Life Travel

A year in review: what 13 places in 2017 taught me

2017, you have been a helluva year.

There are few years where you start as one person and emerge as two (or start as two and emerge as one?), or gain and then even more quickly lose about 30 pounds. But this was one of them. I spent the first third of the year feeling like a small elephant, the second third a sort of cocooning caterpillar or sleepy sloth, and the final third feeling much more like me.

Yet travel was never something that we considered cutting. We traveled with a baby on the inside and on the outside, with a tiny newborn and with a feisty seven-month-old. We traveled for ourselves and for others. Much like a wild pack of wolves, our new addition didn’t stop us from moving. We just strapped her to our backs and continued our adventures. Except this time, we were showing her our world.

Of course, 2017 was more than just becoming new parents. We learned many important lessons along the way from each place we visited. Here are some of those lessons.

Brussels, Belgium

When the world has no music, make your own. And dance.

On a crisp afternoon in February, we found ourselves eating brie and swing dancing in a small apartment in Belgium. Rather than playing music from a sound system, we were instructed to make our own with whatever instruments we had. We were lucky to have a few guitarists among the party-goers, but even still, the living room became our stage. It was the most fun Marvin and I had had in a long time, even considering that I was seven months pregnant, generally uncomfortable, and exceptionally sober!

You don’t need much to have a great gathering. Just pick a theme, bring good, gracious people, and be open. The fun will find its way in the door.

Special thanks to our dear friend Juta for hosting an event that we’ll remember for a lifetime.

Massachusetts General Hospital

There’s nothing like entering a room to an ‘80s power ballad.

Substitute “entering a room” with “entering the world” and you basically have summed up my entire delivery experience, which was nothing short of blissful, thanks to a strong epidural, a great medical team, and my husband, our in-room labor DJ.

He started with Salt ‘n Pepa’s “Push It” and ended with “No Easy Way Out” from the Rocky IV soundtrack (yes, I am completely and 100% serious). While new mothers down the hall were bringing their babies into the world with soothing water sounds and twinkle lights, we were grooming the heart of a champion.

Seriously, though. What could be more appropriate for the world’s greatest workout?

Austin, Texas

Sometimes it’s the misadventures that are the best memories

At six weeks old, Nora Marie took her first flight – to Austin, Texas (if only we could accumulate points for her…). We had a busy weekend attending a beautiful wedding, hanging with old friends, and heading back to the airport in time for Marvin to get to work on Monday morning.

Of course, fate wasn’t going to have it that way. Our flight was cancelled when our plane got grounded at its origin airport due to weather. The worst part was, there were no other flights available for two days.

So here we were, “finished” with our vacation, having just turned in our rental car, with a six-week-old baby, and stuck in Austin for two more days. Oh, and of course the airline wasn’t going to reimburse us for anything because it was all weather-related (insert side eye).

We took an Uber back to the home of our gracious friends, Catherine and David, who were kind enough to welcome us into their guest room again. Then we thought to ourselves, “what are we going to do for two more days?” Not only that, but two days with no rental car, a tiny baby, and 95-degree heat?

Sometimes when you’re starting from nowhere and your expectations are at the lowest, that’s when you have the best time. We took an Uber to South Congress Ave, an area of town we had yet to explore, and spent the day walking around. We had tacos at Torchy’s (pictured above). We shopped along some of South Congress’ weird local boutiques. We drank ice-cold beers in the sun of an outdoor concert and then watched the world’s largest urban bat colony make their nightly appearance from under the Congress Ave bridge (1.5M bats is an incredibly amazing sight to see).

In those two days we fell in love with Austin. We realized that if you give yourself time to embrace the unexpected, you may find that life is filled with wonderful surprises.

New Orleans, LA

The best way to explore a city? Exactly the same way the locals do (don’t underestimate public transit)

We learned all too late how to get around New Orleans. It was my first visit to town, and clearly I spent too much time planning where and when I was going to eat beignets and not enough time planning how I’d get around the city (though that point is arguable, as I really don’t regret a single beignet I ate).

