I recently took two weekend trips for the first time in almost a year and a half. The first trip was to what we Michiganders refer to as “up north.” The second one was to Chicago. Since I have not traveled or done much of anything for so long, I have to say it made me very anxious. It wasn’t because I was concerned about the chance of getting the coronavirus, as I am fully vaccinated and so were my travel companions, but rather the mental preparation needed to get back out in the real world.

As I was nearing the date of my first weekend getaway, anxiety set in. I had not packed for a trip in so long, I forgot how and what to pack. I have become so comfortable with staying home when not working. I drove 3 hours up to Maple City, Michigan to meet my daughter and her boyfriend. His parents have a beautiful home nestled on several acres just a short distance to many area attractions such as Sleeping Bear Dunes, hiking and beaches. It is also just a short drive to amazing surrounding towns that draw tourists from all over, including Traverse City and Leland. Leland, also known as Fish Town, is a charming small town on the water. Traverse City is referred to as the four season’s playground, known for its wineries featuring wine made from locally grown cherries.

There are so many beaches and lookout spots over the dunes to catch the most stunning views and sunsets. The beaches are layered with beautiful rocks which attract many rock collectors. Some rocks look like they have gone through a polisher being so colorful and smooth, but Petoskey stones and pudding stones are a couple of the most popular to find. We wondered why there weren’t any people on the beach searching for rocks and soon found out why. There was an infestation of bugs which I believe were called Aquatic Midges. They were not biting like mosquitoes but were still very much a nuisance as there were so many of them and they cling to you. It was like walking through a solid continuous wall of them. This is where our masks were our saving grace to keep them off our faces!

The following weekend, I went to Chicago with a couple friends. We drove to Michigan City, Indiana where we caught the South Shore Line train that took us to Millennium Station. Upon arrival at the station, we were surprised to be directed to a Greyhound-type bus that would take us to Gary, Indiana, since the train tracks were out of service for that stretch. I have grown so accustomed to the changes brought on by the pandemic, that masks on the train or bus didn’t seem unusual. We finally arrived at the station in Chicago and walked up the steps to the big city! It was a sunny, hot day. I had not been there in a couple years and was happy to feel somewhat back to normal life with some time away from home and work. As we walked to my friend’s condo, located in Marina Towers, next to House of Blues, I noticed most people even on the street were all wearing masks. It was also hard not to notice the many businesses still closed or permanently closed or boarded up. House of Blues, Dick’s Last Resort, and many others that we would normally go to enjoy live music or just have dinner and a good time were now closed. Hours were also changed due to lack of staffing at a number of other establishments. We were able to see a live comedy show which just reopened but found it difficult to get an Uber or Lyft or even find a taxi to flag down to get there and back. Luckily, my friend’s condo has one of the best views of the city overlooking the river and is within walking distance to shopping, restaurants and simply exploring the city.

Overall, both trips were incredible and not hindered too much by pandemic conditions or restrictions. After not having even a weekend trip during this pandemic, it was good to feel a little safer and not feel like you are doing something wrong or putting others in danger.  I really enjoyed getting quality time with my daughter and friends making memories. From listening to music with my friends in Chicago, to bird watching and playing games up north, it felt amazing to simply be around those I love. It was so nice to feel a sense of normalcy and joy that traveling and spending time with people brings. It is almost like a weight has been lifted because I see there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I am going toward the light with high hopes, planner open and ready to fill it with more trips, concerts, and adventures!