I was never one to make New Year’s resolutions. I mean, I appreciated the idea, but it was just not something I did. But as 2013 changed to 2014, I found myself resolving to have a better year. And I did. As 2015 transitioned to 2016, I resolved to be grateful, making the most of every day while being open to new possibilities. And I believe I was generally successful, those resolutions in many ways leading to me meeting and falling in love with Brandon.
The beginning of this year, though, felt a bit different. As I began 2014 and 2015, all I could see were the possibilities, the potential of all the things that could happen in the course of the year. Equal parts scary and exciting, those were years where I did things like move across the country and take a last minute trip to South Korea. But as 2016 began, I felt a subtle shift, an almost imperceptible nudging at the edges of my mind. Now, as I look back on the year, I think what I was perceiving was that this was, perhaps, the end of something. Somehow, after this year, life would be more settled, my (carefully) impulsive decision making would need to be curbed, and my life would become simultaneously smaller and yet bigger, too, I think.
And that’s why I believe, without fully knowing why, I quietly resolved to simply go. My half-formed idea was that at least every other month I would take a trip. It didn’t have to be far or long, but I wanted to take at least six trips over the course of the year. I think I wanted to fit as much travel and adventure as I could into a single year (while also working full time, living far away from family, being responsible for a dog who is rather emotionally needy, etc.).
With that idea in mind, these are the places I went:
January: We rang in the New Year in Bend and enjoyed a weekend getaway to the coast.
February: Brandon and I spent Valentine’s weekend in Portland before I took a solo trip to Iceland later in the month.
March: My aunt came to visit and I got to show off Oregon.
April: I think I actually managed to stay put, other than some local hikes (or attempted hikes…).
May: This month brought an amazing birthday trip to Hawaii! And let’s not forget, my first camping trip in several years.
June: We camped and got to share the amazing Oregon summer with my parents.
July: I attended my first music festival ever – the Cape Blanco Country Musical Festival was a weekend of camping, music, and friends.
August: I bought a house. I think packing and moving and, you know, buying a house, pretty much ruled out going anywhere for a few weeks.
September: Brandon and I celebrated a year together with another trip to Bend. At the end of the month, I flew to Arkansas for my annual roommate reunion and to see family.
October: I took a work trip to North Carolina. It was my first time in North Carolina and I got to catch up with some old friends. And eat Southern food. It was a great time.
November: We celebrated Brandon’s 30th birthday with a trip to Washington (details to come, I promise!!).
December: This was, other than April, possibly the least exciting month of the year.
If you were counting, that was a grand total of twelve trips, an average of one per month. That number doesn’t even include the weekends when I hosted company, a full count of the camping trips, or the many single day adventures we enjoyed. Whew! I feel tired just thinking about it. 2016 was a great one!
Yes, this year may have been the end of something, the last of its kind in my life, at least for now. I have LOVED this year, the adventures, the new places, the lightness and carefreeness of it all. And most of all, getting to do so much of that with Brandon. I do feel sad about leaving this behind sometimes. And scared and excited. But the end of one thing means the beginning of something new. The next season of my life will be its own kind of adventure I imagine, full of unexplored territory and beauty and sometimes pain. But most of all love. A love that encourages me to let go of the past and move into the future. And although I will miss this phase of my life – it has been one of the best – I think I’m ready for the next one. Maybe there won’t be quite so many faraway trips and the weekend getaways will be less frequent, but I am guessing there will be some great surprises in store. Here’s to 2017. Here’s to new beginnings.
Fair warning: This could get mushy. Proceed at your own risk.
We had a lovely summer: hot afternoons spent floating the Umpqua River or relaxing half in and half out of the river’s pleasantly cold water, weekends of camping and hiking that were over before they began, my first music festival, and, most of all, falling even more in love with this man whose adventurous and fun-loving nature had pushed me out of my comfort zone and whose kindness and substantial love created a safe place for me to be myself. This had been the most absolutely wonderful summer of my entire life. I even managed to buy a house and move into it almost exactly two years to the day after arriving in Oregon. It was simply perfection.
But the summer, as do all good things, ended. September snuck in with its subtly cooler nights and a hint of frantic energy as the world around us returned to routines and regularity. We could not let the summer end without one last hurrah and our one year dating anniversary provided the perfect excuse. Our destination a secret until almost the last minute, I anticipated our weekend away and reminisced on what a summer, what a year, it had been.
Brandon planned a weekend full of the things we most loved to do – appreciating beautiful scenery, preferably by foot, having adventures with at least a slight possibility of injury or death, exploring new places, eating an almost embarrassing amount of mouthwatering food, and most of all, spending time together.
We began the weekend with a stop by Crater Lake. A place I have visited and written about multiple times since moving to Oregon, I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing the unbelievably blue water and incredible views to be found in the national park.
We arrived right at lunchtime and decided to eat lunch in the lodge restaurant before setting out to explore. The lunch was delicious, especially considering that Crater Lake is in the middle of nowhere and that bringing in supplies cannot be the most straightforward matter.
After lunch, we set out to explore a bit of the park.
