One of the best ways, I’ve found, to become intimate with a new place is to attend a festival. Any festival. Food festivals, naturally, rank #1 on my list of the most desirable festivals to seek, but art, I’d have to say, ranks a close second.
DO ride the subway.
It’s not as confusing as it looks.
DON’T fall into the gap, regardless of what the clothing brand might tell you.
The NYC subway is full of helpful tidbits.
DO look up.
There’s life up there.
DON’T buy what you can’t afford.
I’m just looking. I swear.
DON’T try to use the Burger King restroom near the 9/11 memorial.
Unless you want to spend an hour of your one day in NYC in line at a Burger King restroom.
DO take the Staten Island Ferry.
Parking is cheap, the ferry is free, and it’s a great way to see the skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
DON’T stop to take photos in the middle of an intersection.
This could have been my last.
DO eat. A lot.
Never full enough.
DON’T assume that all fashion is good fashion.
DO be grateful for guides who keep you on track.
If it weren’t for them, I’d probably still be wandering around Little Italy trying to pick a place to eat.
DON’T blink. You might miss something.
The biggest challenge, I think, that most people have with traveling, is finding the ability to strike a healthy balance between squeezing in all of the high-energy sightseeing they can possibly manage and actually getting a little R&R.
If they’re not careful, their vacation can turn into work.
I don’t have that problem.
I know when I’m feeling energized, and I know when it’s time to stop, find a cafe with outdoor seating, and sip a glass of wine.
Striking this balance can be particularly difficult on a road trip when, if you’re spending extended periods of time in the car, it can feel like you’re resting because you’ve been sitting for several hours, but in reality you’ve been a highly concentrated ball of compact energy — shifting music whenever the mood strikes; passing, passing, passing on the left; belting out the lyrics you remember to Billy Joel’s “My Life;” almost peeing your pants when you pass a cop and realize how fast you were going; spending the next half hour daydreaming about living in Europe and doing nothing but driving the Autobahn for days on end; telling yourself you don’t need any more homemade trail mix; and matching your vibrations to those of the vehicle while guzzling your double-shot skinny mocha.
When I left Angie’s place in Virginia, I felt refreshed. Energized. Her perfect energy of physical labor combined with wine-laced porch-sitting was exactly what I needed to rev up for the second leg of my trip.
I knew Erin would still be at work when I arrived in Annapolis, so I took my time getting there, opting for back roads (Hwy 310, anyone? Highly recommended if you’re making a journey up or down the east coast.) over the congested interstates with never-ending repeats of McD’s, T-Bells, and Flying J truck stops.
My method for road trip food selection is simple: If I see a place I like the looks of, I stop. If I see a sign that catches my attention, I stop. If Urban Spoon happens to tell me there’s something along my relative route that’s worth stopping for, I stop.
No need to overthink it.
That’s how this happened.
When I arrived in Annapolis, I decided to stop at a Trader Joe’s for the first time ever to pick up some of their infamous “3-buck Chuck” wine to bring to my compadre’s place. I wandered the aisles, impressed-yet-refusing-to-be-sidetracked by the numerous offered delicacies. I finally asked a sample girl where a sister could find some booze on this lovely afternoon, and she looked at me with what can only be described as an expression of the sincerest empathy. “In Maryland,” she said, because clearly I was a foreigner, “grocery stores can’t sell alcohol.”
Having lived in various states and counties south of the Mason-Dixon line for quite some time, I thought I’d already witnessed the gamut of restrictive alcohol sales. In Georgia I performed the grocery store walk of shame on more than one occasion — carrying my case from the registers back to the darkened shelves on a Sunday afternoon.
But this? This required people to make a whole other stop.
“But I just came from Virginia,” I whined.
She looked at me like I probably should’ve stayed there.
No matter. I stopped at an upscale winery and delicatessen where they wearily eyed my selection, poised to judge. “Hey!” The counter lady’s eyes lit-up. “This one’s a very popular choice!”
Apparently my skills are improving. Or rather, my luck was improving, since I randomly selected the bottle based on price and the label. But I smiled anyway, like I hear that all of the time, and went on my merry way.
Now let me just say this. Erin doesn’t actually live in Annapolis. She lives on an island just across the Chesapeake Bay, on the other side of one of the coolest bridges I’ve seen in my life. I’ll have a photo in another post, but hear me: If you have a chance to cross this 4-ish mile bridge in your life, do it.
That is all.
I arrived at her adorable house, ready to curl up on the sofa with a book and a beer I knew she’d left me in the fridge.
But then I saw it.
I was shocked.
