How is it already 2023? I feel like I blinked and the last year went by, and we didn’t even move around that much. At least, not by our standards… Before we take off for Argentina (!!!), I wanted to get a little 2022 year-in-review up on the blog and officially introduce you to the Grateful Gnomads.
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Meet the Gnomads
As some of you may have noticed, we recently changed our name. Well, everywhere but Facebook, at least. It’s been a month since we requested a name change there and we’re still waiting. If you have an in with Zuck, please drop him a line for us.
Anyways, we are now the Grateful Gnomads! Here’s how we explained the name change on our socials in case you missed it:
When we launched this little blog back in 2013, we had no idea what we were doing. We just knew we wanted a name that represented our love for music (especially the Grateful Dead) and travel.
As English teachers, we’re also big fans of alliteration. We came upon the name Grateful Gypsies because we knew the word to mean “a nomadic, free-spirited person” from the dictionary.
Since then, we have learned that the word is very offensive to many and is used as a racial slur against the Romani people. We are accepting of all people regardless of race, sex, origin, sexual orientation, or religion. Ours is a travel blog for everyone, where we firmly believe that ya’ll means all.
We decided it was time for a name change and to start anew. We realize that we’re not spelling the word “nomad” correctly, but we think the alliteration is still funny and we even have some cool tye-dyed gnomes as a new logo to play around with!
Whether you’ve been here since the beginning or you just started following, we appreciate you. Thank you for your continued support. All the shares, likes, and comments really help keep this little travel blog that could going, and we couldn’t be more grateful.
We are looking forward to Sasha & Rachel 2.0 as we’re calling it. Ten years into this thing, and we feel like we’re just getting started again.
So there you have it. It was a long time coming and it was a huge pain in the arse changing everything, but we’re happy with our choice. Now that we’ve covered the name change, let’s get on with the recap.
Let the Good Times Roll
If you know us, you already know we like to party (sorry if you don’t). We’re always up for a good time, especially when it’s Carnival season!
Over the past five years, we’ve celebrated Carnival in Mazatlan, Rio de Janeiro, and Barranquilla. It was only fitting that we finally checked the American version off our list as we traveled to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
Their motto is “Laissez les bons temps rouler,” which is a Cajun French phrase meaning “let the good times roll.” Since the Grateful Dead sang those exact words, you know that’s a motto we can get behind!
Our friends Bridget and Justin have been living in NoLa for several years. We met way back in our early Beijing days and hadn’t seen them in over a decade. They still invited us into their home and blew up an air mattress for us for a whopping six nights. Thanks so much, ya’ll!
They showed us the more local side of Mardi Gras as we went to a few of the more family-friendly parades with them and their son. It was such a blast and we loved having local guides who know all the ins and outs of the big celebration.
We actually went the week before Fat Tuesday, meaning cheaper flights and smaller crowds. We still hit Bourbon Street for the wine-themed parade and a trip to Lafitte’s, but it wasn’t the sloppy mess that it becomes during the big weekend.
In addition to all the amazing food and drink, we had so much fun seeing live music on Frenchmen Street. This is the place to be in New Orleans if you ask us! Our buddy Will had a gig one night and we stayed there boogying down until after 3.
On our final night in town (a Monday), we got to check out the legendary George Porter Jr. (bass player for the Meters). The gig was at a small club within walking distance from our friends’ place and it was awesome. We absolutely love New Orleans and can’t wait to go back.
Be sure to check out our Mardi Gras highlight video to see what it’s all about!
Rachel in Europe
Just a few short weeks after her 36th birthday, Rachel finally stepped foot on the continent of Europe!
While she let me run off to Europe in 2018 to attend the World Cup in Russia, she had never visited. That finally changed when two of my siblings planned a big trip there this past spring.
It seemed out of reach, but thanks to a great deal on flights we finally made this travel dream a reality. Best of all, we were able to fly out of Asheville and cash in some lounge passes on the long layover in Newark en route to Lisbon.
You can read all about how we do stuff like that in our Travel Hacking 101 blog post, by the way…
We spent a week in the Portuguese capital to start our journey and loved it there. It was high on Rachel’s list for several years so we’re happy that was her first destination in Europe.
You can get a glimpse into living in Lisbon in this YouTube video we put together.
