Tomorrow at 6:00 p.m., my annual vacation will begin. We do not yet have any firm plans for it, a circumstance which is unusual for me — as you know, I am not the spontaneous type. I am more the extemporaneous type.
I believe in the contrast theory of vacationing: whatever your ordinary circumstances, you should go for the opposite during vacations. If you usually work alone, you should vacation with lots of people. If you work outdoors, you should vacation indoors. If your regular round is one of pampered leisure, overseeing numerous minions, then you should go build for Habitat for Humanity on your vacation.
I work indoors, with many people, taking care of things and people. So I figure my vacations would ideally be spent outdoors, in relative isolation, with few things to take care of. Naturally, camping is one of my most common vacation choices.
My husband, coming as he does from an undeveloped country, has always had trouble seeing the value of leaving your home full of all mod cons and going to stay in the woods with none of the usual comforts. However, he has always humored me with this, and he has all the skills a camper needs. Our children, having grown up on regular camping trips, also have those skills — packing the car or the cooler or the picnic hamper, putting up tents, starting fires — they can be counted upon.
In the past couple of years, we have done less family camping, since the kids are now more likely to have plans with their own friends. Sometimes we take their friends camping, of course, and sometimes they go camping with their friends’ families, but the days of family camping several times each year are gone.
The year before #2 daughter went away to college and #1 daughter got married, we had what was for us quite a luxurious vacation, and I remember thinking then that it might be our last whole-family vacation. It was. (At least so far — I know great-grandparents who go camping with their whole extended family, and hope to be one of those myself some day.)
Now, we also live in a rural area, and just in the nature of things, we see few new sights in our everyday lives. So I also like to go to some more urban place and do some sightseeing. Our vacations are, then, generally some combination of these two approaches.
We have twice camped in an actual metropolitan area. The first time, we stayed at what was billed as a lake, but we felt as though we were camping in a parking lot. The second time, we stayed at a KOA, and felt as though we were camping directly on the freeway. In both cases, the sightseeing was champion, though, so there are always plusses and minuses. We are toying with the idea of visiting the nearest big city for a day or two.
Since we live in a region that people flock to for the sake of the excellent camping, however, we often stay within a few counties of home, combining camping with day trips. In these cases, we have quite perfect camping, but the sightseeing is more along the lines of a bit of the Berlin Wall, Miss Laura’s Hello Bordello (the only tourist welcome center in the country which is housed in a historic brothel), or a nice guided cave. Don’t think I don’t enjoy these things — I do. We are also toying with the idea of visiting some of our favorites among these minor tourist attractions, or even seeking out some new ones.
The third option is the Vacation at Home. I would enjoy having some extended time to work on craft projects, entire days during which I have nothing particular to do and plenty of time in which to do it. But the Vacation at Home always sounds much better in the magazines than in real life, because in real life it so easily turns into a week of cooking and cleaning and driving kids places.
Looking through the family photo albums, I see that one of our favorite approaches has always been to go On the Bummel. That is, to set out with a rough idea of where you are going, and how long you have available, but otherwise just to do what you please. This has, in the past, taken us to many enjoyable places which we might otherwise not have found. An adventurous spirit and a few maps are all you need for this kind of vacation. And the camping gear in the trunk, of course.