Not just by the generosity of the Red Stripe, but by the fact that she lives on an inlet that leads out to the Chesapeake Bay.
In fact, if I would’ve stolen her canoe and paddled out just past that last house you see on the left, I would’ve had a spectacular view of the Bay Bridge.
Then I probably would have drifted out to sea, never to be seen or heard from again since I have zero upper body strength, but at least I would’ve died happy.
Instead, I spent the rest of the afternoon curled up in a lawn chair alternating views of my book and the water.
Hey. Don’t judge.
I’d already had a long day driving and shopping for wine.
And that’s the thing — when you find yourself alone in a new place, or especially with people in a new place, it’s easy to run yourself ragged trying to do all there is to do and see all there is to see. At some point, you have to force yourself to accept the fact that you’re never going to do and see everything. That life is an ever-changing kaleidoscope of actions and reactions, mirage-like events that sometimes you see and sometimes you don’t. And sometimes you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride.
So to me, I wasn’t wasting time.
I was enjoying the moment.
As Billy would say,
I don’t need you to worry for me cause I’m alright —
I don’t want you to tell me it’s time to come home.
I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life —
Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone.
Thanks, Mr. Joel. I’m glad someone gets me.
What’s your travel style? Would you have camped out with a beer and a book, taken the canoe, or hopped back in the car to explore the town? How do you strike a balance between work and play when you’re on the road?
The thing I love about road trips is their fluidity.
Remaining untethered to some airline’s asinine rules and sordid idea of an itinerary–
Since passengers who boarded before you carried all of their worldly possessions onto the plane in order to avoid paying our exorbitant checked baggage fees, we’re going to have to place your expensive and beloved DSLR camera in the hold…
We’re experiencing a delay either because of inclement weather in Denver OR because the flight crew is busy getting hammered in the employee lounge…
Flight 136 to Atlanta has been overbooked because we enjoy collecting your money for a service we never intended on providing. Please come to the desk if you are willing to reschedule.
— is a freeing feeling. One that can only be fully understood if you know what it’s like to throw your clothes into a suitcase or bag in your trunk, only to realize you’ve forgotten a great pair of shoes, your leather jacket, your tripod, and a bunch of CD’s you burned in the late 90’s, so you toss those into the backseat along with a cooler full of water, caffeinated beverages, homemade trail mix, and several haphazardly assembled chicken salad sandwiches and finally, unrestrictedly, hit the road.
You can pack what you want, as long as there’s still leg room and the windows can open.
(Okay. So the Tracker has limited leg room by default and only 3 of her electric windows still operate, but she’s in incredible working condition — especially considering we met back in 2002, just 3 years after her birth, and since then we’ve had the longest, closest, mutually caring, non-blood-related relationship of my life — with the exception of Alaina, who may as well be blood — and have traveled well over 150,000 miles together. We’re kind of in love. I’ve known her longer than my husband, and she’s never tried to start a fight with me via text message because she knows I hate that.
It’s almost like we’re soul mates.)
Even so, there are some”rules” for road-tripping that, while are certainly less restrictive than the spoken (no electronic devices during take-offs/landings, buckle your seatbelts while seated, don’t pack more than 50 pounds worth of crap) and unspoken (the passenger in the middle seat gets dibs on both armrests, hold all farts until you’ve exited the plane, feed fussy babies pre-flight cough medicine cocktails) rules of air travel, should be abided — or at least acknowledged — in order to guarantee an enjoyable trip for all involved.
Even if it’s just you.
1) Break it up, man. Sure, I could’ve driven directly to Philadelphia to meet up with Justin and his family in an easy, less-than-9-hour day trip. But really? Where’s the fun in that? I have people, you know. People I like to see whenever the mood strikes or when one of us feels like making the effort. And a couple of these people just happen to be living along the general path I had to take to reach Philly from North Carolina.
So I did what any plan-hating, inconsiderate domestiphobe would do — I messaged them on Facebook and told them to get their guest rooms/futons/air mattresses ready, because I’d likely be needing them either sometime the week before or the week after Easter.
Whichever turned out to be more convenient for me.
Or mostly me.
This is not the exact path I ended up taking, because I’ve found over the years that U.S. interstates are grotesquely dangerous freaks of infrastructure overcrowded with semi trailers and minivans and repeating clusters of national and regional fast food chains that only serve to make you feel ghastly and bloated and pimply when you finally reach your destination.
Which brings me to:
2) Take the road less traveled. Cross the bridge uncrossed. For real. You see a fork. The left prong takes you on a whirlwind tour of rest stops, gas stations, and enough deep fry oil to sink the Titanic. The right prong takes you to sleepy towns, privately owned restaurants, and probably still enough deep fry oil to sink the Titanic.
