The One Type Of Birthday Trip You Haven't Thought Of

Photo: Courtesy of the Dream Downtown Hotel.

My first time in New York as an adult was as a college student working at a journalism program in the city for the summer. I was the ultimate cliché, walking around wide-eyed and dazzled by the Big Apple. During one particularly enchanting Sunday afternoon spent strolling through Manhattan's Upper West Side (Magnolia cupcake in hand, of course; this was the early aughts), I thought, "If I lived here, I would never leave. New York is a vacation."

Fast-forward about a decade, and I can now proudly call myself a New Yorker. But as with any adult, my youthful earnestness has fizzled a bit. While I've never not felt grateful to have achieved my dream of living in NYC, there is a constant need among New Yorkers to escape claustrophobic city life — and it's majorly contagious. Since moving here, I've developed a severe case of Wanderlust Syndrome, constantly plotting how to make extra money so I can travel, pinning must-see destinations, and screenshotting travel deals to my girls.

So when my 28th year turned out to be particularly rocky for me, all I could think about was Getting. Out. Of. Town. To me, travel meant forgetting all about my stresses; I jetted to Thailand, Italy, and Mexico, and whenever I returned from each trip, I was already plotting the next one. Every weekend during the first half of 2016 was spent doing extra work so that I could afford my next plane ticket. So naturally, I was set on being anywhere but here on my 29th birthday. No, it wasn't the big 3-0, but after the year I'd had, I felt it was only right to ring in the final year of my 20s someplace new that would make me forget the old.

And then, on yet another sleepless night, about a month before my birthday, I heard my own voice in my mind finally asking the question I'd been trying to tune out for months. "What are you running from?" I asked me. "What are you looking for that you can't find right here?"

Just like that, as the saying goes, things were pretty clear in the morning. Why did I need to spend a ton of money to go away when I could escape in my own backyard? It wasn't long before I got to work putting my usual travel-planning prowess toward coordinating a "staycation." I realized I could still celebrate a fresh start and my own personal new year with a change of scenery and all the benefits of a vacation — without having to really go anywhere.

Soon I found a good deal for a room at the Dream Downtown hotel — the shiny, nautically themed space I'd often lusted after as I stumbled through the Meatpacking District on late nights — and created a plan for the weekend, which went (allow me to pat myself on the back here) pretty damn well. (Minus a little rain and a few too many drinks on Saturday night. But, hey, rain and drinking too much on your birthday happens on actual vacations, too, right?!)
Photo: Courtesy of the Dream Downtown Hotel.
Day 1
This was my solo day, a moment in time carved out just for me. No TV in sight, just relaxing at the hotel's rooftop pool with the book I'd been meaning to dig into for weeks, my face turned up toward the sun. After a few refreshing dips between chapters and treating myself to guacamole and a cocktail from the pool bar, I dozed off to the sound of Drake singing to me in my headphones. When I woke up, I was disoriented, startled to recall that I was actually in New York and not the Caribbean. When I got back to my room, I showered, wrapped myself in the plush hotel robe (side note: Why do robes always feel so much better in hotels than at home?!), and jumped onto the bed with a smile. I know, I know — it was the oldest, cheesiest move in the book, but I didn't care. I officially felt like I was on vacation.

Day 2

After some more me-time, my sister and cousin joined me at the Dream. This was the perfect opportunity to go to one of the restaurants we'd been meaning to try for years, so we headed to dinner at Spice Market nearby; Southeast Asian food and passionfruit sangrias led us back to our hotel's nightclub, where we met a gentleman who bought us drinks and brought us to his table. In my normal life, I might've been hesitant, but in my vacation state of mind? HELL YEAH. We got back to the room at 4 A.M.

Day 3
This was the day of my official birthday turn-up. After more pool time (which, by the way, on Saturdays at the Dream, looks more like Cancun than New York thanks to a DJ and booty-popping pool-goers), my three best friends joined us in the room, birthday bottles in hand. We twerked and laughed over pizza and self-made cocktails; I almost peed myself twice over Joanne the Scammer videos. I took my time getting ready, convincing myself I was Rihanna as I walked out of the bathroom to unveil my lewk to my friends. Finally, we piled into an Uber to dance at a local bar. Even though I had already been to that spot about a dozen times before, walking in from a new location gave the place an entirely new glow. I remembered then what it felt like to be new to this city, eagerly drinking in all of its allure and sparkle. I'd missed that feeling.

By the time I returned to my apartment on Sunday, I felt the same level of exhaustion and appreciation for home that I do whenever I return from an actual vacation. (Ok, and yes, a bit of a hangover. A big bit.) But this time, that same refreshed feeling came without the stress of airport travel — and without a huge hole in my wallet. Of course, the hotel and dinners and nights out were all birthday splurges, but I felt much less guilty about them knowing that I hadn't also dropped a few hundred on a plane ticket.

In the end, my downsized three-day "getaway" turned out to be much more than a money saver. Trying a staycation reminded me that, regardless of whether you live in New York or a tiny town in the Midwest, there's always something to try that you've never done before. My travel bug will likely never be completely squashed, but this fall I'll sprinkle my life with mini-staycations: I'm planning to make my way through a bucket list of restaurants to try with my girlfriends and take solo podcast-led walking tours of each borough. By looking at my own city with fresh eyes, I was reminded that anywhere can be an escape — even your own backyard.
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