Monday, April 1, 2013

Spring break, all I ever wanted

Spring break is something I have coveted regularly since grade school. While referred to by different names depending on which school I attended, it always meant the same thing: vacation time. My family went away fairly often throughout my childhood, and while I always enjoyed these trips and am appreciative of them, my one-track child mind cared about one thing--not having to go to school. Whether or not we traveled didn't matter to me as much as getting a break from homework, my teachers, and waking up early.

But today, as I sit on my parents' couch in suburban Connecticut, opposed to a chaise lounge in the tropics, I find it hard to feel the same way. It's not so much that I am desperately craving a beach vacation (I was lucky enough to go to the Caribbean in January), but that I'm being told by pop culture that by staying home I am "doing spring break wrong."

The ocean in Treasure Island, Florida
I'm not really a "spring break" person by typical college standards. I have a difficult time seeing the appeal of partying-into-belligerence and dropping tons of money to do so, which often seems to be the expectation. I did go to Florida during my spring break last year, but the trip was quite far from anything you'd see on MTV. However, as I made my way through the beaches and cities of St. Petersburg, Tampa, and Clearwater, I found myself surprisingly disappointed by the lack of exciting nightlife and daytime opportunities. I realized that even though I intentionally avoided debauchery-filled hotspots like Daytona Beach and Miami, I had still managed put the state of Florida on a pedestal, assuming it would provide me with a magical vacation, since, hello, I was a college student on spring break.

A film called "Spring Breakers" recently hit theaters and I had the (mis)fortune of seeing it. Overall the film was trash and I would not recommend it to anyone, but it did have an interesting message, if nothing else. The storyline follows the experience of four college-aged girls who, after obsessing about spring break, manage to travel to Florida to "live the dream." Their vacation quickly goes from a carefree (read: raunchy) party scene to getting involved in gang-related crime, and ultimately partaking in a murder spree.

The super classy stars of Spring Breakers
This is, of course, an unrealistic and quite absurd portrayal of the average spring breaker, but it exposes the shallowness and hedonism that many young travelers possess during this season. College students flood the beaches in herds, trying to create an experience for themselves that is ultimately more destructive than enriching.

This type of tourism carries much further beyond college. A couple months ago I saw an advertisement for a huge travel expo that was coming to Long Island. I was very excited, and decided immediately that I would attend. I imagined meeting representatives from travel spots all over the world, and listening to fascinating lectures about different locations and types of travel. Unfortunately, after looking a little deeper into the expo, I realized it was more of an opportunity for hotels to sell timeshares than anything else. And people were still happily attending.

I am not against frivolous travel. I think everyone who travels is entitled to have a good time, and if that includes wild partying or staying solely at all-inclusive resorts, then that's okay by me. To each his own. But I am disheartened that so many people view this as the only way to spend their fleeting amount of vacation time; whether a week off from the school semester, or a total of two weeks off from an entire year of work. When I see my friends posting pictures of their trips to Panama City Beach, I want to shake them and say, "Did you know you could've traveled to the real Panama City for less money than you just spent? How much more exciting would that be?" 

If someone willingly chooses a less exotic travel location, then fine, but knowledge of what I consider true travel is diminishing more and more in our culture. Many people say they would love to travel the world, but go their entire lives without leaving their native country. I implore everyone settling for a "fun" spring break to imagine where they could have gone, and what they could of done instead. I certainly am from my couch.

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