Tag Archives: vacation

Life Lessons from Colorado

I just got back from a long trip to Colorado, the home of my heart. I’ve grown to associate feelings with the word “home,” not places, as I’ve always felt like an outsider in most locations. My family, my friends, my husband, my dog and the things I feel when I think of them is what “home” has always been, but in CO, the mountains and the birds of prey and every rock and every person is somehow familiar and embracing of my existence. I hike and I climb there and nearly everyone I meet along the way becomes a friend I will come back and visit. They smile, they share, they expose themselves to me; there is no barrier preventing us from connecting. I feel like everyone has a place where they feel most familiar and in love with life, though some are still searching. For me, Colorado is it.

 

Part of the fun of trips to Colorado is never knowing what to expect. We’ve gone there in May and donned snowshoes on a couple feet of snow in the Rockies. We’ve gone there in December and comfortably climbed with a tank top and shorts. The weather is always entirely unpredictable, but always beautiful in its own way. This trip was no different. The forecast a couple weeks before called for 50’s, 50’s, 50’s. A week later, it changed to negatives, negatives, and maybe some 20’s and 30’s during the day. The initial plan was to sleep in our rental car the whole time. When we saw that forecast, though, we realized this would not be the climbing trip we had envisioned. We connected with our hiking friends in CO and climbing friends of our climbing friends where we live and managed to get a guaranteed four nights of the seven inside out of the freezing cold before we even left. We felt so lucky to have such generous and amazing people in our lives.  This brought us to our first lesson of the trip: Trust connections.

 

After flying into Denver, we picked up a rental car, grabbed some lunch, and headed to our friends in Loveland. They were organizing a Christmas party for that night and had invited us to the party and to stay with them that weekend. D and I are not usually the party people (being former complete introverted wallflowers), but we’ve found over time that friends of friends are usually friends of ours. We kept an open mind and had a blast- D having a heated debate with party guests and I playing fun games with our friends’ family and friends.  Second lesson of the trip: Be genuine and you will receive genuine.

 

The next day, we looked at the frigid temperatures outside and thought “We came to be outside. Let’s go!” We ate breakfast in Estes and headed to Rocky Mountain National Park with our friends. As we headed up the hills to Glacier Gorge parking, the temps continued to climb. When we hit the valley, the numbers dropped again. At 8 degrees Fahrenheit, we reached the trailhead, took a deep breath, put on some yak tracks and balaclavas, gloves, hats, snow pants, and pack on top of three layers of smart wool clothing, and we were off. I’m originally from Florida, so this degree of cold is totally foreign to me. Even with all this gear, my fingers and toes were still cold. I guess that is what -4 degrees does. However, I was comfortable otherwise and warmed up a bit while hiking. I was just so glad to be physically capable of hiking and appreciative that we were with friends (friends we’d met hiking in RMNP a couple years ago) and in this gorgeous place that the cold didn’t matter too much. As we hiked towards Loch Lake, a man in his 70’s+ lapped us at least twice. Then, a nineteen-year-old girl passed us, hiking solo in the wilderness of RMNP. Third lesson of the trip: Don’t make excuses for not doing what you love (not even age or negative temperatures)- Just do it.

 

Monday and it was still too cold to go climbing outdoors, so we decided to hike in Boulder instead and end the day climbing indoors at an awesome climbing gym. Some air outside combined with the variety of new climbing routes was enough to satisfy our outside and climbing desires. We met up with the girl who lapped us in RMNP at the gym and made another new friend. After getting some dinner, we headed to a climbing friend of a friend’s place with beer in hand and settled in for the night. Fourth lesson of the trip: Go with the flow.

Throughout the next few days, we continued to seek good views where we could, layering up for the cold, and meeting up with friends and family in the area. We enjoyed hiking in new and familiar places and exploring on our own as well as meeting new people and sharing time with them in their passion. We found a number of people were raw and open with us when there was nothing between us but time and shared experiences, and we had the opportunity to help people in their time of need. Fifth lesson: Give and you will receive. 