But the food it fries, 9 times out of 10, is much, much better.
Let’s see McDonald’s bring you this.
The streets are emptier.
The roads have less potholes.
And the views are… well… they smell better than the back end of a truck stop.
3) Eat well. Seriously. Feed yourself. Feed yourself things you can’t/don’t/ wouldn’t dare cook at home. Discover new places. New dishes. New tastes.
After all, who says the vacation has to start when you’ve reached your destination?
4) Don’t pack light. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but just in case I do, here goes: You’re in a car. You know, that mobile vehicle with wheels, massive in comparison to a single airline seat and quarter of an overhead compartment, so use it. What are you afraid of? That someone will judge you? Elbow you? Stare at you creepily while you try to absorb yourself in The Hunger Games because you’ve become completely obsessed even though it’s a heinous storyline semi-ripped off from or at least probably partially inspired by Richard Bachman’s (aka. Stephen King’s) little-known gem The Long Walk, and you didn’t even know this latest book craze existed until a few weeks ago when everyone started talking about the movie and murderous children and a Peeta that wasn’t a bread/sandwich (pita) but a character in this book that was supposedly so good or disturbing or mind-numbingly twisted that you wouldn’t be able to put it down so you bought it and didn’t actually put it down for 3 days not including sleep and socialization and pee breaks?
Are you afraid that will happen?
Well, I have news.
That only happens on airplanes.
In the safety of your car, no one judges. No one nudges. And no one stares except for when they pass and catch you singing along to Billy Joel’s greatest hits with more enthusiasm than Peeta would show if he were told he could finally have consensual sex with Katniss and she’d actually like it. (I’m only partway through Book 2, by the way, so if you ruin this for me I might have to hate you forever. Or at least for a couple of hours because I have a short attention span, but even so, spoiling plotlines would truly be an evil undertaking.)
The good news is, if you do forget anything, it’s not a big deal to stop somewhere along the line and buy it. But the more you pack, the more money you save, and the less guilty you feel for buying that completely-awesome-yet-unnecessary dreamcatcher from a Pueblo roadside gift shop in Nevada.
5) Bring good music. This is completely subjective, believe it or not. And while modern music is acceptable, anything that inspires nostalgia is better. Billy Joel? Go for it. Avett Brothers? Have at it. Toadies? Go ahead and send me a copy. Because no one judges. (See #4.) And if anyone who happens to be with you does, you can accidentally-on-purpose forget him at a truck stop off the side of I-95.
Or, if you’re nicer and have been paying attention, at a diner off the side of Highway 301 within walking distance of a riverside park and an all-you-can-eat Maryland crab shack and a sign for RedNex sporting goods.
6) Be flexible. Okay. So you want to avoid the interstates, especially around busy cities, but there’s this truly amazing sandcastle competition they hold every year in Cannon Beach, Oregon, and you know there’s no way you’ll make it in time if you completely avoid I-84. Not to mention the fact that sometimes the interstate is just safer, especially while traveling solo, in the way of providing the occasional modern convenience or (hopefully) friendly passerby in case you run into trouble.
So if the situation calls for it, take the interstate. If you have time to peruse a used book store in a quaint seaside village, do it.
Basically this rule means that there are no rules. Kind of like Fight Club, except we get to feel free without having the crap beat out of us.
Good deal, no?
7) Earn Your Keep. This has more to do with the stops between times on the road. When someone’s putting you up for a night (or two, or three, or however long you plan to leach from their generosity while enjoying their company), they’re doing more than providing a bed. They’re providing water, food, hygienic facilities, and a place far more comfortable than your car for stretching out with a good book.
Usually, they’re sharing their home. Knowledge of the place they live and love. Absorb it all, whatever they want to show you, and pay it forward. For our relatives in Philadelphia, I have a gift planned. To Erin, I brought olives and wine. And for Angie?
Angie opted for manual labor.
So on a sunny Sunday afternoon, we took her front lawn from this:
And while I may have taken the occasional break to sip water on her fabulous front porch and point out spots that could use improvement, (I was on vacation, after all), I also managed to help a little, and all-in-all felt pretty great about squeezing in some physical activity between wine and food samplings.
So there you have it. Seven rules for road tripping that are subject to change without notice as I become older, crotchetier, and take in more of what this world has to offer.
So I’ve been pretty negligent in my writing lately.
It’s not my fault, I swear.
First, there’s my job. I don’t really want to talk about it.
