Road Trip to Hocking Hills

bryan-minear-315814-unsplashI can barely contain my excitement: before long we will be hitting the road for a little mini spring break with the kids. I took today off of work to run errands and take care of a few things around the house but tomorrow we hit the road headed south.

Initially I had planned some time for us at one of the water park hotels near Lake Erie but stories about bedbugs and an accident at the pool a few weeks ago made me change my mind. I don’t know…visions of an overcrowded hotel and young families with spring fever flashed through my head like a nightmare. You know you should always listen to your gut!

Besides, my body is itching to move and get outdoors. It’s finally spring, glorious spring, and the weather will be a perfect 60° to enjoy.

We are driving in-state but in the opposite direction, to an area in southeast Ohio called Hocking Hills. It’s still very early spring here so the trees won’t start blooming for another few weeks but I can’t wait to go. This area reminds me of where I grew up: woodsy, hilly, and a little bit more on the country side versus urban or suburban. There are several parks and nature preserves with a variety of hiking trails within a few miles drive of that area.

We’re renting a cabin for the five of us. It has a nice wrap-around porch, an outdoor hot tub, lots of windows, indoor fireplace, three bedrooms, three baths, and a loft. Hopefully some good, quality family time inside.

And when we aren’t hanging in the cabin, we’ll hike to Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, and maybe a few others. My husband and oldest will have just returned from an exhausting week-long trip to Disney with the marching band, so they may be a little road weary but the three of us at home are raring to go!

It’s the first time we will take the kids to Hocking Hills. I hope they like it and like living in a cabin. It’s only a 2.5 hour drive for us which makes it a pretty nice getaway….far enough but not too far.

I thought we’d make our way down there all the time now that I live in Ohio again, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Last visit was already seven years ago when my husband and I booked our 10th anniversary trip. We stayed for a long weekend but it was so nice, I cried when we left. Even though it was November and the leaves had fallen off the trees, the setting was so lovely, so calming. Trees were outside every window. We will need to make this trip again in the summer when you are surrounded in cool greenery and can hear the breeze whistle through the leaves.


We didn’t have “spring break” when I was growing up in public school. At the time, it was something exclusively for college kids. You see, in the US, college kids typically get a week off in the spring and many of them carpool to Florida or somewhere beach-bound and party all week long.

However I didn’t get to enjoy the classic spring break experience like many other college students. I didn’t have the money to take a trip and asking my parents for it was out of the question.

For me, spring break was a week where I could work full-time and save up money to pay for my next semester of tuition. Those were the years of barely getting by…and I wasn’t very resourceful or creative in finding ways to travel back then. Talk about a missed opportunity! I have a handful of regrets in life and finding ways to travel and explore in college is one of them. That’s the perfect time to bond with others and discover what brings you joy….and I didn’t know how to make that happen. Given how much I loved travel even then, in retrospect it’s surprising to me that I didn’t search for ways to make it a reality.

And this is one of the ways we try to guide our kids differently so they either have or make those opportunities.

I count my blessings that things have changed altogether for the positive since then and we are fortunate enough to take our entire family on our trips. I want them to see and experience the same places I have over the years, and foster that love of adventure.

It wasn’t until my oldest started public school that I really experienced spring break for the first time. Our school district allocates a week in late March for this purpose. Now every year we take advantage of the week to either escape the generally colder weather here or just to have a change of scenery. We’ve gone to Florida, Washington DC, Sandusky (OH), and Traverse City (MI) in years past. It’s usually the first excursion of a few within the year, but this year I am particularly eager to get out of the house.

Can’t wait to go go go…

 

Photo credit: Bryan Minear on Unsplash

 

 

The Standardized Vacation

On a recent Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, the host and her co-host sister talked about the benefits of a “standardized vacation”. It struck a chord with me.

I’m a travel buff. Have suitcase, let’s go! I’ve been one to explore new places as often as I can for as long as I’ve lived but there is something to be said about hitting the easy button especially now that we have kids. Enter: the standardized vacation.

Here’s the basic premise: same location, same hotel, same time of year, same length of time, same people, same restaurants, same activities.

Beautifully simple.

Nothing to think about, nothing to plan. Just do what you did last time, and build upon what you know, if you want.

anton-sharov-133628-unsplashMyrtle Beach, SC, has become our go-to vacation, like 5 million other Ohioans if I had to guess! We found our favorite hotel about 10 years ago, and we even get booked to the exact same room each time we go. It’s glorious.

We know exactly what to pack. Rule #1 is more bathing suits, fewer clothes. Rule #2 is bring a laundry basket and a small bottle of Tide so I can do a quick load mid-way through the trip and recycle what we wear. Rule #3 is bring whatever gadget you can’t live without and the charger. We’re not hard-core enough to unplug entirely while we holiday.

