I sat down to write a Valentine’s Day blog post about the best gifts to give the ones you love, but…I got stuck. The truth is, I kinda hate Valentine’s Day. It feels so manufactured and cheesy, with overpriced roses, cliché jewelry and gimmicky prix-fixe dinner menus. Sure, I dutifully arm the kids with cutesy cards for their fellow classmates. (I do have a soft spot for the elementary school DIY love tokens.) But when it comes to real romance, I’ve realized that experiences—not stuff—are what make me feel the most love.
One of my favorite romantic experiences to date: hiking Machu Picchu with Jared. We both love hiking and camping and wanted to accomplish something special together. So we booked the trek for our honeymoon without really considering the nitty-gritty. Emphasis on gritty.
Fast forward through the excitement to the reality that set in at the bottom of the Inca Trail. No showers. No bathrooms. No mirrors. No way to wash bodies or clothes. The makeup, face cream and dry shampoo I’d brought? Yep, that stayed at the bottom of the trail in the hotel. This was a bare bones, carry-only-what-you-really-need adventure.
We’d only been married a little while and really hadn’t dated that long. We’d done some hiking and little camping but never without access to a bathroom with running water. I was suddenly so nervous to show myself in an unflattering light—forest bathrooms and all—to my new husband. For. Five. Days.
Turns out, I was stressing over nothing. We teased each other for complaining; supported each other, coaching the other through trail fatigue and altitude sickness. One of us had terrible gas, the other was terribly constipated. We found comfort in humor, each other and a mutual dirtiness that stymied your typical honeymoon romance.
We slept side-by-side, smell-by-smell in our little tent night after night. I was surprised at how quick a deep tolerance for ourselves and each other developed. The adventure taught us that there’s no one else on earth that we’d rather sleep in the foxhole with. (Literally speaking, we were far too dirty for anything other than sleeping—fully clothed.) It was the unsexiest vacay but so enriching. We learned so much about each other as people and we fell in love even harder. When we finally reached the top, we sat for several quiet minutes, reveling in the beauty of both our surroundings and the accomplishment that we achieved together.
Obviously, Machu Picchu isn’t an impromptu vacation. It’s an experience that requires investment and planning. But, the trip has always reminded me that when it comes to strengthening our bond, it’s less about getting things and more about doing things. So, in lieu of gifts, I wanted to share a few of my favorite things to do as a couple this Valentine’s Day.
Plan a picnic
I love scheduling date nights close to home. Very close to home. Easily adaptable to schedules and budgets, a backyard picnic eliminates the stress of reservations, rides and such. I’ll make sure to have a sitter lined up to allow for uninterrupted time together. Then I’ll throw down a soft blanket, some pillows and floor cushions for lounging and create a centerpiece from a serving tray with flowers and a few candles. For food, simple crudité spreads are my go-to. Think charcuterie board, antipasti like fresh bruschetta with sliced baguette or fresh veggies with hummus. I’ll make a playlist on a portable speaker with old favorites from when we first started dating and sometimes even set up a board or card game. We’ll sip bourbon or wine and catch up—all in the comfort of our back yard.
Set a goal together
Training for the Boston marathon with Jared has brought us so much closer together. Between juggling work and the kids it’s easy to forget to make time for “us”. It’s been nice to have something that we’re both working towards together that’s not about the kids. We vent to each other about the intensity of the training schedule, motivate when the other feels like slacking and push each other with a little flirty competition. Running a marathon isn’t for everyone (including me!), but I find that tackling any challenge together—whether it’s a 5k or volunteer work—can help cultivate a shared sense of accomplishment and excitement, as well as some fun memories.
Get lost in a museum
Fun fact: Jared proposed at The Met in New York City, so museums hold a special place in my heart. We had visited the museum while we were dating and wanted to show the other our favorite painting. Turns out, it was the same one! It was a painting I used to sit and stare at for hours when I was in college and I loved that we both had such a strong connection to it. Art evokes such powerful memories and emotions. There’s never a shortage of conversation starters—plus, most are free, affordable or accept donations, so you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy them together.
