Where to go for a month to get our heads screwed on right?
June 22, 2014 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Where would you go if you had a month to regroup, restore, and come up with life's Plan B? Difficulty: the month in question is July, 2014. Yep -- just over a week from now.

Mr. Nadise and I are at a crossroads in life. Our Plan A just fell through, and it's left us a bit lost in life. We're in our late 30s/early 40s, ridiculously happy together, sun-loving, and active. We just made the difficult decision to remain childless for life, after almost a decade of chasing the dream of parenthood. We need a place to go collect ourselves. We need a change in perspective, a chance to absorb our new normal, and to remember that we love our life. We'd love your best ideas on where to do this together.

Before I get too far: We're not interested in advice, anecdotes, or opinions on our decision to remain childless or the "you never know" kind of encouragement. We know those comments are all well-intentioned, but right now they're unhelpful. Thanks for respecting that.

And thanks for suggesting some locations for us! We love unique local culture and food. We're interested in beautiful beaches, hiking, SCUBA, interesting urban spots, and a little night life. The more local/authentic and less touristic the better. We speak English and some Spanish. We're not interested in lodging in loud/dirty hostels, but are not interested in isolated/all-inclusive resorts, either. No structured programs like yoga retreats either -- we'd like to own our time and make the experience we want to have.

We've been considering Thailand (but it looks like there's unrest there right now), Mexico (but we've been there a lot and want something new), Ambergris Caye in Belize (will it be empty this time of year?)... We'd love some more ideas.
posted by nadise to Travel & Transportation (35 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Doolin, Ireland.
posted by zizzle at 1:21 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would love to take a month and 'live' in Barcelona. Or if you're up for something even more different I might try somewhere around the lake Tata in Hungary. I've always been curious about Dubrovnik also.
posted by Salamandrous at 1:35 PM on June 22, 2014

Since you considered Thailand I would suggest one of the neighbours - in particular Myanmar, but also Cambodia and Vietnam are nice. I would still fly in through Bangkok, but from there you can get really cheap tickets to anywhere in South-East Asia. For Myanmar I would go hiking in the north and snorkling in the south.

I went to Myanmar two years ago, and back then you could walk for a few hours in a major city without seeing another westerner, which is very different from Thailand.
posted by Baron Humbert von Gikkingen at 1:37 PM on June 22, 2014

Best answer: Iceland. Should be beautiful that time of year. Peaceful, amazing natural scenery, very easy to get around by car, everyone speaks English. I couldn't think of a more relaxing place to go for some solitude and contemplation.
posted by pravit at 1:43 PM on June 22, 2014 [16 favorites]

I'd head out to Puerto Rico, myself. It's still the US, but there are really neat places tucked away. Nice hotels, warm weather, beaches, yummy food, music, dancing. Etc.

You can rent a condo for a month, and really get to know the island.

It's not really season now, so you'll get good deals in the Caribbean.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:49 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Bunches of active things you simply couldn't do with kids in tow - bungee jumping, getting frisky in a waterfall, decadent fine dining ignoring the clock, spending a night in Iceland and then going to Thailand flying across Eurasia, that sort of thing
posted by codswallop at 1:52 PM on June 22, 2014

Last I checked (a couple weeks ago) the effects of the unrest were largely limited to Bangkok and a few other urban centers, though the Thai junta is getting increasingly testy about anything that could be construed as support for democracy. I'd personally avoid Thailand, if only on principle, but it's probably a reasonable place to go as a westerner if you are the keep your mouth shut sort and leave your copy of 1984 at home.
posted by wotsac at 2:00 PM on June 22, 2014

Best answer: I think walking the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain might be an option to consider. It's physically hard but I cycled the last 2-300 km last week and there were lots of people doing it at turning points in their lives, before or after making big decisions or starting new parts of their lives. It might be more energetic than you are looking for, and it might be a bit hot by then. It's not just a religious experience (though I guess you'll get a different experience if you are religious).

Of course, you could combine this with visiting another part of Spain for some more peace and relaxation.
posted by kadia_a at 2:15 PM on June 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: What about the Philippines? Lots of active/sport opportunities, and month is a great time frame for exploring some of the smaller islands. Amazing diving! I'm not sure about the weather this time of year.

Indonesia could also be an option - once you're there getting around to the different islands is easy and inexpensive (especially with some flexibility!) and it's beautiful and fascinating. I didn't love Bali personally, but I did enjoy the other islands quite a bit.
posted by tealcake at 2:18 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 3rding Iceland! I was just there a few weeks ago and loved it. Beautiful (really really incredibly beautiful) and varied scenery, lovely friendly people and loads to do and see. The perfect place for contemplating, recollecting and reminding yourself that you love life.

