Rotorua, New Zealand

America has Yellowstone. New Zealand has Rotorua. The north island has a lot of geothermal activity, but Rotorua is famous for its concentration of hot springs, geysers, and permeating “rotten egg” smell.

I drove in from Mount Maunganui on Thursday morning. The drive was pretty easy and not as winding as in Coromandel. I had read about a waterfall and my hosts in Katikati said it was great, so I decided to make a pit stop and check it out.

Omanawa Falls is a local gem. It’s hidden from the main roads and only accessible by a long farm road followed by a mile hike. There are no signs showing you where the trailhead is. The only way I found it was from the other 2 cars parked along the side of the road and a giant police sign saying “TRAIL CLOSED.”

I’m not normally a risk taker. If I had found this sign without researching beforehand, I would have turned around. But the internet said the police had closed the upper deck of the waterfall due to people trying to jump off, but the bottom was still accessible, so I figured the signs only meant the top.

I hopped the fence and continued on my hike. The trail lead to a gorgeous viewpoint overlooking the waterfall so I stopped to snap some photos.

But I was confused. I thought I was going to the lower viewpoint, so how did I end up at the top? During my hike, I passed two other people who were coming from the waterfall and they had clearly been swimming, so there must be a way to the bottom. I looked around and spotted stairs leading down to a doorway that descended into darkness. I could hear the roar of the waterfall echoing up the tunnel. There was no other way. Either I entered the tunnel or I turned around. I stood there for a full minute debating my options. I had come so far and I wanted to see the waterfall! But the tunnel was pretty terrifying and looked like it was out of a horror movie.

I decided to do it. I turned on my phone flashlight and walked very slowly down the slippery stairs that went on forever. When I emerged, I found myself at the base of the waterfall and it was gorgeous!

There was a viewing platform raised above a bed of boulders leading to the water. There were 5 other people who had jumped the fence and climbed down to swim. I wanted to swim, but I was scared. I usually never break rules. It looked dangerous. As I mentioned before, I am terrified of slipping and falling, so this was daunting! But after pretending to “enjoy the view” for several minutes, I pumped myself up and hopped the fence.

Surprisingly, climbing down the boulders was easy. I forget how human feet have literally evolved to help us grip the earth. I didn’t slip once and even felt confident climbing down into the freezing water. Once I jumped it, I was ecstatic. I had conquered my fear and was now swimming in the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I felt on top of the world!

After my swim, I hiked back up to my car and drove the rest of the way to Rotorua. Before I met my hosts, I stopped by a free park that has an amazing geothermal pool you can walk over top of. It was already a scorching hot day, so standing in the steam was a bit nauseating, but the views were cool!

Then I drove to meet my hosts, Dan and Sarah. They live in a cute little house that Dan has completely renovated since he’s a builder. Sarah works with foster kids who live in group homes. We sat all night drinking beer and chatting about our travels.

I learned that Rotorua has a reputation as a cheesy tourist capital. Asian tourists come here by the bus load to see the geothermal sights and stay at the fancy spas. The city has earned the name “RotoVegas” since the streets are lit up by neon hotel signs every night.

On Friday, I woke up and headed to the Redwoods Forest to go for a morning stroll. My knee STILL is giving me troubles, so I opted for only a short walk, knowing I had a whole day of activity ahead of me. After the forest, I headed to Kerosene Creek. There are numerous hot springs you can pay $20 to sit in at a resort, but I’d much rather drive into nature and find a hidden one for free!

Kerosene Creek is named from the stinky gasoline smell that comes from the water. It’s a long stream that has many waterfalls that bathers can sit under and enjoy. Before I went, Dan and Sarah warned me not to put my head underwater because some people have died from amoeba entering in the nose/ears and causing meningitis!

When I arrived, Kerosene Creek was deserted. I shared the spring with only two other people, but suddenly a large tour bus arrived with loud, obnoxious Australians who began splashing each other and causing a ruckus. I figured it was time to leave.

Friday afternoon, I went with Dan and Sarah to meet their friends and spend the afternoon on Blue Lake on their boat.

It’s always lovely to spend time on the water and I’m so glad I got to be on the lake! Tomorrow morning I head out to Napier for their Art Deco festival!

