Couple Travel: How to Cope When One of You Gets Vacation Burn Out
I have a small confession to make. It had been quite a while since either Tom or I had done a long road trip and we packed a bit too much into our recent trip to New Zealand.
Well, it wasn’t ENTIRELY our planning at fault. A torrential downpour that made headlines in New Zealand also contributed to some extra time spent in the car – a lot of extra time.
Before I get into that (and the bridge that washed out) let me back up a bit. This trip was a bit historic for my little family as Tom had studied in New Zealand 12 years ago in college and hadn’t been back since. As most anyone who has ever studied abroad knows, the place where you study holds a very special, pedestal-level place in your heart.
Needless to say, Tom was very excited to get back to all his favorite haunts. Sadly to say, Tom had studied in earthquake-ravaged Christchurch.
We flew into Christchurch and started our trip there. Tom convinced me to get showered and leave our hostel room – a big feat as we’d just been flying for 20 hours and I was exhausted, but sometimes in marriage you have to make sacrifices. So I woke myself up to walk with my hubby down memory lane and get dinner and drinks at his favorite bar.
Unfortunately, memory lane was destroyed.
Tom hadn’t gone into this blindly. He knew the 2011 earthquake had destroyed a lot of the town; what he didn’t realize was the extent of it. Many websites for businesses near downtown were still live and had never been updated. It also became apparent that just because a business wasn’t in the red zone didn’t mean it wasn’t gone. This was the case for the two bars he counted on still being there. Instead, there was a cleared out area where rubble had no doubt once lived. The city was a ghost town. Even for someone new to the area as I was, it definitely cast a melancholy haze over the visit.
So the trip started out with a depressed hubby. I did my best to rally him and remind him of all the fun things we had planned and that we’d go to his favorite bars and places in other areas of the South Island he’d visited during school.
The next day we left Christchurch to head to Abel Tasman for a couple days of kayaking and Tom was immediately in good spirits again. Driving through New Zealand is enough to refresh anyone due to its vast and diverse beauty – I mean, you literally feel like you’re driving through Lord of the Rings. It’s almost surreal. Plus, Tom is one of those weirdos who loves to drive. He finds it relaxing. Though he was still a little bummed about Christchurch, the drive got him all excited and reminiscing again about New Zealand.
Sad-hubby-on-vacation crisis averted.
Until a week later when the driving seemed to never end.
It all started with a bout of torrential rain in the middle of our trip that cancelled our Franz Josef glacier hike. I really, really, really, really wanted to go on the glacier tour as I’d never hiked a glacier and I had an article assignment lined up for it. Tom, knowing the glacier was one of the aspects of the trip I was most looking forward to (I mean, seriously, how do you go to New Zealand and NOT even see a glacier), so we figured out we could arrange our schedule to be back in Franz Josef at the end of the week. After looking at the weather report, it looked like it would actually be sunny that day again after a predicted 5 days of huge rain.
However, this did mean the Catlins where we were going to get some R&R after Queenstown for a few days was out. Again, I could tell Tom was a bit bummed about this since he didn’t make it there when he studied in New Zealand and then I felt guilty cause of my desire to hike a glacier. He assured me it was fine as the weather promised a ton of rain anyway, which would have no doubt interfered with the hikes and animal watching we had planned.
So after a few fun-filled (and luckily mostly rain-free) days in Queenstown we did the long drive back to Franz Josef with an overnight stop in Wanaka (which was also a charming lakeside surprise).
Then when we were about two hours from Franz Josef, Tom woke me up from my passenger seat slumber (Second confession: I’m not always the best road trip passenger).
“Can you check the map to see where Harihari is? It’s close to Hokitika.”
“Sure,” I answered groggily and picked up the map. I perused through it and looked in the index, but couldn’t find it. “Harihari isn’t on this map,” I said, confusedly since this was an 80-page atlas of New Zealand and had everything on it, even Lord of the Rings references. “Why?” I added, as my brain woke up enough to wonder why he wanted this information.
“I just saw a sign saying the bridge between there and Hokitika is out,” Tom said. “If that’s the road to Christchurch, we’re fucked.”
I glanced at him. He looked very stressed out. Tom doesn’t get stressed out very often so when it happens I instantly want to make everything better. I’m the one prone to stress in our relationship, yet as soon as he shows signs of it, mine instantly pales – it’s like some part of my brain realizes two people in a relationship can’t be stressed at the same time or the world will implode. Or something like that.
