients to make innovative, modern dishes. 

Check out hotels in El Raval here.

Best Neighborhood for Foodies: Poble Sec

Poble Sec is the perfect neighborhood to stay in if you are looking for a some peace and quiet but also want to eat like a local. The neighborhood is quiet during the day but really comes to life at night when all the tiny tapas bars along the pedestrian-only Carrer de Blai open up shop and fill with hungry locals. This is the neighborhood to drink vermouth, grab some cheap eats, and revel in being Catalan if only for the duration of your stay.

While there are no major tourist sites in Poble Sec, this neighborhood is well connected by metro and it’s just a hike up the hill to see the castle of Montjuic, the gardens, and to take the funicular down to the beach.

This is also the neighborhood to visit Quimet & Quimet, one of the most famous tapas bars in the city. Here they focus on high quality conservas, or canned food, and montaditos, small open-faced sandwiches.

Squeeze in here, order some cava, a couple montaditos and throw your napkins on the floor like a local — that’s what you do in Poble Sec!

Check out hotels in Poble Sec here.

Best Neighborhood for a Small Town Feel: Gràcia

Gràcia is the neighborhood to stay in if you are looking for that small town charm while still in the big city. One of the more unique neighborhoods, Gràcia was its own village until Barcelona’s expansion absorbed it into the city itself. The locals, however, still very much consider themselves separate to Barcelona and it’s noticeable as soon as you exit the metro. It feels like you’ve stepped into another world here in Gràcia.

We personally love Gràcia as it is lesser-known to tourists but has a wonderful bar and restaurant scene, especially for classic Catalan dishes. Cal Boter is one of those restaurants that features traditional dishes like snails and pig trotter. If that’s a little too old-fashioned for your taste, head over to Bar Bodega Quimet for tapas in their small, bustling, and decidedly local bodega. Don’t forget to grab a drink at La Festival, a modern wine shop focusing exclusively on organic and biodynamic wines.

During the late afternoon, head to Plaça del Sol, the main square, where everyone in Gràcia congregates to gossip, people-watch, and just enjoy their daily life. Grab a beer and join in!

Gràcia exemplifies what Barcelona is all about: individuality and independence against larger outside forces.  It’s quiet and quaint with traditional shops but leaves room for modern roots to be established. Gràcia comes as a highly recommended neighborhood to stay in especially if you enjoy that local vibe and you are visiting Barcelona for the second or third time, as it is not located in the old city.

That said, Gràcia is located just beneath Gaudi’s famous park, Parc Güell, and is close to lesser-known Gaudi architecture and Tibidabo, an amusement park from the early 1900s that is still operational.

Check out hotels in Gràcia here.

Best Neighborhood for Hipsters: Sant Antoni

Sant Antoni is the hipster neighborhood and is the perfect place to stay for those looking for a modern vibe in the old city. While still very residential, it is quickly becoming host to a number of hip establishments like Cafe Cometa and La Donutería (yes, you can even find fancy donuts in Barcelona!). You will also find locals of Sant Antoni congregating around the Carrer del Parlament which is host to several very chic restaurants, bodegas and bars.

Sant Antoni hasn’t totally abandoned its roots, however, and here you will also find the much loved old school La Bodega d’en Rafel. They’re also renovating the heart of the neighborhood, Mercat Sant Antoni, which has been around since 1882.

Sant Antoni is a neighborhood that is focused on residential life, making it a great neighborhood to live like a local. However, it is not as well-connected to the city for first time visitors and does not have any tourist attractions. It also doesn’t have any major hotels, so apartment rentals may be the way to go here.

However, with the expansion of restaurants and nightlife, this may change in the future; Sant Antoni is, after all, the chic neighborhood. 

Check out hotels in Sant Antoni here.

Best Barcelona Hotels

You can compare rates on hotels throughout Barcelona here. Here are some of our top recommendations:

Best Luxury Hotel: W Barcelona

The W is an icon and the place to stay for luxury in Barcelona. Located on the beach in Barceloneta, across the street from the Desigual headquarters, the W Hotel invites sunbathers with its glass sail-like facade, reflecting the city and the beach below. 

There is a pool with a bar located on the 26th floor, so you can soak in views of both the city and the Mediterranean. Plus, during the summer they host a series of parties with local and international DJs on their pool deck. The W is the epitome of Barcelona cool.

Rates from 230 EUR ($242) per night.

Best Mid-Range Hotel: Barceló Raval

Dominating the skyline at Rambla del Raval is the Barceló Raval. This imposing circular hotel offers the perfect place to stay in the heart of the city with 180-degree views. Prices are very reasonable for the quality you receive. Plus, there is a swimming pool and a 360-degree rooftop bar that is the perfect place to catch every gorgeous Barcelona sunset. (That photo above is from the roof!)

Rates from 90 EUR ($95) per night.

Best Hostel: Generator Barcelona

Located in Gràcia, Generator Barcelona is a fantastic hostel to stay in while visiting the city, especially if you’re not a hostel person. The design of this hostel alone makes it less like a hostel and more like a boutique hotel. They also have a range of rooms starting from dorm shares to privates with twin beds to even a penthouse with a terrace!

This hostel has it all — free wifi, a lounge, even a bar, and is the perfect place to decompress after a day of sightseeing or a wild night out. You can meet lots of fellow travelers if you wish or just relax and enjoy your solitude.

Dorm beds from 11 EUR ($12) per night, private rooms from 45 EUR ($47) per night.

Barcelona Travel Tips

Barcelona can be overwhelming at times, so here are some travel tips to ensure you have the best trip possible:

Don’t stay too far outside the city. Barcelona has a very large metropolitan area, which is more than just the downtown and tourist sites, and the easiest way to ruin your trip is to stay too far outside.

Instead, stay within the old city limits of Barcelona, or right outside like in Gràcia, because when you are out in the boonies it can be difficult to find transportation back and forth to downtown. Keep in mind that the metro closes around midnight — you don’t want to take expensive taxis or tear yourself away like Cinderella!

Avoid La Rambla. La Rambla, or Las Ramblas as it is more often called, is the most famous street in Barcelona and at one time would have been a wonderful place to stay. Over the years, however, its popularity has become its downfall with overpriced souvenir shops and tourist traps.

