As I See It: Surviving the Life
by Victor Rozek
Interminable delays at the airport, days of driving, motel rooms that reek of stale smoke and Lysol, bad water, strange food, hostile locals, exotic illnesses, and high prices--all coupled with the desperate urgency of trying to squeeze a year's worth of living into two cramped weeks. These are just some of the possible delights encountered on the great American vacation. It's little wonder many of us return home more exhausted than when we left.
Unlike Europeans, we Americans get precious little vacation time. Its scarcity, combined with our need for renewal, creates intense anticipation and imbues our time away from home with fanciful expectations. The full reality, however, is seldom captured in glossy brochures. And even if the destination is paradise, getting there may not be half the fun. Nor can destinations redress the temperaments and problems of individual travelers. Many of the disappointments and frustrations we encounter while on vacation are the ones we bring with us.
Having just returned with my wife from 11 days in Utah's canyon country, I feel properly braced to offer several observations that may prove useful to anyone planning a vacation.
If you are considering a driving vacation, be aware that there are two types of travelers: journey people and destination people. These two types are about as compatible as the tortoise and the hare and, ideally, should never travel together. But if they must, they should at least agree on some ground rules before departing.
As the name suggests, journey people enjoy getting there. They want to stop at each scenic viewpoint and do all there is to do along the way. As a rule, journey people are easily excited: "Oh, look! A rattlesnake museum and pioneer doll exhibit. Let's stop."
Journey people take lots of pictures, are compelled to talk to every available stranger, and think nothing of going 40 miles out of your way to see some obscure point of interest. They will insist on checking all of the motels listed in the AAA guide instead of just choosing one, and will easily double the time it takes to get anywhere. My wife finds nothing wrong with this.
Destination people, on the other hand, have just one goal: Get there as fast as you can. When asked to pull over at the next rest stop, a true destination person will respond, "We're only two hours away. Can't you hold it?" Any request for an unscheduled stop will be met with heavy sighing and a rolling of the eyes. (For extra emphasis, I like to add a small, exacerbated shaking of the head.) For destination people, the vacation doesn't start until they get wherever they're going. For journey people, it begins when the front door closes.
Stick these two types in a car for three or four days, and you're likely to end up with one being disappointed and the other angry. Destination people will become impatient, frustrated, and anxious when they are forced to journey. Journey people will feel cheated and incomplete if obliged to plow through to their ultimate destination without stopping to gawk at the twisted, asymmetrical furniture made of Juniper piled in the dirt next to a roadside garage in Mitchell, Oregon. Before leaving home it is best to reach some agreement on the amount of journeying acceptable to both parties. Speaking from personal experience, imposing one person's preferences on the other (no matter how sensible it seems at the time) makes for a strained evening at the Best Western High Country Inn in Ogden, Utah.
Next, it's helpful to be clear on the purpose of your vacation. Is it for rest or activity? Do you want to visit four different national parks or explore one thoroughly? Do you prefer night life or Nitol? The scarcity of vacation time makes it tempting to pack each moment with activity but leave ample time for relaxation. Physical and spiritual renewal is less related to the amount of vacation time than to what you actually do with it. In choosing your activities, however, it's useful to remember that one person's preferred method of rejuvenation may be another's source of fatigue.
Some people rejuvenate by being alone, while others require the energy of crowds to recharge their batteries. Personally, I need a good deal of "alone time." A restorative day for me is when I'm in the backcountry and don't see another soul. When I come home and my wife asks, "How was your day?" I say, "Great. I didn't speak to a single person."
My wife, on the other hand, is energized by social interaction. Exploring remote canyons in Utah is fine for me, but it lacks the social buzz my wife finds restorative. Then there is the problem of unpredictable cell phone service. Some vacationers never stray far from a phone. My wife, for example, suffers severe withdrawal if unable to maintain regular contact with a variety of friends and associates. Packing a cell phone for a hike in the desert (for anything other than emergency purposes) is proof of insanity to me, but it makes perfect sense to my wife, who, if not constrained by canyon walls, would happily call some friend or another to describe each scenic overlook or improbable rock formation.
We remedied the lack of social interaction by befriending a delightful honeymoon couple and camping and hiking with them for several days. Yes, it's not everyone who gets invited to participate in someone else's honeymoon, but the compulsion for social contact makes, er, strange bedfellows. We solved the phone problem by returning to Moab every few days, where service was available and my wife could get her fix. No one should suffer while on vacation.
If personal style and preference differences can sometimes clash, they pale in their ability to frustrate, disappoint, and ruin a vacation next to unrealistic expectations. We so look forward to our time off, and typically need it so badly by the time it arrives, that we pile a load of expectations on our brief sabbaticals. While vacations can certainly be fun, energizing, and offer a much-needed departure from the grind of daily life, there are certain things they cannot do.
A vacation will not fix your relationship, for example. Whatever conflicts you engage in at home will show up on the road. Quite possibly, travelling together may even exacerbate interpersonal problems. If your relationship is burdened with unresolved issues, confining yourself to a space no larger than a phone booth for days on end may not be the brightest idea. Driving long distances requires filling a lot of time. People can get easily hooked while processing their relationship but, unlike being at home, have no place to get away from each other. Driving in resentful silence is no fun. Why, a person feeling angry and sorry for himself can easily miss all of the scenery between Wellington and Green River.
Nor will a vacation remedy the problems and stresses that await you at work. If you didn't like your manager before you left, you probably won't like him when you return. In fact, you'll probably like him less, because the contrast between vacation and aggravation will be more acute. But obsessing over work, taking a PC along to check e-mail, or feeling compelled to check in with the office can deflate the most perfect vacation high. Let it go. It won't go far, and bringing the workplace with you will be intrusive and distract you from your real purpose, which is to get away from all that workplace drama to begin with.
A word about money. Nothing is more stressful than fretting about the budget while you're trying to have a good time. Feeling burdened about money while on vacation is like trying to dance the Polka with a 20 pound rock tied to your leg. What's the point? On numerous occasions I've observed a variation on this scene. A vacationing parent is besieged by excited children who want some money for this or that. The parent wants his or her children to have a good time but mentally begins to tally the day's expenses, worried about getting through the week. The tallying and the worry are repeated at every meal, every hotel, every unplanned activity. The only person not having any fun is the person paying for it all.
It makes no sense. My philosophy is that vacations are not the time to deny yourself. Take the helicopter ride; eat two scoops of ice cream; stay at the good hotel; buy the matching T-shirts. Treat yourself. It's your time and you've earned it. Allow yourself a full range of experience. I can't think of any vacation expense that I've ever regretted. Experience is the spice of life, and the difference between thinking about having an experience and having it is the difference between eating the menu and eating the meal. Order up. You may not be by this way again.
And don't listen to the news. It's toxic and incompatible with the concept of escape. Listening to the world's problems will not help you to forget your own. Finally, shamelessly embrace some measure of idleness. We are such a culture of doers that even while on vacation some people find it hard to simply be still. As British critic Cyril Connolly replied when accused of being idle, "Idleness," he said, "is only a coarse name for my infinite capacity for living in the present."
You tell 'em, Cyril.
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Last Updated: 5/19/02
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