I’ve always fantasized about vacations. Not the kind where you drive your beat-up Geo Metro 600 miles in the middle of the night, hoping it doesn’t break down again in Ohio, even though that trucker was nice enough to get you to the Michigan border while your car spends the night at a rest stop (true story; actually happened). I mean the kind where you have to buy a new suitcase because your old one has a giant hole on the bottom. The kind of vacation where you have to get a new swimming suit. The kind of vacation that requires airline tickets. The kind where you have to create an away message for your inbox at work. The kind where you have to renew your passport. THAT kind of vacation.
The last time I vacationed longer than a long weekend, it was 1996. My ex-husband, Thom, and I went to Ireland for our honeymoon. I had a great time, although the country stayed true to the time-honored cliché of being drizzly and miserable the whole time, including the day we spent at the Cliffs of Mohar, which was the closest I had been to the ocean since 1985 when I lived on the island of Sitka, Alaska. The one sunny day took place while we were in London on the way back, and I was deathly ill with the flu. And we stayed at B&Bs. Some consider them to be nice and quaint, and they certainly are way off the “nice and quaint” scale in many ways. But, you see, I don’t like people. The only thing I like less than people is small talk. So put me in a situation where I have to deal with both, very early in the morning, before I’ve had a cup of coffee because all there is to drink is tea, and you’ve got yourself a good, ol’ fashioned recipe for a moody, irritable, cranky, sullen, pouty and insufferable Kandy.
I have been to the beach. I went to Rehoboth Beach with my daughter, my friend Natalie, her daughter, Chloe, and her extended family. I’ve visited Jones Beach several times, once to see Brian Wilson in concert, and once last summer with Michael. We both got disturbingly bad sunburns and had to drive back that night. Natalie and her sister, Adrienne, and I went to St. Joe’s on the shores of Lake Michigan a couple of years ago, and it was nice. And I spent a solid month watching every episode of LOST on DVD, in consecutive order, until I eventually ran out of LOST and had to check into a rehab clinic. That was like being on a really spectacular beach but without actually experiencing the warm sun and the waves washing over your bare toes and being able to beat the shit out of that annoying and incestuous brother and sister who, thankfully, didn’t survive past the first season of the series.
Michael and I have been talking about a vacation for a while. He’s had even fewer vacations than me. In fact, he’s never been on one, a proper vacation. He’s spent his life being a weekender, like me, and if anyone deserves a proper vacation, it’s him. After years of schlepping it in retail and food service, he’s long overdue for week of doing fuck-all and having things brought to him on a tray for a change. His recent 5-week tour of Europe with Stick Men was valuable learning experience, but don’t be fooled. It was nothing resembling a vacation.
I’m not exactly sure when it was that we decided to just go for it. We had been discussing it before he even left for Europe on the tour, toying with Costa Rica and Hawaii. I had been lightly perusing websites and gathering information on destinations both near the ocean and with an agreeable conversion rate. But I couldn’t commit. Every time I clicked on an image result in Google for one of these places, I felt overwhelmed with white, Anglo-Saxon, Judeo-Christian workaholic, penny-pincher guilt.
Soon, however, the idea of a vacation stopped being a luxury. It started to become a survival issue when I began having dreams about watching my co-workers drop to the floor in a spray of bullets from my automatic assault rifle.
“Why don’t we go to Mexico,” suggested Michael.
“Okay. I’ve never been there,” I said, “but I know people do go there. I mean, before the swine flu thing. But where?”
“I don’t know,” he sighed. “How about Cancun?”
“How about it? I’ve never been.”
So I started looking up hotels in Cancun. There were many fine-looking establishments for cheap, especially since I was looking for the flight/accommodations packages that most travel websites offer. For days, I searched travel website after travel website, searched hundreds of hotels, looking for that right balance between affordable but not a total shithole/dead hooker burial ground. “That one looks nice,” Michael helpfully offered. He said that about every hotel I showed him, like I was trying on a succession of nearly indistinguishable black articles of clothing for him and asking for his opinion on each (true story; actually happened).
I asked around when I got to work the next day. Okay, that’s not exactly true. I asked one of the three people I can actually stomach talking to at work the next day, since the other two were out of the office. One member of my staff, Jenn, told me that her sister travels a lot (no kids, lots of disposable income) and goes to Mexico a few times a year.
“Don’t go to Cancun,” Jenn said, after a brief phone call with her sister. “You won’t like it.”
I asked why.
“Well, maybe I’m wrong, but you don’t really seem like the spring-break, college-party type.”
