Vacation is in the Eye of the Beholder

The other night while discussing vacation plans with my mom, I had a revelation about my childhood. We were discussing my grandiose plans of my husband and I going on a big vacation, full of plane flights, hotel stays, and restaurant reservations. My husband and I are fairly adventurous and like to make our vacations “worth it”. This is what vacations are all about, right?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve strived to enjoy the types of vacations I always envied my peers taking. Growing up, my friends tended to go on glamorous family vacations – skiing at Mammoth Mountain, CA, summer trips to Hawaii, weeklong adventures to Walt Disney World. As a contrast, my family vacations consisted of either trips to see my grandparents or camping. Thrilling, right? Imagine me the first day back from summer break crammed at the lunch table as friends excitedly share tales of their summer adventures.

“Jen, what did you do?”

“We went camping. Again.”

Camping never seemed like a vacation. We generally set up camp in the same places. We always went with the same people. We spent our days caked in dirt, smelling of campfire. From my teenage perspective, there was nothing glamorous, posh, or exciting about going camping. Again.

We went on a number of camping trips as a family, either during the summer, for Thanksgiving, or New Years. One trip in particular stands out to me. When I was about 12 or 13, we headed up north to White Horse Lake, Arizona, something I remember well because I kept track of our journey on a map. Yes, a real map – that big, red, DeLorme map. My parents had planned a week and half long trip, starting off with just our family and having three other families join us later in the week.

The trip was packed with your typical camping activities. We went fishing for crawdads at White Horse Lake. We took numerous long quad rides to explore the forest and a beautiful canyon. Mom and Dad taught us how to cook at high altitudes. We took our dog on walks through the woods and I think between my mom and me we read five books that week.

There were also the unplanned adventures of that trip. We were overtaken by 2,000 sheep grazing fields nearby. A hail storm blew through our campsite and was so loud that while taking shelter inside our motorhome watching a movie, we couldn’t hear the tv at top volume over the pounding on the roof. And more than one vehicle got stuck in mud.

This was the trip that came to mind while reminiscing with my mom. We were discussing all the work that was put into planning vacations. In between talking about packing up the motorhome and driving out to the desert or the forests of Arizona and my plans to take the most cost-effective flights to reach our exotic destination, it struck me that for my parents camping was their ideal vacation. Rather than packing up the family to take flights and go stay in swanky hotels, my parents preferred time out in nature, riding quads, and sharing stories around the campfire. Just because our vacation didn’t share the same vision as my friends’ vacation didn’t make it any less of a vacation. For teenage me, these were just camping trips. For my parents, this was paradise.

Throughout my adult life, between trips to Hawaii, backpacking through Europe, or big urban adventures (I went on a campaign through some of America’s biggest cities for a while there), I find myself craving the outdoors. I find myself missing the smell of campfire and the simple joy of being outside with little to no agenda. Every few months I say to my husband, “We should plan a camping trip.”

I guess the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. I hope my future children will appreciate the effort we put into whatever vacations we choose to take them on and the exposure it gives them. If we take them on camping trips, I want them to appreciate the connection to nature and value that they can impress their friends in college with their ease of starting a fire or setting up a tent. If we take them on urban adventures, I hope they appreciate connecting with different people and cities around the US and world. We all want the vacations we build up in our mind that they should be, but we should appreciate the vacations we aren’t dealt. I wish I could back to teenage me and deliver that message. Appreciate the vacations you have. Even if it’s just another camping trip.


This bike was my best friend as a kid.


Leave a Reply