2020 has been a hard year, like unbelievably hard and I’m sure everyone can agree… Except for Jeff Bezos, he’s pretty much killing it this year.
Before I get into 2020, I’m going to get personal here and hopefully some of you can relate or know someone who has gone through the same things. Before we start, I want to rewind a little bit, and take us back to late 2019. The world seemed easier then, the worries that most of us have now didn’t exist last year, and we never could have imagined what this year was going to bring us.
For me it wasn’t that way. Last year my anxiety had reached a high point and became crippling. I was having daily panic attacks, sometimes numerous times a day, full body wrenching panic attacks, hyperventilating, nausea, and the feeling of death.
A minor headache would come on and I would convince myself that I had brain cancer, my arm would hurt, and I convinced myself it was a heart attack, I woke up in panic and fear of dying in my sleep, or I would have insomnia all night because the anxiety overwhelmed me and kept me awake for fears aneurism. Considering my past with cancer and health issues, this wasn’t a surprise, but it spiraled to a place I couldn’t control anymore.
Late 2019, I was hospitalized for severe depression, anxiety, and mainly extreme hypochondria. I spent a few days there, and when I finished, I was released into the world with a brand-new prescription or two, and a fresh perspective.
I spent the next month or two going to group therapy, spending time with my incredible support system; my parents, sister, friends, and my work family who have always been there for me, while adapting to my new meds.
It was finally working, I had gotten through the adjustment period and I was feeling great.
Then, news of an unknown virus exploding in Wuhan, China came onto the news, and I panicked.
The timing could not have been worse.
I called my therapist immediately.
He calmed me down and helped me see that it was not in the US, and I had nothing to worry about, and that I would be okay. He suggested that I get a service dog to help me ease some of the constant anxiety I felt and find a new sense of responsibility.
I breathed a sigh of relief. He was right.
So a few days later, I went to the shelter and almost instantly found my new best friend; Bubba.
He kept me busy for the time being, training the new pup, getting him used to being with me, getting used to move out of my bed, and taking him for walks. It was all new, and the perfect distraction.
2 weeks after the adoption, I met my boyfriend.
With the help of my support system I was back in the office and had my motivation for work again.
Life was seriously looking up for the first time in a while, and I could feel a sense of happiness overwhelm me.
Then Covid-19 hit the US, and again I panicked.
I vented to my parents and they tried to calm me down as they saw what I went through just a few months prior, but the OCD was bigger than me and i continued to panic… I realized I had to work this out on my own
I called my doctor again, and he calmed me down.
But it got to me. I’m sure many people felt this way; I spent the next few months refreshing the news on the pandemic. I needed to know every detail of what has happening.
As the numbers grew, so did my obsession. I was like a crack addict; except my crack was the Johns Hopkins Covid map.
I barely left the four walls of my or my boyfriends’ apartment.
The thought of stepping outside terrified me. All of my groceries, food, essential items, were now being delivered to me, and the only fresh air I got was when I took Bubba for a walk.
I picked up hobbies in the meantime to try and take my mind off of everything. I took online classes, and all of the hospitality and travel trainings and seminars that I could handle.
The anxiety was debilitating during all of this, I went from hospitalization for hypochondria to trying to mentally survive during a global pandemic within a couple of months.
It was tiring.
July rolled around, and we were now 5 months into the pandemic, and my dad’s birthday was coming up… All he wanted was a bit of normalcy.
Having been in the travel industry since birth as my parents owned a travel agency, I was doing site inspections before I could walk, and had been to 6 continents by age 11, travel was our normalcy.
We were lucky enough that our parents included us in their travels and brought us along.
I was grateful, I understood him, but I was scared.
They decided on going to the Montage Resort in South Carolina, it was perfect; within driving distance from home, 25% capacity, and 20,000 acres of resort and land to have the perfect socially distant vacation.
I also refused to get on a plane because I was a paranoid mess and in July, we didn’t know enough about anything.
As the days got closer, the anxiety worsened.
“Did I have enough hand sanitizer?”
“Would people be wearing masks?”
“Would there be outdoor dining?”
“Would I feel safe?”
Two days before, I almost bailed completely, but I knew I couldn’t do that to my dad, and family. The panic attacks were severe, but I had to put the fear aside and go.
