Hiking boots, coyote calls, and enduring memories — those are just a scant few things that vacation conjures up in my brain, and those things are on my brain a lot lately as we prepare to set off on this year’s family adventure.
I’m very fortunate that my younger years were full of travel. I’ve seen a little bit of Canada and Mexico, most of the Caribbean, and a large portion of our United States.
This summer, my family and I are heading into New England. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be able to color in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut on that map I’ve kept since childhood. And I’m pretty thrilled too that my husband and I are able to show our kids something other than what’s right here.
There is so much to see and do right here in our own state, and we do go see and do right here, but that’s not really vacation to me. Those are long weekends, little getaways.
For some, vacation means going to a resort on beloved sandy shores, for others, it may mean staying home and not answering the phone for a week.
To me, vacation means being confined to the car for too-long hours and watching the scenery change in between reading sessions and naps and rest stops.
It means parking your fanny at a picnic table at a rest area to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that you put together out of the trunk of the car (because that’s where you have to keep the cooler because the kids have the backseat jam-packed).
It’s seeing something, a part of the country that is so different from your own neck of the woods, and buying post cards to send to the poor souls back home.
It’s the bickering that ensues from the days on end of too-close quarters and all that melting away in two shakes of a lamb’s tail when you stand as a family in front of some spectacular site.
Our family loves the outdoors, and our vacations reflect that.
Our travels mean that we pack more hiking boots than sandals, and more light-weight cargo pants than nice slacks (does anyone call nicer pants slacks anymore, or did I just do a little throwback to my beloved Granny?).
We’ve talked about cruises. We’ve talked about Disney World, and even LEGOLAND, but we always come back to the natural things that we can explore and at the end of the day, reminisce about over a campfire.
I love that. And I think it’s good for the kids, too.
Last year we were in South Dakota. In one day we did the touristy stuff – stood in front of Mount Rushmore, drove the loop in Custer State Park, and marveled at the Crazy Horse Memorial.
While those things were splendid and absolutely worth seeing, it was our four days in the Badlands where our family shared and bonded as we kept a vigilant watch for rattlesnakes, trudged through washed-smooth valleys, and climbed craggy peaks to take in a stunning view of protected grasslands that stuck with us all the most.
We tried to camp on that trip, but God had other plans for us. What the locals called a “normal” summer storm for the area, we regarded as rather mighty. And when the heavens were through unleashing, we took down our newly erected tents and promptly rented a cabin.
One of my enduring memories is the lonely sounds of coyotes in the wee hours of a South Dakota night as I made my way to the bathroom, all alone and wondering how secure I really was should a few of those animals decide to come onto the campgrounds.
You know, on that first night after hearing those coyotes yipping and howling, I sat in the dark on the porch swing of our cabin trying to find out from the all-knowing Google just what these canines might be up to. And as spooky and scary as it was in the dark, under all those stars, and hearing those calls from all directions, it was an encounter well worth having.
It’s something I would not have witnessed had we stayed in a hotel. And a lot of our experiences are tied to where we chose to lay our heads every night.
That’s what we like. And that’s what was in our thoughts as we planned this year’s vacation.
And we are doing the same thing this year, only without the tents, as we make our way through New England, and a little smidge of Canada. There’s something to be said for a sturdy rooftop above your head when you don’t quite know what a “normal” storm for the area you’re in brings.
When I was 13 years old, my younger cousin and I accompanied my maternal grandmother and our aunt on a road trip to California.
We dragged a pop-up camper with us across the country and back again. Gone for about a month, we stopped here and there along the way, and even spent a week in the Grand Canyon just hiking around and exploring.
That vacation has always stuck with me, and it wasn’t centered so much on a particular destination. Each place we stopped was a destination, and all those experiences have stayed with this girl.
Whatever vacation might mean to you, may you enjoy it, may you have safe travels, may you venture off the beaten path from time to time, and no matter what, may you take away with you those enduring memories.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.