Travel isn’t only about the good times. Don’t be fooled by the perfect photos and smiling selfies — behind all the awesome times on social media are the times when you’re racing for a flight and terrified you’re about to miss it. The times when you’re sick as a dog and can barely drag yourself out of bed. The times when you’re lonely, missing good times at home. And the times when you’re frustrated at trying to order food that you end up at McDonald’s.
I like to write about those times every year because it’s a good reminder that travel is not a panacea to all of the issues in your life. If you have problems at home, the road could potentially make them worse. Some of my bad times?
In 2012, I got my credit cards hacked while in Portugal and Spain.
In 2013, I developed giant hives in Busan, South Korea, and it was nine months before they stopped popping up on a daily basis.
In 2014, I got head lice in New Orleans. Because clearly I am a small child.
In 2015, I got locked in a vestibule with a cockroach in Avola, Sicily, and had to call my Airbnb host to set me and my mom free.
And in 2016, I fell backwards and slammed my head on the bedpost in Passau, Germany, giving me my first concussion ever and necessitating a hospital visit in Munich.
2017 wasn’t one of my worst years, but plenty of shenanigans ensued along the way. Here are some of my bad times that I took with the good.
When a Piece of my Car Fell Off in Key Largo
For my second trip to the Keys this year, I was to fly into Miami and drive down to Key West before flying back. I picked up my rental car with no issues and drove through Miami for the umpteenth time that year.
Until the next day when I got to the drive-through Starbucks in Key Largo. Then I suddenly noticed a scraping noise everywhere I went.
As I pulled into a parking lot, looking for a good photography spot, a lady called out to me and pointed out that a piece of my car was dragging beneath the bumper. At that point I was about a mile from my guesthouse, so I decided to pop the plastic back into place as best I could and drive back.
It held, but soon enough it popped out again. I called the rental company. Their response? “We can get you a new car, but we’ll need to take you up to Miami and do it there.”
“I can’t come up to Miami,” I told them. “That’s three hours round-trip. I’m working. Why can’t you bring me a car?”
Turns out that was literally the only option.
After thinking about it carefully, I decided to tempt fate and borrow the guesthouse’s roll of duct tape. One of the guests insisted on helping me tape it up.
And wouldn’t you know — it held in place for two more hours, all the way to Key West.
I was terrified the whole drive, though. Never again!
The Chaotic Arrival in Russia
I’m glad I did the St. Peter Line Ferry to Russia, but I’m never doing it again. The main reason? It was completely disorganized and I had no idea what was going on. That didn’t compare to the arrival in Russia, though — it was utterly CHAOTIC upon arrival.
There were supposed to be lines at the arrival booth but everyone just swelled into a pile of lumps, pushing each other out of the way. Parents let their late arriving adult children cut ahead of others. I thought a fight would break out at one point.
And of course I ended up getting questioned for 20 minutes about my heavily worn passport filled with stamps. They were shocked that I planned to stay in Russia overnight. I had to point out that the ferry wa staying for two full days! At one point I didn’t think they were going to let me in at all.
And then I got in, and St. Petersburg was absolutely lovely…but I’m never coming by ferry again.
I will also say that my worst sleep of the year was on the St. Peter Line Ferry. Nothing like trying to sleep in what feels like an undersized twin bed as springs dig into your back and “Y.M.C.A.” blares from the nightclub right above your room…
Killing My Computer in Vail
After five years with one computer, I knew it was time to upgrade soon. Even so, I wasn’t ready for the decision to be made for me against my will.
While at my hotel in Vail, I lifted up the lid to the water bottle, forgetting that it had water in it, and it leapt out and splashed across my keyboard.
I freaked out. I turned it off, dried it out, let it evaporate. But 24 hours later, the top row of keys on the keyboard refused to work at all. And I couldn’t even get on my computer because it wouldn’t let me type my password.
The good news is that I was prepared for this and had the money saved up — even if I got it fixed, it was time for a new computer anyway. After consulting my friends in the Travel Blog Success group over which computer to get, I found a 13″ refurbished MacBook Pro and had it shipped to the Upper West Side store right away.
You know what else I bought? A silicone keyboard protector. Now that lives on my keyboard 24/7 just in case another spill is in my future.
Almost Being Late Back to the Cruise in St. Maarten
(Yes, I’m using this photo for the third time in two weeks. I can’t write about St. Maarten without sharing this photo!)
I like to be early. I like to leave extra time. For me, one of the worst feelings in the world is feeling like I’m going to be late for a flight.
So when the bus dropped me in Maho Beach and I asked about return buses, an the locals said, “It comes when it comes,” I thought I would have to leave extra early to get back on time, just in case.
But then I decided to loosen up. See more of those amazing take-offs and landings before being forced to return to the ship.
Which seemed okay…until I got a cab and the roads were filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic.
St. Maarten, at least on the Dutch side, is basically one main road. If that road is stuck, everything is stuck. And when the ride that took 20 minutes on the way there took closer to an hour on the way back, as time clicked closer and closer to the time that THE CRUISE WAS SCHEDULED TO LEAVE, I began to full-out panic.
