The theory behind vacations is that they provide a brief respite from the everyday stage play of fighting kids and too many bills. You get some rest, have some fun and return with a kindlier attitude toward humanity. The reality? Ha. A vacation often entails the same daily dramas, just set against a different backdrop.
If the beach seems so been-there-done-that, and the pixie dust has definitely worn off the Magic Kingdom, then it might be time to consider spending your summer vacation in a different way. Even a life-changing way. Here are a few ideas.
Vacation for a Cause
The venture started with a bike ride.
In 2002, Daniela Papi (ND ’00) was teaching in Japan when she visited a friend in Cambodia. She found it a land of spectacular vistas, with its floating villages, rice fields stretching to the horizon and stilted thatched houses.
But it was also a country in transition, struggling to rise after the lethal regime of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and the subsequent invasion by Vietnam. “ Cambodia was left without educated people, with no educational infrastructure and a devastated economy,” said Papi. “It is only recently that the country has been a safe place to live and travel.”
In December 2005, Papi and five friends decided the best way to experience Cambodia was to cycle through it, tracing out a 1,000-mile route over the course of five weeks that took in sights such as the Killing Fields and the Angkor Wat temple. When the trip ended, Papi and friend Greta Arnquist founded PEPY Tours, a venture that combines off-the-beaten path Cambodian tours with the opportunity to do hands-on volunteer work along the way. Costs vary per tour, but PEPY charges $700 for the typical one-week bike trip, not including airfare, with another $500 contributed as a donation for the projects. “We call it going where your money is,” said Papi.
In 2006, PEPY—the name conveying an environmental message of “Protect the Earth. Protect Yourself.”—conducted five tours with groups ranging from 6 to 36 people. Some of the tours involve biking, while others are “volunteer tours,” where participants travel to a site to help build schools, work in orphanages or assist other community projects. One project involves providing bicycles for students finishing primary school so they can travel to secondary schools to continue their education.
Molly Fogarty (MSACCT ’03, ’02) joined a weeklong bike tour in March 2006 and spent a day singing, dancing and teaching some of the 500 students at the PEPY-sponsored school. “The children were just wonderful—bright-eyed and so enthusiastic to learn,” said Fogarty. “They also wanted to teach. Several taught me basic words and phrases in Khmer.”
The PEPY “voluntourists” initially tended to be in the 21-30 age bracket; 60 percent were American expatriates living in Asia. Now, Papi sees people outside that age group and from many countries. For 2007, PEPY has 10 tours planned, including a fall biking tour to temples in very rural areas usually inaccessible to travelers. A tour participant doesn’t have to be a serious cyclist, said Fogarty. “You find strength to be able to do that ride. Parts were on red dirt roads, parts were in heavy mud,” she said. “But I never really got tired. I never tired of seeing the people coming out of their homes to wave at us.”
Go for a Guy Trip
Summer is the wedding season, and that also can mean the appearance of the happy occasion’s sometimes raucous companion—the bachelor party. But even this most storied of masculine traditions recently has undergone a makeover. Darren Hitz (ND ’99) launched Adventure Bachelor Party in 2004 with the idea that men would prefer to celebrate with a memorable trip spent whitewater rafting or driving cattle than a booze-soaked weekend they would rather forget.
“Guys are getting married older,” said Hitz. “This means they have already done the Vegas thing. They also have more disposable income and they are busier, which means less time with friends. They appreciate the male-bonding opportunity.”
Adventure Bachelor Party is a cross between a travel agency and tour guide service, said Hitz. He creates a detailed itinerary (which includes mother-hen notes about what to do if you miss a wake-up call or travel shuttle); books the outfitters and lodgings; and provides lists of nearby restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues. He also collects the money, which saves a group member from having to hit up everyone else.
Since launching, Hitz has booked about 30 tours with the adventures ranging from skydiving to golf to mountain climbing. Because most wedding parties include some members with modest financial means, Hitz keeps the package price reasonable, with the per-person cost averaging about $350, excluding airfare. Cattle drives and rafting are the most popular adventures because the activities are unusual. “You really want to take yourself out of your comfort zone—without killing yourself,” he said.
Has he ever lost a groom?
“No,” Hitz laughed. OK, one, but it wasn’t the fault of a failed parachute or a mountain-climbing mishap. “I have lost a groom who decided he didn’t want to be a groom anymore. They had to cancel the trip. It really frustrated the rest of the party.”
Return to Dorm Life, Sort of
The amenities at Notre Dame Family Hall are admittedly on the spare side—fans instead of air conditioning, no TVs, single beds. And the bathrooms? Communal, and down the hall, said program coordinator Marian Appleton, with a laugh.
But for more than 25 years, an average of 3,000 visitors have descended each June and July to vacation on the campus’ venerated grounds, staying in dormitories such as Fisher Hall. This will be the 15th year for Michael Garry (’45) and wife Elizabeth of Fairmont, Minn., who organize family reunions at Family Hall with their eight children and 16 grandchildren. Elizabeth Garry pooh-poohs the idea that the less-than-luxurious accommodations amount to any kind of hardship. “It’s a wonderful place,” she said. “There are so many things to do.”