Try something new
Every couple can fall into a relationship rut, which is why I’m a big advocate of getting out of your comfort zone. Look for activities that allow you to discover something new about your partner or with your partner, like a cooking class, salsa dancing, or brewery tour. Whether it’s trekking to Machu Picchu, climbing a mountain in the snow, learning to play the guitar or watching Jared teach the kids how to throw a football, doing new things together gives us an opportunity to see each other in a different light and reminds us what brought us together in the first place.
How do you like to celebrate Valentine’s Day?
Thanks for sharing such a wonderful adventure with your readers! No material object can express the true love you have for someone like hardcore no-shower camping like this! ♥️
Out of curiosity, which painting is your favorite? 🙂
Thats really cool you went there! Another idea is plant a rose or tree. I bought my husband the Veterans Honor rose bush.
wow such an amazing experience!!! I’m from peru I hope you love the food over there it’s delicious 🙂
Awe! I wish there was a wonderful story for me but alas that has not happend yet! I do agree with you that Valentines Day is too commercial and I’d rather go to the FBBC and sit at a picnic table and drink my Cosmic Cowboy to be honest. I also think it’s really cool how ya’ll could do anything ya’ll want and not have to worry about money but instead ya’ll choose to be NORMAL like us. That says alot about ya’ll as husband and wife and as Gen and Jared. I just admire how you don’t care for all the fancy things in life bc at the end of the day it’s just stuff but the memories ya’ll have is more important. Ya’ll and Akles have perfected the Fancy Normal Simple life and i LOVE THAT!
I’ve never been a big advocate for Valentine’s Day. I’m like you when it comes to the belief that quality time serves more purpose than gifts. This year I am single but still plan to show a happy “Galentine’s Day” to all of the strong and wonderful women in my life. ❤️
Thanks for sharing your romantic ideas for Valentine’s day. They are truly great and affordable ones at that. I believe the act of doing things is better than any gift would give me because the memories of that moment in time are what I will remember most. Great post. You two enjoy your Valentine’s day… hopefully together in some way.
I love the backyard picnic idea!! I’m definitely gonna have to do that with hubs this summer, so easy and perfect!
I don’t do Valentines Day. I’ve never liked it and think it’s too commercialized. Love is something you do everyday. You don’t need a holiday to shower someone with a romantic date and gifts. My son will be 8 next week. I took him to the store today to get cards and candy for his classmates. He asked why he had to do that if they all know they he likes them. He just wants to have the party time.
Love this! Such great ideas to make the holiday special instead of commercial! Thanks Gen!
Hi Gen thank you for sharing such a wonderful story about Manch Picchu. Happy V Day
I hope you don’t mind if I call you Genevieve! I believe it to be one of the more attractive names in any language! And before I get into the subject matter I would like to tell you that having you in the show was great I found you to be one of the most intriguing and surprising at Time characters! Very believable! So how about some context! I am probably opposite most of your respondents, in the sense that I am a former Harvard University football player who off the field was a cupcake but under the helmet I was a beast! Hard to believe that I am one of the most romantic people I know, strange how I choose celibacy! I have found, and no offense to anyone reading this, perhaps migrated to would be a better way of phrasing it oh, definitely the wrong woman type! Please I’m not bashing women in any way I think they are the backbone of our society! That being said my particular experience is strangely intrigued by your ideas on how to spend Valentine’s Day with a significant other or any Wii time for that matter! For years I tried to get a significant other of the time to go skydiving with me for example, I assured them there was nothing to be afraid of! And that I would be with them every step of the way which I fully intended to do however why I didn’t include in the invitation was the fact that this would be my first time also! I understand the value of overcoming between comrades, but I long to be on equal footing with some partner who was not necessarily a major thrill-seeker, I’m a minor when would have done! But I think my relationships unraveled over the years because I could not find that certain someone to embark on these tremendous bonding expeditions! I can see how the shared experience can translate into a harmonious partnership! I would have liked to have read this 25 years ago! But now, being celibate and also having the unfortunate only marriage anniversary of my life as February 14th mm, it’s a double dark day for me, if I allow it to be! Recently I’ve begun 2 pre-plan things for the day February 