Some time back, I posted a blog piece discussing the concept of vacationing after retirement. You can review it at http://www.terrilabonte.com/tag/vacations/. I asked whether you can still call it a vacation when you no longer have a job from which to vacate. After considering the routine of my post-employment life and the activities I enjoyed on a couple of trips Max and I took after retirement, I concluded that the word “vacation” is still appropriate.
Recently, we visited Williamsburg, Virginia. There is something about the whole vibe of Williamsburg that relaxes me, reduces my physical and mental pace, and delights me. Max and I have been there together three times now. Each time, we have highlighted different sights and experiences. We repeat some activities, but, for the most part, each visit has been different. This time, we experienced a rather impressive number of new adventures.
If I had to put a label on the theme of this trip that made it different from prior visits, I’d probably say that this trip focused on “immersive” experiences.
We went to a reenactment of an actual colonial trial. We’ve done that in the past. This time, though, I volunteered to play the part of the plaintiff. As wild and madcap and uncharacteristic as it was for me to willingly put myself at the center of attention, I actually enjoyed myself. And I did a really good job. Just ask my new agent.
In the colonial city, we also participated in three “nation-builder” talks. Three fantastically smart and incredibly brave historic interpreters channeled George Washington, George Mason, and Thomas Jefferson. These gentlemen spent some time “introducing themselves” to explain who they were and into which specific time period we present day tourists had stumbled. Then, unbelievably, they took questions- any random questions from anyone in the audience (I know because I raised my hand and asked one). It was mindboggling how much these guys knew. What was even more incredible was how deftly they molded the massive quantities of data that must be filed away in their brains into coherent, conversational, and seamless answers to questions they didn’t know the audience would ask. I was in awe.
Not only were these presentations impressive exhibitions of historical prowess, they were damned entertaining. It was more than a mite chizzly in Williamsburg when we were there. The temperatures were in the upper 40s during the nation-building presentations and there was a less-than-gentle “brrrrr…eeze.” We sat in the cold and wind for 45 minutes for each of the talks. We were so mesmerized, we barely felt the blood freeze in our veins.
We ate dinner in one of the colonial taverns for the first time on this trip. We went to Christina Campbell’s, which is a restoration of George Washington’s favorite restaurant in Williamsburg. I say that I have the eating habits of your typical four-year-old. If a four-year-old won’t eat it, I probably won’t either. At Christina Campbell’s, I even pushed the boundaries of my non-adventurous eating. I tried the spoonbread. I didn’t like it, but I got into the spirit of the thing and tried it.
Our “immersive experiences” did not stop at the colonial city. We also visited Busch Gardens. Our main objective for this excursion was to go on two special animal tours. During those tours, we interacted with Clydesdales, border collies, sheep, and wolves. What made the tours even more special was the fact that Max and I were apparently the only two people in the park more interested in animals than roller coasters. On both tours, we were the only two participants. We had private Clydesdale, collie, sheep, and wolf training lessons. I got to pet a Clydesdale, shake hands with a border collie, feed a sheep, and play tetherball with a wolf. It was all pretty terrific, but I have to admit that asking a wolf to jump for her ball and throwing her hot dogs when she did so was over-the-top cool.
This trip really was very different from our other trips. When I think about it, I realize it wasn’t different only because of the activities we enjoyed. The concept of “immersion” went deeper than that. I felt more engaged and connected with the entire experience.
I think my “immersion” experience had to do with the whole work versus retirement thing. When I was working, I looked forward to vacations with almost the same intensity of a dialysis patient waiting for a kidney. The fun of a vacation generated at least as much from what I was escaping as it did from the trip itself. I had to spend a sizeable portion of the vacation bailing work-related stress out of my saturated brain before I could notice the delights of what was actually going on around me during the vacation. Then, there was the period at the end of the vacation when I was reigniting to go back to work. Those periods at the beginning and end of the vacation were not unpleasant. They were helpful and regenerating. It was a personal and professional advantage to take that time to reset my brain. The thing is, though, that it didn’t really matter where I was or what I was doing when engaged in those “decompress and regenerate” cycles. My focus was on the process of resetting my brain, not on the process of experiencing new places, people, and activities. Those new places, people, and activities were really just a backdrop to my own attempts to renew my brain.
Even after I retired, I think I still had the “vacationing from” mentality rather than the “vacationing to” mentality. Taking care of my mother, even before she suffered the stroke, replaced my “regular” job. I didn’t work as many hours at this “new job,” but I invested all my love and energy to create as beautiful an experience as I could for her. In creating that beautiful experience for my mother, I also created one for myself, but doing so required energy and focus. When I went on vacation during the time I was caring for my mother, I had as much need to concentrate on renewing myself as I did when I had a paying job.
I think this trip to Williamsburg might have been my first vacation that was really about the vacation itself. It is kind of ironic that, after grappling with whether a pleasure trip is still a vacation after you retire, I should come to the conclusion that post-work vacations may be more pure vacation than those trips during career life.
Now that I no longer have to focus on renewing my worn-out brain during vacations, I find myself much more able to throw myself into the experience of the vacation itself. A vacation is now an event instead of a respite from events. I can immerse myself in the novelty of the experience. I can participate more fully in the “only on vacation” moments- the activities, the sightseeing, the food, the environment, etc. Everything about the vacation seems somehow more “in focus” than when I took a vacation while I was working. It feels like I was experiencing vacations in 2D when I was still working and now I can perceive the vacation third dimension because the part of my brain that shut down to destress while I vacationed from work is now available to process a richer, more complete experience.
I don’t know whether I would say that vacationing after retirement is “better” or “more fun” than vacationing while one is still working, but it certainly feels different to me.
What do you think? Are vacations different after you retire? What has your experience been? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com. Please also email me if you would like to join the launch party for my book, Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement. There are still lines available for the conference call.
Also, if you would like to get an early copy of the book, you can go to https://secure.mybookorders.com/Orderpage/2076 to order. If you use the promo code terri, you will receive a 15% discount. Those of you who are attending the launch party, either virtually or in real life, may want to wait as I will be offering a larger discount for party participants.
Finally, Happy Mothers’ Day! I’ve been working on a Mothers’ Day post, but it just wasn’t coming together as quickly as I had hoped. I decided I would rather do it just-ice rather than just-in time, so terrilabonte.com will be celebrating Mothers’ Day at some future date. For those of you living in the real world, though…. have a warm, wonderful celebration of motherhood whether your mom is in this world with you or not.
Phew!!!!! Hope I haven’t exhausted any of you. Please try to get some rest today, after reading this marathon!