We've all been there: Whether it is a family event, a good friend's wedding, or a holiday you just need to show up for, one way or another you will find yourself staring blankly at the airline's website mourning the hundreds of dollars you're about to sink into going to a location that is, how should I put this delicately, not on your bucket list. Wouldn't it be nice if all your dear friends and family lived in Hawaii and Seville? Odds are good that they don't. And if they do, go away now. And I hope that someday they all move to rural Ohio where you will have to spend every holiday ever in 10 feet of snow and eating mayonnaise based casseroles.
This past year was a weird one for us. When people find out that traveling as a family is our shtick, we often get asked "Oh? Where was the last place you went?" I never quite know how to answer. Our last trip that had any wow factor to it was a year and a half ago. The last time we loaded up as a family and were away for a week was last month in Sacramento. Neither response gives me much street cred in terms of "We're so travel savvy and glamorous."
Now is probably the time to say that we moved across the country a year ago and are taking a proverbial fancy travel gap year to get our bearings after a major disruption. Be that as it may we have also found ourselves traveling to A LOT of obscure domestic locations to be there for our family and friends who are like family for major life events.
A perfect and most recent example comes from my sister's wedding. Sister lives in the rich cultural hub of all things tech and fancy in the notorious "Bay Area California" and of all places to get tie the knot she chose to get married in Sacramento. Yes, you read correctly, Sacramento. Obviously there was no getting out of this particular trip and so we ponied up for a $2,000 sneeze-fest in California's central valley.
As soon as she made the announcement of where her wedding venue would be we set about the work of planning, organizing, requesting time off from work, writing to AirBnB hosts, and seeing how many freebie days we had on our rental car club membership. As much as we were semi-resentful of having to travel to somewhere "not super cool", I think this last year has been a great reminder about how important it is to prioritize the people who are important in your life. Not all travel needs to be Instagram-worthy.
Still, sometimes you need to talk yourself into that Memorial Day weekend in Holland, Michigan. And I get that. I really do. Especially when you have kids and really it would feel so much easier (and cheaper) to just stay home. Here is what I've learned about making the best of Non-Roman Holidays and buffering the "I'm not psyched about this" vibe from your kids.
1. Make your lodging a fun place to hang out. Splurge if need be. Give yourself something to look forward to at the end of the day. If we are products of the spaces we dwell then make it a good one. Figure out what you love about the places you stay and find a home that checks off most of the boxes. View? Cool interior? Hip location? Kids get their own room when the normal travel protocol is they share? Great. Do it.
2. Get out of your comfort zone when it comes to dining options. Get on Yelp to find a cool local BBQ place or sushi joint if you have to. Staying in a super lame suburb with only an Outback Steakhouse? Get a fried onion and a watered down margarita and live your life. Comfort zones can be pushed in chain restaurants and with greasy appetizers, too. Don't be a snob.
3. Find a museum, historical monument, or festival in the area. With the internet age there is no excuse as to why you couldn't find some sort of 100 year old black peppercorn tree on the side of the road that might be worth checking out. (And if you are wondering. Yeah, that is something my dad found on a road trip many years ago. Without the internet. So get out there, man.) Kids aren't of the age to appreciate where Kennedy was assassinated? Find a local body of water and let them romp. If I have learned anything in my years of parenting it is that children love water. Fountains, ponds, puddles, cesspools that formed in an abandoned lot... doesn't matter. They will throw stones and make "sand castles" until dusk if you let them. As long as you don't remind them about how much nicer Hawaii beaches are, they won't care and neither will you when you see just how much they aren't annoying you happy they are.
4. Invest in time with the friends and family that you are traveling with. There is nothing more bonding than the camaraderie of being in the same boat of "This couldn't be done on Maui?" Use family reunions as opportunities to get to know that cousin/mutual friend you wished you knew better. Carve out space to share a drink or obscure historical site and form better bonds with the people you love.
5. Remember that this is a vacation. Take photos. Stock your mini-fridge with fun food and drink that you normally wouldn't get. This is, after all, a vacation. Our family has made a bit of a tradition out of finding a nearby Trader Joe's and treating ourselves to the most delicious snack food in all the world. (Cheese crackers and fig spread, we are coming for you!) Make little things throughout the day an event. Travel size bubble bath, a late night park run, longer than usual bedtime snuggles are all time well spent and create lasting memories for the kids.
We travel because it connects us with the world around us, including people who choose to get married in lame cities. (And before you start getting all butt-hurt about my ragging on Sacramento, know that I lived there for the better part of 3 years and have earned the right to hate on it if I want to.)
While our passports have collected dust in the fireproof box, I am happy to say that our suitcases have not. We've learned the value of obligation travel this year and that it should be celebrated right along with selfies at the Vatican.
In a society that pushes us to only display the highlight reel of our lives through tiny squares and flattering filters, it is probably more important than ever that our kids understand how to celebrate and make the best of every travel opportunity that comes their way. So save your rural Indiana gripes for after the kids go to bed. Pour yourself another glass of wine and know that your presence for those major life events are so very valuable. For everyone.
P.S. Thank you, Sister, for letting me hate on your wedding location. It was a beautiful wedding despite... Sacramento.