How to plan the perfect family vacation with a teenager: Don’t

July 1982

Dear Diary,

We went on our trip to California in July. We went to DeSmet, Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, Salt Flats, Reno, Sacramento, Golden Gate Bridge, Los Angeles, Disneyland, Phoenix, Grand Canyon, then through Nebraska, Iowa and then home. I took care of maps and the budget. It was kinda boring but enlightening.

And to think, a writer with description like this became a daily newspaper reporter. Ugh.

That excursion was the trip of a lifetime. My parents must have planned for months to figure out the logistics of this three-week camper trip. Five us — my parents, me, my 12-year-old sister and my nearly 10-year-old brother — piled in the car (families had cars back then, not minivans) and a pop-up camper. Can you imagine? I’m utterly space-spoiled now.

I’m sure it was the longest vacation my entrepreneurial father enjoyed to that point, and he smartly worked in every geographical and commercial highlight between Minnesota and the West Coast. And my assessment began with “boring” and ended vaguely with “enlightening.”

Oh, how hard it is to impress a teen-age girl! If it wasn’t about boys, I wasn’t interested. In the same year’s diary, I shared this description of a single evening:

I just got home from a “semi-formal” dance. Jill had a good time. She danced practically every dance with Don E. and he gave her a ride home. Amy had a pretty much rotten time. Gary wasn’t there. As for me, I danced three times — that’s 66-2/3 cents each dance. One with Don but only out of pity. Then a slow dance with Steve Y. It was nice but he didn’t ask again. Then last dance I was with Tim G. Tom O. was with Sherry B. the whole time. Yuk! Gross me out the door. At most, this was a C- night.

One hundred and four words to recount a single bad social outing vs. 52 words to describe a three-week vacation that included Disneyland and the Grand Canyon!

A single Minnesotan word sums up my sedate vacation review: Uff-da.

Reflecting on that trip as an adult, I remember figuring out Rubik’s Cube, which felt like a real accomplishment at the time. I’m a puzzle solver. My parents were insightful enough to put me “in charge” of things to figure out: Maps and budgeting. Knowing my father as I do, he had every road memorized in advance and “budgeting” was simple accounting — how much was spent on what. But I felt useful. And less bored on the miles between highlights. (I used this trick on a trip with stepson Caswell once; he got to keep track of how much we spent on food on one of our trips to Florida, which gave him the power to choose where we would dine. It successfully kept the whining to a minimum.)

I remember the bright lights of Reno (where we camped in a parking lot, I think), the chilly rush of salty water while swimming in the Pacific Ocean and the long, long night we spent sweating on top of sleeping bags in the camper in Blythe, Calif., where it was about 105 degrees even after the sun went down. My parents wisely worked in a few visits with far-flung high school friends over the weeks, so even if they couldn’t impress me, I think they enjoyed themselves.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s that: If you’re pondering how to spend some family vacation time this summer, never make plans with the sole purpose of impressing a teen-ager.

Can’t be done.

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2 responses to “How to plan the perfect family vacation with a teenager: Don’t

  1. Yes, I definitely enjoyed that vacation. You were all getting old enough to have interesting emerging personalities with the accompanying likes and dislikes. Plus I have always liked seeing new places even if I didn’t want to remain there after I had seen them. Also your dad was pretty relaxed away from running the business so he could enjoy being with his children as well.

  2. Pingback: How to plan the perfect family vacation with a teenager: Don’t | Monica Lee

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