14th, so that it would become more of a positive 24-hours in my life and not be a reminder of growing apart despite strong feelings for each other! So one of the things I’ve decided to do yes instead of blowing all that money I’m flowers and candy and when your married for 10 years every year gets exponentially more expensive and inevitably someone is more disappointed than someone else and me particularly is just glad to have the day over without suffering too many innocent bystander wounds! Do not get me wrong I am happy for people that are in love and have a good day to express that to one another some in better forms and then healthier forms than others! Me, I have a daily plan for tomorrow which will begin with a donation to your running of the marathon in Boston! It’s route is at times only a half mile from my house just before you get to the dreaded Heartbreak Hill but I have faith that you too can push through that and make it and then it’s a hop skip and a jump to the finish line well more like 4/19 of the way to the finish line! I think challenging Partners in a relationship is one of the most healthiest Endeavors you can embark on aside from tending to the family unit which I can imagine comes with its own trials and tribulations! I’m also going to send a donation to Rachel at random acts of kindness, as I hold her to blame for the kindness virus that exists inside me now and I blame her! So good luck to both of you! I seriously admire all the efforts of all the people associated with that show and I hope that things never change although inevitably they always do but hopefully the core can’t stay connected and inspire more and more people to the movements of getting off there lazy asses, me being one of them, and doing something anonymously to help someone else in need! Not to make me feel better not to make me look good not to alleviate some guilt, but just to change what a miserable day 14th of February has become into a day that I can once again feel good about and it all traces back to that Sunday in 2004 when I watch the pilot about two brothers and when I walked in and asked her what she was watching, her response was priceless! She said, who cares and I quickly understood that she was more interested in the male eye candy then the plot line of the show, which words for the both of us and it became a staple have a weekly TV viewing until I divorce and I have no idea if she still watches it I just know that I’ve seen all 14 Seasons multiple times and learn a little bit every time I re-watch an episode! I hope it never ends and it would be nice if they rewrote you back in somehow oh, I’m sure they could come up with some plot line to pull it off!! Fingers crossed for you and Jared and wish him good luck for me! I’ll be watching on TV, far from the maddening crowd! Thanks for tolerating my rambling diatribe!
Thank you for sharing your ideas. I feel the same way. Spending time with my hubby has been the best thing in our marriage to keep our romance alive for 22 years. My kids are now teenagers and get sickened by how we still flirt and kiss in front of them. Love is Amazing and is celebrated everyday in my family.
I do like valentines day but I never did it the commercial way, for the kids I made my cards and then we had an easy meal everybody liked and I made a heart shaped cake, this evening I made red velvet cupcakes with icing and heart sprinkles, we don’t give gifts, we give ourselves, a big hug and whalaa, Happy Valentine’s day!!
My husband and I haven’t yet traveled. But we always try to go to restaurants around the city. And we do not like to celebrate Valentine’s Day for the same reasons as you.
THIS post is one of my favorites. You’re amazing, Gen!
What was your favorite painting at the Met?
The experiences option always sounds more relaxed. That’s the environment that allows you to be you and enjoy your time together.
As to the way I spend Valentine’s day? I don’t. Hard to celebrate it by yourself. But I hope everyone has a special day.
For Valentine’s Day i enjoy just hanging out with my fiancee watching a movie usually a comedy or we just sit and talk for hours about everything and anything just like every other day…we compliment each other..talk about our first dates our first meeting we listening to 80’s music and dance..see Valentine’s Day is truly everyday! I just love him all of him the great the bad and the morning bedhead well actually my morning bedhead???
My husband (of 12 years) and I will be celebrating this year with a redbox and some smoothies after the kiddos go to bed. 🙂
Great read. Thank you. It shows how lovely and accepting you are as people. Would love it if everyone was the same.
My late husband always said Valentine’s day was a contrived Hallmark holiday. Great ..I managed a Hallmark store. Very long and insanely busy day. Of course we celebrated with the children, but when they were grown, our celebrations became taking in a movie, with large popcorn for us. Visits to a local ice cream parlour, or spontaneous roadtrips. Just small stuff that became big stuff. We were married 46 years?
