This is me.
I’m a bit shy, I listen to lectures for fun, and often have my nose buried in my laptop. I wouldn’t say I’m a nerd … but you can.
Then why over the past two years have I chosen this gregarious image to represent me on social media?
Well, there’s a story behind this pineapple.
Turning back the clock
A few years ago, before Follow Ben and Jenna, there were merely two travel-obsessed people who were each a bit dubious of ever finding a partner who could keep up. But then a computer told Ben, who was over in Asia, that he should reach out to a girl in Miami Beach (me) because we just might hit it off.
After hitting it off for six months, we finally met in the neutral ground of Austin, Texas. After that, there was only one thing to do: test the extent of our respective travel bugs and compatibility by lining up trip after trip after trip.
And there we were…
On the night in question, Ben and I were in Hawaii. It was our first overseas, multi-week trip.
Hawaii is special to me. I lived there from age 8 to age 16 and there are many sweet aspects of island life that remain in your system no matter how far you roam. Things like enjoying the moment, and not worrying too much about tomorrow. Though perhaps we took it just a bit too far that night….
Over an afternoon mai tai or two we arrived at the kind of single-minded clarity that can only come from a potent mixture of various rums. It was obvious that somebody needed to conduct the daunting but vitally important task of determining which mai tai from the outdoor beach bars of the Waikiki strip was actually the very best.
And it might as well be us.
And there we were, the next day
If you’re curious about the winner of the mai tai contest, I’ve linked to them at the end of this post. For the record, we remember each and every mai tai … sort of.
However, this post is not a mai tai review, nor does it deal with inebriated mischief in Waikiki (the prize for that last one would go to my dad, who as a young sailor famously tried to cut down a banyan tree – a banyan tree with 15 feet of multiple trunks – with a pocket knife. But that’s a story for another time.)
The crux of this story here is about the power of travel to bring the right people closer together.
It’s where we purposefully step outside of our comfort zone; where unexpected challenges show you the true character of the person you’re with; where strangers more easily strike up conversations and helpful people appear out of the woodwork. Travel has deepened our bond (or at least accelerated its natural progression) time and time again, contrary to our earlier fears that travel works against long-term relationships. Although it might be more difficult at the onset to find someone who shares your passion, the rewards are great.
As a good friend once told Ben, “Do you really want to know if you’re compatible with this person? Take a road trip with her.”
And this, our first overseas trip, was the start of that journey together.
A case in point
During our Hawaii trip, we traveled to the island of Kauai in order to hike and camp along the famous Na Pali Trail. As it turns out, Murphy’s Law took over from there.
It rained. Hard.
The campsites on the trail closed due to flooding. The trail was muddy, slippery, and arduous. I glimpsed the perfect end-of-day photo opp and made Ben backtrack on the drive to a drier, neighboring campsite, and because of that it was pitch black by the time we found a spot and started to pitch the tent. I got the heebie jeebies when a young man rode his bicycle suspiciously close to our campsite, and a few minutes later a jeep stopped and shined its lights on us fully.
Nervously, I asked Ben if we could possibly get a hotel, instead.
To backtrack a bit, the camping trip had been my big idea. Ben purchased additional supplies and carried all the camping equipment over from the mainland and then on to Kauai. He was aware of the time and had been pushing me to hurry along because it was getting late.
And when I told him I felt uncomfortable at the campsite as he kneeled on the ground, three quarters of the tent already in the air, this is what he did:
He didn’t miss a beat. Piece by piece, he broke down the tent and expertly packed it back into its case. He gave me a hug, gathered our belongings and me back into our jeep, and drove away as I began searching online for a hotel, encouraging me to splurge on a nice one nearby. He was patience and good humor incarnate, and that, my friends, is when I knew that he was someone I would be lucky to build a life with.
And to this day, when as a long-married couple we can be perfectly candid with each other, he has never once complained about that Na Pali trip.
However, he has admitted one important, missing piece.
Besides his good nature, there was another critical reason that he was so amicable that night. As it turns out, he was missing the March Madness finals on TV, and secretly wanted to shout with joy when I asked him to break down the tent.
So knowing what I know now, perhaps it should be said that good nature and good timing make for the best relationships….
Happy Valentines Day to our first true love: travel.
Jenna & Ben
*Congratulations to the Westin Moana Surfrider Hotel, winner of the Follow Ben and Jenna Waikiki Mai Tai Contest, where my avatar photo was taken. No, this is not a paid plug, and yes, they deserve a shout out; their mai tais really were that yummy.