Thursday, July 28, 2011

Vacation or Staycation?

Our next door neighbors Larry and Louise just returned from a family vacation in Lake Tahoe and then a week visiting with their dearest friends who now live in Utah. It seemed like an excellent idea at the time and, indeed, it was good for them to meet up with their Washington-based kids and grandkids at a lovely Lake Tahoe condo and to see their special friends at their beautiful lakeside home in Utah. Except -- they realized at some point early in the vacation -- maybe it would have been better to do all that wonderful visiting right here.

The weather at Lake Tahoe was cold and cloudy the whole week, much too brisk for swimming. The kids and grandkids were all sick ("There were wails of 'Grandma!!' followed by bouts of projectile vomiting," Louise recounted with a shudder. "Five times in one night! We were all exhausted.")  They clustered miserably in the condo watching videos for the rest what proved to be a rather long week.

By the time Larry and Louise started their second week of vacation at their friends' house, their little spaniel Abby's vacation dietary changes were catching up with her in the form of persistent diarrhea. "So, for three nights, we got up four and five times a night to rush Abby outside and then hose her down afterwards," Larry told us, sighing deeply. They finally headed home a day early.

Sitting in our living room this afternoon, recounting their adventures for Bob, Phyllis, Wally and me, Larry said "We had to come home to recuperate from this vacation."

"We've asked ourselves over and over the past two weeks," Louise added. "What were we thinking? Why did we go on this trip? From now on, people can just come see us!"

Phyllis and Wally nodded with particular sympathy. They recently returned from a trip to Europe. While their journey had none of the stomach-churning lowlights of Larry and Louise's travel adventure and was actually fun and enlightening, they recounted difficulty with the walking tours over the cobblestone streets they encountered in the river cruise of Germany. "I don't think we will be taking any more active excursions like that," Phyllis said. "At our age, it's getting hard to keep up."

Bob and I looked at each other. We're next on the vacation lineup with a trip to our beloved Maui this fall. It will be the first vacation we've taken since we retired.

All the years I worked, vacations were a beacon of light on the horizon, treasured time that was mine. I would start the count-down in months, then weeks, then days, eagerly anticipating leisure time in exotic places. And I heard about retired people taking vacations and also wondered what that would be like. Some were taking long deferred trips to see the world. Some were off on educational or charitable adventures. Some were re-connecting with far-flung kin. How different, I wondered, was a vacation from a daily lifestyle that seemed like a vacation? My question was reinforced by the fact that, for the last two summers of my working life, my vacation destination was right here at Sun City Anthem Merrill Ranch. I treasured each delicious day of swimming and working out and living, albeit temporarily, in such a friendly community.

Now that this community is our home, now that I'm retired from everything but writing and my husband retired from everything but his passions for music, learning and fitness, I know that retirement is not exactly like a vacation. Life happens. Bills need to be paid. Doctor, dental and vet appointments dot the calendar. Home and yard maintenance require certain chunks of time. It's not exactly a tough life, to be sure, but it isn't like swaying in a hammock on a tropical isle either.

And yet, there are times, as we tend to our neighbors' pets when they're off for a myriad of destinations, we notice that they're more eager to get home than we all used to be when we were working.

In so many ways, it makes sense: we've built our retirement nests with so much comfort and enjoyment at our fingertips: our hobbies, our beloved pets, our friends, the resort-style amenities right here. Why do we even think of leaving for a week or two or three?

Suddenly, the concept of staycations instead of vacations is beginning to make sense.

Staycations have become increasingly common in the wake of the Great Recession when, for many families, travel has become an unaffordable luxury. The Staycation or stay-at-home vacation lacks the stress of airline security, sardine style economy seating, or long, hot car trips. You can sleep in your own bed with your own pillows. You can continue to enjoy the company of your dog or cat. Your time, for a week or two, if you're still working, is your own.

Besides all that, how would the ideal Staycation work? How do you keep real life from intruding when you stay home to relax? Should mail be held? Should there be a blackout period of obligations and appointments, as if you were out of town? Would you prefer to eat more meals out? Would you enjoy indulging in some long-postponed local sightseeing?

A case can be made, certainly, for vacation travel. Visiting places you've dreamed of seeing can be fantastic.

My Aunt Molly spent the early years of her retirement on dream trips: a Mystery Writer's tour of Scotland Yard and historic crime scenes in London and, later on, a trip to Ireland where, with two friends, she drove all over, stayed in bed and breakfast establishments and surveyed the pub scene. She said that the trip helped her to understand her brother, my father, and his dark depressions, his charming, poetic highs and alarming binge drinking when she saw him duplicated in pubs all over Ireland. She greatly enjoyed travel adventures during her sixties, then settled into a pattern of staycations as arthritis limited her ability to travel.  She rejoiced in both.

Travel to see family or old friends or to go off on a charitable venture, like building homes for Habitat for Humanity can also be a joy.

But staying home and hosting family and friends, doing volunteer work and enjoying local sightseeing is gaining in appeal to friends and neighbors who have gone away, only to discover that their best moments have been right here.

"I can't tell you how much we missed warm weather and swimming!" Larry told us today.

"And reasonable people, neighbors we can be ourselves with and laugh with!" Louise added.

We haven't rushed to cancel our Maui reservations.  Exchanging the blast of desert winds for the gentle trade winds, the sound of distant monsoon thunder for the soothing sound of the surf, the joy of life right here for the joy of two weeks in a place with such happy memories still seems a fair tradeoff.  Even though we'll miss our comfortable home, our three wonderful cats, our terrific neighbors.  Even though we may begin to long for home before our trip to the tropics is over.

Oh, Auntie Em! There's no place like home!  These days, those words resonate more than ever.


  1. You are so right. When working, vacations were productions and a good time had better be had. After all, we worked all year for them. Fortunately, I never had any like your friends. Phew.
    Retired, I enjoy staycations with day or at most over night trips. Every state has locals that people in other states pay good money to visit. I still have several tourist destinations in Arkansas I want to visit.
    Of course if I had Maui on my list, that is too good to pass up.
    Arkansas Patti

  2. You are so right. Since I retired I've had several great trips and I'm looking forward to traveling to National Parks in our new RV, but I'm also very happy, relaxed and comfortable at home. Since leaving the stress of work behind, I don't need to get away from it all. When I travel now I try to go during the less crowded seasons and I go at my own group tours for me. The joy of retirement is being able to make a decision everyday about what I want to do.
    Jann aka #1Nana

  3. My husband would be in second heaven if I never again mentioned going on a vacation. He stresses over them. He moans and groans about the expense. He worries about leaving the house. He hates to fly. Then, when I get him somewhere, he totally gets into it and out "vacations" me.

  4. Sally, that's so funny! When we were working, my husband, too, would stress out over a vacation and, in fact, would be on edge the first day or two into it and then would get super mellow. Thanks for your comments, too, Patti and Jann! It's really nice to have all the options we have, isn't it?
    We were just visiting with some new neighbors two doors down who are quite a bit younger than we are and who are still working and they were so envious that we don't have to get up and go to work tomorrow! I never take the freedom for granted, ever!

  5. There's no place like home. Both of them! Traveling for us now is driving back and forth to both homes. We have the mountains. And we have the beach. Now, really, do you need anything else?

    Plus, I get to sleep in my very own beds!

    Yaaa hooo!