It’s early in the morning as I write this, and for once I am refreshed, rejuvenated even. Since having children last year, I’ve been deeply embedded in what only can be described as extreme stress. Raising kids, as anyone who is a parent knows, is difficult albeit quite rewarding. Trying to find real, meaningful family time amid the chaos can sometimes feel impossible.
My husband and I have tried to find the moments of joy, the quick trips into New York City for the day, the picnics in the park, watching together as our son starts walking more and more, laughing because my daughter’s first words don’t seem to be mama or dada but “high five.” Those moments seem to be fleeting, though, and for a long time it just seemed like we couldn’t catch a break, couldn’t fully relax, despite our best attempts to let each other sleep in or let each other have a few hours at Starbucks to catch up on work.
So, despite being on a tight budget because we’re saving for my husband’s residency applications this fall, we made the decision to put money aside to take a family trip to the beach. We booked a little studio with a small kitchen, fridge, and balcony on the beach in Montauk, which is a town on the farthest tip of Long Island. We’ve never been to the beach in this part of the country before, and we’re so glad we made the trek.
Reliving Childhood Memories
While we were there, we couldn’t help but relive childhood memories of going to the beach, and we were so happy to be able to start a beach tradition with our own children. My husband and I both grew up in Louisiana, and many families who live there take a trip to Florida in the summer. He and I both visited the same beach every summer in Destin, although we never knew each other then. I like to think we passed each other on the beach or our families sat next to each other in one of Destin’s many seafood restaurants. It’s funny because although the hubs and I met in college, we have many of the same beach memories from childhood because we frequented the same places.
Sitting there with my own family on a beach in a totally different part of the country, the hubs and I marveled at how we even got there, the adventures that have taken us so far away from our Louisiana homes, to Virginia, to living in the West Indies, and now to New Jersey. Plus, leaning back in our lounge chairs on our hotel balcony while our children napped in their cribs, I began to fully understand why our parents took us to the beach. Family vacations, although inevitably filled with the occasional argument, crying kid, or traffic, always are more positive than negative. They are necessary, necessary for each family unit to regroup, re-glue, and refresh their knowledge of each other.
My husband was laughing because he remembered a time when his three siblings and he locked their parents onto their balcony during a beach vacation. They thought it was hilarious and thought their parents would jump up and freak out, but they didn’t. The kids giggled and told their parents they locked them onto the balcony, and their parents’ response was, “Great! We’ll stay out here all day. You stay inside.” Sitting outside on our balcony, my husband was chuckling about that memory. No wonder they wanted to stay out on their balcony all day, he said. They dragged four kids to the beach. They were probably reveling in the moment to themselves.
Similarly, I was remembering a time when my siblings and I stumbled across some other kids on the beach who had dug the biggest hole in the sand we had ever seen. They were a little bit older than us, but all of them were in the hole up to their heads. My siblings and I were amazed, inspired. We begged our parents to get us better shovels, so we trekked to one of the many beach stores in Destin and armed with new equipment, my brother, sister, and I set out to replicate the hole in the ground that the other kids made the day before.
All I could think about was the success at the end, but as my brother and sister and I started digging, we quickly realized that the older kids had created quite an amazing feat. No amount of digging or moving the sand around merited a hole even half as deep as those other kids. We eventually admitted defeat but definitely gave ourselves an A for effort.
Looking back, I don’t know what compelled my parents to actually let us try to dig a veritable coffin in the sand but maybe they knew we wouldn’t be as strong as the older kids. It’s nice that they let us try though.
I had a strong moment of realization on this trip that it really doesn’t matter how much money you spend on a family vacation. Kids just enjoy being somewhere different, somewhere new. Kids love the beach, children’s museums, being outside, and just being somewhere other than where they usually spend their days – just like adults.
So, keeping all that in mind, I thought I’d offer some suggestions for keeping the focus light and fun and the finances simple so that you create memories for your kids that last a lifetime, just as our parents did for us:
1. Book a house or condo to stay in. It’s typically more enjoyable than a small hotel room for a family and typically costs less because not as many amenities are included.
2. Make your own meals. When you have kids, going out to eat is more of a lesson in manners when they’re young and not as enjoyable for mom and dad. We fed our twins peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the whole time with the exception of one meal out, and they loved it.
3. Drive. My husband and I looked at many different beach spots all up and down the East Coast. Although places to stay were much cheaper in South Carolina and other parts of the south, we didn’t want the expense of flying, and we didn’t think that driving 10 hours with toddlers would be that enjoyable. The beach we went to was 2.5 hours from our house, and it was such a pretty drive. The traveling to and from didn’t exhaust us, and it was about the max for our kids to be in their car seats without getting uncomfortable.
4. Check your phone once. I learned a trick from a fellow entrepreneur friend of mine to check e-mail just once a day on vacation preferably when everyone is asleep or in a quiet moment. I always felt like when I was on vacation I had to have someone else check my e-mai.l and I put a lot of pressure on myself to “enjoy” everything electronics free. Depending on the person, this can create more stress than relaxation. So, this trip I tried to check it just once a day and it was perfect. I was able to personally respond to people to let them know I’d be back at my desk on Monday without having an auto responder, and I could make sure everything was running smoothly with my business. Because I have great people who work with me and who make sure all posts go up and all websites stay active, I didn’t have to do too much to manage everything. Ten minutes a day in the morning gave me peace of mind for the entirety of the day.
5. Be flexible. Our twins are on a strict schedule during the day. It’s just how I maintain sanity in my everyday life and how I get anything done. However, I was really flexible on vacation with them, and it was nice to let loose. They went to bed a little later, napped a little earlier, ate tons of snacks throughout the day just because, etc. Without the pressure of the clock, we were able to drive around and visit other towns throughout Long Island and the Hamptons to get a feel for the place, and the kids were so tired from being active all day, they slept when they were tired and not at a pre-designated time.
6. Read. One of the simple pleasures in life is reading a book. A real, actual book. When you’re on vacation, give yourself that small joy and allow yourself to escape somewhere else in your mind in addition to escaping on vacation. We’re too wrapped up in social media as a society so when you’re on vacation, step away, throw the book in your beach bag, and enjoy the simple pleasure of not worrying what anyone else is doing in that exact moment.
After a few days of using the tips above, I feel so close to my little family of four after months of being deeply embedded in a rush, rush, rush mentality. I know we’ll quickly get back into our work schedules but it won’t be long before we try to do this again. I completely understand why our parents made the effort to bring all of us kids to the beach each summer – because I know now that it was definitely an effort. There’s just something about getting away and enjoying your own family for a little while. I’m so glad I was able to create my own slice of sweet memories for my children while still being budget conscious and embracing the simple pleasures in life all at the same time.
What’s your favorite childhood vacation memory? If you’re a parent, have you ever repeated it with your children?