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Cherishing The Memory of Bad Vacations

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A couple of weeks ago, I convinced my family to drive to the White Mountains and hike up to Lonesome Lake hut on the Appalachian Mountain Club trail. Our plan was to sleep at the hut and do some day hikes, maybe see a moose and the last of the autumn foliage.

"Won't you be cold?" my mother asked.

"It'll be great," I assured her. "How cold can it get in October?"

Pretty cold, as it turns out. We hiked through freezing rain, hail, and even snow at the highest elevation. We couldn't see more than a hundred feet in front of us at times because we were literally hiking through clouds. The trails were slippery and treacherous, too--wherever there wasn't mud, we were skidding on icy rocks.

It was definitely one of those trips that will go down in our family's Vacation Hall of Fame.

We've had a lot of those vacations. There was that foolish train trip to Florida, for instance, where our kids proved to be too young to contentedly look out the window; their idea of fun was playing tag in the aisles. We had another trip to Florida where two kids got strep throat and a third came down with a stomach bug; every time he vomited, he announced, "I tossed my cookies again!" causing the other kids to want a share of those treats.

Then there was our ill-fated spring break in Washington, D.C. Determined to show our children the wonders of the cherry trees in bloom and the Smithsonian, we arrived and realized we'd forgotten a stroller for the baby. We managed to buy one, but that mistake cost an entire day. The cherry trees weren't in bloom because winter had lingered, which also meant that the hotel pool was frozen over and out of commission.

Oh, and let's not forget that trip to jolly England, where we rented a restored mill house in the countryside and it rained every single day we were there -- so much rain that we finally bought the kids Wellingtons and hiked in it anyway, for fear that otherwise we'd die of cabin fever.

Ah, and the vacation in Spain! We brought along my mother as well as all five kids on that vacation, which meant that we had to rent a nine-passenger van -- not an easy vehicle to navigate on twisty cobblestone streets through Spanish villages. To make matters worse, they gave us a red one. We might as well have added a neon sign to it, proclaiming, "Stupid Loud American Tourists Here."

At one point, we drove into the center of one small town and had to back all the way out again because we couldn't turn the van around. The old mayor's widow, dressed in black with her gray hair coming loose in a fountain from her bun, helped direct us, screaming at all of the village men to move their scooters out of our way. Meanwhile, one of our kids (a different one) was carsick enough to toss his cookies, causing the others to shriek.

"That was an awesome trip, Mom," my son declared after returning from the White Mountains, as we stuffed soggy clothes into the washing machine.

It was, it was. I can say that now that I've thawed out.

Here's the thing: bad vacations are the real family keepsakes, because you survive them together (ideally). You have to play games or tell jokes, you have to get each other through the hail or the flat tire or the flu. Surviving a bad vacation as a family requires everyone to step up and show determination, loyalty, and yes, even courage. Blue skies, sunshine, and a white beach are all pleasant, but what fun is that kind of vacation to reminisce about later?

Remember this, as you're packing up to go away for the holidays this year.