AK Monthly Recap: March 2017

You know what nobody talks about? That first gust of air when you come back from a tropical vacation in the middle of winter. I stepped off the plane and nearly wept. I knew it would be cold, how could it not be cold, but I didn’t expect it would be that bad.

Shivering like mad as I waited for my Lyft to arrive, I mentally prepared myself to leave the Caribbean behind and get ready for several more weeks of winter: all the gray, all the rain, and one final major blizzard in the middle of the month.

This is March. It goes in like a lion and stays relatively lion-esque well into April.

Destinations Visited

St. Kitts (sights around island)

Philipsburg and Maho, St. Maarten

Miami, Florida

New York, New York

Favorite Destination

St. Maarten was a really cool island! I’d love to go back.

Highlights

The second half of my cruise with Jeremy took place in March. Some of the highlights were finally discovering the sushi bar (and some amazing cruise staff from the Philippines and Thailand), smoking cigars in our Captain Awesome and First Mate shirts, having some odd conversations with shipmates (WHO NAMES THEIR KID NIXON?!), and getting a facial so good that I’ve been inspired to completely overhaul my skincare regimen. More on that in a future post.

Getting through a cruise sober — and loving it. Jeremy is off alcohol at the moment and I would have felt bad drinking when he couldn’t, so I gave up booze for the cruise as well. I had a great time, felt awesome, and I’m very grateful not to have experienced a hangover on a swaying ship.

Watching planes land over Maho Beach in St. Maarten. This beach is famous for being just meters from the airport runway, and it’s crazy watching the giant planes land right above you! But even better was getting blasted by the engine as the planes took off!

St. Kitts was my 68th country. We only had a few hours to explore the island, but we got to see some cool things. Brimstone Hill Fortress was my newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, while Timothy Hill was an incredible spot for sunset photography.

Hanging out in Wynwood, Miami. Wynwood is such a cool neighborhood! Amazing street art, cool markets, great music, and painfully attractive, ridiculously cool people in every direction. I’m really getting to love Miami, and Wynwood was a nice change from South Beach last month with Cailin. I insisted we return to CVI.CHE 105 in downtown Miami, and we weren’t disappointed in our velvety ceviche!

Getting to experience One World Observatory. This month’s New York Travel Massive meetup took place on top of the Freedom Tower, which I’ve wanted to visit for quite some time! It wasn’t an ideal event for photography, but I did get a few quickie sunset shots. It’s amazing up there; you should make an effort to go if you visit New York.

Lots of good times with friends in New York. I love having so many friends in this city!

I’m in this month’s issue of Psychology Today talking about the benefits of traveling alone. Pick up a copy! You can get it at Barnes & Noble or Whole Foods.

Challenges

We had an incident with our Airbnb in Miami. It was an adorable little apartment — the owner actually had Beyoncé and Frank Ocean on vinyl! — but something wasn’t right. The building didn’t smell great. I zonked out the moment I got inside (and I never nap) and found it hard to wake up. And the air seemed strange — I kept feeling the need to go over to the window and breathe in fresh air.

Jeremy has been dealing with lyme disease for awhile now. The good news is that he’s doing much better than he was a few months ago. But the lyme still brings up a lot of issues, including environmental sensitivity. He didn’t feel like he could stay there. Considering that I have no environmental sensitivity and felt weird too, we decided something was up. Possibly carbon monoxide or toxic mold.

Well, we got out and found another Airbnb available closer to Wynwood at the last minute. And as soon as we left the house, both of us felt totally normal and we had our energy back. We even went on a long midnight walk!

Jeremy called the building to report a possible gas leak; they didn’t find anything. He also talked to Airbnb. After researching and talking to friends, I think it was either mold (which is common in humid Miami) or possibly outdoor insecticides used inside.

Jeremy and I cut it close when getting back in time on St. Maarten. I’m the kind of person who always budgets a lot of extra time “just in case,” yet I frequently travel with people who say, “Don’t be silly, we’ve got plenty of time.” Jeremy is the latter type. Long story short, I decided to loosen up and not worry as much, and OF COURSE we ended up trapped in so much traffic in St. Maarten that we missed our call time back to the boat.

