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Sunday, October 4, 2015

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The family vacation

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As the prospect of winter break appears ever so dimly on the distant horizon, my husband and I begin an all-too-familiar conversation about the family vacation. We both relish the idea of a getaway, particularly during the winter school holidays, when life in suburbia becomes ever so quiet and the ubiquitous, mind-numbing Christmas songs reach their shrill zenith.

The tropics beckon with sunshine, golden beaches and a reprieve from everything that makes our life at home chaotically busy. Trouble is, that’s where the similarities between our ideas of vacation end abruptly.

After 16 years of marriage, I can read his mind – but I don’t have to. As soon as we agree that a vacation might be nice, hubby’s thoughts meander to cruise lines and all-inclusive resorts. He pictures long hours on a comfy deck chair by the swimming pool, where his iPad will deliver episode after episode of his favourite miniseries, interrupted only by meals and a dip in the pool.

The kids will spend the day at a kids’ club, where we won’t have to arbitrate fights or deal with any whining until the evening, at which point they’ll hopefully be too exhausted to put up much resistance. And once they’re in bed, an on-board casino or resort show will provide some entertainment before we retire – only to repeat the same schedule the next day.

My stomach turns at the prospect of this kind of vacation. “What will my children learn from it?” I wonder, knowing full well the answer is nothing.

For me this is boredom personified, a cookie-cutter holiday designed for the masses. What’s more, it defeats the whole purpose of travel, which – to my mind - should be about exploring a destination and its culture, meeting and learning from locals who have different traditions, recipes, customs and lives than we do, and returning home enriched by these experiences.

I head to the library and check out a book on Cambodia, picturing the family exploring Angkor Wat at sunrise, watching pileated gibbons and Asian black bears in Bokor National Park and tasting fish steamed in banana leaf cups at the Old Market in Siem Reap. These would be unforgettable experiences that would teach the whole family about life elsewhere, and in particular, leave my impressionable children with a perspective on how privileged their lives are in Canada.

“It sounds totally impractical and a lot of work,” says hubby when I broach the idea. “Why can’t we just relax when we go on holiday? Why do we always have to explore?”

We go back and forth for a while. I try to explain that sticking the kids in a kids’ club, also known as vacation daycare, is not truly a family holiday. “I can’t sit by the swimming pool for more than an hour,” I complain. “I need to explore and get beyond the resort – and I want to do it with my family!”

Eventually we reach an impasse and the idea is shelved until December, at which point it’s too late to arrange anything. As the Christmas season descends blandly around us, we vow that next year, somehow, we’ll find a compromise and take a vacation. But so far, it’s eluded us completely, so we simply stay home.

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