The weekend before Thanksgiving our family went on our first “vacation” since we bought our beach house. We went up to Hershey Park for the weekend (just one night) with some out of town friends. It was - at the same time - both great and a bit of a mess, and both Maureen and I came away from it with much stronger opinions about vacation.
Hershey Park is about two hours north of us in Pennsylvania, and it’s a very good setup. They’ve got a tour of the chocolate factory, a big park with lots of rides, and a zoo showcasing all sorts of animals from North America. They do it right at Christmas too, all lit up and a two mile long drive through light show. The whole family had a good time, but the kids especially loved it. They went crazy to make their own chocolate bars, ran around to see everything, and were generally excited all the time.
In a lot of ways, they acted the same way they do when we’re at the beach. Here, they get excited about everything, run around a ton, and are generally happy and excited all the time. There’s more to do outside and more space in general, and so they have more room to run here.
But that similarity - and the difference in it that we saw - was what was striking about vacation for us. So here’s what we saw as parents on that trip. There was a lot of logistics to pack, to drive up in the car, several parking fees of $10-20, Chocolate World entry fees, tons of queueing with lots of humanity, stroller logistics, artificial wonder driven by commercial sales of “stuff”, more driving and parking, poopy diaper logistics, $45 tickets each into Hershey Park, hotel logistics and sleeping arrangements, and crappy processed food for every meal.
Maybe all of that is a perfectly reasonable tradeoff every once in awhile, but none of that is why people go to places like this for vacation. They go for the wonder and excitement of the kids. The same wonder and excitement we see in them every time we head to the beach, but without all the artificial, commercial facades.
Maureen and I both had the same reaction. While it was fun, and it was fun to go with our friends, overall it wasn’t worth the price we paid in money, time, and stress. We came back from that weekend having spent several hundreds of dollars, more tired and stressed than when we left. That doesn’t sound like the rest and relaxation most people have in mind for vacation.
Contrast that scenario with right now - the first weekend in December. We drove down to the beach Friday afternoon and cooked a nice dinner of grilled chicken and broccoli. We took the kids on a walk and went to see the town Christmas festivities on Saturday, including Santa, a hay ride and a scavenger hunt. The kids ran around, got excited, and stayed happy the whole time. Maureen and I have both de-stressed this weekend, eaten all sorts of good foods like avocados and bananas, and everybody is happy. We’ve also spent less money.
There’s no doubt about it, having a second house is a way of life. And, as I’ve mentioned before, we don’t do the normal week-long yearly vacations most families do. What we learned from our Hershey’s trip is that that’s ok. We’re not really missing that much. And for what we are missing, the price is pretty steep.
We learned from our Hershey’s trip that we’re happy with that choice, and we’re fine with all of our vacations being to the beach. When the kids get a little bit older and can help more, I’m sure that will change. But even then, I think the focus of our trips will be a bit different. There’s nothing totally special about our beach town that makes it better than lots of other places. The difference between the beach and Hershey Park is that the beach is authentic and natural, whereas Hershey’s is an artificial, commercialized, built up world. We’ll follow that same pattern and aim for National Parks or castles in Europe instead of amusement parks or other money and stress traps.
Until then, we’ll stick with the beach. We get to “get away” all summer and lots of weekends, and we never have to leave home. Our toothbrushes are here, our clothes are here, and we feel relaxed. Churchill had it right - change is the master key - but it still has to be the right kind of change.