Lessons From A Disappointing Family Vacation

We're still kinda new to this whole vacationing with kids thing. Traveling with a sub 2 year old was a (comparative) breeze. Obviously not needing the third plane ticket or generally a third meal at the restaurant are financial bonuses but they're also still figuring so much out that, at least in our case, the only things that really got in the way were nap-time, bed-time and our stamina for carrying her around. A 3.5 year old on the other hand is more skilled at asserting themselves and it seems like removing the structure and routine of home life gives them an opening to see what other boundaries that have been established in one place can be shifted in another. 

I think Instagram and Facebook have enabled us to overshare the perfect moments of our lives and miss out on connecting with friends about the bad stuff. The problem with that being, the bad stuff is where lessons are learned. How many times have you gotten back from a trip or outing where you posted a few pictures of full smiles in great lighting where everyone comes up and says "wow, it looks like you guys had a really great time?" And you don't want to appear ungrateful, or bum them out, or you're just in line at a coffee shop so you just agree and move on. 

I think it is important that we learn to use these tools for connecting without letting them tell the entire story. Think of the last time you were in the situation of someone commenting on an Instagram post and how different the conversation might have been if they were just asking about the trip with no preconceived notions of how it went. Not even necessarily where something was worse than depicted. 

The truth is we all have bad trips. We not only need support from friends to tell us we aren't bad parents because a trip went badly, but we are in turn supporting them. Only seeing the perfect moments of everyone's lives makes the imperfect moments of our own feel like failures. 

Tulum has been our only vacation spot for the past 6 years. We were really excited to show Emma around this place we'd come to love so much. We've seen several friends take their kids there (or other similar spots) and seem to have a great time. But, to be honest, the trip kind of sucked. It seemed like it shouldn't have. We know the place. We love the place. Our hotel double booked our room and gave us this pretty insane entire house. But sometimes the weather is disagreeable and some freak sea grass thing makes the water brown and smelly and attracts thousands of little flying bugs which align perfectly with your kid's newfound fear of flying insects and, well.... 

Here are some things I learned from a disappointing family vacation.

1. I won't remember it as being all that bad. Things that happen that seem awful in the moment of a bad vacation end up being some of your best vacation stories in the future. One time I strapped three surfboards to a soft rack on top of a minivan and we had to pull over every 45 minutes to adjust them all the way to North Carolina. I am pretty sure it's endearing when it's told now but no one else in the van was very pleased with me for the entire 15 hours of the 11 hour drive. Emma saying "that's the restaurant I freaked out at" every time we drove by a place I had to ask for boxes and a check while Niki took her outside, or finding shade to park in while she napped in the back of the car because she wouldn't sleep at the house will be funny stories. Together with the good moments of the trip and the lessons learned, we'll look back on it fondly.

2. It's all about expectations/ when you relax they relax. I think we both had such high hopes for what this trip was going to be. I go into trips knowing what I want to see, where I want to eat and what I want to do. She did pretty well eating at the house and hanging out on the back porch area but this is a trip we've taken so many times and there was so much we wanted to show her that we tried to force outings when we knew she was still on edge from the last thing. 

Some of our best trips with Emma have been family oblications (<-- still my favorite term coined by our old manager Brittany) where we really had no expectations either way. We didn't go into them expecting every meal to be perfect and the hotel to be super cool. All of the great experiences of those trips were awesome surprises and nothing stands out as being disappointing. I am not saying go to places you don't want to and then be happy if they don't suck. But try and apply that philosophy to great places. 

3. Let the kid guide the agenda/ be open to new experiences. I am not saying let them make the agenda, but be willing to listen to their needs. We took a 3 year old to who is used to being comfortable all the time to a hot and humid place with no ac where meals last two hours and then got frustrated when she wanted to leave the restaurant early. Let's be honest the same sort of emotions are happening on either side of the negotiating table here, as adults we are just (usually) better at controlling them. Her frustration at still being at a table in a hot restaurant in the jungle with no building matches our frustration that she is asking to leave when our meal has not yet arrived. 

One of my favorite restaurants in Tulum (Posada Margherita) has an incredible pizzeria we got carryout from the last night because we were too exhausted to do a restaurant meal. We went to the Kaan Loom Lagoon because the beach was gross. It was calm, clear and a beautiful shade of green I didn't even know water could be. Emma had such a great time we went back the next day. So through the frustration she allowed us to experience new things in a place we knew so well that wouldn't have otherwise. 

 4. Situational parenting.  I let a lot of things slide I wouldn't have at home. It's okay if you approach this differently, but for me there are times I put my foot down and times I let the environment guide me a bit. I understand that consistency is important to setting boundaries but I can also appreciate that if I am in a restaurant full of other people on vacation, we have the only kid in the place and that kid is screaming about a fly it isn't fair to the other patrons to let that kid keep screaming for an hour to learn the lesson that it won't get them extracted from the situation. 

5. Find kid stuff. I think we underestimated needing to find kid stuff for her to do ahead of time. I mean we were going to the beach so we were just going to be at the beach. But when we got there and the beach was inaccessible we didn't really have a fallback plan. There was one restaurant with a little play area we found the last night, but due to the overbooking/sweet house thing we weren't in a hotel so we didn't have a pool and there really just wasn't much for her to do. We took a few toys and things with us but we definitely under packed in that department so we would have room for things like the cool pop up beach tent we would be hanging out in for hours while she took a sweet nap by the water. 

6. Appreciate the good stuff and try again. Even with the disappointing aspects of the trip we're able to introduce our kid to new experiences and put ourselves in a position to learn as parents that not everyone is able to and there is tremendous value in that I don't want to lose sight of. I think that is honestly the case in almost any trip or experience with your child. If you are able to learn from a negative experience and become more connected or learn to understand each other better then it was worth having. 

I am sure we'll do a handful of "kid trips" during Emma's childhood but I am looking forward to continuing to do the things we want to do as well. We will learn as a family how to ensure everyone's needs are being met and maybe even relax a bit. It is supposed to be vacation after all.





Josh Quinn is the co-founder of Tigertree, Cub Shrub and a girl named Emma. When he isn't busy with store or parenting tasks you can find him in over his head at a house construction or vintage vehicle restoration project. 

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