My family and I have just returned from what was probably the best family vacation we’ve ever taken. We spent two weeks on a road trip, driving from our home in Winnipeg first to Lake Superior Provincial Park, then to Ottawa and Gatineau Park, then to Montreal and Quebec City, and finally to Toronto.
In total, we put on more than 6500 kilometres, driving halfway across this big beautiful country of ours. That’s a lot of time to spend inside a vehicle full of five people and all of our luggage and camping supplies! Luckily, we like each other and our kids are old enough to manage their own boredom.
We packed a lot into this vacation. We spent four days camping far from city lights (where raccoons tried to steal the food from our picnic table), a week in a lovely home in a great neighbourhood in Montreal (rented through airbnb), a few days in a hotel in Toronto, and finally a night in a cheap motel (that hasn’t been renovated since the seventies) in rural Ontario on the way home. We went hiking, played on the shore of Lake Superior, toured Canada’s parliament building, visited a couple of museums, wandered around Old Montreal and Old Quebec, attended Osheaga (a huge music festival on an island in Montreal), watched a synchronized swimming world championship, went to a major league baseball game, went shopping, ate in some delightful cafes, and did lots of family bonding over shared jokes and cheap meals.
Here’s a video compilation of our travel photos.
In case you’re planning a family vacation in the near future, here are a few things that helped make this a great one for us.
- Let every member of the family plan at least one part of the vacation. We always let each member of the family pick at least one restaurant, one family activity, and/or one place they want to stay. When they know they’re getting their way on at least one thing, they’re more willing to take part in other things. The impetus for this vacation was our oldest two daughters’ dream of going to Osheaga. They had no idea when they started talking about it that we might be willing to drive half way across the country for it, but it fit in well with a long-held dream of seeing more of the eastern part of the country.
- Consider options other than hotels for your accommodations. One of the highlights of our vacation was the house we rented through airbnb in Montreal. It was really lovely to have a place where each of the girls had their own bedroom, we had a full kitchen where we could prepare some of our meals, and we had free parking, laundry facilities, etc. It was also in a much more interesting neighbourhood than most hotels are.
- Include everyone in the vacation budget considerations. We budgeted a daily average that needed to cover food, entertainment, subway fares, etc. I used an app on my phone to keep track of all expenses. The girls were told ahead of time that if we could keep expenses down on some days, we’d be able to splurge on other days, so they were quite cooperative in eating cheaply as often as possible so we could afford a few nicer restaurant meals and entertainment. Our oldest two daughters will soon be taking vacations on their own, so it was a great experience for them to learn about the decisions that go into staying on budget and still having a great time.
- Check your passports far in advance. The one mistake we made on this vacation was to assume our passports were all up-to-date. We had planned to drive through the U.S. (which is shorter and allows for a little more variety), but discovered just before we left that some passports had expired. Luckily, we didn’t have to change many plans since most of our time was going to be spent in Canada anyway.
- Adapt to what shows up. This piece of advice flows out of the last one. We had to change our route, but in the end we didn’t mind because it allowed us to show our kids more of the beauty of our own country, and we spent a beautiful couple of days in Lake Superior Provincial Park, which we hadn’t planned on originally.
- Don’t over-fill your agenda and be open to surprises. We had a few things planned in advance (ie. Osheaga and the Blue Jays baseball game), but otherwise, we made decisions as we went along. One of our favourite surprises was Mosaika, an amazing light show that’s projected on the front of the parliament building in Ottawa. Another favourite surprise for Maddy was the opportunity to watch a synchronized swimming world championship competition in Montreal.
- Find a comfortable balance between activity and rest. There was a lot we wanted to see on this trip, so we filled many of our days with activity, but in between we spent long leisurely hours relaxing in our lovely home-away-from-home. On our last full day in Montreal, we intentionally put nothing on the agenda, and each member of the family was able to find the kind of quiet time they needed – one wandered, one read, one watched movies, one went running, two went for a drive up Mont Royal, and three walked to the grocery store and baked cookies.
- Carefully guard time for yourself. As every parent knows, vacations can be exhausting when you’re constantly having to make sure your kids are fed and entertained, make decisions about what to do every day, and often cope with anxiety and grumpiness over new places, new faces, tiredness, and unexpected challenges. Before you leave on vacation, make a pact with your partner that you will each get at least a portion of a day all to yourself to do with what you please. Marcel spent an afternoon at a major league soccer game, and I spent mine in a coffee shop and on the streets with my camera. I also found some times in between for some solo wandering, which my family is quite accustomed to me doing.
- Find ways to blend in with the locals. Travel, for me, has never been just about site-seeing and tourist attractions. I love to learn more about the local way of life and practice seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, and so we learned to take the metro (subway), we ate at places in our neighbourhood whose target audience was local patrons rather than tourists, and shopped at the local grocery stores. Staying at an airbnb house helped in that regard, since we were surrounded by people living ordinary, day-to-day lives rather than tourists in a hotel.
- Encourage everyone to express their needs. Good communication is especially important when you’re spending more hours together than normal doing things that are outside of the routine. You need to practice being clear with each other. The day after spending a day with our youngest daughter at Osheaga, where about 40,000 people crowded every space, I found myself desperately in need of quiet, open space, where I could indulge the introverted side of me. I had to be clear with my family that I needed personal space and quiet time and that when I seemed to be pushing them away, it was not about them but rather about me and my needs. Others in the family were also encouraged to be honest about their needs, and so there were times when one of us stayed behind, went for a solitary walk, or looked to others for support when we were feeling a little nervous.
- Be gentle and intentional when it comes time for re-entry. We all know about the crash that can come after a good vacation, when you have to return to work and routine and bills to pay and broken relationships to deal with and school to prepare for and… and… Be kind to yourself when you’re coming back home and be intentional about making this time as positive as possible. We built in a day of downtime (when we had very few expectations of each other) between arriving at home and having to be back at work. One of the other things I did this time around that helped make re-entry more gentle was a thorough housecleaning before we left. It was nice to return to a newly steam-cleaned carpet, some new-to-us furniture, and clutter-free space. For more on re-entry, read this helpful blog post from Jen Louden.
Anything to add? Feel free to give your vacation tips in the comments.
p.s. Now that I’m back from vacation, I’ve got lots on the go. I’m working on a new e-book on making deeper connections, I’m preparing for the September offering of Mandala Discovery, I’m opening some spots for new coaching clients, and I’m preparing to host another Pathfinder Circle for people who want group coaching. I’m also hoping to launch a follow-up to Summer Lovin’ for the Fall.