Planning for family vacation is more than half the battle

July 19, 1997|By Jo Ellen Barnhart

"Let's make this summer adventurous. Let's go camping."

That's what we working poor say when the vacation funds are limited.

Actually, our three-day camping excursion has been in the planning for months. For Christmas, Santa brought us a camping stove. Sleeping bags appeared for Mother's Day. A tent and flashlights came on Father's Day. Each holiday over the past year revealed a new piece of camping gear.

My husband came home from work one day last spring with a new TV/VCR combo unit for the minivan. "Look, honey, now the kids can watch videos when we are traveling to our campground," he said.

"But the campground is only 8 miles away," I replied.

Deciding when to go on vacation is a measure of planning skills - do we go after T-ball season and before soccer? Finding time between swim lessons, summer school, my husband's strategic planning session at work and my four part-time jobs is no easy task.


If we leave in the middle of the night, under the cover of darkness, maybe no one will discover we're missing. But, more importantly, maybe the children will sleep and we may reach our destination without watching "Barney" on my husband's new portable TV/VCR (How's that for optimism?)

I think I speak for most families when I say that narrowing down three to five consecutive days (there's no hope beyond five days) with white space on the calendar is harder than it was to find a show on television that didn't have a clip of Mike Tyson ordering a take-out portion of Evander Holyfield's ear earlier this month.

The packing ritual

We soon discover a quiet escape is impossible because the next stop involves neighbors, family, friends and strangers helping us pack the minivan. There's a ritual to packing for our vacation. I decide what goes with us and my husband decides how to pack it. Since we have a baby in our family, all porta-stuff goes with us. We need the porta-crib, porta-highchair, porta-walker, porta-potty, etc. The older boys need everything from bikes to Batman.

Neighbors, family, friends and strangers stop or pass by offering minivan packing tips and looks of sincere and utter amazement. (We, of course, interpret the gestures and stares as signs of jealousy.)

The day and night before vacation, everyone wears the same thing, because I've washed, dried, folded, fluffed, stuffed, crammed and jammed all the clothes that two adults and three children could need for a six-month stay in four different climate zones. In the meantime, my 5-year-old won't go to bed without his favorite train shirt - buried, at least until month three of vacation.

Departure time finally arrives. Everyone and everything is in place. We exit our driveway for our adventurous camping vacation! With the kids, the dog and all the gear, the driver of this one-car moving company has just enough room to see traffic in the rear-view mirror, if it happens to be just 1/4-inch wide.

Yes, we are on the road. One block from the house, the baby lets out a scream. We turn the vehicle around and head home to retrieve a forgotten critical piece of equipment - his pacifier.

I reach over and turn on the TV/VCR.

Jo Ellen Barnhart is the working mother of three boys. She is a freelance writer and owner of a home-based marketing and public relations business.

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