Then, there’s this American duty called taxes. Yes, they come every year. No, it’s not a surprise. The problem? Justin and I are both procrastinators. Two procrastinators in one household is worse than 2 Alphas in a single pack. Where 2 Alphas waste time arguing about whose way they’re going to do something, we waste time thinking about how we’re not going to do something. Alphas will eventually finish the job when they determine who can yell the loudest or one knocks the other into a wall. But 2 procrastinators? We never get anything finished.
So last night, after I arrived home from work 3 hours late and was busy not packing for my trip, we realized. Today is March 30th. That means tomorrow is the 31st. Of course, after that comes April, which means taxes are due in like 15 to 18 days. I didn’t care enough to look it up. And I’m going to be gone for like half of those. So, yeah. Maybe we should get on that. Like… now.
Oh, and that trip? That trip starts today. Only I’m sitting here, typing to you, because my darling husband is off getting my oil changed — something I meant to do last week, I swear, but the days just kept happening one after the other and the change never occurred.
So I’ve spent the morning packing, and he’s prepping the Tracker for our imminently late departure.
And I’ll tell you what — packing for a trip up the coast is not an easy task. Since I’m sure to face all types of weather scenarios as I head further north, I figured the best solution was to just throw all of my things into one giant suitcase.
Okay, not all of my things. But quite a few.
I can do that because I’m driving, hence no exorbitant baggage fees.
Then, of course, there’s the travel outfit itself. Since I rarely show you pictures of myself and I’m antsy waiting to go:
Yep, that is one classy lady. Shorts and a baggy sweater. Why this particular look? Well, I personally think shorts are more comfortable for driving than jeans, and I don’t wear pajama pants in public. The sweater is to keep off the chill since it’s raining right now, but I’m wearing a tank top underneath in case it gets stuffy in the car.
Loose clothes are key when it comes to road trips. That way, when my inevitable fast food pooch spills over my waistline as I sit for an extended period, I won’t have to look at it.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes that’s still our guest room.
Yes, it’s been probably 2 months since we started on the master bedroom.
Yes, it’s still a mess.
And yes, that’s a pile of dirty laundry behind me.
So get off my back, would you?
Don’t you know that I’m too busy doing important things like throwing clothes into a bag and taking photos of myself in the mirror to do housework? I mean, just look at the title of this blog. If that’s not an excuse, I don’t know what is.
Anyway, I’m officially late for my self-imposed departure time. It’s really not surprising, and fortunately for me, my friends are kind of awesome because they know me. If I were to actually be on time, the world might implode.
So really, I’m doing this for you.
By the way, of course I haven’t looked up things for us to do/see during our one day in NYC. We have reservations to see Ground Zero — can any of you locals or near-NYC-ers tell me what else we should hit that’s nearby? I think I’d probably enjoy some of the more artsy areas. And both of us would enjoy anything involving food. And it should be young-teen friendly because my aunt, uncle, and cousins-in-law will be along for the ride. Actually it’s probably the other way around. But you get the gist. Ideas?
How about you? Any big weekend plans?
Sometimes I know I’ve been fortunate.
So incredibly fortunate.
I’ve tasted warm, Nutella filled crepes on the rain-chilled streets of Paris. I’ve rappelled waterfalls in the damp, verdant jungles of Costa Rica. I’ve seen every color of the rainbow embedded into ethereal rock splayed across the Badlands. I’ve added 5,500 miles to the Tracker’s odometer in a single trip — marveling at the competing corner coffee shops of Seattle; the craggy, hasselback coastline Oregon; the overhyped sidewalk stars along the grimy streets of Hollywood; the unpretentious grandeur of southwestern deserts; the popping display of vibrant Fourth of July fireworks that greeted me from the mountains as I entered Colorado Springs, and much, much more.
I’m on the right. Okay… not the most flattering of makeup-less helmeted garb, but whatever. I was waterfall rappelling in Costa Rica, for crying out loud.
I’ve stood in a forest field of lemon-yellow buttercups in Switzerland, I think. I’ve spelunked the depths of a guano-filled cave in the mountains of Georgia. I’ve danced in a club in Ibiza while the floor filled with water. I’ve jumped from a plane over the sun-dappled island of Oahu. I’ve bartered with an artist in Malaga for the ugliest drawing I’ve ever seen (story coming soon). I’ve scuba’d the breathtaking reefs of St. Lucia. I survived a border crossing to Nicaragua with nary a scratch, and I suffered a thank-God-it-wasn’t-a-brown-recluse spider bite in my own front yard and lived to tell the tale.
