On a recent Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, the host and her co-host sister talked about the benefits of a “standardized vacation”. It struck a chord with me.
I’m a travel buff. Have suitcase, let’s go! I’ve been one to explore new places as often as I can for as long as I’ve lived but there is something to be said about hitting the easy button especially now that we have kids. Enter: the standardized vacation.
Here’s the basic premise: same location, same hotel, same time of year, same length of time, same people, same restaurants, same activities.
Nothing to think about, nothing to plan. Just do what you did last time, and build upon what you know, if you want.
Myrtle Beach, SC, has become our go-to vacation, like 5 million other Ohioans if I had to guess! We found our favorite hotel about 10 years ago, and we even get booked to the exact same room each time we go. It’s glorious.
We know exactly what to pack. Rule #1 is more bathing suits, fewer clothes. Rule #2 is bring a laundry basket and a small bottle of Tide so I can do a quick load mid-way through the trip and recycle what we wear. Rule #3 is bring whatever gadget you can’t live without and the charger. We’re not hard-core enough to unplug entirely while we holiday.
Last night my husband and I laid in bed and talked about how excited we were for this trip. We drive it. He’s not a fan of the drive, but he talked about how he was actually looking forward to it this year because he knows exactly what to expect. No thinking involved whatsoever.
Seriously, we laugh the whole way to South Carolina because nearly every car on I-77 has Ohio plates and we know where they’re going: Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head. It’s 11-hours non-stop, which means we have found ways to minimize the number of stops along the way and make it a 12 hour trip max, barring traffic.
Our routine involves hitting the road at 5am. We gas up and load the suitcases the night before. The kids sleep walk to the van with their pillows and PJs on, and they’re crashed out for the first four hours of the trip. From our house in Ohio this takes us to Charleston, WV, where the kids change clothes, we all get a potty break, we gas up if need be, and switch drivers. I’m better on the curvy roads though West Virginia regardless of the weather, courtesy of growing up in the tri-state area of Ohio, Pennsylvania, & West Virginia.
Waze is my favorite travel app for this trip. It’s crowd-sourced in terms of traffic jams, road hazards, and speed traps monitored by police or state highway patrolmen. Waze conveys the speed limit and whether you’re over it, and gives you that wonderful metric, the estimated time of arrival, otherwise known as the “time to beat”. LOOOOOOVE Waze.
The car is still pretty quiet as the kids are now awake but on their devices with their headphones or maybe they watch a new movie we buy and laugh. The two of us adults get loads of time to talk and talk, or we take turns napping while the other drives.
I drive four hours till we hit the North Carolina border while all of us nosh on ham sandwiches, snacks, and drinks we’ve packed, and then we stop again for a bio break, gas up and switch drivers for the last time. Then my husband drives the final four hours to our hotel where we check in, unpack, relax for a bit, and then head out to dinner.
We hit up Walmart for some food while we’re in the area. Our hotel has a kitchenette so we alternate meals out and in for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is free at the hotel so we eat up and take our time feasting on all kinds of hot and cold food items.
I remember the first time we made this trip as a married couple with an 18-month old baby in tow. I basically had my husband back the van floor to ceiling with the entire nursery: you know, Pack-n-Play, stroller, tub toys, travel high chair, lovies, baby food, an entire box of diapers….it was endless. You couldn’t even see out the back window. He looked at me like I was nuts. I wanted all the comforts of home. Nothing like having a baby attached to your hip on vacation. It defeats the purpose of getting away for a few days if you don’t have a way for your precious kid to be mobile, clean, and safe.
Now it’s funny how little we need. Beach towels, beach toys, electronic gadgets, headphones, chargers, bathing suits, sunscreen, sandals, laundry basket with detergent, clothes for three days to last us through eight, sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and that’s it. I don’t even sweat it anymore. If we forget something, we just buy it down there.
It helps that we go the same week each time, for the same length of time. We know what restaurants we’ll hit up. We rent beach chairs for the week. There is nothing else to even think about other than which putt-putt place we’ll visit on which day. If we want to sleep, we sleep. If we want to splash in the pool or lazy river, we do. If the kids want to build sandcastles or boogie board, they do. No debating, no thinking about it. We just rotate between 3-4 activities at most. It’s as low key as vacation can get.
And me? Mama Louie? I sit and read under a giant umbrella with my coverup, sunglasses, sunhat, and SPF maxed out, courtesy of a melanoma diagnosis 25+ years ago. It’s a bummer as all the kids just can’t quite understand why I can’t play with them in the sun. Thankfully they have these bronzed bodies courtesy of their Hawaiian and Asian genes and didn’t inherit my pale Eastern European skin.
Man, we love the ocean. Now some people prefer lower-key, very scenic Hilton Head over Myrtle Beach because they think the latter is over commercialized. Parts of it are, but we don’t do that stuff. We don’t walk Ocean Boulevard at all hours, slipping in and out of the souvenir shops. We just skip that. It’s pretty easy to avoid the mass of humanity while you’re there.
Yep, our hang is the beach itself and the amazing putt-putt places. Our kids think putt-putt (mini-golf to some of you) is the most glorious thing ever. It doesn’t take much to entertain our kids and we’re fine keeping it that way, at least for a few more years.
We’re all excited to go back. Hawaii, California, Utah, Colorado, and Florida have been incredible these last few years but it’s time to hit the easy button and return to our home away from home, just the five of us. We have often wished that we were there with a larger group but then we realize that others may not enjoy the next-to-nothing we like to do, so our week away is always just us.
I can already hear the waves in my mind.
Image by Anton Sharon on Unsplash.com