Sunday, April 21, 2013

Home and the world

One of the persistent assumptions/myths/stereotypes about those of us who are childless/free (whether by choice or not) is that we all travel a lot -- because we can! 

Well, as is often the case, some of us certainly do, but some of us don't. Msfitzita had a great post recently about why, for now at least, she has chosen to stay close to home.

Her post resonated with me, because I recently returned to work after a week's staycation. (Boo, hiss...) Highlights included trips to three different mega-bookstore outlets and one of the new Target stores that just opened here in Canada. ; )  We both did a lot of reading, & I got caught up on a lot of blogs.

And then I went back to work. And people ask me, "Oh, you were on vacation? Where did you go?" I feel like I'm disappointing them when I tell them, "Nowhere." (Or joke, "I went to Target!")

When did it become the mandated norm that you MUST go somewhere when you take vacation time??

I admit... I love a good staycation, now & then. There is nothing better than being at home in the middle of the day (while everyone ELSE is at work!!), sitting on the loveseat with my laptop or a good book and a nice cup of tea in hand, with the sunlight flooding into my living room. It looks like a completely different place in the daylight. When you spend 6+ months of the year going to work in the dark & coming home in the dark, it's a sight that's meant to be savoured. And I like being able to sleep in and setting my own schedule, not HAVING to constantly be at a particular place at a particular time. (At least once in awhile.)

Msfitzita wrote eloquently about what home has meant to her these past nine years since the death of her son, Thomas. "Home" has always been a word charged with special meaning for me too... maybe because, as I grew up, "home" was generally someplace different, every three years or so.  The longest I ever lived in one place before I left my parents was six years. By the time my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, our family had lived in 11 different houses in 7 different towns in two provinces.

My dad worked in the branches of two different Canadian banks over some 30 years (until he chucked banking altogether and went into real estate) -- and in those days, when the bank decided it was time for you to move, you didn't have much say in the matter. He often had very little notice (a few weeks, tops) before he was expected to report to the next job, and usually spent the first few weeks or months living in a motel & eating out -- and these were generally very small towns with few choices for lodging or dining -- looking for a place for us to live, and driving home on weekends. 

My mother was left to deal with selling the house, purging and packing up, dealing with the movers -- and dealing with my sister & me. The older we got, the harder it was to cope with leaving our established lives and friends. Today, kids can easily keep in touch by with texting, e-mail and Facebook. Back then, all we had was Canada Post and maybe (if we were really good) a few precious minutes on the telephone a couple times a year. (Long distance back then was considered expensive.)  The friend factor aside, it was hard to adjust to a new school.  Both of us were generally good students, but, for example, I'd find myself bored silly in my new English class, where I was light years ahead of my classmates, while struggling to keep up in math, because the curricula were so different. When I was in early grade school, we moved from one town to another where all the kids were sports crazy. In one of our first phys ed classes, we went outside to play baseball. I had never played baseball before. I got sent out into the outfield with a borrowed glove, and spent most of the next half hour praying that the ball wouldn't come anywhere near me, because I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. When I failed to pick up the ball with due haste and throw it with enough force in the right direction for the pitcher to catch, the wrath and scorn of my classmates descended upon me. That set the tone for the rest of my school phys ed career and my ongoing relationship with organized sports and physical activity generally. 

(I digress....)

Fortunately for my sister & me, most of these transfers occurred in the late spring/early summer, so we were always able, at least, to finish out the school year. Many of my closest friends were the children of RCMP and air force officers (one of the places we lived was home to an air force base), who knew & understood what it was like to move around and be the new kid in school.

(I have a theory that my packrat tendencies are rooted in a desire to cling to the familiar, everyday things in my life, since my surroundings were constantly changing. Dh, who lived in the same house in the same city with the same people around him for almost his entire pre-marriage life, is much more of a minimalist and much more inclined to throw things away. I am sure there is a PhD thesis in there somewhere...)

I can remember talking with my parents about where they wanted to be buried when the time comes. "Where is home?" my dad asked, rhetorically.  He left branch banking almost 25 years ago -- he and my mother stayed in the last town where they had been moved by the bank, and have lived there for almost 30 years now. You might think they would want to buried there, but they've decided they want to be cremated, and their ashes interred in the small Minnesota town where my mother grew up -- not far from where my father grew up, just across the border, and where my ancestors (on both sides) were among the early settlers. That place, more than anywhere else, I think, said and still says "home" to me, in a lifetime of moving around.

*** *** ***

Anyway, as usual, I digress. The above is a long & roundabout way of saying that I understand the pull of home that Msfitzita expresses so well in her post.

At the same time, I do get the itch to travel. 

