A Little More Conversation, A Little Less Action

In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, we came face to face with our society’s obsession with entertainment. It wasn’t Hollywood stars or pop icons hounding our dollars, but entertainment of the “tourist attraction” variety.

Everywhere we turned we were promised family fun by the tons.

I had been given a media pass by the CVB, a professional courtesy that makes it easier for visiting members of the media to evaluate local attractions. The pass entitled me and a guest free admission to numerous Myrtle Beach businesses, including amusement parks, museums, theaters, mini-golf courses, aquariums and other various attractions. Without this type of assistance from local tourism organizations, I couldn’t afford to do my job. I am, to be clear, hugely grateful for all the help I received from Myrtle Beach’s Chamber of Commerce.

But, it slowly became clear to me that there is such a thing as too much fun.

Or rather, there is certainly such a thing as too much structured entertainment. Too much paid fun. Too much doing! and seeing! and tourism!

We spent so much time and money running from one attraction to another – receiving two complimentary passes left us with two admission tickets to purchase for the remaining family members – and very little time just being together. I anxiously watched the money pour out of our wallets, frustrated to realize that we didn’t seem to be purchasing a greater sense of togetherness or relaxation. We had moments of fun, but they were fleeting, like the short-lived enjoyment of a straight-sugar pixie stick.

It seemed the quantity of entertainment didn’t directly correlate to the sense of fulfillment I had at the end of the day. Nor did the expense.

It had never occurred to me before that we might, as a society, be overly entertained. But boy do we have a tendency to demand more. We want to be entertained while we eat with pirate shows and mystery theaters. We want to be told what there is to do in the places we visit. We want to be razzled, dazzled and amused at all times.

But are we giving up joy and peace in exchange for all this amusement?

The best time we spent together as a family in Myrtle Beach was at the beach and Brookgreen Gardens. The beach was free and the Gardens cost less than $20 for 7 days of admission. Neither came with advanced technology or flashing billboards. These “attractions” were simple, quiet, and inexpensive – and it was here that we all seemed to experience the most joy.

We walked. We talked. We played. We laughed. We learned.

On our last day in Myrtle Beach, Jared and I talked about the stress I’d experienced and what kind of decisions we’d make for ourselves in the future.

“I understand now why people say they need a vacation from their vacations.”

We haven’t been selective about where we would invest our free time and entertainment money. We’d bought into the idea that we should be entertaining our children constantly. I was measuring my success as a parent and provider by how many admission tickets I could purchase. Every single no felt like a failure, no matter how many times I’d said yes previously.

We had to slow down and rethink how we look at entertainment.

I believe we need to be just as conscientious about how we spend our free time as we are about how we spend our money. We choose quality over quantity in other areas of our lives, why not family entertainment? Why do we let marketers tell us what will be fun, instead of making our decisions based on our values and personal history? Why don’t we pay attention to what actually brings our family joy instead of assuming everyone else knows best what will amuse us?

Our time, whether it’s spent together or alone, is one of our most precious commodities. It is, I think, even more valuable than our money. I need to start being a little more vigilante about what influences the decisions we make about how we spend that time.

Do you put much thought into what your family does for entertainment? Have you ever invested a lot of time or money into something that was supposed to be fun and later regretted it?

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  1. In one post, you just described the difference between my husband’s family, and mine. We took unstructured vacations, while his family took scheduled-and-passes-paid vacations. I’d never experienced the latter, until we started dating and visiting his family. It’s been an adjustment.

    On the flipside, however, Brookgreen Gardens is one of my favorite places on earth. It makes me think of my college boyfriend’s FABULOUS mother, her ham-and-cheese morning biscuits, and hours spent wandering through sculptures. I love it there.

