"Vacation" is one of the most happiness-inducing words in the English language. It's also one whose definition changes with age.
When you're younger it often means a trip with your family, most likely tucked somewhere into the months-long break that's automatically worked into your schedule each year. (I'm not bitter or anything.) Your parents do the planning, and you're just along for the ride.
When you first enter the working world, vacation means the few precious days that let you cling to the illusion that adult responsibilities still don't exist. You ration out your 10 or so allotted vacation days with stingy finesse — a true 20-something art form.
The great news: If you're lucky, your employer actually pays you while you're not there working! Isn't that crazy? The bad news: Your parents aren't paying for those beach trips anymore and — spoiler — they are expensive. Plus, all of the annoying logistics now lie in your hands.
These facts recently became abundantly evident when I took my first "real adult" vacation, a trip to the Bahamas. I know, I know — you probably hate me right now because it's currently an arctic tundra in Baltimore and I sound like a spoiled brat.
I know this because I spent a surprising amount of time leading up to the trip feeling guilty about those exact things. I'm a generally anxious person, but I never realized that something involving beaches, sunshine and frozen rum drinks could create any uneasiness.
When my boyfriend surprised me with plane tickets for my birthday, I was unbelievably grateful and excited. But hiding beneath that, I also felt overwhelmed. It's too much, too extravagant, I thought. I don't deserve to take a trip like this at my age. Who do we think we are?
We've only just started to make enough money to actually care for ourselves — should we really be spending it on this?
Things didn't get any better when I started to research lodging options. I couldn't help but calculate every hotel rate as a proportion of my paycheck, and felt my heart drop a little more each time. However, I soon learned that when four semi-broke 20-somethings combine forces — my roommates came along, too — they can create impressive resourcefulness.
Like true millennials, we turned to Airbnb and found a great deal on a condo, then focused our energy on praying the host wasn't a serial killer. She wasn't!
Slowly, my guilt about the trip started to fade. Yes it was a little pricey, but I could trim other areas of my budget to compensate. Sure, it was a bit impulsive, but it seems like the best time in my life to be just that.
We're right in that sweet spot where we're young enough to be slightly reckless but old enough to afford it.
Overall, my first adult vacation went very smoothly. The Airbnb condo wasn't sketchy at all, we didn't miss any of our flights — though we came close, thanks to some clumsy rescheduling by US Airways — and no one got locked up abroad.
We got ripped off on cab rides and paid way too much for ridiculously sized tropical drinks in souvenir cups, like true Bahamian tourists. Though we were only there for four days (gotta preserve that cherished vacation time), the short burst of sunshine-induced endorphins at the end of a bitter-cold February was well worth the price.
And I learned to lighten up a bit.
Ellen Fishel's column appears regularly in b.