Suitcases are packed in tight, distractible iPad games are loaded, and snacks are stowed away within reach. The littles are bouncing in their car seats, antsy to get on the road and you’re ready for a change of scenery. Finally, you’re ready to take that super important, long-awaited family vacation with some serious quality family time.
But then, you turn around from the passenger seat, hoping to keep their energy levels up and ask, “Are you guys ready to go on vacation?!” And you’re met with a face of confusion before you hear, “No Mommy, we’re ready to go to Grandma’s house!” Sometimes military kids don’t even know what a vacation is!
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You know you NEED a vacation when your kids don’t even know what one is. Military families who live in a world apart from their extended families struggle with the definition of vacation because the default setting for any time off is spent traveling “home.” And this is not a bad thing. Instead, let these words be a reminder to these families about what vacation actually means, and to those who are on the other end of the struggle, let these words help you understand if your loved ones don’t come home for that next holiday.
Trip or Vacation?
First, there needs to be a clear discernment between ‘trip’ and ‘vacation’ because they are not interchangeable.
A trip can be described as visiting family and friends, which often involves a long drive or airplane ride (and with littles, both of these are taxing in itself) to a place the family has most likely been before. This trip is full of activity with reunions, fellowship, and making up for lost time. These trips certainly can fill up a military family’s love tank with all the attention and special treatment, but it can also fill up the entire vacation time you and your spouse have off from work. And as loving as the time will be, it will certainly soak up all the energy you have so that by the time your family returns home, you feel like you need a vacation.
On the other hand, vacation means a break from the busyness of your life and a change of scenery. It means the kids get to explore a place that allows them to acquire new experiences, free their imaginations, and not be hemmed in by schedules set by anyone else. It allows your family to set new traditions, relax in each other’s company, and spend quality family time together as one unit.
Trips to visit family can revolve around choosing which family members get more time. Vacation revolves around choosing a burger joint by the quality of their milkshakes.
Making the Choice
As you and your family begin to evaluate how to spend the upcoming, treasured time off, consider both sides of the equation. Depending on what season you are in, one will be much more welcomed than the other.
For example, if your family has just been through a PCS, a vacation might be a lot more helpful and rejuvenating than a trip back to your hometown. Sometimes a visit to the beautifully decorated homes of friends and family makes you more anxious about the boxes of unpacked dishes, curtains that have to be hung, and furniture that doesn’t fit anywhere well.
But if you are a spouse enduring a deployment, or you simply haven’t been able to make it home for Christmas in three years, some family time might be a huge morale booster for you and outweigh any of the potential struggles that come with the trip.
Focus on Quality Family Time
Now there is a way to bridge the gap between both worlds: go on a vacation with the entire family. A win-win for everyone, the military family gets to spend their limited time off doing something new, and they get to see the friends or family they miss. Making a trip altogether will provide sweet memories that last and help fill the space on those years when vacation wins over a family visit.
In the end, the most important thing is that you don’t forget what time off is for: quality family time. The military lifestyle is often a ride on the struggle bus and to make it to the destination, there will need to be a few restful stops in-between. Sometimes, a family needs a pit stop with their loved ones who live too far away, and other times, they need to find a rest stop all to themselves where they can simply be with each other.
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Check out 3 Ways to Take a Kid-Free Vacation
Photo credits: Renee Dolan Photography