In an attempt to come up with something creative and witty for Kaleidoscopic Wandering to celebrate Thanksgiving, I ended up walking back to the usual cliche of why I’m thankful. But who cares? After all, isn’t Thanksgiving about getting back to the roots of what defines us as people … our family and friends, remembering the past and making memories to enjoy in the future, feeling extreme joy and great depths of sadness. For me, this is when I think about years that have gone by and what has made them significant, forgettable, outstanding, frustrating. Who and what gets a nod for all that I’ve become and all that I’ve done? What am I really thankful for this year?
> First and foremost, I’m thankful for my parents who set the travel bug free in me at a very young age. I was always encouraged to ask, explore, wander, go, be and see. Together, we sang golden oldies driving through Iowa in the middle of the night, collected national park passport stamps and visited sites in a number of U.S. cities. They encouraged me to travel wide and far and never, ever hesitated to support my decisions in traveling time zones away from home to attend college or live and work abroad. Dad and Mom: Your unforgiving support and encouragement is something for which I will always be thankful.
Buckle in for a bit of a personal post…
Travel has become such a common thing in my life that I recently decided to take a step back from it.
Things that used to bring me joy—flying, opening the door to a new hotel room, eating at local hotspots — were starting to feel like the norm. I started to expect the things that used to impress me, and those things that I used to tap as local quirks were starting to annoy me. I returned home from a trip a couple months ago and could feel that my sense of wanderlust was starting to suffer from a tinge of travel fatigue, and I decided I needed a break from my frequent movement. I stepped back from a lot of my travel writing assignments and took on some corporate writing clients. I said no to a lot of trips. I stayed home, and I enjoyed it.
And then a few weeks ago, an email dropped into my inbox. The subject line read: “Galapagos?” It was from one of my editors, who asked if I’d like to go on assignment to the Galapagos Islands. My response to her was simple: “Yes.“
When I flew home from my week in the Cook Islands and stepped outside the terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, I cried. I went from being immersed in a place where a single stop sign in the whole country could create a three-car traffic jam to a city saturated with overstimulation. It was too much to take in and I felt completely overwhelmed in that moment when I stepped from one world into another.
Similarly, nine days in the Galapagos Islands can change a person. I just returned from one of the most pristine, authentic places on this earth, and it’s going to take me a few days to catch up to the speed of life that has continued to flow by while I stepped out of my normal routine to visit a place that time has not touched.
For some reason, people love to categorize what kind of traveler they are. Some define themselves as foodies or beer drinkers, nightlife seekers or cultural connoisseurs, adventurers or into the historical side of their chosen destination. I admit that I do the same. If asked where my interests lie, I’m more likely to say that I prefer to be outdoors doing some sort of hands-on activity, and, if I had my choice to define the perfect vacation, I’d probably spend it getting dirty and gritty in the great outdoors. I’m in my element when I’m hiking, camping, zip lining, riding a bike … well, you get the idea.
Like many travelers out there, my trips tend to focus on a specific type of experience. Press trips, in particular, tend to focus on a theme — art and history, food and wine culture, outdoor adventures — but even when my husband and I venture out on our own, we often have some sort of focus in mind. We want to pitch a tent and get lost on the trail. We stay in a nice hotel in the city and plan our days around museums and walking tours. We save money to splurge on a nice meal when the vacation calls for it. Or we book a trip simply to do absolutely nothing.
I mentioned last week that we spent some time in one of our favorite destinations, southern Utah, but this time, instead of doing the same things, which we love, we mixed it up a bit and took what I like to call a multi-genre trip. There was a bit of local dining, some luxury, a touch of culture and history, and still a share of outdoor adventure. As much as I enjoy being an outdoorsy person, I definitely think taking a multi-genre trip is a great way to diversify a vacation. These are the reasons why:
When this post is published, I’m going to be far, far away from my computer. I’ll be taking my second short vacation of the summer, this time in southern Utah. Getting out of Las Vegas and visiting Utah is nothing new for my husband and me. We’re huge fans of hopping in the car and road tripping a few hours north to our neighboring state for a bit of tranquility and serenity.
What is it that we love about Utah? The list is long, but it includes the colors and fresh air, the wide open spaces and interesting topography, the miles of hiking trails and beautiful scenic drives. We make it a point to visit Utah at least a couple times a year because we love it so much, and this visit will be our third of 2013.
The thing about our trips to Utah, though, is that they follow a very familiar pattern. We almost always camp in or near the southern portion of Zion National Park, and we hike and re-hike our favorite trails in the park. We have ventured to nearby Cedar Breaks and Bryce Canyon as well, but our typical destination is the well-visited area of Zion. We know what’s there, we know we enjoy what we’ll find and it’s consistently consistent. There are no surprises, and we always have a good time.
