Summer Vacation Ideas for Families: Traveling with Kids is a Just a Trip

Many months ago, I embarked on the seemingly endless project of transferring our old family slides and videos to DVD. As I worked on this, it occurred to me that 75% of the video footage of my children when they were young was shot in swimming pools, and it was hard to tell if we were at Disneyworld or South Haven, Michigan or just in the pool at Grandma and Grandpa’s condo. I began to wonder why exactly we ever thought we needed to take a vacation anywhere that required a long car ride or airplane travel.

A 7-year-old's ode to summer

A 7-year-old's ode to summer

I do remember quite vividly the strong need my husband and I felt to “get away” and the enthusiasm and optimism with which we planned and approached each of these vacations. And while many of these early vacations failed to live up to our expectations, it wasn’t until we were stranded in a hotel room near Disneyworld with children ages 6, 4, and 18 months, all running fevers, that we grasped the distinction between a vacation and a trip. After attempting to “make the best of it” for a day, we decided to abandon ship and fly back home on Christmas Day (in those days you could do that without coughing up $1,000 in change fees to the airlines). After that, our vacations with the children became more modest and wet – they only wanted to swim anyhow!

Once we scaled back on our fantasies and switched to more manageable driving trips to South Haven, Michigan and Grandma and Grandpa’s pool, we were actually able to relax a bit. With each trip, we also became more realistic. Three little kids in the car would be a pain, regardless of how many new toys and treats we packed along. In fact, most of the “travel entertainment” toys and games would be exhausted in the first hour of the trip, and we would be exhausted by the time we reached our destination.

In those days, without DVD players to entertain the kids, we had to rely on multiple versions of “I Spy,” cassette tapes of children’s songs, and actual singing. We also had to resign ourselves to uncountable bathroom stops because I have yet to meet a young child who “had to go” when parents suggested it was a good time. And, much to his chagrin, my husband had to accept that kids do not like or appreciate beautiful views, preferring to color in a book or fight with one another as he tried in vain to point out something “interesting.”

Trips to visit my family in Michigan also had a downside, even after we survived the car ride. Meals could be a nightmare. We could never find a restaurant that everyone deemed acceptable. I remember going to three different fast food drive-throughs on one trip to come up with an assortment of foods pleasing to my children, nieces, and nephews for dinner.

Sleeping was literally a nightmare, as we soon learned that young children don’t appreciate strange beds (especially if there are photos on the wall that displease them). One baby insisted on what seemed like interminable walking or rocking before dropping off from exhaustion. Another child had to sleep in a cot next to Grandma and hold her hand to fall asleep.

Despite all of the travails of travel with kids, the recorded reminders of how much fun they had in those pools confirmed it was worth it. As they grew older, we were able to take those memorable vacations to the east and west coasts, national parks and even abroad, although they never did appreciate the scenery as much as my husband had hoped.

The main thing I learned from reviewing all of my old photos, slides, and movies was that we didn’t take enough of them. We tended to think something had to be “important” to record it – birthdays, performances, significant sites, etc. Looking back, it is the ordinary moments that are truly important.

So, as you approach the summer vacation season, here are Laurie’s travel planning tips:

  • Think small
  • Pack lots of patience
  • Simplify
  • And, to borrow from Simon and Garfunkel, “Preserve your memories…they’re all that’s left you.”  

Have a great trip!

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