Jesse and I had been hoarding airline miles ever since we made several trips back and forth to Japan while living there. Although we've flown many times since, I was really committed to using the miles for a "big" trip, and we'd been thinking for several years for how to best take advantage of them. The prospect of "the trip" grew bigger and bigger in my head. The longer we went without travelling internationally, after travelling so much for several years, the more the trip started to feel like a major, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I wanted to make sure we used the miles for just the right thing. But the longer we held on to the miles, the more I worried that they would disappear and the more I feared that this long hoped-for trip wouldn't actually happen.
With both of our jobs, we had a hard time finding time that we could both be gone for more than a week at a time. My first year at Pepperdine (2009-2010), I never took more than a few days off at a time. My second year, Jesse had started working as a consultant for Disney, and didn't feel like he could get away while he was on a limited-term contract. The third year seemed to be the right time for us. We initially planned to go in the fall, but several other events came up, and we decided to put the trip off (again). Then, American Airlines declared bankruptcy in late 2011, and my irrational fears that we'd lose the miles re-appeared. It turned out to be the kick we needed.
We started looking into dates for the travel. We knew we wanted to travel internationally, and we wanted to take two weeks off. Although we had started discussing "where" we would go, we were really more concerned with the "when" at first. By the time we got the vacation time approved for the middle of April, we still didn't know where we wanted to go. There were so many places we both wanted to see and it was starting to feel impossible to choose. Making decisions has never come easy for me, but this one seemed particularly difficult. I love to travel so much. But with limited vacation time and the cost of travel, I started to feel like we wouldn't be doing it as often as I'd like. These miles were our chance at a low-cost trip, and we were only going to get the one. Neither Jesse nor I could figure out how to prioritize the places we wanted to see, so we started to think about the kinds of international experiences that interested us.
Classic: France, Italy
Adventurous: Machu Picchu (this one is mostly me - I'm sort of fixated on it)
Exotic: Turkey, Morocco
Little-Bit-Unique: Finland, Russia, Iceland, Eastern Europe
Leisurely: A resort anywhere in the tropics
We pretty seriously considered every one of those areas. Finland was one of our top choices. Since Jesse's ancestors originally immigrated to Wisconsin from Finland, and our last name is Finnish, we had a special interest in seeing the country. It also looks gorgeous and has an interesting design scene. However, once we knew we were going in April, it didn't seem like the weather would be ideal. Having spent most of our lives in the Midwest, the chance for a cold and slushy vacation wasn't all that appealing; give me snow or sun, but not in-between. The same went for Russia. We talked a lot about going back to Japan. It's been five years since we left, and we would love the opportunity to visit friends and see familiar places. But ultimately, we decided we wanted to do something new. Japan felt like a trip we could take anytime, and we know we'll definitely go back at some point.
Around the time we got the vacation approved, we had more or less settled on France. We even used our miles to put some tickets on hold. We figured we'd spend a little time in Paris and then make our way south to enjoy villages and hopefully lots of wineries. It sounded relaxing, leisurely, and romantic. A perfect trip, right? For whatever reason, I really couldn't get excited about it. I think when it came down to it, I wanted something completely new and out of the ordinary. I would love to see the south of France one day, and I think it will happen. But a bigger adventure was more appealing to me. I'd also been to Paris, and although I had loved it, it wouldn't be new.
Although our frequent flier miles wouldn't get us all the way there, we ultimately chose Morocco. By booking tickets first to Madrid, and then buying separate tickets from Madrid to Marrakesh, we were able to work it out. I had originally seen Morocco on a list of great places to travel in 2009, or sometime around then. The brief note had mentioned the food, and that Morocco was a culinary destination. That piqued my interest, and it has always stuck in the back of my head as a place to see. The more research that I have done, the more I feel that this trip will encompass so many of the kinds of experiences we had hoped to have. There will definitely be some adventure, it will be exotic, there will be good food and leisure, and it will be unique. So far, our planned activities involve a cooking class, a spa, an afternoon at a resort, art galleries, old medinas in several Moroccan cities, historic markets and sites, a ferry across the Strait of Gibralter, train travel, and Roman ruins. Sadly, we had to rule out a camel trip in the desert due to time (who knew two weeks isn't even close to enough time for Morocco?). We're making time for a few days in Spain, and we will get to see the French influence in Morocco, so we'll get to have a taste of the classic as well.
I am really pleased with our choice. Ultimately, I feel really, really lucky that we have a choice at all. The chance to take two weeks off to travel to another country, and not to have to pay for the airline tickets...that's something special.