Recently, I decided to take my boys out for a day of hiking. There are some short hikes around the reservation near our home here in New Jersey, but I wanted something a bit more challenging, so we headed an hour away to Pennsylvania to explore the trails along the Delaware Water Gap.
It was a gorgeous day, a nice break from the humidity and intense heat we have felt so regularly this summer. The kids and I were in high spirits and we were excited to explore nature. The radio kept playing all our favorite songs and we cracked jokes. There was no traffic and the drive was easy.
Then I spotted it. A pick-up truck had merged in front of me and across its back cabin window was a large sticker that took up almost the entire glass. It was the confederate flag. I felt my body get tense. I honestly don’t know if we had crossed the border into PA yet, it really didn’t matter. I was heading into rural America, alone, with my kids.
As I take on this homeschooling journey with my kids, I am slowly starting to step away from the computer and getting to what we enjoy the most, which is learning through experiences and travel. What I am loving so far, besides my boys’ enthusiasm and ability to go with the flow our days, is that I am getting back to how I started my journey in blogging a few years ago, which is taking noting of the vast local resources available to us to enjoy.
Our latest adventure took us on an 1 1/2 hour drive to the Poconos, by the Delaware Water Gap. My initial plan was to go on a few hikes around Dingmans Falls. We parked near the visitor’s center and did the easy trail through the hemlock forest leading up to the falls. We climbed the stairs to the top and stopped for a light lunch but left feeling like we could do a lot more.
There are so many lessons I try to teach my boys when we travel. Some have to do with travel itself (always carry the essentials with you; stick to drinking water on flying days, and don’t ever be afraid to ask for directions or help). Others have more to do with patience, tolerance, and making the best of every day, especially days of travel. Life can be hard enough without us contributing to it. Travel can be stressful enough without us contributing to it. As a mother and wife, I have had my share of stress, meltdowns, and moments of complete overflow of emotions. And that’s all just coming from me. When it comes to dealing with my kids, or even my husband’s own personalities and “special” moments, it can sometimes be too much to bear.
Before I made my way to Glacier National Park, the oooh’s and ahhh’s and expressed envy from those whom I told about my travels made it clear that I was in for a treat.
Since first setting foot in a national park in 2009, I have yet to find one I didn’t love. But my affection has always been for something different as it is already my experience that all the parks have something uniquely beautiful to offer. Glacier National Park is no exception. The hiking, over 700 miles of it, takes you through waterfalls and cliffs, lush forests and vast plains. The wildlife is everywhere, so it’s always great to be prepared. The diversity of the park, even if just from East to West is so great that it almost feels like you are in two different parks. No photograph can ever do it justice. This was an undiscovered park for me and I was lucky enough to meet some awesome people along the way to show me all the wonderful it had to offer.
This is one of the first years we have been home all summer. We have loved it though at first it was hard.
For my kids the start was bumpy because they suddenly found themselves with not much to do (I also didn’t sign them up for all-summer camp!) and most of their friends had gone away somewhere. The start was a bit bumpy for me too, home all day with two restless boys and tons of work to do. 2 months in we are learning to balance it all and find ways to make the most of summer here in our New Jersey home, which I still feel we take for granted far too often.
These past few months have weighed heavy on many of our hearts and minds. It’s difficult for me, as a woman, as a person of color, child of immigrants, and mother to biracial children, to process it without feeling overwhelmed with the gravity of it all. Though I don’t recommend travel as an escape to our problems and reality – as they will always be there when you get back – I do think that a little retreat is needed for healing, for soothing of our souls, calming of our minds, and some perspective in our lives. For inspiration in finding those things worth fighting for and speaking up for.
We were on a bus on our way to do some volunteer work with other travelers from the Fathom cruise. Our project leader, a local employed by the organization heading the activity, was pointing out highlights of Sosua, the beach town we were entering and where we would do our work.
“And here is one of the first synagogues established in the Dominican Republic,” she exclaimed proudly. The group immediately looked out the window, surprised to learn that there was a Jewish community on the island, let alone a historic synagogue. “I didn’t realize there was a Jewish community here. When did they arrive?” asked a group member.
“Well, in the 1930s Rafael Trujillo who was a dictator here at the time, took in the Jewish refugees looking to escape the Nazis. He did this when no one else would and they came and settled here,” she replied.
It’s taking me a bit to share my experiences while cruising to and volunteering in the Dominican Republic with Fathom Travel because it was such an overwhelming experience on so many levels. First, it was the very first time my youngest boys had visited the country. Yes, I lived there for many years (from 9 to 18) and yes, my father and other family still live there, and though I have been back a few times, taking my kids is just something we have never done. Second, it was a trip that involved getting into the communities, at times even into someone’s home and offer a service, through volunteerism.
Volunteerism through travel, or voluntourism, has been covered by many often highlighting the good and mostly bad in the efforts (and profiting) of companies who organize these types of experiences for travelers looking to do something more meaningful and a bit more impactful with their vacation time. I grew up spending a lot of time in hotels and resorts on the island because of my dad’s work in hospitality and so I learned a lot about tourists and their expectations and behaviors from a very early age. Though I have been critical of the Dominican Republic’s politics, I am also very proud and protective of my heritage and people. So, it was with a strong sense of curiosity and emotions that I embarked on the journey.
It was a beautiful summer day when I arrived to Dijon, France. I quickly dropped off my bags in my hotel room at the trendy, Michelin rated Le Chapeau Rouge, slipped into some comfortable walking shoes and headed out. I hadn’t been to this beautiful city in two years but I remembered how much I enjoyed walking through it. I also noticed how much it had changed during that time.
Trams were now operating across the city and more areas had been renovated and designated as pedestrian-only. It felt airy and open.
One of the highlights of our road trip through northern Italy was our stay in Lake Como. Most of our stops were in the Lombardy region, where there are lakes galore. Lake Como, the third largest lake in Italy and one of the deepest, is heavily visited by locals and tourists alike, especially during the summer months. Finding a place to stay can be difficult, and though parking is difficult, finding a home rental – our choice for this stay – was even more so.
We lucked out because we arrived just before the travel season had really kicked-off. We also arrived on a weekend, finding a parking spot just down the hill from our apartment rental that didn’t need us having to pay or move our car during our entire stay.