Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Summer vacation.

Been having trouble recently deciding where my almost 13 year old daughter Claire and I should go this summer on vacation.  For the past 4 or 5 summers we’ve taken a fairly exotic trip together.  And I guess it’s become our thing.

It all started on sort of a whim.  We’d been doing the usual things, going to the Jersey or Delaware beaches, venturing as far as Nantucket one summer.  And we actually had enjoyed Nantucket so much that we’d booked a return visit. 

I'd been enjoying traveling all over the world myself, but was beginning to think that the idea of returning somewhere again and again had an appeal for a family trip, however small a family we may be.  I grew up spending a week each summer in Ocean City, New Jersey.  It was nothing fancy, we’d rent a house and go to the beach and the boardwalk.  We read tons of books since there was never a TV in the houses that we rented.  I am not sure if that’s because of the price point my parents could afford, or if it's a sign of how old I am.  Sometimes my Aunt and her daughters came along, or would visit for a couple days.  Either way, I grew up knowing my way around Ocean City and sort of liked that I had a place that was my vacation spot as a kid.  And as much as a traveler as I am, I thought that maybe Nantucket would be my daughter’s spot. 

But at the last minute, our plans for a return trip that summer changed (long dramatic story involving a man we'd actually met in Nantucket that previous summer who became my boyfriend, and then wasn't) and fairly heartbroken I said, “Screw that, if we’re not going back to Nantucket, well then we’re doing something and it is going to be GOOD.”

And I didn’t think very long before I knew the place we’d go. The only place I’d been that I could see making up for this last minute change in plans was Greece.  Santorini specifically.  I wasn’t even willing to take the risk to go someplace new on the off chance it wouldn’t be great. I knew it had to be fantastic and Santorini was the only place up for the task.

Now, years later after all the places I’ve been, Santorini still remains the most beautiful, amazing, gorgeous place I have ever visited.  The first time I went was back in 1997, a medical school graduation present to myself and my husband at the time.  We spent two weeks in Athens, Mykonos, Paros and Santorini.  I’d already known by then I loved to travel, having tagged along on several of his business trips to California, London, and Prague.  So when my graduation came and I knew I was about to undertake a number of years of 100 plus hour work weeks with little vacation time for next to no money, we took a trip somewhat beyond our means and I have no regrets.  It solidified my love for travel but also showed me one of the most gorgeous places on the planet I still have ever seen.  So... when I needed a reliably gorgeous place to spend a relaxing week with my daughter Santorini was top on the list.  About 4 weeks before our intended departure, I booked two plane tickets to Santorini and a week-long stay in a studio apartment in Oia.
Red Beach
It turned out to be a great trip and the start of my daughter’s love for travel.  We rented a car and each day after waking up late and eating a nice European breakfast, we would drive to a different beach on the island.  Perissa, Kamari, Red Beach.  We’d lounge in the sun, eat a leisurely Greek lunch at one of the tavernas that line each beach, then sit in the sun and swim some more.  Then we'd pack it up in time to have a swim in the pool back at our apartment and a snack (for her) or beer (for me) before getting cleaned up to go out to dinner in town.  It was a perfect trip and exactly what I’d hoped for when I booked it.

On the long flight home, when I was at the point that always happens where I just want to be back home, the novelty of being tired and crammed into a flying aluminum tube over, my daughter leaned over and asked me, “Where are we going next year, mom?  And it has to be farther than Greece!”

And so it began.

The following winter we sat down at my laptop on the couch and tried to come up with a location for our next summer trip.  I said basically that for all intents and purposes we could go anywhere.  Anywhere!  So we pulled up a map of the world and started to think.  We’d already decided that a beach had to be a component of the trip, since we both love the beach.  Neither of us are particularly museum and historical sites kind of people.  Certainly not Claire at age 9, which I guess she was at this point.  And frankly, I’m not much for all that either.  So we looked at the map and she pointed to Africa and said, “How about Africa?  Looks like there must be lots of beaches there!”  And I confirmed that yes, I was sure there was, but if we were going all the way to Africa, we weren’t just going to the beach, we would go on a safari.  And I explained to her what that was all about and well, she was sold.
Claire and a Masai warrior
So with that extensive forethought (not!) I did a little investigation and promptly booked a two week trip to Kenya, 10 days on safari in 3 different spots followed by a few days at a Kenyan beach.  And the trip was fabulous.  Words cannot explain.

The following summer I made an impulsive last minute decision to rent a house at the Jersey shore for the entire summer and so we didn’t take our big trip.  But then last summer, I had a hard time coming up with something until I took a business trip to Barcelona.  I was there working and suddenly thought, Hey, Spain is nice and there are beaches here too! 

And so (it is turning out to be a bit of a theme here) without a lot of thought I booked us an apartment in Marbella Spain.  We spent a week driving along the coast to Gibraltar, taking the ferry to Tangier Morocco, enjoying the beaches in and around Marbella.

Evening view from our rootop in Marbella,
overlooking the Mediterranean
Which is all a long winded wind up to this summer.

Where to go?

I thought maybe Galapagos.  Seems to meet our needs.  It would be an aquatic safari basically.  But I found out that despite it being at the equator and despite it being summer, the water is pretty cool that time of year.  Wet suit required for snorkeling.  And the cost?  Oh boy, double the price of Kenya, for half the length of the trip.  Egypt?  Lots of cool stuff and even beaches nearby.  But there’s all that civil unrest.  Not to mention it’s 102 in the shade in August.  Machu Picchu?  Sounds great.  Definitely a bucket list worthy trip.  And there are beaches in Peru, just fairly difficult to get to. But for some reason, I couldn’t get Claire really psyched on that one.  I'd really loved what I’d read about Jordan.  Swimming in the Dead Sea, some antiquities, Petra.  But again with the oppressive summer heat.  I love Asia and have been there on my own just about every winter for the past few years.  But there’s a reason I’ve been going in the winter, our summer is monsoon season there. 

It seems like it should be easy, shouldn’t it?  Plan a summer vacation anywhere in the world.  But when push comes to shove it’s my hard earned money at stake and my just as valuable time off. 

But it seems like impulsiveness wins again.  I get tons of emails from various travel sites and tour guides and generally I only refer to these for some inspiration, ideas on places to go.  I am not a fan of group travel.  Why take a trip following a group around when you can do it all on your own?  Planning the trip is half the fun.  But yesterday’s spam was about family trips.  Organized and planned with families in mind.  Itineraries geared toward families and kids. And I thought Hey, that’s a win win!  At her age my daughter would rather be around other kids, and traveling with her alone occasionally leaves me wishing for just a little adult conversation.  And lo and behold there was a family trip with some beach time, kayaking, ferries to islands, old walled cities and the like, scheduled precisely when we have the time to take it.  So a spontaneous deposit later, this summer’s trip will be spent on the coastline in Croatia!

Watch this space!


  1. There's something to be said for this kind of impulsiveness. I choose movies this way, and our decision to go to Italy was similarly impulsive: it's really not high on our long list of places we want to go (don't tell Italy I said that), but that, too, has a certain appeal.

    What's the tour company you'll go with, and how big is the group? What does Claire think about going to Croatia?

    1. Hey Jen! The company is Intrepid Travel. At most the group will be 16 people, but so far it's just the two of us signed up! Claire doesn't know much yet, I've talked up so many places and then decided against them for all the reasons I wrote about that I haven't really gotten into talking about this trip choice yet. Besides I just booked it yesterday! And frankly, as long as I tell her it's far and there's a beach she'll love it.