May 27, 2016

How to Plan a Fun, Successful Family Vacation (Yes, Really)

A few years ago, our family took a road trip up north, from our home near Battle Creek, Michigan (Cereal Capital of the World, where the air sometimes smells like Fruit Loops), to Mackinac Island and into our state's Upper Peninsula.

This trip was A Big Deal. We planned it and financed it and looked forward to it for a long time. I wanted it to be a source of sweet memories we would all cherish for years to come. I didn't want it to end up being the punchline to a bad joke or something that looked like a spin-off of a Chevy Chase movie.

First up, you need to know that I prayed a lot for this vacation. But beyond that, here are some other things I did that you might want to do yourself if A Big Deal Trip is in your family's near or not-so-near future.



1. Figure out why you want to take this vacation in the first place. I know--I know!--it sounds all philosophical and impractical and irrelevant, but please hang with me here. Knowing why you're doing this in the first place will help you focus while you're working the details. It will also greatly help your odds of ending up with a trip everyone assesses as "successful." (Okay, fine, a trip at least 75% of your participants assess as "successful." Let's not get crazy here.)

Are you taking this vacation because there are distant friends and relatives you need to see? That's a valid reason to go, but it will make for a different kind of trip than one that is, say, for pure relaxation and pleasure. Sometimes, there are things more important than relaxation and pleasure, and feeding relationships can be one of them. We took a trip like this a few years ago. It was not one I particularly looked forward to taking, but wow, was it good to have taken.

On the other hand, we had one overriding reason for our up-north trip: to spend time together. The older my girls get, the rarer this is. Just being together, in the same spaces, doing the same things, was goal #1. Having that objective in front of us before and during the trip helped keep the main thing the main thing.


On the bluffs overlooking Fayette State Park.

2. Understand and accept one crucial fact. One of my favorite writers--Nicole L.V. Mullis, a weekly columnist for our local newspaper--put it brutally but brilliantly. "Mothers do not go on vacation...they facilitate vacation for the rest of their family." 

Now, mama, don't get all worked up on me. The trip you are planning should be enjoyable for you! It should be something that feeds your soul in some nourishing way. It should, ideally, not be something you dread or merely survive. But thinking you will be "on vacation" sets up a picture of long naps, peaceful days, meals that appear out of nowhere, and general affection and amiability among the people who normally dwell in your house. And maybe that's how it will turn out. If it does, for heaven's sake, write your own blog post and share it with me. But in the "hope deferred makes the heart sick" school of vacation planning, I think that if you frame what you're doing as "facilitating vacation" for the rest of your family rather than "going on vacation" yourself, it results in a more realistic longing where that trip is concerned. And as everyone knows, "a longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul."

3. Determine the vacation personalities of the people in your family. We have friends who jam-pack vacations from sun-up to sun-down. They do every available activity, see every existing landmark and tourist attraction, take every tour, and generally pack as much into their get-aways as humanly possible. The entire family loves and wants this, so they're all happy doing it.

My little foursome, on the other hand, takes more of the slug approach to vacations. We want to do as little as possible. Cramming our Big Deal Trip with every option was never going to make us happy. So we did considerably less on that trip than most families would consider "fun." But we all loved and wanted that, and so we were all happy doing it--or not doing, as the case may be. If you have mixed-breed vacationers in your crew, you'll need to find... balance. (You knew that was coming, right?) Maybe cram one day full, then follow it with another when the most anyone plans to do is finish an entire game of Yahtzee. Maybe you'll have to sometimes divide and conquer: let the "let's take this tour...and that one, too!" types head out while your "just point me to the nearest beach chair" sorts stay put. 

4. Decide what your "no matter what" mindset for the trip will be. Ahead of our departure, I informed my husband and daughters, "We WILL have fun on this trip. We. WILL." I said this mostly for my benefit, because I am a reactionary nut who freaks out about everything. I needed to go on the record and decide in advance that NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENED, we WOULD enjoy the trip. If we got a flat tire, or we all came down with the stomach flu, or it was cold and rainy for a week straight, we WOULD have a good time. 

