My parents never took me on vacation. Well, not in the summer anyway. And certainly nowhere exotic, fancy or far away. Hotels, beach houses, chalets, cabins in the woods? Those were all for rich people.
I grew up hearing stories of how my classmates celebrated their summers, vacationing with family. This was a completely foreign concept to me.
We didn’t have money for many perks growing up — most certainly no spare cash for an official summer ‘vacation.’ There were no family cabins ‘upstate,’ no trips to Disney, and the first time I saw the beach I was nearly a teenager. I spent my summers playing outside or reading dusty library books. We had day trips to flea markets thrown in there every now and again, but no real summer holiday.
Nevertheless, I did have a week-long hiatus from school, only a few weeks after the semester started. Every year in either September or October, my mother pulled me out of classes to attend a church ‘convention’ if you will. The merits of both the church and their requirements of attending said convention are best left for a later discussion. However, I learned a lot at those church festivals — perhaps most importantly — simply going somewhere new can be an adventure.
It’s a lesson that has stayed with me my whole life.
I remember checking into a somewhat dingy motel in the deep woods of Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania. I was probably only five or six. The receptionist — old enough to be my grandmother — handed me a one dollar bill with a twinkle in her eye. Tourist season had already passed through the town and the tennis courts were sadly abandoned, but my own excitement was palpable. Only a few cars lined the parking lot. My mom must have thought it was safe enough for me to play outside by myself, because I remember hopscotching on the shuffle board area and wandering past those tennis courts, just generally excited about being anywhere except home.
Nowadays, when I travel, I gloriously embrace not having to cook or clean a bathroom (shout out to the maid service at hotels). But that five-year-old hopscotching? I could have done that at home, right? And yet it seemed more special because it was somewhere different.
Every year, my mother would put the cash we had for the trip on a bed. She’d divvy it up into the number of days we’d be there, and then she’d show me the amount we had for each day. It really wasn’t much. It was so clear in my young mind: hotels were for rich people. Motels were for people like us. Year after year, we returned to the Poconos and year after year, we stretched those dollars, including the ones from the desk clerk grandma.
Without fail, every year, we’d stop at a local grocery store and get a package of Pepperidge Farm cookies. And every year we’d order pizza to eat in the room. Then we’d leave the leftovers on ice in the bathtub and eat cold pizza for breakfast the next morning. And no matter how little cash we had, there was always a crisp bill or two left for the maid.
Now, it might seem like the most boring vacation to you (and I’m not going to lie, attending daily church services as a kid was a bit of a drag), but to a little girl who never went on ‘real’ family vacations, it was heaven. You see, those Pepperidge Farm cookies and that takeout pizza were luxuries not afforded at home. And even though we appeared to be staying at the (very) poor man’s version of a hotel, to me, it felt like the Ritz.
I’ve never actually stayed at the Ritz, but since those trips to Mount Pocono, I’ve stayed in some pretty swank places. And while I do tend to prefer luxury hotels over budget-friendly motels, the reality is, sometimes we can’t always afford the former. I’m not sure little kids really notice a difference though.
Looking back on those years in the Poconos, I don’t think I would have had any more fun staying somewhere more opulent. In fact, one year we were so cheap (and crazy) that my mother decided we should camp instead of staying in that motel. It was an exceptionally cold October in the Northeast and yet we had a blast. I liked the whole camping experience so much, the next summer I spent every night in our backyard in that same tent.
The Peanut has been fortunate to travel to some incredible places both overseas and in America. I’ve taken him to Singapore, South Africa and Scotland and lots of states in between. Most recently, we tagged along with the Sailor for his work-related training course and we ended up in middle of Bayou Country, Louisiana. It was insanely hot. The AC broke in our car, and there wasn’t a lot to do in the town itself except sweat. We were kind of in the middle of nowhere.
The first morning there, I took the Peanut on an hour-long side trip to a see an oil rig and immediately regretted it. He fell asleep in the car, we missed the tour and we only saw the rig from a distance. While I mentally kicked myself for reading the website tour hours wrong, my child seemed happy enough to look around outside for a bit, babbling about the drawbridge we saw earlier while pointing out diving equipment that to him looked like planets. We drove back to the hotel, where we went swimming in a pool the size of my kitchen sink and counted the numerous helicopters flying overhead.
Every morning, my child raced to the breakfast buffet, looking for a new flavor of yogurt to try. We found a tiny mall and let him ride a kiddie car for a buck. We ate popcorn chicken from Walmart on the hotel room couch and we watched a morning cartoon on a channel we don’t get at home. These are all such seemingly small things, (and theoretically things we could do at home) and yet clearly my child was having the time of his life.
He may have traveled more in his short life than I did my entire childhood, but he still reminded me that kids can often easily be entertained. He gets downright giddy simply walking into an airport to pick up the Sailor, even if he knows we’re not actually flying anywhere. He wants to be the first to any elevator so he can press the button. And he is always curious about the toilets, sinks and showers no matter where we go, examining each like he’s a plumber-in-training.
Maybe my child is simply at that gorgeous age where everything is special — maybe he’ll grow out of it.
I suspect though, he has more than a little bit of his mama in his DNA. And while I may have upgraded my own accommodation preference from that motel in the Poconos all of those years ago, I don’t think I’ve outgrown the same wide-eyed wonder I had as a child. A new place is always a new adventure — even if you’re in the middle of seemingly nowhere.