Monday, June 16, 2008


I got back from my mini vacation in Monterey yesterday. I value travel and even from a business perspective, I think vacations are important. They clear your head and get you out of mental ruts. Some people are proud that they don't take vacations or didn't take vacations during the first years of their business. I wonder how they survived. It sounds so dreary and lacking in creativity. Coming back from vacation gives you new eyes to see with and clears the head.

As a kid, we did car trips. These were usually excruciating road trips cramped into a station wagon or van along fairly dull interstates. Destinations were usually touristy spots along the way, and the trips were always measured in thousands of miles, rarely hundreds. It was an eye opener as a child, but as an adult my road trips are more deliberate, off the beaten path. Nowadays a road trip along a major interstate anywhere in the country looks much like my commute to work. It takes work to find character on the road.

International travel was never something valued by my family. Part of it was having four kids to contend with, but my parents didn't have passports of their own and found foreign countries to be more a vector for disease, discomfort and violent death than a place of education and wonder. As an adult, my first choices for travel were the most exotic, potentially infectious, uncomfortable and dangerous destinations possible. Better yet, don't plan it. Just go.

India called me first, along with Nepal and Thailand. With a friend we went without a plan, often spending $8/night on migrant worker hotels with interesting character. Like the Bangkok hotel where the toilet bowl water would slosh into the shower. Travel meant an arduous journey, bad food, rough lodging and illness. It was fantastic! Along the way we would have experiences, not purchased experiences, which my Generation X book preached "didn't count," but the kind of travel experiences you can only have on a budget, with bad planning. We saw dead bodies checked as luggage for the train to Veranasi in India, and later watched them burn, several feet away from the hot pyre. We saw a peasant uprising in Honduras, which was far more interesting than the ruins that they were preventing us from seeing. All along the way, I would catch every bug in existence, spending maybe a quarter of my travel time in bed, but happy, knowing I was experiencing the world.

As I've gotten older, I've discovered Europe and other places that don't require a pound of flesh to visit. Europe captured me not because of old churches and museums, but the fact that I could go on vacation and not get sick! European vacations were the opposite of my early travel, and usually revolved around a shiny new car. They were planned carefully with mapping software and GPS systems to get us to the hotel with the best parking facilities. These were regimented, military operations that had no resemblance to my "third world" travel, a term that I learned is deeply American Cold War, that nobody else uses. I've relaxed a bit on the scheduling and my buying of European automobiles is on hold for the foreseeable future, but European travel is luxury compared to my early travel years.

Nowadays I want travel to be a break and I don't want to work for it too much. I've got enough frequent flyer miles to take the family anywhere in the world, but I don't. It's too inconvenient, with airport security and delays being a barrier to travel that I'm no longer willing to put up with. Worse, the dollar makes travel to all but the poorest countries extremely expensive, and I'm no longer willing to sacrifice my body for more rustic locales. Vacation for me now should at least be a slight step up in comfort from how I live.

When I was sleeping on a futon and living a near monastic student life, India and Guatemala weren't much of discomfort and occasionally I found myself living better than at home. Nowadays, as an adult with a nice bed and good food, I have higher standards. Even luxury hotels are likely to fall short in some fashion, be it the pillow that wrenches my neck or even poor air circulation. I want a distraction and a break, but I don't want to work for it. Maybe I'm becoming like my parents?

Time is also important. A hotel stay and a walk on the beach are infinitely more valuable if I don't have to spend a day each way getting to them. My international travel days are mostly behind me now. There are plenty of US destinations that won't waste my time in airports or suck my wallet dry with ridiculous exchange rates. There are still international destinations that interest me. I would love to spend a week in the Czech Republic or explore Mayan ruins in Honduras(without a peasant revolt), but how many small towns and broken temples can you see in your life before you've had enough? How much illness and inconvenience will you deal with? Of course, when my son is old enough to explore the world, all those problems will be forgotten and I'll dust off my passport.

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