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From Strong Roots…..

Grow Mighty Girls

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#travelwithintention

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A little over a year ago, the world was shutting down. We didn’t know where we could go, what we could do, how to be safe. Supplies were purchased, tears were shed, plans were canceled. For many of us, there has been no travel. It has now been 13 months since I stepped on an airplane.

For a long time, I simply had no desire. It was too risky to sit in airports, share space on planes, or contemplate navigating lodging and food and activities in a manner that was going to be safe. It felt too irresponsible to my patients to knowingly put myself at risk and then return to caring for them. It was all too hard.

Two months ago, with the protection afforded by a COVID-19 vaccine, I began to contemplate traveling again in this world. It’s far too soon for me to leave the country, but perhaps I could venture out a bit. I thought about my options (still somewhat limited), but decided that what I really wanted to do was visit my sister. She lives in San Francisco and it occurred to me that a wine country getaway might be just the ticket. I texted and asked if she might be interested. There was no hesitation in her affirmative response.

(COVID caveats: I am fully vaccinated. My sister has had COVID. My two daughters, traveling with me, are presumed to be non-immune. So I still wanted to be as safe as possible.)

(COVID caveat #2: No judgment here, please, about any choices we might have made. I tend to be thoughtful and conservative with what I am willing to do. I also recognize that we all have different levels of risk tolerance. I firmly believe that we all need to make the decisions that are both societally responsible and best for ourselves and our individual circumstances.)

With agreeable travel partners secured, the planning commenced. Our target area: Sonoma Valley. I’ve been to both Sonoma and Napa on previous trips and find Sonoma a little more approachable, a little more affordable, and a little more willing to accommodate the presence of my tween and teen daughters. We didn’t have a specific location in mind, choosing more based on available accommodations than on any other criteria. I searched AirBnB and narrowed the list down to 5 potential candidates. They all boasted various amenities. All had hot tubs (a must for this trip), at least 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms (another must), and all had been afforded multiple positive reviews. One had a pool (would it be warm enough to use it?), a few had spacious decks, most had beautiful outdoor spaces, one had a game room complete with pool, foosball, Pac Man, and backyard chess. I decided to let the girls choose. Not surprisingly, perhaps, they voted for the property with the game room, well situated in the little town of Healdsburg.

We secured our rental property, purchased plane tickets, and sent grocery requests to my sister, who would be driving up from San Francisco and procuring our provisions on the way. The girls and I excitedly debated the merits of various outfits, shoes, and accessories (half the fun of the trip is in the planning, right?). We scoured the weather forecasts. We brainstormed activities to enjoy while we were there. (The details of which will be reviewed in future posts.)

As we planned this trip, I thought a lot about my intentions. It had been a long, hard, emotionally taxing year. I was spent, both personally and professionally. I was struggling to feel mindful. I was struggling to feel passionate. I was struggling to balance everything. I was going through the motions and I needed to rectify that.

I often have lofty visions of all that I will accomplish when I travel. You know, sleep enough, eat healthfully, meditate, exercise, see all the sights, spend quality time with everyone, learn photography, etc, etc, etc. This time, though, I needed something different. As I pondered my needs and my intentions, I arrived on one very simple thought. I just wanted to be present. To exist in the moment, whatever that looked like. And sleep. I needed sleep.

It’s a pretty big deal for me to have my focus so narrowly defined. But I felt for sure that it was going to be exactly the reset I so desperately needed.

Travel with Friends

We are really, really fortunate to have great friends that we love to vacation with.  We most often travel with my former college roommate (and med school classmate), her husband, and two girls who happen to be almost the same age as our two girls.  Our first big trip together was to a medical conference in Cancun when our girls were just little (ages 3-6).  The trip was such a success that we have repeated it multiple times.  In fact, my girls really only consider it a true vacation if this family gets to go with us.  We have been to Mexico three times (Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and San Jose del Cabo) and Hawaii once (Maui).  We have been camping with them every summer for 7 or 8 years now and also do a girls’ weekend every holiday season.