Last night my husband and I laid in bed and talked about how excited we were for this trip. We drive it. He’s not a fan of the drive, but he talked about how he was actually looking forward to it this year because he knows exactly what to expect. No thinking involved whatsoever.

Seriously, we laugh the whole way to South Carolina because nearly every car on I-77 has Ohio plates and we know where they’re going: Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head. It’s 11-hours non-stop, which means we have found ways to minimize the number of stops along the way and make it a 12 hour trip max, barring traffic.

Our routine involves hitting the road at 5am. We gas up and load the suitcases the night before. The kids sleep walk to the van with their pillows and PJs on, and they’re crashed out for the first four hours of the trip. From our house in Ohio this takes us to Charleston, WV, where the kids change clothes, we all get a potty break, we gas up if need be, and switch drivers. I’m better on the curvy roads though West Virginia regardless of the weather, courtesy of growing up in the tri-state area of Ohio, Pennsylvania, & West Virginia.

Waze is my favorite travel app for this trip. It’s crowd-sourced in terms of traffic jams, road hazards, and speed traps monitored by police or state highway patrolmen. Waze conveys the speed limit and whether you’re over it, and gives you that wonderful metric, the estimated time of arrival, otherwise known as the “time to beat”. LOOOOOOVE Waze.

The car is still pretty quiet as the kids are now awake but on their devices with their headphones or maybe they watch a new movie we buy and laugh. The two of us adults get loads of time to talk and talk, or we take turns napping while the other drives.

I drive four hours till we hit the North Carolina border while all of us nosh on ham sandwiches, snacks, and drinks we’ve packed, and then we stop again for a bio break, gas up and switch drivers for the last time. Then my husband drives the final four hours to our hotel where we check in, unpack, relax for a bit, and then head out to dinner.

We hit up Walmart for some food while we’re in the area. Our hotel has a kitchenette so we alternate meals out and in for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is free at the hotel so we eat up and take our time feasting on all kinds of hot and cold food items.

I remember the first time we made this trip as a married couple with an 18-month old baby in tow. I basically had my husband back the van floor to ceiling with the entire nursery: you know, Pack-n-Play, stroller, tub toys, travel high chair, lovies, baby food, an entire box of diapers….it was endless. You couldn’t even see out the back window. He looked at me like I was nuts. I wanted all the comforts of home. Nothing like having a baby attached to your hip on vacation. It defeats the purpose of getting away for a few days if you don’t have a way for your precious kid to be mobile, clean, and safe.

Now it’s funny how little we need. Beach towels, beach toys, electronic gadgets, headphones, chargers, bathing suits, sunscreen, sandals, laundry basket with detergent, clothes for three days to last us through eight, sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and that’s it. I don’t even sweat it anymore. If we forget something, we just buy it down there.

It helps that we go the same week each time, for the same length of time. We know what restaurants we’ll hit up. We rent beach chairs for the week. There is nothing else to even think about other than which putt-putt place we’ll visit on which day. If we want to sleep, we sleep. If we want to splash in the pool or lazy river, we do. If the kids want to build sandcastles or boogie board, they do. No debating, no thinking about it. We just rotate between 3-4 activities at most. It’s as low key as vacation can get.

And me? Mama Louie? I sit and read under a giant umbrella with my coverup, sunglasses, sunhat, and SPF maxed out, courtesy of a melanoma diagnosis 25+ years ago. It’s a bummer as all the kids just can’t quite understand why I can’t play with them in the sun. Thankfully they have these bronzed bodies courtesy of their Hawaiian and Asian genes and didn’t inherit my pale Eastern European skin.

Man, we love the ocean. Now some people prefer lower-key, very scenic Hilton Head over Myrtle Beach because they think the latter is over commercialized. Parts of it are, but we don’t do that stuff. We don’t walk Ocean Boulevard at all hours, slipping in and out of the souvenir shops. We just skip that. It’s pretty easy to avoid the mass of humanity while you’re there.

Yep, our hang is the beach itself and the amazing putt-putt places. Our kids think putt-putt (mini-golf to some of you) is the most glorious thing ever. It doesn’t take much to entertain our kids and we’re fine keeping it that way, at least for a few more years.

We’re all excited to go back. Hawaii, California, Utah, Colorado, and Florida have been incredible these last few years but it’s time to hit the easy button and return to our home away from home, just the five of us. We have often wished that we were there with a larger group but then we realize that others may not enjoy the next-to-nothing we like to do, so our week away is always just us.

I can already hear the waves in my mind.

