by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

Vacation

The arrival of summer has got me thinking about vacations.  You will agree, I am sure, that during chance sidewalk encounters with friends and acquaintances, after the usual backchat about your health and the weather, the subject of a vacation is a stock enquiry.  The summer months naturally lend themselves to thoughts of cottages, lakes and travel.  In the winter months, the hope of releasing oneself even briefly from the snow and slush is high on the agenda of most people.  But the conviction is not uniform.

For many years during my early career as a sole practitioner it was unthinkable to take a vacation.  A vacation was akin to abandoning a crying baby (a metaphor which may more accurately describe the psychosis within).  And even if I were able to convince myself that my Clients could bear the deprivation of my company for a week, the more compelling obstacle was the cost of a vacation, by which I mean not only the cost incurred while away but also the cost incurred in the lead-up to the vacation and afterwards the resurrection of the office upon my return.  Invariably it would be necessary to decline favourable retainers in the month before the anticipated departure either because the consummation of those transactions collided inconveniently with my absence or because it was conceivable that overseeing the venture may be required during the same period.  Additionally it would take time after my homecoming to reignite the fires of commerce to the point where a profitable return was realizable.  And if I were to be completely candid I have to confess that my constitutional inability to manage financial resources was another  impediment.  Being a compulsive spendthrift is an unwelcome accessory to the most basic financial planning.  There is also the further frozen truth that in the early years of a small business many proprietors live hand-to-mouth and keeping one’s bills and staff paid is not an obligation to be taken lightly, even if the motivation is more fear than anything else (a preoccupation of the sole proprietor which seemingly never disappears).

I suppose this blunt reality of small business is not uncommon.  I have for example heard of restaurateurs who never took a vacation until they finally sold the business.  Small business owners are quick to make excuses for their tireless conviction to their work.  When you are on your own there is so much at stake in keeping the thing afloat.  And there is certainly no employment contract which comes anywhere near delineating the prescribed extent and periods of vacation, not to mention the non-existence of anyone to take your place while you’re at sea.

Eventually of course things change.  The reward of refreshment which comes from a vacation, however brief, can no longer be ignored.  It is undeniable that vacations, like exercise, are medicine. Initially I began by taking holidays over long weekends, perhaps extending the allotment by a day on either side.  Usually this presented none of the customary concerns about abandoning the office or my Clients because, as I soon discovered, many other people were doing precisely the same thing so it became quite acceptable to “take off early”.  As you might imagine, the narrow window of opportunity meant that economy of travel was paramount.  This however did not mean that one couldn’t drive any long distance; rather it meant that one might instead fly to the intended destination.  These long weekend jaunts thus included places like Fort Lauderdale (to which one can fly direct in about three hours and which in the summer is the best kept secret, the empty beaches comforted by a constant and cooling Atlantic breeze), New York City, St. John’s, Nfld.  and – closer to home – the JW Marriott Hotel on Lake Rosseau near Minett in Muskoka (a leisurely and picturesque four-hour drive through Algonquin Park).  As these tours were arranged off-season (Florida in the summer, Muskoka in the autumn) there were palpable savings to be enjoyed both for air fare and accommodations.

The extravagance of being away for more than a weekend was gradually stretched to a week, but once again the timing was intentional and deliberate to avoid unwelcome fallout.  That meant, for example, that I tried as much as possible to take the week at a time when business was destined in any event to be slow – such as over Christmas week (though my mother never failed to remind me how inopportune my absence was from her traditional Yuletide family ceremonies).  The same period was in later life enlarged to span both Christmas, New Year’s and the first week of the New Year (inevitably another quiet time).  If this latter period was combined with the Friday before Christmas (admittedly a cautious indulgence as the day was normally dedicated to office parties and not commerce), the total trip could dilate into something approaching three weeks.

Lately we have given up airports as much as possible, especially if we recklessly absent ourselves for three weeks, preferring instead to drive to the vacation destination.  Again the winter target is off-season, this time Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where the temperatures are cooler but there are still palm trees and bicycling on the beach.  The off-season savings here are pronounced, easily as much as 50% below summer rates.  We take a full three days to get to Hilton Head Island, making a point to enjoy short daily driving commitments and the amenities of the hotels where we perch along the way.  We also make a point of avoiding Interstate 95 at all costs!  Even though we jokingly say we swing westward to California to avoid Interstate 95 (taking Interstate 81 instead), not only is the drive more pleasurable (through the Shenandoah Valley) but the time it takes is almost identical after factoring the assured delays for traffic jams and accidents on Interstate 95.  The swirling maze of highways surrounding Washington, DC and Baltimore are not to be believed!

Many, many years ago (under the financial umbrella of my parents) I traveled extensively in Europe.  It was not however until only months ago that I determined to return, this time to Sardinia, Tuscany and Rome.  Trans-Atlantic air travel (especially the westward return when jet lag is the most nettlesome) is not for the pusillanimous.  I would think for this reason alone trans-Atlantic cruises are to be preferred if one must really go to Europe.  I am clearly showing my age when I say that the inability to converse skillfully in a foreign language is a damper, though certainly the people in the hospitality industry make every effort to speak English.  Nonetheless the incapacity creates a noticeable gulf between the tourist and the native inhabitants, and as a result the shared conversation is pretty much confined to what is on a menu.  I suppose one shouldn’t complain because, aside from hoteliers and shopkeepers, most native citizens abhor tourists (tell me when you last spoke to one here!).

I know it will excite some people when I say that, as beautiful as Europe may be, I am still deeply impressed by many of the resorts on our own continent.  This acknowledgement, combined with a dislike of air travel and the adoption of the adage that “there ain’t no ship to take you away from yourself”, goes a long way to encourage me either to stay home or to wander not too very far afield.  Sorry if this sounds stodgy and unadventurous.  Perhaps for younger people, the gain of seeing the world is greater than for someone as staid as I.  Still I am not entirely devoted to the back yard.