Vacations offer sensationalism over substance

I just got back from vacation, and I am exhausted. Vacation has changed. I remember when vacation used to be a means to relaxation.

I think Spock said it best in a particular Star Trek episode I remember from my early childhood. After Spock was reprimanded by Captain Kirk for not taking shore leave, the logical Vulcan explained to his crew that “to rest is to rest. I do not need to go running up and down on green grass to rest.” Okay, well, it was something like that, the gist being that vacation had become just as demanding as the work week.

In essence, a vacation getaway must now be extreme; it must boast adventure, risk and reward. Drink all you can. Binge and purge. Splurge on useless souvenirs to give to the friends who fed your fish while you were away.

The most popular of tourist destinations lure us with the promise no longer of relaxation but thrill. For instance, bungee jumping, possibly to one’s death, is apparently the mark of a successful holiday. Vacation packages boast titillating but tasteless attractions: “Tumbling Towers: The Experience: Come do it at Universal Studios” “Who Wants to Be a Strung-Out Washed-Up Alcoholic Millionaire? Vegas has it all” or, “Come relax at Boot Camp: Idaho isn’t just for Couch Potatoes.”

Today, in our contemporary ADD-afflicted society, we feel so much pressure to possess, conquer and control, that we seek vacations that are contrived, scripted and easy. Sure, I’m somewhat guilty of buying into it myself. After all, I like cold drinks (they happen to go very well with sunsets); I also like toilet paper; I also like fancy food served beneath those fancy silver hats.

Yet it’s hard to find a reasonable
vacation spot anymore. Often the environment seems reminiscent of a mall, and the attractions as canned as Disneyland. Everywhere we look, there are slogans boasting the adventure of a lifetime – the adrenaline rush of the millennium.

I blame this modern quest for sound and fury on mediocrity. Like most things in life, vacation is comprised of culturally constructed “shoulds.” We are told we should put limes in our beer. We should drink Starbucks Frappacinos when it’s hot. We should be salsa daredevils. We should eat popcorn at the movies. We should cry when the hero is wounded. We should dance to drums at Dead shows. We should take a Booze-Cruise.

In actuality, this hunger for thrill betrays our increasing domestication. Though we seek the extreme, the extreme is packaged and neat – so we know how it turns out in the end. We have to know how many pesos it’s supposed to cost to have a good time.

Even if we pursue enlightenment over thrill, we let tourist brochures tell us what sights are worth seeing. In today’s society, we want the icing on the cake, but not the cake. We are sold archetypal experiences, daintily framed within the modern facade of cultural profundity. We should take literary pilgrimages to Faulkner’s house and eat grits along the way. We should learn to say pretty things in French. Or snort magical herbs with Curanderos in the jungles of South America.

These shellacked vacations insinuate they will connect us more with our inner child and unite us with our humanity. In actuality, they really serve to decrease the intimacy between self and other, as well as self to self.

Neither corporate travel agents nor glossy vacation brochures can help us find meaning for ourselves; meaning is found in our immersion in experience beyond the mere superficial.

The most beautiful objet d’art I ever encountered was watching my father tip over while white river rafting and seeing his older brother jump into the waves and save him. Or eating tuna sandwiches with my mom while overlooking Picasso’s mansion. Singing camp songs at Lake Cushman and remembering what hurt most about being a child. Snapping photos of homeless people in Reno. Hearing the calls to prayer ricochet off the cold cobblestone dawn of Jerusalem. Sobbing in the arms of an
ex-lover while grimy people in love staggered by in torn clothing and city sirens ate up the quiet. Sitting on the porch swing in West Virginia with my father and telling jokes about guys who walked into bars, while we digested green food that came out of a can, but was served up all nice on a doilie.

When I was a kid, vacation meant long road trips, stops at McDonald’s and seeing who could do the best impression of a sloth. From winter ski trips in the mountains to tropical paradise getaways, the part we all liked best was drinking cocoa at Warming Hut No. 2 or sipping Shirley Temples at the swim-up pool bar.

In essence, I guess true vacation isn’t so much the attraction as it is the experiences you have along the way. So maybe Kirk wasn’t necessarily right in emphasizing that our mission should be, “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” Maybe meaning is rather in the journey, not the destination.


Roxanne Sadovsky’s column appears
alternate weeks. She welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]