This was beyond difficult for me.
On the day of, I nervously got into the car, and immediately felt a short sense of comfort from the familiarity of my black BMW.
We stopped for lunch in Daytona Beach and I saw that protocols were being followed, which was a positive sign.
Throughout the drive I listened to music, talked myself down, settling my nerves on the 7-hour ride, that lasted until we were about 30 minutes away.
Then another panic attack came. Oh God, how was I going to get through this?
As I drove down the one lane road to Palmetto Bluff my boyfriend and I were delighted by the quintessential town. Every store looked like it had been copied and pasted out of Town & Country Magazine. I let the sights distract me.
We advanced to the cabin-like gate and were met with two masked attendants awaiting our arrival equipped with hand sanitizer, and noninvasive thermal thermometer to check our temperature.
Okay… That made me feel better. Everyone had to be checked there.
Once we were given the go ahead, we drove past the gate, down a long one lane road we ooh’d and ahhh’d as we continued through. For the first time in months, I was so enthralled by the scenery that I wasn’t thinking about Covid.
The longer I was there, the less I had the plaguing thoughts.
There were hand sanitizing stations, and boxes of masks all over the resort for guests to use, and everyone was following the guidelines and being safe.
We spent the weekend boating, skeet shooting, and getting some much-needed R&R by the pool. Walked under pink and blue twilight lit skies, and licked our delicious, melting ice cream in the town square.
We munched on delicious food, drank, and enjoyed each other’s company in one of the most beautiful settings on earth. It was all surreal, especially after such a long time at home.
I felt alive. Whether it was the wind in my face on the boat, the adrenaline from shooting, the Hallmark-like resort I was in, or just being away from my apartment… Maybe a combination of them all, I felt truly alive.
Then it was back to home and reality. When I arrived home, I instantly felt the anxiety start to creep up again. The numbers were spiking, and my Covid map addiction was back in full swing.
*Wait 30 minutes*
This was making me insane. Between the numbers, and the news, I was scared, but the fact that Covid essentially put me out of my job, and my industry at a halt since February left me with nothing but time.
Time to obsess, panic, and sleep.
It was unhealthy, to say the least.
August came around, and my birthday at the end of it. I didn’t want to have to give up my birthday, I never imagined in my wildest dreams that the virus would still be here at this point, but here I was with decisions to make.
I wanted to travel, because my past birthdays compromised; Key West, India, Naples, London, and so many more.
After this year, I needed another piece of normalcy.
However, most of the world was closed off now, and with my head bouncing back and forth between whether or not to do anything, I didn’t actually decide until 3 days before my birthday.
I was going to go for it. I wasn’t going to let Covid take another thing away from me this year, I had already lost a lot of aspects of my life and was on the verge of mentally giving up.
So, a small gathering in a local, chic, hotel it was. I rented out a hotel room with a huge amount of space, a bar, and outdoor terrace, which was designed by Lenny Kravitz and the room was an art piece within itself.
I laid out masks and hand sanitizer for all. Everyone was healthy, and those who didn’t feel up to par stayed home. It was a success and I’m happy to report that zero Covid cases came out of this. You can still do things, just be smart and do them safely.
The day after my birthday, my boyfriend took me for a week to his mom’s place in Fripp Island, South Carolina.
Again, I felt the anxiety lessen as we got on the road and headed on our way.
I was starting to see a pattern here.
Still working from home, I at least had a new setting. My view from Fripp Island was of a beautiful golf course on the water with deer, and wildlife roaming free.
Within a 5-minute ride on the golf cart that came equipped with the house, and I was able to spend my lunch breaks and evenings either at the beach or a state park.
During our time there we spent the first few days at home, making sure we were safe, and then we took day trips; we experienced old Southern Charm as we strolled through the streets of Charleston, roaming their outdoor markets, experiencing the culture of the city, and just simply enjoying the world like it used to be. Another day trip was to Hilton Head, where we walked along the water that our lunch spot was at and visited the hotels in the area for guest feedback.
When we weren’t dining out on some patio or another, we were at the local market getting all the necessities for cooking. The warm Carolina night coming in through the open window as we cooked in the expansive, white kitchen.
I felt Amazing. Alive. Again.
