My Kind of Valentine’s Day

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.
Genevieve Padalecki on her honeymoon in Machu PicchuFast 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.

Gen Padalecki walking over rope bridge in Machu PicchuWe 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.

Gen and Jared Padalecki on their honeymoon in Machu PicchuGet 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?


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  • Monica

    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! ♥️

  • Hailey Owens

    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. ❤️

  • Lacey

    I love the backyard picnic idea!! I’m definitely gonna have to do that with hubs this summer, so easy and perfect!

  • Tresa

    Love this! Such great ideas to make the holiday special instead of commercial! Thanks Gen!

  • Antoinette

    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!!

  • Jam

    THIS post is one of my favorites. You’re amazing, Gen!

  • Kimberly

    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 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???

  • Shelly Dalton

    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?

  • Linda Smith

    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!

  • Priya

    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

  • Shannon

    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.

  • Alesia

    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.

  • Karen Graham

    Hi Gen,
    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:

  • lesdeuxcatastrophes

    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!

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