The Case for the Family Vacation

I write this from the road, literally. I am in the midst of a good old-fashioned family road trip. Now, the nature of my work dictates that I spend a lot of time thinking about the ways in which families work, those things that create a cohesive unit. And I’m suddenly thinking that we may, as a culture, dismiss the relevance, the critical importance, of the family vacation.

I get that there are many reasons to forgo the trip. Work doesn’t let up just because the days are longer and the sun is brighter. Or we’re broke. Or the summer’s booked with travel leagues and summer school and part-time jobs at day camps or grocery stores.

Or we hate packing. Or sand.

But let’s face it, Lennon was right. Life happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Here’s my anecdotal pitch for the family vacation: my family and I are driving, right now, through upper Michigan. We made certain plans to stay in certain places, visit certain points of interest. We might remember some of these, an historic church or some ancient cannon resting, rusting on some long-forgotten field of battle. I hope we remember some of those.

But it’s the unplanned stuff that I think drives the culture of a family. We create our inside jokes on these trips. We compile our family soundtracks: ‘Every Teardrop is a Waterfall’ is the tune on this particular trip. Last night, we had this moment where my son, in a sudden rush of comedic adrenaline, ran briskly down a street and posed, face to the sky, eyes blissfully closed, arms spread wide, for a photo. It was a killer moment, and we laughed with unadulterated joy.

In all likelihood, that never would have happened at home.

I just now took a moment to watch my wife and son in the front seat from back here. They look so alike: same eyes, same hair, same ears. I never noticed the ears before. They both nod in perfect rhythm.

As busy as I am, I might not have taken the time to notice these things at home either. We see things differently when we free ourselves from our element. In a good way.

For some families, the vacation is the only time they really play together, laugh together, break the ties of the everyday and see each other with dimension: Dad without a necktie, Mom laughing herself goofy, kids singing together in harmony.

This stuff is the glue of resilience for a family. Growing up, my family never, ever loaded the car for a vacation. In the rear-view mirror, I realize we could have used one on occasion. We had an onslaught of tough times before us that none of us could have anticipated. A set of fond memories might have held us together a bit more than separation. I know It’s tough to draw a straight line between a sunny summer vacation and some unknown dark days ahead, but they are without a doubt connected. If we have these times, we can handle those times. Simple as that.

So pack up the car and go. Travel safe, and have a blast!



  1. cheryl August 9, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Excellent! I totally agree. In tough time I mentally go to my “happy place” which is a family vaca
    tion moment.

  2. Johnduffy August 9, 2011 at 9:17 am

    That’s great, Cheryl. Yeah, I think we rely on those family vacation memories more than we may realize – thanks so much for commenting!

  3. Lisa Price August 12, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    Once again, you captured the idea perfectly. For us, the journey is sometimes more fun, more joyous, more intimate than the destination. It became moreso this summer with my daughter driving. That view you mention, the one from the back seat? It is amazing what you can see from behind. 

  4. Johnduffy August 15, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    So true, Lisa! I'm not used to the view from back there, but I like it! Thanks!

  5. Dee August 22, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Oh my gosh – this past weekend we were just watching videos from our past family vacations!! Awesome memories as our children get older and now begin yet another school year!

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