Saturday, April 14, 2012

What Exactly is a Vacation?

When you live at a vacation resort, where do you go on vacation?

We live on a resort island.  It is not exactly Disney World, but it is pleasant enough, and people come here from all over to relax at the beach, play golf, go fishing, ride bikes on miles of trails through the maritime forest, or just relax and cool off.  It is a pleasant enough place to stay - and to live.

But it begs the question, where do you go on vacation from vacation?   And what exactly is a vacation, anyway?

It sounds like a queer question, but again, you have to challenge the normative cues - the underlying framework of our lives - and think about why it is we feel we have to travel every year to "get away from it all."

And some folks don't go on vacation.  I knew people at the Patent Office who took no vacations, instead preferring to accumulate their vacation pay, to be paid off at their highest annual salary, when they retired.  They were not very interesting people, as you might imagine.

What constitutes a vacation?  Why do we go on them?

The first question is easy to answer, if nothing else by simply tallying the outward elements of what most people do for their vacations:

1.  A Vacation usually involves travel.

2.  Usually, the travel is to an area with better weather.

3.  Usually, there are historic sights, great views, or bucolic splendor to appreciate.

4.  Usually, the vacationer is waited on, there is a resort hotel, good food, lots of drinking.

5.  There may be "attractions" at the destination, such as amusement parts, museums, etc.

Of course, not all of these are true all of the time.  But I think a pattern emerges in most vacation scenarios.   People want to travel and see different things - to be in a new environment, one with unusual sights, cultures, vistas, or the like.

But right off the bat, there is a profound dichotomy in vacationers.  There are explorers, and there are the repeaters.

Many folks - the repeaters - go to the same place, ever year for vacation.   They rent a beach cottage (or buy one) and go to the same beach for their vacation.  Or maybe it is a cabin in the mountains.   This is an interesting aspect of vacationing, as it is not a chance to see a "new" vista, but to appreciate the same thing, over and over again.   And some folks love this, going to the same cottage in Maine for 20 or 30 years, or even handing down the cottage to children and grandchildren, who vacation there, their entire lives.

Of course, some of these "repeaters" take other vacations - more along the lines of explorers - and thus engage in both kinds of vacationing.

Myself, I am not much of a repeater.  Been there, done that.  Going back and forth to the same Florida Condo or Lake house in New York was fun - for about five years.  But once you've been to every waterfront restaurant several times, and seen all there is to see, it just gets repetitive.   And owning a vacation home is, well, a lot of work.  Renting one, on the other hand, can be fun.

(I do repeat one thing, but only perhaps because I have not finished exploring it.  Every year, when we drive North, I take the Blue Ridge Parkway in our camper, and spend a week or so, just driving North at 35 mph.  It is the only way to travel, in my book.)

Explorers, on the other hand, like to see new things, explore new vistas, and experience foreign cultures.   And they are willing to do so, even if the weather and conditions are perhaps not as pleasant as they are back home.   For them, the world is something you should see, before you die, and experience.   And perhaps I am more of the latter, although hardly an Indiana Jones.

Explorers are the kinds of people who will hitch-hike around the world with a backpack, or set out to see a foreign country with no itinerary, but just a map and a pocket guide.   You have to be pretty brave to be an explorer, as the world can be a dangerous and unforgiving place.

Of course, there is sort of a compromise between the two - the package tour.   For a fairly nominal fee, you can take a bus tour, cruise, or whatever - and many people do this, both in the USA and overseas.  You can fly to Spain, spend a week in a beachside resort, and be bussed with a group to various sites and points of interest.   Meals included, price fixed.  Some folks love this, as they know what they are going to spend.   And they like being with people.   It is, of course, less of an experience than actually being somewhere by yourself.

Cruising takes this to the extreme - dragging a floating hotel and shopping mall with you, wherever you go.  The problem is, since you spend but a few scant hours ashore, you really are not "experiencing" the destination you travel to, but are rather parachuting into a pre-planned "excursion".  It is armchair exploring, for people afraid to explore.

So, why do people go on vacation?    That is the second half of the question.   We go, to get away from the hot weather, to explore, to see beautiful vistas, and most of all, to appreciate returning home.   While the end of a vacation is a sad time, in some respects, when we crest the Lanier bridge and see the vistas of the Marshes of Glynn, we appreciate that where we live isn't really all so bad.  In fact, it is nicer than some of the places we went "on vacation."

And maybe that is the reason people go.  To get away from a routine and the daily grind, and to get a new perspective on their own lives and see things differently, when you get back.  It makes you appreciate your own life more, I think.   Which is why I think we need to vacation, and despite its enormous cost, it ends up being a good investment, in terms of your own emotional well-being.

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