I’ve driven across the Golden Gate, I’ve gazed upon my nation’s capital, I’ve walked on glass over the city of Toronto, I’ve stared in awe at the St. Louis Arch, I’ve seen where le tour de Eiffel touches the ground.
Sometimes, even in Hawaii, you need to get a little closer to the sun.
Yet somehow, it’s not enough.
It’s never enough.
My experience only reminds me of how much I haven’t yet seen. How much there is still to see.
And there is a constant battle in my head over where I should concentrate my energy. I ask myself, why am I spending money on curtains when there are these things to do? Why are we ordering takeout when we could save to eat REAL food in Thailand? Why am I still paying these student loans when I could flee the country and live quite comfortably in Central America? Why did that parking lot car accident just cost us $500 when we should be riding in an Indian rickshaw anyway?
And then Justin looks at me funny because I already made him feel bad about the accident when it wasn’t even his fault, but also because riding in an Indian rickshaw doesn’t hold the same appeal for him as it does for me.
Travel, I think, is in my blood.
And those who are pathogen-free will never understand.
Hell, I don’t understand.
I don’t understand why I’m sitting here, in my office, caught between two worlds. Travel magazines, and writing books on one side of me, paint samples and curtain packages on the other.
One side. (un-staged.)
The other side. (un-staged.)
It’s like a snapshot of my brain, scattered across my pristine white desk, each side pulling me in a separate direction every moment of every day.
It’s a very fast way, you see, to go nowhere at all.
Or split in two.
I know. If that is my problem, then I have it made.
But maybe it’s a metaphor. A really bad metaphor for the struggle of balancing our real lives — relationships, obligations, jobs, and bills — with the vision we’ve seen for ourselves since childhood.
I’m not sure where I lost sight of mine, but I’m hoping it’s not too late to get it back.
I’m hoping I can balance it with the things I have and love already.
I’m hoping I’m not as crazy as I sound.
I’m going to be honest.
This was one of those weekends I wish I could do over.
Not because it was so spectacularly awesome, but because I feel it was relatively wasted in its entirety. Aside from a fun night of drinks with a girlfriend on Friday, I didn’t do anything notable or interesting. I accomplished exactly nothing. I took not one step forward in any aspect of my life. In fact, I actually took one step backwards because we had to return the curtains I ordered for the bedroom.
They weren’t right.
See, they were incredibly white. And shiny. And they felt like a bridesmaid’s dress, except they didn’t get prettier when I got them drunk.
*Update: My buddy Dennis commented that it’s ME who would have to get drunk in order for this scenario — and joke — to work. That’s what I get for writing posts before 7:00 a.m. Why do you always have to be right, Dennis? WHY? (P.S. I don’t think I get prettier when they get drunk. Since I mostly walk around my bedroom naked, they’re not exactly lookin’ at my face, if you knowwhatI’msayin’. Ba-dum-DUM.)
And actually, I made Justin return them, poor guy, because I couldn’t face the idea of going into town to shop. Especially not for curtains. Because apparently bedroom curtains are my Achille’s heel of decorating. Well curtains, and pretty much anything else that requires money and a commitment.
But don’t feel too bad for Justin because he volunteered. Probably because he wanted to get away from me and my manic online curtain shopping — that torturous hell hole of grainy photos, 80’s valances, and mixed reviews.
Oh, the reviews. I read them for what feels like hours and was eventually convinced that it would be better for me to go pick a fabric and sew my own damn curtains even though the most I’ve ever sewed is a button but then I realized that in order to get fabric I’d either have to go out and shop, or I’d have to look online and read more reviews since everyone knows the reviews are the only thing allowing us to make a semi-confident purchase over the internet and still, because of my shiny white grommety curtain fiasco, I’ve learned that even the reviews are confusing and not always reliable and I’d probably end up with some kind of poop brown velvet that a bunch of strangers across the internet convinced me would be a good choice because of its energy-saving qualities and machine washability.
No, thank you.
Fortunately for me and my sanity, I’m learning how to live in the moment. To step away from my privileged white girl problems, crack open a Yuengling, and surf instead for interesting road trip destinations and cheap tickets to anywhere.
It’s called escapism people, and it’s a beautiful thing.
That is, until you realize that an entire 48 hours have passed, your house is dirty, the laundry has piled up, you have no food in the fridge, you’re still only halfway through your book club book and the meeting is on Wednesday, you haven’t written anything worthwhile in an embarrassingly long amount of time, and you still have no curtains.
I don’t like wasting a weekend. It makes me feel icky. I’m one of those people who doesn’t feel right if something doesn’t get done.
