Self-Care Challenge (Day 37): Taking a Road Trip

Road trips bring back memories of my youth: Jumping in the car with friends, having no particular destination in mind, listening to music, telling stories and laughing.

And as an adult, short drives and weekend road trips still recharge my batteries. They break me out of my familiar routines and surroundings and bring nature’s beauty into focus.

This weekend, my husband and I drove several hours to visit some friends in Idaho. The trip gave us a chance to explore a part of the country that we hadn’t yet visited, and even in those short stretches of unfamiliar highway it felt like we were traveling abroad.

The changing landscape kept us entertained as we watched tree-lined mountains turn into sage-covered plains, which eventually gave way to snow-capped peaks. From afar, the soft, rolling hills pleaded with me to roll down them, but as we got closer the jagged rocks and shrubs advised against it.

The other benefit of road trips is that they are usually much cheaper than elaborate vacations. Weekend getaways don’t break the bank, which means they can be planned with more frequency. Week-long adventures often require air travel, car rentals, lodging, and lots of dining out. Road trips can be organized with less than a tank of gas and a picnic.

But honestly, you could ride your bike or take the bus for that matter. Cars aren’t necessary. No matter what your mode of transportation, getting some fresh air on the open road is therapeutic.

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Self-Care Challenge (Day 24): Giving Myself A Break

I have to admit, being on vacation made it really difficult to keep up with my self-care challenge posts. While I was still actively engaged in the project, I didn’t do a great job of writing about my experiences.

At first, I was disappointed in myself for not taking the time. After all, this is something I’m deeply passionate about and committed to seeing through.

But then I remembered the whole point of this project is to cultivate a genuine self-care practice. It was a timely reminder that I’m not perfect, nor am I trying to be. I found comfort in the fact that I had been more focused on living the moments than simply writing about them.

That’s when I decided to allow the process to unfold as it was meant to, releasing my own self-imposed expectations of how things should be. I’ll do my best to post daily, but I won’t panic if I don’t. Eventually, I’ll get to it because it’s important to me.

Giving ourselves a break can be an empowering gift. After all, not everything in life requires a rigid deadline.

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Self-Care Challenge (Day 23): Overcoming Fears

nurse shark at the reef in Belize

There aren’t many things that scare me more than the thought of what lies beneath the ocean’s surface. The large, mysterious creatures of the deep with their sharp teeth and hungry eyes make my heart race.

But sometimes you just have to suck it up and move past your irrational fears to fully grasp life’s beauty. For me, this opportunity came in the form of a snorkeling trip off the coast of Ambergris Caye in Belize.

After nearly tossing my cookies several times as our boat made its way across the rolling blue water, we finally arrived at the reef area known as the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. This is a popular destination for adventurous tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the ocean’s fascinating underworld.

Until that moment I had only snorkeled a handful of times, so I had no idea what to expect. Little did I know what I was about to see made my previous experiences seem more like looking into the bottom of a plastic kiddie pool. At one point, I swam just inches away from a nurse shark that was equal to me in size. I was wide-eyed and nearly paralyzed as it approached me, which is why the only photo I have is of it swimming away.

But the heavy pounding of my heart soon subsided as I listened to the orchestral arrangement of the ocean’s bubbling. The bright colors speeding past me in all directions made it feel like I was swimming through a painting. Below, two giant spotted eagle rays glided along the ocean’s bottom while countless schools of fish congregated like small villages in the nooks and crannies of the coral, each hoping to stay hidden from hungry predators.

I felt vulnerable floating in the middle of the ocean with only a swimsuit and rubber snorkel gear as protection. But as I thought about life above the water, I realized it really wasn’t much different. There are many things in life we cannot control–but we can always control the direction we swim.

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Self-Care Challenge (Day 21): Meeting New People

Another fun thing about travel is that you get to meet some really great people.

We met Barbie unexpectedly after having trouble with our golf cart one afternoon. (Golf carts are the main mode of transportation on Ambergris Caye.) The moment she noticed that we needed help she yelled our way, “That’s my brother-in-law’s company; I’m calling him right now.”

