Growing up, my family went on 1 vacation a year. Typically, we would go on a 10 to 16 day road trip during the summer to see some major American city. Despite having lived in Canada for half of my childhood, Canada apparently wasn’t worth seeing to my parents, who had already seen it and actually determined vacation itineraries.
So, we would pick a Boston or a Atlanta and drive, seeing national parks, museums, and Fairfield Inns along the way. We weren’t too much into trying local cuisines. The trunk was usually loaded with 2 crates and a cooler of crackers and cereal. My fondest memories of meals were continental breakfasts in hotels and the amazing hotel room-prepared combination of ramen, salad, and chocolate milk (we did this more than once). And so while the parts I most enjoyed of vacation were swimming in the hotel pool and watching SportsCenter, I’m thinking that we mostly spent vacations either in the car or at a museum or park.
Nowadays, my mom mostly vacations on cruises, but I did have the pleasure of going to Paris for a week on vacation with my mom, sister, aunt, and 2 (female) cousins. Americans have all sorts of silly notions about Paris: it’s a romantic city, and it’s the source of inspiration for artists, and it’s a life of pleasure. Well, despite having spent the trip with only female company, I can guarantee there was nothing romantic about it. For the artistic part, I only got my idea for my novel next month after leaving Paris and reverting to my old ways. And according to my sister’s pedometer, we averaged roughly 30,000 steps a day, which might be something like 15 miles a day. In case it wasn’t clear, I don’t consider walking more than a half marathon “pleasure” per se.
Of course, I exaggerate the difficulties: I really did enjoy the trip. I ate a lot of pastries, bread, and cheese, and I tried both a croque madame and steak tartare. The sights were quite impressive and generally larger than I though. The Bayeux Tapestry was very long, the Arc de Triomphe is actually quite big, the gardens of Versailles do stretch out seemingly forever, and the churches are very lofty. We also visited probably half a dozen museums in addition to all of the historical sites. To get all of this in, we woke up early on many jet lagged mornings and made those 30,000 steps count. When my mom vacations, it really is all about the transportation, whether walking or driving, and sights, whether museums or national parks.
I guess the biggest catch of this is that we were maybe a week or two into a busy time at work when I left for Paris (which had been planned for months), so compound the pressure to be working into the trip, and the pace and planning of the trip felt somewhat misplaced. Coming back, I was probably more tired than I had left, but mentally, I felt surprisingly good about the experience. When asked about the vacation, I talk a lot about the food and skim the sightseeing, since those experiences are really only meaningful firsthand. I add in the parts complaining about how strenuous the itinerary was, but I think I have come around on that.
I’m obviously ignoring the middle ground, but the other type of vacation is the “lying on the beach” type spent sleeping in and trying not to be active. When I envision that vacation combined with my circumstance, I think I probably would have squandered it with worry. I would sleep in, then spend my idle time worrying about work, feeling powerless to do anything while on vacation, then become annoyed at my own ability to appreciate my vacation. That sounds like a disaster.
This vacation spent planning trips to cram into all waking hours probably gave me something different. I couldn’t afford to worry about work because I was focused on where we were going next, what we were currently doing, or why I was so jet lagged and didn’t get sleep the night before. Paris ended up being a great getaway for me, both physically and mentally. 2 weeks would probably have been too long, but 1 week was just hectic enough to make it work for me.