When we all get together, one of our favorite topics is rehashing past trips and planning for future ones.  Half the fun of traveling is in the planning and that fun is even greater when you share it with someone else.  In the many months that often pass between seeing each other, we share multiple messages about this VRBO or that AirBnB.  We debate the various merits and downfalls of resorts and camping sites.  We share our research about zip lining and food tours.  We compile shopping lists and lists of activities that we must do.  We meal plan and share the packing list.  You know, I’ll bring the salt, you bring the Ziplocks.  I’ll buy the wine, you bring the beer.

We have tried pretty much every style of vacation with our friends.  We have camped in trailers, stayed in all inclusive resorts, stayed in separate VRBO condos in the same resort and on our last trip even shared one large penthouse suite (yes, it was a blast!).  Somehow, with these friends, it all works.  I don’t think that would be true of everyone but this family is the one family I can honestly say that we can vacation with under just about any circumstances.  This has a lot to do with the kind of people they are.  It also has something to do with the fact that we have vacationed together a lot and know how to anticipate and prevent problems by now.  But mostly, they are just great people and that makes it work.

So, what do you look for in a vacation partner family?  First, I think that having kids of similar ages is a must.  That way, the interests and abilities are likely to be similar.  When our kids were younger they loved to swim (with us in the pool), build sand castles, collect shells, do crafts and play simple games.  Now that they are older we go zip lining, take long beach walks, body surf in the ocean, ride bikes down treacherous trails and let them explore on their own with in a safe distance.  Another plus is that they can all tolerate a similar amount of waiting and walking and time between meals.  It’s tough to have a two-year-old who needs to eat every hour and take a daily nap combined with a 12-year-old who needs privacy and freedom and adventure.

The other plus with similar aged kids is that we can mix it up. Nothing kills a vacation faster than sibling squabbling.   The best antidote for sibling squabbling is friends.  I can take the two younger girls shopping and my friend can take the two older girls to the beach.  The older girls can have a little freedom and walk down the street one block for ice cream while the younger girls do a puzzle on the dining room table.  When they all reunite, bliss reigns supreme (or something like that).  Seriously, though, it helps to shake things up a bit.  Having friends with you increases the odds that everyone will get what they need, when they need it, and even have someone like to do it with them.

Another attribute that I think is key in happy friend vacations is at least a modicum of economic parity.  I know, I know, I hate to bring this up.  Money is a touchy subject but one that has to be negotiated and agreed upon in order to pull off a successful friend vacation.  I love that our vacation partners are reasonable about money.  I know they won’t agree to take a vacation with us unless they can afford it.  We have reasonably similar incomes and reasonably similar ideas about how to spend our vacation dollars.  As I mentioned above, we ended up sharing a penthouse suite on this last vacation.  It was a huge unit with plenty of privacy for everyone.  The shared cost factor made it possible for us to afford some luxuries we wouldn’t have been able to afford on our own. Most importantly, we all agreed at the outset that it was worth it.  My friend and I are both very happy to pay for an ocean front condo when we are on a beach vacation.  We are also pretty likely to eat breakfast and lunch in said condo in order to save some money.  We will splurge on nice dinners with drinks but if we want a drink at happy hour we will make it ourselves in the condo instead of ordering from the resort bar.  We talk ahead of time about adventures and excursions and agree on one or two that everyone will like and that we can afford.  When we get there, we won’t be spending wildly nor feel that we have to keep up with each other.  We know that no one will be stressing about money and that is essential to a relaxing vacation.

