We’ve just returned from a vacation (or holiday as the English call it). The root of “vacation” is the Latin word vacare, to be empty or free, but there was no emptiness on the cruise ship by which we traveled from Boston to Quebec. The ship was very crowded and there were no quiet spots, not even pregnant pauses, just noise and extraverted behavior. I should have known better but our earlier experience with the same cruise line to Bermuda had been good, or perhaps we were more patient then. Thankfully most of the ports of call in Canada were lovely places and we felt welcome. Quebec City and Montreal were a challenge to my High School French, but it was fun to try.
The experience has led me to ask what a vacation is supposed to be. If it is supposed to be restful, I have yet to discover that. My best bet for rest is to go on a retreat. Vacations are always a change of scenery and usually provide a wealth of cultural and historical treasures. Often they involve visiting family members which is always good. But travel especially by air has gotten much more complicated and exhausting in recent years. I go through customs and immigration and security and bear the weight of all the fears of the United States government for a while, although in a good cause. Renting and driving a car in a foreign land is stressful, lest I be charged an exorbitant fee for scratching the rear fender or be caught driving on the wrong side of the road. I love all my relatives dearly, but visiting too many in a brief space of time is exhausting for an introvert. I usually try to add some “alone” time visiting my favorite places like museums and historic churches.
I love trains and thought about taking Amtrak across the USA and back, but need sleep if I am to function and doubt I would get enough sleep on a train. My diet tends to go to hell on vacations and I eat all the wrong stuff and pay for it in lack of well-being. And there is the additional challenge of finding any quiet place for meditation and prayer, which is also essential to my well-being.
I have concluded that it is a significant challenge on a vacation to eat the proper foods, get enough undisturbed sleep, have a place for quiet, as well as negotiate the challenges of being in an unaccustomed environment. Being one of those people for whom changes are stressful, I do my best to plan ahead to minimize the difficulties. My wife and I are thinking of sticking to road trips around the North East for a while, so that we can get hotel suites with cooking facilities and extra space. But hotels are not always quiet, especially on weekends. B. & B.s are a quiet alternative. I’m also attracted by the idea of pilgrimage and including places of spiritual value in the trip. Staying at retreat centers and monasteries would provide more time for rest and refreshment.
The scripture reading at church yesterday was Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 19:16-31), a powerful condemnation of the uncaring, hedonistic lifestyle, but also a reminder to all of us that we are entrusted with resources to be used wisely and compassionately. Vacations are for our benefit – for rest, renewal, enrichment and nurturing relationships. But they are to be done wisely with an eye for good stewardship.
I’d be interested to hear what vacations have worked well for you. Please leave a comment and check the box to receive an email reply.