Within minutes, he and his crew showed up to begin working on it, while we walked just a few feet to a nearby food truck. By the time we had finished eating lunch, the cart was ready to go.

As we talked with Barbie, I noticed she was holding what appeared to be a crochet project, so I asked her what she was making. The next thing I knew I was standing in her 6’ x 6’ shed (which I assumed was her home and her storefront), while she showed me her latest crochet pieces.

It makes me smile because although our cultures may be slightly different, at our core we share many similarities.

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Self-Care Challenge (Day 20): Visiting a Fruit Stand

No matter where I travel, I’m always drawn to farmers’ markets. Somehow it makes me feel more connected to the place I’m visiting, and it’s always interesting to see the different varieties of fruits and vegetables that are grown throughout the world.

With the exception of the few locals who have small garden plots in their backyards, there are no major growers on Ambergris Caye itself — everything is imported from the mainland or from neighboring countries. Unlike the US, where there are many redundancies within the agricultural community, Belize farmers are very specialized. There is a “guy” who grows tomatoes, a “guy” who raises chickens, a “guy” whose specialty is pineapples, and so on. (And I’m using guy as a gender-neutral term here.) Of course, this doesn’t bode well for buyers when there’s a bad crop year, but at least they know exactly where their food is coming from. Most fruit stands we visited were stocked with star fruit, papayas, oranges, grapefruit, pineapples, peanuts, plantains, and many other vegetables.

It can be difficult to eat well when traveling, but farm stands are a great way to explore healthy, local foods.

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Self-Care Challenge (Day 19): Fly Fishing

Two women fly fishing in Belize

Before Monday, I had never properly held a fly rod in my life. I had only listened (with skepticism) to my husband’s tall fishing tales and complained about having to step over the entangled mess of strewn out fly line on our boat.

But Belize seemed like a logical place to change all of that.

Just minutes after a quick casting lesson from famed fly fishing instructor Lori-Ann Murphy, I was reeling in my very first bonefish. (It’s not the size that matters, people.)

Much like swinging a golf club, casting a fly line is a skill of precision. And as a beginner, I had an equal chance of hooking myself in the eye as landing a good cast. But that was all part of the fun.

While the fishing itself was enjoyable, just being on the water was equally satisfying. The warm sun was a welcome change from the dark, rainy weather back home, and I could have just as easily spent the day sitting in a boat admiring the wildlife among the mangroves.

By midday, the reflection of the sun looked like glittery confetti sprinkled across the water. The moon and sun were both hung high in the sky, as if competing for the best view.

I’m pretty sure that I dreamed about fly fishing last night, and I now understand why angling is so addicting for many. The words “Strip it! Strip it! Strip it!” are firmly planted in my mind, and I hope to continue practicing these newly acquired skills when I return home.

Learning new things is one of my favorite aspects of self-care – the opportunities are endless when we keep our curious minds open.

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Self-Care Challenge (Day 18): Listening to the Ocean

Belize is home to an impressive community of diverse wildlife. Within hours of arrival I saw Roseate Spoonbills, hermit crabs, cranes, tarpon…and of course, the lesser-loved mosquito. But the ocean is the real showstopper.

Its stunning shades of turquoise and royal blue painted the ocean clear to the horizon. You can see it from nearly any direction, and even when you can’t see it you can hear it. A native shared with me that he once traveled to Montana, but felt claustrophobic with the mountains surrounding him. He didn’t like that he couldn’t see the ocean — he felt trapped. (Quite an ironic perspective compared to those who see the “Big Country” as an escape from the confines of urban living, right?)

The expansive Caribbean ocean waves pushed relentlessly against the shore, obeying the strong tropical winds. And out on the horizon, waves were breaking against the second largest reef system in the world, their white-caps appearing like small mountains from a distance.

The movement of the water was mesmerizing. Its steady rhythm has a way of dissolving even the most troublesome of worries, making it easy to understand how the term “island time” originated. Time moves more slowly here. The sun melts like butter into the skyline before you even realize the day is gone.

When you really think about it, vacation is a state of mind. At any time, we can escape into our own image of paradise…and I’m fairly certain I will be returning to that pier again to listen to the ocean.

