Vacation Recipe

Thanks to the generosity of my parents, grandparents, and now in-laws, I’ve taken many — and all kinds of — vacations over the course of my life.  I grew up taking three primary forms of vacation: extended family gatherings (whether that be flying out to California to spend a week with my grandparents, a family reunion with my mom’s ten siblings and a whole slew of cousins, or spending a week with one of my aunts), site-seeing focused and educational road trips, and outdoor activities (camping/hiking/canoeing adventures).  My in-laws added variety to the mix with their traditional family vacations falling more in the categories of beach weeks and Disney trips. 

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A hiking trip this past summer with extended family

I will gladly take just about any free outing, and I’ve enjoyed each of these vacations in their own right.  But the thing is, these aren’t necessarily the kinds of vacations I would choose to go on if I were paying for them myself.   I say this not to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, but rather, to reflect on just what it is that I would delineate “the dream vacation.”  It’s worth considering, because as I get older, I’ll be planning and funding more and more of my own adventures. Why not know what will leave me feeling most satisfied?

Right before Thanksgiving, Caleb and I spent the better part of a week in San Antonio, Texas.  The American Academy of Religion (AAR)’s annual conference brought us there, and Caleb spent at least part of each day at AAR related activities, but I was free to spend my time however I liked.  San Antonio wasn’t my favorite city and I probably won’t go back there, but the vacation was ideal in than I spent my time more or less exactly as I would like to on a vacation.  Looking back on my week in San Antonio, and considering the other vacations I’ve taken over the course of my lifetime, I’ve concocted a recipe for the perfect vacation…or at least, my version of it!

Dream Vacation Recipe

The Basic Outline

25% Active experience of the vacation locale: Learning about the place or local culture via museums, tours, other cultural activities (even just going to Mass in the city’s Cathedral).  I feel as if I most experience a place when I learn about it. 

15% Passive experience of the place of vacation, whether that means taking a walk, eating local food, or people watching from a park bench. 

15% Personal time.  This is a four hour window to spend on my favorite activities, like reading and writing.  Unrelated to the particulars of a vacation location, these activities deserve dedicated vacation time because they are the things that I choose to do when time allows, but that I don’t necessarily get to spend significant amounts of time on in my everyday life.  If you aren’t going to spend vacation time — time meant to maximize pleasure — on favorite activities, when will you?

10% Social.  This is either time devoted to the people with whom I’m traveling — just sitting with them in the vacation house living room, or taking a walk together, or lingering over coffee — or time spent visiting local friends.  Obviously, socializing can also occur during the other portions of a vacation, but time dedicated particularly to nurturing relationships feels very important.

35% Rest.  That’s about’s 8.5 hours of non-planned and completely free time, most of which I imagine will be spent on night-time rest.  I don’t want to return from a vacation feeling utterly exhausted, so adequate sleep is a must.

^^ Active Experience of the Vacation Locale in San Antonio.  We toured the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.  I LOVE the National Park Service and so appreciate the amazing job they do in educating and delighting tourists with their educational programming and affordable (free!) presentation of historical sites and information.

Other necessary ingredients

Exercise.  I always feel best if part of each vacation day includes some sort of movement, like walking, hiking or cycling. 

Good food.  I’m a foodie and I love trying local restaurants and flavors, but I’m also happy to eat delicious home cooked meals, particularly when a vacation involves a rental house.  I’m not a snob here: when I say good food, I include hotel breakfasts and hot dog stands.  One of my favorite ways to eat on a vacation is  by having brunch or lunch out, and then a light dinner, or just snack or dessert in the evening.   

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The Riverwalk, a popular tourist activity in San Antonio. Meets several of my “criteria”: passive enjoyment of a place, exercise and social (walk and talk!)
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A fantastic Ansel Adams exhibition at the Briscoe Western Art Museum
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The San Fernando Cathedral, where Caleb and I went to a bilingual Sunday Mass, a spiritual and cultural experience!

When looking at my recipe, I realize that some vacations are simply not reconcilable with the proportions that I’ve prescribed.  For an example, hiking in the Sierras for a week will not include 4 hours spent daily on writing or cultural activities.  That’s okay.  I have full confidence in my ability to enjoy a vacation that doesn’t fit the recipe prescribed, and I have experience to confirm this (heck, some of my happiest memories are from outdoor adventure weeks, and I’m sure that I will continue to prioritize bi-annual hikes, as well as weeks spent in Disney World with my in-laws).  The point of analyzing my imaginary perfect vacation proportions isn’t to determine whether or not to partake in a vacation (relationships matter more to me than having my exact vacation preferences met), but have a sense of what most satisfies me for my own planning purposes, as well as to set reasonable expectations when entering non-chosen family vacations.

As always, self-knowledge is key and thoughtfulness when attending to life and its happenings is never wasted.

A Vial Full of Glitter

Every other summer my extended family goes on a backpacking trip, a trip that will encompass a whole gamut of emotions and experiences: awe at the majesty of the mountains, annoyance at the hiker who doesn’t carry his weight, sheer joy at being with those nearest and dearest to us, disgust from the smells of sweaty feet and unwashed clothes, peace born of unplugging from the world, frustration with the inevitable knee-back-hip-foot pain, giddiness from laughter at stories shared around the fire.  The ups and downs of the experience are as varied as the trails marked on our topographic maps. 

And yet, the memories of the experiences always glow for me.  The annoyance, disgust and frustration disappear along with the blisters, and I’m left with a solid case of rosy retrospection.  I find this to be true in most areas of my life.  Excepting one particular internship, my first fight with Caleb, the job search during my final spring term of divinity school, and a few other select periods, I look back on experiences both big and small with a sense of great content. 

Why is that?

I imagine it like this: our minds have a way of distilling an entire experience into a bite sized portion, and a single memory is like a little glass vial meant to hold the distilled experience.  The vial can only hold so much, and so our memory of an event depends on how we choose to fill the vial.  “Choose” may not even be the right word, because perhaps how we memory-keep is unconscious.  Through a mixture of biology and family and circumstance and personality, we’re each inclined to hold on to different aspects of an experience, so that two people may share a history, but have vastly different recollections of their shared past.  We each pick up different pieces to be preserved forever in the little vial devoted to a particular experience.glitter-vial

When surveying my storehouse of vials — rows and rows of tiny jars labeled “Christmas 2002,” “9th birthday,” “sophomore year,” “half-dome hike” — I can see that they are, with rare exception, full of glitter.  For better or for worse, I remember fondly, and so I enjoy wandering through the recesses of my mind, reflecting on the past and recalling previous moments. 

It’s helpful for me to consciously acknowledge that I have a tendency towards rosy retrospection, because it equips me to deal with the drudgery of the everyday.  Take this very moment as an example: I’m chilly, and somewhat dreading the presentation I have to give at work later, and I’m really missing my dear friend Angela.  But.  The Christmas tree glowing in the corner is magical, and the coffee I’m sipping is sublime.  The candle burning smells delicious, and I’m about to meet a friend for tea.  Hearing her life updates will be a delight, and simply being in her presence will sooth me.  The glowing, sipping, smelling and delighting are the glitter that will later fill my vial, and, these aspects of my life are glitter in the moment, too.  It’ harder to notice them when they are mixed in with the dust — the fear, grief, insecurity, frustration and boredom that are a part of any human life — but the sparkle is there.