We suggest taking a walk down to see La Rambla for yourself, but avoid spending too much of your precious time there. Barcelona has a lot of amazing things to offer you, but La Rambla is not one of them. Go see it and then hightail it to El Raval or El Born.

Learn a little Catalan. Barcelona’s official language is Catalan, not Spanish. Locals will not expect you to know Catalan, but they will appreciate it. Say bon dia for hello, adéu for goodbye, and mercès for thank you. Learn these three simple phrases and the Catalans will be so appreciative of your respect of their language!

Barcelona is best seen on foot. Despite its large size, Barcelona is a walking city at heart. Most of Barcelona’s tourist sites are clustered around Ciutat Vella, the old city. The little windy streets are like treasures — and you’ll miss them when underground on the metro!

Soak up all the wonderful vibrant energy this city has by taking daily strolls in different neighborhoods. You never know what you may encounter. As a bonus, you will work off all that wonderful food you’ve been eating. Speaking of which…

Eat when the locals eat (yes, they eat late). To truly understand the Barcelona lifestyle, you have to eat when the locals eat, otherwise you’ll be sitting in empty restaurants that are only for tourists. Get up in the morning but not too early, as the Catalans are not early risers, and have a cafe con leche (coffee with milk) with some pan con tomate (bread rubbed with tomato and garlic).

And then between 12:30 and 3:00 PM, enjoy the menú del dia, daily cheap lunch specials that often get you three courses with wine for around 10-15 EUR ($11-16). Locals love the menú del dia!

Drinking and eating is crucial to Catalan life, so grab drinks and tapas between 6:00 and 9:00 PM. Hop from one tapas bar to the next while enjoy a drink and just grab a few tapas at each place. Stand up at the bar or outside as you enjoy the bustling atmosphere.

Next, head to dinner around 10:00 PM and take your time eating. There is no rush in Catalonia, especially when you stay centrally and don’t have to worry about the metro closing! This is what the locals do, so you might as well enjoy it while you’re there.

Don’t Visit Barcelona Without Travel Insurance

A lot of people think travel insurance is an unnecessary expense — that’s far from the truth. Travel insurance is vital. It’s saved Kate hundreds of dollars and for one of her friends, who slipped and broke his back while traveling, his travel insurance saved him literally hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If you get pickpocketed on Barcelona’s metro, travel insurance will refund you what you lost.

If you slip on the stairs at the Parc Güell and break your ankle, travel insurance will refund your medical costs and get you home for free.

If you get appendicitis while in Barcelona, travel insurance will cover your medical costs.

If an immediate family member dies while you’re in Spain, travel insurance will help you get home immediately.

These are unpleasant things to think about, but it’s so important to be prepared for the worst.

AdventurousKate.com uses and recommends World Nomads Travel Insurance. They’re a great fit for almost every traveler. Take a look at their policies before you buy to make sure they’re right for you.

Barcelona is waiting for you!

So there you have it — everything you need to know in order to set yourself up for the best trip to Barcelona.  Once you are settled in a neighborhood, just let the infectious energy of the city carry you away and we promise you will love Barcelona as much as we do!

Meet the Barcelona Experts

Ashley and Alex are two travelers from California who are addicted to living local. They run the travel blog In Pursuit of Adventure and focus on eating, drinking, and living locally across the globe. They are currently exploring the cuisine and drinks of Cuba before turning their sights to Peru. They also are the authors of Eat Local in Barcelona: A Guide to Catalan Cuisine, which will be published in March.  

Have you been to Barcelona? Where’s you favorite place to stay? Share away!

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AK Monthly Recap: January 2017

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Once again, I went a full month without leaving New York! I barely even left Manhattan, venturing to Brooklyn a total of twice.

The first time I did that, in April of last year, I was shocked and horrified at myself. This time, I welcomed it! The past few months were much busier than I anticipated (a six-week trip to Europe and Australia, a nine-day trip to Germany, plus three trips home to Massachusetts), so I needed some time to recuperate.

And that was a smart decision. I spent this month working hard on my fitness regime, spending time with friends, and gearing up for a busy year.

Destinations Visited

New York, NY

Highlights

Taking part in the Women’s March! Millions of people marched all over the world to stand up for the rights of women, black people, immigrants, Muslims, LGBT people, and the environment. I didn’t go to DC but I was thrilled to march with my sister and our two close friends from home in New York City.

I couldn’t get over how huge the march was. It took us an hour to even get to the point where we could march, period! Everyone was friendly and in great spirits. And most importantly, when my kids and grandkids ask me how I stood up to Trump, I’ll be able to show them photographic proof. This is only the beginning.

The NO PANTS SUBWAY RIDE! On the coldest Sunday of the year, my friend Anna from Crazy in the Rain and I joined a group of strangers, got on the subway, and took our pants off, acting nonchalant about it when asked. We lucked out and ended up with a cool group of new friends and we finished our subway ride with a dance party in Union Square!

The No Pants Subway Ride takes place in lots of cities each year, but it originated in New York. Definitely join next year! It’s so much fun, even in the cold!

Image: @roamtheamericas on Twitter

Speaking at the New York Times Travel Show. This was my second time speaking and first time speaking at Industry Day. I was on a panel called “The Future of Travel Media” and I was the modern blogger paired with three more traditional travel writers, so I was a bit of a foil to the rest of them! We had a great talk and it seems like the audience really enjoyed it.

And because the show is such a big event, lots of my blogger friends were in town. The good times most definitely rolled.

Hosting my friend Amanda for a few days. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a houseguest, so I was happy to have Amanda from A Dangerous Business come stay with me during the show! We hung out, explored the city, took tons of pictures (including Times Square at night, which I hadn’t yet done), and made a visit to the Oculus, which I recommend seeing if you’re in Lower Manhattan.

A visit from a special puppy. Christine from C’est Christine brought her pug puppy Gertie to Harlem for a visit! She is the cutest, funniest thing and her fur is SO soft. You can see more of her at cestgertie on Instagram.

Seeing Maria Abramovic speak about her work. I’ve been fascinated by her performance art — she did the project at the MoMA where people would sit across from her and receive uninterrupted eye contact — so it was interesting to see her talk about art. I was surprised at how funny she was, in spite of her often-serious work, and now I’m eager to read her new memoir.

