Lessons Learned – We’re Back from Vacation

We’re both back from our summer vacations, and after years of traveling we’re still discovering what we like and what we don’t like about going on vacation. We remember the days of piling the kids in the car and singing songs (we liked) and then turning around to yell at those same kids to “Cut it out!” (we didn’t like). We keep refining our list of things we like so we can better plan for future vacations.

It wasn’t news to us that we love almost any kind of gelato from almost any gelato shop in Italy, but can you design a whole vacation around ice cream?  We’ve long known that we are not campers. We don’t even pretend to be. Joyce has “fond” memories of her last family camping trip – over 20 years ago  – when some outdoorsy friends from Lancaster suggested the two families meet for a weekend of camping at French Creek State Park. On Friday morning, when the weekend weather forecast looked bleak, Joyce called her friends and suggested spending the weekend at a nearby Holiday Inn instead. Indoor pool! Free breakfast! TV!

The friends laughed. They thought she was joking with them. Give up camping without even trying? So they stuck with the camping plan and woke up Saturday morning drenched; the water had leaked into the tent. The scrambled eggs were soggy. In the end, Joyce had fun, but not the kind of fun she ever wanted to have again.

We love a good hotel. In most of the world, a night in a hotel usually includes breakfast the next morning with local treats, such goat’s milk yogurt, fresh baked croissants, and figs from the tree in the yard etc. In some hotels, you can even sit in that yard and enjoy your breakfast al fresco.

Breakfast on the balcony in Cambodia: Dragonfruit and banana pastries. Yum. 

In a hotel, it’s nice to find hot coffee in the lobby first thing in the morning and even nicer to come back at the end of the day and find that someone has straightened the bed and left a chocolate on our pillow.

When you stay in a hotel, you get help, and we love a good front desk. We like to get a recommendation from the girl at the front desk for a great local restaurant, not the tourist trap on the waterfront with the chalkboard out front that reads, “Visitors much love you eat here.”

We like the free paper map the desk clerk gives us. She circles where we are in magic marker, where we want to go, and then points us in the right direction. “Go out the front door. Make a left and then a right.” We try not to get confused by the big blue “Mr. Bag” on the map; it’s a local leather shop that paid for an ad on the map, not our ultimate destination.

You are here.


We’ve learned that we’re not group-tour people. We hate being told what to do and when to do it. When the group zigs, we want to zag. If we like a place, we want to stay there – not get back on the bus by 3 pm. We don’t care if the bus is leaving. In fact in Morocco, when everyone went to take a guided walk, Joyce and Ted turned in the other direction. They have fond memories of that fun afternoon they spent on their own drinking mint tea, chatting – or trying to – with the locals, and wandering into the shops.

We are city folks. We’d rather be in Barcelona than in the Spanish countryside, in Boston rather than Cape Cod.  We like to walk around and window shop. We enjoy museums – big ones like the Vatican Museum as well as the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, one family’s private art collection housed in their palace.

We like it when there are many different activities to choose from. A jazz festival in town. A traveling craft show on the waterfront. A culinary walking tour that features local wines. We get shpilkes when we are stranded in the great outdoors with nothing more to do than look at the scenery. As Ellen and David realized after their summer excursion: “Seen one glacier, seen them all.”

A glacier . . .

. .  another glacier

There are certain places in the world that can only be reached by cruise ship – like Glacier Bay in Alaska. So when we’ve taken a cruise, we’ve made the most of it. But if there’s another way to get to a place, we prefer it.

We’d rather arrive in a little town on our own rather than with 4,000 other people all headed to the same souvenir shops to find tchotchkes. We love a good tchotchke, too, but we like to find it ourselves, like the time we wandered through Orvieto and bought Italian dish towels from a very undiscovered local linen store.

Shopping with the locals in Istanbul.

We do enjoy a good buffet, which is why a cruise is a bad idea for us. We need limits – when to eat and how much. When we were walking around the deck at 10 a.m. to see the mountains, it was disconcerting to bump into a kid with a huge ice cream cone. Should we be eating ice cream at 10 a.m.? Where’s did he get that ice cream?

Ellen and David’s recent cruise came with 15 drinks – per person! – a day. The first few days, they just had their usual glass of wine with dinner. But by the last day, Ellen felt compelled to drink her allotment – or at least try. She had a mai tai at lunch, a daiquiri at 1 p.m., a whiskey sour at 3, and wine at dinner. She was woozy when she texted her (adult) sons photos of the drinks and commented how excessive she thought her drinking was. They texted back, “Glad you’re having fun!”

So as we think about planning our next vacations, we’ll keep in mind the things we like: gelato, big cities, shopping and wine with dinner. Just not in a tent.



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