by Margaret Cabaniss
This time next week, if all goes according to plan, I should be swinging in a hammock next to a lake, cold drink in one hand, pulpy summer reading material in the other. God bless vacation. This is a big one, too: My dad’s entire side of the family — 25 of us, including grandfather, kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids — will be spending a week together at an undisclosed location on Lake Gaston, right on the North Carolina-Virginia border. No theme parks, no night life, no internet — just good food, good books, and lots of bonding time on the water.
Of course, vacationing with family can sometimes get a little…stressful. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tiny bit apprehensive about the chaos involved in pulling off an operation this size — but I think we have a few things working in our favor:
1. We’ve been planning this for a while. A study a couple of years ago showed that a good chunk of the pleasure people derive from their vacations comes not from the trip itself, but from the anticipation of it. There’s definitely something to this: Instead of a whirlwind trip that will be over in the blink of an eye, I’ve been savoring the idea of this reunion since last Christmas, when we first started putting plans in motion. Having to hammer out the details with various family members has kept us all in closer touch lately than we otherwise might have been, which just helps extend the reunion vibe. And the kids have heard nothing but how much fun all the swimming, fishing, and canoeing will be, so I think they’re primed to have the time of their little lives — even if the trip itself will pass much too quickly.
2. We planned, period. I’m not a terribly spontaneous person. It’s ok, I’ve made my peace with it. I can’t handle being in large groups without any structure or direction (which is why I hate going to the mall); I’d much rather know the who-when-where in any given situation so I can slow down and actually enjoy it, rather than worrying about what needs to happen next. To make things run more smoothly on our vacation, we’ve already planned a lot of seemingly mundane details — sleeping arrangements, the meal plan, rotating shifts for kid-watching duty, and so on. It may seem a little Type A, but it takes the guesswork out of the things that have to get done, which leaves us free to relax and enjoy the things we want to get done.
3. …but everything else we’re leaving unscheduled. My family has never been the destination-vacation type; our idea of a good time is a stack of books and unlimited hours on the water. And because there’s not much else to do where we’re going, there’s no real danger of overscheduling ourselves. As much as I hate having no plan, trying to plan every tiny detail and cram the day full of scheduled activities can sap the fun out of a vacation just as quickly. Outside of the details we needed to nail down to make the week run smoothly, we’re leaving everyone up to his or her own devices, so that those who want to fish and paddle and swim all day can do so — and those who want to nap in the hammock can do that, too. (Ahem.)
What about you? What do you do to help make your vacations run smoothly and slowly?
Images: Margaret Cabaniss