What counts as vacation, anyway?

We're not going on vacation this summer, no working vacations or staycations, and not the classic vacation where you "stop work, go somewhere interesting, and do fun stuff".

I should qualify. We're not taking vacation during July and August. And we're not going with the kids. Our vacation is in September and by "our" I mean just Damien and I.

We've taken very few "classic" vacations (stop work, go somewhere interesting, and do fun stuff) in our married life. We've taken many trips but often they were working vacations/roadtrips or travel to visit family. And those family visits, sleeping in the spare room, navigating family relations, caring for the children and cooking meals the same way I did at home, never counted to me as vacation.

(As the children have grown and required less physical energy, my opinion on vacationing during a family visit has been changing, especially in the Nova Scotia context of visiting my parents. Even though I'm working during our visits, the pace is different and the natural environment is deeply restorative. Plus Nova Scotia is a vacation "place" with a lot of cool stuff. Trips to Nova Scotia have become a type of vacation for me.)


with my mom on her recent visit to Montreal

We've done many, many weekend or extended weekend excursions with our tents but somehow those never counted in my mind as true vacation. And not because I don't like tenting. I love tenting. I just think my childhood set the standard, as it has for many things, for what defined true vacation - a weeklong campground cabin rental on a lake in British Columbia every summer.

It's taken me many years of adult life to feel comfortable with my own family's version of family vacation, which has been an evolving hybrid of traveling to visit family, camping and backpacking, and working roadtrips.


one of my Dad's preferred vacation modes - on a motorcycle

My children have traveled and adventured way more than I did as a child. I didn't experience cross continent roadtrips, tenting, or hostels. We were more bed & breakfast and antique store travelers.

Perhaps my kids will carry similar associations into their own adulthood about vacations. It's not a vacation unless you hike mountains and sleep in a tent!

We've covered a lot of ground over the years - on foot, by car, and very occasionally by plane (when the kids were really little); we've had unique experiences throughout North America, but we've never established a summer vacation tradition. Except for perhaps the tenting and hiking elements.

It's only taken me about fifteen years to be a peace with that. To not constantly compare what I had as a I child with what I've built for my children; to fully appreciate the amazing experience and opportunities uniquely available to me and my family. And to come to terms with the fact that a great vacation can involve a lot of sweating and exercise, though I never have learned to embrace hiking in the rain.

Do we all have to recalibrate after our childhoods? Even the good ones? How will my kids need to adjust their expectations in adulthood?

For many years I longed for a vacation where I could lay on the beach, as I did in my childhood. It probably wasn't the beach I wanted so much, as the care-free feeling of my youth; especially in those intense years of parenting young children.

I never got it. A care-free vacation.

Except the summer Damien and I flew west without the kids which happened to coincide with our 15th wedding anniversary.

And that's probably the truth of the matter right there. Vacationing with young kids, on a budget, is never care-free. At least not for my personality type.

I don't want the beach anymore, though I do love a feeling of being care-free. Which I realize is more a state of mind than circumstance. But having said that, care-free is easier for me attain when there's a bit more cash to spend and less whining from the back seat, if you know what I mean.

As I experienced in my own childhood, I want mountains, bookstores, coffee shops, good restaurants, and quirky hippie culture. (Nelson BC was the exact location where my vacation memories were solidified.)

But now, I also need to climb those mountains. For accommodations, I'll take my tent, preferably pitched for free (aka: primitive camping) in a national or state forest. An occasional dip in a lake to get clean, or better yet, a flowing river is ideal; but to lay on a beach, no thank you.

I am grateful for the many beaches I've visited with the kids over the years, lakes in Maine, the north Atlantic coasts of New England and Nova Scotia and that one summer in California (oh Marin county, how I love thee), but we never did rent a cabin on a lake.

I've never had a family vacation like those of my childhood.

I'm coming to realize that's not just because we've never rented a cabin at the beach and returned to the same place year after year, but because I'm the adult now - feeding, funding, and finagling the troops. And I don't think anything is entirely care-free again after growing out of a secure and happy childhood. Maybe that's what I've been looking for all these years in the perfect vacation - to be a child again.

To be continued...

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  • Cathy

    Cathy on July 19, 2019, 1 p.m.

    As with so many of your posts, you put my feelings into words so well! I grew up with a dad who loved to travel and we went all over the continental US and some in Canada, both by car and by train trips. Then, from ages 10-17, we moved frequently for my dad's job as well. By the time I got married, I was burnt out on travel for the most part And we had several kids and were also generally on a tight budget. It's taken several years and discovering a love of backpacking to find my own groove and realize I'm not a lay-on-the-beach person, either (though I think I might like to for a few hours, for one day, lol). This discovery has also come with the realization that MY ideal vacations are not the same as my spouse's, which is a whole 'nother thing to work through. But for now, this week, actually, he's visiting family several states away and attending a family reunion, while I'm headed backpacking with a friend. We both will recharge in our own ways (he's very much an extrovert), so I guess that's okay.

    P.S. Admiring your mom's amazing arm and shoulder muscles!

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    • Renee

      Renee on July 23, 2019, 1:54 p.m.

      oh yes, discovering that my ideal vacation is not my husband's ideal vacation. That was hard at first for me, on many levels because I wanted us to share that in common but also because I molded myself into something that fit his ideal.

      So that wasn't sustainable long-term for marriage or vacationing but a funny thing happened in that my desires ended up changing. I think we still have different "ideals" but our vacation reality is matching up more and more as we age together.

      However, we also have discovered that we can do things separately. My parents are a great example of this also. Very happily married and committed to each other for 46 years this summer but also recognize they have different needs and interests and so they do stuff apart from each other, in addition to their together times.

      But it's harder when you have little kids/raising kids and have less funds because the resources (time and money) are limited and so you have to compromise. Those compromise spots have sometimes been difficult in my own marriage but we still made great memories. And now we're seeing a bit of light at the end of the limited resources tunnel, as our kids grow up and we're excited about the possibilities - for individual and together getaways.

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  • Susan

    Susan on July 19, 2019, 2 p.m.

    For me, a vacation has to involve water. Pool, ocean, lake, river, water park - any of those will do. I like to swim, boat, snorkle, float on a tube, canoe, jet ski, white water raft, etc. , and I am positive that my kids will associate vacations with those things. We do the theme parks, museums too, but those trips exhaust me while floating on the water is very restorative for me. It has been a priority for me as a parent that my children be very strong swimmers, and I think that investment has been money well spent. I hope we retire to a lake house where my kids will love to come and bring their kids.

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    • Renee

      Renee on July 23, 2019, 1:56 p.m.

      Susan, me too actually. I hadn't really noticed it, but water is important to me in any vacation or destination.

      I love your dream of retiring on a lake house. Mine is a mountain cottage but on a lake or river would be ideal :)

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  • Laura

    Laura on July 24, 2019, 2:33 a.m.

    I too don't feel like it's much of a vacation without water! After I moved to the East Coast (after growing up in Alaska and spending childhood vacations on the Oregon coast with my grandmother), I was pretty disappointed by my first trip to the beach on the Atlantic. It was Assateague Island (of the book Misty of Chincoteague) and so the wild ponies were cool but the beach itself was so boring - only sand, no tide pools! No rocks! No cliffs! What were you supposed to do? Just sit around in the sun? Well, as it turns out, yes, bring fluffy magazines and eat good food while sitting under an umbrella is how I learned to experience Atlantic beaches with my friends. But I can only take that for a day at a time. I need mountains and natural grandeur in my vacation for sure.

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