This working/traveling mom thing is cool and all. It’s wonderful when people tell me that I’m an inspiration to them and how impressed they are that I manage to do so much, what with balancing a career, a family, and a travel lifestyle. But you know what? It’s tiring. And it’s stressful. Throw in two young children, one who just started kindergarten and was having some trouble adjusting, and another who is just over a year old and a bit needy – oh, and the freelance writing gigs I’ve taken on – and you’ve got yourself one tired and high-strung mama.
Now, I’m not whining or complaining. It’s no one’s “fault” but my own; I took on and agreed to this lifestyle all on my own, with the support and encouragement of my husband. However, for the well-being of those closest to me (and maybe others farther off), I needed to decompress in a bad way. I needed some time to just chill. I needed a massage.
I was anticipating two weeks off work (vacation time) with no concrete plans, travel or otherwise. I talked to my husband and my mom (since she’s my child-care provider) and gained their approval to take a few days to go somewhere by myself. We worked out a plan and I was off to one of my favorite places in the U.S.A. – Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Stop right there. Stop judging. Stop thinking, “What in God’s name is so wonderful about a town in Michigan that I’ve never even heard of before?” Well, Grand Rapids just might be one of the Midwest’s – and the country’s – best-kept secrets. Maybe not for too much longer, though, as it was named by Lonely Planet as one of the top ten U.S. travel destinations for 2014. In a nutshell, I can tell you that Grand Rapids offers the same as every major U.S. city: culture, nightlife, art, dining… all just on a smaller scale. Grand Rapids definitely has big-city characteristics but they’re served with a huge helping of small-town, laid-back vibes.
I spent three days – Decompression Days, as I’ve come to call them – in Grand Rapids, all by myself. I had the best time. It was the first solo trip I’d taken in many years. I wasn’t exactly nervous about being alone. I mean, I was staying at an elegant hotel downtown. I know my way around the city fairly well, too. But what made me incredibly anxious was the thought of dining out alone. While the main purpose of the trip was to decompress and relax, I also saw it as an opportunity for me to get over that aspect of anxiety disorder that’s plagued me. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always been so paranoid about being seen dining alone. It’s like I can hear other patrons thinking, “What’s wrong with her that she has no one to go to dinner with?” “What a dork; she’s at a restaurant all by herself.” “She must have no friends.” Ridiculous, right?
Well, I got over it in Grand Rapids. It turned out to be fairly easy, save for that one evening when I really had to talk myself into leaving the hotel room to go out for dinner. Just about everywhere I went, I was treated warmly and without prejudice. I think a big reason for that is I was hanging out at craft breweries, bars, and brewpubs. (Grand Rapids isn’t known as Beer City, USA, for nothing!) Beer people generally are friendly, welcoming, and down-to-earth, and I felt comfortable sitting at the bar by myself with a beer flight and a bite to eat.
Much was accomplished during my stay in Grand Rapids: I ate and drank well; I completely decompressed; and I overcame one of my greatest personal obstacles. Prime examples of why travel is completely invaluable. It encourages us to move out of our comfort zones; to push not only geographical boundaries, but our own personal ones; and to learn more about ourselves than we ever could in our day-to-day routines.
Huge thanks to Experience Grand Rapids for making my Decompression Days possible.