And just like that, 2018 is over. December was a nice way to end it, though. I spent most of my time in New York with a few quickie trips to Texas and Massachusetts via Connecticut, and longer time in Mass over Christmas.
Each year, I try to crank out my final posts of the year early so I can relax — and I’m glad I pulled it off this year. And every year I stay off business email between Christmas Eve and New Year’s. (Though I did get one urgent press request on December 24 with a due date of December 28 — who does that?)
Here’s what I got up to in December.
New York, New York
Wilmington, Reading, Lynn, and Newburyport, Massachusetts
Stratford and Ansonia, Connecticut
A trip to Dallas and an unforgettable concert. And making it even better was that my friend Alexa flew down from New Hampshire to join me! My final event with Chase this year was attending the concert of a certain legendary British singer-songwriter — you know, the one with the sunglasses and the crazy suits. The event included a cocktail reception beforehand and a private box at the concert, which was SO swank and such a luxurious way to experience the performance. More on this event soon.
I’m glad we made time to explore a bit of Dallas, too, as neither of us had been before. Thanks to your suggestions, we went to the Deep Ellum neighborhood and had barbecue at Pecan Lodge followed by pie at Emporium Pies. We also went out for some Tex-Mex and got some melted queso. All delicious! Tourism-wise, we checked out The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, the museum dedicated to JFK’s assassination. It is in the actual building where Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK and you can see the window. Highly recommended if you’re visiting Dallas.
Guesting on an awesome podcast. Jeopardy! champion Austin Rogers (a.k.a. the hilarious bartender) invited me to be on his podcast, A Lot to Learn with Austin Rogers. Each week he delves into a new topic, and we talked about solo female travel. I love this interview — it was fun with so much banter. You can listen to it on Apple Podcasts here or on Spotify here.
Spending Christmas at home. It was a nice and cozy Christmas — lots of downtime, movie-watching, wine drinking, cooking, and spending time with immediate family, extended family, and friends.
Taking part in Reddit Secret Santa for the first time. I’ve been a Redditor for a long time but this was my first time taking part in Secret Santa, where you send a gift to a random person. (Bill Gates and Snoop Dogg are some of the celebs that take part!) I had fun putting together a gift for my giftee, and my Santa sent me two books that are exactly my style.
The Points Guy Awards gala. For the first time, The Points Guy threw an awards ceremony and I was impressed by how high-end it was. It was a black-tie gala at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. Bebe Rexha performed. Captain Sullenberger got an award. Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gwobee moved us with her words. Crazy amounts of money were donated to charity. There were DJs, parties, open bar, the whole nine yards.
I brought my friend Anna as my date and tons of our blogger friends were there as well. A good time had by all? Most definitely.
Celebrating a friend’s baby shower in Massachusetts. Yep, Auntie Kate is going to have another baby friend to dote on very soon! I’m super excited for my friend to be a mom.
Amusingly, my three best friends and I took a glamour picture with jazz hands, which we’ve done periodically since high school. At the last baby shower last spring, the four of us were all wearing bright and happy colors. At this one, we were all dressed in black and gray — it looked like a surprisingly festive funeral!
An Antarctica reunion in New York. My friend Kirsty (who moved from Australia to New York a few months ago) and I met up with our friend Leo from Brazil, who stopped in in for the weekend en route to California for a business trip. It was so nice getting to hang out again. I have the feeling I’m going to see my Antarctica friends over and over again!
Meeting my friend’s new kids. A few months ago, my friend and her husband began the process of adopting four siblings from the foster care system. I’ve been following their story closely — ever since reading Nia Vardalos’s memoir Instant Mom years ago, I’ve been interested in stories about adopting from foster care. It’s very different from how the media depicts it.
This month I got to meet two of the kids. And they are AWESOME. But even better was seeing my friend as a mom, and she is beyond a natural at it. My heart is full of joy seeing how they are building their family.
A cozy New Year’s Eve in Harlem. By this point, I feel like New Year’s is Amateur Hour, and it’s much better spending it at home, away from the madness and high prices. I went to my sister’s and her boyfriend’s and we drank champagne, ate dinosaur chicken nuggets, and watched Leslie Jones and Chrissy Teigen on NBC. It was perfect.
Good times in New York. A few things of note: finally going to Barney Greengrass with my buds the 2 Food Trippers, another Antarctica reunion when Kirsty’s mom and sister came to visit, and lots and lots of Christmas parties, including my book club’s first potluck!
I was lucky — I can’t think of anything that went badly this month.
Most Popular Post
My Favorite New Travel Destinations of 2018 — Antarctica was obviously #1, but what else made the cut?
My Worst Travel Moments of 2018 — Oh god, there were some doozies on this list.
My Favorite Reads of 2018 — A long and thoughtful analysis on the best books I read in 2018, and my failure in my 25-book new country challenge.