Also, sort of in line with what codswallop suggested - Icelandair will allow you to stop over in Reykjavik for a few days as part of a flight from the US to somewhere else in Europe for no extra charge. I'm not sure about the details but it seems like a good deal.
posted by neilb449 at 2:22 PM on June 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A few months ago, I suggested Lago Atitlan, Guatemala to someone else looking for something similar, and I think it might fit for you as well. It's an incredibly beautiful and peaceful place (a crater lake ringed by volcanoes) that just feels healing. I spent a week there 10 years ago and have since been keeping it in my back pocket for when I need to take a month out and decompress.

The shores of the lake are dotted with villages, all which have very different feels to them, so you can take your pick. I would choose San Marcos in your position, which is quiet and wooded and has lots of little hotels and houses to rent. La Iguana Perdida is in the next village over (though you have to take a water taxi) and offers SCUBA trips - I believe it's one of the few high-altitude SCUBA opportunities out there.

There's not too much nightlife, but you can always take a water taxi to San Pedro or Panajachel for good restaurants and some bars/live music. For hiking, there are the volcanoes. And if you want to mix things up, Guatemala is a pretty small country, so you could do an overnight trip to someplace like Antigua or Xela for more nightlife/shopping/etc.
posted by lunasol at 2:28 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I second the Western Highlands of Guatemala. I was in Guatemala for 10 days and it was by far my favorite place. The lake is just gorgeous. The only issue is this is now their rainy season so the views and weather are not quite as spectacular as is usual.
posted by schroedinger at 2:39 PM on June 22, 2014

Hondarriba, Spain
posted by melissasaurus at 2:46 PM on June 22, 2014

Cape Town, South Africa
I would also think about Thailand again, but just avoid areas of unrest
Coasta Brava, Spain
posted by superfille at 2:47 PM on June 22, 2014

Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia?
posted by beccaj at 2:58 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ubud in Bali.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:28 PM on June 22, 2014

Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
posted by COBRA! at 3:28 PM on June 22, 2014

Yap, Federated States of Micronesia. Take a side trip to the island of Ulithi.
posted by X4ster at 4:33 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Take a ferry to an island and stay a while ..

between Vancouver and Victoria in a mild Mediterranean climate

I've dreamed of catching a ferry and walking ashore...BC Ferries services the following routes:

Tsawwassen near Vancouver to Long Harbour (on Salt Spring Island)
Swartz Bay near Victoria to Fulford Harbour (on Salt Spring Island)
Crofton near Nanaimo/Duncan to Vesuvius (on Salt Spring Island)
posted by RosyFinch at 4:40 PM on June 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My first choice would be Rarotonga on the Cook Islands, you can fly directly from LAX on Air New Zealand.
Rent a house or apartment on the beach , swim in the lagoon, hang out on Muri Beach, groceries, nice coffee shops/restaurants and some shopping in Avarua. Friendly people. English and Maori spoken.
You can use a scooter and drive around the island in 35 minutes or so where you can find great scenery, little stores and restaurants. Hike the centre of the island if you're looking for land based activities. You can find as much quiet or action as you'd like.
Great diving too, I've used Pacific Divers both times I've gone.
If you're looking for even more quiet, there's always Atutaki.
posted by Snazzy67 at 4:58 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

What about the Hawaiian Islands? You can pick one that's a little less touristy, if that puts you off.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:04 PM on June 22, 2014

Best answer: Here's another call to walk the Camino de Santiago. You start in a lovely little town in southern France, make your way over the Pyrenees (the low part) and you will meet lovely lovely people along the way, be welcomed and directed by strangers, view the gorgeous Spanish landscape up close, spend every day outside walking and feel amazing while doing this. I am not Catholic, spiritual but not religious and I found it to be a life changing experience (as does just about everyone). We walked from St. Jean to Burgos last summer (about 200 miles) and we are returning to Burgos next week to finish the remaining 300 miles.
posted by bluesky43 at 5:47 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

One more thing about the Camino. You don't have to stay in the official dormitories - we didn't and were able to find relatively inexpensive small guest houses or pensions where dinner was often with other Camino walkers. It was lovely. Feel free to memail me if you are intrigued and have questions. There's also lots online.
posted by bluesky43 at 5:50 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would not go to Cambodia because orphans, adoption and orphanages are highly visible in the news there at the moment, and it would be depressing as hell for your purposes.

Iceland sounds amazing as a free-wheeling trip. The Camino has a purpose built into it - you walk a path with a start and an end, and you are in an environment of fellow travellers who are also questioning and thinking and contemplating. If you feel like you want structure, that would be ideal. Also very few children go on Camino walks.

