I claim to be a city girl. I'm a sucker for those ridiculous hipster coffee shops that serve drinks like the half-cold-brew-half-root-beer concoction I am sipping now. In a city, there's always something new and exciting to do and everyone is filled to the brim with the electric energy that the city inspires. I love this and I love the city. Still, there's another side of me.
There is a side of me (I'd say a good 40-50% of me) that savors sipping tea and reading a book in her cozy chair, exploring tree-lined trails in the forest, and doing downward-facing-dog with my hands wrist-deep in the sand. As much as I am a city girl, I am also a nature addict. And my daily dose of nature can be hard to come by when I am traveling in the heart of the city.
Searching for (and finding) nature in L.A.
Stand on any corner in L.A. and count the number of palm trees you see. I bet you'll get at least ten every time. Some of my hardcore city friends consider this good enough, but I'm not convinced. If I can see glistening steel buildings and hear honking horns, I am not in nature. When I planned a trip to L.A. I was not planning on much time with mamma earth, but after a few days of bright lights and expensive cocktails, I was ready for a deep breath. With Google Maps on my phone and pollution in my lungs, I picked the biggest plot of green on the map and drove towards it.
When I parked, I saw a sign that read, Descanso Gardens. This being a city and all, I had to pay $9 to get in, but I decided I would blog about it and considered it a work expense. While I did find plenty of free parks during my time in L.A., this is the only place I came across where I couldn't see (or hear) any signs of the city. To me, that was worth the money.
Let your vacation actually feel like a vacation
If you've spent any time in a city, you know how hard it can be to slow down in a place where no one seems to stop moving. This constant motion can be exhausting, even if you are just visiting for a few days. I knew if I tried to match the L.A. pace for two weeks I would collapse. How many times have you finished a vacation and said, "I'm exhausted! I feel like I need another vacation!" I have made it a ritual of sorts to infuse my travels with time for relaxation so this doesn't happen to me.
That is a lot easier when I'm lying on the sand in Phuket than it is when I'm fighting the crowds in L.A. Which is why I didn't make time to relax when living and traveling in cities in the past. That is, until I burnt out. Now, easy or not, I do whatever it takes to make time for relaxation. Whether you are climbing Kilimanjaro, scuba diving in Fiji, or taking a double-decker bus in London, I have one piece of advice for you: relax. The Descanso Gardens proved to be the perfect place for just that. The sprawling gardens are surrounded by secluded benches, open lawn space, a Japanese tea house... so you can take your pick and enjoy the quiet lull that hovers in the air.
The number one thing every traveler needs to do
Whenever I travel somewhere, I make a list of things to do and see. The list is usually longer than me, and I'm 6 foot, so that's pretty long. I never have time to make it through my list and that used to stress me out. I would rush from place to place and try to fit as much as possible into one day, but I would never actually see anything.
I still travel with my extensive lists, but my relationship to them has changed. Instead of a list of must-dos, it has become a list of can-dos. Suggestions and ideas rather than requirements. Yet there is one thing that is always on the top of my list, one thing I have to do wherever I go, no exceptions: get lost.
Go somewhere Google didn't tell you about. Put away your map and start walking. Stroll in and out of shops, hike along a random trail, or find a garden nobody seems to know about (seriously, nobody. It was practically empty when I got there and my sister, an L.A. local, had never heard of it). Whatever you do, do it for the sake of adventure. You may just find that the highlight of your trip is the one thing you never planned on doing.