When you’re in need of slowing down or feel like an exciting adventure instead, you take time off from your regular life and disappear for a little while. A vacation’s whole purpose is to recharge you and to take you away from the stress of your daily life. Who doesn’t like to go on a vacation?!
And then you have children and you take your family on a vacation with the same high expectations. ‘Cause you could really use a break at this point, right? And you quickly realize, “What the heck was I thinking?!”
Family vacations sure are a ton of fun, but calling family vacation a “vacation” may seem like a bit of a stretch.
#1 Planning a trip
VACATION: Pick wherever it is you want to go and as far as your budget allows. Done.
FAMILY VACATION: Suddenly, traveling becomes a lot more expensive. It also becomes somewhat trickier because, now, some places are off limits. And – gasp – some don’t even welcome children. Or you can’t get certain rooms. Like the ones you may have wanted.
#2 Getting ready
VACATION: Gather everything you need, match and color-code all clothing, pack and re-pack a few times, and don’t forget to throw heels in the luggage just because. Start the mental countdown with a dreamy smile on your face.
FAMILY VACATION: “Holy crap, we’re leaving in two days! I have to do laundry, pack, and where are we going again? I did book the plane tickets, right? Car rental?!” For the reference, telling kids about the trip ahead of time = cardinal mistake. If you can, keep it a secret for as long as you can because overflowing with excitement and sudden disobedience are indeed directly related. It doesn’t matter what super special movie or show you let the kids watch just this once, or which particularly messy activity you’ve saved for this very special day. Your kids have just sworn an oath to drive you nuts whatever it takes, and peaceful packing isn’t in the cards. So how much stuff do you need to bring? Well, there are weather varieties. Accidents. And spills. All kinds of spills during all kinds of imaginable as well as completely unthinkable unlikely-to-happen-yet-totally-happening-away-from-home scenarios. While getting constantly interrupted and with a ball bouncing on your back, try to set a number of outfits for a day per each child. Now multiply that by the number of days you’re staying. Then, multiply all by two just in case. You now have two choices: 1) purchase additional pieces of luggage, or 2) lower your standards.
#3 The day of and getting out the door
VACATION: Have a cup of coffee, watch TV, take a long shower, check and re-check your luggage, get on your way.
FAMILY VACATION: Kids are wired a few days prior, but this day is different. They’re so wound up at this point that they’ll come up with infinite ways of driving you crazy before you even depart. You may be tempted to threaten them with limitless bans on fun, but save your energy and resist. They’re now immune to all logical reasoning, and their emotional roller coaster wagon can no longer be stopped. And then there’s the sheer amount of luggage that you’ve managed to produce. After you’d lowered your standards. Twice. You may be bringing car seats and a stroller as well. Plus precious special toys which, despite the chaos, will undoubtedly need full time surveillance and a keen eye because should they get left behind or stolen, the nearest law enforcement agency, NamUs and Interpol will have to be promptly contacted or your whole trip is ruined.
#4 Getting to your destination
VACATION: Travelling can be tiring, but at least you get to close your eyes on the plane. Unless little Johnny next to you starts looking green and says out loud his tummy hurts.
FAMILY VACATION: Traveling has the potential to become a nightmare requiring an immediate intravenous wine therapy. Have your snacks ready, keep your bribes hidden until needed, and make sure kids don’t go through all brand new activities before even setting foot on the plane or during the first two hours of your road trip. If you’re flying, good luck. The odds of relaxing are slim.
#5 Arriving and enjoying your time
VACATION: Tired? Take a nap. Jet lag? Take a nap. Lazy? Take a nap. Stay up late, sleep in; it’s YOUR call. Explore, admire the sights, live the adventures, or relax on the beach with an umbrella drink in one hand and a book in the other.
FAMILY VACATION: Getting there – and finding out – WHAT VACATION?!? Don’t worry though…
You WILL experience the following – just in a slightly altered reality.
> THE SLEEPING
If your kids have their own room(s), by all means go for it. It’s great until a spooky sound startles them; that being a fridge running, a cat meowing outside, a bird singing, the flush of a toilet, the AC running, a car honking outside, the movie they saw 3 years ago, or just your happy voice in the other room. As soon as they’re comfy in your – equally strange – but YOURS – so totally worth of having – bed, they may only call and demand 55 times that you come and keep them company.