At this point we needed to burn off at least part of our lunchtime calories with a hike. Plus, the day was absolute perfection with blue skies and sunshine for days and a temperature in the low 70’s. It was the kind of day that makes you happy simply to be alive to witness it. Such a day should never be wasted indoors. After considering our options, we settled on Watchman Lookout Trail.
It was short enough, less than a mile to the top, to easily fit with our other plans for the day. Plus, it was challenging enough to feel like an actual hike, not just a walk, with a steady uphill climb, but the switchbacks were not so steep as to make you regret your life (I’m looking at you Garfield Peak). And then there were the views.
The hike offered open views of the surrounding scenery with glimpses of the lake. Once at the top, which is an old fire lookout (hence the name of the trail), there is an unparalleled view of Crater Lake, the kind of view that makes it hard to breath because it is so beautiful.
It is moments like this, where I am in a place almost too beautiful to be believed, arm in arm with the man I love, that gratitude comes most easily. It presents as a sense of overwhelming joy that tangibly wells up inside of me until I am full of emotion, inexplicably crying because I am so perfectly, so undoubtedly, happy.
What a way to start the weekend!
After Crater Lake, we headed toward our ultimate destination for the weekend, Bend. As you may recall, we had started the year in Bend amid the snow and the cold. Brandon wanted to return in the warm weather and while the caves were still open for the year.
At the last minute, the vacation rental he had reserved for the weekend fell through. The silver lining of that is that we ended up staying at Riverhouse on the Deschutes.
As an (obviously relevant) aside, the Deschutes is the major river in this area of Oregon. Thus, there are many places and things with Deschutes in the title, much as you find with the Umpqua River in Roseburg. Although my southern accent is generally not too noticeable, when I pronounced Deschutes, my accent was not just present, but entirely unmistakable. Which meant Brandon took every opportunity to have me say “Day-shoots.” Apparently my elusive accent is both endearing and quite funny.
But back to the hotel. It was lovely. The rooms were spacious and comfortable, with understated design that fit with the hotel’s overall modern-with-a-hint-of-rustic feel.
Here is the point when I would normally tell you about the amazing dinner we had after settling into our hotel. You know, the usual unique spot with locally sourced food that we tend to frequent when we travel. However. Upon consulting some of our usual sources for finding the previously mentioned type of restaurant, I happened to notice that there was a Johnny Carino’s nearby. Brandon had never been to Carino’s and I had not been since I moved to Oregon. In that moment, I knew that if I really loved him, I would allow him to have Italian nachos in his life. And by allow, I mean freak out and demand that we go to Carino’s for dinner despite all of the other amazing options available in Bend.
So perhaps our day did not end on a typically “gourmet” note, but it was pretty much a perfect day full of beauty and love and, yes, delicious food. I can’t think of a better kind of day and this was just the beginning.
Those who know me well know that, at times, I have a tendency to forge ahead with a plan despite obvious contraindications. One could generously call this determination, but in reality it is simply stubbornness. Not one of my best traits. A perfect example? My “determination” to hike at Twin Lakes.
First attempt, April: I knew that it was probably a little early for the road to the trail to be open for the year, but I thought I would check it out anyway. I got about halfway up the 9 mile gravel road to the trailhead before running into snow, convincing me to turn my car around. I hadn’t exactly had good luck with driving in snow in the recent months.
Second attempt, late May: I had given the snow 6 weeks to melt and it was a nice warm day. Surely this time I could make it to the lakes. Weeellll, maybe not. I managed to make it a little further than last time before hitting the snow. One moment, I was slowly making my way up the gravel road, the next, I was driving in this:
I again attempted to turn around, but this time was not so lucky. In the process of turning around, I managed to slide backwards and get stuck in the ditch. That’s right, for the second time in 6 months, I had managed to get stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere. Except this time I was alone.
After several panicked moments involving imagined ways to harness Sydney to pull out the car and perhaps a few curse words, I pulled myself together and began figuring out a plan. I was beyond thrilled to note that I happened to be in a miracle-pocket of cell service (I’m not exaggerating when I say that is a miracle). Given that I did not have to hike myself out of there, my first plan was to call my boyfriend, who was working in Alaska, which was obviously helpful. He didn’t believe me, which is apparently becoming a trend when I tell him things like “My flight was cancelled and so I’m landing in Eugene instead of Medford” and “Hello love, I know you’re working, but I’m stuck in the snow and don’t know what to do so I’m calling you and trying not to cry.” I texted him a few pictures to assuage his doubts. Despite my love and confidence in him, you’ll be shocked to know that he couldn’t actually help me from far away in Alaska although to be fair, he called everyone he knew to see if anyone could come try to pull me out. I then began investigating other options, like calling a tow truck. While that would be an option, it would be an expensive one at almost $500. I then contacted my insurance and learned that I had roadside assistance. Apparently getting your car towed out of a random ditch on a snowy mountainside is considered “roadside assistance.” Relieved that a tow truck was on its way, Sydney and I settled in to wait the couple of hours it would take to get there.