I love the picnic idea. My husband & I use Valentines as a way to go out, have a nice meal and talk. Our kids are older which is allowing us to do more without them. Quality time like being able to do jump on the motorcycle ,and take off to the NC mountains,is what i enjoy most with him. We ride with no agenda and only a general direction to start and let out curiosity take us to where ever the road leads us. It’s those times that have helped maintain and strengthen our almost 23 year marriage. Nothing bought can replace special memories. Happy Valentines Day!
This is Beautiful and gives me hope as a single girl of 17 who identifies and has the same ideas as you, that I don’t have to pretend to be anything other than the nerdy-outdoorsy-sporty girl I am. Also, this was beautifully written, forever a big fan of yours,
Elise Corinne Benigni
As a couple we were getting into a rut, after being together 10 years it’s easy to let the busyness of life get in the way of spending quality time together. My husband bought tickets to see my favorite comedian later this year!
I can tell it’s that time of the month because this post made me cry. Hahaha! What a beautiful, humanizing, humbling way to spend your honeymoon. Thanks for being you Gen. This was a joy to read.
I love this! My husband and I have been married 5 years this summer. We did not go on a honeymoon because I had just graduated chiropractic school and he was starting law school. He graduates this spring so we are wanting to go to Machu Picchu as our honeymoon. Any advice on which company to go through or anything you guys would have done different?
I’m not fond of Valentine’s Day either. I don’t want someone to tell me when I have to be romantic? My husband and I try to do something every day just because we know it will make the other person happy and feel loved. He gets up every Saturday morning at 6am just to get my favorite breakfast, doughnuts. For me, nothing says “I love you” more than him taking this time each week to do something to make me happy. We’ve been married for 37 years, so that’s a lot of doughnuts! He still holds my hand in public too, but that may be because he’s afraid I’ll get lost, I’m a bit directionally challenged?❤️❤️
I am with you too. Not into the romance thing. I am usually working anyway. We save it all for the warmer months when we can get out. Go camping. Kayaking ( my favorite) or finding a new place to explore ( I know so many great places in MA and CT. ) We want to try Rail Explorers NY this year. Last year we visited Bannerman Castle in NY ( look it up, the place is amazing!!!) Always so many things to. Life is too short to not…live it.
I love this blog so much! Adventures are so much better then stuff! My husband and I will be married five years this summer. We never went on a honeymoon because I had just graduated chiropractic school and he was applying for law school so a honeymoon was put on the back burner. He graduates this summer so to celebrate we want to do a “honeymoon” this year! Machu Picchu is at the top of our list. We are in the Pacific Northwest so hiking and outdoors is up our alley! Do you have any suggestions on a guide company or things you would have done different?
My husband and I were talking about that just today. To Just follow the road and stop where ever we want and eventually end up at the place where we spent our honeymoon. It was an old bef and breakfast in Georgetown CA. The adjacent house was vacant so we had the whole place to ourselves! We lit a fire, played chess and talked, drank wine. No TV’s or radio. Had a picnic next to the river the next day. Great memories. We’re going on 30 years married in March. Thanks for sharing Gen!
I love this post. You have so great ideas y I so happy you can share with us (and of course I going to do). And also I so happy Gen can visit my country and she love her visit.
Ohhhhhh I love this post!! Thanks for sharing your most romantic experience!! But that’s real love right?
You guys re inspiring!
Tonight we’ll be eating homemade tarka dal, chapatis and chicken jalfrezi. We could go ‘out’ out but I’ll save the babysitter for when the nights are longer.
Some years we’ve met up during our lunch breaks and enjoyed a coffee and cake in the nearest park, others we’ve been on bike rides along the (then) local canal or for walks in the countryside.
One year our friendship circle went to a private ‘breakfast taster session’ at a new hotel, which felt special as it wasn’t about being part of a couple, but being together.
We got married Sept 09’ and were in India for Valentines Day 2010. We’d prebooked a guide to take us to the Taj Mahal on the 14th, a coincidence date wise as we were just trying to squeeze lots of sightseeing in before we flew to Bangkok. We were both so unwell in the days running up to the tour, thanks to the antimalarial tablets, that a) there was definitely no mystique left b) I knew we were Good as we could laugh about it together!
