It doesn’t matter how many times people try to warn you that planning a wedding is stressful—it’s difficult to fully appreciate until you’re in the thick of it.
Ours came with added challenges, beginning with a year-long pandemic delay and followed by COVID's Delta wave that aligned with our new, late August 2021 date. Like countless other couples, we found ourselves shrinking the guest list and adding a seemingly endless list of precautionary steps. We also encountered more universal issues, ranging from family drama to a last-minute vendor cancellation.
As an anxious person more than a year into the pandemic at that point, I expected to be preoccupied with concerns like these. But in the months leading up to our nuptials in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I didn’t expect to be fretting about something else altogether: the honeymoon.
For our original 2020 date, Kacie and I planned a relaxing two-week getaway to Greece. Cliché, maybe, but we could think of nothing more indulgent, romantic, and satisfying than a picturesque Mediterranean escape. From the imminently Instagrammable Santorini to the simple yet elegant meals, we imagined losing track of all sense of time and soaking up every drop of sun as it bounced off the impossibly blue sea.
But with international travel still hairy as our rescheduled wedding approached, we didn’t want to gamble on a pan-Atlantic excursion. The Caribbean was out—it would be peak hurricane season. Hawaii had become overwhelmed by mainland tourists. Where could we go that would offer some semblance of the leisure we desired?
Mulling over our options one night, I asked Kacie a question that changed our approach entirely: what’s your favorite trip we’ve ever been on? After six years together, she had plenty to choose from, including a luxurious week at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, our annual fall tradition at a cabin in North Carolina’s leafy Great Smoky Mountains, and a work trip to Amsterdam where I tagged along. Yet we quickly agreed on the winner—our road trip from New Orleans to Nashville.
Every year for our anniversary, we take a long weekend trip to celebrate. We spent our giddy first anniversary in Athens, Georgia, and our second closer to home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina at a posh hotel with a bowling alley in the basement. The next year we drove a few hours north to Richmond, but by Year Four, Kacie and I had moved to Brooklyn, and we missed the South. We sketched out a weeklong trip, spending a few days in the Big Easy before hitting the road.
New Orleans is memorable enough on its own. I can still feel the hum of the crowd as Hot 8 Brass Band played in the packed back room of the Howlin’ Wolf, or the moment I realized I grew up with the man filling in on saxophone that night. We ate in some of the city’s best restaurants, but I’m left thinking about the impromptu late-night drinks when we stumbled into Seaworthy, the gratifying po’boys we ordered on a spontaneous stop at Erin Rose, or our meandering neighborhood walks to places like Bacchanal Wine and Congo Square. New Orleans is alive and vibrant in an unmatched way that’s easy for an outsider like me to romanticize.
After a few days we headed east along the coast, stopping at an unassuming seafood dive before pulling over to stick our feet in the sand of an empty Mississippi beach. We made a brief stop for a beer in Mobile to kill time until our hard-partying friends in Pensacola would be off work and could show us around, ultimately leading us to a rowdy piano bar that felt euphoric.
We practically charged through Alabama, stopping in Montgomery to take in the revelatory and essential National Memorial for Peace & Justice. A night in Birmingham found us at Eugene’s Hot Chicken, my first experience with Alabama white sauce turning me into an instant convert. At the Atomic Lounge, I recognized a portrait on the wall as a local writer I knew, and moments later she stood before us to welcome us to her city. In Nashville we watched a singer in cutoff jean shorts climb atop the bar in the middle of the afternoon to sing John Denver to a newly minted 21-year-old. Rolf & Daughters served us my favorite sit-down meal of the trip, and I commemorated our visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame by buying my now-beloved black and green Taylor Swift hat.
The entire trip felt invigorating, illuminating, eye-opening. It made me want to move back to the South (and we did). I’d been to New Orleans and Nashville before, but not alongside a partner, someone who wanted to embrace a mix of planning and improvisation, someone who would rather have her fingers covered in hot sauce than enjoy white tablecloth dining. We longed for more time in each city, but the gluttonous travelers inside us thrived with the buffet of experiences a road trip offered. Playing back the memories years later, we suddenly knew what to do for our honeymoon, it was just a matter of where. We landed on California.
As our wedding approached, I worried we’d made a huge mistake. Wedding planning—especially during an unexpected post-vaccine surge—proved to be far more stressful and time-consuming than anticipated. What were we thinking, trying to pull off a five-stop road trip that required us to constantly unpack and repack? Would our dream of a blissful and relaxing escape end up feeling like work? Had we spread ourselves too thin? It was too late to change now—all I could do was trust our instincts and plow ahead.
I can unequivocally say we made the right call. We wove moments of luxury into our California plans, splurging on the boutique Holiday House hotel in Palm Springs and signing up for a mid-century modern architecture tour. In Carmel, we spent most our free time eating, reading, and lounging. And unlike our Southern tour, we allowed ourselves at least two nights in each place (sometimes more) to avoid feeling rushed. We met a kindred spirit in our host at AXR vineyard in Napa Valley. I tried In-N-Out for the first time in L.A. and quickly declared Cook Out to be far superior. We roamed as much of the PCH as possible, falling in love with the cliffs of Big Sur. None of my fears came to fruition because I was with my person, in our element, and living it up.
We both still wish we could’ve gone to Greece, of course, and we hope to go some day. But our honeymoon is paralleled only by the road trip that inspired it. Road trips create opportunities for delightful surprises, like our unplanned stop at OstrichLand USA (exactly what it sounds like) and a kayak ride in Half Moon Bay. They’re packed with experiences, which make them far more memorable. Our honeymoon required so much more planning than booking a beachfront hotel and parking in a lounge chair, but that’s the point—we made it our own. And that makes it rewarding in a fundamentally different way. When you’re embarking on “the rest of your lives together,” a customized celebration of whatever you and your partner most enjoy doing together is the perfect place to start.