Finally getting framed art on the walls. After living in my apartment for almost a year, I finally have stuff on the walls! Should have done that a long time ago. I used Framebridge to frame everything, they were fabulous, and they gave me a discount code to share with you: adventurouskate15.

Challenges

This new presidency. I wasn’t going to watch the inauguration, but I was at the gym and it was on all the TVs. I thought that would be my low point of the week, but no. It kept getting worse and worse.

As Dan Rather said, “For many Americans, in the two weeks since the inauguration, we have whipsawed from tragedy, to farce, to the theater of the absurd.” I’m deeply worried by what we’ve seen so far. I’m standing up for the most vulnerable, I’m preparing to lose my healthcare (because we all know there’s no Obamacare replacement waiting in the wings), and I’m looking to continue my political activism and action here in New York and beyond.

Seeing a bike messenger almost get run over by a car. Not only that, the driver got out of the car and they almost had a fistfight. So scary, especially since lots of bike messengers don’t have health insurance — or at least they didn’t in the pre-Obamacare days, and they’re about to lose it again.

Most Popular Post

My Plan for 2017: A Commitment to Fitness — The big post about how I’m changing my life.

Other Posts

Where to Go in 2017: Kate’s Top Picks — 12 locations for 12 months of the year.

For the Love of God, Don’t Sew a Canadian Flag On Your Backpack — On traveling in the age of Trump.

This is the Islamic World — A photographic journey across 10 very different Muslim countries.

Most Popular Instagram Photo

I wasn’t sure how this photo of me at the Women’s March would do on Instagram, but it turned into my most popular photo of all time!

I’m closing in on 100k followers — I’ll probably hit that milestone by the spring. For real-time updates from my travels you can follow me on Instagram and Snapchat at adventurouskate.

What I Read This Month

This month I started the Popsugar 2017 Reading Challenge! I’m enjoying sinking my teeth back into a challenge and reading some genres I wouldn’t pursue ordinarily. I’m also making an effort to read both fiction and nonfiction titles, books by authors of color, and books published in 2017 each month.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond — If there’s any one book I think every American should read, Evicted is at the top of my list. (I seem to say that often, don’t I? Well, forget everything I said before, because this is the real deal.) This is the most important book about poverty I’ve ever read. The book takes place in Milwaukee, one of the most racially segregated cities in America, and follows a black landlord in a black neighborhood, a white landlord at a white trailer park, and several of the tenants of both landlords. The stories that follow are rich, nuanced, and full of character — much more than I expected. It read like a novel.

I am shocked at how little I knew about how eviction affects poverty — evictions make it harder to get housing, and circumstances of poverty make it easier to get evicted, so the cycle gets worse and worse. Did you know that benefits haven’t risen, but private rents have, and so many people spend upwards of 80% of their income on rent alone? Did you know that having the police called to your house can get you evicted? So many domestic violence victims have to choose between their safety and their housing. That’s just the beginning of the horrors of housing in America. We have so much work to do. Category: A bestseller from 2016.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri — I’ve been meaning to read Jhumpa Lahiri’s books forever, but this is only the first. A collection of short stories that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Interpreter of Maladies tells stories of Indians, Indian-Americans, their relationships, and how their two cultures spill over into each other.

I don’t read collections of short stories very often, but I should — because when they’re as good as Lahiri’s, they’ll make you ache inside. I’m still thinking about some of the characters! That’s the mark of a brilliant writer, and I look forward to delving into Lahiri’s other works. Category: A book involving travel.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman — This crazy novel was my book club’s pick this month. The premise? The ancient gods all over the world, from Norse gods to African gods to Hindu gods, have migrated to America over centuries and are now living among us. They’re gearing up for war against new gods, like media and technology, and one man finds himself caught in the middle of it.

A lot of people are crazy about American Gods, but I honestly wasn’t a fan. I appreciated the concept and Gaiman’s ambition, but this book annoyed me so much. The main character, Shadow, had no personality. The female characters were either whores, children, or unfuckable. The big climax was a buildup to nothing and reminded me of the end of the Twilight series. In my opinion, an interesting concept does not make up for a complete lack of character development. Category: A book based on mythology.

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide — When I had to read “a book with a cat on the cover,” I dreaded it, thinking my only options would be schmaltzy crazy cat lady stories. Instead I found this lovely wisp of a Japanese book. A couple living in Tokyo are living an ordinary life until their neighbors get a cat — and the cat starts spending all her time at their apartment. Soon, the cat is practically theirs and they discover a new love and affection for her that brings richness to their lives.

This book reminded me of how much I love Japan. This book is simple, calm, and focuses on feelings in the moment. Not a word is wasted. It’s also a quick read if you’re looking for something easily digestible. Category: A book with a cat on the cover.

A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea by Melissa Fleming — This is the story of a Doaa al-Zamel, a Syrian refugee who survived against all odds, from war in her city to a shipwreck at sea. Everyone needs to read this book to understand the Syrian refugee crisis (then again, the people who need to the most will probably refuse to read it). Doaa fought in the resistance before her family escaped to Egypt. After life in Egypt became hellish for Syrians, she and her fiancé decided to escape via boat to Europe — and their boat wrecked in the water. It is a devastating story, made all the more horrifying that so many people are continuing to go through this.

That being said — I wish Doaa’s story had been in the hands of another author. Melissa Fleming is Chief Spokesperson for the UNHCR, and she has done excellent work — but I don’t think she should have taken this assignment on. I found her writing to be distractingly bad, redundant and full of cliches. That said, Fleming’s writing style is accessible enough for high schoolers and even mature middle schoolers to read, so if you know a smart and compassionate kid, I recommend giving them the book. I still think you should read it, though. Ignore the bad writing and concentrate on the story. Category: A book about an immigrant or refugee.

What I Listened To This Month

“Time” by The Knocks. Spotify knows what I love most — that intersection of hip-hop, R&B, dance, and ambient music, sometimes with a little jazz or disco or gospel thrown in. This song is that genre in a nutshell.

What I Cooked This Month

I cook so much, might as well share some recipes with you!

Seriously the easiest snack ever: put 1 cup dried unsweetened coconut flakes, 1.5 cups almonds, and 2 cups dates (pits removed!) in a food processor. Blend it. If it’s having trouble sticking together, add in a TINY bit of water — think a few drops.

