My husband redefined the word “vacation” for me. In the early years of our marriage his new vision for a vacation was an unexpected gift, but how he redefined that word again for the two of us a decade later has been priceless.
Bryan’s contribution to my stagnant vacation philosophy makes no sense without the context of my parents’ favorite trips. The rooms of my childhood home are filled with souvenirs of my parents’ travels around the world. Masks, plates, sculptures, and paintings from exotic locales hang on the walls and sit on every available surface. In one of the bathrooms my parents featured photographs of the polar bear migration they went all the way to Churchill, Manitoba to observe. And next to the front door sits a six-foot tall wooden giraffe that arrived months after their first trip to Africa. My parents’ house was a colorful place to live.
Most of the trips my parents took on their own as well as our family vacations meant getting up early and exploring the slice of Earth where they’d landed. I didn’t mind missing some of the harder-to-reach locations like their dolphin-watching trip near the Bermuda Triangle, because I always imagined that I’d go on those types of adventures with my husband one day. I assumed that I’d fill my own home with the colorful and the exotic, that my inevitable wanderlust would take the two of us and our children (when feasible) around the globe.
When Bryan and I got married, we had neither the money nor the time to travel before our wedding. We’d only dated for a year before we got engaged and were married less than a year later when I was 23. Cancun was our first destination simply because we wanted to go somewhere warm that wasn’t too far away.
We had not even started unpacking when I found the hotel’s concierge and signed us up for a day trip to Chichen Itza, a site I’d already toured with my parents. As we ate dinner, I felt anxious knowing that we’d have to leave the resort’s grounds by six o’clock the next morning, but vacations meant doing and seeing. I didn’t possess an overwhelming sense of adventure, but I didn’t know another way.
“What will we do for breakfast?” Bryan asked before we went to bed. I described, without enthusiasm, the breakfast boxes that my sisters and I had eaten half-asleep as we waited in the darkness for vans headed to Masada, Stonehenge, and elsewhere. I then sighed audibly as I called the front desk to arrange the 5:30 a.m. wake-up call.
“Do you not want to go?” Bryan asked.
I shrugged. “I’ve been there. But you should see it.”
He stared at me. “I was going for you. I don’t care if we stay at the hotel the whole time.”
I considered the possibility of a vacation with no early rising, no falling asleep on buses, no tours, no museums, no animal sanctuaries, and no ruins. “But what would we do?” I asked.
“Sit by the pool. Read. Drink piña coladas.”
“That’s it? Every day?” My hopeful smile mirrored Bryan’s. I’d found my pool-sitting, book-reading, piña colada-drinking, non-museum-visiting, non-obscure-gallery-searching soulmate. It was a defining moment in our young marriage as we stumbled on a brand of vacation compatibility so different from the one I’d imagined. Yes, we had come all that way to do absolutely nothing, and it sounded perfect.
During those early years, we found other vacation activities we liked. We planned the occasional fall weekend away to look at the changing leaves, or to see friends in cities where we could also catch a show, shop, and eat well. I will always appreciate what my parents taught me about art and culture, but I’ve walked through enough museums with them to last me the rest of my life. That Bryan is content spending part of the day in a new city finding the perfect donut makes him the travel companion of my dreams.
Discovering the “Day-cation”
Fourteen years and four kids later, Bryan and I are even less motivated to plan adventurous trips. We find that leaving our kids for longer than a few days is logistically and financially prohibitive. And taking them with us anywhere other than Chicago to see my parents or the occasional family trip with his parents and siblings is not in our skill set.
It was out of desperation to recapture our early do-nothing getaways that Bryan and I discovered the power of the day-cation. Once we realized we could get a dose of relaxing time right here in Minnesota, we made some easy-to-execute plans. We have spent the day in the charming town of Stillwater along the St. Croix river, a mere forty-five minutes from our house. Another time we “traveled” to the cute main street in Excelsior along Lake Minnetonka—only fifteen minutes away, but a destination we rarely make time to visit. We’ve also taken day trips simply to look at the leaves along the way. One time we spent the day at a spa ten minutes from home.
We’ve distilled a vacation down to its essential parts: time to relax, reconnect, and take a break from our everyday routines. The “where” has become inconsequential.
Another benefit of lowering our vacation standards to the day-cation is that when we actually do have the chance to leave for a few nights, we feel like we’ve entered another universe. A few days in New York City may not be two weeks in Tanzania, but at this point in my life, it feels like a fascinating, luxurious jaunt. As long as Bryan is with me, any vacation is a good one, no matter how short the duration and how close to home.
A version of this essay first appeared on Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers
Photo: Flickr/Ken Teegardin