Wednesday, it was finally warm enough (in the 40’s) to climb outdoors. The combination of the floods and snow and ice had wiped away much of the approach trail, so what should have taken 10 minutes took almost an hour of stepping/slipping/sliding in others’ icy footsteps and searching through scree for a path to the route. We came across a couple of people climbing a 5.13. Their impression of the climbing was “It’s cold.” After finding the route and dropping our packs, I sat down to put on my climbing shoes, only to stick both hands into a cactus. Fun times. Another 20 minutes of picking spines out of my hand and we were finally ready to head up a 4-pitch climb. Thankfully, D led, as there were a number of moves that were very height-dependent (as in NOT meant for a person my height). Three pitches up, the belay station was immediately over the top of the canyon and the winds picked up. While belaying D, I was being slammed into the wall numerous times by the wind and only a few feet above me was a sheltered roost. So yes, I think the impression the other climbers had was perfectly accurate- it was freakin’ cold. It was not my most outstanding climbing attitude or day. The coolest part? Seeing a huge, perfect peregrine falcon’s nest up close. It was big enough for me to sit in- and don’t think I wasn’t tempted, as it was sheltered by the wind entirely. Rappelling down was an adventure in itself, as was the approach- which was more like a non-graceful glissade down the icy, snowy, rocky slopes. Sixth lesson: Adventure is not always “fun,” but it is always something to look back on fondly (unless someone dies…). 

After such an adventurous day, we were up for slightly less adventure the next. What did this mean? Aerial pursuits, of course. After seeing an amazing aerial silks performance in Cirque du Soleil earlier in the year, I had been intent on trying it. I knew it would be easier with the climbing skills we possessed. I had seen advertisements for some circus classes in the area and signed us up for a holiday aerial silks sampler. Unfortunately, no pictures as proof, but it was a whole lot of fun. I was impressed the skills I’d acquired in climbing were not only directly physically applicable, but also mentally. Before climbing, I would have been nervous about trying any of it, but I was more than happy to throw myself into moves I’d never tried before and loved it. Seventh lesson: Be open to new experiences.

The rest of the time, we spent time hiking and climbing indoors and hanging out with new and old friends alike. Okay, not unlike the rest of the trip. Still, it reminded me that not all trips need to be “productive,” that really it is all about finding the vacation balance. Moreover, it reminded me that constantly “seeking” something- anything- makes me unhappy. There is a time and a place for just being, for laughing, for socializing, not thinking too much, not working towards something, not having an agenda. Lesson eight: Stop searching for the sake of searching.

Any trips over the holidays that have taught you something?

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Traveling on the Cheap!

In the last year, D and I have been on 17 overnight trips.  So many people are amazed by this fact and ask how we do it because, ya know, traveling is expensive. Well, unlike the average American, as our (my/D’s) income increases, our vacations continue to get cheaper. Instead of revolving around tourist attractions and fancy food, our vacations now are centered on physical activity and for the most part free events. Whereas D and my first vacation together in 2005 involved at least $600-700 for a few days in Disney, our recent almost week-long trip to New Hampshire cost us $350 total for two people and a dog including gas, food, and “accommodations” (our Subaru Outback). We could have made it another $100 cheaper had we brought dinners to cook on our camp stove and spent an extra hour on the road avoiding tolls (holy cow- NY and MD tolls are expensive!!). Here are the ways we cut corners to go on as many trips as we do.

1) Plan, plan, plan! 

All of the below require planning or you’re liable to spend way more than you originally thought. You will also likely find you are able to accomplish more with less energy during your trip. Studies are also showing that we are happiest when planning a vacation than even during it (Read more here)! My planning technique is extensive, involving a whole write-up with information about cheap but healthy food along the way, climbing gyms in the area (back-up plans), climbing crags, climbing routes, places to stay as plan A and plan B and C, etc. We don’t ever stick strictly to “the plan” and there is no way to accomplish hitting up all the items on the list, but we pick and choose when we get there, play it by ear, and have fun with no planning while we are there.

2) Stay with friends or family, in your car, at a campsite, or rent a cabin with a bunch of people instead of a hotel.

What I’ve found is that the best way to travel cheap is by taking advantage of connections. Staying with friends, family (or even friends of family or friends) provides not only free accommodations, but also often free food, a nice place to stay, and awesome time to socialize. If you don’t know anyone in the area, sleeping in your car is free. We’ve done it with two people and a dog and it’s honestly not that uncomfortable as long as your middle seat can fold down. Advice: bring pads for your hips/back! Campsites are often reasonable, $5-10 per night per person. Some even have wi-fi, game rooms, etc. If you have an RV or trailer (lucky you!), you can even find places that will let you park for free: I hear most Walmart’s allow overnight parking as do some rest stops. You have to check with them first.

3) Bring/cook your own meals. 