Don’t worry about them staying up too long and sleeping too late the next day and missing out on all the fun. They’ll work extra hard at waking up early the next day, perhaps even before the sun comes up, to really prove their commitment to the oath they took earlier. I promise.
> THE ACTION
Oh there WILL be action!
The new place is just way too exciting for the kids to not jump on everything bouncy, to not touch every breakable object, and to not run back and forth like crazy and shriek with an unfamiliar expression on their overstimulated little faces.
If your building has room card keys, elevators, or just buttons, and you have more than 1 small child, brace yourself. It’s kind of funny and cute the first couple of days to watch them argue over who gets to do what, who gets to push which button, who first and who next, how many times, who gets no turn and why, and why it’s not fair. Then it gets annoying because your three-year-old thinks she has the ultimate powers and royalty privileges no matter how many times you try to pull her back into reality. Then they start hurting each other. And then you’re done and you decide to call the elevator and open all doors yourself while they both scream and scare other people almost every time you leave your room.
Your children always need something from you. Which wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t so exhausted. On your second day. They’re always hungry. At least until you sit down at a restaurant. They spill stuff on themselves. Presumably just for fun. They always need to go to the bathroom. Or they’re thirsty. Where is the leisure you were hoping for? I’ll tell you where. Not here.
> THE DRINKING
The good news is – you may still have a shot at drinking. Literally. A shot of hard liquor may be more on par with your fast-paced dinner on the beach now that you travel with kids. Children have zero patience, and the potential of getting sand in their hair right before bedtime and after they’ve taken their bath is just too appealing to take a pass on. Drink up!
Another option is to squeeze adult drinks into the very short window that opens up right after kids actually fall asleep and before you pass out. Out of exhaustion. Good luck with that.
> THE SIGHTS
They’re definitely there.
There just seems to be close to zero appreciation for your efforts and very little acknowledgement of the beautiful scenery, unique sights, and life-changing experiences. “Look at this natural beauty, kids,” you announce, and they’re like, “I need to poop.” To be fair, some situations and sights might have a huge impact and your children will remember them. Perhaps even for a few full days. Thumbs up. You’ve done good.
> THE BEACH
Trips to beach become drastically different with kids in tow. What was once a romantic stroll over a stretch of soft cool sand is now a full-body workout session.
Have you ever looked around as you walk down the beach? You can’t miss the childless people lounging on their beach chairs. They’re resting, reading, or just looking around, fully absorbing the relaxing and blissful atmosphere. They have a beach towel, a beach bag, and maybe a cooler. That’s about it. Ignore them. Look the other way at the families and all that crap they voluntarily and involuntarily brought, and the zero free time they have to immerse themselves into the potentially relaxing beach experience. That’s you. Embrace it. Just like them, you’ll need enough beach towels for everyone, an oversized blanket or two, a large beach umbrella, a ton of snacks, plenty of drinks, noodles, boogie boards and beach toys, and a significant amount of other necessities. Forget beach chairs. Your chances of actually using one are about slim to none. Like a book, a beach chair becomes just another dead weight in this beach boot camp experience.
But then again and to be fair, you’ll have a TON of fun. Just a different kind of fun. The kind of fun that will turn the heads of at least half of those beach chair loungers. The kind they need and crave, one that will let them reminisce about those days. The circle of life, my friends. Enjoy the chaos while it lasts…
#6 Coming back home
VACATION: Tired? Take a nap. Jet lag? Take a nap. Headache? Take a nap. You get the picture.
FAMILY VACATION: You’re back in your home sweet home. You’re exhausted, and your kids are hungry. They want to go to the park even though it’s 4 a.m. and it’s raining outside. You make a deal with them and put on a looooong movie while they jump on the sofa with excitement. Which would have worked out well if they didn’t pass out right before the story line even started rolling and as soon as you’ve finished your second oversized cup of extra strong coffee. You wonder if you should go lay down with your eyes wide open next to your already sleeping husband, stab him, or start unpacking and meet and greet the Mt. Everest Of Laundry.
– – – – –
You may feel like you need another vacation right after coming back home. And, let’s be honest here… There might have been a point (substitute with plural if needed) during your trip that had you dreaming about the alone time of a lengthy double root canal back home. But then you’ll remember all that fun you’ve had, and you’ll go through the pictures later on and realize how precious all these memories are. And some time later when you have fully recovered, you’ll put your rose-colored glasses back on and start planning the next trip…