My first working vacation was in 1980, and it came about as many of these first overseas experiences typically do–it fell into my lap. I met some teachers from Imperial College, London at a professional conference. They were working in the same area as I, and we had a lovely chat over lunch. We exchanged business cards and agreed to “keep in touch.” Little did I realize the significance of those throwaway words.
Six months later I received a letter. They had been awarded a grant to bring a visitor to London for three months during the summer hiatus, and they were inviting me. They would pay my airfare, housing costs, and provide a small monthly stipend. All I would need to do is pay airfare for my wife and children.
Sounds great, right? Well not to someone who had never traveled outside the continental U.S. The idea of going to London was a lot to digest; the thought of actually living there for the entire summer was overwhelming and, to be honest, rather scary. I had a wife and two young children, a home, two cars, a lawn, and a garden. I was in a bowling league and played poker on Monday night. You don’t just pick up and leave such pressing responsibilities behind. Or do you?
My fears kicked into high gear and I began to spew out arguments why this crazy idea could not possibly work. Who would care for our house? What about my quest for tenure? How would we pay the bills? How could we disrupt the kids’ lives? What about Aunt Edith’s seventieth birthday? My wife, far more footloose and adventurous than I (she traveled to Europe on her own the year before we were married) had a simple rejoinder for each: We can rent the house to responsible adults; Imperial College is a world-class school; the kids can play with each other and will quickly make friends; we can phone Aunt Edith on her birthday. All her arguments were thoughtful, reasonable, and logical, but in the end only one truly swayed me: “Dammit, this will be an adventure. Let’s do it!”
The biggest stumbling blocks to taking that first working vacation are the nagging doubts and fears that you can actually pull it off. Right now many of you are probably doing exactly what I did all those many years ago—conjuring up a gremlin’s litany of imagined worries and problems. You are convincing yourself that your situation is quite different, and it would be impossible to get away from home this year and, most likely, the next. After all there is your elderly mother, the kid at Camp Potowotamie, coaching the soccer team, teaching summer school.
One thing I have learned during my years of travels is that there is never a shortage of reasons to explain why a chance can’t be grabbed, an opportunity can’t be seized, or an experience can’t be lived. I would never dream of attempting a rejoinder to each and every excuse you might choose to present. Instead, I simply paraphrase my wife’s final and most persuasive argument made to me all those many years ago: “Dammit, it was an adventure. You should go!”