It feels like most exotic place I’ve gone in the last two and a half months is the Fedex down the street, so when Memorial Day weekend came about I was anxious to go somewhere.
My family and I started brainstorming places we could go where we could be outdoors, away from other people and within a reasonable driving range.
My father’s almost immediate and rather enthusiastic suggestion was, “Go west, young man!”
Translation: The National Parks of South Dakota.
And so, we packed into my parents’ travel van equipped with coolers of food for the trip so that we wouldn’t have to stop anywhere to eat, hand sanitizer and cleaning products for when we did need to touch things, and the entire Pure Moods collection because, well, duh.
It was just like the family road trips we would take all of the time over ten years ago, but with fewer indoor stops, more precautions, and with smartphones- so that my brother and I could now independently figure out that “no, we are in fact, not there yet.”
When I was growing up, we went on long road trips all the time- National Parks were our thing. Having come from Poland, my parents had an incredible appreciation for the variance of the American landscape and so badly wanted my brother and I to see this country. In recent years we’ve opted for more exotic individual trips abroad, but all of a sudden in the midst of a pandemic- driving for 12 hours straight and humming along to Simon & Garfunkel and The Rolling Stone sounded like the best idea ever.
And it was.
We hiked through Badlands National Park and watched prairie dogs scurry around the grasslands on our first day, and then headed towards the Black Forest Hills National Forest where we spent two nights in a cabin near Custer State Park.
There, we trekked all through Custer State Park’s woodsy trails, took the scenic drive along Needles Highway, watched Bison graze in Wind Cave National Park, and visited Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial. Along the route we spotted coyotes, antelope, and made bird watching a competitive family sport.
It felt so good to be somewhere for one weekend where it felt like you weren’t constantly in imminent danger.
(Well, aside from rattlesnakes, getting rammed by a bison if you get too close, or the fact that my father insists on bird watching while driving.)
Everyone we passed on the hiking trails was enthusiastic and kind. You didn’t pick up on any of the fear and distrust that plagues the city where people side eye you if god forbid you accidentally walk down the aisle in the wrong direction at Whole Foods.
And, there was so much space everywhere! Fewer people visited the national parks than normally would have during Memorial Day Weekend and we found it incredibly easy to maintain a safe distance at all time.
Traveling already was something that worked for my family, and we felt that we were able to enjoy the outdoors in a way that kept us and others safe.
My travel plans for this year are going to look a lot different than originally planned, and I’m slowly coming to terms with that.
I don’t think I’ll be doing tequila shots off of some Australian’s perfectly sculpted six pack during Croatia Yacht Week. The safari outfits I already had planned for my trip to Botswana and Zimbabwe will have to wait (which is a shame because I look fantastic in khakis and wide brimmed hats.) And, I imagine that the sunburn that I was inevitably going to get while frolicking the beaches of St. Lucia may not happen.
That all being said, I found a lot of comfort in this trip because it reminded me that although travel will look different this year, adventure is still out there- just in a different form.
And with lots of hand sanitizer.