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Monday, March 22, 2010

The Delicate Balance of Planning the Perfect Family Vacation

With the extra hour of evening daylight given to us since the time change of last week, I have literally felt summer.

There is no denying it. I am a summer soul.

My heart beats a happy tune when the days are long and the wind is warm. I just feel at home in the summertime.

Now that we're on the homestretch towards summer, the chatting about vacation planning has begun. I was speaking with a friend on Friday evening and she asked me how my husband and I handled our summer vacations. Do we vacation alone? With our extended families? Do I visit my family alone with the kids? Do we make family treks together? Etc...etc.

The conversation really got me thinking about all that has transpired in my relationship with my man when it comes to this issue. Fortunately we have family that love us and that we love. We have my father-in-law and step-mother-in-law who live here, my parents who live in Arizona, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law who live in Florida, and my brother and his family, and now also my brother-in-law who live in Hawaii.

And we want to see them all and spend time with them all.


...we also want to spend time together as a family of five cruising on a vacation as just us. Experiencing our own family dynamic without the added dimensions of our extended family.

My husband's vacation time from work is extremely limited. We work in entertainment on a freelance basis so it's tough to ask for time off from a project. We try to plan a week here and there in between jobs but it's tough to always do things on a short notice.

We know we have let people down in our lives when it comes to visiting or not taking a trip together that everyone would like to, but after almost 8 years together as parents we have figured out what our family needs. What we need. And that's to make sure we carve out time for just us.

It's been a balancing act for me especially. I am the more emotional one and I am the communicator with most family members. I don't like to hurt anyone's feelings. My husband doesn't like to either but he's once removed with all of the planning and chatting so the brunt of saying 'No, we're not going to...." usually falls on me. But I'm getting used to how it feels to say "No."

And I only pray that everyone understands.

We just returned from a little weekend at Disneyland. It was a little one-night getaway because I was able to book a free room at the Grand Californian on reward points. And we have annual passes (received as a gift) that were about to expire. I threw the trip together just a week ago and off we went.

Me, my man, and our three children who keep our hearts beating fiercely with awe-inspired love. As we cruised around together as our pack of five, my husband and I exchanged knowing looks that confirmed our feelings of just how insanely awesome it was to just hang out together and be us. Our family. The one we created that started with our love for one another.

So as summer plans and schedules are discussed, we're gonna keep our main priority in focus. Us.

I wonder if this vacation balancing act is always more difficult for us moms and wives and daughters and daughters-in-law. How about you? How do you handle your summer vacations? Do you cave to family pressure? Do you enjoy the extended family vibe more than just your own family?

I saw many, many families at Disney this weekend who seemed to be traveling with grandparents or extended family. I think it's a real trend in an entirely different way than when I was a kid. Do you think so?

I do love the time we spend when we travel with our families or to our families but it's different than when it's just us.

Does this all make sense? Or do I just sound selfish?

Weigh in. I'd love your thoughts.


  1. We are of a mixed family. One of being from Australia and the other from America. It seems that whenever we have a considerable amount of time off it is assumed we will visit one or the other family. It is just a given.

    We have only been married four years, so this hasn't really presented a problem yet. But on most occasions we make sure we have a mini-vacation on the way home or on the way to our family's place of residence. It was particularly nice when we were able to stay over in Hawaii just the three of us.

    I think as your family gets older it is just natural to have less ties with your extended family. As everyone gets older there are more schedules to fit around, etc. It just starts to get harder.

    And I think it is definitely nice to just be a small family once in a while.

    Sorry about the long comment!

  2. Oh I'm so glad you all got away for a mini-vacay! Sounds like Heaven. Hope it helped to destress.

    Last summer, we too discovered the awesomeness that is "just family" vacations. A few days with my folks, a few days in Disney just us (we?) 4, a few days with my folks, home. I love having my parents living in the best place on Earth, for their lives, but it does crimp the family vacations. Luckily, my husband's sometime frustration with my parents is second to his frugality - we would never be able to afford to hit that beach as much as we do if we had to actually pay the rental fees.

    I think the change to more generational vacations is twofold - more and more families live far apart, it's a good reason to get everyone together, and then there is the reason that my brother and his wife gladly bring my parents along when they take their four kiddos on vacation - reliable babysitting.

    As with everything, balance is key. As well as family dynamics. I know a vacation to either parents' place will be stressful for me, not really a vacation, but the kids are happy, the grandparents are happy, and memories are made.

    Thankfully, I have a strong marriage. :-)

  3. I like the whole extended family vacation idea but in truth it can get a bit old, I mean there is a reason that I don't live with my parents any more. And I like just being my immediate family. So what I like to do is go on the big extended family vacations but make sure that we have separate rooms and separate time to do things.

  4. We don't have any family near us, so we end up using our vacation time to hang with extended family. Which we love. The kids get some uninterrupted cousin time, get spoiled by the grandparents and we get to hang out with our siblings with no one needing to rush off at any moment. Its quite heavenly.

