Are we having fun on the family vacation?

Family Vacation
Summer vacation season has officially come to a close. As of last week, we have logged more than 36 hours in the car, at least 53 bathroom stops, 8 tanks of gas, countless toll booths and what appears to be approximately 4,673 goldfish crackers crushed in between the seats of my car. And I’ve never felt like I needed a vacation more.

Family vacations are a funny thing. We spend all year planning them. We look forward to them. We invest time and money. And, best of all, we take time off from our crazy, busy lives to slow down and spend quality time with the people we love the most. So why do I usually end up wanting to kill everyone?

Like most things in life, family vacations are one of those things that look great on paper but need a little more in terms of expectation management. I remember when my kids were little, we had the opportunity to take them to London, England for three weeks. This was absolutely my dream vacation. I had an itinerary all worked out. I was going to visit places where Shakespeare had actually walked. I would stand in the very room where Anne Boleyn spent her final night. I would see places and landmarks and plays. Most likely, I would have tea with the queen.

All my kids wanted to do was ride scooters and eat ice cream.

That summer, I stood in the White Tower in tears, because I couldn’t figure out why my kids were acting like they did at home. One simply does not DO cartwheels on the lawn of the Tower. How could they not know this?

It’s taken me a few years, and a few more vacations (Disney is NOT the most magical place on earth in cases anyone is wondering) to finally figure this whole family vacation thing out.

Taking kids out of their own setting will not change who they are.

For a long time, I’ve allowed family vacations to stress me out more than I should. I go on vacation and I want to shut down and tune out. I want to lie on the beach and read a book. Or I want to visit museums and explore a new city. If I’m totally honest, I want my vacations to be nothing like my normal life. But my normal life is parenting kids with individual needs, personalities and ideas. And this doesn’t change, even on vacation.

Like my dad always says, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Just because we put time and money and effort into something doesn’t mean our kids will stop wanting to ride scooters or eat ice cream every chance they get. And I’m pretty sure that’s ok.

Where I’ve gone wrong in the past is the expectation that, because I had put so much effort into planning to perfect family vacation, my kids would recognize my efforts and behave accordingly. I’m pretty sure I have a better chance of finding a unicorn in my backyard.

This summer was hectic, no doubt about it. We spent a lot of time with a lot of personalities in small spaces. It wasn’t always pretty. There are a few stories that will only be funny by next summer. And for every family photo that will actually make it on to Facebook (you know, the ones that we all post so that everyone will think that we had the perfect family vacation), there are 15 more where no one is looking at the camera, at least two people are making funny faces or I’m fake smiling with gritted teeth while muttering under my breath, “You WILL look like you’re having fun.”

I love the perfect Facebook-worthy photos, but to be honest, it’s the perfectly imperfect pictures that I will treasure the most. These are the ones that are real. These are the ones that show who we are at our best, at our worst, at our funniest, at our silliest. They show our family as it really is. Crazy, hectic, a little moody when our schedule is thrown off and 100% completely capable of being ourselves no matter where we are.

For me, this summer was all about realizing that family vacations, like our kids, are something that we love, but don’t have to like all the time. The real value of a vacation is not about the money we spend or the activities we plan, it’s about the time we have with the people we love the most – even when we want to kill them.

Anna Strock
Anna has spent the last 18 years writing, directing creative projects, and trying to be the best mom possible to her three girls. When she's not exploring Richmond for the latest and greatest resources, offerings, and activities, she can be found daydreaming on travel blogs, drinking too much coffee, and running kids to endless activities.