Making My Peace … with the end of summer vacation
It is September as I write: the long, summer August vacation in France is over. For me, I did not take a month-long vacation as the French do; instead, I took two, short, 4-day trips – remaining in France, no more than two hours by train from Paris, where I live and work: one trip to the east of France, and one trip to the west of France.
On my return, I chatted to a French waiter about our vacations. He had taken a month-long cruise with his family. He scoffed at mine. “That’s not a vacation. That’s a weekend away,” he said. For him, for the French, anything shorter than a month is not a vacation.
What is a vacation? Is it defined by its duration? People vacate their home. They go somewhere else. They decide, or someone else does for them, when and where and how, and with whom, and for how long and why. For me, the duration is not the defining factor. What I know is that a vacation is temporary, transient, a bubble, a period in time. It will end.
Why do people go on vacation? Are they going away from something or someone, or are they going towards something or someone? Family, friends, alone, dalliance, group tour, nature, adventure, relaxation, conference, festival, sports, cultural, learning: people have a multitude of reasons or no reason to go on vacation. Going on vacation is reason in and of itself.
Are people leaving a routine or going to another routine, ditching the routines of home or anxious about being away from the routines of home? Habits of home. Habits away from home. Do people take home routines with them on vacation – like doing yoga every morning – or do people bring the routines of holiday back into their home life – like reading the news in the morning? How replicable is a vacation routine once people are back home? It’s not replicable in total. In part, yes: I’m eating confiture – jam – with my morning toast now.
How much control do people have when on vacation? Total control to dictate their own routine, or a group tour routine set in stone, or a family routine on an annual basis? How much rigour does a vacation have – all, none, some, order and orderly, or go with the flow? Spontaneous, opportunistic? Routines are important, and how we cope with them or without them is often a factor in choosing a vacation and in enjoying a vacation.
People like the familiar; familiar vacation to the same place each year. They may be in the company of family and friends or colleagues. They are known to people. The comfort of being back with family and friends – those that know you well.
Others like being a stranger in a different or foreign location. Anonymity. Blending in or standing out. Being someone different from the home or work persona. Does that equate to freedom? Freedom to be who you want to be? Seeing a landscape for the first time – a place that no one wanted to see, except you – it was your dream location. Who cares who knows you, who cares what you wear?
A vacation may bring emotional comfort and ease or emotional intensity, or even emotional anxiety. Does it evoke aloneness even if you are in a crowd? Does familiarity bring fear, or does being a stranger bring fear? Out of time, out of place – for good, for bad, for interesting, for necessity?
Hurrah, the vacation has ended, I can go home now – or – I don’t want the vacation to end. The vacation must end. The drug has worn off and it’s time to return ‘to normal’ – usual routine, usual people and places, usual situations. What brings more tension and anxiety – having to visit a sick person, an elderly relative, take children to your ex, take a tour because you agreed to accompany a friend – or having to return? Coming or going? Not all vacations bring peace and tranquillity. Or a vacation brings so much peace and tranquillity, fun and adventure, or social networking, that you are already planning your next vacation.
For me, my August vacation was one 4-day holiday in a new city, one I’d never visited before – vibrant, interesting, and beautiful. I was going to the unfamiliar to take a break from work pressure. Alone. Unaccompanied. Being a stranger in a strange place. It had its benefits – going with the flow, doing what I wanted, being who I wanted to be. It had its disadvantages – not being able to share excitements and disappointments: meals, shopping, walking, attractions, and so on.
The second short vacation was to the familiar, to a friend’s elderly 89-year-old relative whom I had visited twice before. Rural, remote French living. Submersion language experience. The two of us and her two cats in her large country home. It was fun – cooking, cleaning, going to the local market, gardening, relaxing, and looking through her photograph albums together. Her being proud of how far she had come in life, literally – geographically, professionally, socially, financially. We laughed and laughed and laughed. It was healing. It was heaven. I never wanted to leave.
Making my peace with the end of summer vacation, I learned the following:
- To go with the flow of transience
- To learn and grow from every experience, positive and negative
- To laugh … and laugh
- To take vacation memories back home
- To replicate vacation pleasures, no matter how small
- To journal vacation preferences, experiences, feelings, and learnings
- To reflect on what it is about a vacation that makes me happy, relaxed, and peaceful, no matter how long or how short the duration.