Vacation or Trip? A Helpful Guide for Parents

So, you’re headed out on a family vacation this summer. Great news! But are you sure? Are you sure it’s a vacation? You might want to think about that for a minute. Because a vacation is best described as time away from a job and/or the monotony and frustrations of day-to-day life with the goal of relaxing and having fun.

Not to be a super downer, but chances are, if you have kids, and they are coming with you, you aren’t going on a vacation at all. You are going on what I like to call…a trip. You see, a trip is simply a journey to a place.

While there is nothing wrong with a family trip, and, in fact, it can be a memorable time of family bonding, it should never, ever, be confused with a vacation. Such confusion can lead to unexpected feelings of regret and disappointment typically taken out on your spouse, who, incidentally, is feeling just as confused and swindled as you are.

To best prepare for your time away, take a look at this handy guide to determine if you are going on a Vacation or Trip, and thus set your expectations right. And, by “right,” I mean, lower.


How Will You Get There?
If you are traveling by car, there is a good chance it’s a trip. If you have packed one or more “throw-up bags,” clearly, it’s a trip. If you packed a training potty, not a vacation. A trip if ever there was one. If you break into a complete sweat loading the car and/or overhead storage compartment you spent a small fortune on because you thought it was kinda cool, well, that’s a trip. If packing the car leads to a fight with your spouse about who has a better “system.” You, my friend, are going on a trip.

If you can’t see out the back window the entire time you are driving. Trip. If the children have fought about where they are sitting, it’s definitely a trip. If the car has a constant smell of farts and fast food, you are on a trip. If you are worried that the bikes will fall off the back of the car the entire drive, sorry to say, trip. If you realize you forgot your sunglasses three hours into the drive because you left in darkness at 4am to beat the traffic and the sun is just coming up…yikes, that’s a trip. If you’ve heard yourself say, “This will fun,” you are on a trip. If you’ve broken out the “all we could afford to do growing up was go camping” lecture, you are officially on a trip. If no one heard either of those things because they have their headphones on, most certainly a trip.

Who Are You Going With?
If you are meeting extended family and/or in-laws. Please, don’t insult me, trip. If there has been any pre-planning tension, with extended family, perhaps categorized as “passive aggressive,” that you have bitten your tongue about, but have taken out on your spouse, yeah, well, that would be a trip. If you are sharing a bathroom with your in-laws and fear an awkward moment, that is a serious trip. If the dog is with you, trip. If you are going with another family and adding their family insanity to yours, you are on a special kind of hell trip.

Where Will You Stay?
If your final destination has a kitchen, you are not on vacation. You are on a trip. If you have to grocery shop before or during your time away, it is a trip. If you, at any time during your stay, have to load or unload a dishwasher, that is a Groundhog’s Day style trip.IMG_3563

If there is a pack and play in your room, you are on a trip.

If you are in a hotel room with two double beds, trippity trip-trip. If you are worried about accidentally seeing your pubescent son or daughter naked, trip. If your kids go to bed at 8pm and you have to be quiet and locked in the room with them, well, that’s a classic trip, my friend.

If your final destination is a tent, you are not on a vacation. You are not even on a trip. You are on a camping trip. There will be tears. Mostly yours. Camping, for obvious reasons, gets its own classification. If you have to walk outside to a bathroom and/or shower, you are on a camping trip. If you need coins to get a hot shower, you are soooo not on a vacation…I don’t even know what to tell you.

What Will You Do?
If you are going to see a Fort or visiting an Aquarium, trip. If you are touring a battlefield in 90 degree heat, you are on a trip. If you are doing a jigsaw puzzle, trip. If it rains, and you look up laser tag places, that’s a trip. If you’ve spent more than your car payment on cheesy souvenirs you will soon throw away, you are on a trip.

IMG_0335 What is Your Role in the Family?
If you are the Default Parent and/or the Stay-at-Home Parent, you aren’t even on a trip. You are on a work trip, and, in a perfect world, the entire “journey to a place” would be a damn tax write off. The only known and quantifiable “break” you are getting from life is that for about a week you will not have to open and sort the mail. Other than that, it’s business as usual.

If you have a job outside the house, but are also a parent, you are on a vacation from work, but also on a family trip. You will be doing Default/Stay-at-home Parent duties, which will seem better than work for the first four days, but by the drive home you will find yourself humming “Whistle While You Work” as you daydream about the calmness and safety of your office and how reasonable your boss now seems.