  2. Emily says:

    I live in NC and Myrtle Beach used to be our yearly vacation spot. The reason we stopped going had to do with a lot of what was said in your last post. Over the last 5 years or so Myrtle Beach has turned into too many over priced attractions and junk stores. They tore down the long time famous Pavilion and boardwalk area and replaced it with high rise hotels. Instead of a family beach it has now become a hangout for the younger crowd. I wish you could have traveled up the coast a little more to Oak Island, NC. This beach is perfect for families. The beach is a lot cleaner, no high rise hotels to spoil the views. No fast food joints every block just locally owned restaurants. Very few of the tourist shops that carry the same merchandise that you find at every beach. If you have a chance here is a website for Brunswick County. Hope you stay safe and have a great time with the rest of your travels! http://www.ncbrunswick.com/

    • Miss Britt says:

      We did find that even just North Myrtle Beach had a totally different vibe. Definitely want to explore more of the Carolina coastline some time!

  3. MB says:

    When you are ready for a vacation from your vacation you can come to Vermont and sit around the bon fire, watch the fireflies, listen to the crickets and frogs, and makes s’mores.

  4. Bonnie says:

    You nailed it.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I think the trick is figuring out what this is for us – a trip? A vacation? What?

      • Bonnie says:

        As homeschoolers, there is very little separation between the segments of our lives. It’s just how we live. So it can be a trip, a job, a vacation, a hiatus, an adventure, a learning experience, or whatever we want to call it today.

        I’m so enjoying following your experiences!

        (I have to say, though, I usually suck it up and get the full service sites. Toting the honey wagon gets tedious.)

  5. Allyson says:

    My family’s entertainment, and general happiness is kind of my job. I put a lot of effort into thinking about what will entertain us. We have four very different personalities to contend with, so often what makes some of us supremely blissful, makes others of us bored and annoyed. I tend to stick to things that I can do with annual passes. The museums, or theme parks that offer pay-for-a-day-come-back-all-year type passes are my favorite. That way, I can “test the waters” with one acceptable price, and if we enjoy the experience enough, we can go back, or I can take whichever family members enjoyed it most, back. Also, I’m a big believer in give the kids a cardboard box and some markers, and let them figure their own fun. (Helpful tip for days spent at home: Kids love video cameras and digital voice recorders. Hours of fun, memories for later, and it’s all done at home for no cost.)

  6. FireMom says:

    You have hit on the number 1 reason why we don’t do Myrtle Beach. Our beach vacation is about the beach, not about lights and shopping and sounds. We go to Emerald Isle, NC on the Crystal Coast. There’s no fast food on the island, one grocery store, a few Wings type places, a Dairy Queen and that’s about it. We travel one day up to Beaufort for the Maritime Museum. But the rest of the vacation? We’re in the ocean playing or shell-collecting or sitting in the beach house building a puzzle or sitting on the deck blowing bubbles or sitting at the dining table eating the meal we just made together. (We do eat out one night at our favorite local restaurant at the next beach up. But just one night.) We prefer that unstructured time, which minus the loads of sunscreen we have to put on, is free. (Seriously: I should have bought stock in sunscreen companies. My family loooooads it on.)

    Now, don’t get me wrong: It was STILL exhausting. Jumping waves and bulling two kids on a boogie board is tiring. Driving for 12 hours is tiring. We were tired when we got home. But it was that good, bone deep kind of tired that lets you know you just had a wonderful time with your most favorite people. The memories we made this year were amazing and worth the Vacation Brain I had the next day.

  7. I learn a lot when I ask my grown children what they remember and liked/disliked about family outings. I never hear about an amusement ride or a paid attraction. I hear about the mess ups, the silly parts, the jokes played on each other, the adventures we had. They talk about a few museum type places we went to, but mostly it’s the goofy stuff they cherish. And if you think back I bet that’s what you remember about your own family times. The rain storm, the pushing Dad in the pool, the goat eating toilet paper at the petting zoo moments.
    You can’t plan or manufacture times like that, but you can allow time and space for fun, memorable things to happen.

    • Miss Britt says:

      My mom says the same thing about my childhood. I’ve been paying attention to what the kids write about in their journals and notice the same thing.

  8. ally bean says:

    I think there is a big difference btwn amusement (which is nurturing) and distraction (which is draining).