Finally, you want vacation partners who are flexible.  We all know that the unexpected happens when we travel.  The last thing you want is a tantrum throwing, inflexible, stressed out travel partner.  If you travel enough, some gnarly stuff is going to go down and when that happens you want someone with you who remembered to pack a good attitude.  I’m pretty sure I can’t even remember all the things we have been through with our vacation partners but there have been hotel rooms that didn’t get booked (anyone need a roommate?), reservations that got lost (how will we keep these kids happy while we wait???), menus entirely in Spanish (we took college Spanish, right?), beach walks interrupted by lightening storms, ocean sick kids on boats, dropped ice cream cones, transit on local Mexican buses, poop in hot tubs (that was your kid, right?), sand in shoes, vomit in beds, head injuries, lacerations, and one really epic screaming fit in the middle of a lake on a paddle board.  And you know what? These people that we travel with took it all in stride.  No big deal.  We shared a hotel room, we kept the kids entertained, we found food for everyone to eat, we danced on the beach, we held hair while kids vomited and cleaned up afterwards, we closed lacerations and evaluated for concussions, we scooped up the ice cream and put it back on the cone (ten second rule!), we emptied shoes of sand and we helped our oldest daughters mend their friendship after that really epic screaming fit in the middle of the lake on a paddle board.

After all of that, I can honestly say, I really wouldn’t have it any other way.  The right travel partners exponentially increase the fun, lighten the load, enrich the memories and enlighten the journey.

Traveling Solo SF Edition

My sister and I fancy ourselves to be pretty clever people.  Just ask us, we’ll tell you.  Humbly of course.  We’ve had a lot of great ideas in our time but one of our recent ones is going to go down as an all time favorite.  For a few years now, we have struggled with the idea of gifts.  You know, birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, online browsing and pulling your hair out trying to find the perfect gift gifts.  We wanted to get gifts for each other, but, we didn’t want to spend time or money on gifts that nobody wanted or needed.  Last year we decided that we weren’t going to buy each other birthday or Christmas gifts any more.  We were going to have experiences together.  We decided to take a yearly sister vacation in lieu of material goods.

Now on to the good stuff……where to go, what to do?  The opportunities were endless.  We could go to Europe (too expensive and time consuming), Costa Rica (ditto), Arizona (uninspired), Mexico (hmmmm….real possibility here), wine country (we always have fun in wine country).  We went back and forth for awhile but nothing felt quite right.  Then my sister, who lives in San Francisco, got the happy news that she was getting a raise at work.  While not the kind of raise that allows you to take six weeks off and roam Europe, it was the kind of raise that allowed her to afford her apartment without a roommate.  Which is almost as good as Europe.  Seriously.  So after spending most of her adult life sharing space with people possessing various degrees of compatibility and cleanliness, she gave her roommate notice.  It was time to move on.

Once the roommate moved out, my sister gained a guest room.  Suddenly, operation sister vacation was in action.  What better than a long weekend in San Francisco with affordable (free!) accommodations, allowing us more money for food, drink and adventures.

When the time arrived I packed my bags (including 10 pounds of bison meat and a sourdough starter) and left Montana for San Francisco.  Upon arrival I dashed to my sister’s house and packed the meat in her freezer.  I then walked to the station and took the train downtown to complete a little solo shopping while my sister finished working.  I powered through Cuyana (I’m obsessed) and Anthropologie (spring wardrobe refresh).  I then met up with my sister for oysters and a cocktail to kick off the long weekend.

We spent the next three days hitting the best of San Francisco.  We got pastries at Tartine Manufactory (delicious!) and wandered through Heath Ceramics.  We drank Boba tea and ate pizza.  We browsed the Mission district.  We got a bottle of rosé and drank it in Mission Dolores Park on a gorgeous sunny afternoon.  We wandered through Flora Grubb and soaked in the beautiful plants and art.  We sat on the porch and drank coffee and took afternoon naps.  We ran with my sister’s running group through Golden Gate Park on Saturday morning.  We ate breakfast burritos and drank coffee at Philz in the Castro.  We had cocktails with friends and gorged ourselves on crab at PPQ Dungeness Island.  Insider tip…..go to PPQ.  It’s the best.  While we wandered, we talked.  We talked about things big and small, but mostly, we spent a few days living in each other’s universe.  We coexisted without the distractions of parents, partners, children or work.

It may not have been an exotic vacation but it was packed full of experiences and time with my sister.  Those are priceless commodities.  Those are the vacations that provide happiness and good memories long after they are finished.  Those are the vacations that make life fun, and meaningful and fulfilling.

Here’s to more sister vacations and meaningful travel.

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