We believe in the value of healthy eating. We believe in the value of exercise. We also believe in the value of having a large family with multiple kids. And we believe in the value of spending time together as a family, not separately. All this can be easily maintained while we are at home, within our comfort zone. But when vacation time comes, our values are subjected to a serious challenge. Going on vacation with a large family is difficult, and it’s even more difficult when your lifestyle cannot be easily accommodated during travel. Here are some of the challenges we face when considering a vacation:
We cook all our meals from scratch at home using simple, natural ingredients because we believe that this is the best way to to health for ourselves and our kids. We almost never dine out because it’s hard to find a restaurant that fits our standards and tastes. Restaurants – and not just fast food chains – serve dishes cooked with processed food that contains MSG, growth hormones in meat or milk, pesticides in produce, etc. So, restaurant food is full of toxic ingredients. Besides, it often doesn’t even taste good and has too much oil and salt. Sure, there are vegan and organic restaurants where food is supposed to be better, but the problem of taste remains: they usually serve raw food that’s not very satisfying.
So we mostly cook at home, but things get complicated if we decide to travel. We would have to do extensive research for organic restaurants in the area (and will most likely not find any good ones) or find a place with a kitchen. We would likely do a combination of organic/vegan restaurants and cooking light meals in the kitchen of our vacation rental.
No, we can’t lower our standards while we are on vacation. It doesn’t make sense to eat healthy most of the time and eat poison some of the time. It will show a bad example to our children, they will see that we are not serious enough about healthy eating. Then our children will ask for more and more excuses to eat junk food – at parties, family celebrations, or when we don’t feel like cooking – and it will become a slippery slope with more and more excuses until we give up our healthy eating habits altogether. So no, vacation should be a way to provide nourishment for the body, not an excuse to fill up on junk food.
We go to the gym regularly, so before going on vacation we would need to research gyms in the area and find out if they allow drop-ins and guest passes.
Vacation rentals often have poor bedding: old and uncomfortable mattresses, itchy sheets, or too much light. Vacation is a time to get good rest and sleep. No one wants to wake up with back pain. Poor bedding is worse if you rent an Airbnb, though hotels usually have slightly better beds. So before going on vacation, we have to ask the owner of a rental about the quality of their beds or read reviews about hotel bedrooms.
We want to relax and enjoy our vacation. That means arranging all the logistics in a way that’s most comfortable and stress-free for us and the kids. We would not take discount flights that are too late at night or too early in the morning. We would look for flights that are nonstop and easy for the kids.
Also, we don’t like long car rides. I get extremely tired if I drive longer than 1.5 hours. And more importantly, the kids get tired and bored of long rides, even if we give them books/games and even if we make stops along the way. Some people appear to like long rides (though I am not sure how truthful they are about that) but for us, long rides are a torture, especially with multiple young kids. So if we go on a road trip, it would be no farther than 1-2 hour drive.
Being all together
Some families split during vacations: kids travel with one parent and the other parent stays at home. This is certainly easier – I could have just sent my older kids away with my husband and stayed at home or gone somewhere else with my younger kids. But this is not acceptable for us. We want to teach our kids that family time is important. We want to spend time together as a family, so we want to go on vacation all together.
Sightseeing and attractions
Vacation is all about making memories and new experiences. But kids of different ages have different interests. Art museums are boring for our younger kids, and dumbed-down family fun attractions that are fit for toddlers are boring for our older children. So we need to find the attractions and sights that are interesting to all of us, both the kids and the adults in our family. That will probably include active experiences and exploration trips such as fishing, cave tours, snorkeling, horseback riding, boating, nature and animal tours, visiting treasure museums, and other adventures.
Eventually, comfort costs more. For example, if we want to book a domestic nonstop flight at a convenient time and with each child having their own seat, we are looking at about $2,000 one way for 2 adults and 4 kids. That’s a one-way flight; a round trip costs almost double that. Some people have young children sit on their lap and thus save money on a seat, but it’s uncomfortable during long flights. Vacation is all about feeling comfortable and enjoying it. Other comfort options such as upgraded bedding, healthy restaurants involve additional costs. And you don’t want to spend your last money on vacation and come back stressed out about your shrunk finances. You want to retain a healthy financial balance between the cost of your comfortable vacation and your everyday living budget. If you only have money for one or the other, it will not work. You have to have enough money for both.
So, we can’t just pick up and go on vacation. For us, it involves careful research and planning. And while our kids are so young, it becomes just too much hassle to plan everything. So at the moment, we are not thinking about vacations longer than a couple of days and farther than a 2-hour drive. But an extended vacation is certainly our long-term goal. We will wait until our kids get a little older and we are ready to invest in a comfortable, enjoyable vacation without sacrificing our lifestyle habits.
Having said that, the key is to learn to enjoy life and routinely relax even without going on vacation. Living in a beach town certainly helps us do that. But even if you don’t live in a beach town, you can learn to enjoy your life and feel like you are on vacation part of the day, every day. I once read somewhere that it’s better to relax and do interesting things a little bit every day, rather than work long hours all year and then take a vacation at once. Relaxing every day reduces stress, and doing hobbies and interesting activities regularly helps you create memories, much better than stressing out the whole year and then trying to relax during a couple weeks of your vacation. It’s better to spread out the pleasure, and there are always ways to do that. If you work full-time in an office like I used to, try working from home some days, or adjust your hours so you can come to the office earlier but also leave earlier so you can have some time to relax before the end of the day. Spend nights and weekends together with your family, which is much better than working long hours and spending time with your family only on vacation.
One thing’s for sure: if your religion or values dictate a certain lifestyle that you try to maintain at home, maintain the same lifestyle when you go on vacation. You don’t want to feel guilty when you come back. You want to prove to yourself and your children that you are serious about your values. It’s possible, but requires more planning and, sometimes, sacrifice. But it’s worth it.