I tried to keep my freakout in check. I was about 80% successful.

The good news is that we did make it back. And from the sound of the announcements, it seemed like tons of people didn’t get back in time, either. Also, I got a message from a reader saying, “Hey, just so you know the Heineken regatta is happening today so there will be a lot of traffic!” Aha…

Just a word to the wise: if you’re doing St. Maarten independently while on a cruise, allow yourself a TON of extra time. There is essentially one major road around the island, so if any part of it gets traffic, it affects the whole island.

Our cab driver in St. Kitts was a bit of a jerk. And he harassed a woman from the car before we had even left the parking lot. (Smoke was practically coming out of my ears. Jeremy gripped my arm with a grin.)

Also…I did the Landmark Forum this month. And it did not work for me. It’s a personal development course that many of my friends have done and swear changed their lives for the better, and that’s why I went. I’m not going to go into detail now because I’m exhausted talking about it. In the interest of full disclosure, though, I think it’s important to me to clarify four things:

1) Many of the people who attended my Landmark Forum got SO much out of it, including some friends I made.

2) Many of the people who attended my Landmark Forum got NOTHING out of it, including myself and some friends I made.

3) On the third day, the instructor raised an issue that deeply disturbed me and I got up to the microphone and voiced my concerns. For the rest of the forum, attendees were coming up to me and thanking me for speaking up.

4) The next day, I got a call from Landmark telling me they refunded me due to the issue I spoke up about. I didn’t ask for a refund; they initiated it on their own and then called me to tell me.

It’s all very mysterious, I know. Maybe I’ll write more at a later date.

Most Popular Post

On Dating After Long-Term Travel — I’m really enjoying writing these, and you’re really enjoying reading them. Kind of weighing whether or not to write more of them.

Other Posts

The Worst Books I’ve Ever Read — Because I’ve dragged myself through some awful books, too!

Welcome to the Florida Keys — A guide to this quirky US destination.

Key West, You Are My New Favorite — Man, I had a LOT of fun in Key West.

How to Spend a Layover in Paris — If you’ve got a long layover at Charles de Gaulle airport, here’s how to get a taste of Paris!

Most Popular Instagram Photo

Easy — this shot of a giant KLM plane landing over Maho Beach in St. Maarten!

This is definitely a bucket list item. If you’re a fan of planes, photography, or just AWESOMENESS, get yourself to Maho Beach at one point in your life!

For more live updates, follow me at @adventurouskate on Instagram or Snapchat.

Fitness Update

This month, I had a few fitness breakthroughs. I OBLITERATED my calories burned record at spin class (translation: I’m now strong enough to have the resistance much higher and thus work harder). I also took a Zumba class that used to always leave me out of breath and dripping but this time I thought, “Hmmm, not much of a workout today.” Now I throw myself into Zumba much harder. I’ve been working hard on perfecting my deadlift form with my trainer and now I’m actually starting to deadlift some real weight.

And my body looks a bit different — my face is thinner, my boobs have shrunk significantly (pour one out for my homies) and my upper arms are looking much more muscular lately!

The only thing is that I’m losing weight much more slowly. I need to let go of my goal of losing 25 pounds by Memorial Day. But that’s FINE — a lot of people totally transform their bodies while staying roughly the same weight (here are nine women who did exactly that). Weight is not everything, changing your body composition is!

I also tried a few new classes: antigravity yoga at Studio Anya in Chelsea, pictured above (super fun, not much of a workout, and hanging upside down is neat but it hurts to swallow), as well as two new classes at Equinox: The Cut (a kickboxing class that I really enjoy) and Hatha Yoga (nice but very basic — I’ll try Vinyasa next time). I’ve decided to add yoga into my workout rotation; there are so many mental and physical benefits.

I’ve been reading a lot about intermittent fasting, which seems like the most efficient way to lose fat and add muscle simultaneously. I’m considering trying it next month.

