My first trip to Cambodia was in July 2004. I had just finished my first year of college as a commuter student and was preparing to move into near-campus housing as soon as we returned. I suppose that it’s fitting that I spent a solid four weeks with family before the distance that would stretch between us when I moved out.
The typical “family vacation” in Western terms generally connotes a nuclear family vacation; when it comes to my family, it meant that an entire clan of us would venture out together. We would take trips to Las Vegas or Laughlin with four or five vehicles, my father’s side of the family, cousins and their children, my uncles and aunts, everyone. We had short-wave radios to communicate with when we prepared for rest stops, and we would all stay at the same hotels.
We managed to keep the tradition when we went to Cambodia; there were at least thirty of us traveling around the country together in a chartered bus. We bonded with our driver, stopped at random spots, explored the Angkor temple complex together, bathed in a waterfall deep in the jungle, enjoyed piles of blue crab and amazing grilled squid by the seaside.
I began to truly understand my father’s dedication to family unity during that trip, particularly because of our time at the ocean– one of my uncles found a resort that was ridiculously inexpensive by Western standards, but still was somewhat out of the price range for some of us. It had a private beach and we could have experienced luxury that we wouldn’t have been able to afford in many other places, but we all ended up staying at a more modest hotel.
I questioned my father about why we didn’t just take the chance to live it up, and he explained to me that this trip wasn’t about that, that it was about all of us together, and that a hotel would just be a place to sleep–plus there was too much natural beauty to experience to bother with a fancy hotel.
I am thankful for that lesson on evaluating what truly matters.