The AfterEllen.com Huddle: Best. Vacation. Ever

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We are now stuck in that long stretch between the holidays and spring break, which can only make us long for a getaway. So let’s reminisce. What was your best vacation ever?

Emily McGaughy: I’m going to out myself as someone who would not exactly fall under the “well-traveled” category. I know, it’s shameful. I have a bit of a fear of international travel, so I haven’t ventured out of the U.S. much, although my wife insists this will change in the near future (she traveled quite a bit when she served in the military and loved it). Please don’t hate me.

With that being said, my favorite vacation was probably when my wife took me to LA a few years ago.  She briefly lived in California and has always raved about the beautiful weather and progressive culture.  We visited during LA Pride and had a blastcocktailing in WeHo, drunken shopping at the Beverly Center (where condoms and lube I’d acquired at the Pride festival fell out of my purse), lunching in Santa Monica, driving through Topanga Canyon with the top down, and lounging on the beach in Malibu where we got engaged.  It was one of those laid back vacations with no itinerary – and three years later, it’s still one of my favorite memories.

Lucy Hallowell: In 2005, after I graduated law school but before my wife started medical school we spent a month in Europe. We funded the trip on the back of my wife’s shitty paying job as a research assistant. We ate Power Bars by the caseload and stayed with family and friends where we could. It was magnificent. We watched Bastille Day fireworks shoot from the Eiffel tower while we sat on my cousin’s roof deck in Paris. We hiked in Switzerland, said hello to the Mona Lisa and the statue of David. We swam in the Mediterranean and ate mussels, pesto, and drank the best white wine I have ever had in Corniglia. We survived would-be muggers in Rome, my horrific attempts to speak French, and smelly boys in our train’s sleeping car. We had no cell phones, no distractions, and a month of exploring, hiking, eating, laughing, and being together. We had little more than the clothes on our backs but it was a magical trip. I will never forget the way my wife looked standing on the side of a mountain, on the Rialto bridge, or the way we laughed after we survived a thunderstorm on the side of a mountain in Gimmelwald. Almost 10 years later, we sometimes look at each other, while our kids are doing the bananas things that kids do, and say things like, “Do you remember the friend zucchini in Florence?” I remember every last bite.

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Kim Hoffman: My parents are big on vacations—I was six months old when I went on my first cruise. Apparently there was a hurricane scare and they had to tape the dining room hutches shut so the china wouldn’t come crashing out with the deep swaying of the boat, but I was passed out like a baby, rocked to sleep in my crib—while everyone else was vomiting over the promenade deck. That is not my “favorite vacation.” But it’s sort of a testament to how “National Lampoons” that shit would get with us on vacations. We had our luggage lost for a week in Barcelona once. We almost missed a flight from Atlanta to London once and had to run through the airport like we were in Home Alone. We moved to Florida when I was five years old and spent so many seasons at Disney World that “It’s a Small World” became the song you did not sing at home or else Dad would scream, “Oh no!” I loved the Haunted House and the Peter Pan ride in Magic Kingdom. I loved all the countries at Epcot—going on the weird troll ride in Norway, seeing “snake charmers” in Morocco, going up in that past/present/future ride inside the giant ball, “Spaceship Earth.” MGM at the time (now Hollywood Studios) was THE BEST because they were filming Mickey Mouse Club every day, so there was always action on the lot. There was also the Great Movie Ride outside of a recreation of Grauman’s Chinese Theater that was pure magic.

At Nickelodeon Studios, I freaked the fuck out over seeing the set of Clarissa Explains It All, get slimed, my dad played in a game show, and forevermore I will regret not being a contestant on Legends of the Hidden Temple. Universal Studios was also so much fun at the time because there was a Back to the Future ride which I was sort of scared of but loved, and my favorite—the E.T. Adventure, which I hear is still there only because Steven Spielberg insists that it will always be relevant to children and should never be replaced with some new ride. Agreed, Berg. That’s childhood. I also remember seeing the Golden Girls house on the “back lot tour” at Universal, which I snapped a picture of on my hot pink camera. Florida summer vacations of the ’90s, how I miss ’em.

Bridget McManus: Disney World 1984. I was five years old and it was first time on an airplane. I was freaking out. I ordered a can of Sprite midair and drink the entire thing, which I was never allowed to do at home. We spent five days gallivanting from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom. I met all my favorite characters Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and they even signed my autograph book.