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Kate’s Trip Around the World!

It was always my plan after college. I would graduate and then take a year off to travel. I remember staying up late to plan it all out. It was the summer of 2013 and I had just returned from studying in Amman and moved to Portland for my internship. Wanderlust had me in its grip.

But, as with most wild dreams, it failed to come to fruition. I was intimidated enough by the scary idea of “life as an adult,” so I couldn’t bear to add the uncertainties of solo travel on top of it all. So instead, I stayed in my comfort zone and moved back to Portland to find a job.

Fast forward 4 years later to December 2017. My life looked exactly how I planned it to be: a great apartment in the best part of town, a solid group of friends, an interesting dating life full of highs and lows, a quirky job that let me live comfortably… so why was I bored?

After my break up with Shan, I started reading a lot of books about self-compassion and following your passions, even if they aren’t the easiest or most logical path to follow. I started examining aspects of my life that made me unhappy and vowed to change them. I started off small. I ended friendships that brought me more stress than joy. I stopped doing activities that I didn’t actually like, but felt social pressure to participate in. These included online dating, putting on makeup every morning, and binge drink every weekend.

Once I made a few minor adjustments, life felt so much better. I was finally the productive morning person who could wake up and journal while sipping coffee before the sun came up. But still, it felt like each day was a monotonous repeat. I wasn’t living for my passion. I could wake up early, but I wasn’t excited for the day.

All the books I read were written by inspiring women who spent years in relationships, jobs, and social circles that weren’t fulfilling. Their lives were “good enough” and gave each woman the comfort of being “on track” and “successful.” I found myself relating to them immensely. I enjoyed my coworkers, but I didn’t feel passionately about admin work or advertising. I loved my friends dearly, but didn’t feel like I was challenging my social bubble anymore. From the outside, I was exactly where every 25 year old should be, but I wasn’t happy.

The “a-ha!” moment that kickstarted my trip was the realization that I turn 26 in July. I will get kicked off of my parents insurance and have to finance my own, which means depending on an employer (or a husband’s employer) to provide access to a plan. Never again in my life will I have the freedom to quit my job for 6 months and still have free/inexpensive healthcare.

So I quit. On January 2nd, I gave my two weeks notice and booked a plane ticket from Oregon to Hawai‘i to New Zealand.

I am so lucky to have the opportunity and means for this incredible adventure. I will try to update this blog weekly with a few travel stories and photos. I’m trying not to plan too much, but here is my itinerary so far:

Jan 22 – Feb 6: Waialua, Hawai‘i

Feb 6 – March 14: Roadtrip around New Zealand

March 15: Day layover in Singapore

March 15 – March 22: Hanoi, Vietnam

March 22 – ???: Italy and Greece!

My friends have jokingly called my trip “Kate’s Eat, Pray, Love Trip” but I don’t have any big expectations for life changing realizations. I know who I am. I love myself. I am comfortable spending time alone. My sole purpose of this trip is to do exactly what I love: travel. I want to wake up each morning with gratitude and excitement for the day.

My goal is to post weekly about my adventures. First stop: Hawai‘i!

An Impulse Trip to Amsterdam!

It’s been awhile! A lot of things have happened in the last few months: I’m single, I discovered meditation, and I’ve lost a ton of weight by stopping drinking!

My break up in August sparked a season of change. Suddenly, I had the time and emotional capacity to focus on self-care. Losing weight has always been a struggle for me. Being in a relationship with someone who loved trying new bars and restaurants meant most of our date nights were spent eating or drinking – a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE trying new food, so I was happy I finally had someone who could afford to do it with me…. but it also meant I was eating a lot more than I had before. During the first 3 months of our relationship, I gained 15lbs.

In February of 2016, we both resolved to cut back on the restaurant dates. We did a round of Whole30 together and I lost those 15lbs by March. I tried to keep losing weight, but it wasn’t working. Even though we weren’t eating out, we were still drinking on the weekends because we wanted to continue being young-20-somethings. Plus, a conversation over drinks by candlelight is a lot more romantic than sitting at home on the couch…. We didn’t want our chemistry to suffer, so we kept going out, but both felt conflicted about it as we HATED the after effects on our bodies.

