How do you mark the last month of the year — hell, the last month of the decade? Well, with a lot of round-up posts, as is traditional for me in December.
December is a weird time for a travel blog. It’s not a popular month for planning travel, so traffic is down. But if you have any kinds of display ads on your site, rates are at the highest of the year — so you work your butt off to capture traffic!
I spent most of the month working on my best-of-the-year posts — but I also took a 10-day trip to Europe and landed in Cuba just before the end of the year.
Let’s get down to it.
- Reading and Lynn, Massachusetts
- Prague, ?eský Krumlov, and Holašovice, Czech Republic
- Dresden, Germany
- Havana, Cuba
Spending more time in Prague. The Prague I’ve been getting to know is the Prague that most tourists have no idea exists. It’s comfortable and welcoming and a massively pleasant place to be once you get away from “chimney cake land” in the city center.
An overnight getaway to ?eský Krumlov. ?eský Krumlov is a beautiful town in the Czech Republic, beautifully constructed and looking like a fairy tale. It was gorgeous. Even better was staying overnight, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere after the day-trippers had left.
Visiting Dresden’s Christmas markets. Dresden is less than a two-hour drive from Prague, so we did a day trip. The markets were nice, especially the Medieval Market, but I still think Nuremberg is a better experience overall. Also, there was a mysterious lack of lebkuchen…
We also visited the Volkswagen factory that day and it was really cool seeing the vehicles being put together! They even had robots work on each vehicle.
Christmas at home in Massachusetts. Getting to spend time with my family, eating a lot of good food, and particularly enjoying a $25 gift limit, which removed a ton of the stress.
Making it to Cuba, country #83! Some places give me a rush when I arrive — an “I can’t believe I’m here!” type of feeling. Lebanon and the Faroe Islands were like that, and so was Cuba.
I had a lot of fun with my friends in Cuba, drinking Havana Special cocktails, and we did a wonderful cooking experience where we made the most heavenly lobster enchiladas. Getting to know Cuban people was one of the biggest highlights for sure.
I didn’t like Havana much. I had decent but not sky-high expectations, but I didn’t expect to hold so much animosity toward the city. I’ll go into this in more detail on a future post, but I found Old Havana in particular to be loud, stressful, full of exhaust from the classic cars, men constantly hit on you (if you’re female) and ask if you want a taxi (if you’re anyone), you can’t take your eyes off the sidewalks and streets because they’re so broken, it’s really challenging to find decent food, and once you find a place with half-decent breakfast, it’s randomly closed the rest of your trip.
Please don’t take this as my full description of Havana, because the city deserves a detailed, nuanced write-up that acknowledges the beauty of Cuba and the shit Cubans have to deal with. I just found Havana to be extremely stressful and I kept needing to escape to my apartment. I loved Viñales, out in the countryside, but that’s for next month’s recap.
Some final financial hand-wringing of 2019. I’ve gone into the issues of not being paid on time in other posts, so I won’t rehash it here, but let’s just say that there were some final gems on top of a STELLAR year.
SNOW. It doesn’t snow very often in Massachusetts in December — we usually get one early dusting in November, then the big stuff hits in January — but we had three major snowstorms in a week during my time home!
Most Popular Post of the Month
My Favorite New Destinations of 2019 — Newfoundland took the top spot, and there were plenty of runners-up!
My Best Travel Moments of 2019 — The best experiences and moments on my travels.
My Favorite Reads of 2019 — My favorite 16 books of the 80 I read in 2019.
My Worst Travel Moments of 2019 — All the bad, awkward, and hilarious in retrospective moments.
A Renewed Focus on Email
One of my big goals for 2020 is to double my email list — a.k.a. my newsletter. Why? Because if you’re only following me through Facebook or Instagram or somewhere else, you’re going to miss posts. Social networks cut off reach for brands because they want us to pay to reach our own subscribers — but with an email list, you reach EVERYONE.
I take time to write out really nice, personal emails 2-4 times per month. NEVER spam, I NEVER sell your info, you can unsubscribe anytime, and it’s just a simple text-based email telling you what I’ve been up to lately, what’s coming up next, and my new and updated posts since the last email. I just designed a new landing page where you can sign up for my list — check it out!
If you’re a blogger, you absolutely need an email list. It’s more important to have than Facebook and Instagram combined. I use ConvertKit for my email list and I highly recommend them — they’re the best in the game.
ConvertKit is also having a landing page challenge this month where they’re giving away tons of prizes, including $10,000 to the grand prize winner. If you get at least five subscribers from your page, you are entered to win, but the biggest prizes are if you get 100 or more. You can sign up with ConvertKit, build a page in 10 minutes, and qualify to win by January 31!
But if you’re a reader and you enjoy what I write here, I bet you’ll love my emails. You can sign up here.
Most Popular Photo on Instagram
I hadn’t taken many pictures in Prague this fall — in part because the weather was often dreary. But one day it was absolutely BEAUTIFUL and I went out to the Old Town to get some photos. This was taken from the tower on the Charles Bridge, where photos will look excellent even when it’s crazy crowded.
