Surviving driving vacations

If you want to experience true family togetherness, then pile the kids in the car and take a long driving vacation. You'll never feel closer, assuming you don't kill each other.

Spending time with your family -- cooped up in a car around the clock -- will remind you why you normally choose to hide at a job eight or 10 hours a day. By the time vacation's over, you'll be rested and ready to return to work -- anything to escape your kids' caterwauling and your spouse's annoying little habits. Plus, after spending the "college fund" on gas, food and lodging, you'll need to hurry back to work to raise some money.

Our family's last driving vacation was a few summers ago, before gas prices went through the roof. We toured Northern California, a truly inspiring land, from its redwood forests to its, um, other redwood forests. My wife and I, our two sons (then 15 and 12) and enough luggage to require sherpas all packed into a minivan and hit the Open Road. For a week. I'm happy to report that we all survived, physically intact, if emotionally frazzled, and ready to vacation together again real soon. Say, once they perfect private space travel.

It's easier to travel with the boys now than it was when they were little and demanding. Now that they're big and demanding, they can at least fend for themselves if they're, say, accidentally left behind in a redwood forest somewhere.

We vacationed with our boys when they were younger -- we've got photo albums to prove it -- but I seem to have blocked the experience from my memory banks. Harried parents know that certain memories (such as diapers) are erased from the mind as time passes. Which explains why couples have more than one child. For those of you out there traveling with kids still small enough to require diapers, all I can say is we'll remember you in our prayers.

The role of older kids on vacation is to appear bored. They're too jaded to appreciate redwood forests and other natural wonders, having seen better examples on TV. Museums make them yawn. Beaches are okay, but there's all that yucky sand everywhere.

The mantra of small children on vacation is the perennial favorite, "Are we there yet?" With teens, it's "Whatever."

This emphatic ennui grates on parents, especially if they're unable to block out that other sound in their heads, the steady ka-ching like a taxi meter, recording how much everything costs.
If we're going to spend this much, the thinking goes, then these kids will by golly be impressed and learn something and enjoy themselves, if we have to strangle them.

We stayed in hotels on our trip, spending the equivalent of two months' mortgage payments for seven nights in hotels. Our kids have reached that stage of maturity (and actual physical size) that we needed suites so everybody would have his own bed. I couldn't sleep for the ka-chinging in the background.

Yes, there are cheaper ways for families to travel. RVs, for example, or camping. But my idea of "roughing it" is four people sharing one bathroom. Trust me, this was rough enough.

But it was worth it. Really. We spent "quality time" together and we made some memories.

I can see myself years from now, when my kids bring their own families to visit:

"Hey, son, remember that vacation we took? Those big trees?"

And he'll roll his eyes and say, "Sure, Dad. Whatever."

1 comment:

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