This is one of the easiest concepts, but the most difficult to execute (in my opinion). This all of course depends on your accommodations.

If you have access to a fridge and microwave: Your options are endless! Bring sandwiches, salads (like this salad in a jar concept), home-cooked hot meals, etc. Eat leftovers and be merry.

If you have access to a portable stove, but no fridge: You can either buy dehydrated foods that you can boil water for and add to (this can get pricey too) or make easy small meals on the stove like mac and cheese, rice and beans, etc. If you have a dehydrator, you can dehydrate veggies and fruits and sauces and bring those with spices and pasta and quinoa, lentils, etc. and cook those together in the stove. You can also put dehydrated meals into separate freezer bags and add boiled water into these as quick on-the-go meals. (See this video for an example.)

If you have no access to stove, fridge, or cooking supplies: D and I lived on bagels with almond/hazelnut/peanut butter for breakfast and clif bars with apples/oranges for a week. We ate dinners out, but could have easily eaten PB/J sandwiches, canned foods, etc. Another idea is bring a cooler if you won’t be going on a trip more than 4-5 days and bring most food to your heart’s content.

4) Choose cheap (or free) activities. 

Almost any outdoor activities are free or cheap (as in pay for parking and/or gear rental and that is it). Exploring towns and villages and window-shopping is free, but fun. Hooking up some more connections with friends could yield fun things to do without paying. Look online for free or cheap concerts, shows, or festivals in the area you’re visiting. There are countless activities out there that won’t break the bank.

5) Bring friends. 

One of the things that has cut down on expenses the most for us is bringing others along. Instead of splitting gas or accommodations between two people, we split it between four or five and that is two to three times more the trips we can make in the future with that money saved. If you share food supplies, costs get even cheaper. Plus, it provides you with awesome experiences with friends who become closer every trip you take.

6) Find the bargains. 

D and I start planning trips months ahead of time. Why? Because if we’re going to fly or get a hotel, it takes a while to find the best deal. It requires loads of research at numerous websites (I use Kayak, Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, CheapoAir, and Southwest to compare flights and sometimes hotels and rental cars too) and just the right timing to get cheap flights. Also, you have to be flexible. If you have it planned out that you want to go to Denver (for instance) sometime in the next year, wait until those 72-hour travel discounts come up and book then. We got tickets for D and I round-trip to Denver for under $450 total in this way. Tip: The best time to travel is a few days to a week after a holiday or big event. For instance, Jan 4- wow, everything will be empty! Sept 6 (when school starts)- awesome! Also, don’t miss the great websites out there that allow you to have nice accommodations for cheaper like CouchSurfing and AirBnB.

This is the first time Dan and I were in CO. We didn't know what weather to expect, so we decided to keep our options open. We went to RMNP and asked the ranger what they suggested. They told us to get some snowshoes and we'll be able to hike past the crowds. We had never show-shoed before, but went and rented some immediately and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
This is the first time D and I were in CO. We didn’t know what weather to expect, so we decided to keep our options open. We went to RMNP and asked the ranger what they suggested. They told us to get some snowshoes and we’ll be able to hike past the crowds. We had never show-shoed before, but went and rented some immediately and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

7) Be prepared and flexible. (insert picture of us snowshoeing)

How is it possible to be flexible and book a ticket anywhere at any time? By being prepared for anything. We are going to CO very soon and right now it’s looking like a cold trip. We plan on climbing, but we’ll be prepared to snowshoe or backpack if the weather isn’t holding up or worse case scenario go to a climbing gym and hang out inside. Because we go with the flow and especially the weather, we aren’t disappointed with any situation and we don’t end up spending money on redundant items (like sweaters or raincoats) because we didn’t bring warm enough clothes or rain gear.

8) Take pictures and memories back with you, not souvenirs. 

Souvenirs are for the birds. Seriously. Unless you collect specific things from every trip you take (like a sticker or a postcard because those are cheap :-)), do you really think a way-too-expensive ornament you bought in a gift shop on your trip is going to mean anything even a few days after you get home? In my opinion, the most important things about trips are what we experienced when we were there: the beautiful scenery, the sunsets, the challenges, and the people we spent our time with. Those can be remembered by photos and reminiscing with the people we experienced the trip with. So next time you go into a gift shop to buy a souvenir, take a picture of your friend in the crazy hat you saw instead. It will mean so much more years later. 🙂

9) Barter for pet or child care. 

