HOW glorious it must feel to be able to afford a sunny holiday every year.
I don’t mean a trip to a summer cottage -- I mean somewhere that takes you out of your grump-inducing winter rain and into a tropical paradise. In theory, at least, there’s nothing more relaxing.
We’ve managed that feat once or twice, but not enough that it’s become a habit. Our inexperience makes the world of travel that much more baffling when we do get the opportunity to take the family on a nice vacation, as we will this winter. My brain has been spinning like a dreidel for weeks.
I always used to scoff at people who escaped to the same locale annually -- the same town, the same condo, probably renting the same kind of car. I figured as soon as they got on the plane they’d order their usual drink and snack, and as soon as they touched down and checked in, they’d resume last year’s game of cribbage with equally routine-hooked Canucks.
“How unimaginative,” I’d think snootily. “There’s a great big world out there. Why don’t they explore it?”
Easy for me to say -- I hadn’t saved up any money and I wasn’t going anywhere. Then my family spent an idyllic couple of weeks in Maui and fell in love. Since then, the debate has been regular. “Would you rather go back to wonderful Maui, which we love and couldn’t get enough of,” we ask one another, “or try somewhere new that might conceivably not be as good, and really, how could it be any better?”
My husband Stanley and son Bart always say they would be perfectly happy to return to Hawaii, rent the place we rented before, once again get the tuna Stanley loves from the nearby deli, and almost get eaten by the same Great Whites. But our daughter Petunia and I are determined to branch out.
Such a brave departure from the familiar seems so simple, in these days of Internet searches. Yet it turns out to be completely overwhelming.
This week I have been all over the map -- at least the map of the southwestern hemisphere within reach of a non-stop flight from Vancouver. We crave sun and surf, and obviously, we are on a budget, so it’s not as though we can choose anywhere in the solar system. We’re going in high season, which makes finding bargains challenging. Other than that, though, we’re open. With so much freedom, however, comes a surfeit of choice.
For instance, whatever the location, should one select an all-inclusive -- with its sociable vibe, bottomless drinks and “free” meals that, for food nuts, may quickly get tedious -- or the relative seclusion of a hotel or condo? Should one set up camp in a quiet village, with the possibility of getting to know a few locals, or succumb to the lure of an existing tourist town “scene,” which would likely work better for teens? When you’re trying to please a family, everybody’s desires must be considered.
The Internet is ready, willing and able to do everything for you except the difficult thing, which is making decisions. Expedia.ca is only one of countless sites eager to book flights, cars and hotels, all at their version of a “deal.”
I get on these sites and can’t tear myself off them for hours. I swear I’ve seen the photographed interiors of at least a thousand vacation rentals and hotels. As I try to organize this winter’s trip, my eyes are bugged out from crisply assessing kitchenettes, dismissing hot tubs as sub-par, and mentally decimating the busy décor in mauve and teal hotel lobbies.
Planning a holiday is the rare occasion when I try to be a perfectionist. But objectively speaking, orchestrating the ideal vacation from afar is not something one can ace.
This is why smart people use travel agents. They have the expertise we do-it-ourselfers are sorely missing. They know that if you travel on certain days it’s cheaper, and if you stay “x” amount of time you’ll get a better deal. We newbies have to learn as we go -- meanwhile, we’re paranoid about making a huge, holiday-wrecking mistake.
Hawaii, I’ve figured out after eons at the computer, is quite expensive during our desired travel period, while Mexico offers bargains -- as long as you aren’t afraid of swine flu. So Mexico it is. One problem for the ignorant traveller: the country’s huge. Also, never having been there, and never having studied Mexico in geography class, I have no idea where anything is. Manzanilla could be Tijuana for all I know. And my obtuse, non-Spanish ear detects little difference between the names Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.
Seeking personal advice can also be confusing. Every part of Mexico appears to have its Canadian advocates. Stanley sent out a note on Facebook asking friends who’d been to the country to declare their preferences. Twenty came back with 20 different areas they loved, none of them the region we’d had our eyes on. Don’t go there, one of them even said. Ai-ai-ai-ai, as Sinatra once sang.
How to sort through all this counsel? We finally concluded that there’s no use asking non-parents where to go. When we’re grown up enough for a purely adult vacation, they’re the ones we’ll consult.
Then we asked ourselves, “Who do we know with children who are similar ages to ours, in the same income bracket, who like the same activities we like, who know a certain spot in Mexico well enough that they’ve gone there again and again?”
After consulting them, we were able to choose a place -- Puerto Vallarta -- and could book the condo they always get (thank goodness they’re experts on it). When we’re finally en route, I may even have what they like to drink on the plane, for good luck.
Presumably, we’ll eventually be confident enough to diverge from their repertoire. That’s when we’ll haul out the guidebooks to decide exactly what we want to do. Of course, if we went to Maui instead, we’d already know. Oh, brother -- there I go again.