“I’m sure it’s fine. Bridges don’t just go out on main roads,” I replied assuredly. Well, unless you’re my hometown city of Minneapolis…
I don’t mention this to Tom.
We arrived in Franz Josef and Tom runs into the gas station. He comes back out looking way too stressed and tired for someone who’s just had a nearly two week vacation.
“It’s out. Until TUESDAY,” he announced flatly. “Fuuuuuck!”
I bit my lip. This was bad. As Tom had explained to me earlier, if the bridge was indeed out on the Highway 6 that meant we had a 10 hour drive instead of a 4 hour drive the next day back to Christchurch. Which we couldn’t leave for until after the glacier hike and which we couldn’t postpone because our flight to Auckland left the following day.
“It’ll be fine! I’ll help drive.”
Tom gave me a look. My left-hand-side-of-the-road driving had scared him earlier in the trip.
“I can drive on open roads,” I replied dryly.
“We won’t have time to do anything in Christchurch,” he said sadly.
I wasn’t sure what to say to that. Though it was true there was nothing much left we were still going to walk around his old campus and try to make new memories there.
“Well, maybe the drive won’t take as long as you think,” I said brightly.
I got another look, this one clearly saying “do you have any concept of distance or maps or anything to do with numbers?”
(Which the answer to would be mostly no.)
We got to dinner later that night with Tom still looking glum about the driving.
I leaned across my Speights beer and smiled at him in my toughest wife “you need to get it together” smile.
“I think we need to make a New Zealand gratitude list, babe. I know we’re sick and tired of being in the car, but we’ve done some pretty awesome things this trip. Remember wine tasting and kayaking -”
“Even kayaking, the second day got wrecked by the weather,” Tom pointed out.
“Well, weather happens on trips sometimes!” I exclaimed. “If we’re good travelers, we roll with the punches.” I leaned back and stared him down.
He grinned at me.
I ticked off some more. “We saw Milford Sound – barely. The road opened up just in time for us to get there for our ferry tour. And we had a lot of fun partying in Queenstown. And we went down a nature-made waterslide.” I emphasized this last part with beats on the table.
“I know, you’re right. We’ve had a lot of fun,” he agreed with me. “I would’ve been fine if that bridge hadn’t gone out.”
“I know. That really, really sucks,” I said sympathetically.
“I don’t remember the driving bothering me so much in college when I was here,” he said, sounding surprised in himself.
“You weren’t on a time crunch then. You knew if you really needed to you could change or postpone your plans easily.”
“Yeah, I’m just tired,” he said. “We packed in too much. I’m actually looking forward to going home to rest.”
“I know you are,” I said in my most sympathetic-wife voice. “And we probably did pack in too much. But in our defense we weren’t expecting weather issues like this.”
He nodded and I saw to my relief that he was starting to look a bit more perky. Everyone needs to vent sometimes and though Tom doesn’t do it very often, he needed to vent about not planning a perfect vacation – which we’re spoiled with usually getting.
“This is good,” I said optimistically. “We learned a lesson. From now on we’ll spend several days everywhere instead of jumping from place to place so much.” I leaned toward him again. “We’re old now babe. We can’t go, go, go like we did in our twenties,” I teased.
What to do if one of you becomes burnt out on the vacation:
-Be understanding. Don’t yell at the other one that they’re ruining the trip. Instead, listen and let them get what’s bothering them about the trip off their chest so you can both move on.
-Do express your concern. If the venting goes too long, point out that you don’t want the end to be the focal point and reminisce of the fun things you’d already done on the trip. A gratitude list can be a big help for this.
-Create a surprise or something to look forward to. In my case, I sat down and started searching for massages in San Diego while we were in our hostel room in Franz Josef. “What are you doing?” Tom had asked with a slow grin. “You, my gallant driver, are getting a massage when you get home,” I’d replied. Giving him that piece of luxury helped him to have something to look forward to during the muscle cramping 10-hour drive the next day.
-Remind them change doesn’t change memories. Places do evolve, it’s only natural. Remind your honey of this when they get sad over how things have changed at a favorite destination. It doesn’t detract from their memories. If anything, they’re lucky they got to experience it in the way they did to make it so special.