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.**