Tuesday, August 5, 2008

'Stay-cation' Not a Bad Idea for Tri-Cities Residents

From the June 12, 2008 Grand Haven Tribune

By the time you read this, I will be on vacation.

Why am I not more excited?

We’re going away for a long weekend of camping up north. Sounds nice, and yes, it will be fun. But in some ways I would just as soon stay home.

For one thing, there’s the gas price situation. It is hard to believe that 10 years ago when we moved into our current house a gallon of gas could be had for less than a dollar. At four bucks a gallon, even in our four-cylinder car with good mileage, that starts to make you think twice about driving more than necessary.

I also am nervously looking at the skies. All the rain we’ve been having is great for our lawns and the lake levels. But when you’re on vacation in the “nylon condo” (that means tent for you rich, fifth wheel-haulin’, home-on-wheels “campers”), rain in the sort of frequency and quantity we’ve had lately is not exactly conducive to relaxation.

The there’s the whole hassle of it all. I know the point of vacation is to “vacate” your normal circumstances, surroundings and routines. It’s good to get away, completely away in new surroundings and not be tempted to do any work or projects around the house. But all the planning, packing, unpacking...it seems like just a different kind of work and not a break.

Lots of people are talking about the idea of a ‘stay-cation’—taking off work but just staying home—because of the gas prices. But the more I think about the concept, the more it seems like a good idea. That’s especially true for those of us who live in the Tri-Cities.

It always amuses my wife and me when we return home from a vacation up north. As we return to the Tri-Cities from our vacation destination, with car packed to the gills with camping gear and kayaks and bikes strapped to the roof and trunk, people no doubt assume we’re arriving in Grand Haven to begin a vacation, not returning home from one. After we unpack, we ask each other what we want to do now that we’re home from a summer trip. Often we go to the beach—which is the same thing we had been doing on vacation.

Just this past weekend we went for a walk on the beach and noticed a large number of out-of-state license plates. People were here from Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, New York, Georgia and elsewhere. It kind of makes us feel good to realize that we live here. It kind of makes us feel ashamed that we don’t appreciate it, savor it, enjoy it more often.

There are times that we look at the waterfront homes and the downtown condos sprouting all over and shake our heads. Many of these are second homes for families from other cities. These residences have twice the square footage and several times the asking price than our permanent home. If you let it, a feeling of jealousy can well up within. But then I think that these poor (poor being a relative term) saps have to go back to Chicago, or Detroit, or wherever they spend the majority of their year. They “vacate” their vacation home. We get to stay in this vacation destination.

Which brings up an interesting point about vacations. The word stems from Old English or Latin or French and means essentially to “be unoccupied.” That implies leaving your home, but not necessarily. A vacation can also mean that a person, not their home, is unoccupied. In other words, take a break from work, don’t occupy your hands or head with stressful actions or thoughts. You can achieve that state of being unoccupied even as you occupy your home. It may take some discipline to not answer the phone, check email, or wander into the home office.

Another meaning of vacation, according to some dictionaries, is to spend time with family and friends. You don’t need to leave home for this either. In fact, given my brutal schedule during much of the year, it is nice to be at home and actually spend quality time with my wife. Being delightfully unoccupied, we can linger over meals on the deck or enjoy a drink on the moonlit patio without the constant weight of work cutting short such moments. Yes, a stay-cation means I can stand still, and even force time to do the same for a while.

So, I’m looking forward to an extended stay-cation after returning home from the planned weekend vacation. I’ll leave my “second home” rolled up in the garage, and take my bike down to the state park. I’ll read good books to keep my mind unoccupied with work-related thoughts. I’ll have long walks and casual, uninterrupted conversations with my wife. I’ll be free of planning and packing. I’ll use little if any gas. I won’t have gone anywhere, but I will have arrived in a good place.

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