This is where our main goal for the trip was crucial (see #1). Because our primary intent was to spend time together, for crying out loud, I figured that as long as that was happening, we would be achieving our goal. I wasn't crazy to have "together" happen on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck or taking turns at the toilet courtesy of family share-plan intestinal distress. But I was determined--and I roped my family into being similarly determined--not to let anything short of death ruin our trip. (Please, God, hear our prayer...no death.) For the record, the tires were fine, our stomachs were fine, and the weather was more than fine. (See "prayed a lot" at the beginning of this post.)

5. Plan a buffer day at the end. We hit the road for our trip on a Saturday and returned home on a Saturday. But we still told people we were "on vacation" through that last Sunday. Knowing we'd have a day at home to unpack, do laundry, check emails, sort through the snail mail, etc., helped me, in particular, relax and enjoy time not doing those things. I know it can be tricky to work a day like this in, and lots of families are fine with crashing right back into normal life straight from the car. We, however, are not that family. A reentry day works for us.

I'm deeply grateful our trip was everything we wanted it to be. All of us have said many times that we want to do it again. With a rising high school senior living in our house, I don't know if it will happen. But the memories of the trip we did take? So sweet to my soul.


The view from beneath Michigan's "Mighty Mac"--
the Mackinac Bridge, connecting our state's Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

Bonus tip that's probably not applicable to you but you never know...

6. Don't forget Grandma's heirloom quilt at the hotel. My husband's grandma made quilts for all her grandchildren when they graduated high school. We used ours on our marital bed until the quilt faded from sunlight and we became married enough to want a bigger bed. Thus, Grandma's quilt became a secondary bedding item. We took it along on our trip for picnics and beaches and, at the end, to add extra cushioning under the fitted sheet on a pull-out sofa with a typically lumpy mattress. Too bad I forgot we'd put it there when we packed up, because we got home sans heirloom. Some tricky mental retracing of our steps solved the mystery of where we'd left it, but the hotel tacked on another mystery and could not find it. Not on the bed, not in the room, not in the laundry. I wept and wailed and managed to find a picture of the thing, which I emailed to every hotel in Mackinac City since they all used a central laundry service. Six or so hopeless weeks later, I got a call from the manager of the hotel we'd stayed at. Grandma's quilt had been found, thanks to my picture and some retracing of its journey to and from another hotel. A hefty UPS bill later, and it was safely home. I'm not sure if there's any point to this that will apply to your vacation, but tuck it away just in case. I mean, tuck away the idea...not some heirloom object you'd hate to leave behind. 


What's your #1 secret to family-vacation success?
Don't keep it to yourself...share it in a comment or over on Facebook!


Past posts that might have something to do with this one:


**This post may have been shared at some of these blog bashes.**

34 comments:

  1. Shhhhhhhhhhhhh!! We do #5, too! Don't spread the secret around too much! We also do the same on the front-end, because then we don't have to struggle with guilt over all the events that inevitably pop up on the days we're packing up for said trip. We have a LOT of birthdays around that time, so if we just announce that we're leaving a few days earlier, then we can relax (well, as much as I'm able to relax) and pack up calmly. When we do hit the road, we can say that we didn't get started until then because we were still "packing up" ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh my word, that is SO brilliant! Why have I never thought of that? Well, okay, because my brain is worthless, unlike yours--which is always firing on so many cylinders I'm surprise (and grateful) you put up with me. Those last minute pop-up events and already being "on vacation" so you don't have to deal with them? Genius. MUST implement the "Healy Plan" on all future vacations. Thanks, my friend...you're the best.

