“Vacations—Fun for a Change,” Ensign, July 1983, 56–57
I remember the year I came home from two weeks at the beach needing a vacation. I hadn’t expected perfection of a trip with two children under six, but at least I had hoped we might push aside the everyday routines and get to know each other better. Instead, I came home tired and disappointed. It was the string of minor frustrations, right where the fond memories should have been, that annoyed me the most.
It occurred to me at that point that it was not enough to know what kind of vacation we wanted. We needed to know how to take a vacation.
My husband and I sat down together and considered the challenge of successful vacationing. We began by recalling our previous vacations—ones we’d taken together, and as children with our parents. At the same time, we thought of our friends, a family of nine, who had recently crowded into a station wagon with their suitcases strapped to the top. They had traveled across the continent to Washington, D.C., returning home marvelously excited by their experience. We spent some time gathering ideas about what makes a successful vacation, eventually identifying eight rules. With a few modifications, they’ve served us reasonably well:
1. Candidly discuss the upcoming trip with each family member. Find out what they expect, and then reconcile any differences. For example, if mom wants to see the sights and dad is hoping to get some rest, you’ll know you’ve got a problem.
2. Budget realistically. Enough unexpected expenses crop up when you’re away from home that it’s not a good policy to begin on a shoestring. It’s more realistic to cut the trip down to fit the pocketbook. Somehow, the wonders of the world lose a lot of their appeal when you have to count your nickels before you can look at them.
3. Point out to your children the pitfalls that might ruin your vacation. Explain lovingly to them that you aren’t going to leave the rules at home. There will still be some chores, like helping with the young children and unloading the suitcases. Delegate those responsibilities specifically, and then remember not to assume them yourself. Kids shape up quickly if they know you’re not going to fill in.
Discuss the fact that one person’s mood can affect everyone else. Challenge your children to stay cheerful, no matter what happens.
Give each child an allowance to spend on things he wants but make sure he understands that when it’s gone, there’ll be no more.
We’ve also found that it helps avoid embarrassment if we review with our children what they should expect and what will be expected of them just before we enter a restaurant, a museum, or a theater. Children feel more comfortable and behave better when they understand a new situation in advance.
4. Openly discuss anything that annoys one or more family members, and then find alternatives. For example, if dad would rather not spend every summer with relatives, maybe mom and the kids could visit them alone. Or if mom has an aversion to a campfire and fishing hole, maybe dad should take the kids on Saturdays and plan other activities for vacation periods.
5. Remember moderation. Vacation time doesn’t necessarily bring out the best in everyone, so don’t push to the limits of your time or your money. The object of a vacation is enjoyment, not exhaustion and ill temper.
6. Share yourself. Leave your work and worries at home. Plan to do things with your children that you’ll all enjoy.
7. Don’t give in to temptations that you’ll have to overcome when you get home: overeating, oversleeping, forgetting family prayer, etc.
8. Remain flexible. You can always count on something going askew. Once we put the canoe on top of our car and headed for the lake. When we arrived, the wind was blowing so hard that we couldn’t launch. We took shelter in a local drugstore, where one of the kids happened to spot a kite. For 98¢ and a ball of string, we salvaged the outing. In fact, we had so much fun that our kids were disappointed the next time when the wind wasn’t blowing.
One year, for financial reasons, we decided on a stay-at-home vacation. First, we took two important steps to make our vacation something more than just “staying at home.” The week before, we froze whole meals, bought paper plates, and did the laundry. Then we canceled all our obligations—work, school, classes, parties, meetings (except Sunday meetings)—and we took no phone calls. (After all, we were on vacation!) Then we sat down with the children and brainstormed ways to spend our free time.
Eventually, we opted for completing a family goal. Our house needed better insulation—so that week we installed insulation with all the gusto of a barn-raising. Besides having fun, by the end of the week we enjoyed a rich sense of accomplishment—as good a souvenir as one could ever want from a vacation.
By carefully tailoring vacation times to meet the specific needs of our family, we’ve produced more successes than failures. Jerrie W. Hurd, Lake Oswego, Oregon