Don’t get me wrong, I thought about the virus, and with the election looming, lack of a stimulus package going through, it stressed me. I had now been unpaid since July, unemployment funds were at a barely livable place, and the fear of our 35 year old family business shutting down plagued me.
We had made it through 9-11, the recession, everything, but would be survive Covid? How long would this even last? We didn’t know.
There is so much more that goes into the fear of the virus than the virus itself. I missed working normally, I missed being able to see my family and friends, I missed getting to do the holidays together, and gathering for weekly Sunday BBQ’s and football games, I missed the company, and the support system that had gotten me through so much. I missed not having to wear a mask without getting anxiety attacks after prolonged amounts of time. I missed not having to worry whether or not our business, or my job would be there. I missed life before the virus, and I know many can say the same and feel this every day.
The anxiety wasn’t just the virus, and the fear of death that I felt on a daily basis, it was everything else above. The social interaction, being able to just grab dinner or a drink without a second thought, or even just giving my best friend a hug.
I missed the things we took for granted because we never expected they would be taken away from us.
We see these celebrities and politicians preaching to us that we need to stay inside to protect everyone, while they collect regular paychecks, continue to have their jobs, and live comfortable in their enormous homes. They don’t understand our struggles, but they pretend to, and it makes it worse.
We have to feel guilty for trying to survive in a world enveloped with disease and negativity.
This is the reality. Suicides are up to unprecedented levels, so is mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction, and overdoses. I’m lucky that I found my boyfriend, and the love of my life at the beginning of the pandemic, without him and my family by my side, I don’t know where I would be now to get through this. I don’t know how I would be able to go through it all like so many are doing, and I would probably be another statistic in the mess.
But the more I did and got away, the more I realized how much better I was feeling.
I knew I needed to do something different and fast, or my mental health would keep deteriorating in ways I hadn’t expected or encountered since I was checked into the hospital.
Since July I had given up my paycheck, and job so that the older women in the office would have a secure paycheck, and health insurance. It was a hard decision, but it felt like the right one.
After that decision, I had so much free time; I wanted to do something I had always dreamed of: a cross country road trip.
I wanted to see the world for myself and conquer the fears that I had. I needed to tackle it head on and get in tune with nature and beauty of the United States.
So less than a month after returning home from South Carolina, I tapped into my savings, and sold some stocks, to help finance my and my boyfriend’s 30 days of hotels across the country. 23 states, and 18 different hotels.
I was terrified, but knew that if I continued with being safe, I would be okay. That was my motto, keep the safety and keep my peace of mind.
Plus, spend a lot of time outdoors.
We took off in early October and our first stop was to Atlanta. We spent the night there before heading over to Knoxville, TN. Our first few minutes out of Florida and we were already marveling at the changing leaves and fall colors.
Drew and I drove around the city, seeing the sights we could but mainly stayed in since it was a college town, and we know kids can be stupid.
The next morning though, we headed to The Smoky Mountains. We drove through Pigeon Forge – Tennessee’s version of Disneyland but dedicated to Dolly Parton, and compared the drive to our own state. Then ended up in Gatlinburg, right before entering the park, and holy crap it was adorable.
A small town right in the middle of The Smokies with an adorable town square, restaurants, and events. I felt like I was on a movie set.
“Fall In The Smokies” – Hey, Hallmark I have your next movie title and story.
Quickly I parked the car, and walked around for a few minutes, however too many people were around, and we wanted to escape the crowds, so we left the town, and went straight into the mountains.
Our drive started out lined by tall, towering trees, and autumn leaves falling on our windshield with glimpses of the mountains, it was awe-inspiring.
We would look at each other every few minutes and question “How is this real?”
We spent hours and hours making our way through the park.
The view of Clingmans Dome is something I will always remember, 6,644 feet in the air, being able to look out into both North Carolina and Tennessee, hundreds of thousands of trees coating the mountains, and snow falling lightly onto the peaks in the distance.
We went to the state line between the 2 and followed the trail until we ended up in Cherokee, North Carolina. In Cherokee we were right in the center of an authentic old Native American village. We had to get out and walk around.
Then we saw Elk casually walking through and snapped what felt like a million pictures.
I mean how often do you get to see an Elk nonchalantly going through your town? Because I definitely don’t… Although we get gators… Blame Florida.