      Delete
    2. Oh, goodness, you are going to LOVE this - I was all set to feature you again this week (because you are nothing but brilliant, my friend!), but just as I was setting it all up, I realized I couldn't - all because of my comment - because I totally know that some of those "birthday pals" read my blog! Whew! Such a close escape! Anyway, I feel horrible that I messed up a chance to feature you again, but I also know that you'll completely understand... ;)

      Delete
    3. You are 100% right: I DO love this! In fact, much as I am thrilled and humbled and honored to be chosen by the brilliant and fabulous YOU as a feature, this twist is so much fun. Whew is right...that was a close call! Mercy...this "baring our souls as bloggers" thing can get a bit tricky, can't it? ;) Anyway, this exchange has just made my day. Thank you for that, my friend! :)I'm going to be giggling about this the whole way along on my morning walk now...

      Delete
  2. Mom's don't go on vacation, they facilitate vacations for others, might be the most accurate thing I have ever heard!! This post is brilliant! We're getting ready to vacation with our 2, 4 & 16 year old. I'm usually a big time planner, but I'm trying to relax and not be so rigid about this vacation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, thank you...that's so nice of you to say! I am jealous in a good way for that trip you've got planned...jealous for it to be everything you want it to be. I'm a huge planner myself, so I know how tricky it can be to relax. That's what I forced myself to do on our Big Trip, and it made a huge difference. Have a wonderful time on yours, and thanks so much for stopping by!

      Delete
  3. #5 IS THE BEST! Yes!!! What a lovely idea! We're actually on vacation now. I'm an early bird so I usually get up int he mornings and write and drink coffee. Thanks for these great tips!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, Shannon, it sounds like you know how to start your day in the right way so as to set yourself up for success the rest of the day. I think moms have so much power to make or break vacations (among other things) for their families. It can be a burden, but mostly it is a huge opportunity. Enjoy the rest of your time away...thank you for stopping by this morning!

      Delete
  4. These are great tops! #5 is a must! It is so great to have a buffer day that is slower than the previous days to help soak in all the fun as well as transition back to real life

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh my goodness, how much do I LOVE the way you put that? "A buffer day that is slower than the previous days to help soak in all the fun as well as transition back to real life." Yes! Exactly! Couldn't have said it better myself. I mean, really, I couldn't and didn't...so thank goodness you did. Love it. Thank you so much for stopping by!

      Delete
  5. Great tips! I am the type of mom who likes to go go go until everyone drops of exhaustion so I was quite surprised to hear my boys tell me that they want a quiet, relaxing, beach vacation without a lot of go go go.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heehee, MOther of 3: there you go! It sounds like you've got a mixed-bag of vacation personalities. How great that your boys communicated to you what they like...that makes it a lot easier to plan a vacation that makes everyone at least mostly happy! Blessings on your summer...whether at home or on the road!

      Delete
  6. great tips! I'm not a mom so I can only imagine how insane that is to plan, but it sounds like you're doing a great job! glad the trip was fun for you guys :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, thank you! The planning does take a bit of doing, but when it all works out--and "works out" needs to be a very loose term!--it's pretty special. Thank you so much for stopping by!

      Delete
  7. Ok these are super smart tips for a vacation, Elizabeth. I love your first point. Deciding to the purpose of the trip before even planning it is crucial. It'll determine so many factor and really sets the tone for your excursion. I also love that you pointed out the importance of "no matter what..." My husband and I do this when we're going for long weekends with our 2 year old. We get in the car and we say, "no matter what, let's make this weekend..." and we go from there. This way, if something doesn't go the way we plan, we have an understanding that we can still make the best of it. Love this post! Thank you for sharing it on #shinebloghop this week!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maria, thank you so much for taking time to leave this encouraging and thoughtful comment! You are so right about that "let's make this weekend..." mindset..especially with a 2-year-old! This kind of thinking is NOT my default setting by any stretch of the imagination. But when I ask God to help me live beyond myself and to bless my family--no matter what--He is faithful to do it. Thank you again for leaving your sweet thoughts...blessings on your threesome this summer, whether you're staying or going!