But really, I’m thinking of moving us back into the bedroom anyway, because curtains are mostly just for the sake of the neighbors who don’t want exposure to the things that might happen in there, like reading in bed or swinging from our sex toy chandelier. But honestly, if they don’t want exposure, then maybe they should just stop looking.
The good news is that I officially have something to look forward to, besides public displays of sex toy swingery.
Here’s a hint:
Okay. That’s more than a hint.
It’s a road trip, baby!
So it’s not quite the epic cross-country trip that’s been consuming my thoughts, and it’s not even as far as Miami where I drive to visit my sister, but it’s something.
And some of those places are new to me.
And some have old friends.
And wonderful family.
And good food.
And a bed for me to stay.
Because while this trip could easily be accomplished in a single day, you know, in your heart of hearts, that it’s me.
When it comes to going anywhere, I always take the long way home.
What about you? Do you need to feel a sense of accomplishment over a weekend, or are you happy to relax and let one slide by? Any fun trips planned? Anyone else like to take the scenic route?
*Post title from “The Long Way Home” by Norah Jones. Love it.
That’s how I feel.
No, not in a 3-days-post-bikini-wax kind of way.
No, not in an I-went-to-Hawaii-and-forgot-to-wear-sunscreen-and-all-I-got-were-these-billions-of-dead-peeling-skin-cells kind of way.
And no, not in an I-slept-in-a-questionable-motel-last-night-and-neglected-to-check-the-mattress kind of way.
Maybe that’s a better word to describe it.
And while last week I rambled on about the camaraderie of backpacks, I’m realizing more and more that I don’t really care how I travel, just as long as I get to travel. It’s simply easier for me to romanticize backpacking when imagining or re-living exotic trips abroad — the implied gritty, grungy, down-in-the-dirt feeling that stems from steering clear of the relative comfort of plush hotels, room service cards, and pre-packaged experiences. To leave the sanctity of the hotel restaurant and buy empanadas from a man behind a chicken wire screen, or better, to devour fried platanos from the tiny kitchen of a generous resident. To experience that uncomfortable feeling of riding on a rickety bus with the locals, knowing I’m noticeably different.
It’s humbling. And probably something everyone should experience at least once in her life. Like waiting tables.
There’s something in this world about feeling pampered. Or, if not pampered, at least safe. Clean. Looked after. And that kind of travel can be equally wonderful. Where my clothes emerge relatively wrinkle-free from a shallow suitcase and hang in a closet for the duration of a trip. Where if one thing gets wet, everything else doesn’t smell like mildew for weeks on end. Where my burden-free back is left free to stretch and bend and soak in the rays of the sun.
Nope. That’s not so bad. As long as I make it a true point to discover a place — to see more than what a single company or business would have me see — I feel like it’s a trip well-spent.
Take, for example, our honeymoon in St. Lucia back in 2006. It was an excellent balance of hotel pampering mixed with our own adventures:
Luxurious honeymoon suite.
Crazy and scenic cab rides to fancy, schmancy restaurants.
Make-you-wanna-cry views over frozen cocktails.
Tourist food — delicious!
Tourist coconut — more delicious!
Typical street food — MOST delicious.
Travel friends whose names you soon forget.
Locals you know you’ll never forget.
Vacation debauchery and shirts you wish you could forget.
I think the thing that burdens people the most about travel — why some return home feeling the need for a vacation when, in fact, that’s where they’ve been for the last 2 weeks, is because they spend their precious time pressuring it — twisting it and molding it and expecting it to be all of these things that, in reality, it might not want to be.
A tryst with the Unknown is, I imagine, like raising a child. You can want it to grow up to be a doctor. A lawyer. Just like you. Better than you. But you’re setting yourself up for some serious disappointment if you think you can control another soul. If you think you can arrange its life just-so, with the right upbringing, the right education, the perfect amount of discipline and fun time and family time. Because there are always outside influences you can’t predict. Things that will poke and prod and interfere with your project. Things that will influence its way of thinking and growing. Things that could even make it better, if you’d only let them.
So in the end, you have a choice: You can drive yourself crazy trying to steer and constrain, or you can simply set the gears in motion, nurture as best you can, and see what happens.
A trip is like that. It’s not a crafty DIY project you assemble in your garage — it’s a life experience intended simply to be experienced.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t plan. You should always know ways you might get from point A to point B. But you should also be flexible enough to change those plans should a new opportunity arise. This simple shift in thought can mean the difference between a stressed-out, tension-inducing, jaw-clenching whirlwind of befuddlement and a carefree good time.
