Vacations have always been a big part of my life. My parents were the type that would take us out of school at a moment's notice to fly us down to Florida on a Fire Sale, take us camping every chance he got during the warmer months, and save up for a 2 week summer vacation every year. Growing up in the home that I did, our vacations were very simply a time to reconnect with our family without the complications of everyday life weighing on us. Back then of course there were no cell phones or home computers, and telephones in a cabin were few and far between. I feel like the idea of family time was held as a value by the majority. Don’t get me wrong, most of those stories would be peppered with tales about the things that went terribly awry alongside the unplanned excursions but that’s what makes these times so memorable.
The most memorable vacation experience is what some of us refer to as the “Trip From Hell”. A small group of us on our way to sunny Florida, were caught somewhere in the mountains of Tennessee in what was known as The Storm of the Century. Six of us were holed up in a small hotel room (the last one available in the city) for a few days with no running water but a steady supply of cinnamon raisin bagels and endless games of solitaire and Go Fish. Without a snow shovel to be seen, we had to wait for assistance from northern neighbors to plow the streets. This was also the very first experience I had eating at the Waffle House. The experience was memorable, the food was not. After a majority rules decision to proceed to Florida where our condo was reported to be "undamaged", we continued on for 18 additional hours in our rented mini van. As we walked along the beach collecting pieces of roofing and decking material instead of shells, I came to the conclusion that 'undamaged' meant different things to different people.
Of course we had some perfect vacations too, when everything went exactly as planned. I don’t remember the details of those as vividly, but what I do remember from all of our adventures is that we had them together. I don’t remember what didn’t get accomplished at home or what happened with my friends while I was gone, I just remember that I had precious time with my family, even if it meant that the mere mention of a cinnamon raisin bagel makes my stomach turn to this very day.
Many years later my husband and I are trying to create memories with our own children. Although the environment we are vacationing from feels vastly different than it did 30 years ago, I truly believe that the basics remain the same. We just recently returned from a week long adventure and here are the things I took away.
Disconnect: We have 24/7 access to everything. It will still be there at the end of a vacation so take a break from it. Don’t answer the phone or get on the internet. Want to find a place to eat? Ask the guy at the bait shop or one of the locals. You’ll get the inside scoop and not a faceless review that may or may not be sponsored.
Play and Laugh: While I’m a huge proponent of relaxing and allowing children to have unstructured play, I also think adults who have lost the ability to be silly and play around are really missing out. When’s the last time you laughed so hard you barely made it to the bathroom and you begged for mercy because your stomach ached so badly? If it was recently, please invite me over. I need more of this!
Throw away the Routine: It will be ok, I promise. We are sticklers at home about routine for eating and bedtime. Our children were not ruined from letting those things slide for a week. They were so tired from playing on the beach and at the pool that they crashed hard every night and slept in nearly every morning.
Be Prepared, but Minimally: Ok, so this might not fit in nicely with the other three tips, but it’s one I learned that can alleviate stress while on vacation. Make your list ahead of time for your needs, but be minimal. Clothing wise, we mostly lived in swimsuits and a couple of outfits. We all know this and yet we drag 3 suitcases full of clothes with us every time “just in case”. Don’t. What you do need to have prepared are things that will help in the case of the unexpected. It never fails that one of our kiddos catches a stomach bug or cold right before we leave or a day after we arrive at our destination. It’s much more bearable if we’ve packed whatever we use at home to make them comfortable. For us it includes movies, books, coloring supplies, tea, broth, bath salts, oils, and other go-tos we use when we don’t feel well. You will only use these things on occasion, but they sure ease the mind when someone wakes up at midnight coughing.
Be Flexible: In addition to foregoing the routine, being flexible to what each day brings is liberating and makes for a peaceful day. Do you want to spend an hour in the tub even though you have a tub at home and could do it anytime you want to? Do it. You know darn well that once you get home you’ll want to scrub that tub before you use it, and by the time that’s finished, the dog will need to be walked and the garden will need weeding. Maybe the kiddos want to play hide-and-seek inside the cabin for 2 hours. Sure, they could do this activity all winter long at your home, but the excitement of playing familiar games in an unknown environment is so fun! Maybe you want to sit around and read the paper, drink coffee and finally eat a bowl of ice cream for “breakfast” at noon. Again, who is stopping you? Sure, you could get by with that at home, but there’s something about doing it while on vacation that feels different.
Relax: Vacations are a short snippet in time to recuperate alone and/or reconnect with those you love. Relax and enjoy it. Who knows what amazing stories might come from it?