Looking Back on “The Before Times”

Wanderland Workshops are here! Don’t miss our very first, a Travel in 2021 Workshop on Thursday, February 11th 2021, from 5-7PM EST!

Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2020, including this criss-cross of my home country from January through February 2020. 

It’s almost unimaginable in our current state of the world: In just three weeks in early 2020, I left the Dominican Republic, went to New York City, to Albany, to Chicago, to Decatur, to San Francisco, to Philadelphia, and finally back to Albany to repack my bags for my flight to Israel.

Two international flights, four domestic flights, a conference of thousands, a multi-generational family reunion, endless hugs and dances and long, lingering indoor meals.

It was, truly, my final domestic memories of The Before Times.

Actually though, it’s where I look back and saw the very first whispers of how the world was about to change in a way that would push the limits of my wildest dreams — or, more accurately, my nightmares. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Vessel NYC

Back when my flight from POP to EWR was approaching, my biggest concern was if I wanted to get on it at all — I was loving life in the tropics, and the idea of returning to my snowy home state was less than appealing. I hemmed and hawed over (A) extending my time in Cabarete or (B) flying to the Cayman Islands to meet friends there, but in the end I decided to be a good girl and get on my flight to New York.

After all, The New York Times Travel Show was waiting.

The New York Times Travel Show

I rarely feel like I’ve taken full advantage of the professional opportunities at the NYTTS, as it’s known, but I do sure love all the networking, catching up with friends on all sides of the hustle, daydreaming about the big wide world as presented to the Javits Center, and seeing what the pulse on the industry is for the year.

2020 was no different — I made great connections, I met with old friends and new retreat collaborators, I gasped at gossip shared in the hallways, and I wandered by booths of destinations that set my imagination on fire. I heard, to my recollection, not even one single word of concern over a virus that would trample the industry, close businesses and crush futures in a matter of mere months. 

Yes, they were simpler times — times when the guy from Israel who I’d kept crossing paths with had business meetings across the US, and stopped in New York for a few days to intercept some of mine. Because borders were open, flights were abundant, and business was booming. Why not?

The Vessel NYC

The Vessel NYC

On breaks from the conference we’d meet to scour Midtown for decent eats and play tourist, even, to my delight, climbing The Vessel (which has since closed indefinitely after three heartbreaking suicides — it really has been a brutal year.)

I’d wanted to loathe the new structure so many New Yorkers loved to hate but to be honest — it kind of won me over. Maybe it was the company.

The Vessel NYC

And of course, once I was in New York, the city won me over like it always does. Drinks with my Brooklyn girls at dingy bars in Bushwick, yoga classes at my asana alma matter Y7, drinking overpriced tea at hip coffee shops turned offices, finding fabulous new restaurants for boozy dinners with besties. 

For Gil’s last day in the city, I was determined to get us rush tickets to Jagged Little Pill. A forever Alanis Morissette fan, I was almost obsessed with seeing it, and high on my rush ticket success from Mean Girls the previous April. I had vowed to see more shows, and this was going to be it, dang it.

Well, we failed. We both blew two attempts at the online lottery, and then I, in a move that my mom was so famous for we lovingly referenced it in her obituary, confused the times for showing up in person rush tickets and missing them entirely.

The Book of Mormon Broadway

I was so annoyed with myself that I went online and impulsively paid full price for two Book of Mormon tickets. That’ll show ’em! Ha. Having really loved the small town production of Avenue Q I took in in Albany the previous year, I was excited to finally check off this thematically similar show, and while I’m so very glad I got one last hit of the magic of live theater before they all went dark, it wasn’t my favorite thing I’ve ever seen.

Maybe I just really, really wanted to hear Ironic. 

In other, far more successful search news, I was lucky enough to be present for a wedding dress try on sesh for my girl Liz, one of my many closest girls who had to reschedule or reimagine their weddings so shortly after. Liz, for her part, has taken it like an absolute champ, telling me, “I already got to do the best parts,” referring to sweet moments like this one where we all cried when we came out in white. Liz, I love ya!

Wedding Dress Shopping

On my last night in New York, I headed uptown and had dinner with my childhood best friend and her fiance Mark, all of us arriving totally distracted by the news that Kobe Bryant had passed away in a tragic helicopter accident that day. By the time I pulled up to Madison Square Garden to catch my train to Albany, there was a tribute on the screens and folks were stopping to leave flowers. It felt like the biggest story of 2020. 

