Some people, even people who get along famously in their daily lives, do not travel well together. My husband and I are not those people. Any time we've taken a trip — a cross-country drive from Los Angeles to New York, a honeymoon in Paris, London, a spur-of-the-moment jaunt to Washington D.C. — we've been ideal travel companions. And yet, for the past several years, my husband and I vacation separately, without kids, and you know what? It's perfect. Well, as perfect as we can manage at the moment.
In a truly perfect world we would still vacation separately, but we'd also find ways to travel together. We want to go back to Paris, see more museums and historic sites, and just kind of stroll through the arrondissements. We'd love to hike through the rain forests of Costa Rica. We want to travel through Ireland, Italy, and Japan. But here's the thing about that kind of travel: it's expensive as you-know-what, and while we've always (thankfully) managed financial solvency, we have rarely had the resources to fund extravagant international adventures. So our goals for getting away from the mundane schedules of our daily life have had to be more modest.
Barring very expensive, Lonely Planet-esque excursions to Thailand or Peru or Denmark — full of relaxed urban exploring, immersive nature excursions, and cultural and historical overloads — the Venn diagram of our "fun time" interests has very little overlap.
Let me tell you some of my ideal vacation situations. If I can't be flouncing through a tour of Britain's oldest castles with my equally enthralled husband, I'd like to be relaxing on a beautiful beach. Going wine tasting. Discovering a town with a vibrant but relaxed nightlife. Infinity pools in general have long been an interest of mine, too. My husband hates the beach, does not enjoy bar settings, and would rather spend time indoors than lounge poolside.
We simply accepted our differences and have been OK with the fact that we lead pretty separate social lives.
So how does my husband mentally recharge? Well, he's what you might call (and this is a technical term) a massive nerd. I say that lovingly because it's something I genuinely love about him. His idea of a good time, one that simultaneously relaxes and energizes him, is spending hours on a single, extremely complicated board game with a few close friends. That is my version of hell.
What recharges my batteries would drain his. His happy place is someplace I would gnaw my own leg off to escape. Our everyday interactions, conversations, and life is wonderful, don't get me wrong: we love one another's company and stimulate one another emotionally and intellectually. But one person alone is not (and should not) be it, and while we don't necessarily have to pursue our individual interests every single day to be fulfilled, they're still important to us. Rather than try to remedy the situation, we tacitly agreed, from the beginning of our relationship, that there was nothing to remedy. We simply accepted our differences and have been OK with the fact that we lead pretty separate social lives. We encourage one another to get out regularly (in our case once a month) without the other person and do the things that help us maintain a sense of self.
When it comes to "emotional return on investment," our individual vacations are better for the overall happiness of the family than a week-long family trip to a beach house that we're ready to leave four days in.
A few years ago, we decided to extend this policy to our vacations. With limited funds come limited vacations, maybe one a year in our case. And instead of trying to find something we could mutually enjoy that would, ultimately, be a second choice for both of us, we decided to split up and just do our own thing. So every year since 2010, he's taken an annual pilgrimage to a gaming convention with friends (we call it "Nerd Week") while I stay home with the kids and hold down the fort. Later in the year, he does the same as I go off to assorted locations with my friends — Napa, Antigua, Newport — all places my husband either couldn't care less about or would actively seek to avoid.
Perhaps you are wondering about our children. "What about a vacation for them?" you may ask. "It sounds like they're getting the short end of the stick while you and your husband selfishly go on vacations yourself." First of all, way to judge, Judgy McJudgerson. Secondly, it's not like they're poor neglected street urchins who live in squalor while mummsy and daddykins live it up. We're only gone a collective 10 days a year at the absolute most (it's usually closer to seven) and the other 355 days a year we're pretty much revolving our entire lives around them. And we're not boring! Weekends are spent at state parks, museums, playgrounds, and other places that are exciting for 3 and 6 year olds.
A couple, especially a parent-couple, needs to do a lot of work together to remain happy and well-balanced.
Moreover, we've been fortunate in that my parents and in-laws have invited us to join them on a few of their vacations and, honestly, by day three they're already pretty ready to get back to their routines. So I don't feel guilty for not "giving them a real vacation." "Real vacations," by adult standards, mean very little to them at this point. When it comes to "emotional return on investment," our individual vacations are better for the overall happiness of the family than a week-long family trip to a beach house that we're ready to leave four days in.
Vacations are an escape from the normal routines we've established in order to keep our family running. Even the best kind of "normal day" can use a shake-up every now and then. So taking a break and "escaping," so-to-speak, can provide a chance for people to rediscover and nurture themselves in a world where those priorities often comes last... and that kind of self-care looks different for different people. A couple, especially a parent-couple, needs to do a lot of work together to remain happy and well-balanced. But what so many people neglect in that equation is the need for each of them, as individuals, to honor their own needs. Our separate vacations do just that.
So while we'd both love to have the kind of far-flung adventures we mutually enjoy, for now, we're happy to have our own adventures and return to one another more ourselves than when we left.
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