The 5 Places I Traveled in 2013 and What I Learned from Them
Every Destination is a Lesson. Every Lesson has a Destination.
By Courtney Guth, University of Maryland
Around this time of year, I often like to take time to reflect on all that has occurred. This task involves anything from perusing my journal to scrolling through my Facebook photos. It probably sounds like a great way to procrastinate (it is), but it also provides great moments of clarity and insight into what has happened or how I have grown in a span of 365 days. One of the most exciting parts of the past 365 days has been the trips I’ve taken.
While I didn’t leave the continent this year, I did take several short trips and vacations. Upon reflection, I have realized that each trip can be a lesson to carry with me into the new year. I have not determined my new year’s resolution for 2014, but I’ve at least begun to grow and learn from 2013. Here are the places I traveled in 2013 and the lessons I learned from them:
1) New York City: Be Spontaneous
I am a planner. I live out of my calendar. I almost cannot function without the aid of lists and reminders. So how did I find myself booking a spontaneous trip to New York City just 3 days in advance? The answer is a Banana Stand. I’m a huge fan of Arrested Development, and I saw on Twitter that the Banana Stand (an important icon in the show) was going to be in New York City for a few days. I turned to my roommate Betsy and said, “I have to go. I have to make this pilgrimage.” Like any good roommate would, she responded, “Do it.”
In a matter of minutes I was on the phone calling my best friend in NYC to see if I could visit him and crash at his place for an evening. He fortunately obliged but explained that he would not be available until late evening, which would leave me with a lot of time to kill. I figured whatever…I’ll determine all the details eventually , and I quickly booked my bus ticket for my 36 hour day trip. I’m not sure where that burst of spontaneity came from, but it was very freeing to just travel on a whim and spend the afternoon doing whatever I wanted to do in New York. I strolled through Central Park for 2 hours, had lunch at a dive-y Mexican restaurant in the financial district, ran around F.A.O Schwartz like a little kid, and of course visited the Banana Stand. I’ve learned some of the best trips aren’t planned in advance and don’t have all the details worked out before you go. You can let go of the planner for a few days and truly enjoy your trip without being tied to a schedule.
2) Las Vegas: Indulge in it All
It’s a bit cliche to say, but Vegas is a city unlike any other. In Vegas, you can pass Elvis, Optimus Prime, and Captain Jack Sparrow on a street corner, and no one bats an eye. In Vegas, you can walk the strip and go from Venice to Paris to New York all in the span of one afternoon. In Vegas, you can walk around with a 48 oz margarita in a flashing 2 foot tall glass, and no one will stop you. Most importantly, in Vegas, you can indulge…after all, “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Now, my trip to Vegas wasn’t so scandalous enough to deserve that tagline, but I did have a great time.
I traveled to Vegas with my Mom, my stepdad, and my grandparents, so as you can imagine, our nights on the town weren’t too wild. We didn’t hijack a police car or wake up with any missing teeth like in the The Hangover, but we did have some great adventures enjoying all that Vegas has to offer. I was there to celebrate my 21st birthday, and I made sure to do so accordingly. I enjoyed yummy cocktails and tried my hand at a few casinos, all a bit of indulging without going overboard. In Vegas, you have to indulge yourself, and I am glad I did. I learned that hard work deserves a break and you have to have some fun…and a 48 oz Margarita if you can.
3) Ocean City: Let it Go with the Tide
In 2013, I made a tough decision and ended a two year relationship. Even though it was a decision I had fully thought through, that did not make it any easier. As summer drew to a close, I was still wrestling with its aftermath as we made our way to Ocean City, Maryland for our final getaway before school resumed. I knew a new school year and fall semester filled with opportunity lay ahead, but I kept dwelling on the past. Fortunately, a few afternoons on the beach provided some much needed clarity and a new outlook.
My favorite part of beach vacations is having the opportunity to lay in the sun and read. I think sometimes certain books come into our lives when we need them most. I packed several books for my trip, and the three I read by sea have stayed with me. I re-read my all time favorite, Flowers for Algernon and enjoyed the experience of approaching it as a different person than I was when I first read it seven years ago. I breezed through Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown, a biography on the late long-time editor of Cosmopolitan, which proved very inspiring. However, the most important book I read during my trip was Eat, Pray, Love, which provided lessons in moving on, forgiving, and finding peace…all three things I needed to do post-breakup. As I closed my book, I watched the tide roll in and out, and I learned to let my past go along with it. Like the tide, the past rolls in and out from time to time, but it will eventually all drift out to sea in one way or another.
4) Tampa: Live Like a Local
During my fall semester, I had the chance to get away for a weekend. Unfortunately, that weekend fell during my favorite holiday, Halloween. I was traveling to Florida for a conference, and as a result I would miss all of what we in College Park dub “Halloweekend.” However, I was still determined to celebrate my favorite holiday. I packed my halloween costume in my bag without having any solid clue as to where I would celebrate (clearly, I really took the spontaneity lesson to heart). When it came time to go out and celebrate accordingly, I, along with the other two students attending the conference from my school, hit up our hotel concierge in order to find out where to go. He told us about a free shuttle bus to a place called “International Plaza” that had a few bars, restaurants, and shopping. We made our way over there, and that’s where we discovered The Pub…
The bar is literally just called “The Pub.” I loved it from the moment I walked in. It felt like I had stepped back into some of my favorite spots in Dublin. We made friends with the bartender and celebrated our Halloween there. It was low key but intimate. We liked it so much that we returned for the next two nights of our trip sans Halloween costumes. In a sense, we became “regulars” for a weekend. I learned that even when you’re not local, you can still live like one by asking the right people and finding the best spots. Even if you’re celebrating something away from home, you can still have a fun time by making it your own.
5) Orlando: Take Time to Reconnect
At the end of my fall semester, I found myself in a very fortunate situation. About halfway through the semester, I found out I had just one final exam, it was only worth 5% of my grade, and it was at the end of finals week. This meant I had several days with nothing to do. I planned to spend it binge watching Netflix or a few different movies. When I asked a friend for some film suggestions, he offered an even better suggestion: travel somewhere. I began looking into destinations after I serendipitously received an email from Southwest Airlines regarding flight sales. I considered Boston, New Orleans, or even a return trip to Vegas, but I quickly realized traveling to one of these places alone for a few days was not a good idea. Instead, I thought, why not visit my Grammy in Orlando?
I had not seen my Grandmother in about six years. We, of course, chat on the phone around the holidays or email back and forth on occasion, but my family has not visited her for a while. I contacted her about visiting, and she was thrilled with the idea. Therefore, I found myself enjoying retired living during my finals week as my peers slaved over their textbooks and exams. It was wonderful to catch up with her and just relax for a few days. I not only learned a lot about her, I also learned how necessary it is to take time to connect or re-connect with the important people in your life.
Upon reflection, 2013 has been a great year filled with lots travel and important life lessons. I am excited for all that 2014 has in store as well, and I am sure it will offer even more lessons and hopefully more travel opportunities.