Things I learned on a cross-country family road trip
Today, the new comedy Vacation opens in theaters, tracking the adventures and misadventures of the Girswold family on—what else?—a family vacation. In tribute, we’re running this piece from a reader about her own family vacation story.
I recently embarked on a two week adventure through France and Switzerland with my mother and two siblings (My dad had to work, and therefore would not be joining us). Our task was to explore the heritage from my mom’s side of the family, which emigrated years ago to California from small parts of France and Switzerland. Since the “kids” are now between the ages of 26 and 31, and living independently in our own cities for a while, none of us had spent longer than a weekend with each other for quite a few years. Add in our varying and quirky personalities and it was bound to be an interesting trip.
We started by renting a car and driving from Paris, France to Neuchatêl, Switzerland. From there we went back to France traveling and staying through Gap, Nice, and a last night in Lyon before returning back to Paris. After spending countless hours and 1500+ miles in a car together while trying to guide ourselves through brand new terrain, these are just a few things that I learned from this experience.
It’s OK if you don’t always get along with your family
Near the end of our trip, when all of us were truthfully more than a little tired of each other, my sister and I got into a little bit of a tiff that left both of us upset. It doesn’t really matter what it was about, but basically two weeks of constantly being in each other’s space was too much. We gave each other some room for the rest of the evening, and by the next day things had blown over.
That’s the thing I’ve learned about family: you might have a disagreement, but in the end you’re still family, so you learn to shrug your shoulders and move on. The subsequent evening was probably the best one that we all had. Whether it was because we stopped trying to be on our best behavior all the time or drank enough wine that we didn’t care anymore, I’m not so sure, but the end result was good.
Patience really is a virtue
Most families get on each other’s nerves quite frequently. That’s normal. Combine that with driving in a foreign city you’ve never been to, attempting to read road signs in another language, and a GPS that tells you to go right about a half second after you’ve passed the street already (we named ours Francine so when she told us the wrong way we could yell at her instead of my brother, the driver), and you’ve pretty much got a disaster waiting to happen.
Often we would find ourselves wandering aimlessly through alleyways with no one making a decision on what to do next, or simply just getting lost. This can get really trying, but the only thing you can do is close your eyes and count to ten. Patience, right?
Don’t be afraid to break from the group to do your own thing
We didn’t plan our trip down to the last detail, and that ended up being a really good thing. A certain amount of spontaneity and flexibility is needed when adventuring through a new place. With a group of people it can be hard trying to do all the things that everyone wants to do in such short periods of time. But you do have to speak up with what you want to do. If you don’t want to go see yet another French cathedral (which are all beautiful in their own right, but tend to blend together after seeing the 5th or 6th one) then don’t be afraid to break off on your own and do something that you really want to do, like it’s laying on the beach with a glass of rosé, napping in your room, or reading a book by a pool.
Take a day to soak up the atmosphere
In other words, take a rest day. A week or two of constantly being on the go driving from one place to the next, or walking 8-9 miles through a city is completely exhausting. Our family dinners were usually at a cafe where our cell phones/wifi were nonexistent and it was probably one of the greatest things that could have happened. I learned a lot from my siblings during these hours, even if it took a few awkward silences to slowly turn into conversation.
In all our efforts to see as much as we possibly could in the short time we were there, it was easy to forget to really enjoy just being in the moment. It’s good to take a breather.
Enjoy the time you have together
This one probably goes without saying, but as we drove the final leg of our trip from Lyon to Paris I realized that I wasn’t sure when the three of us siblings would all be together again. We have never been the closest, but we each get along and relate in our own ways. We live very different lives, some of us miles away, and it’s hard trying to get together for holidays, let alone a vacation. I feel like that when everything is said and done though, we got to experience learning about our ancestry together and bond in a way that we hadn’t had the chance to do in our adult lives. In that aspect we learned a lot about ourselves and each other. Did we always get along? Definitely not. Would I change anything? No, I don’t think so. Would I do it again? Well, I might need a few more years to think about that.
Jen King is a high school art teacher, but considers herself a student of the world. She loves sports, reading, and one day hopes to set foot on all 7 continents. You can see her artwork at www.jenkingart.com or follow her on instagram under @gniknej
[Image courtesy Warner Bros.]