My last three posts were about a “perfect vacation” that Steve and I took this year with our grandson, Hudson (Planning the Perfect Vacation, Plan and Be Flexible, Structure and Serendipity). In this post, I want to tie together all the factors that I think made it so ‘perfect’ and suggest some ideas for creating similar experiences for your own family. You should be able to take away some of these ideas regardless of your budget and the ages of the children in your life.
Factors of a Perfect Vacation
First of all, I want to suggest that a “vacation” should refresh and rejuvenate, not drain and deplete. That said, a vacation does not have to mean an extended time away to far-off places. It might be a one-day event close to home. When children are very young, it is not particularly relaxing and rejuvenating to go on a trip that requires a lot of walking and climbing. Nevertheless, you can implement the same principles that made our trip so memorable. In doing so, you will lay the foundation for future lengthier trips.
Relationship is the basis for a perfect vacation. That is, it is about building relationship as much as it is about seeing places and doing things. Sure, we went to awesome places and saw beautiful sights on our Redwood trip, but it was birthed out of a desire to build a deeper relationship with Hudson. We already had a good relationship with him, but I wanted him to enter manhood with at least one significant memory shared between just the three of us. This trip was about him (and we reaped the benefits, too).
We planned our perfect vacation for about a year! The idea was birthed by a simple statement that Hudson made in passing, and then we talked about it, researched it, committed to it, and started making purchases long before the actual event.
I am certain this is one of the major reasons our vacation was ‘perfect.’ It wasn’t just about going somewhere; it was about setting a long-term goal and reaching it. This factor reminds me of the Proverb, “A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul.” We “longed,” it was fulfilled, and it was oh-so-sweet!
A fringe benefit of extended planning and dreaming is the ability to spread the costs out over a longer period of time. The race registrations, some of the hotel rooms, and the plane tickets were paid for months prior to our departure. In addition to that, we were able to save back some money for the costs (food and lodging) that we could not pay for in advance.
I’m not saying our vacation was “cheap,” but it cost much less than other trips I have taken that were far less fulfilling! It certainly didn’t hurt that Steve was able to ‘purchase’ a couple of our plane tickets with his frequent flier miles.
Also—and this is addressed further under the next heading—there was NO money spent on trinkets, souvenirs, amusement parks or the like. We spent a total of $12 on any such thing: $5 for entrance into the Drive-thru Tree park and $7 for entrance into Patrick’s Point. Other than the race registrations and these two nominal expenses, our entertainment was free.
This is where my opinion may separate me from others, but hear me out. I think the beauty of this vacation was in doing. We didn’t just look at the Redwoods and the beautiful beaches, we got out of the car and hiked, ran, climbed, explored, etc. We experienced the Redwoods (and the boulders and the ocean and the views).
When my kids were little, our work provided opportunity to see lots of beautiful places—Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, etc. We were usually on a strict time schedule, as we had deadlines to meet, but we saw lots of sights along the way. We also visited Disneyland and other amusement parks in our travels.
If you ask my children about their fondest memory from all those years of travel, they will tell you about a couple of little-known places where they got to “engage with the environment.” One of those places is some lone gas station/restaurant set up on a lonely stretch of I-40 somewhere in Arizona. We were traveling by motorcycle, and we stopped to gas up and let the kids get out of the sidecars and run off some steam. This gas station was situated against a mountain of Arizona red boulders and evoked memories of “cowboy and Indian” movies. I believe there was even a teepee on the premises to stoke that line of thinking.
The kids asked if they could climb on the rocks. Like I said, the purpose was to let them run off some steam, so we gave our blessing and they climbed around on the rocks for about 30 minutes. That’s it; 30 minutes. And yet, they will tell you that that is one of their best memories from all our years of travel.
In reflection, I have decided that that is actually the norm, rather than the exception. There is simply more fulfillment in “experiencing by doing” than in being a spectator. Which brings me to my next factor.
Nature (God’s Handiwork)
This subject has become a new “hobbyhorse” of mine. The effects of nature are powerful. One of my regrets is that I did not discover this power sooner. It has only been the past few years that I have come to realize (consciously) what a calming, joyful effect getting outdoors has on me. I don’t know how I missed it for so long (because I have spent a good part of my life outdoors).
Actually, on second thought, I think I do know. As an adult, I was usually “on a mission” when I was outside, so my mind was on accomplishing the task at hand, and I overlooked the opportunity to also experience the moment and enjoy all the sights, sounds, smells that nature has to offer. Now, I have become quite the observer when I am outdoors. I hear the distinct bird songs, I notice the types of clouds in the sky, I admire the wildflowers growing beside the road, I appreciate the breeze blowing through my hair.
In a recent Smatterings post, I referenced an online article that gives scientific weight to the physical and emotional benefits of nature. Among other things, getting outdoors de-stresses, lowers blood pressure, has strong positive effects on mood, alleviates depression, improves cognitive abilities, etc. These are just the immediate effects. There appear to be longer-term effects, too, for those who experience nature on a regular basis, such as a converse link between ADHD, high blood pressure, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, etc.
I know there are other fun things to do on a vacation besides experiencing God’s handiwork, but I’m simply giving testimony to what I think made our vacation perfect. And to what will edify your body, soul and spirit. And to what is very cost-efficient. Enough said.
Creating Your Own Perfect Vacation
Start at home.
You don’t have to travel far and wide to enjoy God’s handiwork and to experience it in an active way. Take advantage of local parks and walking/biking trails, state and national parks and farms near you. Hike, swim, climb, explore. Run, walk, fish, bird-watch. Bike, geocache, pick fruit or veggies at a local “pick-your-own” farm. There’s numerous ways to interact with God’s creation.
Plan in Advance.
For those longer-term, more expensive endeavors, plan a year or so in advance. Make the scheduling, planning and research part of the fun. Pay for as much as possible in advance in order to spread the expenses out over a period of time. Keep a shared document “in the cloud” (a Google Doc or an Evernote note, for example) that all the participants can contribute to when they have information to add. Or maybe just to keep a “Here’s what I’m looking forward to” shared journal, in which you can all dream together.
Plan Years in Advance.
You might want to copy our idea for a special trip with each child or grandchild at a certain significant time in their lives (after they graduate high school, before they graduate high school, when they turn 16, etc.). Just knowing that such a special event is out there in the future adds a little spice to life (theirs and yours). All my grands know their time is coming. And even the smaller ones are already putting in their requests (It’s the Little Ones That Make Life Special).
Document the Journey
Whatever you do, take lots of pictures and keep a journal. You don’t want to plan the perfect vacation and then not have anything to show for it! (Read The Big Picture.)
One thing that I can say about our vacation: we did not return home exhausted. So often I hear people say that they need another vacation just to rest up from the one they just returned from. That was not our case. We did have work that had accumulated while we were gone, but we had energy to deal with it. Why? We drew energy from relationship-building, from the spiritual connection with God through His handiwork, and because we were active rather than lethargic during our time away. Also, there was no stress or emotional drain due to overspending. All in all, we were refreshed from our time away, but happy to get back home, too. It was truly the perfect vacation! I wish the same for you.
Do you have any “factors” to add to my list? I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment.