Growing up in the South in rural Virginia, my childhood memories are full of school field trips to historic plantations, playing in the leaves from big oak trees and summer thunderstorms that shake the house.
The older I get, I often find my thoughts drifting back to when I was a child, remembering the smells and sounds of being outside, of family holidays to the beach, of playing in the park with my mom. I find myself even dreaming about the first house I grew up in.
Now that I live a world away in New Zealand, where the environment is decidedly different than Virginia, there is something primal within me that yearns for those memories.
When I found out that I would be speaking at SXSW this year in Austin with Condé Nast Traveler, I knew I wanted to make time to see my mom over on the East Coast. But I don’t know about you guys, whenever I go home now to my family’s house, sleeping in my childhood twin bed, I slip straight back into childish behavior.
I mean, I’m 30 for christ’s sake and I find myself yelling at my mom about my laundry!
If anything it’s stressful. Going home is hard.
This time around, instead of the regular old pattern of flying to Dulles (my least favorite airport on earth) and slipping into old habits and teenage routines, I convinced my mom and stepdad to join me on a little adventure in the South – a family getaway to Charleston, South Carolina!
I originally wanted to go to Savannah, but by the time we went to book it, everything was booked out and what was left was crazy expensive! Who knew?
So instead we decided to stay in Charleston, which ended up being perfect.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been down that way. Once of my first flights I ever took was to visit my dad when he was working in South Carolina, and we used to occasionally rent a beach house at the Outer Banks or Virginia Beach.
But for the most part, my travels in my youth was limited around Virginia.
By the time I got to high school, all I could do was dream about escaping the South, which I did fleeing to university up in New England and then overseas to Spain. Ever since I was little I dreamed about seeing the world.
And now, 70 countries later, I yearn for the summer hum of the South of my childhood. Ironic, I know.
My parents rarely travel, though I surprised them with a trip to Ireland a few years ago, but with the quick and easy flight down to Charleston made it much easier for them.
And let me say, March in South Carolina was just glorious. The perfect temperature every day, with the flowers blooming and the soft sea breeze blowing in the wind made for the ideal setting.
Now I just need to find Rhett Butler. Any tips?
Since this was a real and proper vacation, and I wasn’t working, I decided to travel light and fast with my new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera (a mouthful, I know). A high-end mirrorless camera, it weighs significantly less than my old Canon kit, and is durable and compact.
Traveling with the Olympus completely changed how I photographed. Instead of becoming a chore of pulling out a massive camera, I found myself taking a lot more shots than I might have in the past, with the speed and ease that comes with carrying such a light kit.
I also love shooting with a live screen that’s also a touch screen, it really helps me frame and set up my shots with ease, and with an incredible scale of focal points, I’m hooked.
And honestly? It made it feel much more like a holiday than work, which it was!
So here is a random smattering of shots all taken with my Olympus of Charleston with my parents. We relaxed. We ate a lot. We went for walks. And we enjoyed being in a beautiful place together.
As my parents get older, I feel tremendously guilty about living so far away from them, and want to make the most of our time together when we can. This was a really special trip for me, and I feel so lucky to be able to travel with them.
Ok, I’m gonna stop now before I choke up. Here are my highlights from Charleston peppered in with some very random travel tips. Enjoy!
Have you been to Charleston before? Do you ever travel with your parents? Spill!
Go for a walk around South of Broad and pick out your future house
Ok, downtown Charleston is ridiculously charming. Full of old world grandeur and enormous mansions with carriage houses, colorful shutters and beautiful ivy galore, I quickly fell in love with this area.
South of Broad is located south of Broad Street, at the southernmost tip of the peninsula, and was my favorite spot to wander around with my mom.
We unashamedly peeked inside people’s gardens and marveled at the decadent houses. How I wish I could buy her one!
Pick your favorite porch or front door
The South does many things well, like manners and sweet tea, but something else they truly excel at are epic porches and beautiful front doors.
After all, there is nothing quite so southern like sitting out on a front porch swing late in the afternoon spinning yarns with old friends.
Eat all the seafood
Since Charleston is on the water, it’s no surprise that the seafood is to die for. Of course there are plenty of other dining options, but I made a point to eat as much seafood as possible while we were there.
The best shrimp and grits (a southern most do!) we had was at Fleet Landing, and we stumbled upon Mason’s Lobster for my New England lobster roll fix while wandering near the famous markets.
I tried twice to get a spot at 167 Raw for a meal, and both times the wait was over 2 hours long! What the fuck! I both hate it and love it in equal measure, I’ll be back for you.
But by far our best seafood meal was The Ordinary.
Actually, just eat everything
I was super surprised to hear that Charleston is a massive foodie scene, and amount of amazing foodie experiences there are to die for!
I was also equally annoyed to learn that for some of the best spots you have to make a reservation months in advance. We couldn’t even get in at some of the more well-known spots like Husk or Fig. Oh well, they missed out on us.
Luckily we stayed right next to a delightful cafe and lunch spot called Millers All Day which we frequented several times. Their fried chicken biscuit blew me away!
Prepare if you plan a trip to Charleston, book your dinners in advance!
Meander through White Point Garden
Right next to the water, this place is so cute. My mom and I loved it!
Take your mom for a walk in the French Quarter
More old charming houses and delightful cobblestone streets. And lots of cute shopping.
We didn’t ride in a horse and carriage because we all felt a bit sad for those horses.
Channel your inner Instagrammer at Rainbow Row
Man, I do love a pastel house!
Stay somewhere perfectly southern and charming
We only planned our trip to Charleston a month or so in advance, and being St. Patricks’s weekend many of the hotels were booked out.
Normally I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to choosing accommodation, but this time I relented my vice grip and let my parents chose.
We ended up staying in the carriage houses at the John Rutledge House Inn, and it was so cute and charming. In a beautiful old historic house, it was exactly the kind of place you picture for this city. My parents loved it, and I did too. Especially with breakfast outside and afternoon tea and evening drinks! And the location was divine!
Go on a little trip to Patriots Point
My stepdad served in the military long before he met my momma, and spent a bit of time stationed down in Charleston, and we were all keen to head out to Patriots Point, a naval museum.
Here you can walk onto the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier and take in some of the many exhibits.
Even I was frothing at the historic WWII planes.
Walk beneath the Spanish Moss at Boone Hall Plantation
And finally, what I was really dying to see on this trip was the plantations with the hanging moss. You know the ones: the old oak trees and big colonial houses (built on the backs of slaves).
It was hard to pick one to visit, but we settled on the iconic Boone Hall, which you might recognize from starring in many a movie and show, like the Notebook and Days of our Lives.
I really loved my time in the South with my family, and I know we’ll go back again soon!