First off, I am grateful that we were able to go to Florida this week to celebrate my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. And I’m so grateful that they agreed to take Clara (2.5 year old) in their vehicle for the trip there and back (as we couldn’t fit all 9 of us in my van, only 8.) We had a lot of fun. We truly did. That said…

At the start of the trip, I sort of wanted to fast forward the two 12-13hr drives, but they weren’t THAT crazy. Well, I mean obviously they WERE, but we survived and would do it again–5000 bags including a giant luggage bag for the top of the van full of beach towels and boogie boards and other beach accessories, 12-13 hr drive in a minivan with 8 people in it, 5 teen/tweens ages 11-18, 2 adults, 1 infant, a giant cooler, 600 half sandwiches for lunch, 12 DVDs, 8000 drinks, labeled gallon ziplocs full of smaller ziplocs of snacks for each person. diapers galore, swimsuits and toothbrushes and hair supplies and I can’t even…

I could not even feel my brain the day we woke up super early to take the trip. So much preparation.

Life was especially grueling for myself and my own 3 older daughters during the “prepare for trip” process. Two days before takeoff, this includes moving every bit of furniture and scrubbing carpet stains, cleaning under beds and in closets, washing windows and baseboards, putting everything possible out of sight, cleaning the bathrooms, washing all clothes and putting them away, filling the van with things to donate…driving those things to the donation place. All while keeping up with my toddler and infant and everyone’s food and drink and shower needs. 

Then the DAY before takeoff, my older 3 girls spent time cleaning the van–bagging up trash, bagging up toys, bagging up all unidentified objects, removing every hair accessory and stroller and item that has gathered, scrubbing and vacuuming the carpet and mats, using Armour all on everything, washing the van  windows.

Then we also had to make a detailed list to buy snacks and drinks…$112 worth, but that’s 8 people…trip there and home including lunch. Compared to impulsively buying snacks at convenience stores for $15000 total, it was a good plan. 

The process I used was pretty much more stressful and involved than being an air traffic controller. And maybe next big trip I won’t be so accommodating. No one likes the same things, but I like to try my best to buy bulk generic. These are two opposing ideas. We had to make lists and charts to keep it straight who likes what. 

I bought enough turkey, hoagies, and cheese to make up PLENTY of half-hoagie sandwiches. That was about the only “good food” in the van for 13 hours. 

I also bought three big bags of chips (Funyuns, crunchy Cheetos, dill pickle Lays), 4 different kinds of M&Ms (pretzel, peanut butter, crispy, peanut), 3 kinds of granola bars , gummy snacks, crunch and munch, Chex mix, 2 kinds of twizzlers, bottled waters, Monsters, two kinds of soda, coconut waters, Goldfish, sour Trolli worms, Whoppers, cheezits…I can’t even remember if that’s all. And no, I’m not interested in discussing the sugar, oil, sodium, or calorie content of any of it. 

We label each big ziploc with our name. And fill it with small ziploc bags of chips and cookies and crackers. Everyone gets PLENTY

And this list doesn’t even include the list of ingredients needed to make enough of Rebekah’s homemade goat milk formula for the entire trip–goat kefir, coconut water, goat milk, flax oil, nutritional yeast. Don’t forget her thyroid medicine, measuring spoons for everything, insulated bag full of bottles, and…

Why do we ever leave the house again???

I know what’s going to happen on a vacation, and I do my best to think out every angle beforehand. It is best and it is cheaper in a long run and it is more fun…to give every older kid (that’s five kids ages 11-18 in our family) $40 each in cash before we ever leave the house. So I did that too. 

And I give a speech–“I don’t like to have to remember who has spent what at which gas station or coffee shop or souvenir tshirt store. I don’t like to have to say no every 30 minutes. And I certainly can’t afford to say yes to everything. And…you all are old enough to make your own choices about budgeting this money. You are not required to spend it; you can keep it and put it in your savings (that’s Hazel). You will be fed meals and snacks and drinks. You can spend it all on the first day. It’s yours. 

I don’t want to hear anyone criticizing their sibling’s choice about spending. And if you choose to spend it all in the first day, I will only say–that’s fine. But when you find something else on day 2, on day 3, 4 or 5…don’t ask. You will survive. 

