Around this time 10 years ago my life was a shambled mess.
I was 35 years old, and coming out of an emotional divorce after a 12-year marriage. I had an amazing 3-year-old daughter I only saw about 30% of the time. I was in a torturous, on-again/off-again, long-distance relationship with a Canadian woman whose custody agreement ensured she’d lose her kids if she left Toronto, while I’d lose mine if I left Atlanta. My freelance writing career was in such a pitiful state, I barely qualified for a mortgage. And, what was worse, I saw no light at the end of the tunnel to suggest these things might eventually improve.
So I did what any depressed, despondent, divorced single dad might do in similar circumstances: I charged gas, food and hotel rooms to my already overburdened credit card so that I could take my toddler to the beach. Specifically, to my favorite beach in the world, in Sanibel Island, Florida.
I first discovered Sanibel in the early ’90s, when looking for a beach destination targeting nature-lovers within a day’s drive of Atlanta.
I fell in love with the place immediately upon arrival: Not only did the island offer one of the world’s best shelling beaches, but nearly a third of it was protected as the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, with alligators and raccoons and gorgeous birds such as the Roseate Spoonbill and Osprey around every turn. Thanks to laws presciently put in place in the 1970s (after the causeway was built), there was shockingly little development, with no building allowed to be taller than the tallest palm tree.
Over the years, Sanibel became my favorite vacation destination, reinforcing my love of ecotourism before I even understood what ecotourism was. I took annual boat tours to go shelling in Cayo Costa State Park, with dolphins leaping and frolicking in our wake along the way. I learned about the island’s animals at the Center for Rehabilitation of Wildlife (C.R.O.W.). I became a master of the famed “Sanibel Stoop“– the seashell-hunter’s typical pose– and amassed an impressive collection of rare treasures (including two prized Junonias).
So perhaps it was no surprise that I returned to Sanibel Island in my darkest hour a decade ago, rediscovering everything that I loved about the place through my daughter’s big blue eyes. In sharing my love of this incredibly special place, I found the strength to let go of things that were holding me back in my life, while also forming bonds with my kiddo that continue to grow stronger today.
Over the next few years my daughter and I had magical times on Sanibel. It was there that she first swam in the ocean, swam across a pool without a float, saw dolphins, caught a fish, found a starfish, pet a manatee, kayaked, rode a jet ski and went parasailing. She loved the place just as much as I did. Once my place, the island soon became our place. We visited three times in four years, gladly doing the same activities year after year.
After Mary came into our lives in 2008, Sanibel Island was the first place we went on vacation as a family. It was important to us that she be included in our semi-annual tradition, and after the first trip it was apparent that she, too, was hooked. But after Green Global Travel took off in 2011, our travels began taking us further and further afield, and Sanibel got put on the back burner in favor of places like Dominica, Jordan and Tahiti.
It’s amazing how quickly time passes, and how much things change.
Ten years after that first daddy-daughter trip, my life could not possibly be more different. Our business and our blog is booming, with bigger freelance clients and opportunities than ever before. My business partner is also my best friend, not to mention the great love of my life. My daughter is healthy, happy and well-adjusted, not to mention a straight-A student. Things have never been better, but they’re so busy and stressful that I sometimes forget to breathe.
So it seems somehow appropriate that this weekend my daughter and I will be taking our annual daddy-daughter getaway, and that this year we’re going back to Sanibel for the first time since GGT took off in 2011. With all the crazy work stuff we’ve had going on, and with my soon-to-be-13-year-old about to start her final year of middle school, this vacation (a word we rarely use for our adventures) couldn’t come along at a better time.
We’ll be doing some cool stuff, and of course we’ll be posting plenty of photos and stories along the way. But what I’m looking forward to most is just putting my bare feet in the sand, taking my daughter by the hand, and letting the sounds of the gentle waves lapping against the shore soothe my soul. It’s been far too long since we’ve visited this precious place– our favorite place in the world– but I’m really looking forward to the simple familiar comforts of my home away from home. –Bret Love; photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett
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