    It took me a long time to figure that out. But after one very long and expensive vacation to a large city where we were on the go all the time, I realized that for us “less was more” when it came to enjoying a vacation.

    Now when we travel we do some things with focus and joy– and leave the rest of the things to do for another time. So what if we don’t see it all? Who cares? Life’s too short to return home from vacations all frazzled.

    • Miss Britt says:

      “I think there is a big difference btwn amusement (which is nurturing) and distraction (which is draining).”

      I LOVE that explanation.

    • Bonnie says:

      We went to New York, New Jersey and Maryland last year, and we were SO busy seeing all the sights and attractions and museums that we were exhausted by the time we got home. The best part about the trip was the 3 days we spent exploring the Smithsonian (which is free!). We were with another family who love to really keep moving, but I think it was too much for us.

  9. FyreGoddess says:

    Now (re) read Brave New World. :-)

  10. Heidi says:

    We are most definitely more of the unstructured vacationers. We might plan a day, or two if we’re really up for it, to go do touristy things, but for the most part, we laze around at the beach and relax. This is also why we would never, ever, ever go to Myrtle Beach for vacation – the closest we’ve been is North Myrtle and even that is getting entirely too “do, do, DO!” for our tastes. Give me a small beach town with quaint shops and restaurants ANY day. (Kure Beach, NC and Bethune Beach, Fl are our favorites.)

    • Miss Britt says:

      I think part of our struggle is that this isn’t really a vacation – but we haven’t clearly defined WHAT it is, apparently.

      • Heidi says:

        Well, yes. There is that too. Either way, though – for ME, I totally get the idea that there are just too many things thrown at you at Myrtle. I guess I’m a “road less traveled” sort of traveler.

  11. Megan says:

    Just tackled this very question during our trip to LA last week. “What are we going to doooo?” we all kept asking each other. Me? I like to land in a neighborhood and then explore it, taking pictures and getting a feel for the place, but I worry that Mack will be bored.

    • Miss Britt says:

      “Me? I like to land in a neighborhood and then explore it, taking pictures and getting a feel for the place, but I worry that Mack will be bored.”

      Exactly.

      This is why you and I travel well together.

  12. Nyt says:

    Aaahhh, the American lifestyle. For decades, most Americans have had just a couple of weeks a year to “vacation”, “relax” or have “fun”. Entrepreneurs and marketers recognized this early, and decided to hit the public with their version of “all you can eat” entertainment. One stop shopping in a sense. Get your yearly quota of “fun” and “relaxation” all in one place. Beautiful places all over the country have been contaminated. Wisconsin? Witness the horror that is the Wisconsin Dells. Arizona? Check out the once breathtaking town called Sedona. Now both places are filled with tourists trying to do everything in a day and stuffing their bags with Kachina dolls that have been made in China.

    Even in our limited free time at home, we do the same thing. We fill our homes with the latest distractions, video games, giant televisions, computers, DVD’s, IPods, IPads, and everything in between. Anything and everything is better if it’s shiny and fast….. seriously, that should only apply to cars. Your lifestyle is different now. You’re going to see things differently. Your schedule is loose, if your family would like to explore an extra day or two, you can. It’s a luxury most people don’t have…. or if they do, they call it retirement…

  13. elzimmy says:

    I’m currently struggling with the guilt of a low key summer break for my girls. So far, we haven’t done much this summer but hang out at home and it just doesn’t feel ‘right’ – but this has given me a different perspective to ponder.

  14. Robina says:

    The best time I have with my kids is dancing in the living room, walking the trails at the local park, or playing on a beach. All of which are free. We don’t do much paid entertainment, at all. It’s way too stressful for me!

  15. martymankins says:

    I know that view of the pier very well. Dirty Don’s oyster bar was a great place for scallop tacos and beer.

    The touristy side of Myrtle Beach does take a lot of money to enjoy it all. We didn’t do even half of what you and the family did, which is why our trip there was cheap (cashed in SkyMiles, stayed at our time share, spent 8 of our 10 days mostly on the beach). That’s cool you were able to get passed for a lot of the events and attractions you did.