If you want a $6 Starbucks drink, get it. If you want a $25 tshirt because it’s so much cuter than the $8 ones, go for it. If you want a $5 ice cream cone or a $4 piece of gum, okay…up to you. Don’t ask me, ask yourself.”

And it works out well. Very well. We stay at a condo, so we cook breakfast and lunch and sometimes even dinner. Biscuits and gravy, giant cinnamon rolls, eggs and bacon, cereal and granola bars, bananas…I love big breakfast with everyone before hitting the beach..and we usually ALL made it out there by 8:30-9am and stayed til lunch. Usually sandwiches and chips and cookies for lunch, and occasionally some leftovers.  Meals are covered. 

We have found that condos are a much better option for us than hotels–so much more room, a full kitchen to cook instead of eating out for every meal, a washer and dryer, and you can usually split the cost fairly well between adult couples (who get the bedrooms), and kids pile up on air mattresses and foldouts and pallets in the living room (and this condo had a third bedroom with two sets of bunk beds too. 

Gas is a pretty predictable expense. And snacks that are divided up and given to each family member (good for teaching them to budget their own allotment). We also bought a big box of small ice cream cones and the kids all ate one every night. If you are ever looking for ideas to have lots of stress-free fun BUT ALSO save money on a family vacation, talk to a mom in a BIG family. 

Our condo had a private pool and our older kids went night-swimming in it every night, until…I don’t know or care what hour. It was about a 2-minute walk to the beach from the condo, too…and we went 2-3 times a day…sometimes to watch the sunrise and just walk, sometimes to watch the sunset, sometimes  late at night to collect shells, and at least once daily for 2-3 hours to layout, play in the sand, watch the kids on their boogie board said, etc.

We brought Phase-10 cards, a deck of regular cards, there was a tv with Netflix, every kid has a smart phone. There’s a free trolley in Pensacola that takes you to the boardwalk area, and we took that on two separate days. There’s a cool, free air naval museum on where kids can climb into several planes, and we did that too. It’s $1.25 a person to walk out onto the LONNNNG pier, abs we did that two nights. We saw several dolphins, some sharks, lots of people catching marlins and other fish. There were loud cover bands playing at the beach right next to the pier as we walked around watching the sun set. One night, there was a huge crane or stork or some bird that just walked around at the end of the pier, not the least afraid of humans; the fisherman would throw him a fish occasionally, and Clara (all of us really) were fascinated with watching him swallow it whole. Entertainment was pretty much covered. 
————————

But this past few days of vacation got me thinking about so many things. You truly find out what your family is made of during a vacation.

 
Yes, it’s about fun and having time to relax, it’s about the beach and quality time and memories…but there’s SO much preparation and so many life skills that are necessary to help the vacation be successful and even just survivable.

I tend to be very hard on my own daughters, and I hold them to very high standards of competence in so many areas–laundry, cooking, budgeting, cleaning, using the Internet to access information (like maps and schedules), cleaning a house and van top to bottom, picking up after yourself, loading a dishwasher, basics of watching a baby…and a toddler, personal hygiene, independence in public places, following simple directions, having a good attitude, apologizing when you make mistakes, forgiving others when someone apologizes. 

Forgiving me. Yes especially that. 

Did I yell during the trip? Was I tired? Did I get overwhelmed? Did I cry? Did I feel frizzy-headed and dehydrated and bloated and grouchy at times? Did I ask for lots of extra help? Yes, yes, yes, yes…all of it, yes. 

I have to force myself to stop and look at our life as a spectator. Am I being fair to everyone? Is the workload pretty even among family members–biological and blended? Who disappears when work duties are being assigned? Who does things without being asked? Who “forgets” to clean up after themselves? Who acts helpless? Who has a good attitude? What life skills are reasonable for what ages? What do I need to do as a parent to positively help each different child learn the life lessons that they are lacking…not to make them feel bad that they can’t load a dishwasher correctly or can’t see a mess they left behind or can’t change a diaper…no. You know what you know. But you can learn more, and that’s good for you…to become successful adults.

Do you have what it takes to survive a vacation? Do your kids? Does your marriage? 24 hours a day every day of vacation? Will every bit of preparation effort ensure that everything will be perfect the entire trip?

No. It won’t be perfect by everyone’s definition. But with plenty of kindness, hard work, love, grace, bitten tongues, and forgiveness…it can be your perfect vacation. 

And it was. 





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