In Albany, I was thrilled to arrive to the big pile of packages that are always awaiting me there — save the dates for exciting events ahead, packages from Green Blanky of illustrations for my upcoming Wander Women Retreat gift bags, thank you notes and gifts and Christmas cards from guests of past ones (how do I get the absolute best guests in the whole dang world?)

I wasn’t in Albany for long, basically just enough time to unpack, repack, and do my rounds to see my favorite people there.

At the beginning of the year wow, was I in full blown retreat dream mode. I was so high off of Wander Women Cabarete, Jess and I couldn’t help but fantasize about our next retreat. We wanted to do something close to her home studio Good Karma, in Albany, and I had fallen in love with a property in charming nearby Grafton. On a cold, icy day, we finally made our way over to do a site inspection.

With our aerial retreats, there’s a whole new set of considerations to take into account — mainly, where and how we can rig! The house we looked at was a historic church converted into a loft-like space with major sleepover vibes. The exposed beams were perfect for hanging aerial hammocks, and there was plenty of room in the backyard to set up an outdoor lyra rig, and a tree next door fantastic for silks. 

We were in the process of building out the sales page for this trip in March when the world stopped turning, and while we are now planning out as far in the future as 2022, I think it’s going to be a long while before people feel comfortable sleeping in such close, open quarters with strangers again. Still, I love Grafton, I love working with Jess, and I love our vision for this retreat — I tell myself it’s going to happen, it’s just on the backburner for someday. 

Within days, my bags were packed, and I was on my way again — this time to The Land of Lincoln. It was my grandma’s ninetieth birthday, and all five cousins from all corners of the country had gathered to celebrate her. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

I know Albany Airport like the back of my hand. But that day, as I sailed through Pre-Check for my flight out west, something unusual caught my eye. I’ve gone back many times and tried to think about the first time I really heard about the virus we didn’t yet have a name for that would alter almost every aspect of my life. It’s hard to remember the first news snippet I must have picked up on, but I do have a very distinct memory from that morning in my hometown airport seeing an elderly man, the first Caucasian face mask wearer I’d seen in my life (having lived in Asia and gone to an international school with many Asian students it certainly wasn’t new to me — but in Albany it was.) A first hint of a massively changing world. 

Grandma's 90th Birthday Party

The World Health Organization had declared a global health emergency while I was in the air, and in Chicago, my cousin Kirsten and her husband Steve and I many discussions about the ever-more fervent news coming from China. Steve seemed concerned; I, as usual, was still in my anti-hypochondriac “everything will be fine!” phase.

But soon we were in Decatur and our only concern was family time. I was still high on my physically active and strong healthy mindset start to the year, and both went for a run — literally perhaps my one and only of 2020, ha! — and found an incredible yoga studio offering buti yoga, of all practices, right in Decatur. 

It was such a sweet and wholesome weekend that I really treasure the memories of now more than ever. Big family meals around the table, Chinese checkers tournaments, going through old photos, all of us laughing at old family memories and stories. One of my favorite moments from the weekend was when I asked my grandma a highlight from each decade of her ninety years at dinner. I learned things about her from the discussions that ensued that I had never known before!

Losing my mom so early taught me to ask all the questions, say all the I love you’s, give all the hugs, have all the conversations — and do it now. She was missed.

Chinese Checkers Tournament

By day, we kept it low key at gram’s. By night, the cousins had a big night out, which in Decatur means VFW Hall karaoke and scratch off lotto cards. (We did not, to my enormous disappointment, win.)

Decatur VFW Hall Karaoke

The highlight of the weekend, of course, was the incredible ReJoyce and Be Glad Birthday Lunch (my gram’s name is Joyce, which couldn’t be more fitting) that my cousins and aunts and uncles put together. Homemade cupcakes, lots of sparkly decorations, oversized balloons, and getting to meet and re-meet all my gram’s sweet friends who love her so much — it was perfect. 

Grandma's 90th Birthday Party

With Eric in Miami, Olivia in Philadelphia, Kirsten in Chicago, me all over, and now Cody in Japan, it had been ages since we had all been together like that — and I can only imagine when we will do it again. What a precious moment in time.

