Our family vacations weren’t intended to become a tradition. They began because travel benefits were part of my husband’s airline employment. Our three children learned early about flying, hotel stays, and visiting family in the D.C. area. They also learned about saving money in January for a June vacation, and why buying meals at the airport wasn’t something they would experience.
All in their 40s now with children of their own, they fondly recall spending carefully budgeted vacation dollars on waffle cones in the St. Louis airport. Our vacations were fun, but modest. We all learned volumes about getting along, taking turns, sharing, especially in crowded spaces, and improvising when flight delays or weather situations interrupted plans.
As best I recall our first family vacation was when three of the five travelers were under the age of six. We visited Disney World and enjoyed a delightful time. Even the Magic Kingdom included challenges that helped instill the differences between make believe and reality. It’s an important distinction to learn at any age.
When traveling with children, particularly siblings, a few attributes are essential: patience; a sense of adventure; the ability to put a positive spin on rain, messy situations, sleeping in beds that aren’t like home; and an attitude of gratitude. Often such character builders require time and persistence so starting early and practicing often is worthwhile.
As our three youngsters became teenagers, flexibility about travel times was essential as schedules for extra-curricular activities and summer jobs complicated plans. While teens can be perfectly charming travel companions, they can also experience extended times of moodiness and insolence that dampens family togetherness even while sightseeing.
We survived and thrived and knew we were dealing with limited time to travel together. As high school students became college age, we titled each shared trip, The Last Family Vacation. For some years the original five for family vacations ceased until we later chose to create new experiences.
A unanimous decision was made to spend the money used for gifts throughout the year from Grandma and Grandpa on renting a house so all 15 of us could vacation together under one roof. In 2014, we embarked on the newly revised family vacation and visited Destin, Fla., with seven grandchildren under the age of 9, our two daughters and son and their spouses, and two Grandparents.
We’ve traveled to Branson, St. Simons, and this summer we visited Wisconsin. We share grocery costs, and take turns cooking, with each family responsible for one evening meal. If something needs to be done, or a child needs help in solving a conflict, we pitch in to make it happen. Scheduling is minimal and full participation in every activity is not required. Laughter, fun, food, and friendships are abundant, and sweet memories always in the making.
In a recent article about minimalist living, it was suggested, “to fill your life with stories to tell, not stuff to show.” We celebrate birthdays, special events, and Christmas with love and happy times together. The absence of presents is not a void because we know for one week each year we will give the greatest gift of all, the gift of ourselves and our time. The Family Vacation has become a planned tradition that continues joyfully with another generation!