A Vacation Quandary

Celtic Cross in Old Quebec City

Celtic Cross in Old Quebec City

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.

Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal

Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal

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.

Oratoire St. Joseph, Montreal

Oratoire St. Joseph, Montreal

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.

Saguenay Fjord, Quebec Province

Saguenay Fjord, Quebec Province

About John Fisk

I am a retired pastor, who served churches in New England for 33 years. I emigrated to the USA from England in 1974 and completed two graduate degrees in theology and pastoral practice at Andover-NewtonTheological School. In retirement I am focused on the teaching of Christian meditation, providing spiritual guidance, leading retreats and occasional preaching. I am particularly interested in contemplation, the mystical path and social justice.
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11 Responses to A Vacation Quandary

  1. Caroline says:

    We read about Lazarus and the rich man in church yesterday too! Ever thought of the Camino de Santiago? It is a centuries-old pilgrimage to the legendary burial site of St. James (Santiago) in the North of Spain. I did part of it it this past spring- unbelievable.

    • John Fisk says:

      Thank you, a good suggestion. The Camino sounds wonderful – there was a good movie about it, “The Way”, with Martin Sheen. I include elements of pilgrimage in all my trips, but I am yet to do a full pilgrimage.

  2. John Fisk says:

    Apologies for the spelling error in “Quandary”. I got it right originally but spell check questioned that spelling.

  3. Lizzy Hylton says:

    Hi Uncle John… the first thing that popped into my head on reading your post was The Camino as well. Mark and I love “The Way” and he has bought me my shell in preparation for our planned walk when we retire! I find that “The Way” has an amazing ability to unlock my tension. The holidays that I have found the most restorative have undoubtedly been when Mark and I have undertaken long distance wild camping back packing trips… there is nothing like waking up in the mountains and sitting by the tent without another soul in sight. Strangely it is when we throw away the plans and timings that I relax and enjoy the company and the journey.

    • John Fisk says:

      Great to hear from you, Lizzy. I have been a camp counselor a few times including a rustic setting in New Hampshire, and I enjoy hiking in the woods and hills around here. But I’ve never attempted any holiday as adventurous as you and Mark have done. Nature in its vastness and beauty is very healing for the soul. I would like to try a pilgrimage, or at least part of one. We did most of the Cotswold Way one year. Maybe the North Downs Way to Canterbury would be a possibility. Yes, the Camino would be a great experience. I loved the movie, The Way, with Martin Sheen. Hope to see you when I visit the U.K. next.

  4. Chris says:

    Sounds as if you just need to stay at home John!!!

    • John Fisk says:

      You are right – at least for a while! The problem is I am getting special offers for discounted airfares to the U.K. for next Spring, so I’m already thinking about when I can cross the pond once again. It will be lovely to see you.

  5. jean fisk says:

    I really enjoyed the times we spent and I spent alone at Craigville Conference Center on the Cape. We had our own place, we could prepare our own food, walk on the beach, sightsee or just curl up with a good book on the porch.

  6. Nancy says:

    Very thoughtful, John. And helpful. I had thought of that trip to Quebec by boat and will rethink it now. It’s true – that vacation time is so important that one needs to evaluate what elements will encourage peace and self enrichment. Thanks, Nancy

    • John Fisk says:

      I liked Halifax, Nova Scotia – there were beautiful Victorian gardens and a bandstand with a place for tea / coffee. Also a nice harbor walk. We came across some 100 or more zombies doing their annual walk – for what purpose it was not clear!

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