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After Work: Tell Me About Your Travels, Not Your Vacation

…I don’t want to hear about vacations. And I really don’t want to tell you about mine. I’ve reached a conclusion: vacations are boring. And it takes a skillful storyteller to turn them into something more than the self-indulgent, pleasure-seeking respites that vacations usually are…

However, Dona Gibbs does proceed to tell us something of her recent holiday in France. And right glad we are that she does so, for Dona has a way with words which would make a description of the packing of a suitcase into the best read of the week.

Vacations that go exactly as planned are just that: vacations, a time of freeing yourself of the mundane chores and nagging responsibilities that can exhaust you before you’ve even begun.

Vacations involve delectable meals prepared by somebody else. Meals are accompanied by the wines of the region. With a cheese course and dessert. Both.

Vacations mean you don’t have to make your bed –just lie in it.

Vacations are usually enjoyed in places with beautiful scenery. Maybe it’s soaring peaks capped with snow. Perhaps it’s vistas of endless grasslands. Or quaint villages. Ornate temples. Winsome children.

And let me guess, you have photos you’d be delighted to show me of your last vacation.

No, I really don’t want to see your photos. That’s unless I’ve been there myself. And then I’ll regale you with my stories, and you’ll quickly shuffle through your pictures and sigh.

I don’t want to hear about the Michelin two-star restaurant where you had a three-hour lunch. But I’ll gladly bore you with my story of a Michelin three-star restaurant and a four- hour dinner.

Spare me a description of the olive oil mill where you found a fruity, spicy artisanal olive oil.

I don’t want to hear about vacations. And I really don’t want to tell you about mine. I’ve reached a conclusion: vacations are boring. And it takes a skillful storyteller to turn them into something more than the self-indulgent, pleasure-seeking respites that vacations usually are.

Ever-enthusiastic Husband and I have just returned from an idyllic barge float down the Canal du Midi, a beautiful engineering marvel that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The trip originated in Carrassonne, another World Heritage Site, and petered out near Beziers. Thousand of vacationers make this trip every year. So thousands have the same stories of cosseting and beauty.

While the lock system is fascinating, after the first dramatic, wonders-of-hydraulics lock opening, you have the picture of what lies ahead. Since nobody asked me to pilot the barge, I lost interest immediately.

Mornings we were taken by vans to whatever historic site, winery or the inevitable olive oil mill. While we weren’t exactly given a knotted rope to hang on to, the little outings did have the feeling of a well-organized school trip.

After the first sumptuous lunch, I decided, “No more midday rosé for me.”

I had retired to our cabin and my comfy bunk, planning to read.

No one page did I turn. I watched the trees pass by, throwing dappled, leafy patterns on the ceiling. And I fell asleep. “Must be the wine,” I thought.

Next day, no wine. I retired to the cabin. Once again I fell asleep. The pattern was set for the next four days.

So now you get the picture. The trip wasn’t a big yawn, it was a big nap.

I’m certainly not the first to recognize that there’s a big difference between vacations and travel.

Travel has challenges. Say like waiting for an overhauled airplane engine in Arusha, a city near Mt. Kilimanjaro when there’s a lack of hotel rooms.

The unexpected shakes up plans and we’re forced to get out there past what is called our “comfort zone”. There was the time the airline lost luggage in Mumbai. I dashed out and outfitted myself in sahwar kameez in what turned out to be a store for trendy teens. My get-up earned me many curious looks and comments. What passersby couldn’t see were my brand new, flesh-toned undies. I discovered that “flesh-toned” in India is ,well, flesh-toned for Indian women, not a washed-out peachy pink. It’s little discoveries like this that make up my souvenirs.

The unplanned yields a different perspective. There was a never-ending night in San Luis Potosi when a racking cough kept me sitting up in a chair. I spent the time gazing out at a moonlit plaza. That’s the kind material that makes for a good story, at least good enough for friends and family.

Examine the work of well-known travel writers, notables like Paul Theroux, Tim Cahill, Susan Orlean and Bill Bryson. They write about the discomforts, the near-death experiences, the quirks, the one-of-a-kind characters, the mishaps, and the meandering paths that are far from well trodden. In their writing we can smell the jungle. Our fingers reach to pull the leeches from our own legs. We unconsciously brush away the soot from our foreheads. We hear the swamp mud sucking at our boots.

Compare that to hearing about people’s vacations. That usually means enduring a tedious recitation along the lines of, “The next day we took the half-day excursion on a rice boat. Then we had the most wonderful fish curry served on a banana leaf. We ate with our fingers, no kidding. Oh, you’ll never guess who we saw in the restaurant, Mattie and Joe. Halfway around the world.”

There are those who hope to pique your interest in their vacation yarn by nitpicking. “Nobody told us automatic shift cars were so scarce at rental agencies.” “What kind of a fish restaurant runs out of mussels?” “I couldn’t get the pharmacy to understand I wanted plain ole aspirin.” “Three weeks in China and we couldn’t find one Italian restaurant.”

No, Ever Enthusiastic Husband and I had no complaints about our vacation putt-putting 110 kilmeters down the Canal du Midi.

It was perfectly boring. Just the way vacations are meant to be, I suppose.

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