I’ve quoted them before, and I’ll quote them again:
If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.
The Unknown is scary.
But, if we’re really honest with ourselves, that’s what makes it so damn fun.
Yesterday I did not paint the trim in our bedroom.
Nor did I scrub the baseboards or putty the holes around the windows.
In fact, all I did was shop vac the popcorn remnants before hitting the showers so I could hang out with an old friend who’s back in town for a few days. We sat at a wine bar for the afternoon and talked about girly things.
It was all kinds of wonderful.
Of course, after regaling her with harrowing tales of my adventures into the design world and my big plans for the master bedroom, the talk inevitably turned to travel, as it usually does with me, and we exchanged stories about places we’ve been and where we’d one day like to be.
And I realized.
It doesn’t matter how many light fixtures or curtains or duvet covers I buy — it will never be enough to keep me grounded. To keep me from wanting to island hop through the South Pacific; to explore the Dalmatian coast of Croatia; to swim with the jellyfish in Palau.
Since I’m not in a position to travel right now and I’d like to stall a little while longer before painting baseboards, I’m going to start with a travel basic for you — the backpack.
Those of you used to taking a grand vacation to a single destination without the slightest intention of removing your belongings from the comfort of your hotel room for the duration of your stay may not be aware of the benefits that come from backpack travel. You probably think backpacks are for beatniks and bums — the aimless Dean Moriartys of the world and white people with dreadlocks. Or maybe you think it’s more like an exclusive club — one where you have to know how to play acoustic guitar or roll a superior joint before you’re allowed to become a member.
Well that’s simply not true! Backpacking is a club, but the pack itself is your membership card — your elite access to some of the most interesting, well-traveled, well-read, and well-rounded people in the world. If you’re out in the Great Unknown and see that unmistakable sign of a fellow traveler, you know it’s likely a fleeting friendship can bloom over smiles, tip exchanges, and any number of language barriers.
A backpack means freedom — freedom from the hindrance of staying in one place, freedom from the worry that someone might scratch one of your Louis Vuittons, and freedom to navigate city streets and cramped public transportation without getting tiny wheels stuck in sidewalk cracks and bags tipped in gutters. Two free hands. Your life strapped to your back.
The turtles, I think, might be on to something here.
If I could, I’d take a refurbished 1920’s Craftsman Bungalow and strap it to my back.
But I can’t.
So when I went to Costa Rica, I took these 2 bags:
Two months of my life packed snugly inside the homes I’d carefully selected for the trip.
Of course, a nomadic pro could probably condense to one, but I don’t think I did too shabby for a noobie.
The black pack, The Lowepro Primus Minimus (I know, like a Gladiator!) was my carry-on, and completely necessary because it safely held my giant bulk of a DSLR camera, 2 lenses, memory cards, cleaning supplies, and power cords in the base compartment; plane ride paraphernalia including novels, guidebooks, MP3 player, headphones, and spare underwear in the top compartment; and my minuscule Netbook in the outside compartment. An entire office in a single bag. What’s more, it served as an excellent weekend bag, with camera in the bottom and plenty of room for some rolled-up dresses, undergarments, swimsuits, and toiletries in the top.
The green pack, which I checked on the plane, required a bit more research since I knew nothing about travel packs and the difference between various structures, breathability, and designs intended for campers, photographers, hikers, mountaineers, or just general travel. Not to mention the fact that some packs are built specifically for a woman’s frame, which can make all the difference in the world when you find yourself carrying, like the most cumbersome tortoise, all of the things you want with you at a moment’s notice.
Think about that for a second.
Because when you strap that puppy to your back, no matter how well the bag is designed to distribute the weight where it’s easiest for your body to carry it, heavy is heavy. And there is no better shock therapy for trimming the fat from your life — or your luggage — than by shoving it all into a backpack. Or two. Then strapping one to your back and the other to your front, so now you don’t only look like a tortoise, but a pregnant tortoise, with visions of tipping headfirst with the weight of yourself and not caring a bit because you know you’ll just bounce — and that, I think, is unbridled freedom.
The one I ultimately settled on was a Gregory brand Jade 60, a woman’s pack designed to carry 60 Liters. However, since I ordered the size small to fit my frame, I believe that took it down to 55 Liters. Fifty-five Liters, it turns out, is enough room to carry a life.
A small life of materials, but one filled to capacity with experience.
Was that cheesy?
Yeah, that was cheesy. Even for me. But a girl can’t help but get mushy when it comes to talk of love.
And that’s what this is, albeit unrequited. I feel like a horse at the starting gate — held back for some lame league rule decipherable only by those who make them up — just itching for my chance to run.