Spread it into a pan, refrigerate at least an hour, and cut into bars. Amazing deliciousness.

Coconut-almond-date bars. Vegan, gluten-free, paleo, Whole 30-approved, and good for just about anyone…who doesn’t have a nut allergy. Just don’t go crazy on them, because while healthy, they do pack a lot of calories.

Fitness Update

Since I wrote about my new journey toward fitness, I decided to do some brief monthly updates on how I’m doing.

I’m amazed at how well I’ve been keeping up the paleo diet, even when eating out. I did have a few slip-ups, all of them when out with friends (most notably, a few bites of my friend’s chocolate cake…and the Catholic in me confessed to my trainer the moment I went in the next day…), but for the most part, no-bread-no-dairy-no-sugar has become second nature. I estimate I’m eating paleo 90% of the time.

Working out has been going well. I see my trainer twice a week and add in classes three to four more times per week. Having my own washing machine makes it so much easier because I SWEAT. A LOT.

I resolved to finally try spinning, despite being terrified of it — and I have no idea why I was afraid for so long. It’s not scary at all! Tough, and sweaty, but I’ve never felt remotely uncomfortable! I’ve even taken spin classes at three places: Equinox, Flywheel, and Harlem Cycle. That’s in addition to my Equinox classes: Zumba, True Barre, Cardio Core Ball and Powerstrike.

I also joined ClassPass, which allows you to try fitness classes all over the city. I got a five-classes-per-month pack and I’m already looking forward to underwater spinning, hip-hop candlelit yoga, and a variety of dance classes! (Interested in ClassPass? Join and we’ll both get $30 off!)

And I decided to start a “workout buddies” series with my friends — instead of going to a bar or coffeeshop, we go to a fitness class together! That pic is me with my friend Elissa after a spin class at Flywheel.

I lost about 7 pounds in January. My BMI went from “overweight” to “normal.” My jeans and bras went from too tight to just right to maybe a bit too big (damn, why do your boobs always go first?). I don’t expect to lose that much per month again, as you always lose a ton of water weight at the beginning, but now I’m losing a pound a week and hope to keep that up.

That said, even if I don’t lose 25 pounds by Memorial Day, that’s okay. This is a long-term process and it might not go as quickly as I hope. But when I get to my goal weight, I’m going to look much healthier than I did when I weighed that much in Southeast Asia because this time I’m not starving myself.

My big worry, however, is keeping up my diet and exercise when I’m on the road. I don’t care about staying on my diet — I just don’t want to make my friends uncomfortable. Would you feel comfortable if you really wanted some chocolate cheesecake but were with a friend who ate nothing but salads with chicken on them? I just want them to know that they can do whatever they want!

Image: Ed Schipul

Coming Up in February 2017

I’ve got two big trips planned and they’re not my usual fare, which is why they’re exciting!

First, in early February, I’m going to Florida with my friend Cailin! We’re starting off with four days at Universal Studios, where she has a partnership, and then we’re driving down to the Florida Keys before finishing up in Miami. Both the Keys and Miami are new to me and I’m especially eager to check out both the prettier and the grittier sides of the Keys (and the Bloodline locations).

And in late February, I’ll be going on my first cruise ever with my friend Jeremy! We’ll be on the brand new Carnival Vista for a week. The cruise leaves from Miami and stops in Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Kitts (new country for me!) and St. Maarten. I have no idea how I’ll feel about cruising but I’m eager to finally try it!

I’ll be doing more of my usual solo, independent, international travel style later in the year. For now, these are some comfort trips, and I hope you enjoy the upcoming coverage.

What are your plans for February? Share away!

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This is the Islamic World

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Let me show you a world that is too often misunderstood.

Women gossiping in a park.

Istanbul, 2013.

Soft sand, palm trees, and some of the bluest waters you’ve ever seen.

Senggigi, Indonesia, 2011.

Bikes and bread and girls in matching dresses.

Prizren, Kosovo, 2013.

Camel rides at sunrise.

Wadi Rum, Jordan, 2011.

Chilled out beach resorts.

Ksamil, Albania, 2015.

Opulence.

Dubai, 2013

New friends who are dressed a million times better than you.

Amman, 2011.

 

Bridges across the divide.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2012.

Best friends forever.

Brunei Darussalam, 2014.

Desert dunes.

Wadi Rum, Jordan, 2013.

Graffitied pyramids dwarfing cities.

Tirana, Albania, 2015.

Whirling dervishes.

Istanbul, 2013.

Women with style.

Kuala Lumpur, 2010.

Reverence for American leaders.

Prishtina, Kosovo, 2013.

Mocktails made with gold leaf and camel milk.

Dubai, 2013.

Ruins that could rival anything in Rome.

Jerash, Jordan, 2011.

The call to prayer beautifully punctuating the day.

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam, 2014.

Bazaars packed with traditional goods.

Istanbul, 2013.

Bridges, mosques, minarets, and fortresses.

Prizren, Kosovo, 2013.

World wonders.

Petra, Jordan, 2011.

Daredevils showing off for the camera.

Koh Lanta, Thailand, 2014.

Olives. Lots and lots of olives.

Istanbul, 2013.

Fiery curries, not a bite of pork in sight.

Koh Lanta, Thailand, 2015.

Cevapciki with pita, sausages, and the only time you’ll ever willingly eat raw onions.

Sarajevo, 2012.

Pink sunsets over the Mediterranean.

Fethiye, Turkey, 2011.

Pink sunsets over Lombok.

Lombok, Indonesia, 2011.

Pink sunsets over the Bosphorus.

Istanbul, 2013.

Pink sunsets over the Andaman.

Koh Lanta, Thailand, 2015.

Spellbinding traditional architecture.

Istanbul, 2013.

UNESCO World Heritage-listed architecture.

Berat, Albania, 2015.

Avant-garde architecture.

Prishtina, Kosovo, 2013.

Gold-domed mosques that bring together colorful streets.

Singapore, 2011.

And the tallest building in the world.

Dubai, 2013.

Not to mention the largest flag in the world.

Amman, 2011.

Tea served in tulip-shaped glasses.

Istanbul, 2011.

Tea cooked over an open fire.

Petra, Jordan, 2011.

High tea overlooking a luxurious city.

