Three Lessons Learned about Vacations

IB Publisher Jody Glynn Patrick blends work and life in this very clear departure from both her column for In Business magazine, and the other bloggers. Awarded national recognition for her previous work as a newspaper columnist, she brings us all back "Closer to Home" with her insights and remembrances. A nice place to be "After Hours." Check back often! Read Full Bio

Last week, I didn’t write because I was out having experiences to write about. And having gone out into the world for you [so it was because of you, loyal reader, that I went on vacation :)], here is an overview of what I learned:

  1. Though married folks hate to admit it, for fear of ticking off their mate, sometimes the perfect mini vacation is the one you take alone.
  2. Though co-workers see you as part of the fabric of their jobs, the best vacation is the one where you don’t look at e-mail and you disengage completely.
  3. Plans? Who needs plans? All you need is enough money for your destination (airfare, hotel, car, gas, admission tickets, etc.), hotel internet, a GPS system, and curiosity.

I didn’t intend to vacation alone, so don’t read anything into #1 except that after a planned group vacation to Tampa with hubby and friends fell through for various reasons (and our plans to have our dogs taken care of fell through, too), my husband had second thoughts about leaving his job for that long at that particular time, since he had a lot of travel looming for business. “Why don’t we take the trip in March?” he suggested, “when I could enjoy it more because we could better work out these other issues.”

Other issues, dother dissues — I had arranged for time off for the radio show (which meant calling in Carol Koby, a wonderful radio personality to replace me — thank you, Carol!), and I’d hired two new employees who were to start my first day back from vacation. If my husband was intending to stay home, the dog issue would not be an issue for me! Besides, I had been a good sport already, agreeing to go to Tampa when really I did not want to see Universal Studios again, or Disney World again. I wanted to relax in the sun on vacation, not have to be here at this time, and there at that time. So when that expectation fell through, I had this liberating thought that I could actually do whatever I wanted, if I took vacation alone….

Plus (as if I needed another reason), hadn’t I been wanting a writer’s vacation? Going off somewhere by myself to edit a novel to get it ready for publication? I realize I am a drag on vacation (for other people) when all I want to do evenings is sit before a computer and write (and it is a little hard to write when in the same hotel room where your husband is watching Bones or sports on television because it’s his vacation, too). So really, I was thinking of my husband when I decided to go to Florida alone. I’d probably be poor company in March.

The best laid plans are no plans.
With that in mind, I picked a warm city that I could fly into and out of easily — Fort Myers on the Gulf side, since usually when I go to Florida, I stay in the keys and it’s a long drive to get there. I didn’t want to have to drive an hour to get to an airport at the end of the trip, which I find stressful. Thanks to Expedia, I saved about $300 on the hotel, airfare and car by booking them as a package. I would stay at an Extended Stay Marriott property (which was great — I can’t say enough good things about the hotel experience) within 20 minutes of the airport and five minutes away from a beach.

The harder part was disconnecting. Not looking every time my phone signaled that I had a new email. Once I cheated, to forward a couple press releases to Jan Wilson, and she wrote back right away: “Aren’t you supposed to be on vacation? Stop!” Which is why we are friends as well as colleagues at IB.

Then, then, I followed my heart. Every day I went to nature sanctuaries, where I photographed the most amazing birds (and a couple alligators). I caught pelicans in flight, and a gull who liked to pelican surf, riding one’s head up and down the waves of the ocean. For a person who has struggled with a life-long fear of birds, I was proud when I walked inside a flock of black skimmers on a sandbar and had the mental fortitude not to run away screaming, but to photograph them when about 200 flying birds surrounded me then as they settled in.

My favorite stop was The J.N. “Ding” Darling Nature Preserve, which has a five-mile drive through option, though you can stop anytime to hike or photograph the wildlife. I spent three days in that park, going to the beach before or after or in-between, since a $5 day pass means all day access to the preserve, which is located on nearby Sanibel Island. It was there, climbing through mangrove trees and onto swampy sandbars, that I took the best photographs of all, including this one of the reclusive Roseatte Spoonbill.

It was at Ding that George adopted me, too. George (so named by me) is a pelican. He flew down within a couple feet of me (as has happened to me before, on a boat, because I am a pelican magnet). There he stood, studying me, and then he took a squat position. I don’t know what that means — maybe you do and can enlighten me? Then he flew overhead, giving me some of the best photos of my trip as he plunged and soared, seemingly for an audience of one, as there was no one around me as he did his show.

A yellow-crowned night heron (pictured below) landed in the vicinity. I did have to get over some mangrove tree branches, crossing into alligator territory, to get to that photo. Photography is not for wimps, you know. And when I found a little green heron nested in the trees, a DNR dude in a truck stopped to ask what I was photographing, looked himself, set up a scope and started stopping other drivers to show them the find! Apparently you don’t see that bird that often, but you can see him, if you want, since I got a couple close-ups with my zoom. Go to Flickr where I’ve posted about 300 photos from the trip.

And of course, I went to spend time on the ocean and to shell. To do that, I went down past Naples to Marco Island and Tigertail Beach, one of my favorite places to shell because the entire beach line shore is made of shells! And conch shells wash ashore but you can’t do live shelling; I did get one that was empty of its slug.

There, I photographed a beautiful sunset as well as picture after picture of the ever-changing ocean. I walked on the beach for hours, and then went back to Bowman beach (Sanibel) and Bunche Beach (Fort Myers). Bunche is the “colored beach” of yesteryear, when segregation existed for Florida beaches, and it is wilder than the other beaches. No bathrooms, but great wildlife. It’s much more reclusive than the more developed beaches, which I prefer.

And what trip to Florida is complete without seeing manatees? For that, I went to Manatee Park, and was rewarded for the half-hour drive with sighting and photographing about 50 of them, because they came to shore in the area of an energy plant because the waters were warmer there. (You can see those pics on Flickr, too, if you want.)

As the World Turns
My Madison life seemingly ended when I was in Florida. I didn’t worry about dogs, radio shows, magazine stories, web research, making dinner, or holding up my end of a conversation with my husband at the end of a day. These, by the way, are all things I really enjoy in my normal life. Instead, I walked with my face in the sunshine while listening to my favorite music on my iPod with the (still) very loud backdrop of a roaring ocean. I rekindled a love affair with a camera and nature, and wrote when I wanted to write, as late as I wanted to stay awake, without interruption. Then, in the morning, I rose to a communal breakfast (courtesy of the hotel, who also offered suppers a few nights!). I packed up my gear, checked my iPad for new adventure options and other people’s ratings of where I was about to go, programmed addresses into my Garmin (isn’t technology great?!) and I went wherever my mood took me.

No compromising or negotiating. No explaining. No plans ahead of time. No one reminding me to put on suntan lotion or asking me why I didn’t use my turn signal at the last corner (there was no one behind me is why). No one scheduling me for meetings. No one asking for payroll figures. No one worried about the rising cost of postage and glossy paper — including me.

Meanwhile, Back in Madison
My husband, too, had his own adventures in my absence. I called home the second day to learn we had a new dog. Brownie, a chocolate lab mix. (Yes, we did discuss the dog before I went to Florida, but I didn’t know it was a done deal or that the dog was going to arrive home before me!) This proved that the world does go on without me as well as around me, and that life can be a never-ending surprise for everyone, if only we embrace it with abandon and trust.

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