My pack is too clean. Too new. Too green.
But that’s okay. For now. We’re just biding our time for a second run.
Many people, especially families I hear, feel the need for a vacation after a vacation. I think I know why that is and what we can do to fix it.
And the first step, my friends, is a decent backpack.
Would you consider traveling with a pack, or do you think you’ll always stick to basic luggage? Do you like the comfort of sticking to one place when you travel, or do you like the freedom to explore. I’m curious. There’s no RIGHT way to travel. What’s yours?
Nietzsche said that. The fist part, about life and boring ourselves. Not the second part, about going on strike. I added that to make a point.
So I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I guess the internet is joining up in protest today to go on strike.
You heard me.
This would’ve been a great thing to know… I don’t know… yesterday, like before I got up at 6:30 this morning so I could write a blog post before heading off to my job that actually pays. I mean, the sponsors aren’t exactly banging down my door over here. I don’t know why companies wouldn’t want to attach their names to my drinkin’, swearin’, sex-obsessed self. It’s mind-boggling, to say the least.
So. I’m up. I’m here. And I won’t get paid for several hours. In light of that fact and in the spirit of adventure capitalism, I think I’ll take advantage of all of the downed sites and hopefully benefit from the fact that apparently I’m the only site online right now.
You’re stuck with me.
It’s not that I don’t back the cause, ’cause I do. It’s just that if I only have but a short time left to express my uncensored thoughts and opinions to the world, I kind of want to take advantage of them, you know? Plus, I didn’t buy gas on that one day they said we shouldn’t buy gas a couple of years ago, and we all know how that turned out. Oil companies still turned record profits, and I never bought that Prius.
Lately I’ve been distracted. Like, crazy distracted, soaking up someone’s blog like it’s a Harry Potter novel, only even better because the adventures are real. Her name is Brenna, and I’ve been working my way back from the very beginning of her blog, This Battered Suitcase, like some crazy internet stalker obsessed with setting up shop in someone else’s life. Vicariously, of course.
For someone like me, it’s hard to not envy the nomadic life she’s made for herself, and she’s only in her mid-20’s. Of course, on the flip-side, true wanderers occasionally get lonely and ache for the type of companionship and comfort that only comes with homesteading for a while, but if this is one of those “grass is always greener” situations, the other grass is the seasonal stuff that turns brown in winter climates, while her grass is like a golf course in southern California — that bitch (the golf course, not Brenna) ain’t ever gettin’ brown. She’s alluded to as much in one of her short, photo-filled, thought-provoking posts — she wouldn’t trade the life she sometimes thinks she might envy a little on occasion for the world she knows she loves to experience.
I have to be careful here, because I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I love my husband. I love my pups. I love my friends, and my house, and the little niche we’ve created for ourselves in this place I’m far from calling home.
Do any of you ever get the feeling that you’re still not doing what you’re supposed to be doing? That, somehow, there’s more to be done, and you just need to figure out what it is and how to get there? I’ve talked before about trying to live life in the moment and not wasting time looking for the next thing on the horizon that’s going to “complete” you, but this is different. I’m talking about a sense of purpose. Of making a difference. At least to yourself, if no one else.
I read a quote by Mark Twain, who supposedly said,
Photo by Blunt Delivery. I think. At least, I found it on her Pinterest and it said it was uploaded by her, so it’s hers until I hear otherwise.
I don’t know how to make this travel bug blend with the life I’ve already created for myself. But I also know that it’s not going away. Once infected, the symptoms are life-long, my friends, and it’s a little bit torturous if you don’t give it the drug that it needs to subside. Unfortunately, that drug can be expensive — not just monetarily, but also when it comes to time and relationships. Current jobs and responsibilities. This grind of debt and home ownership and 9-5’s we call The American Dream. Some of those things I care about deeply. But others, not so much.
If I’m going to be honest, and you know I’m never anything but, I have a current lack of stimulation that’s not filled from showing people houses or watching How I Met Your Mother. And I know, if I have time to think on my bed of death, that I won’t be wondering who the mother really is or whether the writers of that show ever plan on telling us. I will be wondering if I experienced enough — if I met enough people, heard enough stories, tasted enough food, read enough books, loved enough worlds.
Am I the only one who feels like this?
They tell us, as writers, to write what we know. And all I know is, I need to know more. What the food tastes like in Myanmar. How the locals dress in Laos. How difficult it is to buy camera batteries in Croatia.
I’m pretty sure I can make this happen, and that I can make it blend with what I already have.
Does anyone want to send me some money?