Friday, June 3, 2011

Family Vacation

This week I have started a process I have never gone through before…planning a family vacation. Okay, so let me clarify this comment for those of you who know that I have traveled before with my family. Yes its true that I have planned vacations before in my past, we took J to Texas, H and J RVing in South Dakota, and traveled out to North Carolina, but this year is entirely different. This time, my kids (well 2 of the 3) are old enough to voice their opinions on vacation and, therefore, vacation planning has entered a whole new dimension! Now we have to please the requests of many “vacation voices”.

When kids are babies, vacation planning is easy. Now remember I said, vacation PLANNING is easy, I know the actual vacation (especially packing) can be quite difficult. But if you think about it vacation planning for a baby involves merely looking to find out what you want you to do and maybe checking to make sure the locations you tour are stroller friendly.  But a baby doesn’t care if you want to take some historic tour or eat at a trendy restaurant….you want to do a 3 hour walking tour of some Presidential Library? Go for it! Just remember to bring a bottle, pacifier, and Gerber Graduate Puffs and learn away.

But as the kids grow and their “wants/dreams/desires” have to be considered…vacation planning becomes more challenging, and actually more rewarding.

Vacationing with our kids is not something we merely love, it’s a mission. When J was born, Todd and I came up with this idea that we want to take our children to each of the 50 states before they “leave the nest”. We knew we would end with the really cool locations: Hawaii for J’s high school graduation, Alaska for H or L’s graduation. But we really didn’t plan how we would start this journey. Now, we knew that we didn’t want to be “those parents” that visited all the really cool locations when the kids were too young to remember. Don’t hate me but I still think it’s cruel when parents take their babies to their one and only shot to see Disney World.  I mean come on, take them when they can remember the joy and magic! So, Todd and I decided that for the first few years we’d hit the states that we think we will enjoy, but that the kids won’t feel jipped that they “missed”.

The “50 states” mission is important to me. Sure it’s a cool scrapbook page in their books as I color and date each state as they hit it, but it’s also something I feel passionate about. I want my kids to love travel, to look forward to exploring new places. I want them to never be afraid to visit or live somewhere new. I think this stems from the fact I was born and raised in a small rural town in central Illinois.  Everything compared to my town was a “big city”.  My parents did an amazing job showing my brothers and I life outside small-town Illinois. My Dad made sure we saw the historic things, my Mom made sure we did the fun stuff. So because of them I’ve gotten an excellent opportunity to see our states…but still at 32 I haven’t seen them all. I want to change that with my kids.

So this year we sat down to decide what everyone wanted to do for vacation. I knew we were going to drive somewhere, as airline tickets are way pricey, and the idea of having a 1, 3, and 4 year old on an airplane didn’t sit well with me. Todd and I looked at how far we could get in 10 hours or under, a distance we knew our kids could handle with ease. Lots of ideas came up: Mall of America, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, Arkansas, Ohio, Tennessee.

I love vacation planning with my husband, because he (unlike me) does not have a tourist-y bone in his body. You know the places that people have on their “Must see before I die” list?  The sandy beaches of Florida, New York City, California, Hawaii,  Disney World? Well my husband doesn’t have the drive to see those places. He’s a traveler that seeks out unique and different locations…he finds the beauty in regular locations. He finds the fun in locations that frankly not a lot of people see as fun.  Instead of sitting in an all-inclusive resort on a beach, Todd would rather be in some rural mountain area with not a tourist in site.

Now me, I’m the opposite. I want to see all the popular places…I LOVED New York City and can’t wait to take my kids there, I would live in Austin Texas in a heartbeat, Disney World is high on my list of priorities, and sipping fruity beverages from an umbrella straw on some beach by the pacific is a huge dream.

So I think Todd and I make perfect planning partners. With the two of us, you know you will see the popular spots, and walk off the unbeaten path a bit.

The other two vacation voices…well they are too  young to have developed a “vacation personality”, but their voices are just as loud as ours. If you ask them what they want to see, most of the time what they say sounds like things they do on some regular Tuesday. Mommy do they have:  “Children’s Museums” “Parks?” “Swings”, “Playgrounds”??  

I’m happy to work these “regular” locations in for them, because honestly they are the ones my kids remember. For example,  if you ask J to tell you about the RVing trip to South Dakota we took a couple years back, she won’t tell you she hiked around Mount Rushmore, stood for pictures in front of Crazy Horse, laughed at Wall Drug. Nope she says one thing: “We stopped and ate at Arby’s”.

So with our four planners (and one baby just waiting for us to make up our minds), here we are planning our annual vacation. We decided that Nashville and Memphis Tennessee were the perfect distance away (9 hours). So presto…we have a vacation destination.  

With the locations picked we then sat down to decide how to please the: Unique Traveler (Todd); the Tourist (Me); the Shopper (J); the Park ranger (H); and the Stroller Rider (L).  

We started with an internet search. I’m finding it really hard to plan along with the internet when you have such strong personalities of varying ages to please. So I asked friends and family members for advice.  After a few nights we penciled in some “Must sees”…Grand Ole Opry, Opryland Hotel, Beale Street, Memphis Zoo, and of course what trip to Memphis would be complete without a trip to Graceland (Uh –huh –huh).

Although our planning hit a great stride, we did encounter some road bumps. This trip marks the first time we discovered the new unexpected challenge of booking hotel rooms for a Party of 5. We called the Opryland Hotel and were excited to get a reservation. Then we were told “You have too many people to fit in one room.” Suddenly a $400 hotel bill jumped to $800.  I was disappointed the hotel was out, but luckily, the Hyatt Opryland saved the day as it is very close to the Opryland hotel and they do allow 3 kids in the room. Then as I penciled down that I wanted to see Sun Studio in Memphis, I saw the bright yellow lettering on the web-site telling me kids under 5 are not allowed. But I took all the road bumps with a grain of salt, its part of the adventure that is family vacation planning.

We hit the road to the music capitol in a couple of weeks and will be Walking in Memphis before we know it! I’ll be sure to let you know how our first official compilation planned vacation turns out. I know L will LOVE the zoo, J will be excited to get on the Opry stage, H will just be happy if I can find him a playground. And Todd and I? Well, we are just excited to get out and about on a new adventure with our family.


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