Once the truck arrived, it was a relatively simple matter to get my car unstuck. And the tow truck driver was considerate enough to hold in his laughter at my predicament and to follow me to ensure I made it safely back to the main road.
My car was a little worse for the wear, but I was otherwise unscathed.
However, I was no less determined to visit Twin Lakes.
Third attempt, July: This time, I ensured we would be able to access the trail and I took along my two favorite hiking companions – Sydney and Brandon. This time, I actually made it to the trailhead.
From here, it is about a mile to the first lake, a lovely mile with lush green fields and panoramic views.
We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking around the two lakes, jumping into the cool water with its soft, ashy bottom for a swim, and simply relaxing in a beautiful place.
We may have enjoyed swimming, but Sydney wasn’t such a fan.
This was another perfect Oregon summer day. A warm, sunny day, spent hiking and swimming and exploring a gorgeous place with my love. It just took a few tries to get there.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of adventure, it was the age of relaxation, it was the epoch of new experiences, it was the epoch of familiarity, it was the season of sunshine, it was the season of snow, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were going direct to beautiful nature, we were going direct to misery. In short, we were going camping.
Summer 2016 was going to be an amazing summer. Brandon was home, we had already kicked off the summer with a trip to Hawaii, and we lived in Oregon, the land of gloriously sunny and not horribly hot summers. This would mean months of hiking and floating the river and barbecues. And let’s not forget the ultimate summer activity, camping.
Here’s the thing about camping: my confident assertion that it is something I enjoy is somewhat undermined by not having actually camped in approximately a decade and the fact that when I had previously been “camping” I hadn’t actually been the one doing the work of camping. Sure, I had slept in a tent and cooked s’mores over a campfire, but I had never been the one to put up said tent or build the campfire over which marshmallows were carefully roasted. Despite this, I reassured Brandon that I both loved camping and that I absolutely would do my share of the work.
Thus, with Memorial Day weekend in front of us, we loaded up the car and the pup and headed out to Hemlock Lake. Located in Umpqua National Forest, the campground is basic – up a gravel road in an area without cell service, the handful of $10 a night campsites consist of flat areas with fire pits and tables along with access to drop toilets.
Determined to prove that I could do it, I happily set up the tent as Brandon unloaded the car. This was the kind of place where you had to bring everything you needed because the closest place to purchase anything was at least an hour away.
After settling into the campsite, we do what you do with a weekend in the woods. We fished, we hiked, and we sat by the fire playing cards (except neither of us could remember any card games and the lack of Internet service meant we sort of had to make it up – the key is to “remember” another “rule” at the right moment).
In my quest to demonstrate that I was not high maintenance and could contribute in a meaningful way to the camping experience, I believe I was generally successful.
Only two things came close to defeating me. First, the morning. I had a couple things going against me that first morning – the cold and the lack of coffee. Although it was almost June, there was still snow on the ground in spots and the mornings were quite cool.
I blame what happened next on being inadequately caffeinated and the slight disorientation of sleeping in a tent for the first time in years. Brandon was already up and about, building a fire and, most importantly, making coffee. I was warm and cozy in my sleeping bag, listening to the sounds of the day beginning in the forest and thinking of how lucky I was to love someone who makes such good coffee. That’s when the realization hit me. I was not going to be able to stay warm and cozy in my sleeping bag. Suddenly overwhelmed by the thought of leaving the comfort of my sleeping bag to then take off my pjs in the cold and put on equally cold clothing, I did the almost unthinkable. I asked Brandon – who had not only managed to get dressed like a real adult but then had started to do helpful things like make a fire – to warm my clothes over the fire. Let me repeat that. I, who had insisted that I liked camping and would not be high maintenance, asked my boyfriend to warm up my clothes before I would put them on. Bless the guy, he actually did it. And he did it with minimal scoffing. Not only that, after handing me my now warm clothes (and yes, they felt lovely, thank you very much), he suggested that I come sit by the fire and drink coffee while he cooked veggie breakfast burritos. Like I said, bless him. In case you’re thinking I’m a total slacker, I did do the dishes.
The other thing that almost defeated my attempt to be a camper was the mosquitos, mosquitos so abundant and so hungry that no amount of bug spray could stop them. The worst was when we salvaged wood for the fire from the slash piles (because who needs to bring wood when you can spend hours finding it and chopping it to the right size with a somewhat dull axe?) and when we hiked.
At one point in our hike around part of Yellow Jacket Glade Loop and up to the overlook on Flat Rock Mountain Trail, there was probably a solid half mile of a steady uphill climb when our choice was to keep going at the expense of being able to breath or to get bitten by hundreds of mosquitos, which would swarm relentlessly the second you stopped moving. We chose to keep going. I think Brandon was reconsidering the relationship by the time we got to the top, even when we got to pause and enjoy the incredible view. I may never know the full extent of his loathing because we couldn’t gather enough air to say words. That view, though.
Finally, after realizing we had over a hundred mosquito bites between us, we declared defeat and left a day earlier than planned to enjoy the last day of the long weekend with luxuries like showers, flushing toilets, and clothes that don’t need to be warmed over a fire.
