Slowing the roll on a family trip

If you’ve ever seen any of the National Lampoon’s “Vacation” movies, you know that Clark Griswold’s travel style is nothing short of insane.

Go here, do this, go there, do that. Go, go, go. Go until you can’t go any more.

If Clark had his druthers, he’d run poor Ellen and Rusty and Audrey into the ground. And while this Type A travel persona makes for great character development in a movie script, it’s kind of annoying in real life.

I know this because I’m a Clark Griswold, dear readers. My default travel speed is GO. When I travel, I start the day at 70 mph and generally operate on cruise control at that speed until I pass out. (True story: In college, I was such a Clark Griswold that my friends made the name into a verb and would accuse me of “Clarking” them when I called the shots.)

If I’m traveling alone, this approach isn’t a problem—the only person impacted is moi. But when I’m traveling with the girls…well, let’s just say they’re not big fans of Clarking or being Clarked.

I was reminded of this our recent end-of-2021 getaway to Pismo Beach.

The four of us shared a room with two queen beds. We stayed at the Vespera Resort on Pismo Beach. The place was mere steps from the beach and pier. And we ended up doing a whole lot of absolutely nothing.

This vibe wasn’t my first choice. Upon our arrival, I had loosely put together an itinerary for the three days we’d be on the ground. It comprised visiting friends in San Luis Obispo, beach-hopping, checking out the Monarch Butterfly Grove, and more. I shared it with the girls our first night. Their reaction: No fucking way, dude.

I could have fought them. The last time we engaged in family travel, back when I had the backup of a spouse, I might have taken a harder line approach.

Now, however, as a (divorced and) single parent of three girls, I recognized my only option was to flex.

So, I did. And I took my itinerary. And I threw it out the proverbial window in the name of going with the flow.

Instead of jam-packing our days schlepping all over California’s Central Coast, we slept in, took long walks on the beach to look for clam shells, brought take-out back to the room to eat picnic-style on the carpet floor, and lounged while playing video games.

Admittedly, I was bored. But those girls—ages 12, 10, and 6, for review—had the times of their lives.

I’m not just guessing on that one, people; on the drive home, the three of them told me how much they enjoyed the trip. They thanked me for not doing my “usual packing-the-schedule thing” and instead that I give them space for enjoying our vacation on their terms. I was blown away by their gratitude. I also appreciated the opportunity to learn from past mistakes.

This is a lesson that will linger, for sure. As much as my tendency is to Clark, sometimes the easiest way to pave the road for a fun vacation in our new reality is to jump outside of a comfort zone and follow the leads of these kids. The same approach can work for you. Try it sometime. 

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