Holding Butterflies

Not too tight, not too loose

Research and Planning

Deciding where to go and what to do isn’t a straightforward proposition. We’ll decide what kind of break we’re in need of. Then we start looking for places that fit the bill. Then we might come up with a couple of things to do. Then we’ll circle back and look at our “what” again, to be sure we think it’s still valid. It takes a couple of iterations. I think there are two phases to thinking through the vacation. I’ll call the first research. It’s kind of broad, which helps you decide on the location. Then we plan, getting specifics on hotels, restaurants, museums and tours. When we are researching, we look everywhere: books we’ve read, magazines like Garden and Gun or Destinations, and friends. Occasionally I’ll look at TripAdvisor’s “Top Ten” lists, or we’ll see something on a movie. It’s very general and open-ended. But planning–that requires specifics. And specific resources. Here are my favorites: My own network: We have had enormous success in finding great restaurants, rentals, and.. Read More

Mobilizing the Army

Let’s talk about packing. As the mom, the vast majority of the actual getting-the-clothes-into-the-suitcase falls on me. I have learned a LOT in moving the small army that was four preschoolers cross-country. It makes my four big kids now seem like a breeze. Here are my best tips: If you forget it, you can buy it when you get there. If you can’t buy it, you can do without. When the kids were tiny, this one thing used to stress me out more than anything else. And then I realized that if I didn’t pack enough diapers/socks/shorts/hats, I could buy them. I was probably going to buy a couple of those things anyway as souvenirs! (Well, not the diapers.) That meant that when the kids were little, I only had to worry about the time we were moving between home and our destination. If this isn’t true for an item, pack it first.  Obviously, this doesn’t exactly apply to things like prescription medicine, although I’ve even had that phoned in… Read More

Ten days is our new favorite.

If a week is good, ten days are even better! Ten days:  Just a little longer Pros: The luxurious feel of extra days longer than a week, almost as restful as two weeks but much less expensive, ability to add a second destination, at least one day of travel not on a weekend–less crowded Cons: More expensive, can be hard to find a place that doesn’t rent by the week Once we started taking nine or ten day vacations, we haven’t looked back. My slightly work-obsessed husband believes in this so strongly that it is his number one vacation tip! Bill found that it took no more effort to take off the Thursday/Friday before a week away than just taking the week itself. I typically do laundry anyway on vacation, so that didn’t make a difference, either. And the sheer indulgence of “sneaking away” early? I can’t even tell you how thrilled we were the first time we tried it. Those extra days can also offer time to deal with.. Read More

Epic in a Week

  A week has always been our default vacation length. Vacation rentals and other places seem to encourage it, and it is really easy. One week: The typical vacation length Pros: Easy to schedule, long enough to get a mental break Cons: Not quite long enough? Resorts often will reinforce the week-long idea, trying to book most of their arrivals and departures on the weekends and discouraging mid-week arrivals. For several years, the Tyler Place was our little bit of heaven on earth. In their eighty years of hosting family camp, they had discovered that week-long stays were exactly what they preferred. As a result, they won’t book anyone for longer than that! All the guests arrive on Saturday after lunch, and we all depart shortly after breakfast the following Saturday. Having the uniform schedule gives the entire resort and all the guests the same rhythm. We all looked forward to Saturday’s mixer, meeting the other guests, and we all loved Friday night’s dance party, a mix of Kellerman’s (remember.. Read More

Can you do epic in a weekend?

We’ve never had the flexibility from my husband’s job to take a truly extended vacation. It was my dream to take a year off and travel the world with the kids, but now that high school graduations are on the horizon that is a dream that goes back on the shelf. You know what? That’s okay. We continue to have deeply satisfying vacations without leaving for a year, or even a month. It’s absolutely possible to have great trips even over long weekends. So how do we choose a vacation length? A long weekend Pros: Super-easy to schedule, less expensive, ideal for exploring just one or two attractions Cons: Destinations are more restricted because of limited transit time, harder to make a mental break in a short time I’ve found that the best long weekends are centered around an event, like a football game or wedding. The event give you some structure and a dedicated time to do something together, away from technology. One of our long weekends that comes.. Read More