I spend the whole ‘Valentine week’ rolling my eyes at people and then reprimanding myself for probably being to judgemental lol. Well
yeah, i mostly do not understand the point of this day ( or week). But then i am not the most romantic person either so.. I do agree big time with your this blog post though. Experiences holds a hell lot of more importance than stuff. Its the experiences we have, and the memories we make, that stay with us for years long. While I do not think i would be able to stay with another un-showered human being for more than two days, i am incredibly inclined to go on an extensive trek with my boyfriend because hills are abolute love <3. Lets see..
Always love to hear from you Gen, do keep posting more <3
As a former art museum educator, I love this! I love teaching all ages about art. I’d love to know your favorite painting, but understand if that’s something you want to keep to yourselves.
*realized how much I used the word “love” above. I’m going to keep it, in honor of the day and the things I do truly love – art and family.
Thank you for sharing. I think your honeymoon what’s romantic. It wasn’t about typical honeymoon oh, it was about learning about each other and each other’s endurance. It was about the two of you, and that’s what it should be. Since I am a widow I generally spend Valentine’s Day with my children. We never really do much, they’re both married, but they generally always get me a card, or a flower, or just make me a meal. It’s nice to just have the family time.
We write each other a poem with a home made card for Valentines Day. After 45 years I still adore him and his poetry. He has a very interesting sense of humor & it carries over into his poems. Happy Valentines Day to you and yours!!
Thanks for sharing some of your experiences with us! I don’t have a partner, so Valentine’s Day usually just slips by unnoticed. Today, however, my new boss’s wife gave each of the three women at my office, including me, a lovely gift, which was so very thoughtful of her.
I am on the same page as you though when it comes to preferring experiences over material things. I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with my sister in 2011 and it is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done, and also one of the hardest. I struggled big-time with the altitude, but I managed to keep going and finish the trek. It was a wonderful feeling.
A few years ago, I actually asked Jared about your trek at a meet & greet, because I was curious about how you both coped with the altitude. Did you struggle Gen? Or was the hike super easy for you? Like you, Jared did mention the ‘smelly & unromantic’ side of going trekking on a honeymoon, lol. He also told us a very funny story about ‘howler monkeys’ – and we were all crying with laughter!! 🙂
Thanks for sharing a bit about your adventures!!
PS: If you’re interested, this is the blog I wrote about my trek:
Maria Rita Almeida
I’m not very good with English so please excuse me any meaningless mistake or phrase.
Usually I do not usually comment or express opinions, but with this post I need to come here to thank you.
I literally got late to leave work to finish reading about how your trip to Machu Picchu connected you and Jared was totally hypnotizing and hopeful; my husband and I have tried to save money at one time to know this amazing place that has always fascinated us, but now I know we have to do this trip, maybe not yet this year, but soon.
I do not see myself anxious for faults in the bathroom or bathroom (obvious), but I miss that connection with my husband, our lives have sucked us into a routine that we barely have time to do something together. The last trip we made and felt that connection was to Iguazu Falls on our first wedding anniversary, this year we are going to the fifth year together and we have never done a trip that connects us this way.
The little time we have together we are taking care of the house, the family, the accounts and talking about children (which we do not even have) and how much we need to evolve so that they come in a beloved and financially stable environment.
Here in Brazil will not be Valentine’s Day for a few more months, but I think after reading your post I’ll think of something special to do with my husband, even if it’s just a home-made romantic dinner. He is the love of my life and my best friend (I know how rare this is nowadays), I should not leave work, study, health, money or any other problem that we have between us or us prevent us from cultivating our love and fellowship.
So I really just wanted to say thank you, Gen! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for opening my eyes to what I was missing and for reminding me how lucky I am to have my husband by my side and I should treasure it.
That you and Jared always remain the beautiful and loving couple they seem to be!
Marry Almeida. *
On Valentine’s day I received the best gift I could’ve ever imagined, my first child, my son, who is turning 16 today! So I’m never alone on this made up holiday and I get to experience the greatest love of all, a child’s love. Today is a big one, but he just wants to order pizza and spend some time with his family. ❤
Early in our relationship, my now husband of 43 years and I went on a hiking/camping trip to the Smokies. We did an eleven-mile round-trip hike up Mount LeCont, my first long hike and in brand-new hiking boots. By the time we finished and got back to our tent, my feet hurt so bad I could barely walk. But I loved the hike and the beauty of the mountains. My husband, Sam, has always said he fell in love with me on that trip because I pushed myself to do something new and difficult and never complained. To this day, our hiking trips and now nature walks as we grow older are some of the high points of our married life. We rarely even exchange cards on Valentines Day. To me, it isn’t the occasional sentimental gesture; it’s how you treat each other every single day. Thanks for the reminder of wonderful times.
