Monday, June 22, 2015

10 reasons you should go on vacation with your (whole) family

When you think about hopping in your van and road tripping away to spend time with family, it sometimes seems like more work than it's worth.  Here's ten unofficial reasons why you should make the effort.

1)  Because they drive you nuts

Whenever I write (or talk) about spending time with our families, people ask me how we all get along, why our family is so happy and other such mumbo jumbo. There is a simple answer here: we don't and we aren't. I am not sure I know of another family who fights quite as passionately as mine; we should be Italian, but we have no ethnicity to blame except sin.  And our families aren't happy all the time at all! Since we are people, we all have complicated lives, pain, heartaches, messes, loneliness, stupid choices and consequences, drama and frustration.  We don't even like each other sometimes. Here are just a few of the many name tags I could wear at family reunions, awarded because of my own actions: Boss, Control Freak, Drama Queen, Feminist, Most-Unwilling-to-Let-it-Go.  

But we keep showing up, and that's probably what is unique. The crazy thing about family is that you're stuck with each other whether you like it or not.  Vacationing together is embracing the whole mess: we're stuck together, we might as well enjoy some great scenery. 

Look at it this way: even if you don't have fun with your family, at least you can enjoy the beach, which may put you in a better mood, which may help you have fun with your family.
We allllmost didn't do this little crazy campfire, late at night on the beach. . . but Daniel's sister Karen
talked us all into it.  Well, actually, she said: "I'm going, guys!" and took all the s'more ingredients and
fire lighting stuff with her.  She's pretty awesome.  (We all followed.)
S'mores on the Pacific

2) Because you can ('t) afford it 

This is one of the most common excuses used by people who don't want to go on vacation with family and I think it is just that: an excuse.  We have spent time with family in every stage of our financial lives and have never regretted using our money in that way.

We did it when we had nothing (well, not nothing, but almost nothing).  Living on one income with a tiny baby and charging our tickets to Seattle on our Visa, we had to humbly admit to Daniel's family that we couldn't afford a rental car (could they pick us up at SeaTac and bring an extra car?);  we contributed exactly zero dollars to the week spent at a lake house on the Washington State / Canadian border. We ate peanut butter sandwiches and cooked in instead of eating out;  we toured a border town during an infamous drug tunnel bust (we were pulled over and questioned twice) (it was hilarious). We played spoons and paddle boated, took canoes out on the lake and watched the sun set; we critiqued whole music albums and watched movies at one in the afternoon; Daniel's dad carried fussy Jacob on hikes and we picnicked, bonfired, stayed up late and slept in.  It was a magical week that we still talk about, ten years later.  We couldn't afford to go, but looking back, we regret nothing about spending $500 to build and invest in relationships.

Spending time with family when you can't afford it means you will also spend time with them when you can. It's good to be honest about financial limitations and find common ground and activities that everyone can take part in without great financial strain, but at the end of the day, why have money at all, if you can't use it to enjoy time with people you love?

3) Because no one will remember the gift card you sent for a birthday, but you will remember the shared experiences.
Who would have guessed the stormy outcome on that infamous sunny boat outing ten years ago?
Not us, for sure, but the treacherous trip home is something we still talk about!

4) Because vacationing together speaks the love language of everyone

Gifts: it is going to feel extravagant, no matter the cost, to all the gift-loving people. Even a free vacation isn't free; filling your vehicle with gas is a cost, time off of work equals money not earned, clearing a place in your schedule means you are assigning value to the group of people with whom you are spending your time. 
Quality Time:  nothing says I want to spend time with you like clearing your schedule to go somewhere with the fam.
Words of Affirmation: admittedly this may be the most difficult love language to speak while on vacation, but it will invariably happen because there is ample time to say them.  And affirming vacation words often happen in looking back at time spent together: ex. We were all faint with hunger after you made us search Chicago on foot for the perfect lunch spot, but I'm glad you made us keep going because that shawarma was the bomb.
Acts of Service are a reason some people don't want to go on vacation.  There are countless opportunities to serve your family when you're all stuck together. Like, you could give the last ounce of your bug spray to your brother in law.  
Physical Touch: whaaat? This one doesn't even need to be explained.  All the huggy people who don't have any personal space love vacations. Vacation is a huggy person's secret weapon. 

There are more than fifteen people in this fifteen passenger van.

5) Because being stuck with people for an extended time frame forges strong bonds.  There is something very bonding about camping with the entire family in tents while a severe thunderstorm rolls through at 3am. I was almost relieved to climb into the van to escape the storm since someone had left our tent pet door open and let in approximately 40,000 mosquitoes. Some vacations bond you almost like army buddies: nothing about the trip is fun except that it's over and you still have each other.

6) Because vacation puts everyone on the same schedule.  If you haven't noticed, Americans are fantastically busy creatures.  Even if relatives come to see us, it's hard to disentangle ourselves from commitments, jobs and responsibilities. This doesn't seem to bother anyone, but it can be a strain if Johnny takes a day off to visit Joe and Joe chooses to still work. Johnny can think: "Well, why am I spending my time off chatting with my sister in law while my brother works? awkward! "  Vacation solves this problem beautifully, especially with poor cell service and no wifi!

7) Because going away to a neutral location creates a more neutral environment.  Since no one is really in charge, there aren't really any house rules to break.  People aren't all descending on Susie's house and eating her out of house and home, leaving with a mess that'll take days to recover from. On the contrary, everyone is responsible and it is really amazing how well this works.  The people who always host get a break, and the people who don't always get a chance to host - get a chance. It levels the playing field.

8) Because you don't have to spend a lot of money to have fun together. Some of the most amazing trips with our families have been so very cheap.  My whole family goes canoeing every year to the same campground. This is not an expensive trip, but it is a fun one. It is hosted by a different person every year, and it is their job to choose dates, plan activities, and assign a meal to everyone. It is a highlight of the year for everyone, even if your canoe tips. (I can say it is a highlight because my canoe has never, ever, tipped.  I am jinxing myself right now.)

9) But if you are going to spend a lot of money, it's more fun to spend it with family. Why would you even want to go to a Black Hawks hockey game by yourself? Wouldn't it be more fun to go to the zoo with all the cousins?  Who wants to sit at the ocean by themselves? (Well, actually, it's very fun to sit at the ocean by yourself, but good news:  the ocean is huge, and there's plenty of room for the entire tribe to have beach solitude.)
(You would have yelled this loud at that Black Hawks game, too.)

10) Because life is very short.  That's all.