How to Approach the Logistics

The typical questions you ask yourself when you start planning your vacation are the logistics: Where you stay How you travel to your destination When and how long you go Who you go with What your schedule is while you’re there I think of the logistics as the tent poles that hold up your vacation “tent.” The richness of the vacation is inside the tent. The trick with logistics is to hold them loosely–don’t get too caught up in everything working just like you thought. You might miss some real fun. When I was younger, my sister and I would wait out interminable airplane delays by playing “Fashion Police” and “Glamour Don’t.” I can remember laughing uncontrollably as we people-watched everywhere we went. There are still things we laugh about today, that happened years ago. If we’d gotten too caught up in the delay, we would have missed the fun right in front of us. Here’s another, more recent airport delay story: We had a tight connection to make in.. Read More

What makes it “Epic?”

I think I might have gone down a rabbit hole yesterday on the whole idea of working out various interests. Respecting each individual is important, but we’ve gone there and done that. Let’s move on. What exactly makes a vacation truly great? We’ve found that it takes three things: We’ve chosen something and somewhere that fills a need for our family’s life right now. We’re taking the right attitude towards logistics: be realistic and well prepared about what we can control. The things we can’t? RELAX. We’re fully present once we’re away from home. That means ditching work, turning off the technology, and being open and willing to experience new things together. It seems like every trip offers its own challenges on each of these three fronts! Are you shocked that it doesn’t include amazing sights, or great theater, or a beautiful cathedral, or an encounter with people who touch your heart? Any of these contribute to great trips. But I’ve found that life-changing family travel is at least 75%.. Read More

Week in Review, 10/4

It’s late, so I think I’ll try a list of the high points, or just things to remember, from the the week just passed: It was homecoming week at school, which meant the kids dressed up every single day. When you wear uniforms all the time, a week of choosing your clothes was exciting! And exhausting. I’m so glad we are back to uniforms tomorrow. I painted! These were my two choices on the garage. Each one is a darker color with a lighter one dry-brushed over it, to give it a weathered look. Thank goodness I don’t dry-brush for a living. Also we are going with the lighter one. (The house is white.) I painted! Actually got out my watercolors and painted. It was unbelievably relaxing. I think I haven’t painted in about four years. It’s one of those things I’m not very good at but really enjoy while I’m doing it. Yay for me! It rained. And rained. And rained. We are eagerly awaiting the completion of the.. Read More

Keep the Biggest Picture in Mind

It’s okay, really, that every single trip and activity isn’t accommodated on a vacation. Decide on your “what,” and then look for other ways to accommodate interests throughout the year. We’ve found that if we think of vacation planning holistically–all the stuff everyone in the family likes to do throughout the year–the big trips feel less make-or-break. We manage expectations and actually have a lot more fun. Matthew loves to hike. I mean, he LOVES it. There is something in it that speaks to his soul. He’s actually making plans to do an extended portion of the Appalachian Trail next summer. Without us. (Thank God!) His overriding desire for a vacation every year is to get outside and away from everything. When he was younger we filled in that desire with Boy Scouts, and in the last couple of years with Outward Bound. This past summer he summitted three 14,000-foot peaks over 12 days, the first seven in a nasty combination of hail/sleet/snow/rain. No, thank you. He came home positively.. Read More

Competing Interests

It’s great if you’ve figured out your “what,” but it’s likely that everyone else’s “what” is different from yours! How to handle that? I’ll tell you what we do. Mom and Dad decide. Really!  When we start thinking about our next vacation, everyone chimes in. “I want to go see [insert historic site here].” “We haven’t been scuba diving in ages.” “Let’s go hiking.” “That last place was TOO HOT. We need air conditioning!” “I want to go zip-lining!” But we, the parents, know better than anyone else what our family needs. Hopefully that goes without saying. Vacation planning, though, is a great place to practice benign dictatorship. As I think back on our vacations, this idea is a lot more important now than when the kids were little. Real opinions seem to have kicked in around 8-10 years old with each one. That’s why this idea of balancing competing interests is on my mind so much now! When you have all littles, or only one big, the idea of.. Read More