My passport was on board. What would I do?! How long would they hold the boat for me, just in case?! When the hell would I get my stuff back? Where would they even send it?! My blood pressure was through the roof.
It was just after the time when I got back on board. God, I was relieved to make it back on time. I practically kissed the crew.
I later found out there had been a regatta that day, hence the traffic. And everybody had been caught up in the same gridlock as us, though the tour groups to Maho Beach had left much earlier as a precaution.
Never again, NEVER AGAIN, am I cutting it that close.
When I Got Attacked by Russians Online
Definitely the worst tech headache this summer was when my site got attacked by Russian networks. And I wasn’t the only one — some of my blogging colleagues were hit as well. Just like the DNC!
Basically, they were sending tons of shitty traffic to my site, trying to overload it. This also temporarily halted my display income as the traffic was so low quality.
Basically, it took a LONG ASS TIME for it to be fixed. But I will give credit where it’s due — it was the team at Sucuri who finally figured out how to block the traffic. If you’re a blogger, I highly recommend their services. It just costs $9.99 per month.
Additionally, today my site is hosted with Performance Foundry. While I’ve used different hosting companies for different reasons over the years, I’m now glad to be with PF because They Can Handle The Bad Shit and I get to worry a lot less.
Not Knowing How to Start My Car in Oulu
I haven’t had a car since 2008, when I moved from Somerville to downtown Boston. Since then, the only times I drive are when I’m home visiting my parents or when I rent a car for a trip, so it always surprises me when I see new high-tech features in cars.
Some of them are great (I love the lumbar support button in my dad’s new car!). And some are bewildering. Like trying to turn it on in the first place when there isn’t even a slot for the key. How does that work?!
It was the morning after my all-night party at the World Air Guitar Championships in Oulu, Finland, and I had to pick up my rental car and drive five hours across the country to Kuopio and then Porosalmi.
It was hard enough finding the right place — the rental office wasn’t open that day, so I had to be driven to a different location. The rental car employee dropped me off at the car with the keys and left.
I loaded up the car. I adjusted the seat and mirrors. And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the car. HOW?! There was a button, and it definitely turned things on, but it was quiet and didn’t seem to be working — isn’t this how hybrid cars were now?
After fifteen minutes, I was nearly in tears. Nothing was turning the car on.
Finally, an older woman came out of a nearby apartment building and I begged her to help me. She pointed out the obvious — I was supposed to step on the break while simultaneously pushing the ignition button. The engine roared to life.
“Kiitos. Thank you so much,” I told her. “You’ve saved me.”
“You’re from America?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “New York.”
“My daughter lives in Houston.”
And just for the record, that’s the Finnish equivalent of a deep, intimate conversation. I love that introverted country.
Every Minute I Wasted on the Landmark Forum
Have you heard of the Landmark Forum? Google it and you’ll find people calling it a cult.
I haven’t written about the Landmark Forum in depth, and I’m still wrestling with whether I should write about it in detail. Maybe someday I will.
It’s a personal development seminar. I ended up there because a friend who had done the Forum invited me to do it. It had changed her life and she thought it could change mine, too.
As the days passed (it was a four-day event), soon it became clear that this wasn’t working for me. I wasn’t having the breakthroughs that other people seemed to be having. The “big revelation” was a phrase you’d expect an emo kid to scrawl on his biology book when he was trying to be edgy.
But that wasn’t all.
What brought me over the edge was when the instructor told a story about how they welcomed a child molester to the Forum with open arms. And apparently when a young woman brought in the relative who sexually assaulted her repeatedly as a child, everyone was cheering because he had made this decision to change his life.
I immediately went up to the microphone and let loose. How could you let a child molester into a room full of sexual abuse survivors? Did they call the police? How could this possibly be framed as a good thing? Did they want his money so much that it didn’t matter that he was a child molester, sitting amongst them?
For the first time in three days, the instructor was caught off guard.
After I spoke, the Landmark Forum offered me a full refund of $695.
I think that says it all.
For the record, I don’t think the Landmark Forum is a cult. However, I do think that they use many techniques that cults use. They instill a belief that everyone who hasn’t gone through the Forum will never be as good or evolved as people who have gone through the Forum. Every minute is controlled with almost no downtime; you have assignments to do on your breaks and you work from 9 AM to 10 PM or later. All doubts that attendees express are swiftly countered and shut down by the instructor. They encourage you to recruit everyone you know to join the Forum. There are several other courses afterward that they encourage you to keep taking, all of which cost additional money.
And while they make it seem like everyone loves it, the people above in the photo attended my Forum and didn’t get anything out of it, either. The defining mood was, “What the hell did I just spend $695 on?” It felt amazing to confess to each other that we were creeped out by the whole thing.
So yeah. Besides the friend who recruited me, I have several other friends who have done the Forum in various cities and countries and it did work for them. And they’re all great people, smart people, educated people. But the more I think about it, the more I realize those people share a number of personality traits that I personally do not have.