Despite the challenges, I did enjoy my first foray into Oregon camping, although perhaps I was not quite as helpful as I had led Brandon to believe I would be. Regardless, he was willing to give it another shot, which we did a few weeks later along the coast. This time, we stayed at an Oregon State Park campground, Sunset Bay.
Oregon Parks does an incredible job developing and maintaining campgrounds throughout the state. Online reservations are almost a necessity in the summer, but a little pre-planning is worth it. This was camping I could do – electricity, running water, showers, access to stores.
We even got dressed in real clothes and went out for sushi one night. Because we could.
Thankfully, there were no mosquitos and the weather was perfect for hiking and spending time on the beach. We even bought firewood this time, so compared to Hemlock, it was practically like staying in a luxury hotel.
And you can’t forget the peace that comes from having nothing better to do than sit and watch the sunset with the man you love.
But Brandon didn’t want me to have it too easy. So we gathered sand shrimp to use as bait in fishing for surf perch. This is an activity that involves wading into the swampy sand of low tide and using a plunger-like device to pull up wet sand and then spew it out, hopefully with a shrimp or two in the mix that then must be picked up WITH A BARE HAND and thrown into a bucket.
Then the things, things that have poky feet and claws, must be picked up out of the bucket to be used as bait. One of us had a good time. One of us was mildly disgusted and made occasional whimpering sounds. I’ll let you guess which one I was.
Sydney, however, was in her happy place.
The last day we were there, Brandon suggested we go for a hike. Being somewhat tired from sleeping in a tent, I shared that a nice walk would be fine, but nothing too crazy. We had already been fishing and taken a hike along the coast the day before, after all. Sure, he said with a subtle gleam in his eye that I apparently missed, I have the perfect spot in mind. Nice, relaxing walk? I’ll let you be the judge.
He did try to make up for it by writing messages in the sand and showing me pretty views, though.
The final verdict after actually camping? Despite the inherent challenges and discomforts, it is something I enjoy. And something I continued to do throughout the summer. While I might have a preference for a campsite with amenities like running water, it is good to know that I am truly capable of roughing it a bit now and then. Well, I am as long as I have my coffee. Everyone’s got their limits.
What could be more relaxing than a day at the beach? Toes in the sand, the warmth of the sun, the gentle sound of the ocean waves. Sounds like paradise. Of course, the postcards with a beautiful shot of the beach (see the picture above as an example) do not exactly show that “paradise” also means gritty sand in your swimsuit, usually a sunburn, and lest you forget, potentially painful encounters with sea life.
Of course, when Brandon and I decided to spend a day relaxing at the beach, we fully expected the paradise version. One of the benefits of our lovely bed and breakfast in Lahaina was the ability to access many of the guest benefits at their sister property, The Kaanapali Beach Hotel. This hotel, located in the resort area along the gorgeous Kaanapali Beach, has fantastic amenities and for us it was the perfect compromise – we got to stay at a quiet and beautiful B & B in Lahaina and still enjoy the benefits offered by a larger resort. Although we had to pay for parking in the hotel garage, the garage provided convenient access to the beach and we could use the parking receipt to get complimentary drinks at the pool bar for 2 hours after we initially entered the garage.
But rather than take time to stop for drinks, we headed straight for the beach.
We settled into a shady spot and began our day of vacation bliss.
Then we decided that simply relaxing on the beach was for losers. Brandon went snorkeling and we took a dip in the ocean.
And then my arm started to hurt.
A red welt developed and there were (increasingly insistent) shooting pains up my arm and into my shoulder.
Apparently I had been stung by a jellyfish.
So we went in search of solutions. Various suggestions for managing a jellyfish sting that we encountered along the way included “pee on it,” “take Benadryl,” and “get really drunk.” We mulled the options over lunch and lava flows at Leilani’s on the Beach.
Although the coconut shrimp and fish tacos were delicious and temporarily distracting, I became increasingly paranoid. The pain was legit, y’all. Typically not one to overreact to health concerns (seriously, I will probably die because I dismiss a heart attack as a panic attack, NBD) I was suddenly a hypochondriac convinced I was going to have permanent nerve damage and/or die.
In an attempt to both humor me and assuage my fears, Brandon forced me to speak to someone at the resort. I was overwhelmed by the response. They were immediately responsive and got me into contact with the on site doctor. He reassured me that I would not, in fact, die. He also shared with me the actual treatment for a jellyfish sting: run it under water that is as hot as you can stand for 5-10 minutes. It disperses the venom thereby reducing the pain. He also provided me with a topical pain reliever if I needed it. They even called The Plantation Inn, where one of the staff members checked on me later just to make sure I was okay. Really impressive service.
Trusting the expert, I spent several minutes in a hotel bathroom running my arm under hot water. I only got a few weird looks. But let me tell you, it worked! Without any additional pain relief, the pain was significantly reduced and the swelling slowly diminished.
The moral of the story? The beach is more than just beautiful and if you happen to get stung by a jellyfish, hot water is the solution. Although you should probably drink a lava flow just to be safe.
