Family Vacation Disasters
Tales of good vacations gone bad, and how to prevent disasters from happening during your vacation
“My car went for a swim tonight. Goodbye stroller, golf clubs, baby car seat.” While this email might seem funny now, when Ted Hastings sent it, direct from his holidays in the heartland of Ontario cottage country, it was anything but humourous.
As Hastings explains, the weekend getaway wasn’t the stuff of dreams to begin with. “I wasn’t much for vacations of any sort with a young colicky daughter and both my wife and myself having busy careers. The lure of dragging our daughter to cottage country near the peak of the heavy bug season provided limited appeal but it did give us a good excuse to test out our two week old Audi A6 starting the trek from Waterloo.” Unfortunately, the long drive – and even the colic – would turn out to be the least of their worries, in the end. “My wife’s last words to me as I parked the car in what appeared to be a reasonable place were, “are you sure we should park this close to the lake?” Precipitous words indeed as the frantic knock on the door in the middle of the night would prove. A kindly neighbour had been awoken by his dog, who was understandably reacting to the unexpected sight, even to a dog, of a car floating by. The fact that the car alarm was going off was also a factor for the night-time disturbance. While Hastings reassured his neighbour there was no one in the car, the fact that the Audi hadn’t in fact developed the skill to swim was not good news. “Eventually divers and a crane were able to locate and remove the car from the lake bottom and the Audi dealership had itself another sale of a new A6.”
Plans go awry all the time in our day-to-day lives, so it is unrealistic to expect that it won’t happen when we’re on vacation. But, just like we think the kids will somehow be perfectly behaved when we’re away from home, our expectations of relaxation and de-stressing are somewhat higher during vacation time, so any change in plans, big or small, seems even more magnified.
Losing a car in a lake is a big one. Leaving roadside restaurant leftovers on the top of your car is a somewhat smaller issue, but still for Ryan and Alexandria Durrell, it was what they thought was the capper to an already decidedly un-vacation-like, long day. An overdue dinnertime was punctuated by a distracted Dad (who mistakenly thought his data roaming bill had reached thousands), and a Mom dealing with a hungry and tired child. After finally getting their meal, Alexandria took a quick look in the gift shop while Ryan headed out with the leftovers and a toddler who wanted to run some energy off in the parking lot. Cue gravel lot, fast running…and a big angry purple welt on a little forehead. “As I rushed back into the restaurant with Mason for some ice, I knew this was not going to be received well by Alexandria, especially in light of my less than stellar performance at dinner.”, muses Durrell. “The severity of Alexandria’s disappointment was as expected. I might as well have pushed him down myself; from her perspective I was clearly at fault for this “accident”. They had reached the end of their travel rope, after a long drive from Disney. “We rarely fight – travel does weird things to people.” Thinking the worst was behind them, they carried on down the road. At least until the hatch of their car blew open, and out blew a stroller, some used diapers and (of course) Mom’s suitcase. Not exactly what you plan for when you lay the roadmap out on the kitchen table.
Personally I have my own travel disaster story which took place in Mont Tremblant which included but was not limited to a solo bar visit by my 10 year old, a preschooler who used a full bathtub (his own) as a toilet (number two), and a moment where my husband kicked what he thought was a chocolate bar on the ground…but wasn’t. Throw in the discovery that wetting your snow pants (not mine) and subsequently trying to dry out ski boots is a virtual impossibility mid-slope, an inappropriate movie viewing which kept an eight year old up all night, and we, for the first time, threw in the (suspiciously stained) towel and brought the trip to an early close. This, punctuated by the further expelling of bodily fluids in the mini-van ride home. Ah, bliss.
Sheila Gallant-Halloran is an Ottawa based travel consultant with http://www.visiontravel2000.com/ and she has seen her share of travel plans gone wrong. “In the past two years, I’ve had clients stuck in windstorms in Perpignan, windstorms in Mexico City, stuck in Heathrow because of the Icelandic volcanic ash disruption in the air (and others trying to get to Africa w/o going through Europe – which can be pretty hard…), stuck in the east coast “Snowmageddon” just to name a few of the major events that have happened. Let alone the tsunami in Japan, and the earthquakes in NZ.” An interesting perspective to keep in mind, when our own travel plans go astray, in terms of the things we can control, and the things we can’t. It’s hard not to get upset about the sick child, the missed flight, or the (occasionally) damaged car, but in the end, it’s important to remember that as long as no one has gotten injured, you’ll at a minimum have a great travel story to tell. Gallant-Halloran advises taking a deep breath, perhaps leaving the scene, having a coffee (or something stronger), and then dealing with it calmly.
Other tips to keep in mind:
1) Plan ahead, and try to have a contingency for air, train, boat, and bus travel whose schedules might be beyond your control.
2) Check into local weather conditions, road closures, strikes, etc. Anything that could affect your travel schedule. Or car’s buoyancy.
3) Kids are kids. They are totally unpredictable at the best of times, and pure excitement and lack of structure/routine can have them acting up or feeling unwell. Make sure you pack appropriate medicine and have calling lists for doctors, specialists, etc. to get advice while on the road.
4) Start asking yourself “What’s the worst thing can happen”, while simultaneously trying to look at the big picture. Health is #1, and after that, the rest seems less consequential.
5) Remember that as a family you’re going to be traveling in confined spaces for much of the trip so try to use your conversational and argumentative filters. If there is a problem which can be solved when you get home, do it there instead of the 6’by 6’ trailer in the middle of a rainstorm.
6) Know when to call it a day. If leaving the vacation will make you feel better than being on the vacation; do it. It’s your time, after all.
7) Share your stories with others. You’ll make them feel better.