So would I recommend it? No, I would not. But who knows? Maybe it would work for you. I wouldn’t recommend you spend $695 on as big a gamble as that, though. And if you go, for God’s sake, don’t welcome a pedophile with open arms.
The Weird Ass Table Next To Ours in the Hamptons
On a day trip to the Hamptons with my friends Beth and Colleen, we decided to get dinner at Almond in Bridgehampton. The food was fantastic (their lobster pasta was one of the best dishes I’ve had all year) but the experience was ruined by this odd experience with the table next to ours.
They were a bunch of gay guys our age, several drinks into their night. One of them turned to Beth and said something like, “Sorry our friends are drunk,” and Beth said something back like, “Oh, that’s fine with us.”
They MUST have misheard her, because there’s no other explanation for what happened next.
The men suddenly started glaring at us, saying rude things about us to each other. Then one leaned over and said, “You’re in town for the weekend? Oh, that’s CUUUUUTE. I live here.”
What the fuck?!
Here’s the thing: I felt afraid, and I think my friends may have felt the same way. We were frozen, looking at each other with giant faux smiles on our faces, afraid of what they would say if we said anything. And you might think that there was no reason to be afraid, that we were in the middle of a restaurant, that these guys were gay anyway and it couldn’t possibly lead to sexual assault. It wasn’t about sex — it was about power, just as all sexual harassment and assault is. These men thought we didn’t belong in their space and they wanted us to be afraid of them.
Every time we talked or laughed, the guys would swivel their heads in our direction, angry expressions on their faces. One guy even slammed his head on our table and pretended it was an accident.
The men left the restaurant when our entrees came and as soon as they were gone, we exploded. What was their problem? Why would you treat strangers like that? What did they think Beth had said? I still have no idea what happened all these months later.
A Day of Delay Hell in Charlotte
On the way back from Asheville, I had a layover in Charlotte. That two-hour layover turned into ten hours and counting. And it wasn’t an ordinary layover — there were thunderstorms in New York, so they kept delaying it by an hour, another hour, yet another hour, every hour, then canceling the flight, then delaying the rebooked flight. If I had known, I would have gone out into Charlotte to explore! Hell, I would have taken a later flight from Asheville!
Charlotte is not the greatest airport in which to be stranded. Less healthy food, far less bookstores, yet a lot more fast food. If you end up stranded there…yeah, good luck with that.
I was supposed to be home by 4:00 PM but I didn’t get home until 1:30 AM. Worst transit day of the year.
Finding Out I Had to Move
On the last day of November, hours before I was to fly to Vegas, my landlady told me that she was selling the building and I had to move.
This was the last thing I wanted to hear. I adore my apartment and wanted to continue living there for at least another year or two. Plus, not only is moving in New York annoying and expensive, but it’s even tougher for self-employed people. New York tenants have a lot of rights, so to counter that, they make it difficult for people to rent in the first place. For example, you need to prove income of 40 times the monthly rent in a year. And even if you make that much, a lot of landlords are skittish about renting to self-employed people.
I was so nervous, I didn’t eat or sleep for a week. I got stress headaches. I had no appetite. I couldn’t do anything at the gym.
That said, I was able to remedy the situation quickly. I set up apartment viewing appointments within an hour of the news. I applied for the second apartment I saw. And thankfully, after a lot of work and sleepless nights and sending every proof of income that I had, I was accepted into a new apartment extremely close to where I live now.
The new place is great. It’s not a brownstone anymore (now that I know how easily brownstones can be sold out from under you, I’m a bit over brownstone living), but it’s a much bigger, gut-renovated apartment with tons of closet space and a separate kitchen. Moving day is January 15, and I can’t wait to share my new place with you.
A Sexually Harassing Driver in St. Kitts
Picture this: you get off your cruise ship in St. Kitts for the day. You decide to eschew a shore excursion and instead hire a driver for the day. This will give you a chance to explore and take all the photos you need without having to confirm to a schedule.
So you step into the driver’s van. And before he’s even left the parking lot, he’s leaning out the window and yelling sexual things at a woman walking by. She ignored him. I practically had flames bursting out of my ears.
“But it’s the Caribbean.”
It’s not just the Caribbean. It’s fucking everywhere.
THE RAINDROP CAKE WAS A LIE
I know a lot of New York/Instagram/Buzzfeed food trends are overblown, but nothing was as bad as the raindrop cake, which I sampled at Smorgasburg in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. I had been seeing this for weeks: it was a clear orb, yet something that you ate like a cake.
Beth and I decided to try them: one clear, one purple. We each forked over eight dollars, hoping that this would be worth it.
We sampled them. And…they were essentially plain sugary gelatin.
I felt like an idiot. How had I built this dish up so much in my mind? Did I really think it would be as cool as the Instagrams and Buzzfeed articles claimed? HOW FAR HAD MY MIND GONE IN THE NAME OF EATING TRENDY FOOD?
There is so much good food at Smorgasburg. I especially recommend the fries from Bolivian Llama Party. But make sure you avoid the raindrop cake.