Dubai, 2013.

Young men who live on the edge.

Istanbul, 2013.

Young men who died far too young.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2013.

Feeling at home. And welcomed.

Ajloun, Jordan, 2011.

Did I ever feel in danger?

Not once.

Beauty, joy, friendship, and the best hospitality in the world — this is just a fraction of what the Islamic world has to offer. And this doesn’t even count western countries with sizable Muslim populations, like London and Paris, nor places where I interact with Muslims daily, like my home city of New York.

Looking back, I thought that Islamophobia would slowly decrease in the years following 9/11. Now, it seems to be worse than ever. Considering how Islamophobia is ricocheting across America and the globe right now, I think it’s vital to change perceptions by sharing the truth about these beautiful, welcoming destinations.

I’m adding another priority of 2017: to visit at least one new Islamic region or country, and hopefully more. That could be Uzbekistan or Tunisia, Oman or Azerbaijan, Western China or Northern India or Turkish Cyprus.

In the seven years that I’ve been publishing this site, my goal has been to show women that they shouldn’t let fear stop them from traveling the world. Now I want to change perceptions about this oft-misunderstood region.

Have you traveled in the Islamic world? What did you enjoy the most?

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For the Love of God, Don’t Sew a Canadian Flag on Your Backpack

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There are so many travel urban legends out there. The belief that dressing up and being polite at check-in will get you a free upgrade to business class. The Paris restaurant where the food is so good, you’ll cry, and prices haven’t changed since the 1980s. The mysterious Thai island that no “tourists” know about.

But the biggest myth of all? The crowds of American travelers with Canadian flag patches sewn to their backpacks.

Image: Venture Vancouver

Do these travelers actually exist?

When I brought up the subject of traveling as an American during a Trump presidency, I was shocked at how many of my readers talked about Americans masquerading as Canadians with a Canadian flag patch sewn on their backpacks.

“I’m doing that before I travel next!” several of them claimed.

I have never seen an American with a Canadian flag patch. Ever.

Hell, it’s rare to see any kind of patch sewn on a backpack nowadays.

That said, I’ve heard story after story of these travelers existing. You’ve probably heard them, too. But here’s the thing — these stories almost always seem to be secondhand. A few of them have actually seen them, sure, but most people have only heard of Americans doing this and can’t recall a specific point when they saw it with their own eyes.

Because of this, I seriously doubt that most of these people who claim to have seen Americans pretending to be Canadian have actually seen them.

It’s like saying, “Oh yeah, I heard tons of people saw Mike Pence on Grindr the night of the inauguration.” If you hear it often enough, you start to believe you saw it with your own eyes.

But what hurt me was hearing how many of my American readers were eager to start pretending to be Canadian on the road. I don’t want anyone to do that, and I don’t think it does us any favors.

Traveling Under Obama vs. Traveling Under Bush

Now, granted, most of my long-term international travels have been during the Obama Administration, and generally speaking, President Obama is highly respected around the world.

But I’ve also traveled extensively during the Bush Administration, albeit mostly in Europe. I was in Italy during his reelection in 2004. And he was far less respected around the world.

(Even when I arrived in France in 2001, pre-9/11, as soon as I met my host family, they immediately wanted to talk about Bush. One of the first things the father said to me was “Il est cowboy!“)

When Bush was president, I would constantly field questions about his policies, especially around the war in Iraq.

By contrast, during the Obama years, criticism of America was far rarer. Most of it tended to focus on healthcare and gun violence. Obama was rarely criticized, and if he was, it was usually about drone strikes.

With a new era under Donald Trump, it’s going to be similar to the Bush years.

That’s the reason that lots of Americans want to be undercover Canadians. They want to escape the constant questions. They don’t want to be shamed. I get it, but that’s not the right course of action.

Why Pretending to be a Canadian a Bad Idea

Canada is a fantastic country. Gorgeous landscapes, very friendly people, delicious food, astonishing diversity. Plus, the Canadian dollar is weak and it’s a bargain to visit right now. I haven’t visited Canada in a long time, but I hope to visit at least two different regions this year. In short, if you’re Canadian, you’re very lucky.

That said, as lovely as it is, you shouldn’t lie and say you’re Canadian. Why?

Most people are happy to meet Americans. Because most people are nice, period. If you treat people with kindness, they will very likely treat you with kindness in return. And some countries, like Kosovo, welcome Americans with joyful enthusiasm!

Most people understand that governments do not always represent people. If people were judged based on the worst decisions of their governments, everybody would hate everyone.

Most people understand that Trump is deeply unpopular in America. He entered the presidency with the lowest ratings in 40 years; national and international news coverage has reflected this unpopularity. The 2016 election was a major international story. People understand that it was a contentious and close election, and that many people are not happy with Trump being president.

Canadians are everywhere. Any actual Canadian will see through your act the moment they ask, “Where are you from?” and realize you have no knowledge of Canadian geography or expressions.

Canada is also more prominent on the international stage today. Canadian politics used to rarely make international headlines, but that all changed with the election of Justin Trudeau. Suddenly Canadian political news started going viral, like the reveal of Trudeau’s remarkably diverse Cabinet. Non-Canadians may want to talk about Trudeau and if you don’t even know what party he’s from, you’re not going to look good.

If you lie to people initially, then tell the truth once you trust them, you are going to look like an idiot. They may be hurt; they may roll their eyes. They may say, “What’s the big deal?” Save yourself the grief.

Use This As an Opportunity

But most importantly, owning your Americanness is vital to creating understanding around the world. If you’re against Donald Trump, let people know why. Show people that not everyone in America thinks that Trump is good for America. (And hell, if you’re a Trump fan, do the same thing! Share your point of view.)

It’s good to plan out what you want to say ahead of time. Here’s what I plan to say:

“I didn’t vote for Trump. I campaigned and volunteered for Hillary, for Obama before her, and I’ve been a liberal my whole life. I think Trump’s policies are bad for the country and his election is an embarrassment.

“I run my own business and was only able to do so because of Obamacare. Some of my biggest worries are that Obamacare will be repealed without a replacement, leaving me and 20 million Americans without healthcare; that new Supreme Court justices will overturn Roe v. Wade and women won’t have access to safe and legal abortions; that more black Americans will be murdered by the police; that my friends’ children with autism will lose the right to be educated in public schools; that the threat of climate change will worsen and be ignored; and that Trump’s pettiness and fixation on revenge will anger the wrong leader and get us into another war.

