Two nights before Dan and I left for the trip of a lifetime—twelve days on the beaches of Phuket, Thailand, with no kids and zero responsibilities—I looked up from my to-do list with tears burning under my eyelids and asked, “Do we have to go?”
The words came out choked and quiet, in a voice so small I hardly recognized it. I did not ask this question rhetorically or ironically. It sounds crazy, I know—who wouldn’t want to leave behind the hustle and bustle of regular life, of working full-time and caring for a strong-willed toddler? Who wouldn’t want to go on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation?
For the past few weeks I’d been a ball of stress, my insides coiled like a fierce metal spring. There is so much planning that goes into an overseas trip, so much pressure to not forget a single thing. Fortunately, our family members were planning to watch Selah at our house, so we didn’t have to pack to send her anywhere. But since we’d be gone for so long, our care schedule for her was a hodge-podge of my mom, Dan’s parents, various aunts and uncles staying at our house, plus regular daycare drop-offs and pick-ups. The week leading up to our departure was Thanksgiving and Selah’s second birthday, so I had lists upon lists of things to do and buy and make and write: travel-sized bottles and sunscreen for our bags, brownies and wine for Thanksgiving dinner, drinks and snacks and a cake for the party, care schedules, emergency phone numbers, and instructions for feeding the dog and doing Selah’s bedtime routine.
Besides the busyness leading up to the trip, I harbored bigger concerns too. Daycare wasn’t going as well as I wanted for Selah; how could I leave with that situation not totally perfect and under control? My body was mushier than it used to be; how could I travel to a beach in December in such a condition? We wanted to try for another baby soon; what if one of us contracted Zika while traveling?
Underneath the surface was another riptide of anxiety, slowly and imperceptibly pulling me further into the waves, away from solid ground. I’ve mentioned before that I had a tough recovery with Selah, and I still struggle with recurrences of pain, which are often brought on by stress. The reality of 30 hours of travel each way, of landing in a place that is the complete opposite of my body clock, of having to trust my body to adjust and be okay was almost too much to handle. I knew in the knotted pit of my stomach that everything would not be okay, this trip would not be worth it, something would go terribly wrong.
As I sat in our oversized armchair that night, my fingers twisting and untwisting the threads that had been uprooted over time (thanks to a toddler and a dog), I checked the weather to make last-minute adjustments to my packing list. As far out as the forecast could go, the icons on my weather app showed a straight line of storm clouds. I frantically checked Accuweather for a more detailed hourly forecast, hoping this was normal tropical weather: sunny, sunny, sunny, a quick thunderstorm in the afternoon, sunny, sunny. Nope. The hourly forecast predicted unending, unrelenting clouds and drizzle and storms.
It was in that moment, utterly exhausted from the emotional weight of planning and worrying, that I lost it. I had been holding out hope that my worries would wash away as soon as I dipped my toes into Siray Bay, as soon as I tasted freedom and sunshine and definitely some rum.
Leaving our home and our routines and our babies and everything familiar (at Christmastime!) to travel to the actual other side of the world just to sit around in the rain suddenly did not seem even a little bit worth it.
“Do we have to go?”
Dan was hunting for a beer, and I could tell he sensed the seriousness of my question as his head popped around the side of the refrigerator door, eyes locking on mine. In the stress of planning for the trip, we would jokingly mutter to each other, “Oh my gosh, is this even worth it?” And we would laugh because obviously it was, or it would be. He knew this question was different; I was seriously asking if we could stay home and play it safe. “Of course we have to go,” he said. “And this trip is only going to be as good as we make it.”
He popped the cap off a bottle of beer, closed the refrigerator, and walked over to join me on the chair. I started to cry, one tear falling slowly and then the rest coming faster and faster, until I was sobbing.
Dan looked at me with a mix of frustration and sympathy as I tried to catch my breath, explaining through hiccups that “I’m just feeling so sad . . . and . . . I know we have to go on this trip, I know . . . I know we don’t have a choice, and of . . . of course I still want to go . . . and I know it’s only going to be as good as I make it and I promise . . . I promise I’m going to try to enjoy it. But tonight I need to be sad about leaving Selah and worried about my body and angry that the weather is shitty. I just need to feel these things and I need that to be okay.”
He nodded and muttered an “okay” that indicated he didn’t totally understand but wouldn’t push me. Bless him.
The weather in Thailand ended up being (mostly) beautiful: mid-80s, enough cloud cover to keep the sun from scorching our pasty winter skin, humidity so thick you could grasp it (which was appropriate for sitting poolside). The flights were smooth, our bodies adjusted, my pain didn’t flare up, and we ate amazing food and drank more than a few tropical drinks. Selah had the time of her life with her grandparents and aunties and uncles. I missed her but felt oddly okay without her.
On our first full day at the resort, Dan and I woke up slowly and before dawn, thanks to jet lag. We lounged on the balcony and read, the water set ablaze by the rising sun, the sky turning lavender and tangerine and gold. Eventually we made our way to the main building for a breakfast that is best described as “carb-heavy” (a good breakfast buffet is forever and always my favorite part of vacation), before going back to our room to throw on our swimsuits and pack a pool bag.
I checked the time on my phone as we walked out the door, noting that it was 10:30 am. Just enough time to enjoy the pool before we have to be back for Selah’s nap at 12:00!
I stopped in my tracks and started giggling, relaying my thought to Dan. He let out a belly laugh and took my hand, lacing his fingers with mine as we started our walk down the palm-tree lined hill. A view of Siray Bay stretched out before us, along with a day of nothing to do but read and drink mojitos.
It would have been so much easier to stay home, to assume that a two-week trip across the globe was out of bounds in this season of life.
It would have been easier to wait until our lives were perfect and it was easy to leave Selah and I could be certain that nothing bad would happen here or there.
It would have been easier to wait until I could be certain that we’d enjoy every minute of the trip because life was already perfect and nothing could possibly sneak in and ruin it: not pain, not rain, not weight gain.
It would have been easier . . . but I would have been waiting forever.
Here’s the thing: we don’t travel because our lives are perfect. We don’t need vacations when everything is rosy; it’s exactly because life is messy that we need to get away sometimes.
We travel to escape the confines of our regular lives. We travel to make memories and reconnect with loved ones. We travel to taste and see this wild and wonderful world. We travel to learn something about ourselves, to learn something about people who are different from us, to learn something about who God is and what he created and what he is still doing. We travel to find ourselves and to become ourselves.
The trip was not perfect (though it came pretty close). But even if something minor had gone wrong, even if it felt like a perfect trip had been ruined because of a storm or a stomach bug or a forgotten essential—it still would have been worth going. And even with all the stress of planning, the anxiety about what could go wrong, and the bittersweetness of kissing Selah goodbye—it was worth going.
With each mile I traveled, with each passion fruit–infused drink I consumed, with each minute I spent as far away as I could be from my everyday responsibilities, I came back to myself a little bit. Over the past few years, the tide has rolled in—having a baby, buying a house, taking on more at work, building a writing career. This is all water, it is all life-giving, it is all good and sacred. But the tide that rolls in must go back out. Through the disciplines of leaving my child, of connecting with my husband over quiet meals at sunset, of resting and recharging and releasing expectations, the tide receded almost imperceptibly.
And the new question became, “Do we have to go home?”