Trip vs. Vacation – A Rematch

Momservation: Until your kids can pack for themselves, carry their own luggage and wipe their own butts, it is a trip not a vacation.

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Should this activity be supervised? Nah, I'm on vacation...

Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go.

There was a time when I would’ve thought, “Shoot me now,” or been content to hole myself up with two kids under two in the name of home field advantage.

But now that the kids are 12 and 10 – the scales may have finally tipped in my favor for vacation vs. a trip.

We will be heading to my mom’s house in Montana this Thanksgiving. Despite the risks posed by errant BB gun shots, quad riding on snowy roads, and mountain lions on the back porch, I think we are otherwise safe to let the kids run the mountains of the Bitterroot Valley while I kick back by the fire with a Sudoku.

It has been a long time coming.

It seems like just yesterday we were packing an oversized SUV with a ridiculous amount of necessities for a week’s “vacation” while barely leaving breathing room for the kids and trying to figure out who was going to count the car seats as their carry-ons on the plane in the midst of deciding if you should take the double stroller, umbrella stroller, jogger or rent a stroller when you get there.

It was a far cry from me and Hubby’s first vacation together as a married couple. His family rented a beautiful two-story cabin overlooking Lake Tahoe with a magnificent deck view jutting out over a rocky cliff. At night we sipped cocktails on the deck while watching the sun go down and then would head off to the casinos until luck or energy ran out first. We’d sleep in after our late night, get up in time for brunch, get in a leisurely hike or a few rounds of Scrabble, letting the day decide our course.

Enter children.

picture this x10 w/ smaller car and roof rack (image courtesy of

I’ll never forget our first “vacation” to the same Tahoe cabin once we were the proud parents of a 20 month old boy and three month old girl. It began with buying a roof rack for our SUV. Then a baby gate for the top of the stairs. Followed by a Review of Hazards meeting where Hubby insisted our toddler was not going to be allowed out onto the deck without direct supervision because he noticed last time there were some rickety railings and potential for some nasty splinters. Plus the rocks out front looked dangerous, lots of sharp cornered furniture, hot BBQ, and falling dangers from the loft railing and stairs. It pretty much narrowed down to leaving the poor kid in his port-a-crib for safety.

After the car was packed with strollers (umbrella and double), port-a-cribs, bouncy seat, booster seats, Baby Bjorn, backpack, favorite toys, favorite food, cans of formula, a half a dozen bottles and enough diapers and wipes to fill two suitcases, we decided we would buy, once we got there, the rest of the stuff that wouldn’t fit in the car.

“Well, do you think we’re ready for our vacation?” I asked as we drove off, the back end of the car riding low.

“This is not a vacation,” my husband replied tersely. “This, is a trip.”

By the end of it, I decided trip might have even been too nice of a word to describe the experience.

That “vacation” experience led to a healthy debate with the rest of our friends with children: At what point do these family trips once again take on the leisurely air of a vacation? And more importantly, why do we keep subjecting ourselves to them until we reach the turning point?

A mathematical theory has been kicked around. The amount of leisure in a vacation is in direct proportion to the age of your children. The younger the children the deeper you are in the realm of trip. The older the kids are, the more likely you will be able to find time to actually sit down and think that this could actually be a pleasant vacation. The amount of planning, organizing and executing is constant.

I say, it’s much simpler than that. If I don’t have to set my cocktail or my People magazine down to address anyone else’s needs but my own, it just may be a vacation.

Although the need to pack orange clothing for my kids so they don’t accidently get shot by hunters has me thinking otherwise…


  1. chase mcfadden says:

    So there’s hope? I’m about tripped out, and we still have a long ways to go.

    We have a pic of our suburb from two summers ago that looks nearly identical except there is a Captain Morgan cooler on the bottom. Filled with GoGurts and milk. Trip for sure.

    Bitterroot? Nice. And orange is in season.

  2. kellimwheeler says:

    Oh, you’re solidly in the trip years Chase. I thought you had the right idea with the Captain Morgan cooler. Watch out for milk cartons left stuffed in the back seat pockets. If you don’t you get to play the game What The He** Is That GD Smell and Where’s It Coming From?

    My mom once got an all white coat w/ fur for Christmas from her husband and then they went for a walk in their wooded slopes. After hearing the first shot gun blast of hunting season she suspected he might be trying to get rid of her… 🙂

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