Category Archives: Places to Go

Family trips.

Just Time Away, or Time Off?

Our main trip of the summer this year was, in many ways, one of our all-time simplest:  No passports.  No airlines.  No complicated series of hotel reservations.  No list of sights to see.  Instead, we opted for a 4-hour drive to Ocean City, Maryland, and a week in an oceanfront condo.  The goal for the week:  Relax.

Reflecting upon a good week of family time, I see several decisions that helped with the Relax goal and that I’ll carry forward as a contract with myself for our next big trip:

The I-Word.  Consider, if you will:

  • My wife’s work is heavily reliant upon the internet, and some of her deadlines do not flex around vacations.
  • The school system which provides my own gainful employment–allowing for luxuries such as vacations, food, and a roof over our heads–expects me to be reasonably responsive to email contacts, even when I am on leave.
  • I also have another [absolutely not gainful] pursuit:  this blog.

We did decide to pay for an available wi-fi service, but we chose to buy access for only one device at a time.  Mrs. DKB carved out the time she needed for her work, and I managed to leave her laptop alone all week.  Sure, I checked Twitter/Facebook/etc. on my phone throughout the week, but for fun–not because I had to.

Breaking with tradition, I limited my work email to a maximum of a quick check in the morning and another in the late afternoon, and I triaged new messages into ‘no worries until sometime next week,’ ‘flagged for priority when we get home,’ and ‘respond today’–which only applied to the absolute musts that my ‘out-of-office’ auto-reply could not defer.  Out of dozens of messages, remarkably only one made the cut for an immediate reply.

My blog sat idle all week.  Since I do not have thousands of visitors per day…yet?…the internet seems to have continued on without noticing; but I am extremely hopeful that the same people who would have read this new post last week will read it now.

Honor The Traditions.  We have visited this beach town many times, sometimes for a full week, and sometimes for a long weekend.  My wife and I even went there pre-kids, sometimes in the middle of winter.  So we have picked up many traditions over 20+ years:  a particular family-run ice cream shop; sand castle construction; the boogie board; a favorite pizza place; volleyball; ‘scopes’ pictures on the beach; dinner at a restaurant with tables on the sand, a few feet from baywater; the ever-popular mini-golf; trying to get a kite in the air; whatever book one of us might have been “saving for the beach”;…and the list goes on.

During the week, we managed to work in everything on everyone’s “But we always ____!” list except for the mini-golf–which I can rectify at a ‘course’ nearby now that we are home.

Ease Up on the Penny Pinching.  I’m not afraid to spend money on family fun, but I like to save where I can.  If something we use is available at Costco, the 6-month supply size is my first choice, preferably during a month when that product is in the coupon book.  If we are headed to an amusement park, it is a point of pride for me to find a discount code.  Before many vacations I have been known to scour the internet for weeks to secure the next-to-impossible hotel rate or airfare.  But once we’re “on the ground” for a vacation, I’ve found that fewer members of my family want to hurt me if I back off a little on the money front.

In my own mind, we freed up more money this year for meals and snacks by outfitting the condo with groceries.  Everyone enjoyed both sides of that equation:  We had some menu food, but we also had a hot, homemade breakfast in the apartment each morning and beach-friendly lunches in a cooler under the umbrella most days.  Still, meals are only one type of expense, which leads me to…

Empower the Kids to Spend Their Own Money.  Our kids have an outstanding income source:  their grandparents.  Whenever we are headed out of town, both grandfathers like to present each child with some spending money.  So souvenirs, trips to the candy shop, etc.–anything that one of the kids wants but that is not part of meals or full-family activities–are their own purchases.

It’s amazing how much more frugal and savvy a 9, 13, or 16 year old becomes when the money is coming from his or her own wallet.

Don’t Overload (or allow others to overload) Our Schedule  As a family, we are skilled enough at over-committing ourselves, but when traveling with others it is that much easier for the vacation to become busier than regular life at home.  And on this trip we were staying in the same building as my wife’s parents and her sister’s family.

