Friday, September 28, 2007

The Family Vacation

The Family Vacation... What memories! What togetherness! What fun?

Even now, I can see your eyes going out of focus as you look into the mists of your own memories. Memories of vacations past, where you were tortured beyond belief by long boring rides in your parent's car, or by your own children's predilection for projectile vomiting.

OK, that's enough remembering.

The family vacation is something that I didn't have as a kid, so all of my memories of the family road-trip have been created by the adult me (and Mrs Gunfighter, of course).

It has been our great good fortune to have had incredibly fun family vacations, and today, I am going to share our secret for vacation success.

For us, going on vacation means alot. Going on vacation means changing our location... going some place that we enjoy, and spending some concentrated family time. Some time away from our jobs, our work in the church, Scouting, coaching and attending soccer games, commuting, occasional travel for work, local politics, volunteering on County committees, and on and on. We are a busy family, but we love to be together, and while we enjoy our time together as a family unit, that can be in short supply at times.

Clan Gunfighter is made up of creatures of habit. On vacation, we like to do most of the things we do at home... eating home-cooked meals, watching our usual television shows, and spending time together. Whether we do this in Williamsburg, Virginia, where we spend spring breaks, or in Orlando, Florida, where we go in the summer, we enjoy the "home away from home" experience. Because we like to do "home away from home", we became owners in the Hilton Grand Vacation Club a few years ago, so when we go on vacation, we are in a beautiful, large apartment unit, with all of the amenities, as well as a full kitchen and laundry machines.

So: The secret. I suppose I should make that plural, because our secret has multiple parts... the first part being this: The journey is part of the vacation, too. For us, the drive is every bit as much a part of the fun as going to Disney World. Because we tend to take a lot of things with us, like Soccergirl's stuffed "friends", we normally will rent a minivan for the trip. Oh go ahead, scoff if you like.

Decorating the Minivan the night before departure has become a ritual. We use window chalk that we get in the automotive section at the local Wal-Mart.

Everyone in the family is listed (and has their picture drawn on the window)

(The creature that you see there is one of my own renditions of our late, lamented greyhounds: Duncan and Zoom.

Once we have the van decorated and packed, and all of the sundry electronics (phone chargers, XM radio, iPod, DVD player, etc... ) installed. It's time to go!

We head out listening to our traditional music: 500 Miles (I'm Gonna Be), by the Proclaimers. During the ride, Mrs GF and I get lots of time to talk while Soccergirl watches a movie or reads, which is quite nice.

We always make good mileage, but we are never in such a hurry that it is a problem if someone needs to make a restroom stop, before the next "scheduled" stop.

When we arrive at our destination, we unload the van and set up our "new home" and proceed to enjoy each other's company. One central theme of our vacations is that, more often than not, I will cook our evening meals. We do this, not as a money saver, but because we want to enjoy a meal in a home-like environment.

Having arrived, it is time to tell you the next part of our secret, and here it is: Only do what you WANT to do on vacation. I know that Disney World is an expensive vacation... it is the main focus of all of my overtime efforts, but we resist the need to "do everything" while we are there. I can't tell you how many times that we have seen families in complete misery because mom or dad is so determined to do it all, that no one in the family is having any fun. So, we get up late, we swim, we take our time about getting to the theme parks, and we R-E-L-A-X. So what if we planned on going to the Magic Kingdom in the morning and Epcot in the evening, and only made it the Magic Kingdom? Who cares? Don't want to ride the big rollercoater everyone is talking about? Don't! Vacations are supposed to be fun, so we never worry about what we are "supposed" to be doing... we just do what we want. In our normal lives, we spend so much time regulated by the clock, we really have a good time when we only have make sure that we get a certain little girl into bed at a reasonable hour.

The next part of the secret is the most important part, and that is: Have a high threshold for failure. While you are on vacation, don't make any one thing so central to your success, that if idoesn't happen the way you want it, your whole trip is ruined. We have seen people who, while on vacation, must do everything... and not just do everything, but do it in a certain order, and get a certain feeling from having done it, and scheduled every last thing that they are going to do, down to the minute, that if it doesn't happen perfectly, their vacation is ruined. God knows that living within boundaries like that is difficult enough in our day to day lives, imagine trying that while factoring in the vagaries of the weather in Central Florida!

Here is an example of doing it right:

In 2001, the 9/11 attacks took place on our last workday before our vacation. My boss released me from duty early that day, because the chief was about to cancel all leave... Mrs GF and I determined that we should still go on vacation as sort of a metaphorical middle finger to those who think that they can keep Americans down.

We drove to Orlando, and arrived there the same day that tropical storm Danielle made HER appearance. No big deal right? It's only water. Well, we did our best and continued our fun in the (almost) completely deserted parks, enjoying the fact that Soccergirl could ride the Winnie The Pooh ride, Dumbo, and The Carousel as many times as she wanted, with no waiting in line.

