I Need a Vacation from Vacation

When I asked my son how his family beach vacation was, he reminded me that going to the beach with his family was an out-of-town trip, not a vacation. Going out of town with just his wife was a vacation. Ah yes, how well I remember those days.

Vacation. The word itself bears examination. What exactly are we “vacating?” The Brits and Europeans go on “holidays”, not vacations. Sounds a bit more festive. Perhaps that’s because we Americans cannot seem to completely get away from our work ethics or our electronic devices.

We’re looking for an end result, be it competitive tanning, the thrill of a new or exotic place, or checking off another landmark. (I will just have returned from the Chautauqua in the Adirondacks near Syracuse and Niagara Falls.) Sort of an adult camp with speakers and programs. I’ve never been to that neck of the world!) My main focus as a single lady was to go be with adults and unplug. It was indeed soothing to miss those political conventions.

For most, however, summer means the family trip. Because this usually involves the expenditure of large sums of money, there is inherent pressure to have a proportionate amount of fun, and photos to prove it. (Hence endless Instagram and Facebook posts.)

But are they really that fun?

With family vacations the first hurdle is getting an accurate headcount. Teens may try to opt out of going to Disneyworld with younger siblings; husbands may want to fly in late and leave early if it involves going with mom to a large sandbox (the beach) with small toddlers when they’d rather be fly-fishing in the mountains. Extended family members may have wildly varying ideas about where to all meet. Blended families may have sulky step-somethings so the overall barometric mood of the family vacation must be measured daily.

If airline travel is involved there’s a misery index even without flight delays or lost luggage. Unless you’ve got a private jet, airline travel is just awful. With car travel the days of throwing the kids on sleeping bags in the back of the family wagon to sleep are over. Now, it’s harnessed kiddos with lots of movies and electronics. However the family arrives, there are those who can’t stand sand in their sheets or sunburn and may pout over having to be in Florida. Those who have to stand in lines at theme parks may spend most of the trip scanning their emails and texts without any familial interaction. Some, who are in a remote cabin in a national park without cell coverage, may have kids moping over having “nothing to do.”

Then there’s the budget factor. The initial euphoria as the family pulls out of the driveway quickly fades when, by the third day, the entire projected dollar amount has already been surpassed with arcade games, restaurant meals, and forgotten goods. (“Son, how could you have forgotten to pack even one bathing suit?”) The bottom line on family trips is there is no bottom line.

The one extended family I know, who decided to take several generations to Club Med so there would be a variety of activities and meal plans, ended up hating all the forced involvement. “Anonymity was impossible,” my friend confided.
“It drove the older generation nuts. So unrelaxing.” Like most Americans, after the family trip, they were ready to get back home. And relax. Plus, it’s time for back-to-school shopping in triple digit heat.

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