Why you should vacation somewhere new, unexpected, and totally out of your comfort zone
I've never been the kind of person who spins a globe, shuts my eyes, slams my finger on a random spot, and then books the next flight to whatever country I stopped on. My vacations are typically of the less inspired variety.
As a kid, my family's trips revolved around seeing other family. We'd go to the Toronto area for two weeks every summer to visit my mom's relatives, and in the fall we'd drive to the mountains of Prescott, Arizona, to spend a few days with my great aunt and uncle. Our weekend trips were to places no more than two hours away from home — Palm Springs, San Diego, Big Bear.
Vacations were comfortable. Familiar. Safe.
So when my mom suggested we go on an Alaskan cruise for our annual mother-daughter vacation, I immediately started thinking about all the ways this was a bad idea. I was nervous about contracting norovirus, being bored on a ship with no means of escape, and falling overboard (I've watched a lot of Dateline, okay?). I figured I would be fine as long as I washed my hands a lot and used hand sanitizer (which, pro tip, is available about every 20 steps on a cruise ship). We bought our tickets last October for a trip this summer. I spent the intervening months anxiously awaiting my foray into the Last Frontier.
I know it sounds crazy to be worried about going on vacation. This is the epitome of a first world problem. But as someone who likes to be fully prepared for everything and can struggle with the concept of going with the flow, it felt unnerving to not know how being on a boat for seven days would go. I was excited to see something new, but couldn't shake my concern.
But let me tell you: Alaska is astonishing.
We arrived in Anchorage by air, and I spent much of the time flying over Alaska with my face plastered against the tiny window, craning my neck to see as much as I could of the endless snow-covered mountains. The craggy rocks sharply contrasted with the pools of pristine blue water, untouched for centuries.
The sheer beauty of Alaska is enough to snap anyone out of a spell. The drive to Seward, where the ship waited for us, was divine, and I acclimated quickly to life on board, so long as I avoided getting too close to the railing. We went whale watching in Haines, shivered at Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, and listened to rivers run into the ocean in Ketchikan. It was also in Ketchikan where we arrived in a clearing to see at least 40 bald eagles swooping and squawking, showing off in the way only the American national bird can. I got to know our dinner waiters, Kadek and Dicky, who told us about their families and lives in Indonesia. I even played Bingo and won $157.
I wouldn't have done any of this if I had gone somewhere familiar. I wouldn't have experienced any of this if I had gone somewhere I'd been before.
The highlight of the trip was a detour into the Johns Hopkins Inlet in Glacier Bay. This inlet isn't always open to vessels, but the weather conditions were right, and we made our way to the top deck to take in the views. Surrounded by snow-covered mountains, we slowly made our way past the John Hopkins Glacier. We held our breath, waiting to see if we would witness a calving, and marveling at the crystal blue tint of the glacier. Blocks of ice bobbed in the water, and occasionally a sea otter would leisurely glide by the ship. The air was still and the quiet was deafening, and during those moments, I couldn't imagine being anywhere else.
Alaska's gorgeousness has an intoxicating pull — even though I am more Troop Beverly Hills and less Northern Exposure, I could envision myself plunking down in the Middle of Nowhere, Alaska, living in a cabin with caribou for neighbors. These daydreams, of course, occurred as I floated by on a cruise ship, where I had a towel left on my bed every night in the shape of a monkey and I was able to order shrimp cocktail from room service at 3 a.m.
But trust me: It is invigorating to go somewhere out of your comfort zone — it gets you excited and feeling renewed, with more confidence and focus. You owe it to yourself to get out there and learn about places you've never been and people you've never met, especially in a time when people are so distrustful of one another. Think of how understanding we'd all be if we got out of our bubbles and saw how others live.
Just 36 percent of Americans have a passport, and I get it — some people, my father included, just don't care for traveling (I think Ronald Reagan was president the last time he was on a plane, and when he leaves the county it's enough to warrant a notation in the Christmas newsletter). But for those like me, who want to cross places off their to-do list and just need a little push, we need to ignore that feeling of hesitation and go for it. Let's start small — I guarantee there is a place within a five-hour drive of your home that could shake your life up. It might be a national park where you camp for the first time, or a small town made famous because of a culinary delicacy you've never tried before. Once you tackle the domestic side, you can branch out to international travel.
Saving enough money to travel is difficult — there are always bills to pay, emergencies that come up, appliances that go out, and purses that are in need of a good home. But even if you can only sock away a few dollars here and there, they will add up. And hey, I'm not your financial adviser — if you have the chance to go on a once-in-a-lifetime, total game-changer vacation, put it on your credit card and try to pay it off as fast as you can (I don't watch a lot of CNBC, okay?).
While I'm already itching to go back to Alaska, I'm also ready to open my eyes to different places and fresh experiences. I want to recapture that feeling of doing something brand new. I think it's time to grab a globe and give it a spin.