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Should Haves? Not in Nevis...

After her sons depart for college, Heather Greenwood Davis transcends empty-nester syndrome.

In Nevis, I finally exhaled. Until that slow unfurling of air caused my shoulders and chest to finally slip into reprieve, I hadn’t realized how long I’d been figuratively holding my breath. Yet within moments of stepping out onto the balcony of The Club’s Beach House 4, my husband and I realized a milestone moment 20 years in the making.

Two nights pre-trip, I was unsure of just how this next phase of our lives would unfold. I was scheduled to drop my youngest son, Cameron, to a university five hours away, and had a panic attack. It felt like a gut punch. One moment I was fine. The next, I was doubled over, holding my stomach, and gasping for air. Eventually, I collapsed. A crumpled ball of hyperventilating sobs, I was sure my heart was being ripped from my chest. The timing caught me off guard, but it wasn’t unexpected.

Full disclosure, I went through a similar experience about a year prior — when Ethan, my first child, left the nest too. Back then, lost in life’s increasingly fast pace, I thought I was holding it all together. I focused my attention on keeping my husband in good spirits and ignored warnings my own feelings were about to catch up with me. When the pain started, I was sideswiped. And when it was over, I was limp from emotional fatigue. Yet my sons’ decisions to go away to university were, of course, encouraged. I knew going away for school would offer lessons about independence and time management they could only learn away from home. But I hadn’t considered the most obvious part of a faraway education: they’d be leaving me.

My family of four is ridiculously close. My career as a travel writer has afforded us incredible experiences over my children’s lifetimes; it’s not uncommon for my children to join my husband and me in coveted international locales. By the time they left for university, they’d each visited more than 40 countries; 29 of them were experienced during the same year when we took them out of school to travel at ages six and eight and spent every moment together.

Through this approach, our goal has been to impart an expansive curiosity about the world, an openness to meeting strangers, and a craving for adventure, while also offering the security of an enduring safety net. It worked.

Yet when it was time to leave the nest, my beautiful young men flew confidently into the world, barely looking back as my husband and I drove away. And with our youngest son’s departure, we went from a crack in our family stronghold to a full-on split. Pieces of our family were broken off and now adrift in the world. From four to two. From family to couple. From full house to empty nest.

Adventures abound in Nevis
The aptly named Paradise Beach

Enter our trip to Nevis with Exclusive Resorts — the first far-flung island escape sans children. Just me, my husband, and our emotional baggage, which I was determined to acknowledge and tackle (or at least temper with a rum punch). The trip to Nevis was booked as an emotional compromise. We knew we couldn’t outrun our feelings. But if we were going to cry, we reasoned, why not grieve in the sun and sand?

My first discovery was that Nevis is perfectly difficult to get to. From my home in Toronto, it took two flights, one boat, and five taxis. But on arrival it was clear this destination — away from everyone and everything — was exactly where we needed to be. A gorgeous stilted, two-bedroom, two-bathroom treehouse oasis (complete with a privacy drawbridge with retracting stairs) was our blissful home for five nights.

From the moment we landed on the 36-square-mile island, we knew we’d made the right decision. Our home’s modern Caribbean design lived like the island itself: unpretentious, indulgent, and immediately comfortable. It was the idyllic perch for all our favorite activities.

We sat on the deck each morning, watching the sunlight burn residual cloud cover over the hills, and dangled our feet in the plunge pool each evening as the lights of Basseterre twinkled in the dark. In between, we lived on island time. We sipped stellar (perhaps the best I’ve ever had) rum punches with tamarind and dusted with nutmeg; we moved only when our hearts called us to do so.

We were often alone, but rarely lonely. Each cab ride evoked a new connection. At the neighboring Four Seasons Nevis Resort, we met MacKee France, the jovial resident botanist and Director of Guest Experiences, who shared with us the medicinal use of plants and herbs. At Nevis Botanical Gardens, owner Christi Douglas showed us around the five-acre wonderland and introduced us to the resident goat. And from the top of the historic ruins of the Bath Hotel – which dates from the 18th century and is acknowledged as the Caribbean’s first resort — we appreciated how much was discovered on this visit and “settled” for a soothing soak in the hot springs below.

Island vibes are always the answer
Rest and reconnect in paradise

We laughed loud and often — with locals in town and hoteliers on the beach. We centered ourselves by exploring Nevis Peak, located in the middle of the island. And we monitored time by the changing colors of the sky. We ate island fare that left us speechless and drank cocktails that fueled conversation. We were kneaded by magical hands at local spas and on the patio of our villa. We woke each morning refreshed and happy. We sang along to Tems, Kendrick Lamar, Queen, and the Hamilton soundtrack (Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis) and recalled moments in our travels when the kids sang back.

We thought of our kids often. Over baby pictures stored on our phones, we dissected years of parenting, recalling moments we’d worried we weren’t doing it right and celebrating those moments when we’d nailed it. But there were no more tears.

In Nevis, we looked forward more than we looked back, and as such, I’ll never forget this first empty nester vacation. Thanks to The Club, we felt at home when our own home felt fractured. Instead of sadness, each day we were reminded in various ways that everything has its season. Our time as parents is far from over, but the days when our kids ruled every waking decision are gone. By the time we left for home, we were certain of what was an end and a beginning. Our time as a household of four has been the greatest adventure of my life. Yet in Nevis, I realized whether traveling with kids or without, our best adventures may still lie ahead.