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Don’t Overthink the Family Vacation

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as a parent is not to overthink it when it comes to vacationing with young kids. Our family vacation last summer (2020) taught me this valuable lesson and it’s one that has really stuck with me.

In the midst of COVID lockdown last summer, my wife and I were struggling to come up with a good family vacation option that would be enjoyable for the kids, but not irresponsible. We knew we had to get out of the house and do something — our walls were closing in on us, but the question remained, what exactly could we do that wouldn’t requires us to mingle with large groups of people?

After some serious Google time, Kellie had an idea; we’d rent a VRBO cabin on a working farm. Yay, I thought, overjoyed with the idea given my penchant for being attacked by skittish animals. But this one was for the boys. If they could handle the unpredictable dispositions of donkeys, geese, chickens and goats, then I could at least fake it. Animals are your friend, I’d say to myself in the weeks leading up to our great farm getaway.

Determined to win over any animal I would encounter, I focused on cultivating my inner Jack Hanna, convincing myself that the only pheromone I’d be giving off was that of a fearless animal handler.

Sidenote: I like animals, but I was chased by a deer while running early one morning a few years back and it scarred me for life. You see a cute little Bambi. I see a hoof through the teeth.

When we arrived at the The Little Peak Creek farm cabin in Jefferson, North Carolina (Christmas tree farm capital of the US) we immediately knew we’d (we…as in Kellie) found a gem. It was exactly what we all needed, lush green mountainside views, crisp cool mountain air, and minimal cell reception. After I did a quick sweep of the property to scare off any deer we unloaded the car, got situated, looked at each other and after a few moments said, “now what”.

We didn’t have to think over it for too long because before we knew it Charlie (5) and Henry (2) had found the little stream that ran along the side of the cabin and were throwing every rock they could find into it. They were overjoyed and thoroughly entertained and we were content to watch them have such a good time. We realized then that we didn’t need to have a plan for once. All we needed to do was let our boys have fun, and did they ever. We let them lead the way that entire vacation and it was great.

The joy they found on that trip, a trip that included virtually no plans was beautiful and magical to experience. I had forgotten what it was like to spend hours playing outside with no concern for anything other than which rock to throw or which leaf to send down the stream next. Sometimes, it seems, letting your children’s desire to play guide you is the best way to disconnect from the working world that consumes our energy and preoccupies our minds. For me, experiencing my wife and boys’ joy is what rids me of the thoughts that rob me of presence. I can feel those moments of joyful presence take shape when they do and when I’m in that moment, the feeling is much like seeing an old friend. We should do this more often…How has it been so long?

I can’t tell you how many times on that three day trip we fed ALL the animals, checked for new eggs, played in the cold stream (ditch?), climbed to the top of the mountain and ran up and down grassy hills. It was a great few days and a much needed reminder of what mattered most. It also provided a re-connection to a fun-first mentality that we as adults slowly lose.

During these early years, we’ve learned that the simpler the trip, the better. Sure, it might not be as Instagram-worthy, but if you’re living for other people’s likes, then that’s something you should take a hard look at.

It doesn’t take much to excite and entertain at 5 and 2. Give them the great outdoors, a stick and a rock. Wind them up and watch them go. Whatever you can do to show your children a new environment and give them a different experience is what really matters. Those are the memories that are going to stick. Most importantly though, being with you is all they really want, regardless of the location, however simple or exotic. But when you’re there, you have to be where your feet are and nowhere else. Great family memories are made when you’re present.

What’s the big lesson you’ve learned when traveling with your kids?

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