Our breakup was a blessing in disguise. Now that I didn’t feel social pressure to keep going out, I could shift my focus to fitness. I could start working out at 7am before work because I didn’t have to shuffle my clothes/makeup/gym bag between my apartment and his. We had always meal prepped food together, but now I reliably had all my meals at my OWN apartment, not split between both of ours, so it was much easier to keep on track with my food.

By simply cutting out alcohol and hitting the gym every morning, I have lost 30lbs since March… and 20 of those pounds have been in the last 3 months since we broke up. My body feels amazing and I am so much stronger in the gym!

Since my morning fitness class ends at 8am but I don’t start work until 9am, I’ve started meditating in the downtime. It began during a particularly stressful time at work and I was desperate for a way to escape it and quiet my mind. Once I realized how effective it was, I began doing it every day.

I use the Headspace app and I can choose if I want to meditate for 5, 10, 15, etc. minutes. It helps me stop worrying about tiny details of the day and focus on the bigger picture and my overall well-being. The biggest thing I’m focusing on right now is letting go of the past and present. Most of my mental dialogue is spent worrying about things in the future. “What are my plans Friday night? Will I have enough time between work and my date to go home and eat dinner? How will I handle this crisis at work? How much work are people expecting of me today? What did my friend mean by that offhanded comment? What will I do if it rains when I planned to run outside?”

I am trying to realize that none of those things are immediate problems and none of them require my current attention. Some of them I can’t even control! But yet, I spend an insane amount of time thinking about them. I am always anticipating the future instead of appreciating the present. By meditating each morning, I am trying to become more mindful of my thoughts and my emotional reactions to them. Overall, it is helping! My coworkers have told me I seem much happier and less stressed out.

In the whirlwind of these life changes, I neglected planning a fall vacation. I have a resolution to take two international vacations per year. This spring, I went to Cuba! Shan and I planned to go to New Zealand or South Africa this fall, but obviously that can’t happen.

I had planned on just staying in Portland and saving money, but then I saw an absolutely insane deal on a flight to Amsterdam. A round trip from Seattle to Amsterdam was only $380! That is cheaper than flying home to Kentucky! Plus I had 4 vacation days to use before the end of the year, so I figured it was the perfect time to do a solo trip.

I didn’t want the deal to slip away, so I bought it that same day!

I’ve been all over Europe, but never to Amsterdam. I don’t know anyone in the city, so it should be an adventure! I am trying not to plan my trip like I usually do. I want it to be an experiment in being flexible. I’ve researched some cool cafes and activities, but I’m not going to make an itinerary. I’m planning on waking up each morning and seeing what I feel like doing. Maybe I’ll go for a run if its nice outside. Maybe I’ll rent a bike. Maybe I’ll walk to a little salad cafe. Who knows!

I did book my accommodation in advance and I couldn’t be happier with my finds:

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Days 1-3: Central Amsterdam. I am staying at the EcoMama Hostel in central Amsterdam. I’ve stayed at budget hostels before and shared a room with 40 other people in bunk beds, but I feel like I am a little past that stage in my life. I value sleep! Plus I don’t plan on drinking, so I can’t rely on alcohol to help knock me into slumber. I chose the EcoMama hostel because it has a smaller 8-bed dorm room that looks adorable! The entire hostel is well designed and looks like such a nice place to wind down. It is also connected to a cafe, so I won’t have to walk far for coffee (but I probably will, because I love exploring on foot!)

I’m going to participate in a bunch of the hostel activities (evening family-style meals, pub crawls, etc) and hopefully meet some fellow travelers. I am also going to try to go to some Amsterdam meetups. The website Reddit has forums for most major cities. I am very active in the Portland page. We have meetups every 2 weeks where we all go to a bar and hangout and meet any new people who want to join. I’ve met all of my best friends through Reddit! Hopefully the Amsterdam community is as active!

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Days 4-5: Remote Farmhouse. I am most excited about this experience. I am going to be traveling 2 hours north of Amsterdam to the little town of Wieringerwert. I’ll be staying in a small cabin on a family farm underneath a windmill! The family provides breakfast each morning with eggs straight from their farm. There’s also a bicycle to use, so I can pedal around the tiny town. I know there won’t be anything to do, so I plan to use this time to read, write, and reflect. It’s not often I get the chance to go somewhere so remote and beautiful to unplug.