What I Read This Month

I read seven books this month — wow! I’m continuing to chip away at the PopSugar 2017 Book Challenge (17/52 completed). I also got into Book of the Month, which I absolutely ADORE and highly recommend to my fellow American bookworms. I love choosing my new book each month and picking out two extras for just $10 each!

If you’re interested in joining Book of the Month, I have a 30% off code for new members. If you join, I’ll earn a free book.

Here’s what I read in March:

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (2012) — I want everyone I love to read this book. This is a collection of Dear Sugar columns from The Rumpus, which were written anonymously for a long time before Strayed’s identity was revealed. I can’t remember how I discovered those columns (maybe through Dan Savage?) but soon I became obsessed with them. In fact, I read this column over and over, day after day, while trying to get up the nerve to leave my abusive ex. It’s still saved on my phone today.

What makes this advice column phenomenal is that Strayed tells stories from her own life as allegories that illustrate her advice for the letter writers. Her life has been hard in many ways — she grew up in poverty, survived molestation, lost her beloved mother at a young age, married very young, lived through drugs and more poverty, worked with severely at-risk teens, eventually met the love of her life and went on to have two children and publish a bestseller you may have heard of called Wild. She also collected so many seemingly insignificant stories along the way that are actually profound.

This book is the very definition of grace. It makes me cry just thinking about it. Please read it. You won’t regret it. Category: a book of letters.

The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy (2017) — I chose this for my Book of the Month pick for February. I love the premise — in an unnamed American city, a business called the Elysian Society hires men and women to be “bodies” to channel the spirits of the deceased so their loved ones can talk to them. They swallow a pill while wearing the possessions of the dead and black out as the spirit takes over, leaving them unsure of what happened. Some of the customers come back every week.

This book is about Edie, a body who left a troubled past for a fresh start. After an unusually long five-year tenure with the Elysian Society, she becomes fascinated with Patrick, a customer who comes to channel his dead wife, Sylvia, who died under suspicious circumstances. As the book ramps up, Edie becomes more deeply entwined in Patrick and Sylvia’s lives until she’s not sure whose life she’s living.

As much as I loved the idea of this book (and it could so be a series) — I feel like it ran out of steam near the end and the characters weren’t developed enough. At times, I thought Edie’s blank-slate personality was a lazy choice, not unlike the main character in Twilight. That said, I did enjoy it, loved the idea of the Elysian Society, and I would read more of the author’s work. Category: a book with an unreliable narrator.

You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero (2013) — I picked this up in the Miami airport while waiting to board my flight home and I finished the last paragraph as my Lyft arrived at my apartment — talk about perfect timing! I check out self-help books every now and then, and there’s nothing in this book you haven’t read before. What makes it different is the voice and the delivery.

It’s motivational, yes. The tips are great and I learned some new things. I enjoyed reading it, too. But there’s one part that I didn’t like — Sincero implies that people with depression should just get over it and go do brilliant things. Yo, depression doesn’t work that way. I’m actually surprised her publisher allowed the book to go out like that. Category: a book you bought on a trip.

Postcards From the Edge by Carrie Fisher (1987)  — This was my book club’s pick this month, in memory of an inspirational lady. Postcards from the Edge is the book that catapulted Carrie Fisher to literary success. A story told in diary entries, solid dialogue, and first- and third-person narratives, the book follows actress Suzanne Vale from rehab back into the Hollywood scene, the dating scene, parties and the gym and everything else.

It’s an entertaining book, a bit sloppy in its execution (why so many different formats?), but full of humor and humanity from a woman who does not care whatsoever what people think of her. Category: a book written by someone you admire.

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel (2017) — I chose this as my Book of the Month pick for March. For decades, a vacation community in Maine was constantly burglarized — but strangely, never expensive things, only food, books, and clothing. And nobody was ever found. Was there a hermit living in the woods?

There was.

Christopher Knight went into the woods to live alone in 1986. He didn’t have so much as a conversation with another human until he was caught in 2013, 27 years later. Author Finkel spent a long time trying to earn Knight’s trust following his capture. This book was created from his interviews with Knight. It’s fascinating.