I’m so sad for all the milestones like this one that have been missed and will continue to be missed (it broke my heart not to be with my dad for his 75th birthday this January), but I know when they resume we will appreciate them more than ever.

Family Reunion in Decatur IL

I arrived in Illinois on a one-way ticket, unsure of my next move. When Gil invited me to come work from San Francisco, where he was taking meetings for an indeterminate amount of time, I thought, why not? And I booked another one-way flight, this time to California.

Just a few days had passed, but the air felt different in the airport. A slight tension buzzed through the air.

But I made it without incident. And so there I was! In my least fave city.

Ha ha I’m sorry San Franciscans, don’t come for me — I actually started to soften to SF on this trip in particular. It’s just that as a girl who loves either huge mega cities like Bangkok or New York or laid back sunny beach destinations like San Diego or St. Pete, San Francisco is just kind of an expensive, cold, hard-to-crack in between, ya know?

Painted Ladies San Francisco

It didn’t help that Gil, who was in San Francisco often for work and dreading the idea that he might have to move there, regularly cited it as his least favorite city on earth. With the possibility of his possible relocation becoming ever more real, I vowed that we were going to turn his frown upside down by having a good time there, no matter what.

To be honest, we weren’t off to the best start by staying in Union Square — it felt like arriving in New York City and staying in Times Square. With Gil off on meetings all day, I struggled to find places within a walkable distance to work and mostly just ended up on my laptop in our hotel room. That said, we did have once incredible Thai dinner at the Michelin-starred Kin Khao, right around the corner.

As usual, I tried to explore the city through workouts, and almost passed out when my friend Michelle, who moved to San Francisco after high school, brought me to Rumble with her. It was such a great reminder that wow — I ain’t shit, ha.

I love trying something totally new every once in a while to shake it up and confuse my body and say hey girl, you might rock at yoga and weight training, but don’t forget to humble yo’self with a run or a boxing routine every once in a while!

After a few days, I was determined to get us out and about to greener, chicer pastures. My bowling obsession was really hitting a peak pre-pandemic, and so I was over the moon when I discovered Mission Bowling Club. With limited lanes, scoring a res wasn’t easy, but when we finally did we had a blast!

We stuck around after for dinner and were impressed with the elevated American eats, too.

Mission Bowling San Francisco

Mission Bowling San Francisco

The next night, on a high from getting out amongst the San Francisco hipsters (reader, I shudder to admit I almost wrote “San Fran hipsters,” which to my understanding, is the opposite of hipness indeed) we decided to head to another hidden gem, Urban Putt San Francisco.

Also located in The Mission, Urban Putt is an indoor mini golf extravaganza in which each of the fourteen holes is based on a different characteristic of San Francisco. So whimsical, so creative! I’d truly never seen anything like it.

Urban Putt San Francisco

At one hole, a vibrating floor and shaking painted lady houses re-enacted a San Francisco earthquake. At another, an undersea extravaganza brought us deep into the bay. And of course, we did the whole thing with drinks in hand from the bar. It was probably my favorite, quirkiest thing I’ve ever done in San Francisco (definitely, definitely not in San Fran.)

By the way, Coloradans — there’s one in Denver, too!

Urban Putt San Francisco

As sophisticated as bowling and indoor mini golf may be, I decided to really ratchet up the class with NightLife, a weekly adults-only even ing at The California Academy of Sciences. With bars throughout the exhibits, themes geeking out on various locally focused topics, and a DJ spinning on the main floor, it felt like the hottest party in town — and an amazing way to explore a museum. 

NightLife Date Night at California Academy of Sciences

NightLife Date Night at California Academy of SciencesNightLife Date Night at California Academy of Sciences

NightLife Date Night at California Academy of Sciences

Perhaps my kid-freeness is showing, but I really wish more museums did adults-only after hours events like these.

NightLife Date Night at California Academy of Sciences

NightLife Date Night at California Academy of Sciences

On our last night, we continued our tradition of meeting up with friends of mine at modern Indian food restaurants, this time choosing the delicious August 1 Five to catch up with Anthony, another high school bestie of mine and his partner.

If my pre-pandemic hobbies were any hint, my first big post-COVID adventure is likely to be a bowling tournament in India!

