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Last week, my husband and I packed the minivan with tons of luggage and our children ages 4 1/2 and 6 1/2 (trust me, leaving off the halves is a cardinal sin to my children).

We travelled from Atlanta (Marietta, to be exact) to visit with my husband’s cousins in a small lake town in Virginia. Note t

hat we did stop in South Carolina at a very nice Marriott Courtyard at around 1:00 am. Side note, when you offer avocado toast on a menu, you should never drench it in lemon juice! Yuck!

Although wonderful, our stay in Virginia is not pertinent to this blog. So, I’m going to skip over it, with the exception that my 4 (and a half) year old son was able to ride in their ADA elevator on his own. You see, vacations for my youngest are measured by how many elevator buttons he gets to push (family vacations for me are measured by how many of my buttons are pushed!)

Our next stop was the stop that prompted this post – Washington, DC. I felt a rush of excitement and nostalgia as we drove, Griswold family style, into this very historic and important city. You see, this was the first time I had been back to DC in 17 years. In 2002, as a newbie to the meetings and incentives industry, I worked on my very first meeting here. I was a fledgling Account Coordinator for a large incentive house at the time; but boy was I SO EXCITED! We spent months preparing for this program. I managed my first registration (back then, attendees filled out paper registrations and – gulp – faxed them in!) We sent travel documents via Federal Express that included PAPER airline tickets. And, we printed everything for the welcome packets because there were no mobile apps (or worry for the environment) at the time. This just might be the meeting planner equivalent to walking up hill both ways, in the snow, to school! I remember spending so much time quality controlling rooming lists and air manifests and name badges that I had every single attendee’s name memorized. It was quite the parlor trick; an attendee came to the Hospitality Desk and I could tell them the names of their spouse and children (if they were on the trip too). Of the countless programs that I have worked on in my career, this one certainly stood out. From getting up-dos and riding in a stretch limo to the group’s formal dinner at the Library of Congress with the very talented Account Manager (who I will always consider my mentor) to surprising the attendees with our guest speaker, John Glenn, at the Air and Space Museum to having a chance elevator ride at the hotel with the beautiful Mary Tyler Moore . . . all of these memories flooded me as we drove to our downtown hotel.

We stayed at a boutique family friendly hotel not too far from the White House, the Darcy Hotel. Recently acquired by an investor group, this hotel has undergone a substantial renovation and would be a nice fit for small groups. Their meeting space is modern and located on both the lobby level and the 2nd floor. They offer creative child amenities, such as themed educational backpacks filled with books and activities to borrow and strollers. They have a beautiful restaurant on property with great food, service and ambiance. Thankfully, we ate late because my tired children were not the best behaved at dinner. One thing they are lacking is a formal concierge. But, when we asked for help with restaurant reservations to celebrate our wedding anniversary the next evening, the amazing GM overheard us and came to our rescue. I did mention to him that I was a meeting planner and was doing a site inspection of his hotel the next morning (in my line of work, vacations and business constantly collide).

The next day, we had reservations at the Old Ebbitt Grill (our top choice and a wonderful restaurant) at 7:30pm (we were married on 7/30 at 7:30) AND, the GM sent a fabulous amenity to our guest room, complete with champagne and fruit for us and cookies and milk for the kids. I want to be clear that dropping my profession was not an ask for any special treatment. I booked my room before ever reaching out to the sales department to request a tour of the hotel. I did this specifically to see how my VIP clients would be treated if I pitched this hotel and did a site inspection with them. The GM was certainly the best part of this hotel. The $60 per night parking fee was a shock to the wallet though.

Following a delicious and childless anniversary dinner at Old Ebbitt Grill (the cocktails there are fabulous, by the way), my husband indulged me by accompanying me to the Willard Intercontinental Hotel for after dinner drinks. You see, the Willard is where my very first program as a meeting planner took place, where I rode in the elevator with Mary Tyler Moore after an 11:00 pm run to Kinkos to have a sign made. The Willard was where I first experienced how the other half lived. You know, the people who stay in 5-star hotels. It was certainly a far cry from the Holidomes we stayed in growing up! Those of you younger than 45 probably have no idea what a Holidome is. Look it up! We walked through the ornate hallways of the Willard. I’m sure they’ve had updates made in the past 17 years; but it was still exactly as I remembered it. I reflected on all that’s changed in 17 years . . . marriage, children, owning Global Eventures. We sat in the Round Robin bar, a unique and quaint circular bar and I struck up a conversation with the lady sitting beside me. Ironically, her husband owned an insurance company and they were on an incentive trip. Did I mention that my first program 17 years ago was for an insurance company? As we left the Willard, I felt overwhelmed by pride for all that I’ve learned and accomplished. Sometimes, it takes going back to the beginning to appreciate where you are today.

The remainder of our trip was very memorable. The kids pushed MY buttons (and my husband’s) – more than once. But they also had experiences that will stay with them and will contribute to the adults they will become. Next time I visit Washington DC, it will be special to me for two reasons.

Experiences are the best gifts you can give your family and your employees. They last so much longer than money.

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