22 Mar
2016
Posted in: travel
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Not-So-Fun Side of Family Vacations

Rule #1 for family vacations is to expect the unexpected. We’ve notched thousands of miles in road trips and spent hours planning each vacation, but not one trip has gone as planned.

Some unexpected occurrences are good. We’ve discovered places by listening to locals or veering from our plans because of a roadside sign. We always have an idea of what we want to do or see on vacation, but are known to be easily sidetracked. Some of our best memories involve things we didn’t plan to do.

road through New Mexico with hills in the distance

We’ve also had our share of unpleasant traveling issues. There’s been car trouble, illness, lost keys, hotel problems, arguments and misguided directions. I’m often asked how my family can possibly stand to be in the same vehicle for days at a time without the vacation feeling more like torture than enjoyment. Loads of people swear to me that their families could never do the traveling we do and still like each other.

Truthfully, I wasn’t sure we could hack long road trips when we first committed to getting away and visiting places eight years ago. The not-so-fun parts of family vacations are outweighed by my desire to have experiences with my family. Every second of a road trip isn’t a great time, but the whole experience is always worth anything crummy that taints part of it. Trust me, we have had our share of crummy.

road through Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota with grassy hills

One of our first long road trips we just had the boys and our youngest son was 15-months old. We were driving to Disneyland. Our youngest started crying 45 minutes from our house and didn’t stop until we arrived in California. That’s a little of an exaggeration. He didn’t cry while he was eating or when he was sleeping because all the crying wore him out. It was annoying, but eventually it became the soundtrack for the vacation. He didn’t cry on the drive home to Wyoming and hasn’t cried since on a road trip. Obviously, we needed to break his spirit before he could enjoy traveling.

The night before we left for a week in Chicago, I noticed one son’s eye looked red and oozy. When I mentioned something to my husband he said one of his eyes had been itching. A phone call with the doctor confirmed two cases of pink eye which turned into three cases during our travels. I spent a great deal of time that vacation sanitizing everything we came in contact with and stopping infected children from touching anything for the first few days. There was also the joy of pinning children down to administer eye drops. Good times.

open road with a cloudy blue sky

We took a wrong exit in Chicago and found ourselves in a part of town we didn’t want to be in (most definitely not in the plans). That was the only time I’ve been scared while on vacation, but thankfully, it only lasted 15 minutes before we were back on track.

That was also the vacation with the infamous flushed car keys. On our drive home, a rest stop in South Dakota ended with Craig accidentally flushing his car keys down the toilet (automatic flush is sometimes not so good). My set of keys were safely locked in the car. Our short pee break ended with an extra hour tagged on to an already long driving day and a bill for a locksmith. I can laugh at this story now that I’m years removed from it. I did not find it remotely funny at the time.

open road with mountains in the distance

There was the time in Washington when we stopped at a picnic area near a lake in Olympic National Park to use the restroom. It was rainy and seemingly deserted when we saw a black dog, dripping wet trot over to our vehicle. Our daughter, then almost 2 years old, has always been fearful of dogs. She had just been buckled in her car seat and was tensing up at the sight of the animal. The dog stood near our vehicle while we piled in listening to our oldest talk about how the dog was going to jump in the car. I was in the middle of replying, “That dog isn’t going to jump in the car,” when the wet, muddy animal did just that. He calmly sat on one of the seats while we stared at him dumbfounded. He didn’t require too much coaxing out of the vehicle and back to his owner. The boys told that story to anyone who would listen.

Our trip to San Antonio in 2012 almost came to a screeching halt two hours from our house when our daughter started vomiting in the car. We pulled off the Interstate, stripped the girl out of her gross clothes and cleaned the vehicle and seat as best as we could. That time I did pause and think we should consider scrapping the trip. However, we had friends waiting in San Antonio, and we thought the vomit was most likely a one time deal. It turned out not to be and happened two other times that day, but not in the vehicle. I sent a text to our friends telling them to be prepared for us to use the washing machine as soon as we stepped into their house. The trip continued, and the good memories make the vomit just a sidebar to the experience.

Our kids don’t fight with each other, but they can bicker with the best of them. They can also be extremely loud at times. Getting all four settled down to sleep on vacation either goes quickly or drags on for close to eternity. There are times when no one can agree on the same place to eat, the same music or book to listen to or trail to hike. It always works out in the end. All the unpleasant occurrences have become funny family lore we like to re-tell and groan about while we prepare to do it all again.

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