Let’s get real for a sec. Sometimes birthdays can bring about some rather mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s your birthday and you get to celebrate and eat cupcakes. On the other hand, well, it’s your birthday and you have acknowledge that you are a year older. Even if you’re turning 29. Again. I’m working on embracing getting older, appreciating that being in my thirties means no longer spending my days toiling away in the basement of my grad school years, that every year I learn a little more, and that I am increasingly comfortable in my own skin. But when all of that mature, responsible train of thought does not quite ease the distress of being another year older, might I suggest Hawaii?
Although perhaps spending your actual birthday traveling is not the most fun way to spend the day, I celebrated the small things along the way.
Whether you are turning 32 or 92, your life is a gift. Your unique, crazy, hard, beautiful, sad, joyful, wonderful life is your chance to become and do and live. That, my friends, is worth celebrating. Hopefully in Hawaii.
The question is often asked (or implied…), “How do you travel so much?” I think that generally breaks down into two separate queries: how I afford to travel and how do I have the time. So I thought today I would answer the questions!
First, how do I afford to travel.
1. The circumstances of my life. I am a young professional with no children. This is not necessarily helpful advice, because you can’t exactly send your kids back once they’re in your life, but it is a significant factor. At this point in my life my disposable income goes toward travel, although I am perfectly aware that these circumstances could change at some point. Thus, my other tips might be a little more practicable.
2. I save and budget. Each month begins with me spending a few moments putting together my budget for the month. One item on that budget is “travel.” I save money, even a little bit, every single month. Whatever you’re able to save will eventually add up to enough to go somewhere!
3. I stay tuned to travel deals and take advantage of them when I can. For real, I am probably subscribed to just about every travel deal list that exists. Some of favorites are Budget Travel, Travelzoo, and Tripalertz. You can set flight alerts using websites like Airfarewatchdog.com and Smartertravel.com for notifications when certain routes are on sale (for instance, I have an alert for flights to Arkansas – a recent alert I received led to me booking a trip home in September) and there is even a Groupon for travel deals.
4. I take advantage of opportunities. Last year, both my trip to China and to South Korea came about because I took up a friend on an offer of a free place to stay. Be warned, if you say, “Come visit sometime,” I will probably be sleeping on your couch at some point. Especially if you live somewhere cool. I also extend work trips by a day or two when possible, taking advantage of the fact that I’m already visiting somewhere to explore a bit.
5. I try to use points when I can. I am by no means an expert on this particular area of travel, but I am learning.
6. I spend a significant amount of time researching places I might want to go, finding budget options when possible. I find enjoyment in looking for that chic but affordable boutique hotel or finding the best cheap food a city has to offer. I balance splurges like a massage at a spa with free or inexpensive activities such as hiking or exploring a city by foot.
7. I unabashedly ask for the gift of travel.
8. I work extra jobs to earn extra money that I set aside for travel. It is not unusual for me to work well more than a typical 40-hour workweek, all for the sake of being able to go more places.
So how might this look in real life? Well, let’s take my recent trip to Hawaii for example.
Flights: I used 50,000 British Airways points I had previously earned through a credit card sign up bonus to book two roundtrip tickets from Portland to Maui. I paid a grand total of $22.40 in taxes and fees.
Hotel: I used 70,000 Marriott points, also collected through a combination of a credit card sign up bonus and spending on that credit card, for two nights at the Courtyard Maui Kahului Airport ($0). The next two nights were spent at the Plantation Inn in Lahaina, which cost $500 total for both nights. This rate also included breakfast, adding extra value to the cost.
Rental Car: My birthday present from my parents was a rental car for the trip, which meant it cost me $0! We used one tank of gas during the trip, so the entire cost of transportation was about $35.
Activities: After careful research, we decided to splurge on a luau ($260, for two people) and a snorkeling and sailing excursion ($290, for two people). The rest of the time, we did free things like relax on the beach and hike.
Meals: Okay, this is one area where I tend to spend more than average. I estimate that between the two of us, we spent about $600 on food, which includes the tip for the luau and some really, really delicious meals in a place not exactly known for cheap food.
All together, I spent less than $900 (because costs were split with my boyfriend) on an incredible, awesome, amazing few days in paradise. I know the “give up Starbucks” analogy is ridiculously overused. But seriously. Give up your coffee habit for 6 months, sign up for a couple of credit cards (and pay them off every month!) and you’ve got yourself a trip to Hawaii! In my book (and obviously in my book, travel is the best thing ever), that’s a pretty great trade.
The second part of the question, is how do I have time off? I am, after all, early in my career and have close to the minimum number of vacation days offered by my company (which, to be fair, is generous for the US).
1. I sometimes take trips no one else would take in a short amount of time (cough, South Korea, cough).
2. I plan out my vacation days to the hour months in advance. Just ask my boss 🙂
3. I take advantage of holidays and long weekends, sneaking in short weekend getaways or tacking the days onto longer trips.
