As I sit down to write this evening, I find myself in a reflective mood. Not in a sappy sense, but in two hours it will be midnight to begin Aug. 14. Another 18 hours after that it will be precisely 6 p.m. central time, and 15 years to the minute after my wedding ceremony began back on Aug. 14, 1999. Fifteen years ago today, the only travel that was on my mind was our honeymoon in Jamaica. But today, I found myself researching an upcoming visit to Traverse City, Mich., and looking at flights for an October weekend to Las Vegas. So let’s have a look at 15 years of travel reflections.
In 15 years of marriage, so much has changed for me. You’re likely not visiting this site to read about how I’ve settled into a nice journalism career, or how my wife is about to publish her first novel, or how our only child is easing into the second grade. No, you’re likely here for travel inspiration. I did go down this road back in January when I celebrated my 37th birthday with a three-part series on 37 travel moments that have shaped me as a traveler. Feel free to click for Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3.
Today, as I think back to that hot August evening in Memphis when I stood at the front of a church a nervous wreck waiting for the love of my life to walk down the aisle in her Audrey Hepburn-inspired dress, I want to think back to how I’ve changed as a traveler over the past 15 years.
It was all about the beach for me.
When we got married we were kids; both 22, Stacey had been out of college for a year and I had just finished up my degree that summer. We weren’t the types to backpack Europe after college. In fact, we had been to Europe the prior summer and felt like we were old pros with the continent. For me, a professional spring breaker at Panama City Beach, I knew I’d be happy in life if I could just visit the beach often.
We had looked at moving to Florida to be close to the beach, but decided on Dallas instead. It didn’t matter; I knew we’d find our way to the coast as often as possible. But all I cared about in the summer of 1999 was making it to the Caribbean for the first time, specifically Jamaica.
For the first few years of our marriage we continued visiting the beach. But we also mixed in a destinations like New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and Seattle. I began seeing there was much to be seen in these United States, and it had nothing to do with the beach.
But Jimmy Buffett still plays on my soundtrack.
Yes, I love Jimmy Buffett. His music speaks to me, especially when in the car headed south to the beautiful beach communities along the Gulf Coast. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Florida communities of Apalachicola, Panama City Beach or Seaside, or the Alabama arts community of Fairhope overlooking Mobile Bay, the Parrot Head mentality of the American Gulf Coast is part of my heart.
But it doesn’t have my whole heart. Too many Southerners I know spend a week at the beach and that’s it for their yearly travels. Even when I was a broke newlywed, I wasn’t satisfied with just visiting the beach. Road trips from our home in Dallas to places like San Antonio and New Orleans kept the travel itch scratched.
But even today, while I’m traveling to England, New York City or New Mexico, I’m still finding at least a few days to reconnect to my Caribbean Soul in Margaritaville.
I had a blast at an all-inclusive resort.
Back in the spring of 1999, I was a college senior ready to get out of dodge. But I also had a honeymoon to book. So for the first time in my life I went to a travel agent. We walked out of that office with several VHS tapes of resorts to consider for our honeymoon. We settled on an awesome all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
It’s funny thinking back to how we booked our trip then. A few years ago, I cleaned out our old VCR tapes and discovered those old resort videos. I couldn’t force myself to pop them in to watch. Honestly, it would have made me sad and want to book an all-inclusive resort right then. Of course now, there are websites that help make booking an all-inclusive resort so easy.
Yes, we had the Internet in 1999. But we didn’t use it for everything like we do today. I haven’t been to an all-inclusive resort since our honeymoon, although I did stay at a couple of Marriott hotels this summer that worked somewhat like an all-inclusive resort.
But where exactly to turn when looking for an all-inclusive vacation? Tour operators like First Choice have offerings for couples and families looking for all-inclusive vacations in Europe, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and Mexico.
The problem for me and all-inclusive resorts is I have no self-control. I gained some weight with all the visits to the great restaurants I made throughout the day. I figured I had already paid for it so I should go ahead and get my money’s worth. Oh, and I did.
My only word of caution for anyone booking an all-inclusive resort is to try to exercise just a bit while on property.
But I love exploring a destination.
I LOVED our honeymoon in Jamaica. I don’t think it would have made any sense to book two weeks exploring France. If we got married today, certainly. But as a couple of 22 year olds, we just wanted to have a good time at an awesome resort where we could relax.
But since that trip we’ve learned how much we enjoy getting out into a destination and exploring everything it has to offer. We are all about discovering the local culture. Yes, all-inclusive resorts, especially if you pick the right one, can offer some amazing local food options. But I think if I booked an all-inclusive resort I’d just want to sit around on the property and relax. Over the past 15 years, I’ve been more interested in exploring a city, visiting its historic sites and museums, and just discovering how the locals live.
I could use a vacation.
I’ve also learned that vacations are good. I’m not much for just sitting back and relaxing while on a trip. But after spending five days in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and a week in Puerto Rico this summer, I’ve rediscovered the joy of relaxing in a tropical destination.
Over the next two months I’ll be spending time exploring the food and wine scene in beautiful Traverse City, getting to know the city of Chicago better, and celebrating 40th birthdays of a few friends in Las Vegas. I’m excited about all those trips, which I suspect all will be the opposite of relaxation.
We are starting to contemplate travel for the next year, which we hope will include a visit to somewhere in Europe, maybe a week exploring Portland and the Oregon coast and who knows where else.
But wherever we go, I’ll try a little harder to find a place to sit back and relax. Maybe it will be at a resort in the Caribbean, a beach in the Greek isles or in a California vineyard.