While this book is about nature and relationships and solitude, it raises a lot of questions about mental health and how neuro-atypical people can function in our modern world. Knight has some characteristics that many people with autism also have, but in some ways he’s completely the opposite. There’s no easy way to characterize him.

In Maine, people are given lots of space, and walking on someone else’s property is no big deal. Someone in the book mentioned briefly that this never could have happened in Texas. I agree! In Texas people are very territorial — and have lots of guns. Either way, this reminded me that I still need to plan a digital detox trip sometime this year. Category: A book that takes place in the wilderness.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1937) — I had this legendary book on my reading list for quite some time, and I’m glad I finally got around to it. It’s all about how to get people to like you — in life, in relationships, in business. The advice is basic — people like to hear their names! Be positive with people, not negative! Give people compliments and don’t criticize! — but basic advice is often the best advice of all. It’s a cheap book, and I recommend everyone get a copy for their shelf or Kindle.

I will say, though, that the latest edition is a bit odd. It’s obviously been updated since 1937, but the editing isn’t consistent. It’s strange to see phrases like “even if you’re only a housewife” followed by letters from 1936 followed by a reference to Stevie Wonder, who didn’t become famous until the 1960s. Bizarre what they kept in and what they added. Category: a book with career advice.

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah — I had to listen to an audiobook for the challenge, and I’ve seen so many people recommend the audiobook version. After listening to it, I concur — it’s fantastic as an audiobook. Noah is a polyglot and he speaks different languages, uses different accents, and imitates a wide cast of characters throughout the book.

The best memoirs are from people with extraordinary stories or who tell ordinary stories in an extraordinary way. Occasionally you’ll get someone who does both. And Noah’s life story is CRAZY. He was born to a black mother and a white father during Apartheid, so his existence was literally a crime. He had to hide in the shadows for much of his childhood. He didn’t fit in with the blacks, whites, or coloreds in South Africa (in South Africa, colored is a non-insulting term meaning mixed race), but he survived, thrived, created a million entrepreneurial ventures and eventually broke out as an entertainer.

This book is devastating at times. The police laughed off the beatings Noah’s mother received at the hands of her husband. At times they were so poor they had to eat caterpillars. But there’s so much love and humor in this book as well — I nearly cried laughing when Noah secretly pooped in the house as a kid and his family thought it was a demon! It’s a remarkable feat to write a book this serious and yet have it be filled with so much laughter. Category: an audiobook.

What I Listened To This Month

Missing Richard Simmons! Have you listened to this podcast yet? You must!

A few years ago, Richard Simmons abruptly withdrew to his home and became a recluse. He said goodbye to no one — he just disappeared. This podcast, created by one of his friends, tries to figure out why. Was he being held under duress by his maid? Was he transitioning to female? Or did he just want to be left in peace?

The strangest thing about Simmons’s disappearance is that he gave SO much of himself to his fans. He would call fans on a weekly basis and counsel them through their weight and depression issues. He would always be outside when the Hollywood tour buses went by his house so he could greet fans. He cried with them, he opened up with them, he was ON 24/7, and as a result, the line between his professional and personal life was deeply blurred.

I consider this podcast required listening for bloggers or any other kind of internet personalities. It made me realize I haven’t always set the right boundaries. Yes, I’ve gained some great friends who I met because they were my readers, but I need to stop thinking it’s my job to personally solve everyone’s problems. This piece on NPR goes into that more.

What I Watched This Month

THIS IS US!!! After seeing tons of my female friends cry over it weekly on Facebook, I decided to give the series a try. I got through all 18 episodes in five days, no joke.

Yes. This show is worth the hype. It’s filling the hole I’ve had in my heart since Friday Night Lights went off the air. And the Chris Darden-shaped hole I’ve had in my heart since The People vs. OJ Simpson went off the air.

It’s just so nice to have a show about interesting characters who are all good at heart, and thus you genuinely root for them. Yes, the tears will come. There was one episode where I more or less bawled from start to finish. I’m so glad it’s been renewed for two more seasons!