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Self-Care Challenge (Day 17): Enjoying a Sunset

Ending the day with a beautiful Belizean sunset was like a long kiss goodnight, especially after 15 hours of travel. Taking in the sunset allowed me a few moments of stillness to express gratitude for the gift of breath, and of life, for yet another day. While living can be brutally painful at times, there are snapshots of beauty in every day…if we choose to notice them.

After an unexpected fog layer made it impossible for our pilot to see the runway in Belize City yesterday, we were eventually diverted to Cancun for fuel while we waited for the fog to clear. Instead of being irritated by the delay, I chose to sit back and enjoy the breathtaking ocean views that I would not have seen otherwise.

It made me wonder why we ever expect anything in life to go according to plan anyway. Why can’t we simply experience the moments as they are? The unreasonable expectations that we create in our minds only lead to disappointment.

Sunsets celebrate today, but also invite the anticipation of tomorrow — whatever it may bring.

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Self-Care Challenge (Day 16): Traveling (without the stress)

I’ve traveled enough to know what not to do when planning a trip, and rushing around at the last minute is one of them.

Vacations are supposed to relieve stress, not create it. Done well, planning ahead for travel can be a form of self-care. With a little work up front you can begin your vacation with a sense of calm, truly enjoying the experience and giving your mind and body the break they deserve.

While we can’t control the weather or predict travel delays, we can do our best to prepare for coping with unexpected detours.

Here are my standard operating procedures when planning for a trip:

Before Departure

Make a list. Unless you’re a frequent flyer and keep a packed bag on the ready at all times, then making a list is crucial. Different trips require different supplies, and it’s important to think through what you’ll be doing while you’re away. As you make your list, pretend you’re already there and consider the following: weather (Will you need an umbrella, rain jacket, sunglasses, or warm coat?); activities (Will you be walking a lot, swimming, snorkeling, or taking pictures?); health (Will you need to update immunizations, bring medications, or a water filter?); amenities (Will your accommodations provide soap, shampoo, and other items?); souvenirs (Are you planning to shop for items that will require extra luggage space?); and food availability (Will you need to bring food or snacks for special dietary needs?).

Get packed. I’ve found that getting mostly packed 2 to 3 days before you leave. (Yes, you read that correctly – not 2 to 3 minutes before.) I Promise you’ll survive without wearing your favorite clothes for a couple of days. Packing ahead of time not only reduces anxiety, but it also means fewer last-minute loads of laundry. Likewise, prepare a travel kit in advance with toothpaste, creams, makeup, deodorant, and other toiletries rather than adding them to the bag as you’re walking out the door. This may require you to buy some duplicate products, but it’s well worth the time it saves.

Minimize luggage. I must admit that I have a bit of an obsession with luggage. Over the years, my husband has learned to just shake his head in disbelief as I roll in with a new piece, and each time I’m hopeful it will be versatile enough that I’ll never need to buy another one. Needless to say, I’ve donated or consigned many bags that just didn’t work out. In recent years, I’ve simplified a lot, and at some point, I decided I no longer wanted to experience the anxiety of praying there would be space in the overhead compartment, or waiting (okay, hoping) for it to pop down the chute in baggage claim. (An airline once lost my bag on a 30-minute flight, so I’m skeptical at best.)

So, what do you do if you don’t want to check a bag or rely on overhead space? You downsize. I’ve grown to love my Gregory Sage 45 (Amazon Associate Link) backpack, and I’ve used it as my only piece of luggage even on week-long trips. It holds more than you think (if you do it right). And I’ve also become best friends with Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes (Amazon Associate Link) because they compress clothes nicely and there’s little wrinkling if you roll your garments. The best part is that the backpack fits under the seat in front of me, so the boarding process is completely painless. Wearing a backpack is also much easier on my back than juggling multiple pieces of luggage. Now, I have two free hands: one for holding a book and one for holding a cup of tea. Success!

Get your pets packed. If you’re boarding any animals it can be helpful to get their food, blankets, medications and toys ready and waiting by the door. I can’t begin to tell you what a fiasco it has been when we’ve tried to round up our excited, barking dogs and their supplies just minutes before leaving.