From there, we took the train to Porto for a quick 3-night stay. Next was a flight to Madrid, where we had a lovely four days visiting the city with friends. The tapas life is the good life!
The bulk of the trip was spent in Italy. I had been once before back in high school and had always wanted to return. There’s just something special about that country.
We spent around three weeks in Italy traveling with my brother, his wife, and my sister. Our trip included Naples, Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Genoa and it was nothing short of fantastic.
We’ve got a lot of stories, pictures, and videos to share from our time in Italy. Hopefully, we’ll get to that sooner rather than later, but please enjoy this video of our time in Cinque Terre.
Our last stop was a week in Barcelona. We checked out all the Gaudi buildings, I went to an FC Barcelona game, and there was a lot of wine drinking and tapas eating. We already want to go back and stay for another month or more.
Overall, it was a very special trip and we’re so happy we just went for it. You can always make more money, but you don’t always have the chance to take a big international trip with your family.
While we wanted to stay in Europe, we had already made plans with friends to attend the Sweetwater 420 Festival in Atlanta. It was a first for both of us and a festival we had heard so much about over the years.
The main draw for us was finally seeing Oysterhead – a supergroup composed of Trey from Phish, Les Claypool from Primus, and Stewart Copeland from the Police. They have only toured a few times in 20 years, so we had to take the chance to finally see them.
We had a really nice Airbnb condo right downtown, just a 10-minute walk from the festival. While we were a bit jetlagged and tired, we still managed to rage it with our friends and have a great time.
After a few weeks of taking it easy and recovering, we made the trip back to Summer Camp Music Festival. This was my 10th SCamp and 5th as a Camp Counselor.
It was also my turn to introduce moe. on stage. They have headlined every Summer Camp – all 21 of them – and they were the first jamband I ever saw back in 2002. Needless to say, it was a special moe.ment.
As per usual, SCamp was an absolute riot. We had way too much fun camped out in the VIP woods seeing a bunch of our favorite bands with friends old and new.
For a detailed look back at the 2022 Summer Camp festival, check out the review I wrote for the Campfire blog.
At this point, it really feels like going home every time we go to SCamp. We’re already planning on hitting another one in 2023 as the lineup is out of this world. Hope to see you there!
Our third and final festival of the year came in August at Sacred Rose. We worked at the Summer Camp booth and had a blast running the various promos.
While the weather gods all but canceled the final day of the festival, the first two were amazing. We loved the Philco (Phil Lesh & Friends with Wilco) set, playing in the laser dome, and of course the Disco Biscuits’ ridiculous daytime set.
Despite the hiccups, we thought Sacred Rose was a quality festival and we hope it comes back next year. With a few tweaks and improvements, it can definitely be a top-notch festival.
Old and New Favorites
Much of our year was spent running around the country seeing live music. We still felt like we had to make up for lost time during the pandemic and we really got after it in 2022!
As you might expect, we saw plenty of shows with our standby bands – Umphrey’s McGee, the Disco Biscuits, STS9, and Phish.
This year also marked somewhat of a passing of the torch (Rachel hates that phrase), as we saw multiple shows with new favorites like Eggy, Neighbor, Goose, and Billy Strings.
Of all the shows we saw in 2022, a few of them stand out. We finally checked Rage Against the Machine off our music bucket list and it was worth the 30-year wait. What a show!
We also made it out to Colorado for the South Park 25th anniversary spectacular with Primus and Ween at Red Rocks. That has to be in the top five shows I’ve ever seen and was a major highlight of last year.
A few days after that show, we traveled to the scenic town of Dillon, CO for two nights of Goose. It was our first time at that stunning amphitheater on the lake and hopefully not the last.
We capped that Colorado run off with the band’s debut at Red Rocks. It’s crazy to think that they were opening for other bands at small clubs just before the pandemic. They grow up so fast!
While Red Rocks is an old favorite that we’ve been going to since 2022, we definitely have a few new venues on our favorites list. The Caverns in Tennessee is a very special place to see a show. I mean, it’s inside a freaking cave! We also loved seeing shows at the Eastern in Atlanta for the first time.
Overall, we had an excellent year in terms of live music. If I had to guess, I’d say 2022 marked the most shows we’ve seen since 2016 and maybe even 2009. And those were both huge years for us!
It’s a great time to be a live music fan and it’s been so much fun going to shows again. We sure do love being a couple of Wandering Wooks, which was actually a consideration for the name change.
