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Vacation or Trip? A Helpful Guide for Parents

07/16/2015 10:05 am ET | Updated Jul 16, 2015
  • M. Blazoned Writer. Blogger. Recovering Nail Biter. Wearer of Funny Hats. Moon Lover.

So, you're headed out on a family vacation this summer. Great news! But are you sure? Are you sure it's a vacation? You might want to think about that for a minute. Because a vacation is best described as time away from a job and/or the monotony and frustrations of day-to-day life, with the goal of relaxing and having fun.

Not to be a super downer, but chances are, if you have kids (and they are coming with you), you aren't going on a vacation at all. You're going on what I like to call... a trip. You see, a trip is simply a journey to a place.

While there is nothing wrong with a family trip -- and, in fact, it can be a memorable time of family bonding -- it should never, ever be confused with a vacation. Such confusion can lead to unexpected feelings of regret and disappointment typically taken out on your spouse, who, incidentally, is feeling just as confused and swindled as you are.

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To best prepare for your time away, take a look at this handy guide to determine if you are going on a Vacation or a Trip, and thus set your expectations accordingly. And by "accordingly," I mean down a few notches.

How Will You Get There?
If you are traveling by car, there is a good chance it's a trip. If you have packed one or more "throw-up bags," clearly, it's a trip. If you packed a training potty, not a vacation. A trip if ever there was one. If you break into a complete sweat loading the car and/or overhead storage compartment you spent a small fortune on because you thought it was kinda cool, well, that's a trip. If packing the car leads to a fight with your spouse about who has a better "system"... you, my friend, are going on a trip.

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If you can't see out the back window the entire time you are driving: Trip. If the children have fought about where they are sitting, it's definitely a trip. If the car has a constant smell of farts and fast food, you are on a trip. If you are worried that the bikes will fall off the back of the car the entire drive, sorry to say, trip. If you realize you forgot your sunglasses three hours into the drive because you left in darkness at 4 a.m. to beat the traffic and the sun is just coming up... yikes, that's a trip. If you've heard yourself say, "This will be fun," you are on a trip. If you've broken out the "all we could afford to do growing up was go camping" lecture, you are officially on a trip. If no one heard either of those things because they all have their headphones on, most certainly a trip.

Who Are You Going With?
If you are meeting extended family and/or in-laws... Please, don't insult me. Trip. If there has been any pre-planning tension with extended family, perhaps categorized as "passive aggressive," that you have bitten your tongue about, but have taken out on your spouse, yeah, well, that would be a trip. If you are sharing a bathroom with your in-laws and fear an awkward moment, that is a serious trip. If the dog is with you, trip. If you are going with another family and adding their family insanity to yours, you are on a special kind of hell trip.

Where Will You Stay?
If your final destination has a kitchen, you are not on vacation. You are on a trip. If you have to grocery shop before or during your time away, it is a trip. If you, at any time during your stay, have to load or unload a dishwasher, that is a Groundhog-Day-style trip.

If there is a pack-and-play in your room, you are on a trip.

If you are in a hotel room with two double beds, trippity trip trip. If you are worried about accidentally seeing your pubescent son or daughter naked, trip. If your kids go to bed at 8 p.m. and you have to be quiet and locked in the room with them, well, that's a classic trip, my friend.

If your final destination is a tent, you are not on a vacation. You are not even on a trip. You are on a camping trip. There will be tears. Mostly yours. Camping, for obvious reasons, gets its own classification. If you have to walk outside to a bathroom and/or shower, you are on a camping trip. If you need coins to get a hot shower, you are soooo not on a vacation... I don't even know what to tell you.

What Will You Do?
If you are going to see a fort or visiting an aquarium, trip. If you are touring a battlefield in 90-degree heat, you are on a trip. If you are doing a jigsaw puzzle, trip. If it rains, and you look up laser tag places, that's a trip. If you've spent more than your car payment on cheesy souvenirs you will soon throw away, you are on a trip.

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What is Your Role in the Family?
If you are the Default Parent and/or the Stay-at-Home Parent, you aren't even on a trip. You are on a work trip, and, in a perfect world, the entire "journey to a place" would be a damn tax write-off. The only known and quantifiable "break" you are getting from life is that for about a week you will not have to open and sort the mail. Other than that, it's business as usual.

If you have a job outside the house, but are also a parent, you are on a vacation from work, but also on a family trip. You will be doing Default/Stay-at-Home Parent duties, which will seem better than work for the first four days, but by the time you're driving home you will find yourself humming "Whistle While You Work" as you daydream about the calm and safety of your office and how reasonable your boss now seems.

Wait. Is It Ever a Vacation with Kids?
I'm sorry to say, no. Unless you can pull off the hat trick of family trips: 1. Tropical resort. 2. All-inclusive. 3. Kid program your kids will happily attend.

It will give you moments that feel like a vacation, but still, you're looking at a Vacation-Trip Hybrid at best.

The Dream
There's a great saying that goes, If you are lucky enough to be on vacation, you're lucky enough. And the same goes for a family trip. Those "journeys to a place" hold a special meaning in the history of your family, and, with the right amount of time and nostalgia, someday you'll even laugh about that time Sally threw up on you after an hour of waiting in line to meet Mickey Mouse. She was going to hear the "F" word eventually anyway, right?

But the real dream is to someday be brave enough to leave your kids behind, hop on a flight, and get to a place where the waiters bring you piña coladas while you lounge on the beach. You won't need a guide to help you understand if you are on vacation. You'll know. Because you'll only put sunscreen on your own damn self and you'll fall asleep reading a book to the sound of the waves. Now, that's a mother frackin' vacation.

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Safe and puke-free travels!

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