Years ago, long before kids, I said to my husband before a vacation, a real vacation, “Hey, don’t you need to pack?” He, quite famously, responded, “I don’t have to pack. I just have to throw a few things in a bag.” I didn’t fully understand that logic until three kids and a dog later.

The “throw a few things in a bag” days are long behind us. Now? We just try to survive the week before vacation without hating each other, and pretty much start every trip on the edge of insanity.

And, the word “vacation” is just funny. For a deeper dive into how truly oxymoronic the term “family vacation” is, check out, Vacation or Trip: A Helpful Guide for Parents. Not to be a downer, but you’re probably going on a trippity, trip, trip.

Don’t get caught up in labels, my friends. You’re not going anywhere until you survive the week before, which is a series of physical and emotional challenges that will push the limits of your marriage, make you question your love of your children, and have you wondering why you ever planned a trip in the first place.

It’s like Survivor, The Amazing Race, and Fraternity Hell Week all rolled up into one. And you signed on for it, voluntarily, because there’s this vague promise of a prize at the end. Well, as long as you don’t get the experience of that one jaded guest who gave the 4.7 resort that one star that keeps you up at night. Don’t worry. It’s only a billion dollars and a precious week off from work at stake. I’m sure it will be fine. All you have to do is get out the door. How hard could that be?

Pre-Planning
Let me be clear. There’s no getting ahead of this week. Trust me, I’ve tried. I’m a Virgo. We practically invented lists. I start planning months in advance trying to outwit a travel industry that literally hates me. $200 airline change fees, non-refundable hotel rooms, an unapologetic middle finger for having more than two kids, I’m on it.

I’m like the Director of Homeland Security, pre-emptively working through every possible scenario of what might go wrong. I call upon my experience. Like the time my twelve year old forgot her contacts, or the time my next twelve year old let me know the day before we were leaving that they were out of their prescription and I had to promise my kidney to the dermatology nurse to get an extra refill. Geez. Maybe it’s twelve year olds that are the problem.

I promise you this, even the most uncreative of children become masters of invention for what they can throw at you during this week. Try as you might, you’ll never see it coming.

Twelve Year Olds
Incidentally, taking a twelve year old on vacation is like wadding up your hard earned money and lighting it on fire. Absolutely nothing makes them happy.

The Last Weekend Before You Leave
Everything about the week before vacation hinges on what you can get done the last weekend before you go away. The pressure is an eleven. It starts with figuring out what fits your growing kids and assessing everyone’s travel needs. NASA has less complicated launches.

Probably good to point out, that although you have a crazy to do list that takes you on the world’s most unfun scavenger hunt, nothing in your regular life stops. So just keep all that regular shit juggling and toss in the packing prep stuff. Remember, you’re going on a vacation!! You’re not, but lying to yourself is important during this week.

To Do Lists
During the week before vacation, to do lists don’t get shorter. They multiply. You can cross off Target all you want, but don’t kid yourself. You’ll be back. Once the self-checkout machine reminded me to take my receipt and also added, “Geez, lady. Get your shit together.”

I’m trying, self-checkout machine!

The Work Week
Once Monday hits, the proverbial getting of your shit together becomes less and less likely as you remember that to take one lousy week off from work, you have to do the work of three weeks before you leave. The house always wins. The company, who will lay you off in an instant, always finds you indispensible the week before you take vacation. Be prepared to spearhead a new initiative kicking off on Friday.

Martyr Tuesday
It’s about Tuesday when you face the reality that in an effort to get the kids ready, you have forgotten your own vacation needs. I call this Martyr Tuesday. Martyr Tuesday is centered around a little freakshow I like to call, panic shopping. It’s a thing. Since you are already stressed about the price of said “vacation,” you hit the bargain shops. Like a college freshman, you’re not making good choices. Save the receipts.

Wednesday
Oh, about Wednesday you’ll remember you don’t have a dog sitter.  There will be an intense game of blame played here where there are no winners. You will volunteer to stay home with the dog, and you aren’t even kidding. Suddenly, your house seems like paradise and you have no idea why you are leaving it to share a room with your family, sneaking in that third kid because two can play at the middle finger game, hotel people.

Grooming Thursday
At this point, you are a shell of a human with very little will to carry on. But, alas you must endure the requisite pre-vacation grooming. For men, this includes a ten spot for a walk-in haircut and a pair of toenail clippers. Women? Yeah, not so much. We begin the expensive, and often times humiliating, metamorphosis to remove all traces we are mammals.

You will be making awkward small talk with your bikini waxer. You will be getting a mani/pedi you don’t have time for that is not really so relaxing when you are thinking about all the things you still have to do. You will be making more checklists on your phone while the massage chair, designed by someone unfamiliar with the human back, assaults you…and the pedicurist sands down your feet with the cheese grater thingee that makes you want to punch someone in the face. The chances you aren’t going to screw up the polish is zero percent. But you have bigger problems. It’s the night before family vacation and you haven’t packed.

Throwing a Few Things In a Bag
I’m not ashamed to say that some of my greatest personal meltdowns have been while packing for a family vacation. I blame magazines. You know those picture spreads of 10 items to bring that make an infinite amount of cool outfits? Yeah. That’s a goddamn lie. It all centers on some magical jean jacket that none of us owns. So, I do what normal people do. I pack every last thing I might consider wearing. No planned outfits. No smart color palette. No day-to-night looks with a change of a necklace. I will barely close my suitcase, feel packing shame, and then wear the same skirt and two t-shirts all week.

The Final Stretch
In the wee hours of the morning, after you pack up all the electronic power chargers, you will finally sleep. Take heart. No matter how bad things were all week. No matter how little sleep you’ll get the night before, you will leave the house. You will make that flight. You will get on the road. It always comes together in the end. Once you arrive, you will do what family vacations/trips are truly about…making memories.

The first one? Stopping at Target. Your twelve year old forgot their goggles.

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11 Comments

  1. I’m reading this while in the last day of my family vacation. It’s all too familiar!!!! Your observation about 12 year olds is spot-on! After experiencing 3 different 12-year old children, you’d think I’d learn and leave them at home instead of the dog!!

  2. OMG I am crying. So happy to know it’s not just me. Just got back from vacation where I wore my Converse every day because “Martyr Tuesday” kept getting pushed and finally didn’t happen. Can I touch up those grays in post production? Also, what about the insane need to have every bit of laundry done before you leave? God forbid you are having a house/pet sitter and need to add leaving a spotless house into the equation!

  3. Well, all that pre-trip stress doesn’t seem to have given you a single gray hair! Your kids are growing older but you and Dan just look better and better. Enjoy that vacay 🙂

  4. My 12 year old met a 15 year old boy and wore the smelly hoodie he gave her almost all the way home. Ugh.

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