Vacation vs. Family Trip

Exhausted and with 4 hours left on a plane ride during our journey home after our visit to Mexico, my husband pointed out how our “trip” had turned out to be more like a stumble than a journey. We laughed at the ambivalence of the word trip as we thought about the major unplanned things that turned our respite into a few days of extra intense work.

We looked at each other with a little irony. Vacations are no longer what we have when we go places with our children. They are not restful, peaceful or otherwise free of stress. Having a six, four and one-year-old turn every little journey into a big production. We still carry a diaper bag full of snacks, diapers, wipes, a thermometer and some basic OTC meds (because you never know when someone isn’t going to feel well or need a band aid); as well as a stroller or some kind of carrier. We resemble more a camping crew than that quintessential photo of a couple laying on a chaise long at the beach sipping piña coladas while their kids play safely at the beach shore that airplane magazines often use to sell you the idea of going somewhere with your family to rest and relax.

Now, I’m not saying that traveling with my family is not fun. Not at all, anyone who knows me can tell you that I love going places with my cubs and giving them different experiences. What I am saying is that, although we have fun, it is stressful and not very restful for the parents.

Take our most recent trip. We landed in Guadalajara, Mexico on a Thursday evening at 11 pm to drive the next day to a state close by to visit extended family. After spending two evenings hanging out with our kin, we returned to Guadalajara for a few activity-packed days and then drove four hours to get to the beach. We were very much looking forward to this beach trip as we had planned it with some very close friends for a few months already.

They had bought lots of food and “recreational refreshments” for after the kids were in bed, we had also brought quite a bit of supplies. Twenty minutes before we were supposed to reach our destination, I received a phone call from my brother (a Hematologist), to whom I had sent some photos of a rash that my toddler had developed over night -it wasn’t unusual for her to have a rash but I wanted to make sure that I didn’t need to take extra precautions because we were headed to the beach. He announced his suspicion of chicken pox. How the heck did my toddler contract chicken pox? And then I remember my cousin’s son having a fever at a family gathering during our first weekend in Mexico and someone mentioning that his classmate had the disease.

I called my mom to confirm my suspicions. She had already talked to my aunt and told me that indeed, my toddler’s playmate had chicken pox and that the rash had started the day after the party. Still in disbelief and upon arrival to the house we had rented for our fabulous escaped, I informed my friend who was riding with her family (including a toddler) in a different car. We decided to take my sick child to the hospital for a final verdict and to look for a hotel for my family to stay at, so that we wouldn’t expose her little girl.

They said it was a mild and non typical case of the virus since the child has barely had a fever and, other than the rash in her extremities, was formidable. We could stay at the beach if we wanted to, but they advised against the sun and going in the pool and ocean. Great! How could I keep a toddler from wanting to do whatever her siblings were going to do at the beach?

But we were already there, our oldest daughter was turning six that very day and we had our minds made up to have a beach “vacation”. We found a place to sleep and booked it for two nights. I was still not buying the whole chicken pox infection so I sent the photos to my sister-in-law who is also a doctor, who in turn sent them to a couple of pediatric dermatologists friends of her. Their advise: to wait 48 hours from the time the rash first appeared to know for sure, but they were not so sure it was chicken pox. In the mean time, our friends and us between disappointed and mad at the world, kept weighing whether it was worth the risk of getting the families together.

At the end we decided to give it another day before sending more photos to our team of doctors, which by now had grown to six. By our second day at the beach the conclusion reached by all was the same: chicken pox. My husband and I took turns taking our older two to the beach and pool while the other stayed at the room watching cartoons, or took the sick toddler to the shaded swing sets or to play underneath the shade of a palm tree (don’t worry, because of the time a year, we were the only family at the hotel with children and there were only a handful of guests around).

We were determined to make the best of our situation so we also drove to a nearby artsy beach town and time even allowed for me to escape with my girlfriend to have dinner one of the evenings. We had to cut our four day “vacation” short because it was impossible to keep the toddler happy inside and away from her siblings. A cloud of disappointment followed us back to Guadalajara but, oh well, we had visited the beach and spent some time under the sun and that was not too shabby considering the snow back home.

We finished our time away from home hanging out with fewer friends than we had planned as the chicken pox prevented us from getting together with some families but we had a very nice last days. Then, on the day we were supposed to return to the U.S., we got up at 4 am to make our early flight. Got through all the stress that taking three young children through airport screening implies, made it to our gate just in time, when we spotted on the screen the worst words that one can see next to their flight number: CANCELLED.

This has to be a joke -I thought. But it wasn’t, a snow storm had cancelled all the flights into Chicago. After being in a line to figure what our options were for two hours (my husband actually in the line while I entertained the kids with books, granola bars and chicken nuggets), they told us that they had no availability until eight days later. How could that be possible!? But it was, and we needed to collect our luggage too.

We were stressed out and pretty irritated but we needed to keep things light for the kids and figure a way to get back home. Luckily, our phones had Internet access so while we were in line, my husband looked for flights to alternative cities and I looked at the coverage of our travel insurance. We were going to have to incur some expenses, but the insurance would help out, and we had just enough time for my husband to purchase the new tickets while I ran to get our luggage from the other side of the airport.

The line to get the luggage was huge and we had to get on our plane in less than an hour. I did what any desperate person would do: Excuse me everyone, I know your flight also got cancelled but as it turns out, my family and I were able to get in a new flight that leaves in an hour, would you PLEASE let me cut through the line? I must have been pretty convincing because not one single person complained. They let me through and we rushed through security and the airport to make our flight to Mexico City and from there to Detroit -where the snowstorm was headed.

After an unplanned hotel stay in Detroit, we made it home, exhausted but in one piece. After having a whole day to get back into our routine, my husband and I were talking about all the unplanned “excitement” of our travel and we came to the conclusion that for now, and as long as we have young children who completely depend on us, our journeys will be more trips than anything that remotely resembles a vacation. We will happily continue to take our children different places but we will always make sure to have travel insurance! It has been so useful in so many different occasions.



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