Best Vacation Stories: When Things Go Wrong

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Imagine the surprise when a hardworking Google employee was informed he would be receiving an extra week of vacation this summer because his daughter wrote a letter to his boss requesting as much. Actually, she asked for just a single day off, but because the letter was so touching, Google granted a whole week.

Maybe it’s because of the way the school calendar is designed, or maybe it’s because kids just get lots of things right that adults don’t, but every child knows you can’t work all the time, that you need a vacation, or at least a day off, every now then. My step-sons broke out into hysterical laughter recently when they discovered that my boss made me work on a Sunday, especially when they remembered I’m self-employed. “You made yourself work on Sunday!” They were incredulous.

This connection between kids and vacations also may be why many of us, when asked about a favorite vacation, conjure a childhood memory. During the last few weeks as I thought of my best vacation stories, I couldn’t help but remember the trip to Disney World when I was still in elementary school, or the camping trip to Indiana Beach as a young teenager. I also remembered the time my mom decided to drive my brother and I to another nearby amusement park for a short weekend vacation. We never actually made it, however, because my mom got such a bad sinus infection she had to pull the car over. With the money we would have spent on rollercoasters and cotton candy, we rented a hotel room and bought cheap games and coloring books at a nearby department store while waiting for my cousin to come rescue us.

Making the Best of a Bad Situation

The common theme in many of my favorite vacation stories, actually, is not the amazing destinations or all the effort my parents put into planning the trips. Instead, I usually remember the things that went wrong, and the simple joys of making the best of a bad situation. The sinus infection was one example, but also the rainy days during that camping trip when we had to stay in the tent and play cards. Then, there are the family vacations my husband and I have planned with the boys over the past two years.

Last year, my husband and I were newly married, and just like that, I had became a step-mom to three boys, ages 10, 12, and 14 at the time. For reasons I still don't understand, we decided for our first vacation together we would take a 1,500-mile road trip from central Indiana to Bozeman, Montana, to see my brother.

For three days straight, we were on the road, stopping at the Corn Palace and Mount Rushmore, watching the grasslands become the Badlands, and staying in hotels with indoor pools at night. The day after we arrived in Bozeman, we were back in the van for another 12 hours driving to, through, and from Yellowstone National Park. Following a two-day visit with my brother and his family, it was time to get up early and get back in the van for three more days of driving. After the first night in the hotel on the drive home, my husband and I looked at each other, exhausted. “Is there any way you can just drive straight through and get us home tonight?” I asked. We did the math, and after a quick call to cancel the hotel reservation we had made somewhere in Iowa, we announced to the boys. “We are driving straight through. We’ll be home tonight!” The van erupted with cheering.

This year, we chose a much closer destination: a 13-hour drive to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. What we didn’t count on, however, was the stomach virus that we each caught in turn. That, and a few sunburns after our first day at the beach meant that we spent a lot more time at the condo and a lot less time at the beach than we ever imagined.

But we have some good stories to tell.

Where Did the Time Go?

While there is some dispute about the origins of the summer vacation (check out this blog post by Susanna Calkins for an overview), one thing most of us agree on is that this season never lasts long enough. In her Washington Post article called, “Ready, Set, Relax: Memorial Day Starts the Clock on Summer,” Monica Hesse writes,

Summer has become, as much as New Year’s, a time of resolution: We’ll finally go to the Hirshhorn, we’ll make our own gelato, we’ll learn to like jazz and see it in the Sculpture Garden. We’ll reinvent ourselves, this invented summer. We’ll buy espadrilles. But just as often, summer is the vehicle for our own lethargy, the season that most attunes us to life passing by. A collection of outdoor movies we don’t go to and July 4 fireworks we don’t see because the view from our rooftop isn’t as good as we thought it would be. Summers are the four half-empty mosquito repellent bottles under our bathroom vanity, because each June, we can’t remember whether we’re out. Instead of outdoor film festivals, we’re huddled in the dollar theater, watching ‘Iron Man 3,’ again.

So, with Memorial Day and Labor Day as the bookends, July Fourth tends to mark the middle of summer for many Americans. But just because we are halfway through, it doesn’t mean there isn’t still time for a vacation. It’s not too late to pack up the tent or reserve a hotel room or make a few more day trips to the beach.

Sharing Our Stories

And as you go, we thought you might enjoy a few of our best vacation stories to entertain and enlighten you.

  • Laura Boggess remembers a tender moment with her son in her vacation story, “The Ferry Boat.” “I buried my face in the hair of my young son and breathed him in. He smelled of salt and sand, of sun warmed flesh,” she writes. “My heart swelled with love for this little boy. I wondered if we would grow into this mother and son who were jostling about before me. Will there be a time when his kisses and hugs will not flow so freely; when we will sit dispassionately beside one another, side by side bumping through life?”
  • Adjusting vacation plans to a shifting reality is at the heart of Sam VanEman’s vacation story, “Untaken Photos.” “I closed both folders on my desk. Set them aside,” he writes. “I said goodbye to my father and to Florida. Said goodbye to the exotic and expensive, and to the untaken photos I’d imagined for months – evidence of how much things had changed in one generation. Instead, we returned to what the girls requested from the very beginning. Wherever we went and for however long, ‘Could it involve animals and water?’”
  • In her vacation story, “Tomorrow Night, Marshmallows,” Ann Kroeker recounts her first camping trip after years of dreaming about it: “I lay in the tent listening to crickets and tree frogs, just like my childhood friend had described. But I also listened for snapping twigs and suspicious rustling in the leaves, praying over and over for safety.”
  • And in his Daily Reflection, “Stories Beside Quiet Water,” Matthew Dickerson remembers a moment of rest standing in a river, getting to the heart of what many of us look for when we vacation: “We need to be willing to say ‘no’ to the constant list of chores, e-mails, and agenda items. and say ‘yes’ to that literal river or patch of green meadow, where God would restore and refresh us.”

Finally, as you decide where to go for this year’s vacation or next, you might be curious to see this infographic showing how vacation destinations for Americans have changed--or not--over the years.

Oh, and don't forget the sunscreen. And the Pepto Bismol.


Best Vacation Stories

While the stereotypical summer vacation usually involves a cabin or a beach, the vacations most of us take are much less nostalgic and far more varied than that. Or even if there is a beach or a cabin, it’s not the one we see in movies or read in books. Some of the best vacations, in fact, don’t involve packing or traveling at all; they happen in the backyard or on the front porch. At The High Calling, we’re telling some of our best vacation stories, the ones where things didn’t turn out as expected, where plans changed and so did we. So, whether you have reserved your favorite hotel or just a spot in Grandma’s spare bedroom, join us as we share what happens when we step away from everyday for vacation. And if you like these stories, why not share them with a friend or tell one of your own favorite vacation stories.