I just wanted to add that I think this is such a good strong sane way to deal with this, creating a breathing space in time and place. I'm watching this thread and trying to figure out if I can do something similar within our time/budget. Thank you for posting this askme.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:48 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing the Camino. I walked it alone when I was 18 after high school and it was a great milestone in my life. It can be at once meditative and social, just depends on what you want to make of it.
posted by gillianr at 8:44 PM on June 22, 2014

Best answer: Oh, the Camino is amazing! I just got back a month ago and would be happy to give you tons of tips.
posted by threeants at 10:41 PM on June 22, 2014

Best answer: The Camino is great.. I wonder if you might enjoy the northern/coastal route more, which is significantly less-traveled, not as hot, and passes through some interesting places like San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander, and Oviedo? I only spent about a week of my 800 mile Camino journey on the northern path (I needed some time away from the main route) but it was one of my favorite parts. By the way, even if you're not sure or don't care about reaching the end, you should definitely start at the French border, because the last 100 km is absolutely packed with families/weekenders.

I would also suggest the Kungsleden in Arctic Sweden, but the good part only takes around 2 weeks or less, and it's probably too isolated for your taste (doesn't really go through any towns). But let me know if you want to know more.
posted by acidic at 11:16 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Indonesia would be great for this. We actually spent some time there during a period similar to yours and it was just what the mental health doctor ordered :). There is great diving in a range of spots, and it is a good time of year to go, weather wise. Easiest to get to would be Gili Trawangan (accessible from Bali by fast boat), for more challenging diving you can go all the way to Banda Aceh and Pulau Weh or even West Papua-- though the latter is more difficult to organise and may be tough at short notice. Ubud is a nice place if you like that kind of thing. I'd say Indonesia more broadly because we found it an amazing place to travel around-- Java, Bali and Sumatra are each quite different both culturally and in terms of the sights. Lomok also has good diving for more experienced divers, and there are some wonderful and inexpensive places to stay there. The food and culture were really interesting to me and the wildlife in Sumatra in particular was amazing.
posted by jojobobo at 11:24 PM on June 22, 2014

NB: the nightlife in Jakarta is diverse and awesome. If you can get local advice, even better.
posted by jojobobo at 11:25 PM on June 22, 2014

Low hassle, *space* - car rental?

Hokkaido and northern Honshu
The quieter Hawaiian islands
Iceland + the Faroes, or the islands of the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland

Busier, hotter in July

Krakow + Budapest with side trips to rural surrounds, like eastern Poland and Slovakia or western Ukraine

More difficult, more hassle, perhaps more rewarding

Georgia and Armenia
posted by mdonley at 3:26 AM on June 23, 2014

I'm currently based in the Philippines, and it seems to be a country that's overlooked compared to its Southeast Asian sisters due to geography. It's a hidden gem though. There are great diving spots and plenty of pristine remote coastal areas if you know where to look.

Also, the language is a plus since most of the locals all understand English. The people are super hospitable and helpful, but they're just terrible at giving directions.

Logistics can be a bit of a hassle since you know, everything is on a separate island, but local flights are cheap and again, everything can be booked online either through Philippine Airlines or Cebu Pacific.

It's the beginning of the rainy season up north in the Luzon area. But if the weather clears up next week for Palawan, I'd recommend looking into some spots there. I've heard a lot about El Nido but I've personally never been there.

If you have any questions about the Philippines, feel free to PM me.
posted by Hawk V at 5:30 AM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Utila or Roatan, Honduras! Both are lovely islands right off the coast. They have all the activities you mentioned, the reefs are beautiful, SCUBA is inexpensive, and you can stay in a lovely, quiet hostel/hotel on Utila for around $15 a day for a double. Or you can pay a bit more and rent a fancy casita right on the beach.

Utila has a backpacker vibe for sure, but it's easily avoidable when you want time to yourself. I lived there for a month and made some great friends, did a lot of diving and kayaking and hiking, and spent a fair amount of time of the quieter side of the island on the coral beaches.

Roatan is a neighboring island that is larger, slightly more expensive, and has more of an upscale vibe, which may or may not be what you are looking for.

From either place you can take day trips (or longer!) out to the keys, which are beautiful, isolated spots with great snorkeling and dive spots.

Also WHALE SHARKS OMG you will be right in prime season and they are unbelievable.
posted by ananci at 10:07 AM on June 23, 2014

Response by poster: Wow, such a fantastic list -- thank you for all the suggestions! I think we've got the makings of a bucket list here, not just a single trip.

We're looking into the Camino de Santiago for this trip, possibly with a Canary Island jaunt at the beginning or end. We're also inspired by Thailand, Atitlan, Indonesia, the Philippines, the Cook Islands, and Iceland....

It's going to be fun to rediscover our love of travel over the next few years. Thanks for giving us experiences to look forward to!
posted by nadise at 11:01 AM on June 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seconding Puerto Rico and also really enjoyed by trip to Palawan, Philippines. Best of luck.
posted by Brittanie at 11:31 AM on June 23, 2014

Response by poster: NB: we prepared for the Camino and got to Spain, only to get a call from our adoption agency that they had a baby for us. We now have a son, and every intention of going back, with him in tow.

Yes, we're one of those "you never know" stories now.
posted by nadise at 12:36 AM on July 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

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