Whether it's celebrating a new job or a finally-empty nest, some accomplishments in life are so special they cry out for a commemorative adventure to help you treasure the moment. More people are rewarding themselves with the holiday of their dreams, whether it's a challenge (trekking up a mountain), a treat (say, a spa weekend) or the chance to learn a new skill (surf camp, anyone?). Here are the unforgettable ways four people rewarded themselves for a job well done:
Rejoice in Your Romance
Lydia Ruth, 66, and Norman Gaines, 65, went on their first date in high school, on November 17, 1963. It's a day they've always celebrated, often by going back to their Harrisburg, Pennsylvania roots. As they approached the 50th anniversary, they wanted to do something magical. "We got married while he was in college, and we had no money, so we never took a honeymoon," says Ruth.
So the Hartsdale, New York couple booked a luxury train from Toronto to Vancouver, a trip friends raved about, and a chance to see the Canadian Rockies. It was a swanky experience they both loved. "It's like a cruise, without the vomiting," she says. "The cabins were comfortable, the showers were so clean, and the food was great—linen table cloths, rack of lamb, prime rib—even vegan food. It was the perfect honeymoon we never had."
Toast a Healthier You
Darcee Navarra spent much of her 40s working toward becoming a Registered Nurse, and achieving her lifelong dream of working in an operating room. Just after she got her degree, Navarra saw a photograph of herself that horrified her, revealing every one of her 195 pounds. "I couldn't believe I looked like that," recalls the 53-year-old San Diegan, who is 5'8". "So right after I finished my final two-day exam, I went straight to Jenny Craig and signed up."
As she learned a new way to eat, the weight began to disappear. "I started wearing smaller and smaller scrubs at work," she says. Shedding pounds made exercise easier. Soon, she found herself using the elliptical every day, and going for long weekend walks with her husband. And even though she and her colleagues work on their feet all day, they began walking the stairs between cases to boost their activity level. "It also helps that I have this wonderful job now, and can actually look inside people's bodies and see the damage that comes from being overweight."
In six months, she'd shed 52 pounds, a loss she has maintained for more than a year.
To celebrate, she and her husband, along with their 20-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son, planned a trip to a Scottsdale, Arizona resort known for its pools, wave action and waterpark. The goal was to spend as much time in bathing suits as possible. In her suitcase: Not just one, but two bikinis, which her family helped her select. "I hadn't owned one since I was 18," she recalls. "I wore them all day."
Give Yourself an "Attaboy"
Comedian Dan Nainan is a constant traveler, logging about 200,000 miles a year. (Don't even get him started on the best ways to max out his miles.) But when he was offered $20,000 for a single gig—the most he had ever been paid—he knew he had to celebrate it somehow. At 52, Nainan, who refers to himself as a Z-list celebrity, spent years bumping his way up the tough ranks of comedy, working for little money. And while the $20,000 threshold he got for a single corporate gig isn't the apex of comedy (people like Jay Leno routinely get $150,000 per performance) it was an incredible milestone.
"I knew I wanted to treat myself, to take a trip that wasn't sandwiched around work, but just for me," he says. He chose Hawaii's incomparable Maui, and incredibly, found a $397 round-trip fare from his home in New York. "Because of all my miles, I got bumped up to first class." He arranged to do some couch-surfing, staying at an upcountry ranch. He persuaded three friends to join him, and they camped on the beach nearby.
Besides being cheap, it was the perfect way to commemorate the moment: "I even took kite surfing lessons."
Don't Just Turn _0. Own it
Liz Bicknell had long dreamed about an exotic biking trip, but when she spotted an ad for Tour d'Afrique's six-week Paris-to-Istanbul trip, she pounced: The final leg would have her pedaling across the finish line on the very day of her 60th birthday.
Already fit, she spent a year getting ready, increasing her training rides at home in Victoria, British Columbia, adding weight training and spin classes. Bicknell, who works in communications for the British Colombian government, is a widow, but if she had any concerns about traveling solo, they vanished immediately: "There were 26 of us in the group from all over, plus five staff, and it was great. Everyone helped each other out, and we've stayed in touch."
Bicknell was so inspired by the scenery and experience that she blogged during the trip, and struggles when asked to recall a single peak moment. "There were so many. One day in Romania, we had such a steep climb, and when we got to the top it was cold and almost snowy. They were waiting for us with fried cheese sandwiches, and it was the most delicious dinner I've ever had." Favorite city? Budapest. Best treat? A cold beer after a long day of riding, or a cup of hot tea after a chilly one. And of course, there was the tremendous sense of accomplishment when she finished. She sang "Happy Birthday" to herself as she pedaled through Istanbul. And after tossing her stinky riding gloves and shoes, she learned her three grown sons had arranged a surprise for her: A trip to a fancy spa and fabulous chocolate cake.
"You look back over your life at birthdays, especially on milestones. Life is full of so many ups and downs. There are plateaus and steep hills, and then valleys you just fly down. For me, this was a fitting way to turn 60."