4. I sometimes get to earn extra days off through attending conferences that require me to work weekends and working the occasional holiday. I also advocated for a 4-day work week, which gives me more time off to go places without taking any extra time off.
Taken together, I do everything I can to maximize my time off and travel as much as possible in the time available to me. Sure, sometimes that means being anything but well-rested, but again, for me the chance to travel is worth it.
Although the answers to the questions of how I travel are hopefully useful, the question I think is even more important is why I travel.
It’s not always easy and fun, after all. Returning from my recent trip to Iceland, I was again reminded of the stress and fatigue that come from travel. Cancelled flights, days of jet lag, a suitcase that takes days to unpack – all of these things are avoidable sources of stress that are directly related to my choice to travel. And yet, I continue to do this thing that, while incredible, is also stressful and exhausting. So what makes it so important to me? What makes the challenges of travel worthwhile?
I know to some my choice to travel as often as I can, sometimes alone, can be baffling. I work extra hours and make sacrifices in other areas of my life in order to afford to travel. I squeeze trips between work weeks, often exhausting myself, and use my time off of work down to the hour, not the day. It is not always easy and relaxing, but I do it anyway because it is something that is important to me, something that I see as essential to myself. I travel for many reasons. I travel simply because I enjoy it. There is nothing I love quite as much as waking up on the other side of the world to a day full of possibilities and unfamiliarity. I travel because I love to learn and because eating new kinds of weird and wonderful food is what life is all about. I travel to make memories and see the places others have only read about. I travel for many reasons.
But most of all, I travel because it challenges me and it changes me. It makes far off places in the world mean something in a way nothing else can. When I read a headline about something terrible or wonderful happening in another place, there is something powerfully personal about saying, “I’ve been there!” I can recall what I’ve seen with my own eyes and the people I’ve talked to. I have connections with people and places that allow me to think in nuances, not in black and white. To look for the good and acknowledge the evil, just as I do for my own place in the world. Through travel I am reminded that I am connected in ways both big and small to others in the world who live lives that seem so different from my own. This connection, this knowing, makes me desire to make the entire world a better place, not just my piece of it. I travel because it makes me a stronger, kinder person – someone who strives to understand when it’s hard and to care when it’s easier to turn away. I travel because this place, this world, that we live in is incredible. It’s beautiful and powerful and ultimately unknowable. And yet, I continually yearn to know more. This answer, these reasons, the why behind the discomfort, that is so much more than the how.
So after all of the posts and pictures of my fabulous trip to Iceland, the ultimate question remains: Did I see the Northern Lights? That is, after all, why I decided to brave the Icelandic winter and travel there in February.
And the answer is…
…weeeell, sort of.
Anti-climactic, I know.
During my overnight flight from Seattle to Reykjavik, during which I got a grand total of an hour of sleep, I spent some of my moments of wakefulness resting my head against the side of the airplane, looking out of my window into the inky black sky. Sometime around 2 am, I saw the faintest, most whispy of Northern Lights from the plane. They were faint enough that my eyes could not consistently capture their presence. And, although I was able to get a couple of pictures, even then the lights were ephemeral and transient, difficult to photograph. But see them I did, in the quiet moments of the early morning, in a plane full of sleeping people. For a few moments, I felt like they were all my own, the magical Northern Lights putting on a show just for me as I raced across a silent and dark planet.
And that was it. The rest of the week, as each night approached, the clouds gathered, obscuring any opportunity to see the lights. Each day was tinged with a hint of disappointment as each night I lost another opportunity to see the lights. In that disappointment, I was reminded that travel is not always predictable and that there are certainly no guarantees. In fact, there are almost always things that go wrong, disappointments, and hard days. But that is also the beauty of it. Travel makes you choose: choose to see the beauty in the less-than-beautiful places, choose to enjoy the amazing parts of a day rather than dwelling on the things that do not happen (I’m talking about you, Northern Lights), choose joy in what you do rather than regret in what you do not. Travel, like life, is about the choices you make, especially when things get hard.
I say that to make the point that, despite not seeing the lights, I had a fantastic time. Of course, as I pondered this on the plane ride back, little did I know that my sense of peace in the face of challenges would be put to the test.
This has nothing to do with the Northern Lights, but it makes an amusing end to my stories of Iceland. Once back in Seattle, I had a 6 hour layover before my last flight home to Medford, where my boyfriend planned to pick me up at midnight. After burning time, it was finally 10 pm, time to board my plane and the announcement is made: my flight has been cancelled. Mind you, by this point I had been awake for over 24 hours, spent the day in two different countries, flown across several time zones, and eaten airport food for what seemed like days. I was not in an ideal emotional state. Apparently no flights were landing in or taking off from Medford.
