Put six family members on a plane, send them to a beautiful, tropical location for a week’s vacation, and what do you get? Misery. Sounds dramatic and ungrateful, I know. But that has often been my experience on family vacations.
As a child, I seldom went farther away than a small lake in Michigan for holidays. Thirteen of us crammed in a station wagon with no air conditioning and plenty of weekend traffic out to the east of town, where families flock to enjoy swimming, catching minnows, and getting a mean sunburn.
Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I remember those weeks at Van Auken Lake with fondness. We spent hours splashing around in inner tubes in the warm water. The local dogs loved us because we never tired of throwing sticks into the water for them to fetch. I always had a good book to read under the giant weeping willow.
On the other hand, I was not the mom back then. My only responsibility was to obey my parents and, occasionally, my older sisters. Somehow, now that my husband and I are in charge of the fun, it’s not as much, well, fun.
First of all, we are all sharing a much smaller space. Jockeying for position and shower time in the bathroom, trying to dress discreetly, tiptoeing around in the dark so as not wake others up. As an early riser, I was always the parent stuck trying to entertain our young children while hubby slept in. Now that our kids are older, they are the ones grumbling when we attempt to wake them up to go to breakfast.
That’s another difficult part of traveling. Everyone develops his or her own schedule of going to bed, waking up, and getting hungry. We spend fruitless time trying to decide when, where, and what to eat. Some of us are starving while others just ate and are not at all hungry.
Probably the biggest issue for my husband and me is that we both like to be in charge. This works fine at home where he orders people around at work and I am the master of the home domain. On vacation, however, we argue a lot about the best way to get to a destination, the restaurant at which to have dinner, or what the agenda is for the day.
Still, I must admit there are lots of good times to be had on a family vacation. I enjoy watching the kids clown around in the pool or build sand castles on the beach. Souvenir shopping can be fun – until it gets tiring and I need to sit down. Warm weather, great dinners, ice cream cones, and staying up late to watch a movie have all been enjoyable parts of our trips.
And it’s amusing to recall funny events or mishaps that happened on family vacations – for instance, my “heart attack” in Phoenix, Arizona, that turned out to be bronchitis and the disastrous Triple Chocolate Utopia that made my son hurl all over our rental car. (I guess you had to be there.)
As much aggravation as there can be traveling with one’s family, there are also memories to be made, pictures to put in the photo albums, and even essays to write back at school about that ubiquitous subject, “What I Did on Vacation.” At my worst on a family trip, I have been known to make the pronouncement that this is the last family vacation I will ever go on. But my husband and kids know I don’t mean it.
They know that come December, I will be looking out my window at the wintry world and booking our tickets for fun in the sun once more.