We had to turn around from there and make the drive back to Knoxville. The first thing we saw, dozens of people lined up on the side of the road.
“What were they looking at?” I thought to myself and pulled over.
An entire field of Elk were before us.
I had never been so in tune or in love with nature as I was on that day.
My lazy butt didn’t even care to do the walks and hikes required to get to the views.
The next day we drove through Kentucky where we visited Churchill Downs, and ate KFC, because, duh we were in Kentucky, we had to. Then drove through Indiana, where we stopped in the town of Santa Claus to drop off letters for Santa, and see his workshop, before hitting up a dispensary in Illinois, the State of Lincoln, and finally making it to St Louis, Missouri that evening.
5 states – 1 day. 9 hours. Not bad right?
Being in St. Louis felt a bit strange, for a major city it was pretty much empty, and we felt like we had the place all to ourselves. We visited to Lumiere Sculpture park so the pup could run around and we could get some sights in.
The park was an art piece in itself, large sculptures of all styles; modern, abstract, busts, were across it, and to be fair this is not what I thought I would see in the middle of Missouri. I loved seeing the small groups of people gathered for picnics or the ones going solo, laying under the trees reading a book. Life looked normal, minus the masks, but I didn’t care it was a beautiful sight to see people living.
The Gateway Arch was next, and again, it felt like we had it all to ourselves, there was barely anyone there, and were able to take great pictures, and see sights without a million tourists in our way. Not going to lie, I want to travel like this all the time.
We had Juicy Lucies for lunch, and they are a must. Cheese filled burgers? Yes, please. And local BBQ from Sugarfire for dinner.
We were going to Kansas City next and we had to compare the BBQ.
I will say, I did not love St. Louis, it was very much a city, and not very dog friendly which was a big minus for me. The sights were great, just don’t go with family or pups.
Our 4 hour drive to Kansas City was a real eye opener. This may sound ignorant, but I did not expect Missouri to be such a lovely state, but it was.
Can you guess my first stop there? Probably not, so I’ll tell you.
Arrowhead Stadium, the land of Champs! BTW, it is right next to the Royals stadium, and perfect for visiting. They let you drive through, the team store is open, and you can learn some history about the grounds.
Up next: The Hallmark Visitors Center! – If you haven’t noticed, I’m a tad obsessed. Unfortunately for me Covid ruined this one, they are shut down until further notice to stop the spread. I LOVED the city, so I’ll be back there for some Hallmark and Mahomes any day.
I didn’t expect it to be one of my favorite cities, but it absolutely was. The World War 1 museum is expansive, and detailed with an inspiring memorial, and the best views of the city, and their Grand Central Station, which is also worth a look.
This city was super dog, and family friendly. We were so sad to only have one night there we wanted to extend, but unfortunately, we had to stick to our hotel schedule.
On the way out of K.C., we dipped into Kansas to cross another state off of our list, and hit Joes Famous BBQ.
K.C. wins the BBQ contest by far. Not even a question.
From there, we had a stopover in Omaha, NE we decided to just sleep because we were so tired from such an active few days.
When we woke up the next day, we decided to quickly drive around the city and let me tell you, we missed a lot. Marble buildings and art were everywhere, plus museums galore. Woops, we need to go back.
As we made our way through Nebraska while toeing the state line of Iowa, we had to find a reason to stop in.
Lewis and Clark State Park it was. We got more than we bargained for. A huge lake was right in the center of the park, orange and yellow leaves were falling and surrounding the green grounds.
It took my breath away, and Bubba was so excited to run around in the leaves and grass.
We were only supposed to drive through, but we loved it too much. We got out and spent over an hour strolling in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, before getting back on the road for Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
This was all just within the first 10 days of our trip. We had done so so much, and to be honest I was barely suffering for any anxiety due to Covid. Most of the Midwestern and rural areas had low covid numbers, and we were always armed with our sanitizer and mask.
I would have moments of panic at times if too many people were around me, or if we dined indoors, but that is more a testament to my hysteria.
However, I was so proud of myself. I was proud that I was doing this, that I was facing my fears instead of letting them control me. I was proud that I was able to spend so much time in nature and love it. I was proud that I was finding strength in me, that I didn’t always know I had, and I was proud to fulfilling a lifelong dream that I always found reasons to put off.