Days 6-8: Vondelpark. On the outskirts of Amsterdam is a large park called Vondelpark. I’ve found a small Airbnb guesthouse nearby that looks perfect for a solo traveler. It is verrrry small, but it was a great price for a private spot in a good location. The guesthouse is what is pictured above – just a room and a heater! But I have access to the bathroom and kitchen inside the house, across the patio. A young couple lives in the house and they have great reviews. It will be nice to meet locals and get an inside scoop.

It is located on the southwestern side of Amsterdam, so it will be an entirely new neighborhood for me to explore. It cost a little bit more than a hostel, but I think one weekend spent sharing a room with 7 other people is plenty. This neighborhood seems much more quiet and suburban. I’m excited for runs through the park. There’s even an expat bootcamp-style fitness class I am eager to try!

Everyone I’ve talked to who has been to Amsterdam says there isn’t a big food scene. I am secretly happy about that! I won’t have the temptation to try street food like I did in Asia (octopus kebabs, squishy spicy rice patties, custard filled fish pastries, etc!)

Eating alone in a restaurant is also a very awkward experience. I don’t mind spending time by myself, but I hate feeling judged by others who are wondering why I am alone. Maybe it is all in my head, but I definitely plan on spending more times at cafes where it is more acceptable! Plus, my hostel and farmhouse both have kitchens, so I plan on cooking for myself a lot. I’m determined not to let this vacation get in the way of my fitness goals!

I plan on seeing all of the typical touristy things (Anne Frank Haus, Van Gogh Museum, etc) but if you have any unique or unusual suggestions, please share!

 

A Weekend in Astoria!

This past weekend, Shan and I went to Astoria, Oregon, for a weekend getaway. I don’t have any fun photos because we decided to make it a cellphone-free trip! We printed out maps and navigated the old fashioned way. It was fun, but definitely more difficult!

We stayed at the cool Commodore Hotel where they let you borrow record players for free. The vibe was very modern and it was in the heart of the city. The lobby was also really neat with a sitting area and lots of books!

commodore-hotel

When we first arrived, we went to Ft. George Brewing and took a brewery tour. I had no idea that much work went into making beer! I definitely have a new appreciation and can’t believe some beers like PBR sell for $1 per can!

We went to the Bridgewater Bistro and had a fancy dinner of scallops, clam chowder, alfredo, and vodka sodas! It all tasted so fresh and delicious. I couldn’t help but notice most of the other diners were either older couples or families. Astoria is such a close city with so many breweries… why don’t more Portlanders come?

The next day, we got breakfast at a cafe (Shan got a crab hash!) and then went to the Astoria column. We originally planned to hike up to it, but it had been rainy and we didn’t want to get super muddy. This was probably a good plan because it was so high up! You could climb to the top of the tower and throw paper plane “gliders” off, but we stayed put at the bottom. The Astoria Megler bridge spans the water and is quite the sight to see. We drove over it and it was less exciting than expected – still just a bridge!

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To cap off the weekend, we went to see Astoria the play back in Portland. It is a two-part play that depicts the founding of Astoria. I expected to learn about the early days of the town, but the entire first play was only about their land and sea journey to get there! I had no idea that one expedition party went around the tip of South America and another party traveled by river and land across the US from the east.

The second part comes out in 2018 and covers the establishment of Astoria. One fun fact I learned was that, during the Revolutionary War, the British were planning to capture Astoria, so America simply sold it to them. During this time, it was renamed Ft. George. After the war, it was given back to America.

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After the play, we ran around downtown and ate at one of my favorite restaurants: Luc Lac. If you’re ever in Portland and want some late night food, check it out. They are open until 4am!

This last meal was so enjoyable because we started Whole 30 the next morning! You might remember me blogging about it a year ago – it is a dietary reset. You eliminate all sugar, dairy, grains, and alcohol from your diet for 30 days. After that, you reintroduce them one at a time to see how your body reacts. If you feel sick or get stomach cramps or feel groggy… you know to stay away from it! I personally enjoy doing it because it cuts out all the mindless snacking I do at work. My coworkers constantly bring in baked goods, beef jerky, chocolate, and other snacks that I always *have* to try a taste of. I’m sure these tastes add up over time! Last time I lost 6 lbs and felt so much better! It will be interesting to see if my results are the same.

