I enjoy a vacation where I can dive into the utter meaning of the word, down to its root, “to vacate.” I strive to abandon my daily annoyances and embark on the temporary movie-of-my-life mode. I crave the beach; it is therapeutic and sacred. At the beach, my body is warm enough to be almost naked, one with the earth. Here I can collapse into the hot sand below me, yielding to my curves without judgement. Here is where I feel closest to the core of the universe. The pounding ocean, the sun shining a spotlight, forcing me on a stage to pronounce my gratitude for this majestic planet, for the miracle of life and breath.
My husband is a professional redhead and photographer which translates to beaches either burn him or bore him. The truth is, as much as the beach brings me as close to heaven as I can imagine, lounging on the beach always has a “time’s up.” My perpetual case of wanderlust combined with a hereditary shpilkes in my tuchas* reminds me there is always so much to see and so little time.
My husband has also been working on a massive project for the last 19 years, photographing one city from every U.S. state. We have ten states left! The last five years, we’ve enjoyed these photographic expeditions as a family of 4, starting with a two-week road trip through New Hampshire and Maine when our daughter was 8 weeks old and our son was 8 years old. In hindsight this was our easiest trip; she was easily satiated and slept 90% of the time.
The last road trip we took followed this circle: New Jersey – Cleveland, OH – Indianapolis, IN – Louisville, KY – Nashville, TN – Asheville, NC – Charlotte, NC – Richmond, VA – Baltimore, MD – home. 16 days in the car with a 4-year-old and a 12-year-old was not my favorite vacation. I wore many hats including photographer’s assistant, virtual scout locator, accommodation finder and my favorite, meal planner for 3 (healthy, organic) meals a day times 16 days. I felt an intense pressure to ensure my husband successfully captured his necessary images while simultaneously ensuring my kids remain happily engaged (or distracted) because happy kids, happy adults. After 2,500 miles and over 40 hours in the car, we lived through a live on-the-road slideshow of farms, bridges, state capitols, and countless gas stations. We took over 6,000 photos, including way too many of the four of us jumping in front historic landmarks because we’re THOSE PEOPLE. We made National Lampoon Vacation-worthy memories, but I was exhausted. Where was my vacation after my ‘vacation?’
Last year, after we finally decided to get married after 10 years of living together, we used our wedding gift money to go on a familymoon. We splurged on an all-inclusive luxury resort in Tulum, Mexico. I had never experienced an all-inclusive experience. NOW THIS is how you VACATE!
I didn’t have to think about what was for breakfast – or lunch – or dinner. If the kids wanted snacks, they had them. Smoothies? Sure! I didn’t have to create them or wash the blender afterwards. Frappuccinos in the afternoon, all included. Chips and guacamole by the pool. Ceviche at the poolside restaurant? This was life in a Traveler Magazine and we danced through the pages. This was vacation epitomized – and I realized this should come at the end of a road trip to create a perfect balance. But for now, we are still merely artists and not yet movie stars, celebrities, or even hedge fund managers.
The last road trip my husband and I went on without kids was this circle: Chicago – Madison, WI, Minneapolis, MN – Fargo, ND – Montana – Yellowstone – Jackson Hole, WY – Cody, WY – Sioux Falls, SD – Des Moines, IA – Nebraska – Chicago.
We drove through the Badlands at night with no music and there was a lightning storm. We would catch glimpses of the majestic trees by the flashes of lightning and gasp as we tried to stay focused in between the sheets of rain and grumbling of thunder. There were no headlights around us or lampposts to illuminate the path, but every time the electricity lit up the sky, we saw stretches of road in front of us which curved and went on for miles. It was cinematically stunning and those images are imprinted forever in our minds. Road trips are one memorable experience after another. Together, all of you, all the time, forced to see and learn and hear and feel in tandem and this dynamic creates challenging pressures and unique bonding opportunities.
When I think back to the familymoon, those blissful days at the beach all blend together of a pattern of late rising, lingering to expansive breakfast buffets, scoping out chairs by the pool and making decisions for where we’ll have lunch or dinner and will we do aqua aerobics in between? The Mexican staff ensured our cups were always full and provided delightful nightly entertainment. There was even a recreated Mexican village for us to stroll through so we can remember we’re actually in Mexico rather than in a theme park hotel vacation.
My familymoon memories are no more treasured than the road trip ones but I often wonder if avoiding road trips will remove an integral part of what makes our family unique. Road trips have provided us with the opportunity to discover large parts of the country together, explore a variety of human conditions, filing away cultural and family lessons along the way. The depth of impact these experiences leave on my life are substantial; yet somehow the opposite of vacationing.
*Yiddish for “nervous energy in my ass” (READ: I can’t sit still.)