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The beach is my happy place. And I’ve always wanted my children to be able to see and experience the ocean and white sands beaches of the Florida panhandle, like I’ve been fortunate enough to many times as a teenager and adult.
Being landlocked in mid-Missouri (at least 14 hours from a beach) and working in full-time ministry made a family vacation like this feel like a pipe dream, though. For years I’ve saved for it and waited until our kids (ages 6, 8, and 10) were a good traveling age. This year my little dream became a reality! I found a very affordable condo right on the beach on VRBO.com.
We’re making the 14 hour trip home right now, so I thought I’d reflect on 10 things that I’m so glad we did on our first LONG trip together. I hope you’ll find some of them helpful to your own family.
1) Prayed for my attitude beforehand.
Let’s start right off the bat with a pretty honest confession. My husband and I almost always argue or get frustrated with each other every time we leave on a trip. We have fairly opposite personalities and those differences come out to play when packing, locking up our house, and cramming all our stuff and people in the van. He is meticulous and thorough (good things for a more spontaneous person like me!), but everything feels like it takes soooo long when I am packed and ready to hit the road for adventure! I don’t usually handle that frustration very well and have a hard time being patient when all I want to do it get out of town.
So this year I started praying days before our trip that God would help me to be patient and to trust my husband and have a great attitude from the start. The Lord helped me relax from the very beginning and fight against my impatience. I’m here to report that we had a “fight-free” start to our trip! #vacationmiracle
2) Talked to my husband about each of our expectations beforehand.
Along with #1, we talked a few days in advance about what each of us was hoping to do during the vacation and any other expectations. I think oftentimes he and I expect the other person to read our mind and instinctively know what we are thinking or wanting. But, speaking from experience, that never works.
I can’t tell you how very helpful this preemptive conversation (outside of the stress of packing and leaving) was for us. It gave us both a chance to say what makes a vacation a vacation for us, especially since we are such different people (he’s an introvert and I’m an extrovert). I felt like we both tried to honor one another’s preferences, as a result, and this past week was a sweet time for the two of us and our entire family.
3) Talked to the kids about our vision for the trip.
Not only did Nathan and I talk ahead of time, but we wanted to help our children understand our vision for the trip and our expectations for the week. We reminded them that we’ve saved for a long time for this trip, and that we are so excited to be able to treat them to a fun week together.
We also reminded them that this is a gift from God, and we want everyone to work hard to be thankful and content all week. That means we will not whine or complain, we will not badger mom and dad, and we will try to be grateful for whatever it is that we get or do.
It took a few reminders during the week, but overall they did a great job. I think it helped for them to understand our heart behind the trip and to remember that it’s a gift.
Best. Decision. Ever. I wasn’t worrying about getting the perfect pictures or crafting the perfect status update to share on social media. I wasn’t thinking about where my phone was all the time. I wasn’t trolling Facebook at night in bed. Instead, I read great books on my balcony (here are some of my favorite summer reads), took naps, watched Royals games with my hubs, went on walks (with my daughter in the pic above), and spent a lot of time with my family. It was absolutely refreshing.
5) Didn’t open my computer once.
I brought my computer, thinking that I might have to work on the blog a little bit. But, thankfully I never opened it. Again, it provided a much needed break from work and social media. It’s amazing how much stress one small machine can cause. (Shout out to my pal, Polly, for holding up all things blog-related while I was gone. She’s the best.)
6) Tried paddle boarding.
One of my best childhood friends happened to be staying nearby in a house on a bay, so we got to spend Father’s Day with her family. They were kind enough to rent paddle boards and a kayak. We were able to try paddle boarding for the first time and learned that it is a blast! Everyone in our family was able to do it on the calm bay waters. Highly recommend trying it sometime!
7) Did a puzzle together.
Did I mention we got stuck in a tropical storm for much of the week? One rainy night we all gathered around the dinner table and obsessed over our tropical fish puzzle. We had to pry the kids away to go to bed finally, but they had finished it before breakfast the next day. There is something so special (and relaxing) about working together to complete a little project like this.
8) Balanced cooking simple meals at home with a few meals out. (Recommendations included.)
I’m a bit of a foodie. I really enjoy eating out and trying new restaurants. But, only, only if it’s delicious. To me, it’s not worth throwing money away on a mediocre meal, which I’ve found over the years that a majority of restaurant meals are. Before the trip, I reached out to several friends who know the area well to get recommendations, as well as, checked Trip Advisor.
Then, for the rest of the meals, we had simple, homemade food at home. Easy peasy and much cheaper and tastier. If you want some great meals to make ahead and bring with you, try our 20+ Freezer Meals to Take on Vacation.
If you make it down to Destin, FL sometime soon, we would recommend The Donut Hole Café and The Red Bar (in Grayton Beach). Go early to both to avoid a wait. I would also recommend ordering half of what you think you need. The portions are huge!
I’m proud to say that despite being out in the Florida sun a few hours during peak hours each day, none of my kids got a burn. We covered them and us every 80 minutes or so. Check out our curated list of the Safest and Most Affordable Sunscreens for Kids here. Unfortunately my husband and I thought “10-15 minutes without sunscreen will help us get a little tan.” Umm, no. We both ended up burned. Lesson learned! Florida sun is different than mid-Missouri.
As we drove out of town, we each took a moment to share our favorite vacation moment and then we prayed and thanked God. I felt totally undeserving of such a precious time with my favorite people on earth. God has been so good to us. We wanted to remember that.
P.S. Road Trip Cards
I don’t know about you, but I like to plan a few fun, interactive things to do in the car (other than screens) on long road trips. We created our Road Trip Cards to help you do just that. You’re going to love our collection of car games and conversation starters for all ages!
More Family Vacation Ideas
Polly and I have written about several of our vacations over the years. Feel free to grab ideas for your own family from our reviews and tips.
This was Rachel’s family’s favorite vacation so far! Read about what we did and our recommendations.
Polly is the queen planner and shares 35 things she learned from their first Disney trip.
Rachel and her husband get away to Kansas City every few years and have found some great local places to hit.