A different kind of family travel

The Three Musketeers.

The Three Musketeers.

Family travel comes in many shapes and sizes. Most of the time in Villanoville, the equation is the same: Me + Powerwoman + L + R. This past weekend, however, the formula took on a new look—my kids were hanging out with their Momma at home, and I was traveling with *my* parents (who are known in these parts as Grammy C and Grampy V).

We were in San Diego for a wedding. We had separate rooms (thank goodness), but it was the first time JUST the three of us (I’m an only child) have traveled together as a family since I was in high school.

Which means it was quite a hoot.

Exhibit A: I arrived at our hotel for the weekend, the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina, to find my parents drinking beer by a fire pit—something they NEVER did when we vacationed together during our younger days. (Later, my dad also ordered beer at the hotel bar. Who has he become?)

Exhibit B: My mother, who from time to time still harbors a Long Island accent, wore a knitted sweater thing over her shoulders to keep her warm. She called it a SH-AWWWWWWWWWL. And every time I heard her say the word I laughed.

Exhibit C: The three of us vowed to meet in the lobby so we all could drive to the rehearsal dinner together, but my father was 30 minutes late. When I asked my mother what he was doing upstairs, she said he ran up to get something just before I had arrived. She noted the errand should have taken no more than five minutes. It took WAY longer than that.

Exhibit D: After the aforementioned rehearsal dinner, the three of us hit the game room. The two of them stood there and watched me gun for the record at the lone Pop-A-Shot game (I came within 20 points). Then Dad took a turn. (He was less efficient. Think Herb Williams, circa 1994 New York Knicks.)

Those were just the highlights from the first day. The rest of the weekend was filled with foibles over umbrellas in the rain, botched directions despite the help of a GPS, deep conversations about child-rearing, and discussions about life after Social Security. Throw in a hearty dose of nagging from Mom and a bunch of incessant whistling from my Dad (trust me; that shit is PIERCING), and it was just like old times.

In my teens, this degree of intensity drove me nuts and soured me on the mere mention of going away with the two of them later in life. Now that later has arrived, however, now that I’m a grown-up myself, I was able to laugh off the more stressful parts of the family dynamic when I had to and appreciate it at all other times.

In other words, I had a blast.

So often we new-ish parents think family travel must be confined to the people in our immediate families. This weekend with Mom and Dad reminded me that they’re my family, too. Traveling with them was just as fulfilling as traveling with my wife and girls, only in entirely different ways. I’m not sure I could do it again for a few months, but I’m certainly more willing to consider it than ever before.

To what extent do you vacation with your extended family, and where do you go?

Turning family travel disaster into fun

Airplane impersonations at PDX, Gate C5.

Airplane impersonations at PDX, Gate C5.

You probably have heard a saying about making lemonade when life gives you lemons. As a family traveler, I embrace this philosophy wholeheartedly.

My commitment was put to the test today on what amounted to a 15-hour travel day to fly 600 miles after a weekend in SoCal (and Legoland California) with Little R. Yes, the day was exhausting. Yes, in the scheme of things, it was wildly irritating. But I learned some valuable lessons about being prepared, staying positive, and never letting the kiddos see you sweat—lessons that forever have changed the way I’ll approach parenting on a family trip.

So when our flight from San Diego to Santa Rosa circled the Santa Rosa airport nine times to wait out bad weather, I dug deep into my (literal) bag of tricks and gave R a brand new sheet of Melissa & Doug reusable stickers. And when R decided (and threw a tantrum because) the on-board toilet was too high for her to use, I simply reassured her that if she couldn’t hold it in and she wet her pants, I had a change of clothes ready to go.

(ICYW, she held it, then fell asleep.)

Later, when the pilot announced we were running out of fuel and needed to divert to Portland, Oregon, I made up a story about how our plane had been hand-selected by Queen Esmerelda to come and visit her kingdom of Portland and how this was a great honor bestowed only on the luckiest of passengers.

After we deplaned, when R started losing her bananas in the rebooking line, I handed her blank paper and crayons, and asked her to draw the gate agent a special thank-you card—a card that not only got her an entire sheet of (really awesome) Alaska Airlines stickers in return, but also made the gate agent smile (something I didn’t see the agent do very much in the 45 minutes of yelling she received from other passengers on our flight.)

Upon learning that we’d have to wait four hours in Portland, I told R that Queen Esmerelda sent us a credit for the gift shop, and allowed her to pick out $20 worth of toys (she got a stuffed pony, among other things).

I improvised in other ways during the wait, too:

  • When we happened upon an empty gate, we played football with my hat.
  • At another empty gate, we pretended to be airplanes and ran around in circles for a good 20 minutes.
  • Thanks to a Facebook tip from a friend, we took the moving sidewalks down to an area with kids’ games and spent 45 minutes playing with those.

Oh, and when R had to use the bathroom (always a dicey proposition in our family when “magic-eye” automatic flushers are involved), I pretended to take a call from Queen Esmerelda, who “directed” us to a special family bathroom where R was able to get totally naked, spend quality time on the toilet, listen as I read her a few books on the Kindle, and do more than her fair share of business (if you know what I mean).

After the flight back to San Francisco (on which R watched “Peppa Pig” shows the entire time; at that point in the day, I was more than happy to relax my screen-time restrictions), I even tried my best to turn the ordeal of a one-way rental car into something fun: We pretended the AirTrain to the rental car facility was the Monorail at Walt Disney World Resort, and I let R select the car (she chose a “sparkly silver” one).

On the way home, before the kid passed out in the car, I asked her about her favorite parts of the trip. Her response: “Today was really fun, Daddy.”

To say this comment made me happy would be an understatement. (Actually, I started crying the moment she said it; thankfully it was dark.) It was clear that my kid didn’t consider the ordeal a pain in the ass because I never gave her a reason to do so. To R, it all was just another part of our trip; a wonderful perspective that taught me a ton about parenting, traveling, and, quite frankly, myself.

So often when we travel, our kids feed off of us. They take cues from us. They read our body language. If we wig out, they wig out. Which is precisely why we always need to stay cool and take everything in stride.

Sure, our day today was COMPLETELY exhausting. And, yes, the delay was wildly inconvenient (in more ways than one). I’m sure I’ll be feeling the effects of it all throughout the course of the week. Thankfully, however, my 3-year-old will not. In my book, given the circumstances we overcame, that is the sign of a family travel victory.

What have been some of your worst family travel experiences, and how did you cope?

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