Planning a Phase Two Vacation

No more fucks to give

This vacation has surely been much of what I needed it to be. A reconnection with my sweet, ridiculous, steady partner, a positive break in the current cacophony of my days, a cure to my recent need to roam. The only task left to accomplish on my list is a resolution to my dehydration.

David and I have talked a lot about a phased approach to life (he’s a pretty methodical guy, so this should come as a surprise to no one). For two people unsure about traditional pathways (marriage > children > suburbia), we’ve given ourselves some space to think intentionally about what happens next. For us, that has resulted in what we call “life phases.”

Phase 1 is everything up to now: childhood, adulthood, The Struggle. Phase 2, though, is about diving more deeply into our interests, finding mastery in skills and hobbies, dedicating ourselves to projects and people we love. Part of Phase 2 means that we are also undoing many of the habits unconsciously or consciously picked up in Phase 1. Many of these habits are a by-product of the more hardscrabble days of our youth: this is a phase where we decide it’s okay to sometimes choose value over price.

For us, that looks like not always going directly to the clearance rack at a store, being able to go to the doctor or dentist without worrying about the co-pay, looking at the whole menu and not just the sandwiches section. It also means being able to give more than ever before—to charities, to waiters, to those we love.

In some small ways, this season has been the kickoff of Phase 2 and we were determined to make this vacation a reflection of that. So, as we sat down to plan, we allowed ourselves to make some decisions based not only on a reasonable (for us) budget, but also the things that would give us the most pleasure from our stay.


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hate flying. It combines both my intense fear of heights and violent death. For David, it’s merely a rather inconvenient form of transportation. We selected a trip to New England not only because neither of us have spent any significant time here, but also because it would allow us to travel here by train.

Two round-trip tickets from Washington, DC to Burlington, Vermont would have set us back $364, but thanks to some crafty planning and travel reward points from both my credit card and Amtrak account, we only paid for a single one-way ticket ($91).

The train, by the way, was glorious. We gave no thought to direction or time, really, and it made for rather interesting people-watching. I did work for the better part of the ride and David enjoyed many uninterrupted hours of video games.


Stowe Mountain Lodge

I’m a cheap bastard at heart—and it’s something I’m trying to unlearn, at least a little. I scoured area hotels and AirBnB options for days and picked two places that are indulgent for both us and the area. We decided to bookend our trip with two nights in Burlington and I selected a stay at the Hilton Homewood Suites ($180/night x 2), a mile outside the heart of downtown. The extended-stay style hotel was just built 3 months ago and it still smells gloriously of new paint and carpet. I love extended stay locations because they have kitchens, free events and happy hours, as well as all the conveniences of home. Ours also has an indoor saline pool and jacuzzi, thank you very much.

We wanted to venture outside Burlington, which we have confirmed is a very small town indeed, and so we booked a room (through AirBnB) at the Stowe Mountain Resort. This was our splurge—with taxes and fees our total for two nights was $437. The resort itself was spectacular, with beautiful views and stupidly luxurious accommodations. Our AirBnB came with free valet parking and access to the pool, hot tub and fitness center (each were additional fees for regular guests).


Penny Cluse

We stayed pretty close to the hotel since our primary purpose was to relax, but I can recommend the excellent Cactus Cafe, just a few miles down the road. Located in a home-turned-restaurant, we stumbled on this place purely out of a desire to eat all of the tex-mex. We split an order of jalapeño poppers, which came with a judicious warning from our waitress that their recent batch of peppers had been “unusually spicy.” One bite and the waitress voluntarily brought over extra water.

Back in Burlington, we unceremoniously struck out at sushi restaurant in a strip mall, but more than made up for it at Penny Cluse, a sweet little downtown cafe. Their unusual vegetarian gravy (sans mushrooms, praise be) was a siren song for me—full of carrots, spices and scallions. David’s sourdough french toast and buckwheat pancakes (oh…did I not mention we stopped there twice?) were heavenly. And while their iced coffee was on point, their regular joe was laughably weak, so we hit up the very solid Uncommon Grounds a block over.

We craved local beer after our long bike ride (more on that later), and a tip from a local brought us to American Flatbread Company for pizza and drinks. It’s a shame we won’t make it to the two places our waitress recommended: Misery Loves Company, which, unfortunately for us, closes early on Sundays, and Duino Duende, which looks like just about the raddest place in town.


Island Line Trail

Although Stowe (and nearby Waterbury) are tiny, rural towns, they’re also home to a Ben & Jerry’s factory, vineyards, creameries and many other worthy ways to busy an afternoon. We played tourist and learned about the beloved ice cream ($4/person for the tour) and sampled area cheeses, but overall felt a little disappointed in these ventures. We were cheered by the local cider donuts from Cold Hollow Mill.

I’d say the highlight of our trip was our 20-mile bike ride on the Burlington bike trail. We rented bikes from local cycling advocates Local Motion ($25 ea. for 4 hours) and set out on the 10-mile Island Line trail that took us to the end of the city. The bike trail runs through at least two counties, and a narrow causeway puts you right in the middle of Lake Champlain. On the mostly paved trail, you’ll pass several rocky beaches with unbelievable views. The trail is quite populated, and not just by tourists, but also commuters and cycle enthusiasts, and the occasional animal sighting.

After suffering some bruising in, ahem, a delicate location thanks to a bad bicycle seat and a lengthy ride, I decided that a second splurge would come in the form a of massage at the resort spa. As I heard her gasp at some of the kinks in my shoulders, I determined it to be a worthwhile investment. I also walked away with some great advice from the masseuse on keeping my stress in check. I’m far too embarrassed to tell you the cost, so…we’ll just leave it there.

The Locals

Tomorrow we’re heading back to D.C. From what I can tell we missed a great deal of rain and also a remarkably historic moment. For better or worse, my life in DC allows me to be at the very pulse of things. As our phones beeped and buzzed with the news breaking on Twitter, I looked around the room at my fellow brunch-havers and realized not a single phone was out. People laughed over eggs, and invited more coffee from a nearby waiter. I wanted to shout the goodness to this oddball population, but instead, David and I hugged and retweeted with veracity.

An hour later, on our way out of town, we passed the University of Vermont and watched as a student lowered a flag of lesser consequence (today, at least) and lifted a rainbow flag in its place—right beside the American flag. It seems they had learned the news in their own time and celebrated in their own way.


This is an unusual post for me to write. This isn’t a travel blog, nor a money-saving tips blog, nor even a food blog, really. This is a blog about what it means to grow up, or be in a relationship, or be a woman in the 21st century. It’s about making decisions intuitively and intentionally. And for the first time in awhile, this trip was all of those things.