5 Steps to a Better Couple’s Weekend (featuring Indiana Dunes!)
This is a sponsored post through Indiana Dunes Tourism. We have been compensated by Indiana Dunes Tourism, but all opinions remain our own. We would never steer you in the wrong direction!
Whenever we talk about our travels, people inevitably say the same thing:
Just wait until you have kids! Travel now while you can!
I’m sure they’re right. Being married, childless, and debt-free has opened up a world of untethered travel for us. We quit our jobs to visit every national park in 2015, we settled back at home but have visited eight new countries together this year, and we continue to travel around the midwest anytime we have a free weekend. And we are responsible for just ourselves.
We know that things may change drastically when we start a family (although hopefully not as much as people like to tell us) so we’re going to continue down the path of traveling now while we can.
Ever since we took our first big trip (our honeymoon in Puerto Rico), we have been slowly perfecting our art of traveling together.
We’re not perfect. We get into arguments and have very different taste and budget ideals, but we have learned a few things along the way that continue to help us plan successful trips together.
Make a plan.
Before our trip, we always sketch out a rough idea of what we’d like to do each day. Being spontaneous may seem like a good idea, but we’ve found that it tends to lead to misunderstandings and under-communicated expectations. We are much happier when we have a plan that allows for plenty of flexibility. (And ice cream.)
One thing we always look out for in a new area is a schedule of events going on during the weekend. You can usually find this on the area’s local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) website. Especially in the summer and fall, most cities have a festival, farmer’s market, or other free event happening every weekend. Indiana Dunes’ travel website is especially helpful for planning purposes.
We attended Valparaiso’s World Culture Festival on Saturday and the Indiana Dunes Apples Festival on Sunday. By starting our other activities — like hiking and kayaking — early those mornings, we could relax, walk around, grab some apple cider, and enjoy these free events all afternoon. These events would also be great for a family trip with kids of all ages.
Since I do a majority of our trip planning, I also always try to include something that I may not love, but I know Cole will really enjoy. (Because there’s always something in our plans that I love but he isn’t as keen on) For our weekend in Indiana Dunes, this activity was stargazing with the national park rangers on Saturday night. I’d rather be doing almost anything else, but Cole loves it. I don’t get it, but as usual, I was still glad I went.
Challenge each other.
One way we continue to grow individually and as a couple is by challenging each other. For us, this tends to come in the form of outdoor activities like strenuous hikes, bike rides, and kayak routes. (Of course, for other couples it might mean trying a new activity or stepping outside your comfort zone in a different way).
It was easy to find ways to challenge ourselves in Indiana Dunes, but one of the best was completing the 3 Dune Challenge. This 1.5-mile loop trail in Indiana Dunes State Park takes hikers up and down the three tallest peaks in the park, gaining a total of 552 feet in the process. (It feels like double that gain in the sand!)
We decided to complete the challenge during sunrise (waking up early on a Saturday was the real challenge, to be honest) to avoid crowds and the hottest part of the day. We hike together a lot, but encouraging each other up the tall dunes — and then racing down them — was an especially fun and motivating way to start our day.
We stayed active the rest of the weekend, hiking trails like West Beach and Little Calumet River Trail, biking the paved Dunes-Kankakee path to the beach, and paddling through calm waters at Marquette Park and Trail Creek, but the biggest accomplishment was that 3 Dune Challenge. You can read more about our outdoor adventures on and off the dunes here!
However, the main reason we challenge each other in athletic feats? More food, of course.
Eat & drink well.
Enjoying local food has always been a big part of our weekend trips. We don’t consider ourselves major foodies, but we always make it a point to indulge in some local fare.
We love booking a hotel with a free breakfast, because this makes us feel like we can splurge a little more on food during the rest of the day. On our first full morning in Indiana Dunes, after completing the 3 Dune Challenge and feeling accomplished, we retreated to our hotel to catch a full, hot breakfast at the Chesterton Best Western where we were staying.
Since our breakfasts and coffee took place at the hotel each morning, our lunches, dinners, and desserts were (pun intended) on the table. Here are the highlights:
- Mango jalepeno spicy margaritas at El Cantarito
- Tallgrass-fed beef burgers at Octave Grill (one of our top burgers ever!)
- Gelato at Dog Days Ice Cream Parlor
- Flights of hard cider from Aftermath Cidery
- Indian food from Namaste at the World Culture Festival
- Iced coffee from South Bend Chocolate Co.
Even though we had an active, full weekend, there are always moments where we slow down and take it all in during our weekend trips.
An easy way we do this is by always watching the sunset. Staying in tune with when the sun rises and sets during our trips guides our plans for the evening. We are intentional and usually try to time a hike or seeing a certain view during the sunset. This helps us frame our plans, but also connect to what is happening around us. We tend to get caught up the hustle and bustle of our travels, but when we watch the sunset, that all goes away, if only for a few minutes.
We were so grateful to Pedal Power for offering us a complimentary sunset bike rental (normally only $10) which gave us an amazing view of Lake Michigan and even the Chicago skyline from Indiana Dunes State Park during our first sunset.
Our second sunset was enjoyed from our balcony at the Best Western, overlooking the lily-filled lake, as we got ready for dinner.
Two beautiful moments that we remember, even amidst all of the other activities going on during the weekend.
Stay the night.
If possible, even on our nearby trips, we always try to spend at least one night away from home. Turning a daytrip into an overnight trip allows for much more time to explore a new area, and much more time to decompress from a hectic work week.
Paying for overnight accommodations can be an investment, but for us, it’s almost always worth the cost and effort. To save money, we sometimes camp (which can be less romantic and require more effort) or use websites like Priceline to book hotels for a lower price.
To maximize our stay, we book a hotel with included amenities. And we can usually find ways to cut costs in other ways (like sharing entrees at restaurants, buying a bottle of wine to enjoy in the hotel instead of ordering drinks, and attending free events). Our hotel — Best Western in Chesterton — had all the amenities we needed during our weekend: free hot breakfast, coffee, free parking, a pool and hot tub, and even private balconies for enjoying views of the small lake. And most importantly, it was centrally located in Chesterton, with convenient access to West Beach, Indiana Dunes State Park, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and Valparaiso.
At the end of the day, for us, spending quality time together is always something that is worth investing in. The daily decisions we make at home always support our desire to travel as a couple.
We were happy to spend three quality days together in Indiana Dunes, and we’ll have to return to see even more of everything that the area has to offer.
This post was sponsored by Indiana Dunes Tourism, but all opinions are our own.