Travel -- not world travel, mind you, but spending long hours in the car as my dad drove us hundreds of miles across the open prairies, through swirling snow in the winter and blazing hot sun in the summertime (and most cars in those days had no airconditioning) to visit family and friends (back in those towns we had left behind) -- is a big part of my childhood memories. The towns we lived in were pretty small, so driving was a part of life. We thought nothing of driving an hour or so to shop or go to the movies in a bigger town down the road. When I was very small, we took the train to visit our grandparents, but as we moved around (and as more and more passenger rail lines shut down), we drove to visit them, at least a couple of times a year. When I was in junior high, we finally moved to a town that was JUST a two-hour drive away, so we got to see them more often.  (Packing for a trip does not faze me -- I usually don't start until the night or day before a trip.  I was packing my own suitcase from the time I was in grade school, so it is no big deal to me.)

When I was 7, our family took a trip (by car, of course) to visit Calgary and Banff, and when I was 14, we drove all the way to the west coast.  In Grade 12, I won a trip from the Rotary Club to spend a week in Ottawa along with a couple hundred other Grade 12 students  from all across Canada. It was the first time I had ever been in an airplane, and it was a life-changing experience for me. A few years later, when I graduated from journalism school in Ontario, my parents & I drove to my convocation -- through northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan on the way there, and across the top of Lake Superior on the way back (where some places were so remote that we couldn't even tune in a radio station).  Along the way, there were school band trips around the province, and camping trips, and treks down to the Twin Cities to see relatives.

I wasn't alone among my peers, at that time & place. For most of us, "travel" or "vacation" meant a trip to the closest city, or camping in a provincial park -- maybe a trip to Calgary or Vancouver or (slightly more exotic) Toronto (haha). Once in awhile, older friends of my parents would go to Las Vegas or Reno, and I remember one couple that went to Tijuana. I knew only a very few lucky "rich" kids who got to go to Disneyland (in California -- Disney World in Florida was just getting off the ground) -- and that was considered a once-in-a-lifetime experience. These days I read about parents who take their kids on a Disney cruise EVERY YEAR. Needless to say, I can't relate.

Dh & I spent our honeymoon in Banff & Jasper (we couldn't afford a big trip to an exotic location, and anyway, I've never seen the point of going to Jamaica or Hawaii in the middle of July...!). We've been back to the Rockies and out to the west coast (British Columbia, Washington & the Oregon Coast) a couple of times, with family members. We spent a wonderful week in Nova Scotia a couple of years ago for our 25th wedding anniversary. I did a bit of business travelling to some major Canadian cities, about 20 years ago (which mostly meant seeing airports, hotel lobbies and board rooms).  And we've taken a lot of long-weekend/mini-vacations, to Ottawa (must get back there again soon, it's been too long...), Michigan, Niagara, Stratford, Kingston, cottage country resorts, etc.

But I've never been to Europe (although I've dreamed about it for years). I've never been to Italy (dh has, to visit relatives when he was a boy, but not in the last 40 years, and never to any of the typical tourist spots).  I've never been to New York City, or to California, or Florida, or to Mexico, or to the Caribbean. I've never been further south than Iowa.

*** *** ***

So why haven't we travelled more...?

Time and money were big factors in the early years of our marriage. Starting out in our respective jobs, we only got 2 weeks vacation (the mandated minimum here in Canada). I think that increased to four weeks after we reached 10 years of service, and five weeks when we hit 20 years (which is the most you get, no matter how long you stay with the company). And, because I live 1,000+ miles away from my family & like to see them now & then, most of my precious vacation time in those early years was spent travelling to & from my parents' home, or hosting my mom (with or without dad) here. A few days or a week at Christmastime, a week or two in the summer & poof, there goes your vacation allotment. I don't think people who live close to their families quite "get" that sometimes.

These days, we both get 5 weeks per year -- but we still haven't done a lot of travelling. Money is part of the reason, I suppose. Many of our peers use(d) their income tax refunds or bonuses at work to fund vacations (or put them on their credit cards...!), but until we had our mortgage paid off, any extra funds we had or came into went toward that goal. In recent years, saving for what we hope will be an early retirement became the priority.

(FIL did have a house in Florida for a few years, back in the 1990s = cheap accommodation -- but they always had a huge mob staying there with them whenever they went. Sharing a bathroom with 15 other people wasn't my idea of a vacation, so we never made it there before they sold.)