Image by Anton Sharon on Unsplash.com

Itching to Go Go Go

Saturday morning. For the first time in ages we don’t have anywhere we need to go, anything we need to do. Seriously. I just checked our online family calendar and the last time our Saturday was completely clear was July 22. Almost seven months ago.

Sigh. Life as an American family in the Midwest.

For the last two weeks, I had forewarned the whole family that today was the day we would clear out this storage room in our basement, the one we have dubbed the “yoga room” ever since we moved in 13 years ago. I always thought it would be cool to have a little sanctuary in the home, a room where you could light a candle, go to be still and quiet, meditate, pray, or maybe even stretch and do some yoga. All these years later, it’s still a storage closet.

I should take a picture of this room to show you what it looks like today. It’s a total mess. We just throw things in there when we don’t have a home for it or don’t know what to do with it, or maybe the kids have outgrown something. But today that room is out of control. We still have empty boxes from when we moved in stored in there.

So today is the day we’ll clean it out: stage what we’ll keep, donate, and trash.

Except I’m itching to go. Go anywhere. Oh man, the travel bug has bitten me hard today.

Honestly we have a WHOLE DAY with total freedom and we can just get in the car and go. I don’t know where. Maybe we’ll make a trip to Detroit and visit the Henry Ford Museum. We’ve never been to Detroit, really, and my friend’s visit to the museum last year inspired me to go check it out. It’s three hours away from our house. It’s a day’s round trip, if we want to make it that. I suppose there are other places we could go but they aren’t novel. Traveling to Columbus is pretty close, and our family there is wonderful and the shopping is amazing, but it isn’t something NEW. Besides, I’ve got that new year’s resolution going about not buying one stitch of new clothing. That’s mostly a rule for myself, but there is no need for temptation.

So now I’m torn between the knowledge that June 30 is likely our next totally free weekend when we can tackle the yoga room (believe me, it’s a family of five effort but why in the world would we want to spend a potentially beautiful summer day in the basement??), and the wanderlust I feel right now. Darn it. I don’t want to be the rational, responsible adult at the moment. I just wanna go go go.

I’ve always loved road trips. Seeing new places. Anything, anything at all, to inject a little diversity into the same old, boring, day to day experience.

And I am bored. I don’t travel for work like I used to. I used to get my fix of travel as I often flew to a new city every week, sometimes a couple of times during the week. Now I commute 30 minutes one way on a country road to another small town which is a remarkably pleasant, bucolic drive. Sometimes the sunrise will leave a blanket of pink fog on the gently rolling farmland and it takes my breath away. I wonder if any of my coworkers making the same commute see how beautiful it is, or whether they take it for granted. Equally as lovely are the golden sunsets I sometimes catch on the drive home; honestly the scenery is what you’d see in a movie, it’s that gorgeous. And once in a while, I am completely mesmerized by a huge swarm of starlings dancing over the countryside, morphing into their fantastical shapes. Sometimes the air is black with starlings, like you’re staring at a lava lamp in the sky.

I never stop to take a photo because I can’t possibly recreate the beauty I see with my own eyes on an old iPhone.

 

Beautiful as that commute can be oftentimes, I am itching to go go go!

I’m trying hard to resist the urge to take a random day off because that’s not really enough to satisfy the travel bug. Every single day, I’m reminding myself that we are using a few days of the kids’ spring break in late March to hit up a water park an hour from our home. It will definitely be a change of scenery, but I’m a little worried that it won’t be enough to tame the travel bug. I also get to head to Georgia for two days in March for a conference.

And if those two trips aren’t enough, then at least our trip to Cuba in April should do it. My husband turns 50 next month. He loves cigars and music, and obviously neither of us have been to Cuba before so boom!  Royal Caribbean had just the right offering to satisfy him. As a musician, he had the good fortune of traveling the world a bit more than I have, so the usual ideas of where to go to celebrate his golden birthday were not so novel but Cuba fits the bill.

He and I have an ongoing rivalry as to who will visit all 50 states first. He’s currently beating me 47 to 45 or something like that. I am a teeny bit miffed about it because I had been way ahead of him for years, but during one of our anniversary trips he got to knock off Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi when we road tripped it from New Orleans to Destin, Florida. He hadn’t been to any of these states before. So not fair!

For the record, I haven’t been to Alaska, Oregon, New Mexico, North Dakota, or Delaware. I’m sneaking in one of those states this year. Don’t know how. Don’t know exactly when. But I’m going.

I’m itching to go go go. But today, the yoga room is calling my name.

PS – Four hours later the yoga room has been mostly emptied out. Some stuff has been already been donated, and the rest has been staged for this week’s trash. I’ll be channeling my inner om inside that room in a few months. I promise to share pictures.