You Should Start A Travel Tradition

There is a cabin by a lake in the woods of New Hampshire. Well, there are a lot of cabins by a lot of lakes in a lot of woods in New Hampshire. It’s just a cabin- and lake- and woods-filled kind of state.

 But there is one cabin in particular, which is owned by my friend Chelsea’s grandparents. Actually, they own two cabins side-by-side, which would seem excessive if not for the fact that their parents owned these cabins before them. “Our parents owned neighboring cabins by a lake in the woods of New Hampshire” is actually the abridged story of how they met.

In the summer, Chelsea’s grandparents live in the larger of the two cabins, and, for a few days each year, they graciously allow their granddaughter (and five of her closest friends) to take over the other cabin.

At this other cabin, there is no internet and little cell phone reception.

So, Chelsea and I and the rest of our friends stay up late talking instead.

There are gorgeous sunsets and obnoxious mosquitoes and quiet nights. There is skinny-dipping and drinking, and sometimes these things mix, but one is not a prerequisite for the other. There is music – impromptu “Call Me Maybe” dance parties even though most of us don’t generally listen to pop.

One year, we swam across the lake and stood on the rocks that the sunfish build their nests under, and we screamed when the fish came up and nibbled our toes (the aquatic version of “hey you kids, get off my lawn”) even though we knew it was going to happen and they don’t have teeth, so it’s not like it hurt.

Another year, it rained for most of the trip, so we amused ourselves by reading romance novels we found tucked shamefully behind other books in the cabin. Well, mostly I amused myself by reading romance novels and whenever I got to a sex scene, I would read aloud. I used voices. The novels all have terrible titles like, The Bride in Blue and That Man, Callahan.

Our friend, Katie, brings homemade pistachio-cranberry biscotti and we drink tea and do puzzles like we’re 85-year-old grandmas. I hope we’re still doing this when we’re 85-year-old grandmas.

Because I’m not writing this guest post for Steph just so I can brag about how much fun I have with my awesome friends. I’m writing it because spending a few days at a cabin by a lake in the woods of New Hampshire is the reason I still have these friends.

Chelsea invited the five of us to the cabin for the first time the summer after we graduated from high school. The topics of conversation on that first trip included: how glad we were high school was over, how nervous we were to start college, how we would handle long distance relationships with our high school boyfriends, and how we hoped we would all stay friends.

Five years later, we’re still glad high school is over, and we have mixed feelings about having graduated college. We all broke up with our high school boyfriends, (except for Kristen who we think might marry hers) so, that’s how we handled long distance relationships. And, amazingly enough, we’ve all stayed friends.

The six of us in 2009. I’m in the middle wearing a striped button-down.

I say “amazingly enough” because most of my college friends had lost touch with their high school buddies by the end of our freshman year. And, please don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with that. We meet friends all throughout our lives, and just because you got along with someone when you were 14 doesn’t mean you’re going to be compatible forever. But when we’re in our 20’s and, in particular, when we’ve just graduated from college, we’re worrying about what happens next.

Our twenties are a decade of change – we experience the highest highs and the lowest lows. At least, that’s what my mother always tells me. I think in this decade of change, it’s important to have something that grounds us whether it’s family, friends, or favorite books. And the friends who I most hope will continue to ground me throughout my twenties are the people who survived the post-high-school upheaval with me. I’m not scared of losing touch with my college friends because everything worked out so well with my high school friends.

But you know why everything worked out so well with my high school friends? The cabin by the lake in the woods of New Hampshire. That tradition has kept us together. That is our once a year chance to get away. Chelsea calls it our “sacred time,” and I’m tempted to agree. It’s designated time for us to share the details of our lives, which get lost in quick facebook messages or texts, and to feel connected to each other in a way that we don’t get to be when we’re leading our lives in different cities with different people and different concerns.

Reading Cosmo = Sacred Time

When  you have to work for your friendship, which you do once you’re outside the educational structure that threw you together, it becomes clear which ones are important. By creating this travel tradition, Chelsea showed us that these friendships were worth working for. They were worth our sacred time.

If you’re coming to 20-Something Travel afraid go on a long-term trip because of everyone and everything you’ll miss at home, or if you’re considering taking a position overseas, or moving to a new state or even just a city a few hours away from your friends, I’m sure you will find heaps of inspiration here. I know I have. But I would also encourage you to involve your friends in your travels. No, they aren’t all going to have the means or the interest to backpack Europe or Southeast Asia with you, but they can set aside a weekend every year.

They might want to backpack Europe with you! Here’s Katie and me in Istanbul. 

Now, I know not everyone has a relative with a vacation home so the shape of your travel tradition might not be immediately obvious. Some inexpensive options could include an annual camping trip or a weekend away at the home of whoever lives in the coolest city. I know camping equipment can get expensive, but it can also be a very low-tech experience: sleeping bags under the stars, anyone?

Not everyone has made it to the cabin every year. Last year, one of our friends didn’t think she could afford the gas money to get to New Hampshire, and the rest of us were disappointed, but understood that sometimes you have to make tough financial decisions. This year, one of our friends couldn’t make it because she’s too busy serving in the Peace Corps in Senegal. So, the rest of us went to the cabin and talked about how cool she is. What’s important is that we’re continuing to set aside this time and keeping the tradition alive.

Our travel tradition is women only, but that’s just because my high school friend group was mostly women. I guess it’s also because we started the tradition at an age when a co-ed sleepover might not have sat well with some of the more overprotective parents in the group.

And if that doesn’t speak to how long we’ve been doing this and how important this tradition is, well, I don’t know what does.

Emma Holliday is a freelance writer and travel blogger currently based in Boston. When she’s not busy wishing she were a polyglot, she’s working on an organic farm on Maui, backpacking Europe, or drinking copious amounts of tea. You can read more of her writing on her blog, An Opportune Moment

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