As I waited in the line to rebook my flight while alternately calling my boyfriend and the airline, I felt like the best I could do was try to have a conversation without crying. This was complicated by the fact that I could not reach the person who was supposed to be picking me up from the airport. Despite my somewhat frantic calls and texts, my boyfriend, who, at that particular moment, I had to remind myself is actually a person whom I love, was apparently sleeping and unable to have a conversation about what I should do. You know, since he was the one picking me up from the airport and all. When I got to the ticket counter, I learned I had been rebooked on a flight. Tomorrow at 5 pm, almost 24 hours later. To put this in context, I could rent a car and drive home in about 6 hours. Option 1: Cancel my flight, rent a car and drive home (technically option 1 was the aforementioned flight, but as I said, not actually an option). Option 2: Catch a flight to Portland leaving in approximately 20 minutes (which my bag that I had checked on the way back due to liquid souvenirs a.k.a alcohol would not make), sleep in the airport (yuck!), then catch an early morning flight to Medford (which I later learned was also cancelled – I would’ve been stuck in Portland). Option 3: Catch a flight to Eugene in about an hour. Now Eugene is obviously not where I planned to be. Or where my boyfriend was planning to pick me up. But it is closer to home (honestly slightly closer than Medford) than either Seattle or Portland. So in my jet-lagged, exhausted, unable-to-talk-to-anyone-about-this-decision state, I chose option 3. Not necessarily the most logical choice, but the one that in the shortest amount of time got me the closest to home. I left a final voicemail detailing when and where I would be landing, confident that by the time I landed he would have some suggestion about how to get me home from Eugene.
The following text conversation occurred upon my landing:
Me: I’m here. In Eugene. Not sure what I’m going to do – I’ve thought about just taking a taxi to a nearby hotel, getting some sleep, and figuring out in the morning.
Me: What??? (As I took deep, calming breaths to calm the quickly rising rage I was suddenly experiencing)
Boyfriend: You can’t trick a trickster.
Me: (emotional silence)
HE THOUGHT I WAS JOKING.
By some stretch of the imagination, he thought I was playing an elaborate prank on him, preying upon how much he had missed me the previous week.
I quickly disabused him of this notion with a mildly hysterical phone call, during which I outlined that I was, in fact, actually walking across the tarmac of the EUGENE AIRPORT while he was waiting for me at the (strangely silent, he realized) Medford Airport. Which was approximately 3 hours away. Did I mention it was midnight and that I had been awake for a really long time?
I just wanted to get home. So I decided to take a taxi. I had thought (hoped?) that my missed airport shuttle fiasco in Minnesota would be my most expensive taxi ride ever. I was wrong. At $250, this now became my most expensive taxi ride ever. Not really a record I want to break. But, I finally made it home around 2:30 in the morning with all of my belongings and my physical and emotional health generally intact. Plus, Brandon made up for the, um, misunderstanding, by picking up my dog so I could sleep in the next morning.
Perhaps my trip did not end in the best or most fun way. Travel is not always easy and certainly does not always go as planned. And yet, I love it. Less than a week after getting back, I was already planning my next trip (to Hawaii, for my birthday!!). Even when it is hard and exhausting and comically terrible, travel is worth it.
Now let’s get to my favorite part of pretty much, well, everything. The food. The mostly delicious, very seafoody food of Iceland.
I was not sure what to expect when it came to Icelandic food, although I did a bit of research beforehand into Reykjavik restaurants. I wanted to treat myself to a nice dinner out my first evening in Reykjavik. Because that’s what I do. There’s nothing quite like sitting in a fancy restaurant eating expensive food. Alone. I eventually settled upon Fiskfelagid, Fish Company.
I was intrigued by the “Nordic fusion” menu, with recipes featuring global flavors made with Icelandic ingredients. The restaurant was cozy after a cold walk from my hotel, despite the sunshine still pouring through the windows.
I began with an amuse bouche of Arctic char (very similar to salmon) and a hearty bread with citrus and dill butters.
I followed this with the coconut fish soup – flavors of Fiji made with langoustine and monkfish.
It was warm, tasty, yumminess. Seriously, I could have eaten just that and been perfectly content.
It was almost impossible to choose a main course, but I eventually settled on the flavors of Ireland – Arctic char served with a flavorful and colorful combination of pan-fried Icelandic lobster, scallops, apple chips, and melon balls, topped with dill vinaigrette (dill must grow like a weed in Iceland – it was in and on everything) and beer foam.
I enjoyed every single bite. So much so that I couldn’t even order dessert I was so pleasantly full. That is like a once in a lifetime event.
Of course, it is not like I had gone the whole day without eating. My first meal in Reykjavik had been the previously discussed Bakari Sandholt for an early, post-flight breakfast.
And no trip to Reykjavik is complete without a stop at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur for what is perhaps the world’s most famous hot dog. I recommend ordering a hot dog, with the unique flavor derived from the addition of lamb, the classic way: ein med ollu (one with everything) – ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onion, raw onion, and remoulade made with sweet relish.
But the good eatin’ didn’t end in Reykjavik. Throughout my trip, I got to enjoy the best that Iceland had to offer. Delicious seafood, lamb, and skyr. One of my favorite stops of the trip was a cheese shop. Burid specializes in otherwise hard-to-find cheeses from around the world and all of the various things that can be served alongside.
And upstairs there is a cheese school. The owner of the shop is passionate not only about cheese, but about the food history of Iceland. And she was hilarious.
