My family spends every 4th of July at the beach. It's the same beach every year—the beach where I grew up vacationing, where my dad grew up spending weekends and summers, where his parents and his grandparents did before that. My family is spread out across the South now—in Georgia, Alabama, and Texas—but come the first week of July, we always gather in the same spot on Florida's Forgotten Coast, just as my dad's family always has.
My family is not alone in having a holiday tradition locked to a specific location. Loads of families do, whether it's a rental you and your family return to year after year or a home that's been passed down through generations like mine. You see, in the South, we understand the importance of creating core memories associated with a place. We know that new adventures and destinations are fun and all, but there's also something nostalgic and comforting about coming to a home away from home—even on vacation.
The author with her sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, in Saint Teresa, Florida.
In thinking about the why behind this, I started counting my friends who have family traditions and vacations of their own. Trips they take every year. The friends I know will always be away for a week at the end of August or have the same Memorial Day plans. I don't have to ask where they're going, and there's no point in extending an invitation someplace new. After years of friendship, I know what they'll be doing. Their holiday plans have and will always be set.
Every year, my friend Gavin Blue spends a week with her family at Figure 8 Island in North Carolina. They've been visiting from their home in McLean, Virginia, for the last 30 years—at first as a family reunion of sorts with her dad's side and now as an annual trip for her immediate family. "It's the one vacation a year that I truly try to 'unplug' and detach from reality for a week once I get past the gate house and over the drawbridge," she says. "I cannot imagine a summer without our Figure 8 week."
When asked what makes this beach week so special, Gavin tells me how the people, and the houses, and the traditions have changed over time, as their family has expanded and friends and boyfriends have tagged along. But she says, every year, the island is the same.
"Some of my cousins and aunt and uncles from my dad's side have gradually started coming again the same week we go and it's evolved into us renting homes across the street from one another," she adds. "We set up at the beach starting around 10 a.m. and don't typically head back to our homes until 6 p.m. or until high tide gets us, whichever comes first. Even though we are all adults now, we've still got family beach game tournaments and family dinners and cousin-only dinners throughout the week."
She says she can't wait to continue the tradition when she and her husband have children one day.
The author with her sisters and cousins in Saint Teresa, Florida.
For my friend Laura Wilson, that place is Seabrook Island in South Carolina. Her family discovered the idyllic beach community in more recent years, but she says it's since become their go-to summer beach destination. They now spend a week there every summer, renting different houses year after year, each she describes as "so cute and so welcoming."
"We love the restaurants and shops at Seabrook, and will usually pepper in a shopping trip or dinner in Charleston, which isn't a far drive," she says. "One of my favorite activities is biking around the beautiful Seabrook roads in the early evening, watching the sunset through the Spanish moss-covered trees."
Last year, Laura's husband joined the trip for the first time. "Seabrook proved that as our family grows, it will continue to be a place we can all visit and make memories together," she explains. "The more the merrier!"