South Dakota was the next place on the list, and a sight to behold. One of the most unexpected hidden gems in America. You can find it all; get face to face with the presidents at Mount Rushmore, or experience the desert terrain of the Badlands Nation Park, get close and personal with wildlife at Bear Country USA, or immerse yourself in South Dakotas Native American rich history and culture with a stop at Crazy Horse (not the strip club). I can go on and on but I think you get the point.
We did all of it, everything that we could find within a 2 hour range of Rapid City and Sioux Falls and explored it. Mount Rushmore was so cool. I didn’t expect the closeness that I got to the faces and how clear the views would be. I didn’t expect Sioux Falls to be the most perfect natural falls smack in the middle of their historical downtown area, or that I would be stepping back into the 1800’s with a walk through Keystone.
But that is exactly why I wanted to get into the car and see it, that is the point of the whole trip; experiencing things that I never expected, seeing sights that I had never thought of or considered going to and seeing what they were actually like. Pictures I have seen or what I have read does in no way express the majesty and marvel of really seeing them and being a part of them. I found out as is quite often the (to replace the not the). This is an example of why we use the hashtag “Why we travel”
After 3 days in South Dakota which felt like one, we again found ourselves so sad to leave. I could have easily stayed a week and not run out of things to do… Just in the one area we made our base.
From there, the three of us arrived in Montana. Again, I found myself falling in love with a state I hadn’t expected to every really visit. The drive was full of lush greenery lining the narrow one lane roads. Fresh creeks with red, green, and orange flowers flourished throughout, and high mountain tops peaked through the tops of the trees.
I had to stop on at least four different occasions on the short one hour drive alone, because the views were so glorious; they could make a grown man cry… Or woman in this case.
As we drove through Bozeman, we saw what looked like rain hitting our windshield. We groaned in frustration because we had basically had perfect weather throughout the trip.
Then we realized that it wasn’t rain, but our first run in with snow!
How could 2 people born and raised in Florida not get excited about the change of pace? we never get to experience the four seasons and here we were seeing fall and winter in a matter of an hour. How could we not get excited about the change of weather?
By the time that we arrived at our hotel in Big Sky, it was 30 degrees and fully snowing. I found myself thinking that this has to be heaven; a quaint town nestled in the middle of a valley of mountains and beauty surrounding me, as snowflakes fell on my smiling face. Our Hallmark trip was continuing.
Life felt good, and the last thing from my mind was the plaguing fear of Covid.
For the next two days we sat by the many fireplaces around, taking comfort in the views and each other, playing in the snow with Bubba, and shopping in the town squares market.
Always following our motto; keep being safe and keep your peace of mind. Knowing that I was being safe was the only way to keep a semblance of peace in my mind.
Big Sky provided a seamless R&R period before a hectic next few days. – In the best possible way
Jackson Hole, here we come. We were about 2 and a half weeks into our trip at this point when my parents and sister were coming out to meet us for another one of our bucket list items; Yellowstone National Park. They would only be here for 3 days so we wanted to take advantage of everything, and we did.
Luckily, I had my car which made it easy for us to get around as a family, we were able to park it in the heated, underground garage of our apartment/hotel rental for the weekend, and go in and out whenever we needed… which seemed to be a lot.
Remote, rugged, and bursting with creative energy, Jackson, Wyoming, should be on every traveler’s bucket list. (Fun bit of trivia: Though everyone refers to it as Jackson Hole, that’s a misnomer. “Hole” is an old-timey word once used to describe a valley surrounded by high mountains—so Jackson Hole really refers to the entire valley, not just the historic town.)
We were not in the town of Jackson itself but the wider area, Jackson Hole in Teton Village.
Adventuring outdoors is a way of life here, thanks to Jackson’s proximity to two national parks (Grand Teton and Yellowstone), a ski resort, and Snake River’s rafting and fishing opportunities. Like I said, we had a lot to take advantage of.
We were excited to see one another, and spent the first few hours catching up on how everything had been since we left, before going to our dinner reservation.
High on nature and normalcy, and we hadn’t even gotten to the parks yet.