What I Cooked This Month

A few days ago I made an awesome paleo Mexican chocolate mousse where avocados are the main ingredient! And this was SO GOOD. I got the recipe from Cook Eat Paleo.

I do encourage making a few tweaks to the recipe: I used a bit less honey, and I recommend using only half the amount of cinnamon. I couldn’t find ancho chile powder so I used regular chili powder and a few red pepper flakes. If you like it spicy (and I do), add a ton more red pepper flakes. This is a basic recipe; you can tweak it to your personal taste!

The only thing is that I’m starting to be highly sensitive to sugar, and even though it’s only raw honey (technically paleo!), I could feel it sitting in my stomach for hours.

Coming Up in April 2017

No major travel plans this month — at least not yet, you never know! — but I will likely go home to Massachusetts for the first time since Christmas. I also think I should spend some time in Boston proper, since most of my trips have been only to the suburbs lately.

April is when the flowers start to bloom in New York, and I wish I had taken more photos last year when everything was in bloom. It’s such a fleeting time — I hope I’m able to get a few neighborhoods!

What are your plans for April? Share away!

How to Spend a Layover in Paris

Is it worth going into Paris for an eight-hour layover at Charles de Gaulle Airport? A friend of mine recently asked me this question, so I thought I’d turn it into a post for all of you!

The short answer? Hell yes! Eight hours is enough time to get a brief taste of Paris before you catch your flight to your next destination. But you need to plan it carefully — this is not a time to just wing it.

Do You Have Enough Time?

I wouldn’t attempt going into Paris unless you had a minimum of a five-hour layover, and even then your time in Paris would be very brief. Don’t attempt a trip into Paris if you have less than that.

So, Kate, my layover is four and a half hours — would that be okay?

No! I meant what I said! I wouldn’t attempt it on less than five hours.

A five-hour layover doesn’t mean that you’ll have five hours to explore Paris — it means you have five hours minus the time it takes to go through immigration, possibly check your luggage into storage, wait for a train, take the train into Paris, take the train back to the airport, and go through security again for your next flight. And even then, it could mean you’d be spending less time in Paris than at the airport.

Things to Consider

1) What’s your luggage situation? If you booked a single flight that routed you through Paris (say, if you booked an Air France flight from Boston to Rome via Paris), you don’t have to retrieve your checked luggage. It will be checked all the way through to your final destination.

If you booked two flights separately, though — say, an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Paris and an EasyJet flight from Paris to Prague, and you booked them in two separate transactions, you will have to retrieve your luggage in between and check it in once again

Whatever luggage you are taking as carry-on, whether it’s just a small bag or all of your luggage, will stay with you for the duration of your layover in Paris.

However, there is luggage storage at Charles de Gaulle Airport. It’s located in Terminal 2, across from the RER station. It’s open from 6:00 AM until 9:30 PM. Each piece of luggage is six euros ($6.50) for up to six hours and 10 euros ($11) for up to 12 hours.

2) Where are you flying to and from? If you’re flying from outside Europe, it’s obviously an international flight, and if you’re flying on to Nice, it’s obviously a domestic flight — but some flights within Europe are treated like domestic flights due to the Schengen Area.

Most countries in Western Europe (Ireland and the UK excluded) are part of the Schengen Area, which has open borders. This means that flights from Paris to cities like Stockholm, Warsaw, Florence, Barcelona, and Munich are treated like domestic flights, not international flights. You will go through security, of course, but there is no immigration between Schengen countries.

The blue countries are part of the Schengen area:

Why do I mention this? Because it can save you a bit of time. You don’t need to allow time to get through immigration if you are flying from Paris to somewhere in Italy, for example. Security, yes, but not immigration. This could save you around 30 minutes or so.

3) Which terminals do your flights arrive to and leave from? There are three terminals at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Terminals 1 and 3 are close together and share an RER train station; Terminal 2 is further away and has its own RER train station.

Write down the terminals from which your first flight arrives and your second flight leaves — this will make your life so much easier.

4) Are you arriving on a red eye? If you don’t sleep well on planes, you may be exhausted when you arrive. My advice? Have some coffee and get out there! You’re in Paris, darling! (Ask for un café for an espresso, un café crème for a latte, or un café americain for a regular coffee.

