Stu and I spent the weekend in Asheville, North Carolina, on a whim. We’d had other plans that got cancelled because of the thunderstorms littered across the Northeast, but we already had a dog sitter (puppy parents, back me up that this is a weird and valid excuse) so we weren’t about to bail on our vacation plans.
What I like about traveling is that it gets you out of your everyday routine. For a reluctantly type-A person like me, this is very important. My routine comforts me. It keeps me busy and satisfied in ways that are not always very healthy. It keeps me at the surface instead of knee deep in my thoughts and feelings. When we travel there is no laundry to be done, no dishes to be washed, no dinner to cook. I don’t like to travel because I hate these things; I travel because the lack of these obligations gives me space to rest and reflect.
This weekend I brought Present over Perfect, the newest novel by one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, who speaks to my heart like one of my close friends rather than a faraway person whom I have never met. Early in Present over Perfect, Shauna introduces her lakeside solace, a small town not far from where I grew up, a place she describes as just short of perfection (having been there, I wholeheartedly agree).
“Part of the magic of the lake is that it isn’t home–it’s away and away allows us to see the rhythms and dimensions of our lives more clearly,” she writes. This is what traveling does for all of us–it pulls us away from the lives we grasp with white-knuckles and polish until we ache. It brings us to a place where there is no one to impress or remember us. It strips us away of our reputations and forces us to confront the things we ignore.
I’ve noticed that when I travel I leave the shallow frustrations behind but I carry the deep, simmering aches and pains along with me. It lets me understand what things are trivial and what things are really very important. This weekend in Asheville the little things about my day-to-day that get under my skin were left in Fairfax, but a few deep, persistent things came with me.
I believe this separation we find when we travel to be so important. The longer I let the deep-seeded things prod and prick, the more irritable and discontent I become–the longer I wonder why I’m not sleeping well, why small things feel like big things, why I keep feeling sick when I think I’m taking care of myself. These things demand to be confronted and addressed, and sometimes I am blind to them until I strip my everyday away and have to stare at what is left.
I think we should all work to get away a little more. Whether we camp out for a night or jet off somewhere exotic or take a personal retreat. For those short on cash and time, a personal retreat will serve you just fine. I coined this concept in college and it was the best thing ever. I took one day and saw no one, sleeping when I felt tired, eating when I felt hungry, avoiding all obligations and expectations, and it was spectacularly rejuvenating. I recommend it highly.
This quirky little town was just that for us: our own little timely retreat, and I am so grateful.
In case you, too, choose Asheville for your retreat–some highlights:
- Blue Ridge Parkway: This classic drive is so pretty and so nostalgic. We pulled off onto the Craggy Gardens trail just outside of Asheville and walked a super moderate hike with perfect views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are so many hiking trails around, but this one is great if you’re short on time (or expecting rain, like we were).
- Wicked Weed Brewing: Asheville calls itself Beer City USA (sound familiar, Grand Rapidians?? Pretty sure we were the first & truest beer city) and there are breweries everywhere. Most don’t serve food, but Wicked Weed is the best of both worlds–great pub food and craft beer.
- Green Sage Cafe: Healthy, fresh, cheap, and tons of gluten-free and vegan options. This was a perfect lunch spot as we explored the sweet shops and streets of Asheville.
- Porch reading & Present Over Perfect: I love, love to read and I don’t do it often enough. For about an hour on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, I left my phone inside and delved into this timely read. Sometimes I feel like I am wasting time by taking a break on a vacation (there is so much to see and do! We travelled all the way here!) but I never regret these restful moments.