Knowing when to fold ’em on family trips

Bouncing. Before the meltdown.

Bouncing. Before the meltdown.

Poker players and country music fans alike are familiar with the famous 1978 Kenny Rogers song, “The Gambler.”

On the surface, the ditty is a song about poker. (You know the tune: “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em/know when to fold ‘em/Know when to walk away/Know when to run.”) It’s also a metaphor for life. And, as it so happens, for family travel.

I was reminded of this fact today while trying to balance a jam-packed itinerary of activities on a daytrip around our home county.

The short story: We got through about half our list. Then we aborted the mission. And it all worked out.

Our day began early, as the days usually do with L (for whom 6:30 a.m. is “sleeping in”) and R. After breakfast and an early-morning shopping run, we headed out for a hike and some (seemingly) low-key playing by the river, then headed to the indoor trampoline arena for a little jumping. The problem: It was nearly 100 degrees before noon, which made the kids incredibly cranky.

The afternoon portion of our agenda for the day included swinging by a party/fundraiser hosted by some of our friends. As that part of the plan got closer, however—and at the very moment the two of them decided they hated their lunch—the girls endured a major and catastrophic meltdown.

They were hot. They were tired. They were hungry. And they lost all capacity to act like normal humans.

I could have forced the issue, could have soldiered on in the name of keeping plans. Instead, I did what, IMHO, is perfectly acceptable on a day of family travel of any kind: I capitulated.

I’m not saying I gave up in the traditional sense of the phrase. No, I’m saying I rationally and clearly looked at all of my options, recognized that the kids were done, and changed the plan on the fly. In short, I knew when to lay down my hand and call it quits for the day.

Powerwoman and I have learned this lesson the hard way over the last few years. Time and time again, on those days when the kids are just a little off, it almost always has made more sense to acquiesce when push comes to shove. Sometimes this has meant spending an afternoon in the hotel playing Crazy 8’s. On other occasions it’s meant extended downtime, just to keep everyone happy. Today, it meant bailing on a party. Next time, it might mean bailing on a surf lesson, or mini golf.

The bottom line, folks, is that Kenny was right—you need to know when to hold the plans and when to fold ‘em.

There’s no shame in bagging an agenda if you think your kids—and, through the transitive property, you—will be better off in the long run. Family travel isn’t about WHAT you do so much as it’s about HOW you do it. Remember: Short of big-picture calendar items such as airplane flights or train times, no travel plans ever are set in stone.

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