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How not to take a summer vacation

Family summer road trips gone perfectly wrong

A photo from Rachel’s summer family vacation archives

I’m Prairie Parent’s resident advisor on teen and pre-teen issues. While I might not have much advice on taking teenagers on summer vacations, as I haven’t had that experience yet, I do have some advice on what NOT to do when taking your kids on vacation.

I grew up with five brothers, so for our family of eight, our parents didn’t typically fork over the money to take all of us to Disney World. Instead, we went on road trips, camping trips, and the occasional trip by Amtrak to the western part of the United States. But these trips were wild, unpredictable and sometimes downright uncomfortable. So if you have certain standards for your family vacations, do NOT follow these guidelines that my own family followed:

On a road trip, eight of us were packed into a suburban with exactly eight seats and – of course – eight people’s worth of stuff. I remember riding all the way to Ohio for my cousin’s wedding with the family cooler under my feet, knees to my chest and book in my lap. Every several miles, a brother would declare that they needed their chocolate milk. By the time they took a drink and asked me to put it back, which required me to twist my legs into an awkward position so that I could maneuver the chocolate milk in and out of the cooler, another brother would kindly (insert sarcasm here) wait for me to settle back in before also asking me for his own drink. If you want to enjoy your trip, make sure each kid has his or her own bucket seat, leg room, and preferably video device with headphones.

Speaking of Suburbans, once we had a wheel fall off and another time smelled burning every time we applied brakes on the way down a steep, winding mountain pass (brakes on a mountain pass are not optional). These events were traumatizing for my mother and exciting for everyone else. If you want to avoid this type of situation, make sure your vehicle is at least 10 years old or newer, preferably a 2019 with individual DVD players (see previous paragraph).

If we stayed in a hotel, more often than not all eight of us would be crammed into one room with two double beds. If you do the math, that’s 4 kids sleeping on the floor. We bed-less kids quickly claimed our spots for our sleeping bags under tables and preferably right next to our parents’ bed. So, if you want to enjoy some quiet time with your spouse at night or be able to walk to the bathroom without tripping over bodies, definitely do not have six of your kids in the same hotel room as you.

At fast-food restaurants, which was a rare treat – we more often ate cereal or sandwiches at a picnic table somewhere – my dad didn’t want to use the time or money for all of us to order individual meals, so he would stand at the front of the line, barking like a drill sergeant, “Cheeseburger or chicken nuggets? NEXT!” If you want to avoid embarrassing your kids, please fork over whatever money necessary to allow them to order whatever they want.

When we once took a train to Seattle, we got food poisoning. Instead of enjoying Tacoma’s zoo and the Pacific Ocean, we spent the week in the (one) hotel room, running fevers and puking and doing other unsightly things. One brother had to go to the emergency room and my dad was sure he was going to die in a Seattle hotel. Another brother had a high fever, became delirious during a dream, and tried to choke me in the middle of the night. Definitely do NOT get food poisoning on your vacations if you want to enjoy any activities.

I have no doubt that these vacations caused my parents significant stress, especially my mom, who is a planner and enjoys a little quiet time. But you know what? I take it all back. These crazy, chaotic family vacations are my favorite memories from growing up. We love to recount the stories together; and it’s funny how the worst stories, like the food poisoning in Seattle, are the best ones to laugh over now.

So my advice, after all, is just to take your kids on a vacation, period. Any vacation. Even if it’s just for a weekend. Even if they have to eat sandwiches every day and cram together in a vehicle. Even if they roll their eyes the whole time. It’s ok if it’s far from perfect; they’ll remember it later – and love you for it.

You, dear parents, will just need another vacation afterward to recover…