For more live updates from my travels, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.
What I Watched This Month
This month I got into the latest season of The Crown. What a fantastic show. And the miracle is that it’s given me so much empathy for Prince Charles! I just want to hug him.
The new cast is great, too. It took a moment to get used to the new people, but Olivia Colman is excellent and while Helena Bonham-Carter doesn’t really look the part, she brings so much vivaciousness to Princess Margaret.
My favorite episodes were Aberfan (what a gut-wrenching tragedy! I had never heard of it before), Margaretology, and Imbroglio. Really excited for The Crown Season Four, which I’m sure we won’t get until early 2021, because Diana will be introduced!
Movie-wise, I absolutely LOVED Marriage Story. It might edge out Booksmart for my favorite movie of the year! I love movies that are all about the dialogue — just characters that reveal hidden depths of themselves with all the talking. I’ll be especially rooting for Adam Driver at the Oscars this year.
What I Read This Month
I finished the year having read 80 books! Woohoo, new record! Currently I have a lot of books in my library queue and am looking forward to getting back into them again. Even so, I’m not going to push myself too hard on reading this year. I have a lot of other time-consuming goals on my mind.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (2019) — In this incredible memoir, my favorite nonfiction book of the year Machado mixes queer domestic abuse with various literary genres. Machado began a relationship with “the woman from the Dream House” in her twenties, while studying at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Over time, her girlfriend became verbally and physically abusive, from manipulating her, picking fights, screaming at her, physically harming her, throwing things at her, gaslighting her the next day. This memoir chronicles the relationship with chapters in different literary styles: Dream House as Stoner Comedy. Dream House as Noir. Dream House as American Gothic.
This book is stunningly original and completely gripping. I plan on reading more of Machado’s work in the next year, including Her Body and Other Parties, which was nominated for the National Book Award in 2017.
Don’t Come Home by Bea Bledsoe (2019) — Leigh Montgomery is the first person in her family to escape her isolated Wyoming town — and she earns a scholarship to Harvard. While there, she suddenly loses part of her financial aid and decides to seduce and rob rich boys. Suddenly she receives a postcard from her mother reading, “Don’t Come Home,” with a bloody thumbprint — and Bea knows that no matter what her mother says, she needs to go home. On the way to the airport, she is confronted by one of the boys she stole from and he decides he’s going to join her on the trip to Wyoming.
I love books with a strong setting that almost acts as another character, and the wild, isolated, mountainous landscape of Wyoming definitely becomes a character in this book. You can feel the setting surround you, poking you. You can feel every inch of the forest; you can hear the screaming wind in your mind. The thriller, which is available on Kindle only (and pretty cheap or free as a result!) goes in a lot of directions you don’t expect and was a nice read.
How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones (2019) — Jones grew up in a small town in north Texas, the only child of a single mother. He knew he was gay from a young age and did his best to keep it under wraps, but once going to college, he was able to flourish in a new way and slowly grow to being the person he was meant to be.
This is one of the most intimate memoirs I’ve ever read. I felt like I was living his relationships with his family — especially when his mother told him that they didn’t have enough money for him to go to NYU, his dream school, and when his grandmother joined a more fundamentalist church and began to reject him and his mother due to their being Buddhists. Some of the moments in the memoir are so uncomfortable that I found myself struggling with pain. It takes a major gift to bring a reader in so closely.
A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston by Robyn Crawford (2019) — Ever since Whitney Houston became famous in the 1980s, there where constant rumors that her best friend, Robyn, was actually her lover. Now, seven years after Whitney’s death, Robyn is telling her story for the first time. Yes, they were lovers, when they were teenagers and into their twenties, until they stopped for the sake of Whitney’s career. They remained fiercely close friends and business partners until Whitney’s drug abuse tore them apart.
More than anything, this book made me so sad. Had Whitney been allowed to be her true self and love the woman she loved publicly, she would probably still be with us today. Instead, she got involved with Bobby Brown (and you will HATE him after this book) and was surrounded by leeches trying to get whatever they could out of her.
Robyn hung in there until she had to get out for her own sanity, and even when she and Whitney were no longer speaking, Robyn and her wife decided that they would always take Whitney and her daughter into their home if they needed it. Their relationship was that deep. They were closer than sisters.
Coming Up in January 2020
This is a big month — January 2020 marks the 10-year anniversary of this blog. I’m not sure what I should do for it. Yet another heartfelt retrospective? Or should I save that for my 10-year I-quit-my-jobaversary on September 14?
I kicked off the year in Havana and visited the gorgeous region of Viñales in western Cuba before flying to Mérida, Mexico, where I’ll be living for the next two months. The house is so good that I keep singing, “My God, this house is freakin’ sweet!” in the voice of Peter Griffin.
I’ll primarily be based in Mérida, but I know there will be plenty of day trips and overnight trips throughout the region!
Also, I’ll be coming back to New York for three days — just barely long enough to attend IMM, an all-day travel industry speed networking event that is one of my biggest priorities of the year. Hope I can handle the cold after all the Mexico.
What are you excited for in January? Share away!