“But my biggest worry is how often Trump and his team lie, even about things that can be disproved instantly, and how his supporters will believe the lies because everything they disagree with is ‘fake news.’ I don’t know how to fight this.

“I’m not the only person who feels this way — 3.7 million people marched against Trump in the US alone. 1 out of every 100 Americans protested — that is insane. There were protests on seven continents. Yes, including Antarctica!

“Personally, I don’t think Trump will make it through four years. I think he going to get overwhelmed and go back to New York, letting Pence do all the work while he retains the title of President. And nobody in Congress will do a thing about it.”

That’s my story. Feel free to use any part of it you’d like — but put your own spin on it.

How to Talk to People

When Bush was president, the question I would get the most while traveling was, “Why? Why would anyone vote for him in the first place? Why would anyone reelect him?!”

Expect to get similar questions with Trump. Here are some talking points if you need them:

Why did Trump win?

Lots of Americans felt like they weren’t being heard in Washington and that their lives weren’t getting better, and the best way to enact change was to elect an outsider. Many of these people were white working class voters in regions like the Rust Belt (Wisconsin-Michigan-Ohio-Pennsylvania) where automation has killed the manufacturing industry and lots of people are unemployed or underemployed. Trump spoke directly to these voters throughout his campaign.

Trump also ran a campaign with racially charged rhetoric. Many people found it refreshing that a candidate made it okay to be “not politically correct” anymore. The KKK endorsed him and celebrated his election.

There are other reasons. Some Republicans will vote for any Republican, no matter how vile. Republicans also tend to have more single-issue voters than Democrats. These voters will always support the anti-choice or pro-gun candidate, both of which Trump was.

Then there were many people who didn’t like Hillary. Many people painted her and Trump as equally bad options. Many supporters of Bernie Sanders thought that he should have been the Democratic candidate and they chose to vote third party or not at all.

And then there was the murkiness of the election — Russia’s interference, as well as FBI Director James Comey releasing damaging but ultimately meaningless information about Clinton shortly before the election.

Believe me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg as to why Trump won. Political scientists will be engrossed in the 2016 election for generations.

But why didn’t people like Obama?

Lots of people are racist. Far more than would admit to it. This is why Obama had to be the perfect candidate with a perfect family. Ta-Nehisi Coates said it best: “To be president, [Obama] had to be scholarly, intelligent, president of the Harvard Law Review, the product of some of our greatest educational institutions, capable of talking to two different worlds…Donald Trump had to be rich and white.”

Racist people want to destroy every one of Obama’s accomplishments. They even love aspects of Obamacare, like allowing people with pre-existing conditions to get health insurance; they just don’t like that Obama created it. As Van Jones said on election night, “This was a whitelash.”

Some people’s health insurance became more expensive when Obamacare went into effect. Obamacare gave 20 million people health insurance and reduced costs for most people, but it wasn’t perfect for everyone, and people whose costs went up were angry.

While much of the country recovered significantly from the 2008 recession when Obama took office, urban areas tended to bounce back more strongly than rural areas and many people in rural areas thought their lives were the same or worse since 2008.

But why didn’t Hillary win if she got nearly 3 million more votes?

The Electoral College awards votes per state based on population, and rural states get slightly more votes. It was originally created to give slave states more votes without letting the slaves vote themselves; it was also created to prevent a demagogue from taking office just in case the people elected a madman (that worked out terrifically). The Electoral College usually lines up with the popular vote, but sometimes it doesn’t. Bush lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College in 2000.

Hillary won by a huge margin in solidly blue states like California, where a win was predetermined; Trump won by a very slim margin in swing states like Michigan, where a win was vital.

The Electoral College is outdated and needs to go. But with a Republican-controlled government, the chances of that happening anytime soon are slim.

The One Exception

The only time that I would recommend lying about being American is if doing so would keep you safe in an otherwise dangerous situation. There may be a time when it’s best to lie low and hide your nationality until you’re in a safer position.

Just remember:

Not wanting to talk about Donald Trump again is not a dangerous situation.

Thinking that someone might make fun of you is not a dangerous situation.

But if you somehow get swept into an anti-American demonstration on the street, yes, that’s when it’s time to lie and say you’re Canadian. But you’re unlikely to fall into a situation like that unless you go looking for it. And it’s best to get yourself the fuck away rather than spend time chatting.

And One Last Caveat…

If anything, Trump has shown us that he will act recklessly at best, vindictively at worst. He’s repeatedly shown a disdain for facts, an obsession with those who have wronged him, and that he cares more about Putin than the majority of Americans who did not vote for him.

So it’s very likely that something bad could happen under a president like this. War. And worse. Things so bad I don’t even want to type them.

If that happens, all bets are off. Save yourselves.

The photos in this post were taken during the Women’s March in New York City, where I was among 400,000 women and allies warning the new administration not to cut off our rights. Thank you to everyone who marched. Remember to be politically active, hold your representatives accountable, and take concentrated actions every week — we’re going to need all the momentum we can get.

Americans, would you ever pretend to be Canadian? Or do you think it’s a bad idea? What’s going to happen over the next four years? Share away!

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My Plan for 2017: A Commitment to Fitness

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For years, I lived my life with one solid focus: to travel the world as much as possible and build my career as a travel blogger. And it was good. Lord, was it good.

But over time, I learned that being singularly focused means that everything else in your life suffers to a degree. Relationships. Other interests. And most importantly, health. Case in point: almost every travel blogger who has given up full-time travel has cited health as a reason.

When I finally felt the travel desire waning, it was a blessing. For the first time, I felt the freedom to create a fixed life in New York. Now that I’ve been managing that for a year, it’s time to turn my efforts toward improving my health.

The Background

I grew up very thin, put on weight throughout my twenties, then lost 20+ pounds in 2010, just in time for me to start my travels in Southeast Asia. How? I basically starved myself. It wasn’t healthy.

You can see in the pics from back then that I was super thin but had no muscle tone. I was the epitome of skinny fat.

