My Fourth of July ‘obligation vacation’

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By Kimberly Steinbruck
My husband and I just returned from what we call an “obligation vacation.”  These are the vacations you have to take, not the ones you want to take.  For us, it means dragging ourselves up to Connecticut for the semi-annual family visit.
Very few people seem to understand that an obligation vacation is not a vacation at all.  Co-workers ask why I put quotes around the word “vacation” in my out-of-office message. I do it because it’s not a REAL vacation. It’s not about fun and relaxation (as vacations should be).  It’s just something ya gotta do a few times a year.
Kind co-workers and friends say things like “Have fun!” “Get some rest, you deserve it!”
Well, neither of those things will happen, but we do appreciate the well wishes.
For those who say, “A vacation — I’m jealous.” I say, “Don’t be.”
The sad truth of it is this: These trips kinda suck.  I know, I know, that sounds harsh and you think I’m exaggerating.  Really, I’m not. Let me break this particular trip down for you.
Here are some of the highlights:
•    Fighting through huge crowds in the airport — and hating those people for looking all happy since they are going on real vacations.
•    Six nights in six different beds, each day waking up wondering where the heck I am.
• Packing, unpacking and re-packing each day — now where did I put my clean underwear and, more importantly, my phone charger?
• Up early every morning to start that day’s visits, and bitter that there is no time to sleep in.
• Fielding the various schedule questions: “When will you be here?”  When I get there. “But, what time?” I don’t know. I came up here to see you.  Are you leaving town or something?
• Spending several hours each day visiting with relatives and running out of conversation in the first 10 minutes. (Quick, think of something before Dad hands you a stack of political articles and email jokes to read! On the upside, he doesn’t read them to us anymore.)
• Having to explain all travel decisions — not sure why people care so much, but it goes something like this …
o “Why did you fly into Boston?” Because flights are direct and cheaper.  “You can fly into Hartford for the same amount.” OK, whatever you say, I’m sure Travelocity was broken the many times I searched for flights.
This same line of questioning continues until we finally admit the truth: “OK, fine, you got us — we wanted a date night in Boston to decompress at the end of this trip. Yes, we tried to sneak in one night of actual fun. Shame on us.”
o “Why did you get a Ford Crown Vic for your rental car? It looks like a cop car.” Well, it just happens to be what they gave us, but I like it because it has a huge trunk which will accommodate the bodies of everyone who asks me too many annoying questions.
• Attempting to eat healthy, yet finding it impossible. I have protein bars in my bag, but OK, if you insist, we’ll smile and eat the Dunkin Donuts muffins you bought just for us. [Note to well-meaning relatives — the word “bran” when it appears on a Dunkin Donuts menu does NOT mean it’s healthy, but we appreciate the effort.]
• Emergency calls to my sister when all the liquor stores are closed: “Hey, it’s me. I’m at Mom and Dad’s house. This is an emergency! Do you have any red wine at your house?  Really?  You do? Great! No, type and brand do not matter.  Any kind will do.  Just hurry over with it.”
I guess when you come right down to it, it’s about control. On a trip like this, you just don’t have any.  You spend a lot of money and burn much-needed vacation time, but it’s not about you.  It’s about them. It’s the price you pay for moving away and living in paradise.
So, to those who say, “Welcome back, hope you had a great time,” I’ll just say, “Thank you, we did, but we are ever so happy to be back home where we belong and, quite frankly, even happier that we don’t have to take another obligation vacation for at least another six months.”