As a child, I tripped around the United States and into Canada for a few brief days on a family vacation. And then high school happened. As a freshman, our band teacher planted the idea of an overseas trip in our heads. By summer, we were on a march-a-thon, raising money for plane tickets to London, England, to play in the city’s New Year’s Day parade. By fall, I was the proud owner of my very first passport.
That trip to London hit the highlights of the city — the Tower of London, Big Ben — as well as those things that particularly appealed to teenagers such as the Doc Marten store and Hard Rock Cafe. We marched in the parade, and it was excruciatingly cold. I played my French horn in a brass choir in Westminster Abbey, and I didn’t know how to appreciate it at the time. I remember thinking that I should have practiced more, but I have no idea what we even played. That trip to London was fringed with high school antics, crushes, goofy snapshots with friends (on film!) and the desire to collect tacky souvenirs. In many ways, it can hardly be considered a life-changing, cultural experience.
It’s old news that one of the reasons I most love Las Vegas is because of its proximity to so many national parks and outdoor spaces that let us hike, camp and explore. One of these is Grand Canyon National Park. Despite what many people believe, it isn’t the closest national park to Las Vegas, though it’s probably safe to say that it is the most popular of all the natural spaces within a few hours of our home.
The first couple of times my husband and I visited the Grand Canyon, we did it for ourselves. We spent the Fourth of July enjoying the cool weather of the North Rim and we bundled up to brave the cold winter for Christmas on the South Rim. Ventures in recent years have centered on the South Rim (the more accessible of the two sides). Now that we’ve been living in Las Vegas for almost seven years, we’ve made several trips to the Grand Canyon with friends who pass through town and foreign exchange student who come to live with us.
In many ways, the Grand Canyon has lost its luster for me. It is still an awesome natural wonder, but now I know the parking lot well, details on the bus route and where the most crowded overlooks are bound to be. I don’t have that wide-eyed sense of wonder that I had when I peeked over the rim for the very first time from the north side and when I caught a glimpse of what it looks like covered in snow from the south side. As I make the drive into the national park, my mind files through logistical thoughts and assumed details about what a visit will entail. I no longer wonder what the Grand Canyon will actually look like.
It’s hardly 6:30 a.m. I’m sitting at the airport in a fog, a 16 oz. coffee and an untouched bagel stacked with my bag, waiting to board the plane with me. It’s early, but I’m always up early, so that’s not so much of a shock. What is shocking is why I’m sitting at the airport today. Less than a week ago, I received an email inviting me to visit Ireland over St. Patrick’s Day.
Over St. Patrick’s Day.
That’s like visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras or Rio during Carnaval. It is travel edition of the saying “go big or go home.“
For the past four years, Kaleidoscopic Wandering has been my baby, a comfy travel companion I’ve cuddled with around the globe. If you’ve been following my travels as of late, though, you’ll know that they’ve drastically changed. This is not a bad thing … it’s just different. In addition to leading a personal lifestyle that doesn’t involve as much travel as before, what you likely haven’t seen is how my professional life has changed. In addition to travel writing, I’ve been publishing a lot of work in a variety of other genres. Additionally, I ghostwrote a book last year and am working on another one right now.
My work has been demanding, and I’ve been putting additional stress on myself to publish more content more often on Kaleidoscopic Wandering. But why? I love to travel, and blogging about the places I go and the things I do there shouldn’t be stressful. It should be something I want and love to do. I’ve been chewing on this quandary for awhile now. I know some of you follow Kaleidoscopic Wandering closely, and I thank you for that. I also know that the vast majority of my site’s traffic comes from Google; apparently I’m an expert on the Grand Canyon … who knew?
Things are changing. A few years ago, I was traveling so much that I was packing for two or three trips at a time, stopping back at home for just a couple days before hopping on a plane again. My passport became an appendage of sorts as I simply extended my arm to have it stamped over and over again.
A little over a year ago, though, I moved my home office to a different room in our house. I bought new furniture and painted the walls and turned it into an inspiring place. We also welcomed our first foreign exchange student our home. Though I loved my place of residency, I began to appreciate it more, and my frantic travel pace started to slow down as I took different types of assignments that didn’t keep me from jumping around the globe.
What I’ve discovered is that my definition of travel has changed. It’s not about where or how long you travel, but what you learn from the experience. In 2012, I took one overseas trip (a two-week vacation to Iceland with my family), and my domestic travel spiked dramatically. I spent time in Louisiana, Kentucky, Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Washington, California, Arizona, Utah and Colorado, and I took road trips from the Midwest to the East Coast and throughout the Southwest. We introduced our first foreign exchange student and her friend to Disneyland, Hollywood, the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean and camping, and we’re spending time introducing our second student to the Pacific Northwest and fantastic areas around the Southwest for outdoor recreation.