'Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya...'

My early childhood exposure to the Beach Boys probably was the first place I learned about the geography of the Caribbean—and how enticing a visit to the islands can be. I have been lucky enough to visit a few with my family over the years, and I loved each trip more than the last, which is why I was thrilled to settle on Aruba as my latest travel adventure with my friend Hayley. We were in desperate need of some R&R—rays and relaxation—so we booked our standby tickets for a quick 26-hour jaunt down to the island. 

If you've ever flown standby, you know it's a sometimes exciting, sometimes stressful way to travel. We typically end up making a final decision about a trip just a day or so beforehand, so we feel comfortable about how many seats are open on the flight before we book a nonrefundable hotel. This trip we ended up putting in a request for a beautiful Airbnb the Thursday before we left—which was then rejected Friday afternoon. Less than 24 hours before we were to arrive in Aruba and we had nowhere to stay! Luckily I happened upon the website of an adorable hotel in the area we had hoped to stay in for a similar price and made a split second decision to go for it—we got the last room.

We left my apartment at 4 am Saturday and arrived in a drastically different world the same afternoon. Just one step off the plane and you knew—island life is a whole different world from the hustle and bustle of NYC. Aruba's airport is pretty tiny, so it didn't take us long to gather our things and hop in a cab to our hotel, Perle d'Or. Along the short drive we stared out the window at a new world flashing by—colorful buildings, Carneval preparations, palm trees galore, and flashes of the thrillingly blue ocean. Even the air we breathed felt different—and so did we.

I loved our hotel as soon as we walked in the front door—because there wasn't one. A gravel path led to an open air restaurant/bar with a table for registration. A few steps away guests sunned themselves by the pool, and palm trees lazily cast a cooling shade over the entire area. The complex itself wasn't huge, but gave off the sense of a sprawling, slow-moving world where guests were largely at peace.

Our room was no Four Seasons—just a bed, small kitchen and even smaller bathroom (I thought my shower in my Manhattan apartment was small—this one was TINY.) But the air conditioner was strong, our door opened to a hammock and open patio area, and we were beyond pleased. I can also report that the bed was incredibly comfortable and the room stayed impressively dark upon sunrise.

Our first few hours were an adventurous blur. We walked the 5 minutes across a 'busy' road to the grocery store, where we marveled at the Dutch products and came away with snacks and our drink of choice for the weekend—grapefruit juice and an adorable bottle of rum (when in the Caribbean, right?). Without wasting much time, we hopped in a cab to Eagle Beach and spent the rest of the afternoon reveling in the hot sand, refreshing ocean and soothing sounds that only the best kind of beach can offer. Eagle Beach lived up to its #1 Beach in Aruba rank—though it was somewhat crowded, which was to be expected.

Our evening was spent the way we had planned—a long, casual dinner with wine, catching up with no sense of urgency and ending our first day in paradise with dessert in our room, uncaring about crumbs in the bed we'd only sleep in one time. Our final day proceeded with the same sweet perfection—a morning spent reading by the pool, leisurely breakfast in the sun, another trip to the beach. Our biggest challenge was the walk from the beach to the airport (even that makes me smile—small island living!) because Carneval was in full swing and we couldn't get a cab. The hot sun was relentless, but it allowed us to see even more of the country we'd only gotten to experience for a too-quick 24 hours.

Every person we met in Aruba was unabashedly kind, willing to help us find our way and celebrate their beautiful island. Without a doubt I will remember the brightness—of the buildings on the streets we drove through, of the ocean we danced around in, and of the look in my friend's eyes as she relaxed and was free of responsibility during our short getaway to paradise.