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How (Not To) Family Vacation

How (Not To) Family Vacation

By Mir Kamin

Every now and then someone makes a comment about my “blended family” and I do a lot of blinking because… I forget. I mean, not entirely, I suppose, but I’ve been remarried for coming up on eight years, now, and this doesn’t feel like my new family or my second family; it’s just my family.

Some of the toughest transitioning we did as a familial unit had to do not with the day-to-day stuff, but differences in how we perceived the Big Stuff (and that’s less of a “blended family” and more of a “distinctly different people finding middle ground” sort of thing). In the beginning, I think it was harder. My husband had his views and I had mine and no matter how much we love each other, we both viewed the other’s staunch positioning as a little silly. Our childhoods were distinctly different from one another’s, and both were very different from my own kids’ experience. My children have their own particular set of foibles and needs, and I know that sometimes (often?) my husband feels like it’s three against one when it comes to something he thinks should be a certain way and we all are just confused.

This is all preamble to say: I’ve reached the conclusion that we, as a family, are terrible at going on vacation.

Six years ago we purchased a small camping trailer after listening to countless stories of how magical my husband’s childhood was, spending a large portion of every summer camping with his family. The kids were excited. Heck, I was excited. The truth is that I’d hang out almost anywhere with my husband, because he’s my favorite. This seemed like a reasonable way to both ready our family for the travel my husband craved but the familiarity which the kids tend to need. We would become campers! And we did—sort of. We took trips as a foursome and on various occasions when one child would be off doing something else, we’d take the remaining child and a friend. We camped here in Georgia and found a favorite campground in South Carolina and went new places and even towed all the way up to New York one year to camp with my folks. We hiked and swam and made s’mores and played cards and board games and threw a ball for the dog inside the camper on rainy days and had a bunch of adventures over the years. My late mother-in-law, whose counterpoint to my husband’s “those were the good old days” view of his camping past was that it was a terrible slog she’d barely survived, would always call and ask to talk to me and then “coach” me that I could tell him if I didn’t want to go. It tickled me that she was so convinced I was just putting up with it. No matter how I reassured her that I enjoyed our trips, she was always very worried that I didn’t. I did, though.

But… life kept going, and often the weather didn’t cooperate, and living in close quarters in a small fiberglass and metal box—even just for a few days at a time—wasn’t as idyllic as we’d hoped. The kids’ schedules and needs became more complicated for various reasons. We take an extended family trip every couple of years and that’s great fun but also stressful (let’s pack up two autistic teenagers and take them to sensory overload-land for a week!), and we both tend to have business travel in the summer, and my husband started doing a “boys’ trip” each summer with my son, which then led to a similar “Hey, why don’t I get a trip?” trip with my daughter, and sometimes I am strongly encouraged to go visit a friend to take a break from the chaos here before I murder everyone, and and and and (etc.). The “adventure” of camping started feeling less appealing than just flopping on the couch or the porch because some (lots of) days we didn’t have the energy for more than that. Two summers ago we only camped once. Last summer, somehow we didn’t go at all. No one complained, though I do think my husband was sad about it.

We talked about it recently, and it looks like we’re going to sell the camper. To me, this is something of a logistical relief: Even a small trailer is a large item to store, and requires money to maintain, and although our non-camping summer last year was unavoidable, I felt a lot of guilt about it. To my husband—despite the fact that he’s the one who suggested we sell—I fear this is the symbol of broken dreams. We were supposed to replicate the carefree fun of his youth. Camping was supposed to be a time of family togetherness and new discoveries, and while we did have some of that, we also had a lot of complaining and electronic devices and mishaps. My husband admits to a bit of rose-colored-glasses filtering of his childhood, and also, to be fair, their camping days were not when he was a teenager; but a small, irrational part of my brain does feel like we failed him, somehow. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

When we told the kids, they were vaguely disappointed, but neither could pinpoint our last trip, either, so I think it was more habit than anything else. Trying to put a good spin on matters, I pointed out that after we sell, we’ll have some money for different kind of trip, if they’d like. Where would they like to go? (I didn’t mention that our time as a foursome is winding down, as my oldest will theoretically be off to college in about a year.) My son frowned and named our favorite campground. (He certainly showed us.) My daughter said “Disneyworld!” then grinned and said, “Just kidding. Too many people.”

The kids and I are happy to putter around here at home. My garden’s here! And my dogs! (We never did take our second dog camping, but given his arthritis and the fact that he’s blind, I don’t know that he would adapt the way Licorice did.) I don’t feel the need to go somewhere else, really. Neither do the kids. We’re homebodies. My husband says he gets it, but I find myself saying things like, “They’ll be in college soon, and then we can go somewhere, just the two of us.” He chuckles and says okay. He says he’s not upset.

On the one hand, I feel like my family has flunked when it comes to vacationing. On the other, it feels like a very bourgeois concern to have. Maybe I just need to start planning a just-the-two-of-us trip for after my youngest starts college. I think I’ll call it the Victory Trip.