5) Do you have euros? If not, no problem — just go to one of the many ATMs at the airport and make a withdrawal. Don’t exchange money at the airport, you’ll pay terrible rates compared to what the ATM will give you.

Just be sure that you call your bank before your trip and let them know where you’ll be traveling so they don’t flag your card for fraud. Also, double-check how much you’re charged for ATM transactions and whether you’re charged a foreign transaction fee for credit card purchases.

(If you’re American and travel often, I highly recommend banking with Charles Schwab. They refund all of your ATM fees at the end of the month, even foreign ATM fees (!), and they don’t charge foreign transaction fees.)

6) Finally, how much time do you really have? Add in the time expected to go through immigration (30 minutes is a good estimate but it could be longer or shorter), walk to the train, take the train, take the train back, and go through security and/or immigration again. This will help you plan your day.

How to Get Into Paris

The easiest way to get into Paris from Charles de Gaulle Airport is to take the RER B train, which goes straight into the heart of Paris.

There are both express and local trains on the RER B. I recommend taking the express; it doesn’t cost extra. It’s about 35 minutes to the Châtelet stop, which is close to the geographical center of Paris. One-way tickets cost 10 euros ($11) per adult and 7 euros ($7.50) per child.

Alternatively, you could take a taxi from the airport, which costs 50-60 euros ($54-65) and takes 35 minutes to an hour depending on traffic.

Personally, I recommend the RER B train. It takes roughly the same amount of time, it’s cheaper, and it’s more reliable.

(It’s very unusual to have a layover at Orly Airport, as most long-haul flights are via Charles de Gaulle, so I won’t be covering it here — but there are RER trains from Orly that will take you into the heart of Paris as well.)

What To Do on a Paris Layover

With only a few hours in Paris, you can’t do a lot — but if you concentrate on one small area with several attractions, you can feel like you’ve seen a lot of Paris.

My recommendation: take the RER B to the “St. Michel/Notre Dame” stop, which is right by Notre Dame and some of the prettiest neighborhoods in Paris. This journey will take roughly 40 minutes on the express train. Once you arrive in the station, follow the signs for Notre-Dame.

Visit the cathedral of Notre-Dame. This gothic cathedral is one of the most recognizable symbols of Paris — and it’s a solemn, overwhelming place, even without the presence of Quasimodo.

The views from the towers are spectacular, with the gargoyles looking over the city and the Eiffel Tower, but the lines can be very long. Find out how long the line is before you commit to waiting. Notre-Dame is free to visit but going into the towers costs 10 euros ($11).

Check out the kiosks on the left bank of the Seine. These iconic green kiosks sell books, art, and souvenirs. It feels so Parisian to peruse them!

Walk over to Ile St-Louis and have ice cream at Berthillon. There are two small islands in the Seine: Ile de la Cité and Ile St-Louis. Notre-Dame is on Ile de la Cité and Ile St-Louis is directly to the east. I love Ile St-Louis because there are far fewer tourists and it feels like a village in the heart of the city. Rue St-Louis, the main street, is filled with lots of cool shops.

Berthillon is famous for having some of the best ice cream in Paris with many unusual flavors that you won’t find at home.

Browse books at Shakespeare and Company. It may seem strange to browse an English-language bookstore in Paris, but trust me — Shakespeare and Company is a legendary business and one of my favorite bookstores in the world. It has a rich history, writers still live in the shop, and there are some cute cats. Have them stamp your book at checkout.

Walk over to Rue de Buci in St. Germain-des-Pres. This is one of my favorite areas in Paris, with lots of cool shops and cafes. From here on, just wander the streets at your leisure. One of the true pleasures of Paris is strolling aimlessly and seeing what you find.

Spend time in at least one cafe. It’s the most Parisian thing to do at all. Cafes are perfect for whatever you’re in the mood for. A coffee? A glass of wine or champagne? Some French onion soup dripping with cheese? A crepe? A salad with roasted duck? (One very notable exception: working on a laptop. Not like I found out about that the hard way or anything.)

