On Vacation, Going Home


Our family went on vacation recently. It was nothing too fancy: a friend of the family owns a condo on the coast in which we have been staying, occasionally, for the last few years. It is entirely different from taking a trip to, say, Disneyland, or driving to the Grand Canyon. It is familiar. As many times as we have moved since our children were born, this place has been a constant. It is very much a kind of home.

I think that often family vacations can be as stressful, if not more so, than so-called “regular” life. The packing and preparation, the expectation for everyone to have a “good time,” can be more trouble than it is worth. I can understand the temptation for new and unique experiences; after all, as parents we want our children to keep these memories with them and to cherish them as bright spots in their lives. That’s why family trips come with the further expectation of a lot of photos. “See? This really happened. We did this once.”

Our trips to the coast are more like “staycations.” The kids know what is around them, and what there is to do, and we look forward to settling into them again. That view of the Bay bridge, the sight of the clammers wading around in low tide. The lights of the fishing boats; the seals popping up offshore. For me, this extends to the most banal features of our stay: the quirks of the condo’s oven, with its variations in temperature. The water pressure in the shower and the smell of the resident laundry soap. The soft creak of the stairs (we don’t have stairs at home).

The same applies to the more “vacationy” activities around us. We can’t always afford admission for six at the Oregon Coast Aquarium (in which case, as you may know, the nearby–and free–Hatfield Marine Science Center has its own charms). But as a large family, we have discovered that it’s easy to pay for an annual membership, as it’s not much more than a one-day pass. If we have a membership, we can treat the Aquarium as an extension of our home environment. We don’t need to feel that we are getting our money’s worth by seeing as much as we can, by gorging on everything that’s available. If we want to spend an hour in the theater, with its aquatic animal costumes, puzzles and books, we can do so without regret. If someone just needs a shark fix, we can head straight for the tunnel.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an adventurous person. If you or your children crave the thrill of new places and experiences, I salute you. Occasionally, this is what we want as well. But for the most part, what we are trying to do is go home.