    It’s the simple things in life that are more enjoyed than the pricey expensive things. At least that’s my opinion.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I didn’t realize you guys had a time share! Curious if you enjoy that model…

      • martymankins says:

        We do enjoy it. We own here in Park City, UT, but just every other year (makes so we don’t have to pony up the $900 every single year). Then we pay a $120 fee to split our week into two weeks, allowing us to have a week every year. Works rather nicely. Our total investment (which we own, no longer making payments) is $17k. Worth it to us. Timeshare is not for everyone, but we found the Westgate one of the better ones.

  16. As budget travellers for many years we have learned really well how to cull down the activities you choose to do. Less is more. We find the best days are those we spend lazing around on the beaches or mountain tops getting to know the local people, reading, eating and exploring with our own two feet.
    It think our children really need to learn the beauty of this simplicity and know that it is always in their lives and they don’t have to have the glitz and glamour to satisfy themselves. I really didn’t like Myrtle Beach, I think it probably was for this reason.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I SO want to “get to know the local people”, it’s one of the biggest motivations for this trip – but I’m not exactly sure HOW to do that.

      Any suggestions?

      • Bonnie says:

        Talk to everyone! In the grocery stores, the campgrounds, the laundromats (but be careful with this one!). I think it will get easier the longer you are on the road.

      • Just speak to as many people as you can as you go around your day. I find it much harder in the Western world as everyone is so much more involved in their own day to day lives, and are a bit more closed off to conversations with strangers.
        In countries of Africa and Asia it is so much easier as you look and sound different and so are appealing in your exoticness to talk to.
        It does get easier the longer you travel and the more you strike up conversations with strangers. Hang out where they hang out!

      • We’ve found some great places on trips by asking people who work in the stores “where is your favorite local place to eat lunch?”. It’s usually a little place with 4 tables and great food!
        We’ve also asked people “what do you do on your days off?”

  17. Val Joiner says:

    Ah, the relentless pursuit of fun. Well said.

  18. Debra says:

    A friend of mine told me once that she was so sad that she couldn’t afford the expensive vacations and glitzy getaways for her kids. I asked her to think back to her childhood (which included several of those types of adventures) and tell me her favorite memories. None of them had anything to do with those trips. They were things like, the talks she and her mom had while picking strawberries or decorating Christmas cookies with her brother and sister… the special times that came with very little cost and no marketing campaigns.

    I love your post. It’s a great reminder to me to make time for, and appreciate more, the special times.

  19. Dick Carlson says:

    As a “sort-of” local (I live about three hours away from Myrtle Beach) I’d tell you that we’ve been there a couple of times, but mostly with people we want to “entertain” when they visit.

    If we head to the ocean, we’re in places like Edisto Beach and Port Royal. No roller coasters, fewer tourists, more beach and less activity. Myrtle Beach is kind of like going to the carnival at the State Fair. Fun once a year, but not anything we’d do on a regular basis.

    As I get older I find (apologies to your hosts) that the CVB is less and less relevant as I travel. They’re pretty much in business to send you to whoever supports them financially, which makes sense. And that’s usually the big hotels, the big attractions, the restaurants, etc. Not the sort of stuff that we’re really looking for.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Well and their goal and target customer that I would WRITE for is definitely different from my family’s goal for this specific journey, so there’s that.

  20. Loukia says:

    We will check out all the fairs that come to town in the summer, because it’s something to do, and it’s fun, but I leave having spent over $60 each time… on what? Horrific fair food, games, and rides. And I’ll tell you this, spending an afternoon—a free afternoon—at the parks near our house? We all have way more fun, we are all way more relaxed, and we are all spending time together, rather than going this way and that way.
    I’m not saying we shouldn’t do the SUPER FUN AND EXCITING stuff like fairs and tourist-y things, but when you’re blowing money so fast and have NOTHING to show for it, that’s when you have to start re-evaluating things! :)

    • Miss Britt says:

      ” but when you’re blowing money so fast and have NOTHING to show for it, that’s when you have to start re-evaluating things! ” Yep!