After Southeast Asia, the weight packed back on. And while I would lose a few pounds here and there, I was never able to commit to anything. Yoga? BORED. YouTube workouts? MAYBE FOR A FEW WEEKS. Paid video workouts? DIDN’T LAST. Running? HURT MYSELF AND STOPPED. Walking a ton? NOT ENOUGH CARDIO.

And so I found nothing that worked. As a result, my weight stayed the same. And I am so fucking sick and tired.

I’m tired of contorting myself into the skinniest position possible while posing for photos.

I’m tired of traveling with gorgeous friends with hot bodies and feeling like the resident lump.

I’m tired of hiding on beaches behind sarongs and caftans.

I’m tired of traveling with brilliant photographer friends and ending up photos of a fat girl I don’t recognize.

For five and a half years I’ve been looking at photos of myself and thinking, “That’s not me.”

So I’m finally taking action. In a big way. Here is how I am going to change my life with fitness.

Exercise Goals:

Join Equinox.

Yes, I drank the #committosomething Kool-Aid. There was a promotion in December where there was no initiation fee for joining Equinox (usually $300-500), so that was the incentive that brought me in.

(Note: this January you can still join Equinox with no initiation fee if you work out 12 times in your first 30 days! Tell them Kate McCulley recommended you.)

I held off because I wanted to join a gym like Healthworks Back Bay, where I went in Boston. Healthworks is a luxurious all-female gym and I went all the time because I loved the atmosphere. And there actually isn’t an equivalent in New York. I went back and forth — did I really want to work out with boys who used all the heavy weights and made me feel inadequate?

Turns out a coed gym wasn’t the problem. My core issue was that I didn’t want to feel intimidated. And I lucked out — I go to the Equinox on West 92nd St., which is in a residential zone and thus reflects the locals: there are a lot of older people. Classes tend to be young and nearly all female, but usually at least two thirds of the floor is filled with people in their fifties and older. The kind of people who say, “Why, thank you, young lady!” when I hold a door for them (so sweet). And because of that, I don’t feel intimidated at all!

For what it’s worth, not every Equinox is like that. I’ve heard the downtown locations have a hotter crowd and the SoHo location in particular is popular with models.

And to acknowledge the elephant in the room — yes, it’s an expensive gym. I wish it weren’t. But for someone like me who has tried and failed so many different fitness plans over the years and has only succeeded staying in shape when she has a fancy gym to go to? GIVE ME THE FANCY PLACE WITH THE COOL CLASSES. All day. I need that as motivation. And their app. God, Equinox has an awesome app.

Honestly, if I joined Planet Fitness or even NYSC, I wouldn’t be motivated to go. Equinox is super nice and fancy and I love going there. Spending that money is worth it because it’s keeping me in shape.

Get a personal trainer.

I didn’t see this on the horizon, but surprise — I have a trainer now! Equinox matched me with Gayle, a trainer who met the criteria I asked for (female, not a drill sergeant type, wouldn’t mind my sporadic travel schedule) and I see her twice a week for strength training.

I went into the gym as a fitness newbie — I have no clue how to work out on the machines or what my form should be or how hard to push myself or how to design a circuit. Even when I went to Healthworks in Boston, I avoided the machines because I didn’t know how to use them. This way, Gayle is helping me go from an unshaped ball of clay to a very fit human being with a routine customized to all my personal strengths and weaknesses.

Try 20 classes at Equinox before the end of the year.

I am a class junkie — I love group fitness, especially fast-moving dance-y classes, and it’s one of the best ways to motivate me to go to the gym. Equinox is known for its excellent classes and instructors. I’m already impressed at what the difference can be between an average Zumba instructor and a great Zumba instructor.

I *could* take 20 different classes at my gym on 92nd St., but that would mean taking virtually every class they offer, so I may look into expanding into a global membership, letting me check out other clubs and classes.

Get up the nerve to take a spin class.

The idea of spinning, or indoor cycling, has always terrified me, especially after hearing accounts of intimidating instructors from friends. It seems like everyone yells at you, and I don’t feel strong enough to join in yet!

I will get up the nerve, and I will do it. Maybe in a month or so.

Figure out how to keep up exercise while traveling.

This is the one that stumps me the most. Everything I’ve tried while traveling has not worked long-term. I think my best solution may be trying to find Zumba classes when traveling in the US or major cities.

Lose 25 pounds by Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is the last weekend in May and the unofficial kickoff to the summer, non-American readers. And I think losing 25 pounds a week, which works out to just a little over a pound per week, is a very reasonable goal.

My body assessment calculated that my optimal goal should be to lose 33 pounds of fat and add 11 pounds of muscle. So losing 25 pounds will get me to a good, bikini-worthy weight, but I think I can lose another 5-10 pounds beyond that.

Get sexy, defined clavicles again.

I want my clavicles to be sharper than a serpent’s tooth.

Diet Goals:

Aim to eat paleo 80% of the time.

I’ve always thought the paleo diet made the most sense — lots of vegetables with meat, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds, while avoiding processed foods, sugar, dairy, and grains. It sounded so healthy — I just didn’t want to commit to it.

Then I promised my trainer I would give up sugar and carbs (not all carbs, just bread and pasta and rice). And then I dropped dairy as well and didn’t miss it. I guess this is what I’m doing now.

Doing it 80% is a smart choice because it keeps me from being miserable and it makes socializing easier. I went out for Vietnamese food at Anchoi on the Lower East Side and enjoyed pho and summer rolls with rice noodles and rice paper, and didn’t care. I had a little shaved parmesan on a kale caesar salad at Sweetgreen and loved it, too.

I’m not going to splurge aimlessly — I’m going to save them up for really good reasons. Like a Salty Pimp at Big Gay Ice Cream in the Village or the fettuccine al’amatriciana at Emilio’s Ballato in SoHo.

Commit to cooking paleo at home.

I love to cook. And there are so many great paleo recipes on the internet! I’ve been experimenting and having a great time. I made a grass-fed beef chili so good that I nearly cried. And my new favorite things are date-almond-coconut bars made with nothing but those three ingredients.

In the process, I’ve also started shopping at the Trader Joe’s on 72nd St. more often, rather than relying on the subpar markets in my neighborhood. Not only is Trader Joe’s shockingly cheap (like, cheaper than Amazon cheap), they also have a nice selection of organic options and cool store products. (The only thing? The checkout line stretches for AGES, even on a random Tuesday afternoon.)

