How to Have a Successful Family Vacation

Aug 5 2013

When I was pregnant with twins and completely out of my mind with Oh Dear God, I Can’t Do This Five Kids Thing, my friend Christy, a fellow mama of multiples, said, “Don’t worry. Every 3 months, something gets easier.”

Christy was right. Well, except when she was wrong. But mostly she was right. Every 3 months, in general, something did get easier.

Last week, we went on family vacation.


And family vacations can be a mixed bag, right? For us, having a kid with special needs plus 4 other kids who expect unreasonable things like quality time and attention and to eat food, our family vacation bag has been more like a burlap sack full of kittens someone tossed in the river, all noise and mewling and squirming and pushing and THIS IS HORRIBLE, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!

Not to be dramatic or anything.

Honestly, though, this vacation was rad.

photo 4 (2)(Abby and Katee)

Just really, really great.

photo 4 (32)

(my brother and me)

You know, except when it wasn’t.

photo 5 (18)


But the times it wasn’t were fewer and farther between.

photo 1

(Cael, Aden and Cai rafting the Deschutes River, OR)

photo 2 (72)

(Abby, Katee, Aden, me)

And I will tell you what: it’s taken us a long time to get to this place. A long time full of working hard, giving in to exhaustion, falling apart, losing our crap, pledging to Never Go on Vacation Again, sighing, trying again, and making slow, incremental improvements. Traveling with tiny twins and a kid with special needs who relies on stability, structure and strict routine to maintain any amount of composure… well, it sucked. For lots of years and lots of vacations, until we found what works for all of us, it sucked. Like, it didn’t totally suck, but the percentage of suckage was very, very high, is what I’m saying. 

But every year, something got easier.

photo 3 (2)photo 4(Cai, Cael and Ian on the Deschutes River)

Until the last 2 years, when the rad percentage switched places with the suckage percentage.

photo 5

(Ian and Aden the opposite of attacking each other: a vacation MIRACLE)

The truth is, I love vacations. I love to travel.

photo 1 (2)

(Cael, Cai and Papa, canoe bosses)

I love to spend time with my ridiculous, awesome family.

I love that we’re creating weird, wonky, wonderful family memories.

IMAG0668(Papa, the Photo Bomber)


(Greg and me, minus the Bomber)

And I guess I just wanted to let you know that if your family vacation isn’t perfect like the commercials or your friends’ Facebook feeds or even your own childhood memories which are sometimes based on the photos that captured only the good moments and none of drowning kittens, that’s okay. That’s normal. That’s exactly right.

We went on vacation.

And yes, we fought in the car both ways.

And yes, a kid vomited on the first day and in my bed.

And yes, my phone screen shattered into a gazillion pieces.

And yes, we were impatient.

But we were also kind, even more than we thought we could stand to be.

And we laughed hard.

And we watched movies while sitting in a hot tub,
floating bowls of popcorn like tiny ships.

And we ate obnoxiously large bags of M&M’s and way too many ice cream bars.

And we gathered for family dinners.

And we swam the pool.

And we freaked out in the river.

And we rode horses that acted like my kids, which is to say they were majestic and stunning and beautiful and stayed on the path and followed directions, but only when they felt like it. The rest of the time, they were bonking us into tree branches and eating off the ground and farting and peeing in public and falling behind and running to catch up and making us laugh and laugh and laugh and love the ride more for it.

photo 4 (31)

photo 5 (17)

(Aden, Abby and Katee, high in the Ponderosas)

So, yes; our vacation wasn’t perfect. And yes, we have improvements to make. And yes, I came home and went straight to bed.

But our vacation was just what we needed it to be. Incrementally better. Easier than last year. And our own brand of completely awesome.

photo 1 (67)

(Cai and Ian, zonked on the way home)


How do you feel about family vacation? What makes them work for you?
We’re taking more family vacations closer to home these days, and traveling farther with smaller groups of kids. It’s working much better for the man-child who needs a routine, but I did have to mourn the loss of bigger family trips. (Although my bank balance is much happier.)

What about you and yours?