Sit outside if the weather is nice. Even in the winter, most cafes have heating lamps.

If You Have More Time…

I didn’t want to plan an overly ambitious itinerary because it’s easy to end up miserable if you rush your trip too much. But if you have some extra time, you could add a few of these (not all of these!) if they catch your interest.

Visit Sainte-Chappelle. This cathedral is home to some of the most intricate stained glass designs in Europe. It’s located close to Notre-Dame on Ile de la Cité.

Visit the Pont des Arts. This is the bridge that began the love locks trend around the world. These days the locks are removed regularly, but there are nice views from the bridge.

Visit St. Etienne du Mont. This is better known as the Midnight in Paris church! If you love the movie, it’s great for photos.

Have a coffee or meal at Les Deux Magots or Cafe de Flore. These two cafes, close to each other on Boulevard St. Germain, were the hangouts of Hemingway, Sartre, Fitzgerald, Picasso, and all those

Visit the Luxembourg Gardens. Head further south into St. Germain-des-Pres and you’ll end up in these are some of the most beautiful and famous gardens in Paris. Stroll around, watch the kids with boats in the fountains, and pretend you’re in a movie.

Note: if you finish your visit here, you’ll be closer to the Luxembourg stop, which is also on the RER B line back to the airport.

What Not to Do

Please, please, please don’t try to pack too much in. I know how tempting it is to see everything — but you can’t see the best of Paris in just a few hours. Hell, you can’t see the best of Paris in two weeks.

I’m fairly certain that one of the secrets to travel happiness is making peace with the fact that you won’t see everything you want to see.

Don’t go to Disneyland Paris or Versailles. Both are outside the city — I’m sorry, but there’s just no time to visit on a brief layover.

Tips for a Paris Layover

Bring an umbrella. Paris doesn’t have great weather; it often rains. Or choose to risk it — you can always buy one in a shop.

Don’t dress like a slob. You may have flown overnight, but don’t schlep around Paris in yoga pants and a hoodie — you will stick out like a sore thumb in a city where locals look neat and put together. Trade your leggings for slim jeans, your sweatshirt for a nice sweater, jacket and scarf.

Wear comfortable flats. Sneakers immediately label you as a tourist. Literally all the shoes I own come from The Walking Company — their Abeo flats have FANTASTIC arch support, which I need for my bad feet, and they’re chic enough for Paris.

Download a Paris map app to your phone. It’s the easiest way to keep track of where you are, rather than using a paper map. If you plan on taking the metro, there are lots of free metro apps as well.

Be conscious of pickpockets. Pickpockets target tourists in Paris. To minimize your risk, I recommend using a crossbody purse that zips shut and you hold in front of you, or a backpack that locks like my Pacsafe backpack. Consider getting a Speakeasy Travel Scarf — they have a secret zippered pocket no pickpocket can get into.

Make sure you have travel insurance for your whole trip. If the worst happens — if you’re pickpocketed, or if you trip and break your ankle and need to visit a hospital, travel insurance will protect your finances and reimburse you. I never travel without it. I use and recommend World Nomads.

GET BACK IN TIME FOR YOUR FLIGHT!!!!

The most important tip of all. Everything here is meaningless if you end up missing your flight to your next destination!

I like to give myself a nice, comfy cushion of time so I won’t be stressed. (Ask anyone who has ever traveled with me and has seen me freak out when we’ve cut a deadline too close.)

Get back to Charles de Gaulle at least two hours before your onward flight departs. I like to give myself two and a half. It may seem a bit excessive, but when you consider the alternative — missing your flight, being stranded, possibly fucking up your return flight as well — this is one place where caution reigns supreme.

Save This Map For Your Trip

Here are all the locations mentioned. As you can see, they’re all close together!

Have a fabulous trip!


READ NEXT: 100 Travel Tips for Paris


Have you been to Paris? What would you recommend doing on a short layover?

On Dating After Long-Term Travel

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.”

Key West, You Are My New Favorite

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!

The Worst Books I’ve Ever Read

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?