  21. i love myrtle for the options available, but never take advantage of. i’m always in the water or relaxed on the back deck of the dead dog saloon (technically in murrells) or swimming in the rented home’s pool with family. since many of my vacations involve large groups of family, it is nice to have options. i just prefer to ignore em!

  22. Having raised 4 kids, we always tried to keep our entertaining a little more low-key. We have done our share of Disney, etc, but mainly we would stick to natural attractions or historic sites, being sure to leave time for exploring shops and wandering the beach. We only recently broke down and went to Panama City Beach and even that was in late October! Hate touristy places! Our kids hopefully have great memories of the times we spent just BEing together instead of always doing. Be grateful that you figured this out now!
    Bernice
    8 ways to slow life down

  23. Rachel says:

    Having grown up in Daytona Beach, my idea of a “vacation” usually does not involve touristy…anything. I’d rather get a local’s view and check out a few hip museums, parks, or other vistas rather than shopping meccas and cheesy attractions that seem to be cookie cutter creations of every other tourist mecca. Your post reminded me of another thing I will never understand about people on their vacations: why do they go somewhere new and immediately seek out the nearest Applebees, shopping mall, and outlet center? I can find those things anywhere. Give me mom n’ pop local color any day. Otherwise, I might as well stay home.

  24. [...] a large enough chunk of time off together to make it worth the cost. And then you have that whole vacation obligation thing where you’re in this place and you spent all this money to get there and you feel a moral [...]

  25. Suzi B says:

    When my husband and I first divorced, I was bent on giving my kids be most fun any mom could give….I wasn’t going to be out done by the “part-time/fun dad”! LOL So we decided to go on a 4 day WDW trip. It was absolutely the most miserable time of our lives. And you well know how much the mouse can bleed you of! It ended up being a $1500 vacation with no lasting memories except that my kids remember mom being a crazy nut!

    On flip side of that, I would love to share some of the most wonderful “free/inexpensive” experiences I learned to enjoy with my kids. State parks. All of them from the beach accesses to the springs. They are very inexpensive, we can grill, or sandwich it. Makes for a wonderful day. Free local concerts on a Saturday night. I love Uptown Altamonte for the Jazz. Great entertainment and it’s totally free! Leu Gardens, beautiful, not fond of story day, but great for the flowers and a wonderful place to take pics. Movies from the library….free free free! Awesome way to go! $1.00 movies. I would take both my kids, each got to take a friend, we would go down to Winter Park, see a movie sometimes 2 (during the summer, movies are .50) Go to the Lil 500 for a romp or two around the track at a few bucks, then on to Krystal for burgers! It was the best $25.00 day a mom could have! :)

    Loving checking in to see how you guys are faring!

    Blessings

  26. Lainey says:

    I just found your blog through a friend, and in a funny coincidence, just got back from Myrtle Beach! We go there because my in-laws own a place, so it’s a free vacation for us. I usually leave wishing I had spent more time at the beach.

    We battled our 5 year old asking to us to take her to Pirate’s Voyage, or the Sky Wheel, or any other grossly overpriced entertainment. We picked one modestly priced activity for the vacation, and it definitely was not the $150-for-a-family-of-four dinner theater. I would have liked to check out the gardens, too, with the butterfly exhibit.

    My favorite memory of the trip – the best day there – was spending four hours on the beach with my family. The water was gentle and shallow, so my five year old was able to go out and learn to boogie board with her dad. We learned from another family how to dig for clams and crabs. The shells were incredible, and all four of us knelt in the sand searching for the perfect shell. My 3 year old even found half of a sand dollar, and she was so proud!

    I look forward to reading your blog!

  27. muskrat says:

    I don’t like shit like this on vacation (or any other time), but I do like to have lots of activities/adventures. I hate sitting in the sand all day for 7 days, like some people seem to enjoy doing on vacation.

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