I always hated the first week of back to school after summer vacation. In grade school we had to compose a paper about our adventures over the summer. In high school, it was the topic of discussion for an entire hour or so. I used to sink down into my seat hoping the teacher would overlook my presence. There were a couple of years that I added some spice to my “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” paper. I had to compete with those papers that included mind blowing adventures that usually took place at Disney or some other novelty vacation spot. It was a difficult task. Most times it ended in epic fail. How could my adventures of hiking the woods, observing black bear at the dump and spending hours watching moose drink out of a marsh compare to a trip to Disney or SeaWorld?
Growing up, family vacations and 3 day weekends meant packing the vehicle and heading up north. We lived in New Hampshire so when I say “up north” I mean way up there. Often times we’d stop at different scenic areas in the Franconia Notch, however, our destination was the northern most point. We were literally only a few miles from the Canadian border. There was nothing up there except wilderness and a few run down mom & pop markets for supplies and groceries. Sometimes we camped. Other times we rented a cabin on the lake. Eventually, when I was about 9 or 10, my parents bought a piece of land 3 1/2 miles into the woods. For the next few years our vacations were spent clearing the land, dining on soggy sandwiches from the cooler and spending the evenings scrubbing off pine pitch. As a young teen, that was not my idea of fun. In fact, it was quite embarrassing.
As the years went on, the camp was built and that was our vacation and weekend destination. I didn’t much care for it. My parent’s idea of fun was going to the dump towards the end of the day to watch the black bear or taking drives down logging roads to watch the moose that had come out to enjoy the marshes. We’d spend the days at the lake that was at the end of the road. There was no beach area. It was a secluded lake that was rocky and had an abundance of cold springs. Other times we’d hike through the woods searching for inlets and waterfalls. Some nights, as a treat, we’d dine out at the local restaurant. The decor included mounted fish and wildlife on the walls, the food was served in baskets and drinks were from a can. They didn’t offer glasses with ice cubes.
I swore up and down that when I was old enough I would never travel north again. There would be no more wilderness, isolated lakes, nature and renting cabins that were away from any form of civilization. I would only eat at restaurants that offered unlimited glasses of ice laden drinks. I was going to do things my way. And, I did. I went to popular clubs, enjoyed pricey cocktails, dined at expensive restaurants, did a little traveling, lived in the city and spent my vacations at popular destinations with overpriced gift shops. I took tons of pictures to compensate for the ones I wasn’t able to take growing up.
It didn’t take long for that to fizzle out. I had hundreds of picture laying around of my novelty vacation spots and city life, but I often gravitated towards the pictures taken of the times spent up north growing up. I craved the smell of fresh air, beautiful lakes that had been untouched by the modern world, the solace of the woods, campfire meals, dinners in a basket or cardboard box, toast made over a campfire, and off the beaten path places. The vacations and weekends that we took when I was growing up is what I came running back to. It was in my blood. For the first time, I was grateful that my parents gave me those memories and experiences. I may not have shook hands with Mickey Mouse, but I had spent many times amongst the most astonishing wildlife. I had never swam the oceans at Myrtle Beach, but I’ve floated in the water of those isolated lakes watching moose feed off the shores.
In the here and now, I have no shame in admitting I’m a backwoods kind of gal. The high life doesn’t impress me. My free time is spent taking rides off the beaten path and down dirt roads with marshy bodies of water on each side. I stop for painted turtles that are stranded in the middle of the road and relocate them to safety. Just yesterday I looked out my window and saw a deer in the driveway eating leaves. My favorite restaurants are those hole in the walls that serve up better fare than those 5 star restaurants. I no longer enjoy pricey cocktails. If I want to indulge, it’s in a plastic cup and I’m seated on a patio chair by an open fire. Vacations are spent in isolated cabins or non-touristy areas by the ocean with chintzy gift stores and taffy shops. Most of my souvenirs are things that don’t have a price tag on them…sea glass, rocks, shells, wildflowers that I dry and pictures I take.
With summer here, it’s the perfect time to make some memories with your kids. A fun, family vacation doesn’t have to involve a popular vacation spot with rides and expensive souvenirs. Put away the cell phones, iPads, handheld games and give your kids a camera. Take a drive off the beaten path or spend a weekend in a town rich in history. Hike some trails and swim in a lake that’s not overtaken by multi-million dollar summer homes and speed boat residue. Those lakes are hard to fine, but they do exist. Eat lunch out of a cooler by a waterfall or the ocean. The possibilities are endless. The kids might pitch a little fit. I usually did when my parents announced that we were taking off up north. That will pass in time. It might not be now, but at some point it will. Just make some really great memories.