The Blessing of Family Vacations

There is definitely something wrong when we find ourselves falling into the cantankerous trap; “but we don’t agree on venues and we don’t agree on menus”. Planning a family vacation can sometimes provoke angst amongst the members of the group. We have to take a step back and look at the big picture ‒ The Blessing of Family Vacations.

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I recall our first family vacation. We had three kids under three including two toddlers and an infant. What were we possibly thinking? Definitely there was crying, whining and likely tantrums on the trip. For sure there were painful sunburns and assorted other first-timer family holiday mishaps. Nobody suggested I pack extra outfits for the kids for the plane ride (trip lowlight). Fortunately, this was before 9/11 and the toddlers were welcomed for an exciting tour inside the flight cockpit (trip highlight). There were many adorable Kodak moments (pre digital photo era).

These endearing pictures are priceless mementos of their youth.

I’m sure we have the clunky VHS tapes buried somewhere in the basement. We were fortunate to enjoy many memorable family beach vacations over the years. And a few staycations too.

We have taken driving trips along the Trans-Canada Highway, too many times to recount. Throughout the years we implemented assorted trendy car entertainment media including, Millennials’ top toy-list: Mad Libs, Brain Quest, Discman, portable DVD player, Game boys, Beanie Babies, Webkinz, Pokémon, iPod, MacBooks, and eventually iPhones. Plus old-fashioned family favourites ‒ 20 questions and Punch Buggy (“no punch backs!”).

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When the kids were little we all stuffed into one hotel room, at times this involved mattresses here and there or perhaps a parent reading in the bathroom after bedtime. Later, we upgraded to a junior family suite and eventually we began staying in two rooms, adjoined and ultimately separated, one for us and one for them. At home, our kids are privileged to each have their own bedroom, therefore establishing hotel room decorum and rules (best bed choice, bathroom priority etc.) on vacation is somewhat like survival of the fittest. Life is not always fair.

Some family vacations in particular really stand out in my mind because we enjoyed the company of out-of-town cousins or grandparents ‒ celebrating family milestones together. Three generation special destination vacations yield precious family memories transformed into meaningful photo albums.

The best vacation memories include a mash-up of travel experiences including organized touring, spontaneous exploring, local dining, celebrating, laughing and mostly just hanging out together.

And sometimes, what happens on family vacation stays on vacation.

When the kids were tweens and teenagers, as in most families, the dynamics could range from wonderful, functional, and dysfunctional to toxic. Of course on vacation when we are together 24/7 everything is amplified, for better or worse. At the peak of the dramatic teen years I recall a family vacation in a foreign country when we regrouped each morning at the enticing breakfast buffet. Each day we were greeted with the histrionic proclamation, “last night was the apocalypse in our room!”

Obviously, under-aged teens at the all-night disco/bar at all-inclusive resorts yield potentially hazardous outcomes. Yet, these same trips are etched into our legendary family stories. We have a collection of vacation highlights and lowlights of shared experiences: adventures, excursions, cultural misunderstandings, foreign language misinterpretations, orthodontic emergencies, offensive remarks, hilarious incidents and logistical mishaps. (Stolen purse, damaged luggage, flooded hotel rooms, lost hotel keys, nonfunctioning GPS, exploding hide-a-bed, unexplained cell phone expenses, mystery illnesses, etc.) And yes, sometimes family feuds.

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To this day, my kids will sometimes laugh hysterically about how I dressed outrageously likely, too colourful, or how I danced (like no one was watching) on a family vacation over a decade ago. Classic ‘gang up against mom’ family humour. Or as siblings do, they will tease each other about not yet-forgotten awkward encounters from past family vacations, so many years ago.

We can retell these amusing stories time and time again, with exaggeration and renewed hilarity.

As one by one the kids started university we became ambivalent about planning family vacations. “But we don’t agree on venues and we don’t agree on menus”. They each had their own schedules, their own significant others, and definitely their own interests. Let’s be clear; siblings are not necessarily best of friends ‒ it’s typically love–hate. Yes, my three Millennials still share a room on family vacation. Sometimes it’s a friendly riot and other nights an unnerving apocalypse, possibly fluctuating daily. Yet, each year we create more lasting memories, take (way too many) more silly selfies and purchase new tacky holiday souvenirs. I wouldn’t change any of it. (Except of course, for the VISA exchange.)

Oh my, now they are grown and flown. With two young adult children soon entering the work force I know that planning treasured family vacation time will become increasingly more complicated.

Every year I wonder if it’s the last year for a family vacation because I know that time will likely arrive someday soon.

Or, we hope, perhaps we will be the lucky ones, and we will all still somehow make it happen. In the meant time, we have heaps of nostalgic photo albums, many magical memories and trivial inside family jokes. I don’t take any of it for granted – as my adult kids get older, I most certainly cherish the blessing of family vacations.

After nearly two decades of fun family vacations we have solidified some holiday traditions; writing our names in the sand and other family rituals will perhaps be the glue that bonds us together for decades ahead.

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