Wait. Is It Ever a Vacation with Kids?
I’m sorry to say, no. Unless you can pull off the hat trick of family trips. 1. Tropical resort. 2. All-Inclusive. 3. Kid program your kids will happily attend. It will give you moments that feel like a vacation, but, even still, you’re looking at a Vacation-Trip Hybrid at best.

The Dream
There’s a great saying that if you are lucky enough to be on vacation, you’re lucky enough. And the same goes for a family trip. Those “journeys to a place” hold a special place in the history of your family and, with the right amount of time and nostalgia, someday you’ll even laugh about that time Sally threw up on you after an hour of waiting in line to meet Mickey Mouse. She was going to hear the “F” word eventually anyway, right?


But the real dream is to someday be brave enough to leave your kids behind, hop a flight, and get to a place where the waiters bring you Piña Coladas while you lounge on the beach. You won’t need a guide to help you understand if you are on vacation. You’ll know. Because you’ll only put sunscreen on your damn self and you’ll fall asleep reading a book to the sound of the waves. Now, that’s a mother frackin’ vacation.

Safe and Puke-free Travels!

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  1. […] of endless sunshine and a Cinderella-style night out in glass slippers. You will want, in short, a real vacation — and not just a trip somewhere in a car where the final destination has a kitchen and in-laws are […]

    • S on September 24, 2017 at 11:58 pm

      Just found this, and although I am not a parent, I have been saying similar things for years about the difference between a trip and an actual real bona-fide vacation. As I ranted on friends stared and wondered that I was so emphatically opinionated on this topic.
      Laughed and laughed as I read your post, finally vindicated ….

  2. Leanne V. on November 17, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    Hilarious! I have been clarifying for anyone who will listen this difference between “vacation” and “family trip” since becoming a parent who travels with kids ten-plus years ago. Both awesome and necessary, but please do not ever confuse the two…
    Love your stuff — how am I just finding it now? We need to be friends. I’ll settle for on the computer.

    • M. on November 20, 2016 at 10:46 am

      We are officially friends now! Like my mblazoned facebook page and comment on there and we will carry on this friendship!

  3. Dayna on September 18, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    I laughed until I thought I would wet myself! The topping on the cake was that my son actually DID throw-up on me while we were visiting Disney World! And to make matters worse, as i cleaned up the first pile of puke, he then promptly vomited on my BACK and NECK. Now that’s fun to clean up – I had two kids with me, and my husband was in a business meeting. Good times were had by all.

  4. Dianne on April 29, 2016 at 5:23 am

    So funny. I figured out not long after my son was born that he had successfully sucked the fun out of holidays for me. With little kids you are just somewhere else without the conveniences of home. Lucky I didn’t have my son til I was 37….. I got to enjoy a few vacations first! Oh how I miss them.

  5. Lynda on March 28, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    Hysterically awesome and true. I don’t subscribe to anything and I just subscribed to your blog. Can’t wait for the next post.

    • M. on March 28, 2016 at 8:12 pm

      Awesome! I only send emails when I have a new blog. But join my FB page. We have a good time and then you get some of musings from time to time. It’s a great group of about 9,000 people!

  6. Jennifer Koutouras on August 1, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    I thought this was so funny that I forced my kids to sit through it while I read it to them. They don’t think it’s funny at all. lol

    • M. on August 3, 2015 at 11:43 pm

      Ha!! They will get it someday!

  7. Ronnie on July 27, 2015 at 8:03 am

    Funny, every funny I am a fan of yours now.
    My problem as well, only I am a father.
    There is no vacation with kids, as amazing as the kids are they are are still kids.
    But yes…We still need to make these trips all for the pictures and memories.

    • M. on July 28, 2015 at 11:30 am

      Dads…Moms…it’s all the same in the end. I’m on a trip right now…making awesome memories, but also just told the kids, “no one lick anyone else” in the normal and serious way as if licking were something to be reasonable about!! Hang in there!

  8. Robyn on July 24, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    I read this aloud to my family… in a car….on a trip, it set the stage for our family trip! We all had a good laugh now onward to making lifelong family memories dammit! ❤️

    • M. on July 25, 2015 at 9:12 pm

      Ha! My kids are still mad I wrote it. They are like, why don’t you write blogs when we are being awesome? I’m like no one wants to read that crap! Enjoy the memory making!!