Autumn Bucket List 2016

Now that we are into December, it feels like autumn flew by! If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve seen that a lot has changed! I’m finally accustomed to my new job, I traveled back to Kentucky for my brother’s wedding, and I got a boyfriend! 2016 has been a great year and I’ve learned so much and improved myself as a person. I want to make it go out with a bang, so back in October, I created an Autumn bucket list! I didn’t achieve everything on it, but I did most! Here is the list and I’ve crossed off what I finished!

  1. Drink a Pumpkin Spice Latte
  2. Tailgate a football game
  3. Go apple picking
  4. Buy a new fall candle
  5. Watch a spooky movie
  6. Go to a tree fair
  7. Bake pumpkin bread
  8. Make a Halloween costume
  9. Drink apple cider
  10. Watch Hocus Pocus
  11. Make a homemade pie
  12. Carve a pumpkin
  13. Drink mulled wine
  14. Decorate the yard
  15. Drink a pumpkin beer
  16. Make caramel apples
  17. Pick a pumpkin from a patch
  18. Go on a hay ride
  19. Host a chili cook off
  20. Go on an autumn hike
  21. Go to a corn maze
  22. Go to a haunted house
  23. Drink hot chocolate
  24. Spend time with family
  25. Go trick or treating
  26. Go to Oktoberfest

I didn’t go home for Thanksgiving, but I celebrated with friends. We threw a giant Friendsgiving party for the Portland community and around 100 people showed up. The organizers rented out an empty restaurant so there was plenty of seating and counter space for people to put their pies and side dishes. The best dish was swedish meatballs! So good.

It has been a busy fall season but winter seems to be busier! My boyfriend, Shan (pronounced Shaun) and I are going to Vancouver, Canada this weekend, so I will be sure to post lots of photos from that! I’m also going home for Christmas, so that is a nice trip. Then, in January, I have my work holiday party AND Shan’s! This season is going to be a lot of fun!

 

 

Kate Goes Viral

My childhood was no stranger to the unwelcome guest that is strep throat. I have not-so-fond memories of missing school, gargling salt water, and adhering to the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.) My overwhelming memory, though, was the feeling of being helpless. Luckily as a child, I had a wonderful mom who could coordinate doctor’s appointments, remind me when to take my medicine, and cook 20 different foods until I found one I could stomach. Unfortunately, adulthood doesn’t come with such perks.

Last week, I was chugging along at work on Monday afternoon when I noticed some discomfort in my throat. It felt like a piece of food had gotten lodged behind my tonsil (I actually had them removed as a child but one partially grew back!) and swallowing didn’t feel as natural as it should. I brushed it off as a weird body issue that would resolve over time.

As the afternoon drew on, I started getting cold. I was wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt, but I was shivering! I went on errands outside just so I could stand in the sunshine and try to warm up. I cancelled my fitness class and planned to go home and sleep.

I woke up at 9pm in a cold sweat. My body was burning up and my throat had caught fire. It hurt to swallow. It hurt to even exist. I texted my boss and asked for Tuesday off. It was only my third week, but there was no way I could go into work. I could barely text.

I scheduled a doctor’s appointment as soon as I woke up. They squeezed me in that morning and I thought I would be fine to drive. As soon as I parked and walked up the stairs to the office, I felt woozy. As the receptionist was checking me in, my vision started to go blurry and I knew I needed to sit down. Of course, this put everyone on high alert and they treated me like a fragile snowflake the rest of the appointment! Not surprisingly, my blood pressure was low and my white blood cells were at 0. We awaited the results of the strep and mono tests.

Both came back negative. Without a culprit, I couldn’t be prescribed any medication. I was told to alternate Advil and Tylenol and to try to eat soft foods like macaroni and cheese. When was the last time a doctor recommended junk food!? I would have been excited if I wasn’t in so much pain. My tonsils were swollen and it hurt to breathe, let alone swallow solid food!

I was referred to my regular hematologist who wanted to take a second look at my white blood cells to make sure everything was normal. After a viral infection, it’s normal for white blood cells to take a hit. They ruled out any funny business and I was sent home with strict instructions for bedrest.