Everyone hypes up Yellowstone; and while I absolutely died for it, I have to say that Teton is either equally up to par or possibly a little higher on the scale. Maybe it was the fact that I knew nothing about it and had no expectations? I’m not sure, but whatever it was, it was a place that would take anyone’s breath away.
So while you’re there for Yellowstone, make sure you take a trip to Teton National Park. Neither are to be missed.
The massive dark mountains in contrast with the pristine lakes in Teton provide the ideal landscape for dramatic scenery. The pictures do not do it justice.
Not only was that impressive, but so was the abundance of wildlife that we saw while driving through the park. I should admit that we did a little bit of off roading right next to a field of Bison for a true up close and personal experience that is never to be forgotten.
Marching through huge lumps of turd to get as close as possible to the Bison without the possibility of an attack. My father took the opportunity to hurl the dried turds at us, because as he said “that is a father’s job.”
A looming thought.
There is no way to feel anything but appreciation with days like this; surrounded by nature and family in one of the most picture-perfect settings on earth or the memories made, and laughs had.
After a 10 hour day in Grand Teton we were exhausted, and had to be up early and ready for another day of adventure. Yellowstone National Park.
Within minutes of entering the park we spotted a moose on the loose and a black bear. the pack of three were so close that the rangers made us move back because after many trips to Disney we forget that wild animals can be dangerous. How cool is that?
As we continued our drive through the park the surprises kept coming; massive Geysers, Old Faithful, The Grand Prismatic and its changing colors, and what felt like 3 different seasons in one day, spring, fall, and winter.
We saw blooming flowers, right under a bed of fresh powdery snow, and fall leaves everywhere. Being from Miami, we get about 2 seasons: hot and hotter.
We trekked and explored the park for hours on end. Unfortunately, we also got hit by a massive snowstorm while driving through the park so they had to shut down several roads, and we only got to see about half of the park.
This gives me the best excuse to go back for another visit in the future… Not that I need an excuse for that.
When we were done with our long days in the park, we had the pleasure of coming back to Teton Village; where not only our hotel was but so were the best luxury hotels in the valley. It was an adorable mini town with landscaping to die for, restaurants, bars, ski lifts, and ski in or out abilities.
I wanted to live here. This was on Hallmarks level.
The three days with my family seemed to fly by in the blink of an eye, I was sad that it had finished so quickly, but those memories together would last forever.
Drew, Bubba, and I said our goodbyes on Monday morning, and continued our road trip to Colorado. I had been to Colorado several times before, but I wanted to do it different this time, I didn’t want to spend my time in Denver like I normally do when I go there, I wanted to see the cities and hot spots that I see in travel magazines and book for my clients.
We arrived in Beaver Creek to the Park Hyatt, and we were in absolute heaven. The room was large and pretty with views of the Rocky Mountains from our balcony, again I found myself content in levels I hadn’t felt for a while before the trip. I think Bubba was the most happy as the bed was extremely comfortable.
We had tried to visit the Rocky Mountains on our way in but due to the Colorado Wildfires, we were left with no choice but to leave the mountains as fast as possible. Wearing our masks inside of the car, due to the heavy smoke in the area was beyond uncomfortable, but we loved whatever we could see, especially Twin Lakes on the way.
Over the next few days we explored the surrounding areas, we went to the European inspired alpine village of Vail; where you can experience Bavarian style restaurants, or chic breweries that have added to Colorado’s popularity. Drew and I enjoyed the cold fresh mountain air as we adventured through Beaver Creek, and Eagle.
We had a day trip planned for Aspen, but last minute I wasn’t feeling well, and the weather was awful.
We had a decision to make; should we go for a night or skip it for another time?
“Screw it, let’s go” – I said to my boyfriend the next day.
I proceeded to book myself in Snowmass and jumped in the car for the 3 hour drive. This was one of the first times we were able to be spontaneous and I loved it.
We drove on Independence Passway which gave us unbelievable sights of the Centennial state.
I had always wanted to visit Aspen; Colorado’s destination for the rich and famous, it has been one of my dreams to get to experience the lavishness.
Aspen is not what I had expected. The beautiful monstrous houses are not within the middle of the town, but up in the mountains overlooking the world. It was better than I had imagined because it was a flawless blend of nouveau riche and rural elegance, with its pleasant architect