Also, having the vacation time is one thing;  working around our coworkers' vacation schedules is another complicating factor. We both (but dh especially) work on teams that are pretty thinly staffed and in posts that require some backup. It's understood that if we want the same week off as one of our immediate teammates, it's not very likely that we're both going to get it. This recent "staycation" came about after dh spent the week of Ontario spring break covering for not just one but two of his teammates. "I need a vacation," he said to me, but when we looked at our respective vacation schedules & the time off booked by our respective coworkers, we realized it was either the first week of April, or... mid-June. :p

Then there's also the issue of getting dh to agree to travel, to where and to a plan. He likes the idea of travel, in theory, but getting him to commit to a time, place and agenda is sometimes another story.  

Perhaps we'll get to travel more once we retire, when we're not as time-restricted and don't have the everyday pressures of work to clutter up our thinking on the matter. Europe is high on my list, & there's still so much of Canada I want to see.

But time just keeps flying by, and while retirement is looming in the not-too-distant future, I don't want to put all my travel eggs into that basket. As Mali recently put it, delayed gratification can be overrated.

I remember one of my aunts telling me how glad she was that she & her husband took a few big trips together, including one to England & Scotland for their 30th wedding anniversary, and a long-desired driving trip to California shortly after they both retired at age 65.

Less than a year later, shortly before my aunt's 66th birthday, he was dead.


  1. I loved this, learning more about your childhood. It makes a lot of sense - I've seen kids (my niece and nephew, and children of friends) who have been brought up travelling all over the world. And when they came back to NZ, they just wanted to set down roots. (I also have another bloggy friend who is exactly the same, having moved frequently as a child). Whereas I grew up on a farm, the same farm where my father, my aunts and uncles, all grew up. We were rooted to the land - and all I wanted to do was see what was on the other side of the Pacific Ocean that was only a mile away from our house!

    Also, it struck me that flying across Canada is the equivalent of me flying to Australia or the Pacific Islands. So when you talk about Banff, or Nova Scotia, that's actually quite a bit of travel!

    I can't imagine being able to retire at 55 - even if we hadn't travelled, we wouldn't be able to afford to do that. Sigh. And the idea of a staycation is perfectly reasonable. Every year my husband and I talk about going somewhere (in NZ) at Easter or Christmas, and (unless we're visiting family) every year we have a staycation, and wish we had longer.

  2. I also don't travel much any more. I like to joke that I did all of my traveling before 30. I lived in 5 countries as a kid (Canada, U.S., Mexico, Soviet Union - that dates me - and Saudi Arabia). I also toured the U.S. and Canada several times as a musician and moved a lot in university and after I started working.

    Now? Travel is too exhausting and way too much of a hassle with all of my medications and equipment (mostly cancer related crap).

    There are a few places I'd like to visit but nothing currently overcomes my distaste for tiring myself out just to spend time sleeping in an uncomfortable bed! ;)

  3. Nothing wrong with being happy at home. : )

    Growing up in the upper Midwest, we didn't take vacations most years. Maybe we would go to St. Louis for a weekend or Chicago for a day. Big trips were lengthy: 7-10 days in Florida, our first trip by airplane, when I was about 8 or 9 (I think going into third grade); 2 weeks of driving to the Grand Canyon and back; a week in Rocky Mountain National Park. I would love to go on vacation with my parents and brothers again. But I can safely say that a week's travel is about as much as I enjoy -- probably due to those long, jam-packed trips in childhood. By the end of that week, I'm ready to go home. D. is the same way. We have friends who always went to Europe for at least 2-3 weeks -- they came back exhausted. My cousin loves to travel for 3-4 weeks. D and I went to Paris for 4 days and came back feeling energized and uplifted, but also eager to see our girls and dog. So many people, especially my high school French teacher, asked what was the point of only going for 4 days. : P

  4. @Mali -- yes, Canada is a lot bigger than people elsewhere might think -- you hear alot of stories about people from Europe who are going to be in Toronto and think they can drive to the Rockies & back for the afternoon, etc.!

    Just to go see my mom & dad is a 2-2&1/2 hour flight (depending on the route & the winds, etc.), followed by an hour in the car. To drive would take us about 30 hours if we drove straight through (my mom has been on the train several times, & it's a 33-hour trip, IF things go smoothly & there are no delays). When I did it with my parents, we took three days, & it was three LONG days of driving, through a lot of rocks & trees. Very pretty, but very isolated, a long way between towns! Dh has never made the trip by car... my mother says that when we retire, we will have to drive there someday so that he can see just how far it really is. ;)

  5. I was spoiled, growing up. Just a couple of hours away were national parks and mountains and camping - so many adventures, but never all that far from home.

    I love being at home, too - I think if you are lucky enough to have a real home, a place where you feel you belong, that that is a great gift, and I'm glad you have that AND that you can really enjoy it.

  6. I love being at home, and I love a stay cation, but I also want to travel. I need to get into better shape so I can do all the walking I want to do! I do feel like I deserve to travel since I never got to have the children I wanted.