We were having a good time until a few days into the vacation. One day, we were in Gooding's grocery store and Soccergirl abruptly puked all over the floor. The staff, knowing how vacationing tummies can be (especially since they were directly across the street from Disney property,), took it in stride. We didn't think much of it until later when she puked again. Hm. The next day, she rallied and we thought we were out of the woods, when we were about to get on The Pooh ride, and she erupted, like Mount Vesuvius all over the front of Mrs GF's shirt. Soccergirl started to cry, Mrs GF was COVERED in vomit, and I was starting to freak out. We all went to the child care center, where Mrs GF change SG's clothes, while I went to one of the shops and bought my poor wife a new Minnie Mouse t-shirt (which she has to this day)

My poor child was sick. We went to the emergency room of a local hospital, and were seen by the nice nurses and doctors, who administered some medication and gave SG some Popsicles (a fun way to re-hydrate). We missed a few days in the parks, but no real harm was done. Once SG was back on her feet, we continued with out family fun, none to worse for the wear. We even stayed an extra day.

We still count that vacation as our benchmark. If you can go through a major terrorist attack, shrug off the forces of nature, and deal with a sick child all in the same vacation, and still have fun, that's when you know that you're doing it right. Any one of those things could have ruined our trip, but we refused to let it.

There you have it... Clan Gunfighter's secrets for the perfect vacation.

NOTE: A couple of years later, we were there for Hurricane Charlie... I'll tell you about that one at a later date.


Today's post for the Parent Blogger Network Family Vacation blogblast, was sponsored by the fine folks at PickPackGo.


Janet said...

I like your approach. I never like to really schedule my vacation activities, preferring to play it by ear. That stressed out RSteve rather a bit as he was worried that I wasn't having a good time visiting him because he didn't have activities planned for me all the time. I have to say my happiest memories of that trip are cooking meals for his family, watching British soaps with his mum and long, rambling conversations with his dad. The last four days of the trip when I was running about trying to see London and at planned activities in Derby pale by comparison. Much as I love my Mom, I do kind of with RSteve's family would adopt me.

mothergoosemouse said...

I'm so on board with your vacation philosophy. And rainy days are some of the best at theme parks, particularly for families.

slouching mom said...

I agree. When families try to do it all, the vacation ends up being more stressful than daily life. And who on earth needs that?

Your vacation just after 9/11 cracked me up. Can you say...perseverance?

I think flexibility is probably the most critical ingredient in a successful family vacation, and your family appears quite flexible to me.

super des said...

I like family vacations. I need to start my own family so I can begin that tradition again.

My least favorite memory of a family vacation is when I got carsick and threw up all over my favorite book. I'm still sad about that. Just thought I'd share. :)

teresa said...

OK, the thing about decorating the minivan takes us beyond the softer side of GF all the way to the "Oh, isn't he just as cute as a button!" side of GF.

Thank you for recognizing something my father never did: that children's potty needs on long drives aren't simply malicious plots to sabotage their fathers' planned ETAs. Nor would it have helped if they had gone before they left because THEY DIDN'T NEED TO GO THEN!


Tiny Bladder

Jackie said...

Great attitude! I could not agree more with this approach!

Annie said...

That van is the cutest thing!

I was in Magic Kingdom on 9/11/01, we were there for about an hour when the park was closed. The following days it and the other parks were much less busy. Attended by foreign tourists, and Americans doing exactly what you were doing - and giving their kids something 'fun' to balance all the fear and sadness, it was great to see.

I live 30 mins from Disney, and I salute you for choosing to come here in the summertime! I fear that even after living here for 5 years, I have not acclimated to this stinky summer weather!

Dana said...

Since we haven't been on a family vacation since, well, ever, I am going to bookmark this so that when we are able to take one I can come back to it. Great advice!

Jodi said...

great, great advice. We have our first family vacation that is not just to the beach with our extended families in jan. and I will keep this is mind.

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

Excellent advice, Gunnie (I started to type "Funnie." Of course, you are that, too!)

Bee has friends who have a vacation ritual. When they get on the plane/train/automobile they're using to transport them to their R&R, they both remove their watches and put them in a Ziploc baggie, which then goes into the bottom of the wife's purse. During their entire vacation they don't wear or look at watches or clocks and they just go with the flow. At the end of the trip, when they get back on the train/plane/automobile to come home, they dig out their watches and put them back on.

As for me and Bee, we go with spontaneity. If we feel like going down to the beach/wherever, we do. If we don't, we don't. No point running on a schedule. It's a vacation, not a job!

Lawyer Mama said...

I love the idea of decorating the car. I'm totally going to steal that idea!

kevin said...

I love this car nice idea of car decorating

Jen said...

Loved all the rituals. 500 miles is one of my all-time fave songs. We do the same thing, but we do it at HOME. We now have two types of vacations - trips and do-nothings. We do one of each during each year. Do-nothings we're home but we have a bunch of rules that are similar to your vacation rules. Trips we're there to find out about the place we're visiting. Flexibility and no whining are the rules. Last trip we went to Northern CA and loved it despite the fact that we all got sick, lol. So we punted and cut back on our activities. Lovely post!

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Gift of Green said...

Great post! We haven't started any family vacations or traditions yet - so these tips will serve us well. Thank you!

Amy Barry said...

We are Disneyland/World vacationers too! We probably could stand to practice your more laid back approach to a Disney vacation but still...we loves us a good Disney vacation! We took Jaxon for his first visit to Disneyland last May. He loves it now too. And of course he is a big movie buff and we own most of the Disney and Pixar animated pics.