Maris and I met in college at the University of Illinois in Champaign. After graduating in May 2013, we both landed in Chicago. My job involved very frequent travel and I was a Southwest loyalist from the start. The point-earning and redemption value was unparalleled as far as the continental US, Mexico and the Caribbean, but what really impacted our lives was the Companion Pass. It took a little help from the Southwest Credit Card the first year, but once I earned the Companion Pass in 2014, it would have been a shame not to take advantage of the opportunities it presented.
So, over the past three years, Maris and I traveled together regularly. Thanks to the Southwest Companion Pass, we traveled everywhere from Seattle to Kansas City to New York. Over a week and a half last summer we saw family in Houston, hit the beach outside of Panama City, and headed up to Nashville to enjoy some live music. Traveling has always been a passion of mine and thankfully, Maris enjoys it as much as I do. On our flights home from each trip, we would look at the map of Southwest destinations in the back of the magazine, always found in the seatback pocket, and try to pick out where we would go for our next trip. Maris would always opine on places with a beach, or cities she’d love to go like Boston or San Francisco, but I would end up swaying her to other options like hiking around Salt Lake City or enjoying the festivities that New Orleans has to offer. Regardless of the destination - whether we were going to see family, explore the outdoors or enjoy fantastic food and drink - most trips started and ended with Southwest; Southwest points, Southwest Companion Pass, Southwest planes and, of course, the incredible Southwest staff.
So this brings me to our most recent trip. I convinced Maris that we should go to Orlando and head east to Cocoa Beach. It was a fairly last minute trip (as far as she knew), but the idea of escaping a Chicago November did the convincing. Maris thought we were just heading to the beach for a few days, but I had some bigger plans in mind. We landed in Orlando on a Wednesday night and got out to Cocoa Beach later that evening. Maris had been dropping not-so-subtle-hints about wanting to see the sunrise in Chicago, so I was happy to “casually” oblige Thursday morning.
We walked to the beach and watched a gorgeous sunrise. After a while I told Maris that I had a present for her – not a ring, but a picture I had made of the United States with marks on all of the cities we had traveled to together.
She noticed that there was one mark in a place we hadn’t been – the Bahamas. This is when I revealed a surprise that we were actually going on a three night cruise to the Bahamas and were leaving in a few hours.
She’s gotten used to some spontaneity and was excited to go with the flow. We started walking back down the beach and I tell her I actually have one more picture for her. I get out another picture and handed it to her. This picture was the same as I gave her earlier, with all of the places marked that we had traveled to, but this one had lines connecting all the points. While she was processing what was in front of her, I was reaching back into my bag to get the ring and got down on one knee. I explained that over the past few years, the trips we went on weren’t exactly to random destinations. About two years before I proposed, I started mapping out the destinations across the U.S. that could be connected together to spell out “Marry Me?”.
Cocoa Beach was the final destination and the culmination of quite a bit of planning. It’s not as easy as you’d think to spell that out across the U.S. If I wasn’t able to convince Maris that we needed to go hiking around Salt Lake City a couple weeks before she took her boards, the “M” wouldn’t have been complete. Luckily, one of her sisters went to school outside of Kansas City, and the family weekend we went to a couple months prior to the proposal in Kansas City checked that destination off of the list. My Dad’s heart surgery in Cleveland, or our friend moving to D.C., or having family in Houston – if you take away any of those trips, then the connect-the-dots doesn’t work out. Maris was amazed and ecstatic, and most importantly she said yes! If it had not been for the Southwest companion pass, I never would have been able to propose the way I did and we certainly wouldn’t have the memories and experiences from all of the trips we took together.
So, thank you Southwest!
Some additional fun facts:
I didn’t include Maris’ Known Traveler Number when booking her flight to Florida so that she wouldn’t be in the TSA precheck line with me – just in case they had to search my bag.
The symbols marking all of the destinations on the maps I gave Maris were diamonds (hint hint)
I wore the colors of our alma mater (orange and blue) the morning I proposed.
Last Christmas I got Maris tickets for a Michael Bublé concert just for an excuse to travel to Las Vegas with her.
We flew Southwest for 21 of the 26 cities on the map – the rest we went by car or boat.
Southwest destinations we went to: Seattle, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Chicago (home), Cleveland, New York City, Washington D.C., Charleston, Houston, Austin, New Orleans, Nashville, Panama City Beach, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale.