An irreverent, inclusive, alternative parenting community

“We're all gonna have so much f**king fun we'll need plastic surgery to remove our g*damn smiles.” – Clark Griswold

Earlier this summer, my sister took this photo of our nephew enjoying a visit to the National Arboretum:


One of her co-workers saw the picture and paused to reflect. “That’s my kids on every trip we ever took them on,” he said, kind of reliving it a little. “And now I just say to myself: Why? Why did we do it?”

Why, indeed. That’s a tough one. Especially if you’re a parent who loves traveling – maybe even a little tourism here and there – but hates the notion of being that dreaded cultural icon the Family of Tourists.

There are plenty of cautionary tales out there. Not just National Lampoon’s Vacation, but real life ones, too. There’s a little Clark Griswold in all of us, after all. From teenhood on, I remember observing these families in action and mentally vowing never to become one:

– The little girl weeping exhaustedly as her family slogged through historic Williamsburg in the blistering summer humidity, finally grasping her breath long enough to wail one cohesive sentence: “I’m booored!”

– The boy with his arm stuck in the revolving door of a Manhattan hotel, trying to avoid further embarrassment by requesting help in a flat, stoic voice: “Dad. Dad.” Meanwhile, his oblivious dad was right behind him pushing harder on the stuck door, wondering why the damn thing wouldn’t move.

– The dad in Acadia National Park, pushing his family along on a hike that was clearly too challenging. They charged past us early on the trail, kids whining under dad’s brisk commands. We passed them further up the mountain where each child – mom too – was stranded at various points of the hillside, clinging to rungs the park had installed to help hikers up the more vertical parts of the trail.

We see these things, shake our heads sadly and think “Not us” with some misguided sense of pride. But how can you love travel, have kids, and somehow have that not be you? Take a car load of multi-age relations on the road and some version of those mishaps is going to happen. It’s practically guaranteed. (Did you read Hausfrau’s posts about her hilarious family vacation misadventures?)

As for me, I’m patching myself back together after a week-long Oregon coast trip with a 5-year-old who’s developed a case of sass-mouth and a 2-year-old who’s decided she hates the beach’s ass. “It too breezy,” she claims. And Jeebus help you if any sand touches any part of that child’s body. Sand is no friend of hers:


Somebody hand me a fanny pack, because I feel like I’m turning into one of those Griswold dads. And I’m echoing my sister’s co-worker’s question: Why are we doing this?

I’m also wondering why so much of the tourism industry is aimed at families when it’s debatable whether kids even like to travel? Sure, they get a kick out of seeing new things and riding in different vehicles. They love the beach. (Well. Some of them do.) They enjoy seeing things first hand that they’ve learned about in books. (Well. Some of them do.)

But the process of travel is so exhausting. Even older kids can take routine disruption pretty hard. They’re so easily bored, so easily upset, so easily embarrassed. And kids have completely different notions of “fun” than adults do. We get exasperated when they’re unwilling to part with comforts from home like favorite TV shows, or when they eschew the main tourist attraction in favor of the motel pool. But there it is. Their idea of fun is not necessarily our idea of fun. If it were, there’d be no such thing as Barney.

Of course, the tourism industry realizes this and has adapted. There are resorts offering all kinds of delicious child-friendly amenities – craft tables, dolphin encounters, pools with elaborate water slides, even drop-off day camp. As a parent who tends toward the “enjoying nature” brand of vacation, I get the sense that I’m supposed to disdain such things. (Who needs water slides when you’ve got a gorgeous beach ten steps away?) But after a week of dragging little Bart & Lisa from fog-drenched Oregon beach to fog-drenched Oregon beach, my knee-jerk dismissal of all-inclusive resorts has become slightly reluctant.

Maybe the resorts are a little cheesy and over-indulgent, but the idea is a good one. Meet kids at their level of enjoyment and give the parents a little bit of a break to enjoy their vacation too. Nothing wrong with that. Well . . . the price may be a little prohibitive, but maybe we can start with the basic concept and come up with a budget version.

“Meeting kids at their level of enjoyment” doesn’t have to mean expensive resort amenities. It can be as simple as letting your toddler push every button the national park’s interpretive center has to offer. Or kicking back in the motel room with bed-jumping and mini boxes of cereal. Hikes don’t have to be epic. Nature can be appreciated just as easily from a picnic table. (Preferably with ice cream.) And if your planned activity isn’t working, there’s no shame in bailing out and driving to the nearest arcade for a few rounds of skee ball.

Now, for that “give parents a little bit of a break” business. One obvious suggestion is to take vacations with extended family. Cousins can be built-in playdates; grandparents can be built-in babysitters. With bigger groups of people, it’s easier to split into groups according to interests. Maybe there’s an aunt who’d love to stay at the motel pool with the young’uns while the more adventurous bunch sets off on a hike. (Or maybe that’s just cloud talk. Extended family vacations can pose countless challenges of their own!)

But let’s get back to the original question: Why are we doing this?