First valentine day alone in 10 years.. But instead of feeling sad about it, I decided to dedicate this day to myself. I have to learn to love myself before I can love someone else again. I really like the way you approach things. Good luck with your marathon !
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I think I visited Machu Picchu a few months before you did! I went with 2 friends and one of their moms – no full Inca Trail for us (which was ok by me, as someone with terrible vision who can’t wear glasses – dirty hands & contact lenses are not friends).
The hike up Huayna Picchu made me think we were heading to Mordor, but we knew it’d be worth it for the view at the top!
…except that a dense fog had rolled in while we hiked and we couldn’t see 10 feet in front of ourselves.
Still worth it.
I think I’ll look through those pictures again when I get home!
I love the way you express your simple thoughts so lovingly. You are amazingly down to earth person ever. I admire you. Your ideas on how to celebrate Valentine’s Day is awesome and inspiring.
Love this! What is that favorite painting of yours?
Rose Vanden Eynden
I love this post, Gen. My husband and I have been married for almost 30 years, and we were just talking last night about how we want our older years together to be about the experiences we have together, not about “things.” It’s so special to do things together, to accomplish things as a couple, and to support each other in the process. Thanks for sharing your ideas and experiences with us. 🙂
I also am not a big proponent of VDay, but I think that’s because I never had cause to celebrate it until I was over 30. Then when I was in a relationship it was toxic so again I didn’t celebrate it. I got cards from my parents. I think they felt bad for me. I like ur of adventures instead of material items. If I ever celebrate this day that’s what I’ll do.
I always love doing personalized valentines and homemade cards for my friends and family. Wonder if the Joan of arc tote and tshirt I gave Jared at the con made it to you, he said you would be stoked 🙂
Your Valentine’s Day be eternal!
Kelly von Schwanitz
My husband works crazy long hours in law enforcement and I work a full time job and have side hustles. We seriously struggle to have alone time. We haven’t had a date night in over a year. Two teens and one of them having mental health issues fills what little free time there is but you are right. We have to make the time. 20 years together and we still don’t have the marriage thing figured out. Thanks for the suggestions Gen!
You 2 are just like us. Doing things make the best memories. I surprised him with a picnic in a National Forest. We heard a coyote just across the creek and ran to my car with the food. In our quick entrance, we spilled the potato salad all over the back floor area in the car. Took weeks to get smell out. But was unforgettable 17 years later. Most memorable was 2004. Our final night together before he flew back to Iraq. We visited many monuments in Washington D.D. and ended with a romantic dinner. I watched him sleep that night through tears because I didn’t know when I would see my husband again. We had only been married for 9 months when he was deployed. We celebrate 18 years in May.
Thanks for sharing this! I absolutely do agree with you!
We celebrate ar home, too, but as the garden’s to small, we let the kids stay over and do the whole “wellness and relax together“ program we rarely have time for: hot bathtub, picnic on the floor, feeding pizza, dancing at 2 a.m….
We gift outselves with trips and events as presents (bday and others), as the shared experience gain in quality and we definitely discover new sides of each other or re-discover them. Next to art an authors’ reading often turned out to be as entertaining as inspiring (the book, the author, the event)!
Stay as strong and blessed and loved!
Hi Gen…I love your blog and every part of your life you share with all of us…..i wondered if you could give a message to Sam…..my daughter has disabilities and is just crazy about (Sammy) Jared….she attended supernatural in Nashville in march….she has disabilities, VCFS, but to get her picture with Jared and a hug was the best thing to happen to her….she spends all her money on Sammy stuff…because she loves him so much…she is 27 with the mind of 12…but he is her idol….if he could ever say hi to her on here would make her day…thanks Gen…..mom of Christy…..❤❤