Change your sheets and make your bed. This might be the most important tip. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to return home to a bed that’s waiting for you with clean sheets, especially if your time away includes camping or strenuous activity.

Wash and put away the dishes. Just like clean sheets, returning to a clean kitchen keeps my stress levels low. It also makes it easier to cook a quick snack or meal if you’re hungry when you return home.

Empty the fridge. If you’ll be gone for a week or more, plan to use perishable food items before you leave so nothing expires while you’re away. In the days preceding your trip, plan your menus accordingly and use up any leftovers to reduce waste. We often have “breakfast for dinner” on the nights before trips. It’s fast, easy to clean up, and usually takes care of the perishables.

Make a grocery list. As crazy as it sounds, preparing a menu and shopping list for the week you return is really helpful. It’s probably unlikely that you’ll remember what you’re running low on after spending a few days away, and it makes grocery shopping so much easier.

Take out the trash. There is nothing worse than returning home to a mysterious odor. Doing a quick trash round-up before you walk out the door is just plain smart.

Drink a lot of water. The day before a trip, I start drinking more water than I usually would. Being on a plane for several hours and can be dehydrating, so it’s important to start off with a full tank.

Returning Home 

Now imagine returning home to find it clean, organized and ready for your normal routines to resume. Plus, with the exception of laundry, there won’t be many chores to do so you can enjoy your vacation up until the very end.

Stage your bags. Park your bags near the laundry room. Even if you’re not quite ready to do laundry yet, it will be nearby when you are. This is especially helpful if you return home late at night and the only thing on your mind is a shower and a pillow. You may need to retrieve a few items from your bag, like shoes and cosmetics, but you’ll have the laundry pile ready to go when you wake up in the morning.

Get groceries. Remember that list you made before you left? Yep, just run to the store and pick up a few things, and you can be back in an hour relaxing again.

Express gratitude. Reflect on the positive things you experienced on the trip (or even some of the unexpected snafus that were equally entertaining in hindsight). Sometimes we spend so much energy dreading the return to normal, that we forget to celebrate the joys of the present

Traveling can be an act of self-care, but it’s up to us to make it that way.

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Nature and Music at Rosario Resort and Spa

For part of our recent visit to the San Juan Islands, we stayed at the Rosario Resort and Spa. I had expected it to be nice, but I wasn’t prepared to feel the richness of its history.

Shipbuilder Robert Moran was a successful businessman, but was not immune to the stressors that came along with it. After falling ill and being given just a couple of years to live, Moran purchased 7,000 acres to build a home on the remote Orcas Island. Fortunately for him it was the right call; he enjoyed nearly 40 more years there.

It’s interesting that we see this pattern time and time again…people deciding they’ve had enough and checking out of the harried 9 to 5 world to refocus on the important things. His strategy worked.

Let that be a lesson to us.

Built in the early 1900’s, Rosario is filled with curiosities and craftsmanship. From the lighting to the intricately laid parquet flooring, the arts and crafts style home is a showcase of fine details.

In addition to his love of architecture and design, Moran also loved nature. The estate is surrounded by natural beauty. The meandering pathways pull you in, and the songbirds invite you into their tranquil retreat. It’s not at all surprising that Moran was able to recover from his illness here.

During our visit, the maples had begun to flash their colorful leaves, peppering everything beneath them. And the crisp, fall winds helped them paint their mosaic. Nature’s art is free of perfection, precision, and pretension. It’s beautifully chaotic.

The music room was equally stunning. The two-story pipe organ commanded the attention of guests with its deep, haunting chords, shaking not only my entire body but also the walls and floors beneath me.

Our stay at Rosario reminded me of the important things – those things that we often push to the side because they don’t fit into our task-filled schedules. We become bound to timelines and expectations to the point that we forget why we’re doing it in the first place. While most of us cannot afford a 7,000-acre oasis, we can absolutely take a step back periodically to refocus and rejuvenate our spirit. We can say “Enough!” to our self-imposed stresses and just breath.

Solitude, nature and music are not luxuries. They are essential for our health and well-being.