Strange as it seems, I think we’re really doing it for ourselves. Maybe we’re nostalgic for the family vacations of our childhood. Maybe we’re trying to achieve some blurry ideal of family travel we dreamed about as kids – part Kerouac, part “Wonderful World of Disney.” Maybe we just plain like to travel and a family vacation is as good an excuse as any. Whatever the reason, we’re the ones hitting the roads with a bumbling sense of optimism and a carload of quirky characters. Might as well enjoy the ride.


Views: 26

Tags: Clark Griswold, Family Vacation, Tourists, Travel

Comment by Mommagrrl on August 23, 2009 at 3:42am
Great post, floorpie! As one who has a particularly tricky son to deal with, I can say that we have learned to embrace the combination of parent-directed activity time and letting them watch iCarly until their eyeballs fall out.

I think of all the trips we've taken and things we've done on those trips, the one thing that continues to be Eli's favorite was staying at "Mr. Johnson's" (which was actually Howard Johnson's) in Mystic, CT, where they had an indoor pool and the boys could watch "Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman" TWICE because there were two PBS stations. But that's okay. I know he and Miles have also gotten a lot out of the museums, zoos, aquariums, hikes, historic sites and other places we've dragged them to over the years.
Comment by Teacher Tom on August 23, 2009 at 6:59am
Another great post!

Staying at motels was the highlight of every family vacation I ever took as a child. To this day my brother and I fondly recall the Ramada Inn we stayed in somewhere in Texas with it's giant indoor pool and astroturf pool deck. And The Caravel Motel at Myrtle Beach with a different kind of ice machine on each floor!
Comment by Joe Mama on August 23, 2009 at 7:50am
The indoor pool was certainly the biggest immediate hit with the boys, especially the 9 year old who hates to try anything new. Having said that, when he was on the phone with his aunt he talked about the rafting, and tubing, and vocano fields, and the spelunking - all things he complained about while we were there.
Comment by Stepping In It on August 23, 2009 at 8:27am
Cute! and true. I was a good little traveller with my parents-they took me to Hawaii, Italy, and countless places in our home state. But then again, I was raised with absolutely no routine and myriad levels of chaos, so I was a shoe-in for travel. I remember one time when my dad was getting a massage from a hotel masseuse, and I was out with my mom, and I got "cold" so I could go back to the room to get a jacket because I was convinced my dad was having an affair with the masseuse!
Having a big family, I can attest that extended family vacations-especially camping trips-work brilliantly. Especially if there are older cousins!
Comment by kommishoner on August 23, 2009 at 11:24am
My idea of vacation is watching TV until my eyeballs fall out of my head, so maybe planning vacations with a kid won't be so hard. ;)

And that picture of Little Girl is amazing. "It too breezy" is going to be my go-to expression of disapproval from now on.
Comment by Daddy Geek Boy on August 23, 2009 at 11:25am
The bad memories will melt away and we find that all we're left with is the good ones from our family vacations. That's why we do it.
Comment by wookie on August 23, 2009 at 2:16pm
I find the things that the kids remember are never the things we think of. We went to Las Vegas, the kids remember the fountains. We went to the zoo, they remember the groundhog enclosure where two groundhogs were perched atop a decorative wooden outhouse (oh, the hilarity! A WASHROOM HOUSE). They remember the cherry popsicles from the gas station, the murals at a park, seeing a moose on the side of the road, all sorts of weird little things.

Being excited by a different ice machine ON EVERY FLOOR... yes, that sounds like my kids.
Comment by Mamawho on August 23, 2009 at 6:26pm
I have a new hobby - I watch tourists when I go into DC and in Old Town Alexandria. They crack me up. It's not just North American tourists, either. I've seen the tortuous parent-child vacation dynamic in families speaking all kinds of languages.

My SIL was just here and wanted to do a whirlwind 3 day, see everything, DC tour with me a guide. And GirlWho. I was most dreading the National Archives, assuming that just wouldn't be exciting for GW. Wrong. They had countless doodads and buttons and whatnot and things that made noise - she was a happy camper. And no one yelled at her like they did when I turned my back for one second and she climbed up on an abstract sculpture in a foyer at the National Gallery. I nearly died.
Comment by Boring User Name on August 24, 2009 at 2:41pm
My memories of vacation are of The Drive which is so odd. We drove thousands of miles each summer. Fortunately, the car seat rules weren't quite so strict were non-existent, so we had a van with bench seats. Each child had a seat to nap on, play on, color on, etc. Driving with kids will never be the same.
Comment by Mamawho on August 24, 2009 at 7:43pm
Daria - we drove thousands of miles at 500 mile-per-day intervals. No more, no less. It took for-frickin'-ever to get from Oklahoma City to Baltimore via the scenic route, stopping by every battlefield on the way. But I had the entire backseat of a Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham d'Elegance. It was a luxurious tank.


You need to be a member of Offsprung to add comments!

Join Offsprung

© 2014   Created by Offsprunger.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service