We spent plenty of time with grandparents, aunt & uncle, and cousins during the week, but we also preserved our own family time.  We opted out of a few early dinners (the norm for all of the in-laws) to stay on the beach well after the lifeguards had left for the day–We enjoy that.  It’s more peaceful and quite a bit cooler with the sun dropping behind the condo, some of our favorite beach time.  Instead of joining the relatives in the evening, we stayed in for a quiet dinner for 5 and the Olympics on TV.

It’s telling that our 13 year old commented as we left for home that “it was nice not to be rushing to get to reservations every night this year.”  Mouths of babes?

So It’s a Deal.  My goal for our next vacation is to keep the “off” in “time off” and to remember the trite “working vacation” oxymoron….which reminds me of the time I used the term oxymoron in an English classroom and one of my students actually raised his hand to ask, “Did you just call someone in here a dumb cow?”  But that’s a story for another time.

Note:  To be clear, the opinions expressed in this post are my own.  DadKnowsBetter has not been compensated, encouraged, or otherwise influenced to mention or promote any place, business, or activity in this post.  Neither have I been coerced or threatened not to mention our extended family–yet.


Filed under Living Well, Places to Go, Vacation & Travel

Going With The Change-up This Summer

During the last few summers, our family’s schedule has often felt as busy as the school year.  But this year we have prioritized our commitments, streamlined the summer calendar, and found ourselves with actual down-time once in a while.

In the past, theme camps at the local health club, rec center, and community college have allowed our kids to delve into piracy, dinosaurs, odd science, etc.  Sports camps have fed their soccer and volleyball skills; in fact, volleyball has included travel club camps, high school booster camps, skills-specific camps, and even a ‘college showcase’ camp.  A major challenge with the camps is deciding who should go where, and when.  If 3 kids have 3 camps in 3 different places, the logistics are crazy.  But if we spread them out to different weeks, summer travel becomes as hard to schedule as trips during the school year.  The kids had plenty of good experiences over the years, but it was time for a little different schedule.

This year?  Our rising high school junior has assisted for a week at her coach’s booster camp, and she may attend another camp as a player to sharpen up before school tryouts.  For our camps this summer–as Tony Kornheiser might say–‘That’s it.  That’s the list.’ 

But no one is exactly sitting around our house wondering what to do until we head out of town for a vacation.  Here are a few examples:

  • In our 9th year on the team at our local pool, swimming remains an important part of summer life.  It is the favorite activity for our 13 year old–practicing the early shift–and a favorite for her 9 year old brother–practicing at 9:00.  This schedule gives each day a balance of consistent structure to start off followed by freedom from 10:00 on.  (Alas, their older sister retired from swimming this year, but she will grudgingly admit that much of her success in volleyball over the years was made possible by the muscle she added to her once-skinny frame through all of those years in the pool.)
  • School workbooks and assigned reading:  chores or good times?  It’s all a question of attitude.  We’re going for ‘good times’ this summer, and there should be no August rush to get everything done.
  • I am teaching the ex-swimmer how to drive.  That’s certainly……interesting.
  • Driving range.  With 2 kids who want to learn how to play golf, taking turns hitting a few shots in a row turned this into a great hour–at a bargain price.
  • Books for the sake of books.  This afternoon my son and I settled in for some quality reading time.  He went with a book ironically called The Name of This Book is Secret, while I worked through a few chapters of Hemingway.  (Once an English teacher….)  What could be better than an afternoon read in a cool living room on a 95 degree day?
  • We’ve also found time for foosball.  Wii.  Building a robot duck.  (Seriously.)  Extra time at the pool, without laps or stopwatches.  Time with grandparents.  Some pretty wild squirtguns that I wish were around when I was a kid.  Tending a neighbor’s dog.  An occasional episode of the original Star Trek series.  (After a year, we are just over half-way through, so it’s a perfect time to pick up the pace).  The time fills itself–so far with plenty of good things.

