Family Vacations: How to Make Simple Moments into Meaningful Memories

 

Early on in our parenting journey my husband and I had to have a “discussion” about what sorts of family trips we wanted to take. We had two very different childhood experiences in the vacation realm and that came with an array of expectations for each of us. What we did agree on is that we wanted them to be memorable. It sounds easy enough, but weaving together two families is a bit of a juggling act in moments like these.

I was blessed to grow up going to Disney World often because we had family that lived close. I now have a very slight obsession. I assume that every vacation will include Palm Trees, Magic Bands and Dole Whips. Comedian Jim Gaffigan says –Disney World is the equivalent of standing in line at the DMV on the edge of the sun. That’s certainly what my husband would tell you he thinks of visiting the mouse! His most cherished family memories involve road trips spent traveling to the National Parks. Camping and general outdoor-type activities are a significant threat to my emotional stability.

Quickly, our little discussion turned into excitement though as we began piecing together what we wanted these moments to look like for our family. In the differences of how we spent our summer breaks and family road trips, there was a golden thread in our stories – memories. You know those special moments that are tucked away deep in your heart – the kind memory that a smell or a song ignites. These thoughts breathe life into an ordinary rainy day and cause you to count down to the next bit of vacation and long to be with your family!

We determined that the greatest gift we wanted to give our boys on vacation was just our sheer attention – the gift of being so present in their lives. Our ability to be plugged into life through technology means that it’s very easy to be distracted and not be attentive to the most precious gifts our children offer us each day. My desire to be in the know in everyone else’s stream of consciousness truly keeps me unavailable to some really special moments in my own world. 

Author Jess Chambers’ two sons on a recent family vacation

 

Here are some ways we’ve resolved to be intentional in soaking up the simple on our family vacations …

 

Disconnect Before You Leave …

Packing and planning ahead are always important when you’re traveling, especially with little ones. As you’re checking off your lists of important items (toothbrush, underwear, and the cherished lovies), add one more thing to that list and stick to it – check out before you check in. These are your people! Be intentional about leaving the work of life behind. Allow your kids to see you ditching the cords and computers. Let them hear you talking to each other about what you’re purposefully leaving behind. This is a way to show them, tangibly, their place of priority in your life. Do a bit of daydreaming with your family about where you’re going. Involve your kids in the discussion early on and ask them what they’d like to do. Watch videos of where you might go adventuring together. Sometimes part of the fun is dreaming about the fun you’ll have together.

Ditch The Routine …

If I am being honest, often our daily routine is a bit of a survival method for me. I’ve learned that we, as a family, do better if we all know our roles and what’s expected of us in the daily grind of life. One of the best parts of vacation is simply ditching the monotony of our routine. We still loosely plan what we will be doing and we involve everyone in that process. But it’s so important for our kids to see us dump the daily rhythm and structure and trade it in for choosing together what’s next. I’ve found that our kids think I am way cooler on vacation! They love the spontaneity of a momma who is up for just about anything that will cause her boys to smile. They aren’t looking for tickets to a water park or lots of touristy souvenirs – they want play outside in the rain or have ice cream for breakfast. These things they remember. These things I remember and they aren’t a part of our everyday life.

Keep It Simple …

We started out using Disney and our great National Parks as a measuring stick and quickly found that where we were going was not nearly as fun as the fact that we were simply going there together. We have grown to enjoy the simplest of moments. One of my husband’s fondest memories is when one of our boys actually saw the Pacific Ocean before he saw the Atlantic. We will forever cherish his little toes in the sand so far from our home. As they’ve grown, we’ve come to enjoy a little family competition in game nights. We have also tried to integrate a little learning into our trips. Our oldest loves space and this summer we plan to spend a day at the Kennedy Space Center. We are looking so forward to eating that special ice cream they have in space! Also, enjoying nature is completely free and is so fun to explore together whether you are hiking, swimming in the lake, or skipping rocks across the water. Whatever you’re doing, be intentional about looking right into your kids eyes. Let them see you, seeing them experiencing life.

Share Later …

Capturing family photos is so important! Just click now and share later. I am so guilty of this! We all love posting about where we are and what we are doing. Getting caught up in that web of sharing is so slippery. I have so often caught myself taking the best picture and then spent 30 minutes crafting the perfect caption while the moment slips away. Don’t take the bait! Be creative with those family pictures! Snap away and grab the smiles, the laughs, the silliness and even the crabby faces when someone is unhappy. Then put your phone away. Tell the world about it later because you might miss the next best thing if you don’t.

Going Home …

Build some time into your trip home for recapping with your family. Involve your kiddos and find out what meant the most to them and what they want to do on the next! We spend the drive home planning our next trip. My husband quickly learned that this keeps me from being one sad momma. Soak up every last minute having dance parties in the car and playing those cheesy car games. This is a great way to show your kids the importance of enjoying the journey and not focusing on the destination.

We’ve embraced the – we’re better together theme in our house. There are moments when even as the mom, I need a reminder that it’s true. The foundation constructed in moments like these pays forward when life gets busy and the days fill up quickly. The simplicity in sharing life experiences when the schedule is not so rigid and where the expectations are not set any higher than just having fun with each other will be what they sit down and share with their husband or wife someday. This is part of your family cornerstone. This is not just another day at the beach – you’re building your family story, and it won’t be about road trips or dole whips – it will be about enjoying the simplest of life’s gifts together.