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I’m 12 and the family is taking a summer vacation in sunny Pomorie, Bulgaria. It’s on the Black Sea. The ~400-mile drive in my father’s VW Golf (Mk2) takes close to 12 hours, border check and an interlude in Sophia included. It feels longer: it’s a 3-door hatchback and I’m sharing the back seat with my brother and a suitcase. There are enough groceries in the trunk to last us a week.

We arrive in the early morning and look for a place to stay. Airbnb is 16 years away, but there are vacancy signs posted on private residences all around town. We find one that’s half-built: gray building blocks still visible on the outside and concrete stairs with no railings, but the rooms are actually quite nice and the apartment is self-contained. The owner-slash-proprietor is financing the finishing touches by renting it out. My father approves.

The weather is nice and the beach is crowded. I have a perpetual sunburn. We visit Burgas and Nessebar. Dad almost gets scammed out of all of our German marks by a street money changer. I get a photo taken with a yellow-white python around my neck. We eat at home and take evening strolls up and down what goes for a boardwalk in Pomorie. We ocasionally catch a glimpse of live music from accross a hedge. A few people climb a hillock to watch the concert. I try it once and climb right back down: do I want to spend the evening listening to a Boney M. tribute band?

The drive back through Bulgaria feels faster, but that’s because Dad is speeding. We get caught and the policeman pencils something in on a lemon-yellow card. The next time we stop for gas Dad tries to erase it. He succeeds but the card is now a paler yellow where the marking used to be. They notice this at the border and we stay an extra few hours until they let us through. But then we’re in Serbia and close to home and soon I’ll get back to playing Civilization II and Duke Nukem 3D and Quest for Glory IV so who cares what happened and how we got out of it?

It’s 2019 and I’m the Dad. The family is taking an early summer vacation in sunny Wailea. It’s on Maui. My wife and I take two new credit cards to get enough points to get three tickets for the four of us. A week before the trip we realize I can’t have a 35-pound toddler on me for two 5-hour flights and we buy the fourth ticket. The airline charges for food, so we stock up on snacks to bring on board; I have a Costco membership card in my wallet.

We are in a one-bedrom two-bathroom condo that is bigger than my family home in Serbia. A decorative bowl full of glass balls greets us in the hallway; a large ceramic vase is next to our bed. My wife glances at our jet-lagged toddler, then at me, and I spend the next half-hour lifting fragile items up on top of kitchen cabinets. I go to bed around midnight, which is 6am Eastern Time.

The condo sits next to a golf course and some tennis courts. I don’t play either. There are five beaches within 5 minutes’ driving distance. They are virtually empty save for one, which has a steady stream of snorklers and divers parading up and down. The Costco-chosen guidebook says it’s the best spot on Maui for snorkling lessons, but 18-month-olds can’t snorkle.

The older sibling collects seashells and runs away from waves and builds puddles for the younger one to jump on. She chats up the adults and can carry a conversation better than her dad. We all wear UPF shirts and go through five bottles of Coppertone. We visit Lahaina and Paia and Kihei. We eat at home and take evening strolls through beachside resorts. There are Luaus on every night. The one at the Marriott is there for all to see from a public walkway. It’s the one we attend one night — the pork is good. There is audience participation: children learn the hula, adults blow into a conch shell; one man proposes to his fiance while up on the stage, in front of all us people — it’s a bit corny.

We wake up at 3am and wake up the kids at 4 to drive up a mountain top to see the sunrise. It is 10°C and colder with wind chill, and the sunrise lasts for all of five minutes; the children are not impressed. The other 100 people looking at it seem quite happy. One man proposes to his fiance, on top of that inactive volcano, in front of all us people — it’s quite romantic.

We sign up for an 8-hour van ride up and down a rainforest highway. It takes 12 hours. We are sitting all the way in the back: the older one is sick but doesn’t vomit, the younger one doesn’t say anything but vomits twice. It’s mostly juice and water and doesn’t smell like acid at all so we wipe it up with tissues and wet wipes and don’t ask the driver to stop. The young couple in front of us asks for more air.

The last flight back is a red-eye and the younger one screams for the first hour of the last leg of the journey because i don’t let her play with the restroom faucet. The attendents are out serving drinks so we let her roll around in the back of the plane, head close to the emergency exit door which I eye nervously. They serve us apple juice which she drinks and falls asleep. The older one is excited: there is an Amazon delivery of one toy or another waiting for her back home. She is still tired enough to be sleeping when the plane catches turbulence — the last 3 hours are bumpy. I watch a movie and try to fall asleep.

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