Taking care of my body was a priority, but so was making a good impression at my new job! I felt horrible asking for 3 days off, especially since I already had approved vacation time in 2 weeks for my brother’s wedding. What does it say about an employee when she misses 6 business days in the first month?! I’m not sure if cool millennial tech companies are always this lax about vacation or if they just really like me!

I don’t have a TV in my apartment, so I spent most of my time sleeping. I could barely stay awake, anyway! Luckily I got better and was able to make it into the office on Friday to catch up on work. Everyone was so supportive! Even my friends offered to bring me soup and throat drops!

What caused the virus? I’ll never know. My habit of adopting abandoned drinks at bars certainly didn’t help. And here I thought I was building my immune system! I am grateful for one result of this sickness – I dropped a couple pounds and now my bridesmaid dress fits much more comfortably! Silver linings.

Now I am back in the office and gearing up to leave next week for Brent’s wedding. I fly out on Tuesday and return Sunday. I can’t wait to be part of the ceremony and see all of work that Alicia has done to plan everything! Knowing my brother, the food and drink will be great… but the after party will be better!

The First Week: Complete!

It’s funny how time works. Sometimes it flies by… sometimes it crawls. This week was a bit of both.

I woke up early on Monday and gave myself plenty of time to get ready. You can’t be late for the first day! I left my apartment at 8:30 with the intent of arriving at work by 9:00am. After two years of commuting at 6:30am with no traffic, I didn’t know what to expect. Luckily my route is a simple drive down a not-so-popular road, so there wasn’t much traffic. It is only one lane, so sometimes it gets backed up when people try to make left turns, but it isn’t too bad. My commute was only 7 minutes!

My first day was filled with the basics – tax forms, signing agreements, and getting a parking pass. Everyone was so friendly! I’ll be working in the Operations department (which is really just a cluster of desks!) with two other ladies. They took me out to lunch on my first day and told me what to expect!

The office is so Portland. It is a nondescript building with no signage except a large hotdog hanging above the entrance. You enter and immediately walk up a flight of creaky stairs under a hipster mural. The lobby is complete with a pirate’s chest full of crushed PBR beer cans, a stuffed bobcat that the owner shot on her property, and a big display of rusty circular saw blades surrounding a painting of a naked lady eating ice cream. Very eclectic, for sure! There really aren’t any rooms or doors in the entire office except for the bathrooms, the owners office, and a meeting room. The rest is an open floor plan. No cubicles – just desks and fun art on the walls.

We have a shared music system that plays throughout the entire office. We can all add songs via an app on our computer. They didn’t like my techno songs, but they seemed to enjoy when I played Fleetwood Mac!

Learning names has been the hardest part. Most of the office is female 20-somethings with messy hair and tattoos. Since my legal name is Katie, that is what I have on my resume. I wanted to be polite and not correct them to “Kate” during the interview, so on the first day when they told me there are 3 other Katie’s, I offered to go by Kate!

My week has consisted of a lot of learning! After the first 2 days, my brain was fried. I had to go home and immediately go to sleep to process it all. I don’t think I had ever been more exhausted!  I’m so thrilled to have a job where I don’t sit at a desk all day. I love the variety!

The rest of the week has been more relaxed. I’ve finally gotten the hang of things and have an idea of my daily routine. I spent a good deal of time purchasing organizer containers and getting the drawers in order. Everyone is so happy!

Even though I’ve learned a lot this week, it has just flown by! It feels like just yesterday I was nervous about my first day. I’m still a little stressed out after a long week of new experiences, so I scheduled a float session.

Float tanks are pretty trendy right now. You can either go to a spa or a designated float shop. Usually you schedule a 90 minute session for about $50. Cheaper than a massage! During this time, you float in the tank to achieve total relaxation. The water is actually a salt solution designed to make you feel weightless. Apparently you can’t tell where the water ends and the air begins. It is also completely dark, so you have no perception of space. The “tank” itself can take many forms: a space-age pod, a tiny room with a cellar door, or an entire open-air room for those who are claustrophobic. I booked the medium sized room. It is about the size of a large gas station ice cooler. Everyone I know who has floated has loved it, so I guess I’ll give it a shot!