Make smarter choices about alcohol.

I’m still doing a sober month once a year (though I didn’t write about it in 2016), which I recommend to everyone. It’s good to give your body a break and remind yourself how to socialize without booze. It made my skin clear up so much, too.

I’m not giving up alcohol entirely, but I’m making smarter choices about what I drink. I don’t drink at home to begin with, and when I go out, I choose wine (usually red or champagne) or spirits, ideally low-cal vodka sodas with (a lot of) lime.

And if I get a cocktail, I try to get a relatively clean cocktail. At Attaboy on the Lower East Side (amazing speakeasy and one of the best cocktail bars I’ve ever been to), the bartender made me a Bee Sting: gin, lemon, honey, ginger. At Red Rooster, the restaurant that literally made me want to move to Harlem, I got an Earl of Harlem: bourbon with Earl Grey tea and lemon.

Off the menu are beer, sugary cocktails, and anything involving soda or high-cal mixers like tonic.

Make smarter choices about caffeine.

I’ve become a latte-a-day girl, and as much as I love them, they’re not the smartest choice. They add a lot of calories and the dairy isn’t great for you. Plus, I don’t mind drinking (good) coffee black!

When I go out to cafes now, whether to work or for a pick-me-up, I restrict myself to either black coffee or herbal tea. No sugar, ever, but I didn’t use sugar anyway.

I’ve also been experimenting with bulletproof coffee: a cup of coffee with a tablespoon of organic unsalted grass-fed butter and a tablespoon of organic coconut oil. I only do it pre-workout, but it makes me feel like I have rocket fuel in my veins.

Make smarter choices about animal products.

This year I’m going to make a bigger commitment to cooking only with organic, free-range, antibiotic-free eggs and poultry, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught fish. These kinds of animal products are so much healthier for you than the conventional options.

Unfortunately, meat this good comes at a price — it’s very expensive. I’ll try to get what I can for cheap at Trader Joe’s, but they don’t have everything. I plan on making lots of visits to Harlem Shambles, one of the best butcher shops in the city.

Mental Health Goals:

Meditate more often.

I pay for the Headspace app but don’t use it nearly enough. It’s funny how I can while away ten minutes on Facebook without noticing but ten minutes of meditation makes me think, “Do I really have time for that?” Hell yes, Kate, you have time for that!

The truth? Meditation always helps me relax, focus, and feel more in control. Sometimes it even cures my headaches! There’s really no reason not to do it. I’d like to do it a few times a week.

Let go of the body baggage.

I grew up in a thin family. I graduated from high school at 5’4″ and 109 pounds and didn’t start putting on weight until later in college, then kept adding more and more in my twenties and thirties.

My family members are wonderful, smart, funny people. But nobody’s perfect, and looking back, I realize that when I was growing up, we were not as kind and accepting of overweight people as we should have been. It never lapsed into mocking or cruelty, but there were constant negative comments when talking about people heavier than we were.

Two examples of that? I remember when I was in a play and one 15-year-old girl had to do a move where she flung her arms outward. I noticed nothing unusual about it, but I remember my mom saying, “If I had a daughter whose arms jiggled like that, I’d have her on a workout plan so fast.” (And because I know a lot of people from home read this blog — she wasn’t talking about someone from Reading. This was at summer camp.)

And I remember once at church when a family of three came in. Both of the parents were obese and each used two canes to walk. Their son, probably around 12 at the time, was overweight. “That kid is doomed,” I remember my dad saying as soon as we were home.

It was during college when I realized that making negative comments about overweight people was neither kind nor common. I spent a few years rewiring my brain and trying to become a better person.

So, what’s it like to grow up thin in a family where thinness is prized but you end up heavy? It’s been rough. I’ve felt like an embarrassment to my family for many years now, especially after being a heavy bridesmaid in two weddings. My weight is frequently a topic whenever I’m home, but it’s more along the lines of, “So what are you doing to work out now?” They’re not mean about it, but it’s tough to know that they would hold a better opinion of me if I lost it.

I need to keep working through that.

Use the SELF Journal for fitness goals.

I supported the SELF Journal on Kickstarter and got one of my own but haven’t even started using it yet! Talk about the height of laziness.

It’s part day planner, part bullet journal. It helps you set your daily and weekly goals and lay out the steps you’ll take to get there.

I particularly like that it has sections for daily gratitudes, both in the morning and the night.

Make peace with the fact that I’m going to lose my boobs.

Because, really, they’re exceptional. And I don’t say that lightly.

Get up early — perhaps a monthly challenge of getting up early.

I got this idea from Lauren of Neverending Footsteps — she wants to spend a month waking up early, like at 4:00 or 5:00 AM.

I love getting up early, but I rarely do it — I feel like I’m wired to do my best work at night, especially when it comes to writing, and it’s not unusual for me to be putting the finishing touches on a blog post at 2:00 or 3:00 AM. Even though I don’t want to.

So perhaps I should make a concentrated effort to get up at 5:00 AM for a month and see how it goes. That would be easy to take on the road, too!

Put phone on airplane mode long before bed until long after you’re up.

C’est Christine recently posted about doing this and I’m a big fan — it’s nice to know there are no distractions when you’re trying to get to bed. And this way, my eyelids start fluttering while I’m still reading and I fall asleep immediately.

It also helps me get up in the morning and get things done before getting sucked into social media.

So, how’s it going so far?

Well, we’re 17 days into the New Year, so I’m well aware that I’m in the “This is awesome!” stage of things and keeping it up will get more challenging.

So far, though, I feel amazing. I don’t know whether it’s the workouts or the diet, but I feel so focused and aware and light and I have an easier time getting work done. My skin is soft, too.

And the big one: I’ve lost five pounds in two weeks and my jeans are loose in the butt region. Five pounds is a lot of weight to lose that fast, but it’s common to lose fast at first, and I’m certain the weight loss will soon taper down to a more-reasonable one pound per week.

I plan on doing little fitness updates in my monthly recaps and a bigger post around Memorial Day or once I hit a major milestone.

But what I really, truly hope is that this is the beginning of a major lifestyle change for me. I’ve waited long enough.

What fitness goals do you have for 2017? What has worked for you? Share away!

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