One morning I was working in our hotel room when Gil called me — they’d sealed the deal and they were flying to Vegas the next morning to celebrate. Tempted as I was to join them, there was somewhere I knew I wanted to be before leaving the US — with my sister. I booked a flight to Philadelphia for the next day.

That afternoon, I walked to the local CVS to pick up a few essentials. “SOLD OUT OF FACE MASKS,” a hand written sign warned me at the door. Huh, I thought.

My sister Olivia and her (then boyfriend, now FIANCE!) John are the consummate hosts, and immediately planned a whirlwind weekend of wining and dining, attending the Philadelphia Orchestra which my sister sits on the Young Friends board of, doing a sister candle making class, and binge watching an entire series The Stranger on Netflix.

We hit the ground immediately after landing with wine and apps at Alimentari, where I tried my first ever glass of orange wine.

Next up, we were off to our reservation at Olivia’s favorite the JG Skyhigh Lounge at the Four Seasons Philadelphia for cocktails and desserts. Honestly, entrees are kind of the most overrated part of any meal, in my humble opinion. Who even needs them?

Olivia and John pointed out various local celebs but honestly, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the view. What a beauty!

JG Skyhigh Lounge Philadelphia

The next night, Olivia had organized a huge group to attend the Philadelphia Orchestra. I loved meeting so many of their Philadelphia friends, and even more, the meaning behind the night. 

My mom was extremely active in promoting inclusive, youth-oriented programming at the Albany Symphony Orchestra when we were growing up, and we hosted many of the musicians in our home over the years, so seeing my sister follow in our mom’s footsteps filled me with pride and got me quite emotional.

Philadelphia Orchestra

The next day’s adventure was a spontaneous one I requested during our walk around town the day before. Olivia and I never met a crafternoon we didn’t like, and so Paddywax Candle Bar was right up our alley for a sister date (and John was not at all the tiniest bit crushed that this was a girl’s only event.)

Paddywax Candle Bar Philadelphia

What a cute idea — a candle expert walks you through choosing a vessel, choosing a fragrance, setting wicks, and pouring wax — and you can pour yourself a glass of wine while you do it, too. Yup, it’s BYO! (They have six locations across the US, so have a look to see if there’s one near you.)

Obviously, being the least decisive person on human earth, I found this a borderline anxiety-inducing experience. Luckily I had a bright yellow, lemon-scented summery candle to soothe me when it was all over.

Paddywax Candle Bar Philadelphia

Really though, it was on my final morning in Philadelphia that things got unexpectedly really real. After a morning class at Focus Barre and Yoga and brunch at one of John’s fave dive bars (a true Philadelphia specialty), Olivia told me she wanted to drop by a quick open house. “I’m just browsing,” Liv said.

We loved it. She put in an offer that week. Milestones mean a lot to sentimental me and so I cherish that I got to be there the first time my sister stepped foot in her first home! Will I ever put my own name on a mortgage? I love the idea of putting down roots… just gotta find somewhere that doesn’t make me feel antsy, first! The search continues.

But it actually meant a lot to me, all those months away from home while the world was on lockdown, being able to picture exactly where my sister was, safe and sound.

It was at Olivia and John’s apartment that I sat down and finally booked my flight to Israel and then onward to Thailand. By this point, Trump had restricted travel with China, and the fact that many routes to Thailand took me through Hong Kong was problematic. I got out a huge notebook and a mapped out several options, weighing the cost and risk of each route being cancelled. It seemed, mostly, like a pricey hassle.

Yet later, while I packed on the phone with a friend, we started to half jokingly, half nervously discuss the news that was ever more prevalent. I coughed mid-convo. “Is this like the scene in the movie where we’re all joking about this new virus, and next week we’re all dead?,” I asked her with a laugh, trying to remember the name of Contagion. It was intended as nothing more than dark humor, but she replied with a gasp, “don’t say that!”

Philadelphia Airport

After two days back in Albany to check my mail and repack, I was ready to say goodbye to the US again for many months. Israel, Thailand, Sudan, and Jordan — I could’t believe all the beautiful lands I was about to step foot in. This was going to be my year.

I was up late the night before my departure, as usual, and while I checked in for my flight to Tel Aviv a news alert popped up on my phone — the virus that was slowly dominating the nightly news and daily conversations had a name. COVID-19.

Huh, I thought. I selected a window seat.

How the world was about to change <3 Next stop, Israel…

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