Monday, October 4, 2010

The Ultimate Getaway

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My friend Brandy left with her husband this morning on her dream vacation: she flew to South Carolina to see George Strait in concert. Me? I wouldn't see George Strait if he was playing in my bathroom. But this concert has been her dream for more than 15 years, and this week she gets to live it, five rows from the stage.

The thing of it is, the destination was inconsequential to Brandy. George could have been playing in Tibet or five minutes from her house, and she would have had just as much fun. This got me to thinking - what's more important in a dream vacation, where you go or what you do while you're there?

We're in the beginning stages of looking into a trip to Disneyworld in Florida. It's something we've talked about for a few years and now that our kids are a bit older, we're considering taking them on a vacation they'll always remember. It's a big investment, and it requires a lot of preparation.

Planning this Disney adventure got me to thinking about past vacations and what made them fun. In 1999, Brandy and I travelled to Cuba together. At the time, people didn't fly down to the tropics willy-nilly like they do these days, so two twenty-somethings flying down South was kind of a big deal to us. We paid a little over $700 each, which included every single thing from beginning to end, and in this particular case also speaks to the quality of the amenities we had access to.

We stayed in a room with a door that didn't close properly, and which let in bugs that were so humongous it would give you nightmares. The food was made edible only thanks to the free liquor, and the nightly entertainment was a guy with a ghetto blaster in an open-air gazebo. But did we spend a week in misery? Not a chance. We had the time of our lives and would go again in a heartbeat.

Then I thought of all the trips I've taken to Toronto with various girlfriends over the years. We stayed in nice hotels and student boarding houses and with friends. We sat around apartments watching movies, we went to concerts, and we spent entire days at Canada's Wonderland. Really, we didn't do much of anything, and still we had a fantastic time.

Since having a family, I haven't been on many vacations (I suppose by most people's standards, we haven't been on any). We've over-nighted many times but never far enough from home that we couldn't drive. Not only is it extremely expensive to travel with children, it's also intensely complicated from a packing standpoint, and oftentimes it involves more stress than relaxation.

The one time we did go on vacation, we went all out. We took the kids to every venue available, ate out every meal, and spoiled them as much as we could. We spent thousands of dollars (literally) and had nothing to show for it Monday morning except a few pictures and some serious fatigue.

The most fun we've had as a family has been on day trips, most of them a short distance from home. We drive around, usually at the spur of the moment, and find adventures along the way. We've visited waterfalls and water parks, trails and arcades, beaches and go-cart tracks, and one place has been fun in different ways than the other, yet in equal measure.

So, taking all this into account, how do you plan the ultimate family vacation? Do you concentrate on the destination or on the itinerary?

If you ask me, the answer is neither. Regardless of where you go or what you have planned, the most important part of a great vacation is who you go with. Ice cream cones and cotton candy taste pretty much the same whether you buy them at Disneyworld or at a corner store in the country. Beach water is just as wet and sand is just as sandy in Ingonish as it is in Fort Lauderdale.

We get so caught up in what we think we should be doing and where our neighbors have gone and what our friends have pictures of, that we forget to do what we’ll actually enjoy and what truly makes us happy. What makes me happy is to see my kids having fun, and I can do that without spending thousands of dollars or travelling thousands of miles from home.

It doesn't matter if you go around the world or around the county; if you're with the right people, the smiles can be just as big and the memories will be just as fond.


Don't forget to enter the “Do What You Love” Sweepstakes, for a chance to win your own ultimate family vacation. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

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