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May 31, 2015

The first week of June marks the beginning of summer vacation for many families.

Unfortunately, most of us do not know how to take a vacation. The song “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” describes vacation American style. “Pack up all your cares and woe, here we go.” We rush lemming-like to ocean or mountain resorts where cruising a four-lane highway lined with exciting entertainment and shopping opportunities becomes our preoccupation. High-rise buildings block sunrise and sunset. Neon glare overpowers twilight and starlight. Amplified cacophony mutes the songs of birds and the sound of the wind. This is not a vacation. Instead of getting away from it all, we have taken it all with us. No wonder a vacation becomes an additional cause of stress instead of a time for rest. As one of my teaching colleagues said following spring break, “I thought I was taking a vacation, but the vacation took me. Now I really need a vacation.”

Vacation varieties are almost limitless. For some people, a vacation can literally be a month of Sundays, several weeks of travel and relaxation. Even that amount of time can become a rather harrowing experience. Around the world in eighty days is not necessarily a vacation.

An at-home vacation where everyone shares the responsibilities for housekeeping, cooking, and laundry can be a good family experience. Drives in the country, fishing in a farm pond, reading a book just for fun, playing a family softball game, grilling supper outdoors, and catching fireflies in the back yard are all pleasant, at-home vacation ideas. Side trips to a museum or the zoo, learning a new hobby or craft, or hiking at a nearby state park can all be a part of an at-home vacation.

Most families think of a vacation as a one- or two-week time away from home. These trips usually begin when work is over on Friday. Saturday is a day of driving; Sunday is a day of settling in. By Thursday, the family starts thinking of packing. There is yet another day of driving on Saturday or Sunday and a return to work on Monday morning. This type of vacation wears us out.

You can tell whether you have had a good vacation. Ask yourself questions. Have I spent too much money? Am I so exhausted that I have no energy left? Has this vacation replenished me or depleted me? Do I feel refreshed, or do I feel drained?

The following seven principles will help us have a good vacation.

  1. A good vacation begins with planning. Fitting a vacation into the calendar is at least as difficult as fitting luggage into the car. A checklist of items to take and a list of things not to take based on previous vacation experiences would be helpful. Remember that the vacation is to be for the entire family. To shift housekeeping from one location to another is not much of a vacation for the person keeping house. I actually learned to cook at the beach in order to give Clare a break. Now it has become a part of our routine. Include in your plans some times when people in the family can be alone. Being together is wonderful, but so is being alone. Keep in mind that the goal is not to cram in as much activity as we can. The goal is, instead, to rest, to enhance relationships, and to enrich life experiences.
  2. Live on a budget. For most of us living on a budget while we vacation requires a level of simplicity that is rarely depicted in travel brochures. Living simply while on vacation can be part of the fun. Cooking hotdogs outside over glowing embers is a far more relaxing experience than standing in long lines waiting to be seated at a table in an extravagant restaurant. Boiling your own shrimp at the beach or making a pot of stew in a Dutch oven in the mountains usually leaves everybody well fed and the budget intact. Living on a budget is not the same as being a tightwad. Plans need to include some special purchases. Buying ice cream after supper or a book of local stories makes a vacation memorable.
  3. Vacation timing is not just a matter of deciding when we will go on vacation or how long we will be gone, but it is also a matter of pacing. Give yourself one full day before you leave on vacation to take care of small details. Have your car or van serviced. Arrange for the pick-up of your mail and your newspapers. Provide for pet care. Clean out the refrigerator. Unplug the iron. Leave your phone number or mailing address with people who may need to contact you. Take time to pack carefully. Get a good night’s sleep. Starting a vacation exhausted is no way to begin. Leave yourself one full day at the end of your vacation to be at home and take care of similar tasks before returning to work. These days of transition will help make your vacation less stressful.
  4. Choose an interesting route. A part of planning is mapping the trip. Consider driving to your vacation destination on back roads. As convenient as interstate highways are in moving thousands of people from one place to another quickly, this kind of travel is neither interesting nor relaxing. Historic homes and churches, small communities with quaint names and interesting folklore, working farming equipment and livestock, people and wildlife are rarely seen along the interstate highway. An automobile can become a torture chamber for a family locked in the monotony of interstate travel. Driving the highways indicated by blue lines on the road map tends to bring out stories and songs, humor and discussion that make getting to the destination half the fun. Whatever your route, be sure to take a break about every two hours.
  5. A good vacation requires some down time. When you arrive at your vacation spot and are settled in, try taking off your watch. Let the sun keep time for you. If you are vacationing at the ocean, let the tides set your pace. One key to a good vacation is learning that we are not in control. Life is not really ordered by the timepiece on our wrist. The sun and the moon and the stars help us marvel at our place in the universe. Many vacations include one or more rainy days. These, too, remind us that we are not in control. Early morning walks and afternoon naps can be a part of the slowed pace of a vacation.
  6. A good vacation is an educational experience, an opportunity to learn new things. Learn about the places you visit and about the people who pioneered this area. Learn about the local folks, about their customs and their crafts, their music and their stories. Learn from the environment. Identify plants, flowers, birds, and insects. Enjoy a museum, a library, or an art gallery. You may even want to keep a journal of the new things you have learned on your vacation.
  7. A good vacation includes times of worship. Your family may want to visit a church or other place of worship that is entirely different from your congregation back home. Or you may want to have a moment of meditation together or alone. One of the most memorable Easter sunrise services I have ever attended was with just Clare and our children on the dunes of Cape Cod. Here in the Upstate an open-air chapel called Pretty Place at Camp Greenville overlooks the Blue Ridge escarpment. In the Lowcountry a chapel at Pawleys Island is built on stilts out into the marsh.

I offer these tips to help all of us learn a better way to enjoy our time off. Clare will tell you that I need these suggestions as much as anyone.

Enjoy your vacation!

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