    But your post has really made me think about the last time we did a get away with just the five of us - sad, but I think its been a couple years. I'm really not sure.

    Camping used to be a just us thing, but now we've gone with friends the last couple years - which I love in a different way. As you know "grownup time" can be hard to find when you're home with your kids all day - so its nice to again have that uninterrupted, no cellular coverage kind of time with good friends & their kids.

    Now that my teenager is in high school - we are looking at 3 years until she is gone to college - we better get some good "us" time in before that! Time to be a little selfish I guess? Thanks Lee for making selfish sound so inviting! :) "Us" should always be number one.

  5. I get it and we are pro-family of 5 vacationers. We are lucky to have my MIL and many BIL’s in various places in FL so that we can visit over T’Giving and also a couple times in summer. But there is nothing like creating memories of the nuclear family vacation. It is the glue for us. Fortunately my husband has the summers off and besides our family vacations (which in thin years has consisted of family-hopping in FL) he is able to take them on boy only vacations to family in FL and also alone to the Keys. But our trips to quiet islands alone (which cost less then families flying to Disney for a week) have made lifetime lasting memories…and last year we started cross-country adventures. The info we learned about US History is a joy to all of us, and luckily we don’t mind lots of driving. With the oldest in 8th grade we have a few more years left to take them on family road trips. Last year was St. Louis, CO and Black Hills of SD. This year is NM, AZ and CA.

  6. These comments are awesome. Very helpful actually. Of course multi-generational vacations are more common. Thanks Em for pointing out the reason why - duh. We all live so damn far apart and that didn't used to be the case.

    I really do love traveling with different factions of our extended family but when vacation time is sooo limited, we are forced to choose!

    Often I will take our kids to visit my family in AZ for a week alone. My man just doesn't come. My feelings used to be hurt about it but I've so gotten over it as often we feel spread so thin with free time.

    Okay - more soon....

    Love the discussion....

  7. It is our "policy" to not vacation with extended family. A long weekend is fine, but I don't see us ever going on a week long(er) vacation with either sets of parents or siblings. With that said, I often said I would be willing to fund the trip for my parents to go to Disney (FL) with us. However, we are making that trip in a couple of weeks as a family of five, no granparents. We are thinking this is probably our last trip to Disney since our kids are getting older. I'm looking forward to having kiddos old enough to enjoy cruises and all-inclusives in the Carribbean! And those trips will be just the five of us, as far as I know.

  8. We have done some traveling with family and while there are bonuses, we always end up feeling like we are living on other people's schedules. Our travelings style is so different from our family's traveling styles that we end getting frustrated and start to feel a little claustrophobic. For these reasons, and more, we are pretty set on not doing extended family trips that last longer than a long weekend.

  9. Hi Lee!

    My family lives close to us, but my FIL is in AZ and my MIL is in OH.

    When we went to AZ this last fall to visit my FIL, we stayed for 11 days and took a short roadtrip to CA for a couple days right in the middle. This broke up the visit nicely, gave my in-laws a break from our brood, and let our little family reconnect for a bit. Plus we got to explore! We loved it!

  10. Once a year we try to get together with my mom, my siblings and their kids. For the past few years it's been quite successful. My brother drives out from Colorado with his three kids and we rent a place on a lake and let the cousins play together. It's meant to be relaxing--no agenda, no destination other than the house we've rented--but inevitably the planning of it all, the logistics, make it a wee bit stressful.

    This year it does not appear we will be able to do this because of scheduling. I'm almost relieved, actually, to know that the one week (and usually it's only one) of the summer that my husband and I take off work will be spent together as a family of just five. And we will exchange the same knowing looks, for sure.

    Vacations are supposed to be fun, and relaxing, and if we can just get the planning part out of the way, it can turn out to be just so.

    Good luck with yours...and thank you for making me think of my own. Hmmm, where on earth should we go??

  11. I only like vacations with extended family if we're getting enough time with just us. If we don't get the just us time, then we don't push it to include more people. Does that make sense?

  12. I hope this means you're seriously considering Catalina for the 4th?

    Or ... does it mean you are purposely planning Catalina for a different time?? Hum???

  13. Up until now we traveled with grandparents or a babysitter out of necessity. FINALLY the kids are old enough to eat, sleep and pee unattended which gives my husband and I enough hands between the two of us to deal with whatever may happen. We are doing the family vacation by ourselves this spring. Pray for us :).

  14. Hey Lee! This is a great topic. (do you mind if I "borrow" the idea for Road Trips for Families? Rumor has it you'll be in NYC for Blog Her? Is NYC a place for little kids on vacation? Debating bringing our six year old.

  15. This is such a tough one - I am the oldest of 7 siblings, a mom and stepdad and dad and stepmom. Plus grandparents ... plus in laws. We have a total of 6 cities represented, nothing within walking distance of us ... summers are a challenge. I try to carve out us time during our sessions with each family. We take mini vacations or rent our own house nearby our family ... what can you do!


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