  9. Elli on July 23, 2015 at 5:18 am

    Loved this. You nailed the difference between vacation and trip.
    There’s a third category, though.
    Trips are different from vacations, but can be a lot of fun.
    But once you throw in extended families and in-laws, it’s not even a trip. You dread it. You do not want to be there, but have no choice.

    This, my friend, is called an “oblication.”

    • M. on July 25, 2015 at 9:13 pm

      Love that! Great term. You are braver than I to write it! xoxo

  10. Michelle on July 22, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Just 2 days back from a family trip. So true and always so funny that when I try to read it to my husband I can’t get through it because I’m laughing too hard.. Had to remind my spouse that the kids will only put up with so much “Seeing Something” vs “Doing Something” trip and he may need to lower his expectations as to how many places we will really see. Love as always, keep up the great writing.

    • M. on July 25, 2015 at 9:14 pm

      Thanks, Michelle. I’m in the middle of a trip. My husband and I just snuck away for a drink for 15 minutes before they found us. We laughed that was the “vacation” part of our tripcation! Hang in there…and keep laughing. xoxo

  11. Amy wilkinson on July 21, 2015 at 11:40 am

    We just went on a wonderful Disney cruise with our 2 and 4 year old. Everybody asked me afterwards how magical it all was. While it was an amazing trip I definitely need my own vacation now. I’m still exhausted!! Where is my fairy godmother to spruce me up and send me off to Hawaii?!

  12. Amy wilkinson on July 21, 2015 at 11:38 am

    We just went on a wonderful Disney cruise with our 2 and 4 year old. Everybody asked me afterwards how magical it all was. While it was an amazing trip I definitely needed my own vacation now. I’m still exhausted!! Where is my fairy godmother to spruce me off and send me off to Hawaii?!

  13. Jim on July 20, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    You’ve hit the nail on the head! Thanks for all of the great writing.

  14. Jim on July 20, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    Could not have summed it up better (he says, staring down a trip to Florida in August!). Thanks for your wonderful writing.

    • M. on July 20, 2015 at 6:01 pm

      Thanks, Jim. Love the support from you. Glad you are enjoying my stuff!

  15. Andrea on July 16, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    Hysterical! Thanks for being honest, funny and giving me a good laugh when I need it.

    • M. on July 16, 2015 at 3:37 pm

      Thanks for your love and support, chickie!

  16. David (in the UK - lovely little island - we used to own you guys) on July 15, 2015 at 11:41 am

    With summer holidays (sorry, that’s ‘family vacation’ for US readers) fast approaching I had a very similar discussion with wife recently. She vehemently disagreed with me and said I just need to lower my expectations about 28,000%.
    Please save me from this world of pain…….

    • Dano on July 16, 2015 at 3:25 pm

      Your wife sounds like she is in denial! Keep your expectations high and try to schedule a true vacation with her alone. Maybe that will change her perspective.

      Enjoy the happy holiday trips with your family!

      • David (in the UK - lovely little island - we used to own you guys) on July 17, 2015 at 4:36 am

        Dano, I tried telling my wife that she was in denial. Hopefully the bruising and swelling around my eye will go down soon….. ;o)
        Yes, a non-child trip would be marvelous. Maybe one day – here’s hoping!!! 🙂

    • M. on July 16, 2015 at 3:39 pm

      David from the UK…you are alway funny. Thanks for commenting and get a “proper” holiday soon. xox

      • David (in the UK - lovely little island - we used to own you guys) on July 17, 2015 at 4:41 am

        Thanks for your kind words! Wife, I and our 5 kids (ages 5-22) are all off to Cyprus soon. (For American readers – Cyprus is also an island, like the UK, but it’s NOT the UK – it’s a different island. In a different sea.)
        I am not expecting a hint of relaxing or enjoyable ‘holiday time’, more a tough 2 week trial of non-stop child amusement, resolving sibling disputes and being a walking, talking mobile cash dispensing machine.
        Wish me luck…….

  17. Dano on July 15, 2015 at 9:07 am

    Another great blog!

    There is nothing that says “trip” like getting into a crowded double-bed in a pitch dark hotel room at 8:30 pm. Especially after spending a day saying “no” to your kids requests for cotton-candy and expensive souvenirs!

  18. Barbara on July 15, 2015 at 2:40 am

    Fricken hilarious and true as always! Thanks for the laughs!

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"Vacation or Trip? A Helpful Guide for Parents":