Pet care is expensive. Way too expensive for my liking. I love Winter and want her to be in a safe place enjoying herself while we’re away, but I just don’t think it’s necessary to send her off to doggy daycare. We have plenty of friends who love Winter too and enjoy having a pet for a week. We are immensely appreciative, of course, and offer them gifts in return for taking care of her. Some even stay at our place with her while we’re away. I would much rather know Winter is in safe hands and not be spending a fortune than leave her with people I don’t know and break the bank on pet care instead of saving it for future trips. I don’t have children, but it seems like many family members or other friends with kids wouldn’t mind taking in your kids for a weekend while you have some time alone in exchange for reciprocation or just love and cookies. 🙂

10) Make friends for future trips. 

We’ve almost always met at least one new person during every trip we go on. Sometimes, those people become friends who we continue to meet up with every time we visit their home town. In CO, we have some friends who have been generous enough to open up their home to us almost every time we come into town and even offered us a Thanksgiving meal! It’s so nice to have a “home away from home” and people to visit and connect with during every trip.

This is a picture taken near San Luis Obispo in CA. Going all the way across the country doesn't make sense to do by car in terms of gas or time frame (unless you have time and money for a road trip- which is awesome). Do the math- some things make more sense to travel by car and others by flying.
This is a picture taken near San Luis Obispo in CA. Going all the way across the country doesn’t make sense to do by car in terms of gas or time frame (unless you have time and money for a road trip- which is awesome). Do the math- some things make more sense to travel by car and others by flying.

11) Do the math.

When you actually calculate out the multiple ways of getting to a location, you will find there are a lot of factors that influence the amount spent. Driving is often cheaper than flying, for instance, especially if you have multiple people in one car. However, if you’re spending a whole bunch of gas on just bringing yourself somewhere, it can be as expensive as flying. If you get a flight on a deal (or with mileage), it can even be cheaper than driving. Driving halfway or all the way across the US even with multiple people can still be more costly (and of course less efficient) than traveling by air. Mileage of your car is also a factor in expense. Bundling a hotel or rental car with a flight can make things cheaper as well (but not always!). The point is before your trip (months before if this is not a quick weekend trip), calculate each method of travel and all the deals available and determine which is the best for you on your budget so there aren’t any big surprises after you come back home or worst of all during your trip!

In the end, traveling in more efficient ways makes your wallet happy and your mind too. It makes you creative and forces you to experience novel situations. Moreover, it is good for the soul to vacation without the tourist traps. When you spend time on the “back roads” so to speak, it is possible to experience a location in a new, exciting, and possibly more authentic way.

The Balance of Creating A Great Vacation

I just got back from an amazing vacation. I feel relaxed, rejuvenated, and energized to be productive and throw myself anew into personal and career goals. It’s rare I feel this way after a vacation, so when I do, I ask myself: what made it feel so great? Over the years, the conclusion I’ve drawn is that even though everyone has a different definition of what a “great vacation” is, all great vacations fulfill (and balance) a number of different desires: rest, adventure, productivity/new experiences, nature and intimacy.

I came from a family where a “great” vacation was one where my parents could get away from us kids for an extended amount of time and where my brother and I could also be separately participating in activities we enjoyed (sometimes I think we have entirely different genetic makeup). We were lucky enough to go to Club Med a couple times, where there were supervised sports for my brother and theater/circus performance participation for me (adventure). My parents laid on the beach reading most of the time (nature and rest), but my dad also learned how to hang on the trapeze and we all snorkeled together and rode donkeys through the small villages of Dominican Republic, where my brother and I witnessed what “poor” really meant (productivity/new experiences). We spent evenings eating dinner as a family and were often accompanied by interesting people from all over the world, who were more than happy to tell us their stories (intimacy). We never looked at a clock, as there were no clocks on premises. It is something I’ve kept in mind for future vacations- to enjoy and be in the moment, not think about the future or the past (rest).

 

We warmed up our hands by hiking hard, then beginning climbs while not being able to feel the rock and midway thawing out (adventure). We climbed on new rock with new routes, experienced our first New England fall foliage, ate dinners at local restaurants, and met a whole bunch of people from all over the US and even Canada (productivity/new experiences)! It may not be the ideal vacation for most people, but it was one we will never forget and learned a lot from.

Don't sleep away your vacation, but let your body and mind relax while you have the time!
Don’t sleep away your vacation, but let your body and mind relax while you have the time!

