Does anyone take a real vacation anymore? In the good old days, school didn’t start until the Monday after Labor Day. Family destinations to the beach or the mountains were a regular and anticipated event. The last two weeks in August used to be a popular time for families to get away to the beach for a final summer fling. But not anymore. The American family vacation seems to be dying.
In days of old, I always joined in our family excursions that often lasted for two weeks. There was no electronic requiem involved. No cell phone rings, no iPhone buzzes, and no laptop beeps. It was Lake Michigan in my early years, Lake George, New York in my college days, and from my twenty’s on, it was annual summer vacations in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Back in the 60’s and 70s, there were no high-rise condos on the Gulf Coast, and no water parks. Just a few local seafood restaurants and a lot of single story beach houses with long porches facing the Gulf. There was no local phone service back then, and you had to bring your own drinking water. We brought our sheets and towels from home, because the well water was full of iron and made the wash gray and stiff. No TV and no air conditioning.
And you know what? The whole family thoroughly enjoyed the two weeks we stayed. We talked to one another, went crabbing and fishing off the shoreline, read, took afternoon naps, and long evening walks looking for the new shells that washed up on the shore earlier that day. Maybe a trip into Pensacola once or twice for a movie. And when our two weeks were up, no one wanted to go home.
Expedia.com’s annual vacation survey found that only 14% of Americans get away for two weeks or more at one time. And now, school begins in the middle of August. Middle of August? Why? Aren’t air conditioning bills for schools much higher then? So what happened to the June 1st to August 1st summer schedule? No more school days were added. And kids have to cut their summer resort jobs short. Why the change?
Now today, if you can get away to the beach for a few days at all, you cram into one of the high rises that line the Gulf Coast beaches for miles on end. Since you stay in an air-conditioned condo, your body adapts, and it seems way too hot to go out to the beach. The kids head for the mall or the game room. Dad, and mom, if she works, carry their PEDs and cell phones wherever they go, and check into the office several times a day. Electronic devices and games surround the whole family.
But I have resolved to go back to the true vacation. As I start my trip, I look in the mirror and tell the face there that my name is Jim, and I’m a techno-addict. But on this journey, I’ve committed to unplug, and try to be more connected to myself rather than to my computer. No electronic communication tools this time. Just a few books (fiction — nothing heavy), some comfortable hiking boots, fresh fruit from highway stands along the way, a few bottles of wine from home, and my 20 year old banjo that I swear I’m going to learn to play well some day.
Getting away does not, in itself, guarantee relaxation. It takes several days just to unwind. But isn’t life too short not to appreciate every moment, and not to have the tune out time with family and friends? Maybe this longer special time has passed a lot of folks by. But I hope for my family and me, it never does.
“ Vacation: When you spend thousands of dollars to see what rain looks like in different parts of the world.”
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.