After lots of Ubering and walking, the thought occurred to me that it might be fun to take some streetcars around. I’m no stranger to public transit, but for one reason or another I never considered it during our NOLA trip. Maybe because I figured we were close enough to the French Quarter that we’d just walk everywhere.

But the game changed for us when we discovered the Jazzy Pass, which costs a whopping $3 PER DAY for unlimited use of the New Orleans bus and streetcar system. All you do is download it to your phone and show it to your driver when you board. It’s the easiest thing ever, and took us all around the city, from rooftop drinks at the Pontchartrain Hotel to an afternoon stroll in City Park. Not to mention, NOLA’s streetcars are truly beautiful and worth a visit of their own.

Erving State Forest, MA

You’re never too young for fresh air.

I think our pediatrician really held his tongue when we mentioned we went camping with a two-month-old. My family, who used to go on multi-day kayak adventures, downgraded to some much easier car camping when kids joined the picture. So when my dad reserved a few plots by Laurel Lake in Erving State Forest we couldn’t resist coming along.

How to camp with a two-month-old, you ask? Actually, it’s surprisingly easy. She was too young for insect repellent, and for a reason I may never explain the abundant mosquitoes had absolutely no interest in her. We all slept on the ground so there was little concern about needing a crib or falling on a hotel bed – she just slept soundly in a portable bassinet. She didn’t need any additional food besides what I carried on my person (or in my person, as it were). And we were early to bed and to rise anyway because that’s how it goes when your schedule follows the arc of the sun.

Rather than pushing her around in a stroller, we carried her in an infant carrier. We took small hikes with her and even dipped her toes in the lake. There was nothing that the baby needed that we couldn’t provide, and a weekend of fresh air, crisp mountains and lots of family was rejuvenating for a new parent’s soul.

Albany, NY

Share your love loudly.

It’s 9pm on a Saturday and I’m stuffing my face with candy while watching the biggest, rowdiest room of people dance their hearts out in the name of love.

Yup, it’s another wedding – a common excuse for our travels this year. And it’s one of my favorite kinds of weddings, too. One where the couple is unapologetically themselves. When their love fills the room so fully that you can’t help but grin from ear to ear the whole time. When there is so much joy that groomsmen are pulling grandmothers onto the floor, bridesmaids are dancing with five-year-old boys, people are hooting and hollering and even the staff seem to be having a good time. That’s the magic that descended upon us at Gbemi and Tiffany’s hot pink wedding. We loved every minute of it.

Whatever love and joy you put into the universe, you can expect to receive back to you twofold. Share your happiness loudly.

Washington, DC

Your family are the people that love you most – and drive you the nuttiest

If you want to see stress, try the first family vacation you’ve taken with your mom in 20 years. That’s right: five adults, four kids and a baby sharing an Airbnb in Woodley Park in July in DC, also known as the hottest time of year in one of the most sweltering cities.

Lucky for us, DC also happens to be one of my most favorite cities in the USA (and the place where I met my husband), and filled with endless activity, culture, and old friends. So we had fun anyway.

Note for the next family vacation: noise-cancelling headphones would be a great idea.

A hotel room in suburban CT

“Cooped up” is a state of mind.

Marvin spends his week out of state for work, leaving me and Nora to our own devices from Monday morning to Thursday evening. One week we thought it would be fun to join him at his hotel since my work is primarily done from home.

So imagine the surprise we were in for when we realized that sitting in a single hotel room for three days straight is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

But what if you leave?

On our second visit, I was smarter. I decided to spend my time not just staying in our room, but really taking up the hotel. Nora and I had breakfast in the club lounge. We spent the better portion of the morning working from the lobby bar. For dinner, we visited family that lived nearby.

I have typically spent most of my time in hotels simply enjoying the room itself – ordering room service, lounging on the bed, catching up on TV. Maybe that’s because hotels have always been a place to sleep for me between excursions and nothing more. This was possibly the first time I actually stayed in a hotel to stay in the hotel.

And when you do that, you’ve got to spread your life around or you’ll be get cabin fever really quickly.

Who knows? You might find yourself enjoying it.

Chicago, IL

You can’t go home again. But you can visit.

