For many years, I was a professional traveler. I worked at a travel magazine and, so, it was essential to always find the latest and greatest places—and then narrow down where to eat, stay, and play with an aficionado’s precision. If it sounds glamorous, well, it was—sort of. The problem, though, was that when you’re on that kind of ultra-tight mission, there’s not a lot of time for actual relaxation, or just discovering things naturally. Unfortunately, even after I left that job, that fixation on ferreting out the best of everything—of endlessly researching and planning before a trip—was hard to ditch. It was my travel MO and little did I realize that it was depriving me of living in the moment during my hard-earned and well-deserved vacations.
Recently, though, I had an epiphany. My family and I decided to spend this past winter break on Hawaii’s Big Island for a week-and-a-half. At my husband’s behest—he, unlike me, plans loosely and figures things out along the way—we opted for an Airbnb. It’s not that I have anything against Airbnb, it’s just that well, in Hawaii, I wanted the guarantee of a beautiful beach and luxurious room that a resort would afford me. I wanted to control our surroundings. However, because it’s costly to eat out in Hawaii, my husband convinced me that having a condo with a kitchen would be more economical.
Sign up to receive inspiring, expert advice on living your best life from Books for Better Living and Penguin Random House.
The night we arrived at 11 p.m., the 80-degree air moistening our parched Seattle skin the moment we walked off the plane, the line for the rental car place was over an hour long. My 10-year-old daughter was exhausted, so I hailed us a cab while my husband waited. When we finally found the place, after confusing calls to our host and a few wrong turns down dead-end streets in the dark, my daughter and I stepped into the first floor of a low-rise condo and looked at each other skeptically. In front of us loomed a dingy carpeted staircase that looked like it might lead to a crack den on the next floor.
As we anxiously climbed the steps, we were pleasantly surprised by what awaited us: a small but modern kitchen, a living room with updated décor, and a half-bath. Another flight of stairs led to a master bedroom with a Queen-size bed, a full bath and a small sitting area. After we figured out how to pull the charming, new Murphy bed for my daughter out of a cabinet downstairs, I sat down, exhausted, and realized that I was very warm. Ceiling fans were whirring above, but where was the air conditioner? I began frantically searching the condo and, when I couldn’t find any, I hightailed it to the kitchen to read the guest manual. Surely there was something in here about the air-conditioning, right? Wrong. There was none. I wanted to cry, except that after we opened all of the windows, a cool cross breeze quickly announced itself. By the time my husband arrived, my daughter was fast asleep, and I was feeling more hopeful. Still, old habits die hard. I texted the owner: “I can’t seem to find the A/C anywhere?!”
The next morning, after a comfortable sleep, I grabbed my phone immediately to see if the owner had replied to my text. He hadn’t. We left to snorkel even though the sun wasn’t fully out. The Big Island is known for having 360 days of sunshine and, somehow, we’d come the week when they were having a bizarre storm. It wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t as warm as I’d been hoping for. Once I’d shimmied myself into the slightly chilly water though, the gorgeous, myriad colored fish and porous coral made me instantly forget that I wasn’t swimming in bathwater temperature conditions. When my daughter pointed excitedly at a huge fish that was the color of a Disney princess dress—teal, blue and purple—I, too, was beside myself with joy.
That night, we couldn’t swim with the manta rays in the dark as planned because a huge, thunderstorm struck the island. It was so unusual that you could glimpse snow atop Maui the next day, something the islanders told us happens maybe once a decade. After we ran to our car for cover, we drove home and huddled together in the dark of our condo listening to the rain beat against the skylight, watching the fantastic crackling display of lightning. It wasn’t what we’d planned by any means, but it was oddly relaxing, and I began to accept that this trip would be what it would be—one of my most memorable ever as it turned out.
Our plans would simply have to revolve around the weather. When the sun came out unexpectedly, and not according to the report, we’d throw together our gear and drive 30 minutes to one of the best beaches in Kona, where the waves were particularly massive—and boogie board our hearts out. When it didn’t, well, we just did our best to make do. As much as I hated the thought of getting up at 7 a.m. for an 8 a.m. boat trip in cool-ish air with little sign of sun, when our Zodiac boat of just seven anchored down amid pods of dolphins, I jumped into that water as wholeheartedly as my daughter and was rewarded by the smooth, graceful slide of sleeping dolphins beside me, beneath me, and above me. Since our group was tiny—a lot of people had bowed out of the trip due to the weather—our very hip captain asked us if we wanted to go to the reef that the itinerary planned or to her favorite, secret spot instead. All of us opted for the latter, and we ended up seeing an octopus turn from camouflaged grey to screaming red, a large moray eel, countless freckled, spotted, boisterously-hued fish, and spiky black and red sea urchins—even a sea turtle. Plus, it was just us, not a bunch of other tourists all swimming around in the same circles. The water was a little rough—this reef was less protected—but it was all ours.
I was going with the flow, letting go of what I thought I needed to do. It was powerful. I was having the time of my life. The rest of the trip continued this way, with plans determined each morning according to weather, and our moods. The only thing I insisted on each day: a delicious acai bowl with fresh fruit and coconut from a nearby little shack. It seemed ok to make that demand.
A few days before our trip was over, I finally got a text back from the owner of our Airbnb. It said: “That is the traditional Hawaiian air conditioning, the vent in the roof and the open windows. We almost never see rains like that where it comes in sideways. Aloha, enjoy the blessing of the rain.”
I smiled, finally understanding. For the Hawaiians, the rain was a blessing. For me, too, it turned out to be as well.
Photo Credit: Nicole Sprinkle