I have read several posts lately from bloggers I like describing wonderful vacation plans, sharing journal entries from exotic trips, replete with pictures of incredibly beautiful vistas that renew their spirits and calm their pounding working-world hearts.
I admit to being somewhat jealous, and easily fall into “everybody is having more fun than I” pity-party mode. But then I remember, vacations can be great, but there are so often costs that don’t involve money. And those beautiful pictures and exotic journal entries may not give the whole picture. The pity party is over when I righteously comment to my inner traveler: Yes, but what are they leaving out of their breathlessly positive reports? How much fun did they really have planning, executing and then recovering from that wonderful trip?
Family Vacation #1
Because of our limited financial situation, vacations always involved riding in the back seat of the car with my two younger brothers. Cars didn’t have air conditioning then, so in summer the windows were open and dust blew in our faces, along with the heat and occasional stray bug. We didn’t have “devices” then either, so we actually had to talk to each other or occupy ourselves playing various games. At the time “talking” consisted mainly of heated sibling discussions regarding the rules of “Alphabet” or “20 Questions.” It was a matter the level of national security whether or not you could count a letter that appeared inside the car or exactly how long you had to have made eye contact with a letter outside the car to legitimately include it!
One summer my parents were brave (foolish?) enough to take a cross-country trip to visit my mother’s sister in California. I don’t remember much conversation between the adults and us kids, although there must have been some. My mother and father talked to each other, but we really couldn’t hear them over the road noise–not that we were particularly interested anyway. But we could clearly hear my father’s voice when, exhausted from the heat and the long hours at the wheel, and sick and tired of listening to the arguments over who was touching whom and who was cheating at Alphabet, he would briefly take his eyes off the road, turn his head around and yell:
PIPE DOWN BACK THERE!!
Adult Vacation #1 – The Single Life
Advance planning during the single years involves asking a friend to watch Fido for a week or so, trusting them with the key to your apartment, and hoping they won’t forget to water your favorite plants. Then you take off to somewhere you really wanted to visit. You get there by whatever means you decided, see what you want to see, get up when you want and go to bed when you’re done.
Adult Vacation #2 – BC (Before Children)
At some point, becoming involved in a committed relationship with another (flawed) human being does make the process a bit more complicated. First comes the shocking realization that someone else has a say in the location of said vacation. That not being enough of an imposition, they also get to express an opinion about the means and cost of arriving at the vacation spot. After some gentle give and take (after all, you really love this person), you decide to drive to the beach. You’re home free, right? Sorry, but no!
Once you’re there, you still need to negotiate whether to use the air conditioning or leave the sliding doors open to the sea breeze; what time to eat breakfast, which place sells the best coffee and has the best deals; what spot on the beach is close enough to the room so you don’t need a moving van to carry the supplies, but far enough away so you don’t have to listen to the traffic; is it better to be down-wind from a smoker or someone who uses stinky sunblock? Which spot gets a nice breeze, but not enough wind to knock down the umbrella? Which group of people has a monster radio that they are going to play at screeching high decibels while throwing Frisbees over your head? And that’s only on the first day!!
Family Vacation #2 AD (A Disaster)
Once you add children into the mix, things get dicier. Now I know some people travel effortlessly with their children and have fabulous family vacations that will be the subject of fond memories until everyone is too old to remember. I’m just taking their word for it, but you might want to think again about the questions at the end of paragraph two above.
One year when our children were around 8 and 5, we decided to go camping. When I was a child we went on some family camping trips and the PTSD resulting from them should have given me a clue about what I was in for. But not wanting to deprive my children of the opportunity to earn a few PTSD points for themselves, I figured what the heck, let’s give it a try.
We set up with not too much trouble, my husband being the handy, outdoor type who lived through a survival trip with Outward Bound back in the days when survival was actually dubious. At least for me it would have been. I figure if our humanoid ancestors had spent centuries working their way out of caves and trees in favor of indoor plumbing, who am I to argue with progress? But I was ensconced in the sacrificial phase of motherhood, when I was still willing to trade personal comfort to ensure my children the proper childhood experiences.
I won’t prolong the agony, but suffice it to say that I am not very good at sleeping on the hard ground with random pieces of small rocks creating bruises in my tender skin and dodging the flailing arms and feet of the two children sleeping on either side of me. And never mind that I generally need to get up in the night to use the “bathroom.” There isn’t a flashlight big enough to assure me that Sasquatch isn’t lurking behind the trees and do not think I am willing to walk across the campground in the middle of the night to use the facilities, such as they are.
Adult Vacation #3 – The Golden Years
So now the children are grown and on their own (more or less, but that’s grist for the mill on another day). I’m retired, which means that I’m basically always on vacation (more or less), and decisions about where and when to go on a formal vacation are subject mostly to energy and available funds.
I’m still willing to go camping, but my requirements have changed. Set me up in a 30- foot camper with indoor plumbing, a hot shower and a refrigerator that makes ice cubes and holds a bottle of tequila and I’m good.
Better yet, just jack up my house, slide some wheels under it and roll me down the road.