“Not even when I was in college,” I replied.
“My sister says that you should go to Playa del Carmen. You can still fly into Cancun, but Playa is a smaller town, about an hour away. I think that’s more your speed. And it’s really close to the Mayan ruins in Tulum.” I started salivating. I love ruins.
Instantly, based on that recommendation, I switched my search criteria around. I started looking at hotels in Playa del Carmen, and there were plenty. Most of them looked very nice, some of them looked very pricey, and almost none of them included anything. I thought long and hard about what I wanted from this vacation. I thought about our budget, and I thought about our dietary restrictions (it’s hard enough being a vegetarian in the states). I thought about what we wanted from our first grown-up vacation, and I thought about what I wanted to remember when I boarded the plane back to the states after spending a week in Mexico.
Ultimately, I booked a week at an all-inclusive resort. And then I shelled out a little more for the nice part of the resort with its own pool and beach.
Don’t judge me. I’m sure all the hard-core travelers out there are spinning in their computer chairs, hurling curses at their computer screens at my lack of creativity and unwillingness to experience local flavor. Not true! I made a very educated and calculated choice. I love local flavor. It tastes great, it really does. And chose a vacation package that was inexpensive enough so that if we get bored at the all-inclusive, we can venture into Playa for some dysentery and food poisoning…I mean, local flavor. I read traveler reviews, and a vast majority of those who traveled to Playa on a package similar to ours had a wonderful time. And more importantly, I considered what we do in our normal lives. Here’s a breakdown of an average day:
Alarm goes off at 6:45 and I hit snooze. I will continue to do this until 7:12am. Michael will kick my lazy ass out of bed, go into the kitchen, start coffee and Madeline’s lunch, and then we’ll shower. After that, I’ll attempt to get myself ready before 7:45 (keep in mind that I finally got up at 7:12) so I can drop her off with her dad and drive to work. After the frantic drop off at Madeline’s father’s house, I’ll race to my job, which is 30 minutes on the NYS Thruway IF I drive between 75 and 80 mph the entire way. I skip breakfast and eat lunch at my desk. Lunch usually consists of a salad and cottage cheese or celery, hummus and almonds. I leave the office at between 4:45 and 5pm, race back to Madeline’s dad’s house to pick her up, and then hit the gym, where I will work out for an hour while Madeline plays with strange kids in childcare. Michael will generally start dinner before I get back from the gym, so it’s hitting the table by approximately 7pm. From 7pm until around 8pm, we’ll nag Madeline to finish her food, and then she’ll take a shower at 8:30. I’ll tuck her in at 9pm, and by 9:45, we’re usually passed out in bed, ready to do it all over again the next day. Unless Michael’s out of town. Then I do all of this myself. And sometimes Michael’s daughter, Roan, is with us, too.
It’s hectic. We are busy every minute of the week, unless it’s Saturday, and then we might sleep until 7:30am and go out for breakfast. Perhaps now you can see why spending a week at a resort where all food and drinks (including 24 hour room service) are included, and a waitperson will ask us, “Can I get you anything else?” while we lie on the beach just MIGHT seem extremely appealing to us. Essentially, we don’t have to lift a finger unless we want to. Hey Kandy! Want to go for a dip in the pool? Maybe later. Hey Kandy! Want to go shopping at some of Playa’s fine retail shops? Meh. Not now. Hey Kandy! Want to go parasailing? Perhaps tomorrow. Hey Kandy! Want to lie on a lounge chair all day long and have everything handed to you? Go on, salesman. I’m listening…
We’ll definitely do things, like go visit the ruins, check out Playa, and I really want to parasail. But if we don’t get around to that stuff, who gives a shit? I don’t have to. Next vacation, we’ll do all of the hard shit. We’ll go somewhere difficult to travel to, and we’ll stay at a youth hostel or go camping. We’ll hike to all of our destinations. We’ll carry our belongings on our backs like beasts of burden, and we’ll bargain for a crust of bread in some remote locale where one has to be inoculated before going there. We’ll have an educational and hopefully rainy vacation experience. This time, however, the FIRST time, we’re going to be lazy motherfuckers who will only rise to pee, and even then, well, the ocean’s right there, isn’t it?
As my friend Jane says of my vacation, “Smoke a Cuban cigar (legal down there) and buy yourself a box of Xanax (legal down there), and you can gaze into the ocean with a hint of a wry smile, knowing everybody can suck it. I know that's MY ideal vacation.”
You said it, sister. I’ll send you a postcard.