Dana Piccoli: My folks didn’t have a lot of money, so we didn’t take many vacations. One time they did save up for over a year to take us all on a Disney cruise. I’d never seen so much food in my life. I only got seasick once, and I’m pretty sure it’s what instilled in me a love for karaoke.

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Dara Nai: I had been to Hawaii a few times in the distant past, but the most recent trip was for my birthday, courtesy of my wife. We spent the first half doing muddy, outdoors-y stuff like hiking Volcanoes National Park, and staying in what can only be described as a luxury tree house. For the second half, we flew to Maui and ate/sunned/drank/spent our faces off at the Four Seasons. My wife really knows me.

And then there was the time she proposed while we were in Tuscany. On a hilltop, behind the villa we had rented, with an olive grove to one side, the Med on the other. I really have done nothing to deserve the life I have.

Elaine Atwell: You know, I don’t really have an answer for this one. My family went on vacations when I was little, but those are all fuzzy in my mind now.  As an adult, the only trips I take are home for the holidays, and I didn’t even manage that this year. So, in order to have a better answer for this question the next time someone asks, I hereby declare 2015 the year of the vacation.

Anna Pulley: I got hit by an Illinois Department of Transportation emergency vehicle on my bike, which was horrible, but I got a pretty big settlement out of it and took my then-gf to Greece, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, and France. We island-hopped, visited Dracula’s castle, climbed Mount Olympus, laid on pristine beaches, and then I proposed to her in Lesvos, aka place of Sappho’s birth. It was dreamy and magical and who cares if she dumped me nine months later? HA HA and then I was a bridesmaid at her wedding.

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Valerie Anne: When I was a senior in high school, a teacher organized a trip to Costa Rica, and this brave soul took twenty 18-year-olds to a foreign country. It was about 10 days and it was the best. It was the first trip I had ever taken without my parents, it was the first time I was legally allowed to drink (and since I was paranoid about getting in trouble, I had only had alcohol like twice before that), and it was my first time out of the country. And damn is it a beautiful country. Even then, even as a kid who was more excited about the freedom than anything else, I appreciated the stunning sights we saw. I went to a swim-up bar in volcano hot springs, zip-lined through the rainforest, haggled in Spanish at local markets for trinkets just for the experience, and rode a horse along the shore of Jaco Beach at sunset. The weather was perfect, no one was ever in a rush, everyone was kind and generous and welcoming. The people in Costa Rica say “pura vida” all the time, and now I understand why.

Grace Chu: One Friday night in college a few friends and I decided to go to the beach. We had finished our final exams, and the weather that weekend looked gorgeous. The next morning, we rented a car and drove towards Cape Cod. We didn’t know where we were going. We decided we would just drive on Route 3 and pick an exit. Over two hours later, we were still on Route 3. None of the names of the towns spoke to us. We had never been to Cape Cod, and this was before the age of Google Maps. It was before the age of Google, period. So, clueless and mapless, we kept on driving. Then we couldn’t drive anymore, because we had reached the tip of Cape Cod. Since we couldn’t keep going forward without barreling into the ocean, we decided to stay at whatever town we were in. It was a little town called Provincetown.

We went to a bar to get drinks, and one of my friends looked around and remarked that there was something a little different about this place. We all looked around, and realized that almost everyone around us were mengay men. At that point I was still so far in the closet that I was in Narnia, so my response was, “Oh! I guess none of us will meet anyone at this bar, but on the bright side, no gross drunk dudes will try to bother us!” A gay bar in a little quaint colonial town on the tip of the Cape, I thought. Times are a-changin!
 
Then we went outside, and a gaggle of drag queens sashayed by. I looked around the sidewalks to see same sex couples holding hands and into storefronts and saw the rainbow flag and realized that this entire town was gay. 
 
Over the years I didn’t forget that little town in Massachusetts. Eventually, I came out as gay and took many road trips to Provincetown, even owning a time share condo there for a few years. I am ever so grateful I stumbled into it accidentally as a teenager.
 
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Miranda Meyer: My trip of choice isn’t technically a vacation, but it’s still the best, so I’m going with it. I got a grant from my university to study abroad in Syria (before the war broke out, of course) and spent the best summer of my life in Damascus. I lived among buildings that had stood for centuries, smoked hookah by the highway with its signs for Baghdad and Beirut, and visited incredible cities and ruins all across Syria and Lebanon. I made friends I still treasure (just yesterday I edited something for a Syrian friend I made there!) and most importantly realized, at age 20, that I was a whole, real, competent person without my parents’ or anybody else’s supervision. I rode to Damascus on the back of a Mack truck in the moonlight, and I have seen the clay tablet containing the oldest piece of music written down. I took a taxi to Lebanon if I felt like it; I drove to Basra to see the black stone amphitheater with friends on a whim, and stumbled into a music video shoot. I kissed my second girl and almost got thrown out of the club. Nothing will ever really match the pure freedom of that summer.

