How Travel Can Make You a Better Parent, Friend, and Person

How Travel Can Make You a Better Parent, Friend, and Person

In the months leading up to a much anticipated “girls trip” to Miami, I prepared how any other 36-year-old mother of two would for travel. Pinterest became my instant go-to between packing lunches and loading the dishwasher; searching for the “best” restaurants, beaches, hotels…you name it.

Fast forward to the night before my trip…I was set! Reservations were made, beaches were researched and flip-flops were packed! Everything was perfectly planned.

Now, I consider myself to be a relatively seasoned traveler and confident when it comes to exploring new places. But Miami had surprises up her sleeve that no travel website, or social media platform could ever have prepared me for. What was supposed to be a weekend of mindless relaxation transformed into an eye-opening lesson on friendship, self-esteem, and living!

Travel Lesson #1: The Guilt Trip

My friend had every legitimate reason to take a vacation. Besides being an Assistant DA for Dallas County, she also plays the role of a single mother of two boys. She does it all, with a seamlessly flawless effort. Her argument for skipping town was solid. Mine on the other hand, appeared to be filled with holes.

I stay at home with one child, whom apart from being a 2-year-old boy is more than manageable. Then there’s my 6-year-old, who I’m convinced keeps me around for rides to and from dance and for most of her meals. My husband works long hours, but is otherwise “all-hands-on-deck” when he’s home. In other words, I’m one lucky mother—pun intended ;-).

So, naturally (or maybe the more appropriate term would be “culturally”) I found difficulty in rationalizing a weekend to myself. Then I got over it, real fast. And here’s why:

A true friendship is a reflection of the energy that we give to others. Good friends, in my opinion, are no less valuable than family, and warrant an equal amount of love, respect, and effort.

Travel Lesson #2: Luggage (In)Security

There are some conversations in which “FaceTime” doesn’t seem appropriate and after the year my friend had, I couldn’t allow her to be physically alone in such a transitional time in her life. This year’s events for both of us really, presented the perfect storm for us to meet in neutral territory. And if South Beach happened to be the spot she chose, well then as a good friend, who was I to argue? I do after all possess a certain affinity toward palm trees and the occasional mojito.

The night before leaving, I was careful to pack everything I would need. Flip-flops, cut-offs, my go-to dress in the event we made it past 8:30pm…except I left one thing behind; my tankini. In its place, I threw in two bikinis that haven’t left my closet in nearly a decade. “When in Rome…” was my reasoning, never mind the notion that “Mom-Suit” and Miami Beach are mutually exclusive concepts.

Fast forward to the first day on the beach; the right thing to say goes something like this: I felt unbelievably insecure wearing more or less 4 pieces of cloth attached by a polyester string. After all, I’ve had 2 kids and look nothing like I did when I purchased these. But the aforementioned mentality couldn’t be further from the truth.

I flung off that dowdy cover-up I wore to get through the hotel lobby so fast it would make your head spin. Both the mental and physical freedom that overcame me was overwhelming.

Miami gave me permission to show my skin, literally and figuratively. Her ocean waves crashed on my bare back and her rays shone on a navel that yes, shamelessly revealed the shadow of two pregnancies but also shined a light on the strength and maturity that even the most model-perfect 20-something will never have.

I also got scorched…badly. But that came at the expense of drifting off for an hour underneath the South Beach sun after hours of laughter and much needed conversations, leaving my thoughts empty and my spirit rekindled with the spark which belongs solely to me. Sunburn seemed like a small price to pay.

Travel Lesson #3: Getting to Know the Locals

There’s something about South Beach that can’t be found north of the Mason-Dixon, let alone west of the Greater Miami Metropolis. I learned very quickly and somewhat naively that she is a city that marches to a different beat, which is perhaps why we seemed to get along so well.

Needless to say, we were surprised to find most restaurants so empty you could hear crickets when we arrived for our 8pm reservations. I was still on Milwaukee time, where 8pm means folding down the sheets. Meanwhile, Miami is just getting ready for her day.

The following afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice a group of beach-goers dancing to the rhythm of Latin drums. Without a second thought, I joined in the dance. I mean, I really danced; much to the amusement of my friend who always humored my “free spirit” demeanor, even when she didn’t always understand it.  The best part was she was the only one who seemed to notice.

Unlike the culture of the Midwest, where observing the actions of others almost takes precedent over the presence of one’s own interests, the people of Miami are too busy living in their moment to notice anybody else’s.

There is a rhythm to Miami that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Her beat internalized by those who visit and those lucky enough to call Miami Beach home. And as I stood in baggage claim after returning home to Milwaukee, I glanced down at my feet to notice that the white sand of South Beach was still clinging to my toes, as if to say, you can’t get rid of me that easily. Likewise, Miami, likewise.

Travel Lesson #4: Navigating to You

This trip taught me many valuable lessons. But my greatest takeaway is this: never downplay your desire to travel this beautiful world.

The phrases “Girl’s Getaway” and “Boys Weekend” are often times thrown out there to validate our need to break away from the safety net of our schedules.

Whether you’re traveling 40 minutes up the highway or 4,000 miles overseas, taking the time to leave our routine and return to “us” is endlessly important for whom we are as humans.

I am a mom and a wife, but my three days in South Beach reminded me that I’m still a friend who is needed and counted on, a hopeless free spirit who can’t help but dance to the music, and a 36-year-old who can still rock a bikini! I’ve got the tan lines to prove it.

Is there somewhere you escape to find yourself, or a place that has changed you?

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Written by Susan Madden—Member, Mom, and Guest Blog Contributor

Writer, marketer and mom, Susan Madden, has a background working with the Fine Arts in Dallas, TX and Milwaukee, WI. Relatively new to the fitness industry, she enjoys sharing her experiences about the craziness that is parenting and wellness from a novice perspective. She is a native of Whitefish Bay, WI and now resides in Mequon, WI with her husband Mike and children, Samantha and Blake.