Bright Lights, Big Cities
Our European travels took us mostly to big cities, and the same could be said of our 2022 in the good ole US of A. We made trips to Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, Nashville, Denver, and Atlanta throughout the year.
What can we say – we love the big city energy. Perhaps it’s because we lived in Beijing for five years, but it’s something we crave and miss. It’s a damn good thing we have so many great friends in these cities. Otherwise, there’s no way we could afford to visit them all in a year!
Whether it was couch surfing at our friend’s place in Jersey City, dog sitting for our dear friends in Nashville, or visiting my childhood best friend in Chicago, we always love an excuse to go to these great American cities.
As we get older and more and more friends move out to the suburbs, we’re going to make sure to cherish these moments while we still can!
Fall in Asheville
After spring in Europe and summer on the road, we had to slow down a bit. We also needed to find a way to make and save some money for the next adventure. Cue Asheville – one of our favorite places.
We’re very fortunate to be able to stay at a family house near Asheville. We chip in on the bills but are basically just housesitters, or as I like to call us, squatters. We owe a big debt of gratitude to Rachel’s mom and stepdad for putting us up from time to time.
While Rachel was quite busy teaching English online, my schedule was very spotty this fall. I was getting stressed out about my lack of work and was going to drive her crazy at home.
Thankfully, an old friend needed help with his food truck and wedding catering business. I worked in food service back in the day and jumped at the chance to help him out and make myself useful this fall.
It was hard work and long days at times, but I enjoyed it overall. We worked about a dozen weddings and a few corporate events. We also took the truck to the lake and a country club, so I had some pretty nice “offices.”
Best of all, I learned a bunch of tricks in the kitchen. A highlight was making handmade squid ink pasta and learning how to make some impressive charcuterie boards.
Meanwhile, Rachel launched her own teaching business and signed up several private students after a lot of hard work. She has also been doing a big project with Bridge Education (who we got our TEFL certificates with years ago) as they prepare to launch a new course. I’m so proud of all the work she has put in since we lost our teaching jobs with VIPKID due to Chinese government regulations.
When I wasn’t cooking and Rachel wasn’t teaching, we got out to enjoy Asheville in the fall. There were several trips up to the Blue Ridge Parkway for leaf peeping and hiking. Of course, we also hit plenty of breweries and caught lots of local live music.
We love Asheville and it will always feel like a second home to us, even if we don’t really “live” there. Maybe we’ll build that tiny house or cabin one of these days…
Goodbyes and Hellos
2022 started off in a rough way as I lost my grandpa. He took an unexpected and quick turn for the worse in January and I didn’t make it home in time to say goodbye in person.
I’ll always have fond memories of fishing at the park, going to Tigers games, and listening to him read. I was his first of 35 grandkids and I feel so fortunate to have had so much time with him over the years. For as long as I live, I’ll root for the Giants and listen to Frank Sinatra in honor of my grandpa.
The year also welcomed some new additions to the family, as my siblings brought a new niece and nephew into the world for me. I got to meet lil’ nephew and hang out a few times but have yet to meet our new niece. Hopefully that happens in 2023.
We also got to visit our OG nephew several times over the year. He’s already walking and talking so that’s exciting.
I’m just looking forward to the day when my nephews are old enough for me to take them to wrestling shows as my uncles did with me. Phuncle Sasha is ready to rage!
As I type this, we are getting packed for the next adventure. We’re leaving Asheville in a few days to embark on the long journey down to Buenos Aires!
We’ve got about a month in Argentina that we’ll split between the capital and Patagonia. Then we’re headed to Uruguay for a few weeks to celebrate yet another Carnival in Latin America and Rachel’s birthday.
We’ll finish up in Santiago for a few days or a week, spend a night in Panama City, and then make a triumphant return to Mexico City. There are still some dots to connect and we’re not exactly sure how or when this trip will end, but we like it that way.
August 2023 will mark ten years since we quit our corporate teaching jobs and left our cushy ex-pat lives in Beijing. It hasn’t always been easy as freelancing digital nomads, but ten years into this thing we’re still going strong.
Thanks for reading if you made it all to the end. We hope you have a happy, safe, healthy, and prosperous New Year. Now for some steaks, wine, and tango!
Sasha & Rachel