Eboni Rafus: My family didn’t take vacations when I was kid. We didn’t have a lot of extra money for family cruises or places like Disneyland. My dad was both an infantry solider in the Army and a Southern Baptist preacher so he worked a lot.  I don’t remember ever seeing my dad as a kid when he wasn’t in his camouflage BDUs or a three-piece suit.

Except this one time…

The summer after sixth grade, my mom, dad, older sister, younger brother and I piled into the family sedan and drove from Ft. Benning, Georgia to Ft. Greely, Alaska. My dad had been promoted to Ist Sergeant and we were moving again, so it wasn’t so much a vacation as it was a cheap way to get from one duty station to another.  We decided to make the most of it. We visited friends and family along the way, stopped at some historic landmarks, and because I insisted after having read about it in social studies that year, visited The Mall of America in Minneapolis.

This was in the time before huge SUVs or minivans where each child gets to sit in their own row and watch their own portable television and DVD player. This was in the time before handheld video games or cell phones. We didn’t even have Beats headphones to drown each other out. My siblings and I were forced to sit side by side and interact with each other.

We told stories and jokes and sang songs. We played “I SPY” and this other game called “Next One’s Your Boyfriend” that I’m pretty sure we made up. We took pictures of blurry fields and mountains outside our car window, argued over which station to play on the radio and fell asleep on each other’s shoulders. We stayed in hotel rooms and ate a lot of fast food. We talked to our parents and they made us laugh. And my dad wore jeans. Jeans! I have pictures of him giving me bunny ears outside of a Native American museum and standing next to a Canadian Mountie on horseback to prove it.

As an adult, I’ve traveled a lot: Italy, Brazil, London, Paris. I spent three weeks in Hawaii with my best friend one January during grad school.  The previous summer, I spent a week traveling around England and Scotland after studying at Oxford for six weeks. Yet, spending two weeks in the car with my family when I was 13 years old is still the best vacation I ever had. My dad passed away when I was 25, but my siblings, mom and I are still very close. Whenever we talk about my dad, we always talk about that trip. It was a long time ago so sometimes we misremember the details, but we all agree that it was the best time we ever had together.

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 Jenna Duggan Lykes: During the magical period after I graduated from college and before my now-wife/then-girlfriend started law school, we spent six weeks bumming around the west coast. We had saved up some money, but it wasn’t very much at all, so we traveled as cheaply as we could. We stayed with friends when possible, and, in cities where we didn’t know anyone, we slummed it in hostels. (And, woah boy, you can meet a lot of interesting people in hostels.)

One night in Seattle, we ended up walking into the wrong restaurant. (Don’t judge methis was pre-iPhone!) We knew pretty much immediately that we had fucked up, because they served us a glass of champagne as they took our coats. We looked at each other, and had a silent conversation that went a little like this:

Me: Oh shit. We’ve made a huge mistake.

Wife: Yes. We, for sure, cannot afford this restaurant.

Me: Well, they’ve already taken our coats… so I think it’d be too awkward to leave?

Wife: Agree. Let’s roll with it.

 
Instead of worrying about the fact that we were, essentially, spending our weekly food budget in one night, we sat back and let them bring us course after course of food and wine. It ended up being one of the best meals I’ve had in my life. And that’s kind of what that whole vacation was, basically. Just hanging out or walking around, not having many real plans, and talking to my favorite person in the world. Even after being together for 9 years, I’m still constantly floored that this beautiful, amazing woman likes talking about nerdy science fiction stuff with me for hours on end. It’s pretty great.
Trish Bendix: Two years ago I went on a mini-pilgrimage of sorts in NYC where I made my own map of places to see and experience. It was largely in Greenwich Village because that’s where all of the women writers I was looking for have lived. I visited the past homes and hang-outs of Patricia Highsmith, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Carson McCullers and Elizabeth Bishop. I went to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Park Slope, and the Gertrude Stein monument in Bryant Park. I was alone but never once lonely.
 
What was your favorite vacation?
 

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