Recalibrating expectations about family travel moments

R and L and a rare 'moment' during our trip to the Anderson Valley.

R and L and a rare ‘moment’ in the Anderson Valley.

I’m writing this post at 35,000 feet above the California desert, en route back to San Francisco after a (busy and) epic weekend in Las Vegas with one of my closest pals.

I was there to report a story about a trail system on the outskirts of the Vegas Valley. The objective: To hike as many of the trails as I could in one weekend. Because hiking is more fun with friends, and because my friend and I live in different cities, I asked him to join me. We had a blast.

Over the course of our 36 hours together, my buddy and I did what 30-something guys do. We talked about sports. We talked about women. We talked about work. We laughed. We listened to music. And we hiked. A lot. (In case you’re wondering, we didn’t gamble together, largely because he doesn’t gamble. I did all of my gambling after he went to bed.)

In short, the trip was full of what I like to call Bromance Moments—those moments during which I felt lucky to have such a good friend, and even luckier to get to spend some downtime with him.

Because we had no other demands on our attention, some of these “moments” lasted for hours.

The whole experience got me thinking about the nature of these moments, and the extent to which Powerwoman and I experience similar moments with the girls when we travel as a family.

My conclusion: Yes, the moments exist. But they’re different. And, in our case, MUCH more short-lived.

I like to call these family travel moments Walley World Moments. The moniker is a blatant reference to the theme park in National Lampoon’s Vacation—the place where Clark Griswold and family spend the entire movie trying to visit. When the family finally gets there, after a litany of ridiculous experiences, there is this sense of true appreciation, that they’re all happy to be there together. The rest of we families experience that, too.

With young kids, however, Walley World Moments are short and sweet, the ultimate quickies. Whenever we do something as a unit, Powerwoman and I stop to recognize how lucky we are to do it together, then one of the girls becomes impatient or trips her sister or nags for a snack or whines about being tired and the family travel magic disappears.

I’m not complaining about my girls being girls (they are 5 and 3, respectively). I’m just stating a fact: It’s hard to hold on to moments of wonder when little ones can’t hold on to anything for more than a few seconds at a time.

This reality has forced us to reconsider how we look at family travel moments overall.

Instead of looking for days or half-days or hours during which we feel lucky to have such wonderful kids and be able to travel with them, we seek mere minutes—ephemeral epiphanies of appreciation.

We’re not lowering our expectations here, people. We’re just abbreviating them—in response to the current attention spans of our little ones. Over time, as the girls evolve into young women, I suspect my wife and I will expand our expectations accordingly. By the time they’re teenagers, perhaps we even will look forward to Walley World Moments that last long enough to thoroughly enjoy.

Until then, of course, we’ll take whatever moments we can get, whenever we can get them, and we’ll savor every second.

What sort of memorable moments do you expect when you travel with your kids?

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