      Delete
  8. I always plan a buffer day. It helps with the transition for everyone. Also, I don't think moms ever get a vacation. Great post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Beth...it's nice to meet a fellow fan of the buffer day! Thanks so much for stopping by from Growing Social Media for Bloggers! :)

      Delete
  9. Being the facilitator is the worst. We have to have a family vacation and a vacation with just myself and my husband so we can really relax. Good info.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heehee...that sounds like a good idea, too, Justina! My husband and I have been blessed to take several just-us vacations, and I do think it helps me be a more cheerful and grateful "facilitator" for the family trips. Thanks so much for stopping by from Growing Social Media for Bloggers! :)

      Delete
  10. #1: for real. Every time you undertake to plan anything, the first step always has to be identifying the purpose of that activity. Especially if others (like your spouse) are planning it with you!
    #SHINEbloghop

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I never thought about the whole "purpose as first step" application to life in general, Jenny, but you're right! And you've also nailed the extra importance of that when other people are involved in the planning! ;) Thanks so much for stopping by from the Shine!

      Delete
  11. Wait, I don't think you said "Moms need lots of chocolate to survive family road-trips." Maybe you did, and I just missed it. Loved your advice, we are headed on our first family road trip soon...and I love the WE ARE GOING TO HAVE FUN announcement and the idea of viewing yourself as a facilitator (just accepting the fact up front).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh my word, Sarah, you're right! HOW could I have made such an omission?! I suppose it's because chocolate is such an integral part of our family's existence that I just auto-factored it in! ;) I'm so excited for your family on your first trip, especially given the assurance that YOU WILL HAVE FUN. Hahaha...blessings on you in particular, oh facilitator! I pray your time away is everything you want it to be.

      Delete
  12. I love your tips, especially the buffer day. These will come in handy the next time we take a vacation. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! I'm a pretty big fan of the buffer day myself. It really helps me enjoy the entire rest of the trip to know I've got it as a cushion at the end. There again, it's mostly a mental game for me. (Cue my family: "um, YEAH!") Here's hoping you have a need for these tips--i.e., a vacation in the works--soon! :)

      Delete
  13. Your lists are the best! I love this: "I think that if you frame what you're doing as 'facilitating vacation' for the rest of your family rather than 'going on vacation' yourself" is the BEST! It's great to just accept that fact so that everyone else will enjoy themselves more. This is also another example of how much motherhood is about giving of ourselves and being so selfless--a lesson God had to teach me and continues to teach me! ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, thank you, sweet Christine! That whole "facilitator" spin is a big one for me. I need it, too, because "selfless" is 100% NOT my auto-restore setting. As a mom thinks, so she is? Anyway, that's what works for me. ;) Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a piece of your lovely heart. xoxo

      Delete
  14. We always have to have a recovery day after our trips. It's just to hard to jump right back into work and school without some time to rest and unpack. Thanks for joining the Family Joy link party!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know it, Samantha...I am SO not a "jump right back in" sort of mom! ;) Thank you for hosting the Family Joy party...so glad I found you!

      Delete
  15. So much goodness here! I definitely agree with the philosophy that I am facilitating the vacation...and I'm good with that! I think we shared some of the same basic ideas today. You are the second person recently I've seen share this location....going to have to pin it for future reference for sure. Thanks so much for linking up with us Elizabeth!

    Shelly||The Queen in Between

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Shelly! I was so glad to find your sweet link party...and not just because I already had this post ready to go. ;) I loved seeing the affirmation of what I try to do in your fabulous post! May all the joys of summer be yours!

      Delete
  16. BRILLIANT! This is amazing, helpful and not overwhelming. Just truth. "Mothers do not go on vacation...they facilitate vacation for the rest of their family." All the yeses. Thank you so much for linking up with us - pinning this one to our Spiel the Beans board!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, thank you so much, oh Queen! :) You've made my morning with your kind words. I'm so glad I found Spiel the Beans! You Queens rule.

      Delete

I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to tell me what you really think. Years ago, I explained to my then-two-year that my appointment with a counselor was "sort of like going to a doctor who will help me be a better mommy." Without blinking, she replied, "You'd better go every day." All of which is just to say I've spent some time in the school of brutal honesty!