The Great Vacation Fallacy

It's not a vacation, it's a family trip — the two are rarely the same

Managing expectations is the key to planning time away with the family — and the key to being a parent overall.

Just listen to the recent experiences and observations of one dad from Washington, D.C.

“The stress and strain of hauling a family across the country to ski isn’t a vacation — it is something altogether different and special.”

“On Day 3 of our ski trip — same experience as Day 2, with stress and screaming for everyone to get up and get moving — I boarded a gondola with a young family of five. The three children were ages three to seven, and they were fussing with their jackets and helmets, their boots were too tight and someone took someone else’s mitten. You get the picture. Since they were not my children, I smiled and offered a sympathetic look and made the comment, ‘Vacations get easier as they get older.'”

“As I said it I knew I was telling a lie,” the dad added, “but it was a little white lie to ease the suffering of the two parents. The other father smiled and said, ‘Oh, this isn’t a vacation. This a family trip.’

“That was the moment it all came together for me,” the dad said. “We are making memories and having shared experiences as a family. The stress and strain of hauling a family across the country to ski isn’t a vacation — it is something altogether different and special. It took me 17 years to figure this out — and with my expectations readjusted, the rest of trip was so much more enjoyable for me and my family.”

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That’s right. It is not a vacation. No matter where you are going or how old your children are, say that three times out loud to get your head around it.

If you understand the deal before you pull out of your driveway or board the plane — you will have a much better time.

Related: When Job Burnout Makes You A Rotten Parent

Sure, there are adventures — of the unexpected kind. “Try keeping dibs on three hormonal pre-teen boys at a Florida resort that offers 13 pools and free food,” said a Boston-area dad, recalling one such family excursion. “They had a wristband so they acted like mini-entitled adults — visiting each pool to ‘try their French fries’ and check out the pre-teen girls. I had carpal-tunnel syndrome from the amount of texting I did on that vacation, just trying to track them — like an FBI agent tracks an ex-con.”

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Use these handy reference points to determine whether you and your beloved spouse are going on a trip or a vacation:

  • If you have a pack ‘n’ play and a training potty in the trunk — trip.
  • If one of your plans while away involves eating breakfast with Minnie, Micky, or Goofy — trip.
  • If you have other parents’ emergency contact info loaded into your cell phone — trip.
  • If your beach bag contains fruit roll-ups, swimmies, and tubes of SPF 800 sunblock — trip.
  • If you have to keep track of multiple pairs of shoes, jackets, gloves, and hats (most of which don’t fit you) — trip.
  • If you’re more exhausted at night then you are when you’re home — trip.
  • If there are kids with you — you’re on a trip.

Parents still in the trenches can’t imagine it, but someday the kids will grow up. Then there will be all the time in the world to lounge, nap, walk gorgeous coastlines, and enjoy cocktails at sunset.

And you know what you’ll be saying over your leisurely drinks in front of your breathtaking scenery? “Do you remember the time when the kids were little?”

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