Decompress and overcome anxiety through travel

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.

Downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan

Downtown Grand Rapids

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.

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10 Responses to Decompress and overcome anxiety through travel

  1. Lisa Goodmurphy October 18, 2014 at 7:01 pm #

    Good for you taking the opportunity to get away on your own, Francesca! I went on a press trip to Quebec City last winter and it was the first time that I had been anywhere completely on my own since my older daughter was born (18 years ago)! Even though it was work, it felt completely liberating not having to worry about anyone but myself for a few days. I didn’t have to eat on my own though – I’m afraid that would still bring up some anxiety for me!
    Lisa Goodmurphy recently posted…Fun for Families in Waterloo RegionMy Profile

  2. Adrienne October 19, 2014 at 6:07 pm #

    Kudos to YOU! And I completely agree that you deserve it. In reading this I need to try to plan one of these for myself sometime this year as I’ve also added on to the full time career, travel blog writer, and now I’ve over volunteered myself at my daughter’s school (largely because of guilt). Be forewarned – don’t over-volunteer yourself!!
    Adrienne recently posted…Break for Cheese at the Old Chatham Sheepherding CompanyMy Profile

  3. Traveling Te October 19, 2014 at 6:52 pm #

    Whenever I feel uncomfortable by myself, I whip out the phone and look at pictures on Instagram, check out my Facebook feed, check email, or even check out my numbers on Google analytics. Focusing on something else always helps and then after a few beers I don’t care anyway. Hope you had an enjoyable trip. Looking forward to hearing more about Grand Rapids.
    Traveling Te recently posted…Pictured Rocks is more than just a lakeshoreMy Profile

  4. Leah October 20, 2014 at 12:56 am #

    Frankly, I don’t know how you do it all. I have a hard enough time just keeping up with myself and all the stuff I have. I say that you need to take off on your own more often to make yourself better for your family. But, hey, what do I know? 🙂
    Leah recently posted…France, Italy, and an Attitude AdjustmentMy Profile

  5. Vlad October 21, 2014 at 1:45 am #

    You truly are an inspiration to everyone who says they don’t have time to travel. I hope you had a great time, it’s good to take some time for yourself every once in a while. 🙂

  6. Anne Sutherland-Smith October 21, 2014 at 4:15 am #

    I totally agree that every now and then you need to take some time out to just relax and it sounds like you picked a great options!
    Anne Sutherland-Smith recently posted…Don’t Book Your Holiday Until You Read This!My Profile

  7. Pola (JettingAround) (@jettingaround) October 21, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    I really like your honesty in the opening paragraphs and that you don’t complain or blame anybody. Great spirit! You certainly deserved your solo vacation and I’m happy to read how much you enjoyed it, amiga. As for Grand Rapids, we had this conversation off line…. I can’t believe I live so close and have only driven by. Encouraged by your experience, I’m now considering a weekend getaway there. Another reason to love Michigan!
    Pola (JettingAround) (@jettingaround) recently posted…City Guide: Ljubljana, SloveniaMy Profile

  8. Lance | Trips By Lance October 21, 2014 at 4:25 pm #

    Yeah, being a parent who works and has a side business of travel writing can be very tiring. It’s very important to take moments. I really would like to spend time in Grand Rapids. It just wasn’t in the cards on our recent visit to Traverse City. It seems like a great getaway for residents of Chicago and Detroit. Maybe it’s a halfway point between the two cities?
    Lance | Trips By Lance recently posted…Seven Reasons to Visit Traverse CityMy Profile

  9. Alejandra October 22, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    Glad you were able to take those days to decompress! Seems like you get a lot of support from your family 🙂 — I used to feel the same way about dining alone so I started bringing a book with me and have the best dates ever.
    Alejandra recently posted…A Secret Escapade to NYCs Stunning NecropolisMy Profile

  10. Kieu October 23, 2014 at 1:54 am #

    Aww me times are the best! I’m so glad you got away to decompress. Grand Rapids, really? LOL, I’ve never been anywhere near the midwest.. maybe GR will be my first. 😉
    Kieu recently posted…7 things they don’t tell you about overlanding East AfricaMy Profile

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