I have never walked through Roman Catacombs, gazed from above Niagara Falls, or even seen the Grand Canyon. I cannot tell stories of how I trekked the Amazon, share how I navigated Tokyo, or preach on the beauty of Yellowstone. Those destinations tend to create unreachable expectations. In my summer trip of 2013 I learned that sweet surprises and little moments of unusual wonder, that defy expectations, are the greatest ways to shape a satisfying trip. You do not realize it in the moment, but instances of laughter and amazement are far less ephemeral than the destination itself.
Our trip started with a flight to Orlando for a day in Disney World and then to embark on a Caribbean cruise. I am the oldest of seven children and, as expected, they were ecstatic. The nascent excitement continued as we arrived and our Aunt surprised us in the airport. I had no idea that we would be staying in the Kidani Village with Giraffes and Saharan wildlife outside our veranda. I remember my mom secretly making us custom, matching t-shirts (and forcing us to wear them). From there, the trip was full of unexpected memories. I still remember the look on my sister’s face after she was soaked on the Animal Kingdom raft ride. As we headed for the cruise, I can recall riding in a limo for the first time, wearing shades and pretending I was terribly famous. On the ship, my siblings would be excited to see the monkey or elephant our host had quizzically crafted from towels. Miraculously, the nine of us survived that cruise with only two bathrooms in our adjoining staterooms.
The final surprise came when our parents flew us to New Hampshire instead of back home to Colorado. An image of all of us kids sitting on a window ledge in the airport and drinking frappuccinos is still lucid. We spent a few nights in New Hampshire, enjoying Lake Winnipesauke, and visiting an old curiosity shop. I remember my little brother making us all grip the rails as he jerked the throttle on the boat just a little too much. My 16 month year old brother’s eyes would open wide as we lifted him onto the monkey bars at a nearby park. On our last day we ate at “Bucky’s,” a local restaurant. The restaurant was having some problem with the air conditioning and the service was exceedingly slow. At this point, I had been sharing a bed with my brother for a week and I was ready to go home. Then we had the greatest shock of the trip when our waitress told us that an anonymous patron had picked up our tab. An elderly couple with grown kids of their own had decided to pay our entire bill. Their gesture completely turned our experience around. Unfortunately, the couple had already left and we could not thank them. I am not sure what inspired their generosity but it nearly brought my mother to tears. I hope to pay their kindness forward someday likewise
I am not implying that these moments can rival a visit to the Taj Mahal. Rather, I believe that the purest forms of joy occur in daily life as a result of spontaneity and generosity. Vacations are made by the people you are with and the things you do. The genuine awe created by unexpected acts allow us to make every day a vacation and to make every vacation unforgettable.
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