11.01.2012 - 12.03.2012
Traveling and being on vacation are two very different but confusingly similar things. Both are characterized by physical displacement from home and consistent use of varied forms of public transportation, usually across long distances. Both traveler and vacationer might eat new foods, take hundreds of pictures, spend money in ways she normally would not and stay in a hostel, hotel, tent or boat although she pays a mortgage or rent already somewhere else.
Aside from these very important similarities, however, traveling and vacationing have always seemed to me worlds apart. While I’ve spent a great deal of my life traveling, I’ve never made it to sipping cocktails on a cruise boat, or to any of the definition “getaways” one might take.
My family’s first travels were to national war memorials, forts, battlefields and burial grounds. After we’d exhausted all of these sights on the east coast, we moved onto the natural world, and firmly shook hands with our first park ranger, on what was to be a long journey through the U.S. national park service. None of these trips, sorry mom and dad, ever felt like vacation. While they were supremely educational, chock full o’ adventure and, at times, treacherously long, the pb&j-for-lunch, hotdog-for dinner grind, just never matched what I imagined a vacation to be.
Vacations were what other kids’ families took. They returned with purchased, paper-framed photos of their families in bright printed clothing and sunglasses, all thumbs-up on the beach. They made their marks in the hallway with peeling skin and braided hair. Meanwhile, I returned from family trips with scrapes and bug-bites, junior park ranger badges and photos of me in a tent somewhere with a scowl on my face.
So while I grieved to my parents for years that we should go on a “real” vacation someday, I pressed on to my own travels, applying for a passport my senior year of high school, and promising myself I would travel somewhere different when I turned 18. So I applied to service trips, and began a long cycle of volunteer, study, work, conference and seminar traveling, apparently in order to avoid ever having to go on vacation. Suffice it to say, I never got the itch to do a “real” spring break in college: all the other stuff was just, well, more interesting, than vacation.
So now we’re here, in our extended travel, which some people might call a vacation. But at the end of these days, we’ve never really had a chance to relax, because there’s not enough time in the day, and we never really get to indulge in cocktails or fancy dinners, because there’s not really room in the budget. Rather than spending our time at these activities, we walk miles, we pull weeds, we plant, we sit atop our backpacks in backs of pickup trucks on switchbacks through the mountains, we sleep on living room floors and eat crackers and take cold showers, because, well, it’d be no fun if it was just a vacation.