The campus offers many features that are hard to find in one vacation spot. There is golf, tours of the Snite Museum of Art, daily supervised activities for the kids, swimming and canoeing. For many families, though, walking around campus is the favorite pastime. “Families go out and throw a football on the quad, or play a lot of games. Anything that draws a family together,” said Appleton. “It’s more like it used to be years ago.”
Plus, the stay is cheap. Rates run $25 per night for alumni and spouses; two children can stay in another double room for an additional $10. Weekend-only stays cost $5 more per night. Each double room includes two single beds, linens, towels and a sink. And there’s one more Family Hall amenity—the freedom to roam, said Garry, whose grandchildren mostly grew up in big cities where bike riding was limited to the driveway. “At Notre Dame, the children felt free and that they would be safe, wherever they went.”
Test Drive Your Dreams
Growing up, Brenda DiMuro of Vancouver, Wash., baited her dad about her future career. “For as long as I can remember, I would tell him I wanted to be a winemaker or a Mafia wife,” she said. “Mafia wife” eventually was discarded. But the idea of making her own wines held, even as DiMuro developed a well-paying career in financial services with a major national bank.
About three years ago, she tore an article out of an Alaska Airlines in-flight magazine about Vocation Vacations, a company that advertised the opportunity to “test drive your dream job.” Clients could try out a career for a few days without quitting their day jobs. DiMuro plunked down about $1,000 for a two-day winemaking stint at Cherry Hill Winery in Willamette Valley, Ore., in 2005. “I had read all about winemaking, but until I could see someone do it, I didn’t know if the experience was going to be dirty or pretty,” she said. “And if it was going to be dirty, I wanted to know, could I handle it?”
Brian Kurth, who founded Portland, Ore.-based Vocation Vacations in 2004, said most “vocationers” don’t sign up on a lark. “Seventy percent of our customers are looking for a career change,” said Kurth. “They are not desperate, but they are disgruntled. They’re burned out.”
Vocationers pay from about $400 to $2,000 for one- to three-day experiences, depending on the job. There isn’t a typical customer, Kurth said. Ages range from 18 to 70, with most customers such as DiMuro falling into the 32-55 category. And for many, their dreams are not all that glamorous. Food, animals and fashion are the most popular categories. Starting a coffee shop comes up a lot. However, there are some exotic offerings, such as working with a NASCAR pit crew, hanging with a celebrity wedding planner, blacksmithing swords or assisting a forensic pathologist. There are occupations Kurth won’t offer. “We avoid politics, religion, sex and drugs. But we do rock and roll.”
At the 90-acre vineyard, DiMuro received a crash course in the fine old art of vinification from winemaker Chris Luby, who himself came from an insurance career. She walked among the vines, measured the Brix or sugar levels of the grapes, picked, smelled, tasted. And had her “aha” moment, which helped her decide that owning a winery was definitely in her future. “I was in the lab area measuring the Brix,” DiMuro recalls. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is what I am talking about, right here.’ I can’t explain it any better than that.”
Become a Football Hero
“I wish I could have a remote control in my hand right now and just replay the first two hours over and over again, or put it on pause,” said Robert Haberkorn (EMBA ’96), a dentist from Cape Girardeau, Mo. “It’s better than Christmas.”
The subject of Haberkorn’s fond reminiscence is Notre Dame Football Fantasy Camp, an event held on campus each summer since 2003. Organized by Patrick Steenberge (’73), a former quarterback under Ara Parseghian and president of Texas-based Global Football/Global Sports Group, the football camp draws avid Notre Dame fans from 25 states, as well as Great Britain, Australia and Canada. Their ages range from 23 to 72, although most are in their 40s. And their athletic abilities? Those vary widely, too. Only a small percentage graduated from Notre Dame; most participants are subway alums, who never went to school here but have long histories of loving ND football.
The reason they come is fairly uniform: access. Access to a game, a place and a legacy that they have revered. “With all the interest in recruiting, they have more access to information than ever before,” said Steenberge. “But no one has this access. They get coached by the coaches. They dress in the locker room.”
And then there’s the big hook. “They get to play in the stadium,” he added.
During the week, the campers participate in four 75-minute practice sessions, with assistant coaches including Ron Powlus (’97) and Mike Haywood (ND ’86) running them through the same drills players run and teaching them the plays. Then Saturday arrives—Game Day. The players march out together onto the field to the piped-in roar of a stadium full of fans. For four quarters, they are ND, with the regular game announcer Mike Collins announcing the game and even Officer Tim McCarthy offering one of his corny safety tips. “When you walk out of that tunnel from the dark into the light, you hear 80,795 fans cheering for you,” said Haberkorn. “And no, there aren’t 80,795 fans—maybe a couple of hundred or so people—but the rush and the thrill is as great as you can imagine.”
Steenberge limits the camp to 60 participants, but for summer 2007, he added a second session to accommodate the demand. The cost runs $5,490 per person. From the proceeds, the camp donates money back to the Notre Dame Monogram Club for scholarships. This donation amounted to $50,000 last year.
There’s been the fair share of bruises, scratches, pulled muscles and one separated shoulder, but many players come back. Steenberge even awards varsity letters for years of attendance. “The first year is all about football,” said Haberkorn, whose family now vacations with some of the other fantasy campers and their families. “After that, it’s all about the friendships and the bonding.”
—Carol Elliott is the managing editor of Notre Dame Business.