“What are you going to do in Catalina for six days?” my friend asked. She, like me, likes urban travel for her vacations: museums, historical sites, restaurants owned by works-class chefs. My response was a blank stare for a second, and I’m rarely at a loss for words. “We relax,” was the first thing I could think to say. But relaxing is an acquired taste – a developed skill. I’ve been practicing how to do it in Catalina for the past fifteen years.
It all started around the turn of the century, when we were invited for a day trip to visit friends who’d rented a house for the week. In that one day, we did most of the things it now takes us the better part of a week to do. We walked around the shops briefly, spent a couple of hours by the water at the so-called “private” beach at Descanso, sat at the house talking for a little, and then had dinner at the then-extant Blue Parrot, a seafood restaurant with an elevated view of the harbor.
I vowed to come back the next year, and we did, with my dad and mother-in-law in tow. We got a couple of rooms in the Hotel St. Lauren, famous for its pink exterior, and did pretty much the same thing as the time before, but this time we spread it over two days. Meanwhile, the grandparents found a cafe looking out on the crescent harbor and continued their ongoing conversations in New Yorkese in Avalon, for a change, instead of their typical Brentwood cafe.
Over the years, we rented places every August, sometimes bringing friends along or meeting them there. When my nephew turned two, my sister and brother-in-law decided to join us and, over the next eight years, we rented the same condo at the Hamilton Cove complex, just outside of Avalon. We spent hours on the veranda looking out at the Greek Isle-like vista, and settled into annual patterns like: shop at the local Von’s upon arrival and go to the pool, second day was the walk around town, third day at Descanso beach. We always cooked breakfast in, with me as the galley chef. We always ate lunch out, always BBQ’d one night, always miniature-golfed, plus a bunch of other annual “always” initiatives.
People travel for many different purposes. It’s been a while since I was in the travel industry myself, but, as I recall, the top reason people traveled was to visit relatives. Keeping it in the family is still the major motivator for a trip. After that, people travel to see friends, see or do new things, and, among other reasons – for the purpose of relaxation. Personally, I’ve always traveled with the urgency of wanting to knock places I haven’t seen off my list and/or re-visit places I loved. I plan my typically ten-day trips by hitting the ground running with nearly every day pre-planned. I’m busy most of the time when I travel.
But what I call “relaxation travel” has the purpose of creating liberties from the daily grind that ultimately allow a person to relax. You are relinquished from decision making, freed from a time schedule and unshackled from a to-do list.
It all starts with not having to set an alarm to awaken. I love staying up late, and having to cut short my night’s sleep is one of the biggest contributors to my frequent drowsiness at odd times. When I’m home, I dance up to four times a week, which entails setting out around 7 pm, and staying out until midnight. I love my pastime, but even our hobbies can turn into chores when partaken of night after night. Many dancers are either young, or already retired, but my work day generally stretches from 8 to 4, Monday through Friday. That makes for a morning alarm at 6:30 am, and no respite for a nap on my sofa until 4:30 pm, if there are no afternoon errands to run.
In order to play hard, you actually have to work hard; it makes the play part sweeter. It goes without saying that I have no work and no dancing here, but, that I can get most places that I travel. What’s different here from my regular destinations is that there is nobody to meet up with other than who I’ve brought along, and no pressing things to run out to see. Having said that, people who only come here once or twice can and will find activities to do: I’ve been on golf cart tours, glass bottom boat tours and we’ve rented kayaks and bikes in the past as well. The beauty of having been here so many times, however, is that I don’t have to do any of that. I’m free of the obligation of trying to occupy myself with external attractions, and can instead sit with a book and read, write Ruth’s Truths essays, or just surf the web on my iPad. As a family, we also like to play board games, card games, and color in coloring books. I brought my crochet bag, but have not yet bothered to even unpack it.
When you create or follow traditions, you find yourself having to make fewer decisions. This is part of the attraction for those who strictly observe dietary plans, religions, and specific cultural practices. Not having to make so many decisions releases stress. For Type-A personalities like me, however, who seek opportunities to problem solve and take responsibility, I’m switched on 24-7 and 365. That’s why I love coming to Catalina once a year, for a break. Last year, all of my trips were decision-heavy: India, Europe and multiple jaunts in and around California, including replacing our annual Catalina trip with a week in the Bay Area.
There is travel, and there are vacations.