Diner Finish

(Illustration by Michael Witte)

Travel is the gift we give ourselves.

Think about it.

There are the carefully wrapped gifts, the ones we save for and dream about. Some of those are the trips we make to far-flung places like Hawaii or St. Petersburg. Sometimes the big gift, the luxurious trip, can be closer to home.

Rough Creek Lodge, tucked away on miles and miles of undulating ranchland just outside Glen Rose, is not a place I can afford to visit often, but with some planning I can give myself a getaway there once a year. It’s a place that has a uniquely Texan sort of luxuriousness, with the indulgence in all the right places: the linens, the beds, the fabulous food, the spa. There are certainly more active activities if one wants to make an effort, but for me an opportunity to do little or nothing is a gift I don’t give myself often enough. At Rough Creek I sleep in, find places to take in the wide-open views and ramble about between incredible meals. We all enjoy the gift of time, and for me that means hours to disappear into a real book (one with pages instead of a screen), curled upside a roaring fire, maybe a Texas-crafted bourbon at hand. Occasional self-indulgence is not a bad thing to splash some of that rainy day money on.

There are places I consider to be “big gifts” all around the state, some not because they are pricey, but because they take planning and a bit of time to get the details wrapped up. Big Bend excursions are like that for me. But part of what is so special about extended stays in the national park or anywhere nearby is that one has to plan ahead and make a commitment to those journeys in advance—the only way to secure accommodations at one of the solidly booked, perpetually popular lodges. An advance commitment: Those words scare me, as I suspect they do many folks, given the crammed calendars many of us maintain.

Even if you have worlds of time, reaching into the future and committing yourself to be a certain place at a certain time is never easy, whether you’re planning a journey to the dentist or the coast. But trust me, the advance commitment needed to guarantee yourself a room at one of the historic lodgings in the park or Fort Davis or Marathon is part of the great joy of that sort of trip. Embrace the anticipation; the counting down of the days, especially fun with children, is something I’ve taught myself to enjoy as an adult.

Then there are the surprise gifts. I think we could be a lot more generous in giving ourselves more spur of the moment travel. I’ve admitted to being a compulsive sort of planner, but as I get older and travel alone more often (no one along to be disappointed by any planning failure on my part), I realize simply getting away from the house, my desk, the to-do list is something I need to do more often.

From time to time, I like to gift myself with the unplanned weekend at a cabin less than an hour away or even a four-star hotel downtown, a short trip to a place I could easily drive home from after dinner. But I don’t. The sleep-over in a bed not my own, one I don’t have to make, is amazingly restorative. Making the decision to hit the road Saturday morning just because I can is a gift that keeps on giving. It surprises even me when I make myself do this, and being able to surprise one’s self is one of the keys to happiness.

Finally, let’s not forget the stocking stuffers. Certainly there are years—I’ve had long stretches of them—where any sort of travel is out of the question, whether for reasons of responsibilities or money or time. We’ve all been there. That’s when you pull out those little gifts, the ones you have stashed away and forgotten and travel in ways that cost little to nothing in terms of time or money.

Pulling out an album long stashed away, from a trip mostly forgotten, can take you on a journey that is as close to time travel as we’ll get. And let’s go back to that pleasure earlier referenced: the joy of a great book. While you’re grounded, treat yourself with a trip to a bookstore and sleuth out a book about a journey, whether a classic you’ve been meaning to read or a modern novel set in a place you’ve always wanted to visit. That kind of armchair travel is a gift you can give yourself everyday.

Here’s my favorite anytime journey, whatever the hour, whatever the season. Treat yourself to coffee in a diner. Even a block from my house, drinking coffee in a diner always feels like the beginning of an adventure to me. This works especially well if it’s really early in the morning and the place is completely new to you. Try it. If you’re doing it right the waitress will ask you where you’re from.

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