Monday Listicle: Are You on Vacation? Or a Family Trip?

I just figured out that “listicle” = list+article.  Pretty slow on the uptake, hmm?  Stasha’s listicle topic today is, appropriately, 10 things that make a perfect vacation, a topic chosen by Hope at Staying Afloat.

I have a lot to say about vacations, but first a key clarification: “vacation” is something you do that probably doesn’t involve family members other than, perhaps, a partner-ish type person.  When you travel with family members, you’re on a “family trip.”

Once you have these two paradigms firmly established, you will no longer experience the shattering of expectations when you arrive at your scenic locale, kids and spouse in tow, only to find that you’re staying in a rental apartment that doesn’t even come stocked with salt and pepper, your kids are hungry, and everyone is wondering what you’re going to cook for supper.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had some amazing family trips since we left New York, almost exactly three months ago, but I wouldn’t say we’ve been on vacation, exactly.

With our recent trip to India in mind, let’s review the family trip/vacation concept, shall we?  For my purposes, “family trip” includes two boys under the age of 11. Your “family trip” might include an in-law whose very presence is the human equivalent of nails on chalkboard, or a sibling who wants only to scope out chicks, or an irritable poodle who needs to be walked at inopportune moments.

1. Vacation involves a large bed, preferably with those fancy tempur-pedic mattresses.  You sleep on zillion-thread-count sheets and there is room to spread out. You may even be in this bed alone, without your partner, because, perhaps, your idea of a perfect vacation means traveling alone.  In either case, a vacation becomes a family trip when the four of you stay in one hotel room, with one big king-size bed and one cot. Three in the big bed, one in the small bed.

2. A vacation means traveling on the Maharajah express, where the sleeper compartments look like this:

or like this:

A family vacation means traveling in a sleeper compartment that looks like this:

3. A vacation means eating delicious, locally appropriate food, prepared exactly as you like it and served whenever you’re hungry.  A family trip means searching for pizza in the middle of Delhi. (Ironically, of course, the best brick-oven pizza we’ve eaten since we left New York we found in Amici’s, in Delhi’s Khan Market. Gotta love that global kitchen. Nevertheless, there we were, in the heart of Delhi, eating pizza. Furthermore, we went there twice).

4. A vacation means sleeping when you want to, where you want to. A vacation–especially if you’re a parent–means rediscovering the kinds of sleep you used to have when you were single, or dating, or had just started shtupping your latest shtupping partner. Remember naps? Remember waking up too early in the morning and going back to sleep? Remember having sex in the middle of the day and then dozing off afterward? Yeah. That is a vacation.  A family trip is…the absence of all these things, including sex (see entry #1, above).

5. A vacation means no set itinerary, no list of “to do,” no need to plan anything. A vacation is a long aimless stroll through a new neighborhood, or leisurely contemplation of the work in a museum, or sitting somewhere lovely and catching up on back issues of The New Yorker (or junkier pleasures, like Vanity Fair). A family trip is “I’m tiiiiirrrreed….”  “this is boooorrrrring….”  “this fort looks just like the ooooother foooort….”  “I wanna see a tiiiiiggggggeerrrrr…”  “I’m thirsty/hungry/angry/tired/thirsty/hungry/bored…” Aimlessness leads to whining.

6. A vacation means doing things you might not do in your regularly scheduled life and enjoying the break from routine. A family trip means that some semblance of routine remains in place: children need to be fed and watered regularly, they need to be reminded to brush their teeth, they need to be tucked into bed, they need to be separated from one another lest they kill each other. Same shit, different country.

7. A vacation means unplugging from the world, losing yourself in the timelessness of no work, no deadlines, no phone-calls, no meetings.  A family vacation (in our tech-addicted group) means “where’s the ipad? where’s my DS? why does he get the ipad? where’s my DS? it’s my turn for the ipad! where’s my DS?” …  (in their defense, the boys were reading on the ipad and not playing plants versus zombies. I have no defense for the DS, which turned out to be buried in my suitcase. I have no idea how it got there, I swear).

8. A vacation means a time to reflect and reconnect, with yourself or with people you love….Hmm.

Wait a minute. I think that we may, actually, have done a little bit of that on our family trip. It was the first time we’d been away from Abu Dhabi together since we arrived here, almost exactly three months ago, and our nine days of constant togetherness (and I do mean constant. Review #1) actually brought us together, once we got past the bickering about whose turn it was to use the ipad. Even the youngest of us knew we were somewhere amazing, and our wealth of experiences gave us all something to talk about, marvel about (and, yes, okay, complain about).  And being away made us think about Abu Dhabi as the home we were coming back to.  On the night we left Delhi, I asked the boys if they felt like Abu Dhabi was “home,” and Liam nodded and went back to the concluding pages of The Hunger Games. Caleb said “yes because home is just where the love is.”

