vacation face

Saving Face on Vacation

I know a few people who are in the skin care and beauty biz and I have a request: Can you come up with a cream or something that takes away Vacation Face and Travel Body?  It’s a real 21st century problem. The first person who invents something that when you look in a hotel bathroom mirror you see anything other than your Irish grandfather could make a name for herself. I would volunteer to be the spokesmodel. I’ve got tons of before pictures you could use, many of them from the last big trip I took.

The trip was the longest in my personal history and was actually multiple trips rolled into one. With two huge suitcases and a couple of carryons, I moved in and out of my sister’s house in Cleveland three times in the course of a week. I stayed in four different hotels and other houses in three states. Did you ever wake up when you’re on vacation and for a second you lie there not knowing where you are? Yeah, I did that twenty times. It started to get old. Also gotten old was . . . well, me. I started out looking like a young-at-heart, happy-go-lucky, healthy(ish) middle aged housewife  with clear skin and a spring in my step, and came home looking like Keith Richards with a beer belly.

This is a phenomenon of traveling. There’s a reason why no matter what form of transportation you take – plane, train or automobile – when you arrive, you look the same as if you had walked there. You could be on the fastest jet from one end of your state to the other and when you disembark your foundation will have soaked in, your lipstick AWOL, your hair limp and greasy, and your eyes bloodshot. Just stand in the greeting area at any airport and watch as people come from their planes. They look like shit. And they’re just starting out.

It goes downhill from there. Removed from your regular routine, which often includes stuff like exercising and walking into the kitchen to drink water a couple times a day, you and your body are on a hamster wheel that is being turned by Vacation and he’s crazy. He wants you to Have another vodka tonic! Stay up late! Try eight of these rumaki! You’re on vacation!

Add to that hotel HVAC systems carefully designed to pump your room full of air that is simultaneously too hot, too cold and too dry, and bedsheets laundered in detergent that everyone is allergic to, and you’ve got one ugly, unhealthy traveler.

On this long trip I took, I had done everything to avoid that. Before I left, I gave myself a little pep talk, encouraging self to not eat too much junk food, not drink too much alcohol, take my vitamins, watch the salt, and stay hydrated. I had methodically put my vitamins and supplements in little individual baggies, marked in Sharpie with each day and date. (I’m not gonna lie; I loved doing that.) The night before my flight out, I went out with my daughter and my mother-in-law. I drank club soda with lime and ate fewer than six of those spicy nutty wrinkled orange twigs they served at the bar.

“She didn’t even have wine!” my mother-in-law told my husband, as I got ready for bed at 8:30 p.m., a super-sized glass of water in my hand. Superior and smug look good on me. Soon so would the gray jeans I had packed for Day 6 and rewear on Day 15. On this trip, I was going to keep my shit together and take care of myself. And I was going to look good.

The first couple of days went well. I was limiting myself to one drink or skipping alcohol altogether, and I was eating my sister’s healthy meals. At a luncheon, where I played the role of a professional, I picked around the awkward lettuce pieces in my salad, which means I had a cube of tomato and half of a radish. I was nervous and didn’t know anyone, so I drank a lot of water.

At a reception the next day, I resisted the giant martini glass full of ham. It was part of a “top your own macaroni and cheese” shindig and I never met a meat topping I didn’t love. But it was only Day 3 and I was strong enough to come to terms with the fact that I may never have another chance at a hamartini. It’s OK. Look at my skin in this photo!

If I had to guess I’d say things started to tank from there. There was a breakfast buffet at the hotel where I was staying.  While I skipped the waffles and didn’t touch the hot tin laundry bin full of bacon, I violated one of my vacation rules: Always Eat the Oatmeal.  I had a half bagel with cream cheese and because I was eating breakfast with someone, I didn’t have both butter and cream cheese. I wasn’t headed downhill yet , but I was facing in that direction.

On Day 5 I thought, “OK, if you’re not going to follow the Eat the Oatmeal rule on Day 4, you can hardly be expected to follow it on Day 5.” Also the bagels were delicious.  I had a whole one with butter and cream cheese. This was the first day I forgot to take all my vitamins. By evening, I was getting foot cramps, which is a sign I wasn’t drinking enough water. I vowed to make up for it tomorrow.

Tomorrow found me at my mother-in-law’s house, where comfort food is king, happy hour can be any hour of the day or night, and roughage can go take a hike. At 10 o’clock the night I arrived there, I was eating sausage and Velveeta cheese and washing down yesterday’s vitamins with chardonnay. This portion of my trip was in Youngstown, where people show how much they love you by cooking for you. I’m pretty sure I could be elected president in Youngstown.

The rest of my trip was a blur of dessert menus, breakfast burritos, single digits on my steps-counting app, snacks I saved from the plane, homemade spanakopita, stadium hot dogs, cosmos, Bloody Marys  — and may I add that when you place a strip of bacon in a Bloody Mary, you are holding in your hand the worst thing you can put in your face, save opioids and Skoal.

By the last day of the trip, I was living on hash browns and chorizo sausage and I felt like someone had injected a saline solution of margarita salt into my hands, feet and the bags under my eyes. I couldn’t snap my gray jeans; I hid the open waistband with a Men’s XL sweatshirt I got at my husband’s alma mater, one of the only things that fit me from my suitcase.

“Oh my god, look at my skin in this photo!” I shrieked to my husband, who had snapped a picture of me sitting in the dirt at an outdoor concert, the last part of my trip. Big sunglasses and a giant cocktail glass couldn’t hide this trip’s effect on me. Keith Richards had been on stage earlier. I would be signing autographs until midnight.

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick

Diane is a writer, blogger, humorist and author of the books "Great-Grandma Is on Twitter and Other Signs the Rapture Is Near" and "Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves." She lives in San Francisco.