Have you ever showed up in a place you used to love and your memories just flash back to you at a million miles per minute? You don’t even see the place you’re in anymore. Everything is just subtext for your past.

That’s how it feels to have dinner at Carnivale, one of our favorite restaurants in Chicago’s West Loop. It’s also the place where we got married.

Every year on our anniversary we make a point to eat there again. When we walk into the velvet lobby, we are no longer in Carnivale in 2017, but Carnivale in 2012. We know exactly what has changed, but we pay no attention. In our minds, we are back on our wedding day, dancing to Michael Jackson, Cupid shuffling, smashing cake into each other’s mouths, feeling the energy of a thousand moments of happiness at once.

We almost always order the same thing – ropa vieja, raspberry mojitos, mini key lime pies. It’s the best gift, being able to return to a place that brought us so much joy.

That is what the whole city of Chicago feels like to us. It is definitely our most favorite place that we’ve lived and filled with many friends who we love and miss. Though we know that we can never truly return to life as it was – some of our friends have since moved away and we enjoy being closer to family now – it’s nice to return and relive some of our most favorite memories.

Northfield, VT

Give back to the people and places that made you who you are.

This fall took us to Northfield, Vermont, home of Norwich University, Marvin’s alma mater. We spent two days walking through hallways and hearing some of Marvin’s favorite stories of being a young cadet in Vermont’s military college. We had lunch in the student center. We watched a football game. We joined members of the current drill team for a barbecue. We had an amazing time.

It’s easy to think that we are products of our own self-discipline, or intellect, or drive. And absolutely, that plays a part in our success. But the places that we spend our time and the people we surround ourselves play a huge role in who we become. In a world where we seem to always be moving forward, it’s nice to take a moment to reflect on the places that helped raise us, and to give back to them.

Pocono Mountains, PA

No matter your age, you can always make new friends

In October, Wanderful hosted our very first Wanderfest – a weekend retreat for women travelers in the beautiful Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. We rented space at Pocono Springs Camp, brought 40 of our best community members with us, and had a ball.

On Sunday night, we hosted a story slam in an empty cabin. For hours we shared stories about missed connections, creepy guys, and other travel adventures. A room full of strangers suddenly turned into a room full of friends who had many similar experiences on our travels around the world. And in the morning, we woke up and had breakfast together.

There are so many articles about how after your 20s it’s hard to make lifelong friends. Perhaps it’s because we’re too busy, or too guarded. But with Wanderful, I have found so many opportunities to make friends who I truly care about. I’m grateful to be able to do this even as my life has been a constant source of change.

Newport, RI

There’s always time for glamour.

If you’re really looking to step back into yesteryear, a visit to the Newport Mansions will take you there – and more. We came face-to-face with one of the most interesting parts of American history while attending a wedding at Rosecliff mansion. Rosecliff was the home of silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs and the site of many glamorous events. Ms Oelrichs would be pleased to know that the mansion is still used today to host elegant gatherings and even a filming or two.

Marvin and I enjoyed getting dolled up, leaving Nora with a friend, and pretending we were Ms. Oelrichs’ guests at one of her regular soirees. Whether you’re attending a wedding in a mansion or just taking yourself out to dinner, make sure you let yourself dream every once in a while.

Madrid, Spain

Show your child the world.

I can’t overstate how much of an impact it made on us as parents to take our seven-month-old baby to Spain. We were extremely curious about our first international trip with a baby and it couldn’t have been more positive. Everywhere we went, people were kind and helpful to us.

It reminded us of this simple point: every country in the world, no matter how small or distant, has children. Enjoy that for a moment and don’t let having kids slow down your travels (though I can only speak for having a baby – and not a toddler or, even more difficult, more than one toddler!). There is a whole world out there to show your child, and it’s the best gift you can give her.

 

I hope these lessons told in retrospect have given you a few things to think about this year. Our 2018 already proves to be filled with travel – from Israel, to Puerto Rico, to possibly even the Czech Republic – and so much adventure as we celebrate Nora’s first birthday, navigate some new opportunities at work, and make sure to slow down and enjoy life every once in a while.

Happy New Year from my family to yours.

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