My Best Travel Moments of 2018 — The moments that took my breath away the most.
This is why they call it Magical Kenya. — Kenya is an amazing country. Here is what I enjoyed the most there.
Most Popular Photo on Instagram
Hello from Rolf’s! This New York restaurant goes all out with the Christmas decorations — and they stay up for months after. It’s insanely crowded, but worth a quick duck-in for a drink (if the line isn’t around the block!). For more updates from my travels, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.
What I Wore This Month
I don’t have any amazing fashion photos this month, but I did try out a few cool outfits!
First off, in Dallas I was going to the concert of a flamboyant performer whose 70s outfits were legendary. He himself wore a sparkling lavender suit during the show. So what do you wear to that? PINK JUMPSUIT! This one was by Black Halo, and I rented it from Rent the Runway.
Black Halo tends to do a lot of straight-across necklines, which I’m not always a fan of, but they do make your boobs look GREAT!
This black dress by Alexia Admor was a miracle. One of those dresses that you put on and it feels like it was made for you! It works for both casual and more upscale events, it’s insanely flattering, and it FEELS very expensive. This one was from Rent the Runway as well.
And a bonus! After I rent something that I really like, I take a look online to see if I can find it for cheaper than what RTR is selling it for. (Tip: type the dress’s name into Google Shopping.) The dresses are often a few seasons out, so you can find them for super-cheap. This dress originally retails for $350 — and I found it for $154! My mom kept insisting I buy it and once I found it at this price, I had to (and she helped me buy it as a Christmas gift).
Honestly, I had a bit of a fashion disaster for The Points Guy Awards — I had already worn my red gown at the Qatar Airways gala a few days before, so I needed something new and fast. I went to the RTR flagship store in Manhattan but I had accidentally made my appointment for a week later — so they didn’t have a lot of stuff for me to choose from. It seemed like almost everything in the store was Size 2 or smaller and Size 12 or larger, with very little in between.
I ended up going with this Cinq a Sept dress. The neckline was straight and much lower than I’d like, but it was slinky and sexy. (I did need Anna to zip me into it, though. The only bad thing about living alone!) If I had the chance, I’d have gone with something more colorful and outlandish.
What I Listened to This Month
This month, Anderson .Paak performed on Saturday Night Live and pretty much everyone in the SNL subreddit had the same reaction: “Wow, this guy is amazing!” Since then “Tints” has become one of my favorite songs of the year and I’ve been diving into more of his material. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of him; his creative hip-hop mashups are exactly my style. Plus he plays the drums while singing — that is HARD!
What I Watched This Month
Bird Box. I watched it the day after it came out on Netflix — and soon the memes were pouring in. It’s not the greatest movie of all time, but it was a fun watch. And my ABSOLUTE favorite thing was that 54-year-old Sandra Bullock was romantically paired with 28-year-old Trevante Rhodes! And it didn’t feel weird or awkward at all — it was sexy and normal. MORE OF THAT, PLEASE, HOLLYWOOD.
Vice was great, too. I love Adam McKay’s style, infusing comedy into otherwise serious topics. I can’t believe Dick Cheney went from looking like Christian Bale to looking like Dick Cheney!
Now that Oscar Season is upon us, I plan on heavily using my AMC A-List Pass. It costs $19.95 per month and you can see up to three movies per week. Considering that a single movie in New York costs $17 or so, it is absolutely worth it.
What I Read This Month
I ended up finishing 61 books in 2018 — and the last two were finished within hours of the ball dropping! Not quite as good as my 72-book record of 2017, but I’m happy with the results. Be sure to check out My Favorite Reads of 2018 if you haven’t yet; it has longer reviews of my favorite books of the year.
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver (2018) — Willa thought she and her family had done everything right — they worked hard, raised two smart kids, and while she didn’t expect to be rich, she thought they would at least have security. Then the magazine she works for folds, the university where her husband was a tenured professor shuts down, her terminally ill father-in-law requires round-the-clock care, her vagabond daughter comes home from years of living in Cuba, and her Harvard-educated son, the one who seemed destined for success, suffers a terrible tragedy. Now they need to cope with financial hardship, loss of career and identity, and a house falling apart around them, while also caring for a father-in-law and newborn grandson.
But that’s not all — the book goes back to the 1870s, focusing on another inhabitant of the same house, a newlywed science teacher named Thatcher Greenwood. He wants to teach Darwinism to his kids, but the scandalized town won’t let him do anything remotely close. He then befriends his next door neighbor, Mary Treat, who turns out to be one of the world’s best female scientists of the 19th century and a correspondent of Darwin himself.
I listed this book in My Favorite Reads of 2018, so I’ve already reviewed it there in greater depth. But there was SO much I loved about this book. Barbara Kingsolver is one of the best at creating huge communities with larger-than-life characters, each with their own personality and voice, and weaving them in and around major issues. The contemporary family is one of my favorite families in literature, ever, and I still wonder about what the characters are up to today. Beyond that, this book has caused me to reevaluate what I’m doing in my life to protect myself financially and to conserve resources. I’m going to be making more changes this year because of this book.
