Nothing connects a family more than having a good time together. I am wholly indebted to my husband, Bill, for being a great vacation planner. He is far less cheap than me, and much more fun. Our lives are the richer for it.
He grew up taking two week vacations every summer, when his teacher parents crammed five kids in a station wagon and took to the highway on some really ambitious treks. They covered every corner of the United States and have wonderful stories of close calls with bears, writing limericks in cramped cabins together on rainy days, and stuffing the littlest kid between the two back seats, which came to be known as ‘the laughing place.’
Armed with these bracing experiences, Bill was downright heroic about getting kids out to experience the world. When two of them were tiny babies and the other a slippery toddler, he announced, “We’re going somewhere, even if it’s only an hour away.”
It was about an hour away, but it was still an epic journey, outnumbered as we were by needy little creatures and swamped with the equipment of baby survival: a double stroller, a single stroller, a huge diaper bag, portable cribs. General Butler State Park Lodge didn’t know what hit it when we showed up for dinner with all three babies, requesting several highchairs and a large corner for a Pack-and-Play, the holding tank that enabled the adults to eat too.
There’s nothing relaxing about a vacation like that. I’ve cynically observed that a vacation with little kids means doing the same thing you always do in less convenient settings, but it’s still worth it. The scene is changed, there’s a break from routine, and even if the fun activities aren’t always all that fun, your kids are learning to behave out in the world. They learn that disciplines like sitting still, standing in line, or waiting for your food, generally have some pretty good payoffs.
By the time they were four and six, our boys were more or less keeping up with adults all day long. I’ll never forget seeing them all with their little Sesame Street backpacks and roller suitcases, striding through the San Francisco Airport when Uncle Bob brought us all to the west coast on his frequent flyer points.
When they were nine and eleven we did our tour of dazzling western National Parks, and I was really pleased to see how well they kept up on a guided five-mile hike up a mountain at Glacier Peace Park. They loved the waterfalls, the changing terrain, the walls of ice when we reached a glacier. That was a time that is etched in memory, one of those iconic family experiences.
So was going on a mission trip together to put solar panels on schools in Honduran Villages when they were fourteen and twelve. That was a wonderful time of all working together to help someone else, while navigating a difficult culture and some hardships. I’m so glad we had that experience of serving together and depending on each other.
Not everyone has the luxury of traveling far, but even camping in a local campground for a few days, or exploring a different city while staying with family or friends for a weekend, can be a great adventure for kids. It isn’t how expensive or exotic the vacation is that matters, it’s the magic that happens when you are exploring and having fun together.