Hopefully we will be a little more rested and ready this year when the school year starts off again at the end of August.  But either way, we are enjoying the change-up.


Filed under Activities & Sports, Holidays, Living Well, Places to Go

I Get By With A Little Help From……Complete Strangers

Last Friday night I headed out with 2 of our trio on a trip to Richmond, normally a few hours’ drive from our home.  Our high school-aged daughter had a 3 day sports competition as part of a travel team, and I planned to split the weekend between cheering her on and spending some one-on-one time with her elementary-aged brother.  Seemed like a great plan.

But about 2/3 of the way there, my trusty–but not new–SUV lost power.  What does THAT mean?  Radio–stopped playing…which was extra painful because we were listening to an ’80s show that we expected to air our phone-in request in a few minutes.  Headlights–dimmed in a hurry.  Dash instruments–dropped to zero, despite the fact that we were still going.  I moved to the right shoulder, and before the next exit the engine gave out, too.

Dark (without any lights).  Cold.  Heavy, long-weekend traffic on I-95.  2 kids, plus luggage, on board.  And for the first time in almost 30 years of driving, I was stuck alongside the road with a problem that couldn’t be solved with a spare tire and a jack.  With the emergency lights barely flashing, I got out and stood behind the truck, counting on the reflective parts of my ski jacket to replace the flares I was not sure I could get to without unpacking all of the bags.  [I know:  Maybe not the smartest move, but at the time my first thought was to keep us from getting hit by someone who couldn’t even see us.]

But then everything took a turn for the better because one person after another went out of their way to help:

I tried to flag down a passing police officer, but he did not see me in time across 4 lanes of heavy traffic.  So I called 911 and the operator notified the county police that we were stranded without lights.  Less than 5 minutes later the same officer was back, parked behind us with his lights flashing to keep us safe from highway traffic and offering to put the kids in his car to keep them warm.

The officer called a state highway truck.  The state highway driver checked out my SUV, reaching the same conclusion the officer and I had:  The alternator was dead.

The officer called for a tow truck, and he knew the driver who showed up to get us off the interstate.  They talked through our best options, fielding all of my questions.

The tow truck driver recommended a garage.  He assured me that it was a family-run business that would be open first thing Saturday morning and that he had even known the owners to stay open late on the weekend to help stranded travelers get back on the highway.  He also recommended an inexpensive, but national-chain, hotel directly across the street from the garage.  He took us to the hotel and then took our truck to the garage.

Meanwhile, my daughter was working her smartphone to find a ride to the tournament.  She found out that another family with a daughter on another team in the same club had left later than we had.  My daughter called to ask for help, and they happily detoured from the highway to pick her up and take her on to the team hotel in Richmond so she would be with her team for the full weekend–The players room together, so once she got to the hotel she was going to be safe with friends and chaperones.

I called the Richmond hotel to let them know that I would not be checking in as expected.  It was 11:00pm, 5 hours after the deadline to cancel a reservation, so all I wanted was to confirm the room for the rest of the weekend.  I explained that we were stranded until we could get the truck fixed and the lady on the phone put me on hold.  When she came back, I was stunned to hear that she was changing our reservation from 3 nights to 2 and was waiving the cost for Friday night.

The next morning, my son and I were at the garage when it opened.  They already knew our story because the tow truck driver had called one of them AT HOME.  In less than 30 minutes they had confirmed the alternator diagnosis and quoted me a repair price.  When I asked how long it would be before we could get back on our way to my daughter’s tournament:  “45 minutes.”  Incredible.  By the time I took my son back across the street to the hotel for the mini-buffet breakfast and we got packed, the truck was ready.  We drove on and were able to catch most of his sister’s last match of the day.

In a time when many people coast through their jobs and treat customers as an inconvenience, every one of these people went above and beyond to turn a crisis into a problem solved.  Much appreciation.

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Filed under Places to Go