Rest- Like I said before, all “great vacations” look different to everyone. Rest to you may be defined as sleeping in, catching up on some good reads, or getting up early but taking a nap in the middle of the day. Some people may even identify a long walk or yoga as rest. Rest is whatever your mind and body need to replenish its reserves from the more hectic and stressful experiences of your day-to-day life. It is a getaway, a restoration to re-connect you to your family, your friends, nature, and/or yourself. Just make sure not to sleep away all of your vacation, as rest is not the part of a great vacation that makes you feel restored entirely.

Adventure allows us to put everything else in life in perspective.
Adventure allows us to put everything else in life in perspective.

Adventure- Adventure is definitely a matter of degree. For some people, adventure is rolled into new experiences and for others, it’s taking a short hike or backpacking into a desert, climbing hundreds of feet up a rock, or hiking up Everest. Whatever adventure is to you, its significance in vacations is important- it allows your brain to put day-to-day concerns into perspective and it provides you with feelings of accomplishment and energy to face future challenges (related or unrelated to this adventure). So the next time you just want to lounge on the beach on vacation, consider finding something outside your comfort zone to experience as part of the trip too.

It was my first time feeling comfortable on lead outdoors this trip, something I've been working towards for over a year now.
It was my first time feeling comfortable on lead outdoors this trip, something I’ve been working towards for over a year now.

Productivity/New Experiences- The only reason I roll productivity and new experiences together is that sometimes challenging yourself to experience something new is productive on its own. And sometimes it requires productivity like planning in order to have the best new experiences. For instance, before every vacation, I make what I call an “itinerary,” but it’s really not a real itinerary. It’s a list of all the places and things to do (and food to eat) in the area that look interesting with all the key information about them bulleted such as hours of operation, website, price structure, type of food, etc. There are no times or official schedules of events. When we get to the location, we see how we feel and pick things to do as the time at a location progresses. This way, I’ve done all the research “work” before the trip, but there is no stress to get X, Y, or Z done within the specified amount of time. It has worked out well for my husband and I as a couple, since I am type A and tend to schedule too much and my husband is definitely type B and would tend to lay around not doing anything with himself and regret it later. It’s also worked out well on trips where one or both of us get sick and the original general plans are just not working out for us anymore. Since all the needed information is right in front of us, it’s just a matter of a decision and quick preparation so we are “productive”, but not stressed or feeling overly obligated with our time.

My second 5.9 lead! I was super proud to be confronting my fears this trip!
My second 5.9 lead! I was super proud to be confronting my fears this trip!

Nature- To me, this is the most important aspect of a vacation, and it often satisfies all of the other desires too. Within nature, we can feel intimate- with ourselves, with nature, and/or with whoever our partner in crime is. Within nature, we can be at peace while having an adventure, exploring new places or even just exploring ourselves within the quiet. Nature is unpredictable, beautiful, dangerous, and yielding. Accepting that a vacation within nature will be in part what nature wants you to experience and also a large part how flexible you are to the experience it is providing will bring you to a better understanding of yourself and things around you. Bring a raincoat all the time so you don’t miss the beautiful sounds and smells of a fresh rain. Plan to accomplish something, but ditch the plan as soon as plan A isn’t working out as well as you had hoped. You may find a vacation in the rain is the best one you’ve ever had. (I’m talking from experience—a backpacking trip in the rain on the Appalachian trail pulled me out of my sinking depression quicker than months of talk-therapy did. See picture below.)

Intimacy- I’m not just referring to sexual intimacy, though of course that may be on your agenda too. 😉 Intimacy is not even entirely about personal or significant relationships. Intimacy is about “a close association with or deep understanding of a place, subject, etc.” We can feel intimate with people we just met, who happened to be on the same trail as us. We can feel intimate with the squirrels sharing our space. We can feel intimate with ourselves. And in order to gain intimacy, one needs to quiet all the thoughts we typically we have running through our heads like cars in NASCAR. A peaceful, safe, and beautiful moment must be created to yield deepness and clarity within words, within silence, within touch. And these sometimes brief moments allow us reflection into what holds our world together: connection. It is easy to forget connection when we live our lives within our separate cars and houses and cubicles. And it is this lacking connection that continues to make us feel we need vacations at all. It doesn’t seem society is going to change anytime soon, so vacation is where you can embrace this and rejuvenate your feelings of being part of this world- your significance and insignificance within it.

Wherever you are off to on your next vacation, be sure to balance rest, adventure, productivity/ new experiences, nature, and intimacy into it in order to have a *great* trip.