Road trippin’

Moms of Stillwater
Moms of Stillwater

Let’s call it what it is, shall we?

What’s commonly referred to as the “Family Vacation,” is really no vacation at all. Not if you have small children like us.

A “vacation” to me, signals escape, relaxation, rejuvenation. Choosing to travel away from home with your family? That’s a T-R-I-P.

And not the good kind, laced with incessant giggling and munchies and utter bliss. A FAMILY TRIP is often an experience as invigorating and energizing as a colonoscopy. (Or maybe those are invigorating? Never had one.)

Regardless, a Family TRIP is a vacation’s polar opposite. Although adventurous and exciting, bursting with memory-making moments, it’s a WHOLE boatload of work. Just like being at home. Only, you’re not.

You’re on the road. Packed like sardines in the family van, among beach bags and suitcases, grocery bags and coolers. Instead of ample leg room and pretty stewardesses, hot towels and champagne, it’s little knees and feet shoved into your side. Empty coffee cups and granola bar wrappers thrown askew. FAR from glamorous.

I have learned quickly to leave ANY expectations at the curb as we back out our driveway, departing the comforts of home, routine, familiarity. But for the kids? THIS is a vacation.

It begins with buckled seat belts and sheer excitement at the adventure ahead, but usually comes to a screeching halt 20 minutes into Wisconsin.


Incessant whining quickly lends itself to boredom. Boredom is sure to lead to poking, hitting and slapping in the backseat among siblings. Seat belts become headbands, flip-flops become weapons. Joy becomes tears.

No matter how well we prepare, plan and over-pack, the lovingly prepared turkey sandwiches and bottled waters, dried fruit and trail mix, quickly become McDonald’s Happy Meals, gas station Slurpees, Salted Nut Rolls and King-size packs of Twizzlers. ANYTHING to keep the peace and get through the next hour.

Despite your best efforts to keep your kids hand-washed and sanitized, they’ll touch, lick, rub up against the dirtiest of bathrooms, door knobs and national monuments, where MILLIONS of other road-tripping families have gone before.

If you were hoping for any “alone” time, Hah! Enjoy your quiet walk from the passenger seat to the trunk. Or from the car to the gas station bathroom. That’s all you get. Crashing into bed at the end of an adventurous day, will have to be enough. You’re on a Family Trip.

The initial spirit of adventure is quickly replaced with disdain. From the front seats, we try to keep our cool. This is only the beginning. And we haven’t even arrived yet.

Among the chaos in the seats behind us, I’ve begun to question my life’s choices. Not just this trip, ALL of it.

What lead me to this moment? Where did I veer off the path? Was it really necessary to procreate?

Whatever. It doesn’t matter. This is what parenting is. It’s work.

And isn’t this the point of a Family Trip? Quality family time confined to a small moving space? Creating memorable moments, priceless memories?

We suck it up. We appease. We negotiate. We bribe and threaten. We do our best to keep the peace. We want to give to our kids experiences and adventures that they’ll never forget.

That’s what it’s all about. Family. Togetherness. Spreading love and joy across the US of A. Although it’s work with young kids, whether pitching tents or hunkering down in cozy hotel suites, it’s recreating home, simply by being together.

It’s removing the routine and demands of our “typical” life, spreading our wings, broadening not just THEIR horizons, but our own.

My husband reminds me, “WHEN are we going to be in this exact spot, with these exact kids, at these exact ages, ever again??? Enjoy it. Be here.”

Liz Westerhaus lives in Stillwater with her husband and three kids. She is a local family and wedding photographer, yoga instructor and devoted blogger.  Although a big city girl at heart, she loves living in this town. You can follow her work and writing at or visit her at Studio One Yoga downtown Stillwater.