So there you have it. We had a family trip. It was amazing but definitely not a vacation. Husband and I, as the grand finale for his 50 29th birthday celebration, are thinking about a trip to the Maldives. The boys are probably going to have to come with us because we don’t have anyone here we can inflict them on to take care of them for a long weekend. That said, however, we’re definitely going to stay somewhere that has a “kid’s club.” That way it can be a family trip in which everyone gets a vacation.


Wow! Cookie’s Chronicles linked this post with her “Best of the Blogosphere” for November. I’m so flattered to be included with the other writers on this list. Thanks!

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16 Responses to Monday Listicle: Are You on Vacation? Or a Family Trip?

  1. Jessica@Team Rasler November 14, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    I love your distinction between vacation and family trip. Since becoming parents, we’ve only had the latter and are desperately in need of the former! Also, the sleeping compartment photo comparison was brilliant.

    • Deborah Quinn November 15, 2011 at 9:42 pm #

      I have nightmares about that sleeping compartment – it was clean enough and all that, but the thing is, on Indian trains there are no announcements. So you’re whipping through the countryside in the middle of the night and there’s no way to know where/when your stop is coming up. Basically I just stayed awake to try and figure out where we were supposed to get off the train…NOT a vacation!!

  2. Stasha November 14, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    I am smiling because reading number one I assumed Husband spend vacation in the cot and reading through the list I believe I was right.
    Family trips can be just as memorable as traveling alone if not more, but they are not vacations. That is why I am dreaming of visiting places on my list when my son starts growing facial hair and leaving husband behind 🙂
    Great list Deborah!

  3. Jackie November 14, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    What a fabulous list Deborah.
    I feel like at the end of a family trip, a parent needs a vacation, often a solo vacation.
    Loved the photos too!

  4. Runnermom-jen November 14, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    I love your son’s quote about “home is where the love is”…so sweet. And I agree about the family trip vs. vacation 😉

  5. Ado November 14, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    Yes I agree w. Jackie, what a fabulous list Deborah.
    The Majarajah express. Oh. My. God. JEALOUS!!!
    Loved this list – esp. the one about catching up on sleep. When will I ever have that vacation?!

    • Deborah Quinn November 15, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

      The Maharajah Express and the South African Blue Train look like the same sorts of journey…and probably wasted on children? One of the things we’ve (sadly) realized is that a lot of the great traveling we did when our kids were young…they don’t remember! sigh.

  6. Cookie's Mom November 14, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    You know, when I started to write my list, I think I was imaging myself alone on the beach with a cocktail and a book. Then I decided to fold in my husband, because, well… you know. And then I decided that I might like to share some of our vacation with my son, because I adore him and so on. And I kind of thought I might be able to do one of those kids clubs things for part of it. After reading your list, and remembering that I’m not fond of being on a schedule while on ‘vacation’ – I’m thinking of inviting a fourth person to deal with all of that – perhaps the ma-in-law. There will be separate suites, naturally!

    • Deborah Quinn November 15, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

      GENIUS. I’m thinking we’re going to try one of those “kid club” arrangements next time and see how that works…dump the kids somewhere in the AM and then go back to bed…after ordering room service. Bliss bliss bliss!

  7. Greta @gfunkified November 15, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    You make some very good points here! Although, I’m not sure if we’ll get to experience a real “vacation” (and not just a “family trip”) for a long, looooong time. I’ll take what I can get, though!

    • Deborah Quinn November 15, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

      I’ve gotten to the point where I call it a “vacation” if my husband takes the kids to a movie for a few hours. Pathetic, but true. On the other hand, it can also be a vacation if you can just get away for an overnight…just 24 sweet hours without someone asking you to help them on the toilet (I speak, sadily, from experience here)…

  8. jacqui November 15, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    I was definitely leaning toward ‘vacation’ instead of ‘family vacation’ while reading your list. Until the part where your son said, ‘home is just where the love is’. Now, I’m all confused.

    • Deborah Quinn November 15, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

      well, okay, I confess that both are good (family trip & vacation) … but if YOU go on vacation, you’ll then have a lot more energy for a subsequent family trip! Plus everyone you leave behind will be incredibly grateful when you return…for at least an hour or two.

  9. Kate F. (@katefineske) November 15, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    So true. There is a BIG difference between a “family trip” and a “vacation.” A BIG difference 🙂

    May I suggest if you must bring the kids, a Disney Cruise??? We took one this past summer and I have to say, it is as close as I have come to a “vacation” with kids. Time for everyone! And everyone has a ball. Just an amazing trip!

  10. Jamie November 16, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    100% agree with the distinction here with family and vacay. If I’m in charge on anyone or anything, it’s not a vaca!


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