While we nibbled on cheese deliciously paired with Icelandic bread, fruit, vegetables, and even smoked lamb, we learned about the mostly gross and unvaried diet of Icelanders throughout much of the country’s history.
There were simply no resources. And there was lots of winter. Which meant almost nothing could grow and anything that could grow or be killed had to be somehow preserved. Skyr, actually a cheese rather than a yogurt, was, and is, a staple of the diet. Served at any/every meal, usually with something sour or pickled (see the above mentioned lack of resources and winter), it is a surprisingly flexible product.
Although Icelandic food may have been, well, less than delicious for centuries, thankfully there have been improvements. Like global commerce and modern technology that has allowed geothermal power to fuel greenhouses that grow actual produce.
One of my favorite meals was a langoustine feast. Caught near the restaurant, the sweet shellfish are not exported – they are only available in this small seaside town.
There was so. much. seafood. I ate seafood at least once a day – a fish soup, a salmon appetizer, a feast of crab and clams and prawns, a salmon and egg sandwich. It was all so good.
When I was not eating seafood I was eating skyr. With breakfast, in a smoothie, just because.
And then there’s Icelandic lamb, supposedly some of the best in the world. My last night in Iceland I had the opportunity to enjoy some served, as it often is, with potatoes and a béchamel sauce. Yum!
Of course, the less palatable (at least to non-Icelanders) traditional foods are still available. Things like horse, fish flakes, and hakarl, which is fermented shark. Oh, and they eat puffins. Keeping up my tradition of eating gross things and taking pictures, I documented, with the help of one of my new friends, me trying harkarl. You are welcome.
There were so many new and wonderful and, yes, not so wonderful, foods to try in Iceland. I didn’t even get to try Icelandic pancakes (ponnukokur) or black licorice (although I did bring chocolate covered licorice back for my office – it was a rather divisive choice of candy either staunchly hated or thoroughly enjoyed; I told them it could be worse) or birch beer. Food is one of my favorite ways to explore a new place and Iceland most certainly did not disappoint.
Add in a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your perspective) dose of delicious food. And then add some more just for good measure.
Stir in a museum (because I’m a nerd and my boyfriend is awesome)
Fold in some adventure
Sprinkle in sparkly snow. Because sparkles.
Add a few relaxing hours at a spa
And don’t forget the most important ingredient of all – someone amazing with whom to enjoy the food and the fun and the adventure. And to kiss. A lot.
Bake it all for about three days and enjoy the perfect weekend getaway.
Brandon and I decided to celebrate the beginning of 2016 in the way I pretty much want to celebrate everything – by traveling. This time, I got to explore the Bend area, an area of Oregon that was entirely new to me.
The Resort: We stayed at the lovely Sunriver Resort. The resort offers a bit of everything. Lodging options varied from my cozy, fireplace-warmed room with a snowy view to entire houses perfect for families. There were onsite restaurants, a spa, and access to everything you need to enjoy the outdoor recreation that the Bend area offers year round.
Not only did I get to check out one of the lodge rooms, thanks to a frozen water pipe which led to a non-working shower, I spent the last night in one of the lodge suites. Termed a suite, the two-story room was more like a small condo.
When I could manage to pull myself away from the fireplace, which let’s be honest was a bit of a challenge given that the temperature was barely above 0 degrees Saturday morning, I could not help but marvel at the beauty of the resort under layers of snow or squeal like a child because twinkle lights were everywhere.
The Party: One reason we chose to stay at Sunriver was because of the New Year’s Eve party. The idea was that staying at the resort would be convenient and provide easy access to the party.
What I had not considered was that, although, yes, the party was quite close to the room, that distance was primarily covered in snow. Snow which I had to traverse in 4-inch stilettos. The bruise on my knee from slipping and falling in the snow lasted at least 2 weeks. Thankfully, the memories – the photo booth, the silly party favors, the band, the champagne toast and kiss at midnight – will last much, much longer.
The Food: Fair warning. The below photos will both make you hungry and perhaps make you wonder how we had time to do anything except eat.
The Museum: We spent a cold afternoon perusing the High Desert Museum. The museum’s exhibits varied from regional art to the history of the Northwest Coast American Indians to animals found in the high desert. Amid all of this, we spent most of the afternoon looking for the porcupines. Brandon had told me about the giant porcupines that he remembered from his childhood. More than once, he shared how cool they were and how much I would like seeing them because they were, after all, giant porcupines. After making a full round of the museum, which included plenty of time outdoors in a place that was literally freezing, we wondered how we could have missed them. How does one miss giant porcupines? After asking the kind lady at the front desk, for the second time, where they were located, we again traipsed through the snow. To see this:
Fortunately, there were plenty of other things to see.
The Spa: Before braving the icy drive home, we stored up as much relaxation as possible with a morning at the spa. A massage, some time in the hot tub as the snow fell outside, and post-massage hot tea and chocolates was a pretty perfect end to a wonderful weekend.
The Boyfriend: Also known as the guy who made the weekend perfect.
Now that I think about it, three days was just not long enough.