The Comfort Food Diaries: My Quest for the Perfect Dish to Mend a Broken Heart by Emily Nunn (2017) — Emily Nunn’s life blew up all at once. Her brother committed suicide, her longtime fiancé broke up with her as she was in the throes of grief, and since she had been a stay-at-home stepmom to his daughter, she was suddenly without money and without a family. She was also dealing with a resurgence of alcoholism. In this book, she decides to travel her native South, reconnecting with family members and learning about the dishes that give us the most comfort.
I feel like this book had so much potential, but it was hampered by having a narrator with little self-awareness. Everything that happens to Emily seems to be someone else’s fault — and though she has toxic family members and went through an awful end of a relationship, it seems like so much is missing, like she omitted all the parts where she is as fault. I did like how she eventually built a family with some of her old friends, though. There are lots of recipes in the book, including one for SPOON BREAD (which I discovered on my Williamsburg trip last year and ADORE) and I plan to soon make her “beauty soup,” a lentil vegetable soup made of ingredients that make your skin look beautiful.
The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane with Neil Martinez-Belkin (2017) — Gucci Mane has become one of the top hip-hop stars coming out of Atlanta, the world’s epicenter of hip-hop. Unfortunately, his fame has been marred by a number of prison stays as well as a charge for murder (he got off by it being in self-defense). This book starts in his childhood in Alabama and progresses to him being a teenager selling drugs, then finally an artist finding redemption through music. But it seems like his life is always one step forward, two steps back. As soon as he creates his greatest album yet, once again, he’s back in prison, and usually for probation violations. At the end, though, he finally gets it together, and as far as I can tell, he’s been clean and happy since.
I read this book because Roxane Gay loved it, and she and I have the same taste in books, so I figured we’d be on the same page. Despite being a hip-hop fan, I had never listened to much of Gucci. This book was fascinating and takes you into the world of hip-hop in Atlanta, as well as the underworld of selling drugs. I loved the atmosphere — but this memoir, like The Comfort Food Diaries, once again had a narrator without any self-awareness. Gucci feuds and falls out with what seems like every rapper in Atlanta, yet he has no reflection. He doesn’t recognize any faults in himself, and I think that’s what holds it back from being a truly great memoir. That being said, I still really enjoyed it.
And after I finished it, Spotify randomly recommended me Gucci’s song “Have It All” with Pharrell. That was an instant add — I’ve been listening to it all the time!
Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant (2015) — Seeking a slower-paced lifestyle after living in New York, British travel writer Richard Grant buys a ramshackle mansion in the Mississippi Delta: also known as the South of the South. He and his girlfriend discover a world where your garden is attacked by overnight weeds and armadillos, where owning a gun is mandatory, where bankers offer to take on your mortgages because you seem like a nice person, and where race relations are complicated and peculiar and wrapped up in centuries of knots. Through all of it, he and his girlfriend turn the house into a home and settle into their new Delta life, complete with hunting deer.
This book was a gift to me from my Reddit Secret Santa, and she knew what she was doing — this was SO my style. I love nonfiction books about quirky destinations, especially in the South (hello, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) and honestly, the Delta is FAR stranger than anything in Savannah. I found it fascinating, especially reading the point of view of liberals going into a deeply conservative culture with open minds. A lot of the book was about the Delta’s complicated race relations, where the slavery culture has trickled down generations. The whites still have all the money. The whites still hire blacks for all services. White parents love their black nannies like family — but they would kill their white children if they ever dated a black person. Grant can only scrape the surface, but he makes more of an effort than I expected (including making real black friends and being a regular at places no white people go) and his views were interesting.
Coming Up in January 2019
I’m heading back to Mexico! I adore Mexico — I would probably visit a lot more often if I didn’t care about visiting new countries. This time I’m visiting two new destinations in the Yucatan. First off is Isla Holbox, an island off the north coast that many of my Mexico-loving friends call one of their favorite destinations. I’m seeing friends here and checking out a gorgeous tiny boutique hotel.
Next up I’m visiting Mérida, an inland city known for its amazing food culture. Mérida is quickly becoming the new Chiang Mai, with lots of travel bloggers setting up shop for months at a time. I’m there to see friends, live it up, and discover a new Mexican city.
Last year I went all winter without visiting any warm destinations, so I’m glad to be getting a dose of heat and sunshine in January! (And tacos. I can always use a dose of tacos.)
At the end of January I have two big industry events in New York: IMM and the New York Times Travel Show. As always, I’m speaking on media day at the NYTTS — see the lineup here — which, unlike the rest of the show, is open to travel industry professionals only. But I might be bopping around the Javits Center on Saturday or Sunday.