Mir Kamin
About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • I totally have a love/hate relationship with our pop-up tent trailer.  I LOVE the theory, but the reality tends to not measure up.  There is so much trouble involved getting ready, I don’t know why.  I mean, the theory was that everything would be in the camper and we could just hitch up and go, whenever we wanted, like gypsies.  Reality is, half the camping stuff is in the basement and has to be inventoried and packed, we spend at least an hour getting the bikes on, my husband FORGOT the camping stove last year, even though it seemed as though we were towing everything we owned with our minivan, it is tricky to back into camping spots, you have to be tall (or at least normal height) to do the initial set-up…I could go on and on.

    Yet I still love the theory, so we still have it.  I love that it gets us off the ground when we are camping.  But I fantasize about when the kids are gone, and Larry and I can get one of those tiny little campers for two that you can pull behind your car and require no set-up (well, at least in theory).

  • I got a van so I could take it on (solo) camping trips.  It’s not a camper van, but it does have a fold down bed and I figured for campground camping, that’s really all I need…anyhow, it’s become something of a money pit, although I do like it, and I’m wondering if it was a mistake.  I got it late last year and so far I haven’t been camping in it (due to timing/Midwest winter weather) although I did take it on a road trip last year, where I ran off the road when I hit an icy patch and ended up doing about $3000 worth of damage to the van. I will give it a “try out” this summer and see how I enjoy it before making any final decisions.

  • Caroline

    I would never, under any circumstances, camp, and definitely never utilise a camper or caravan. To me, this is not a holiday. A holiday is LESS work, LESS slog, definitely doesn’t involve camping at all. Camping is for when you are exploring uncharted territory or when you have no option, such as a nuclear explosion or similar. I don’t require anything fancy, I really am fine with basic self-catering, assuming the area is nice, has beaches or whatever, but no hot water / sharing bathrooms with strangers / sleeping on the ground… no… thanks.

    • JMH

      Yep…totally agree with you! You and I could be best friends 😉  I have never understood the appeal of camping…and I never plan to go…ever

  • Stacey

    I call this ‘wanting Norman Rockwell’ and my husband bless his heart goes along with me every time I get the idea to take the 3 teens in my life on an outing. Then he pats my back and gets me a glass of wine when I am disappointed that it didn’t work the way I had in my mind.

  • Cheryl

    My mother has now progressed to thinking it’s a GREAT IDEA! to corral all five of us and the grandkids and rent a big house for a week. I continually point out that there’s a reason we all moved out in the first place.

  • Brigitte

    It does seem that kind of thing works better when they’re younger, and older-kid stuff, like cruises, have you trapped with way too many pesky people.  Looking back on when I was a kid, I think our last as-a-family trip was when I (the oldest) was about 14.  Maybe it is just the depressing order of things.  🙁

  • My Kids Mom

    So, I have to give my mom credit. She tried the family camper thing when I was little and I tried the tent thing with my family (once), and now we have grand, extended family gatherings at state parks. Each family gets a separate cabin, with hot water, flush toilets and a full kitchen. We share some cooking and hiking time and we keep to ourselves if we need. Togetherness… with space.

  • Jaime

    LOVE the term ‘victory lap’!

  • Ellen

    We are now empty nesters, and we love our one week vacation together so maybe, just maybe you should hang on to it for just you two vacations??   I know we would  

    • This trailer was purchased specifically for our family of 4… if we decide to resume camping as empty nesters, we’d need/want a different sort of trailer, anyway.

  • Bernadette

    There was a summer a few years ago, back in the days that my house was full of teenagers, that we had a “staycation”. We became tourists of our own state. We got travel guides, planned it all out, and let everyone pick something they really wanted to do. We went to the art museum and spent the day downtown. We went to state parks and silly old kitschy route 66 attractions. We couldn’t eat anywhere we’ve ever eaten before. We even pick apples at a nearby orchard. We had a blast and got to sleep in our own beds every night.

  • Chris

    We rented a pop-up camper for the worse vacation ever that I took with a new step-father who hated me (hand to god it became very clear when a few months later he suggest that boarding school would be much better for us so that he and my mom could sail around the world- thanks goodness she was not up for this plan).  Anyhoo, even without the evil stepfather (and I know Otto and most stepfathers are wonderful but the name fits here), it was black fly season, 100 degrees and humid and the seagulls stole our food dive bombing us every time we ate outside.  We drove 30+ miles for a dairy queen and that was the highlight of that week long trip.

    My kids have only camped on the lawn of our club with my husband while I slept at home like any sane person would.  I do not camp and have no illusions that that would be a perfect family vacation.  We will do full day hikes and stay at rustic places but the at the end of the day, I will have a shower, indoor bathroom and all will be well.

    I appreciate it is the end of an era for you but would encourage you to look for a family vacation all might enjoy.  Sometimes I think our discussions about vacation are as fun as the trips we have taken.

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