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.