We’re Going on a “Family Vacation”
Ever since Chevy Chase plowed across America in search of Wally World, travelers have understood the gravity of two little innocuous words, the “Family Vacation.”
Your significant other says “we’re going on a family vacation.” Does the mere idea of a family vacation with your parents, or worse your in-laws, make you uneasily reach for the nearest alcoholic beverage?
We recently traveled to North Stradbroke Island off the coast of Queensland, Australia with grandparents, parents, in-laws, aunts and uncles, a child-less couple and a 5, 2, and 1.5 year old and SURVIVED!
Apparently, “generation travel” is a big thing these days because the baby boomers are traveling increasingly with multiple generations of kin. But we have all been on a trip like this.
I am here to help and show you that you too can go on a family vacation with any number of family members and survive without drinking your sorrows away or hiding in your timeshare. It certainly helps if you go somewhere as beautiful as North Stradbroke Island but you could learn to tolerate, if not love, your family in less exotic locales.
This is the story of our 3 day adventure to the island and tips to help you make it to and through the Wally World equivalent of your family’s dream vacation.
Due to work and scheduling we flew to Brisbane separately and on different days, which removed one stressful aspect of traveling in a group. Nonetheless, we were flying on an airplane with a strong-willed 2 year old (see my post on Travel Tips for Flying with a Baby) so I wouldn’t call it stress free. We left Brisbane, drove to Cleveland and boarded the ferry. Valle loved going up to the top floor of the ferry and letting the wind blow through her hair.
When we got to the island, we drove off the ferry and met up with our band of various friends and family members on Flinders Beach. This is another one of those amazing beaches in Australia where you can drive your 4×4 straight onto the beach and set up camp right next to your car.
They were midway through a beach side feast of sausages, a cheese plate and salads and quickly offered us some snacks. Everyone – grandma Liz (from San Diego), Uncle Richie and Aunt Janet (who live in Philadelphia), Sabrina and Dave (friends from L.A.), Gerard and Leah (friends from Sydney) and Terry and family (from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast) – seemed in good spirits while they enjoyed a glass of wine and a hunk of cheese.
TIP#1: GOD SAVE THE WINE AND CHEESE
Meals are such a center piece of a good family vacation (and, well, everyday for me) and its important to make them special and get everyone to contribute so they have less to complain about. Everyone loves a good cheese plate and glass of wine so have supplies at the ready.
After our cheese, everyone swam and I surfed a brand new surfboard I picked up in Brisbane in the perfectly warm, clear and nearly flat ocean until sunset. Hard to beat leaving Sydney to travel to a remote Queensland beach in one day.
TIP #2: YOU’VE GOT TO KEEP ‘EM SEPARATED
To borrow a Offspring lyric, to be a dashingly successful family vacation, follow this maxim: keep ’em separated.
Get your own apartment, hotel room or wing separate from the older generations. In this case, we rented three apartments, put the oldies across the way and had a family of 4 with two young kids in one and the childless couples plus a 2 year old in the other. The “kids” apartments were definitely messier with the door constantly swinging open and shut and a naked 2 year old turning on and off the fan all day long.
This really spares the old people from the constant chaos and gives them a retreat for when they need a nap or recharge and a bonus was that their house was much cleaner when we invited ourselves over for dinner.
North Stradbroke Island has a variety of accommodation and we chose the Whale Watch Apartments which was at the start of Main Beach and was walking distance from the shops, other beaches and boardwalk. Perfect for the crew, especially because it had a pool!
TIP #3: THE 30 MINUTE WARNING
While the two year old in our apartment was the last one awake, the rest of us mid-aged workers woke up bright and early at 6:30 AM. We decided we would like to walk the boardwalk trail that goes along coastline’s rugged cliffs with views of the gorges and blowholes in the sea below. Since we were traveling with a band of multi-aged gypsies, we had to use The 30 Minute Warning Rule.
The older travelers in our group, unlike the younger ones, cannot just leave at the drop of a hat. They will probably just drop their hat, their reading glasses and backpack and then have to reassemble it all again. Thus, the 30 Minute, 10 Minute and 5 Minute Warnings. Give everyone in your group plenty of lead time to assemble themselves and be realistic about meeting times. I am good at this because I have a toddler that takes 1.5 hours to eat half a piece of toast.
Eventually everyone congregated and went on the walk to the Gorgeous Gorges, as we called them. All 12 of us. The walk was spectacular and turned into an out of bounds cliff scramble to a swim in one of the gorges cut by the ocean between two cliffs. We saw dolphins, kangaroos, sea turtles, a sea eagle and no sharks. We can all thank the 30 Minute Warning for getting us there.
That afternoon, our fearless leader suggested a walk to a lake in the center of the island called Blue Lake. I worried it might turn into a death march to a sludge filled swamp. It was the middle of the day, quite hot and I had to lug a sweaty two year old on my back for 2 kilometers.
After the dusty trudge, we arrived at Blue Lake and it took our collective breath away. The lake was crystal clear with a sand bottom and a tree with a perfect branch platform for jumping. I have never seen a lake like that in my entire life and the water was warm.
After marvelous Blue Lake and a overly bumpy 4×4 trail back to the town, we ended up having a chaotic dinner for 20 at the North Stradbroke Island Hotel which offered your very typical Australian pub fare but was great for a group because everyone could order food and drinks at the their leisure. Hard to beat a pub for accomodating all different tastes and desires. The guitarist even belted out an excellent cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene for my daughter (it’s her favorite song for some reason).
TIP #4: YOU CAN GO YOUR OWN WAY
One lesson on family-togetherness is that you don’t constantly have to be together. On our third day we split factions and did mini-adventures on our own. My best friend and I watched our husbands surf Main Beach, which was closed due to rough conditions and “large bait fish attracting sharks.” Being a woman and therefore significantly more intelligent, I did not surf. I think the oldies got a coffee and spent sometime staring at their iPads at the Green Room Cafe (which was hands down the best of the island, try the Turmeric latte and the nasi goreng!). True family fun without the family.
The nicest part about our third day was that we returned to Flinders Beach where you could drive your 4×4 on the sand. Everyone in our group from 2 to 76 waded out into the ocean with surfboards, boogie boards, an inflatable boat or a raft and spent a solid hour floating and playing in the splendid water. Time apart makes time together much better and this was a special moment. Even Aunt Di was riding waves on a boogie board to the beach. And afterward, of course there was wine and cheese!
TIP #5: HAVE A LITTLE PATIENCE
That night we had an absolutely lovely feast of Moreton Bay Bugs, crab, prawns and Uncle Richie’s famous garlic mayonnaise named “Almondnaise” after the man himself. For those of you that have never had a Moreton Bay or Balmain bug, you need to try one when you visit Australia. The bugs are sort of like lobster but are more tender and sweeter. Afterward, we sat around sipping Gin and Tonics and reflecting on a weekend well spent. Naturally, there was some discussion about the overall fast pace of the weekend because apparently Oldies ordinarily enjoy this pastime called “relaxing” and the Youngies were anti-relaxation.
Thus the fifth and final Tip is the most important for surviving a “Generational” family vacation. Patience is a virtue that is difficult to cultivate particularly in modern times where we expect instant gratification. I found that being forced to be patient while waiting for my toddler to do basically everything for what seems like days on end has helped me deal with waiting in other situations. Although, it is not very zen, technology helps a lot in these situations. Sometimes the only thing you can do after you’ve given the 30, 10 and 5 Minute Warnings is whip out Instagram and do some double tap meditation to pass the time while you wait for everyone to get their lives in order and out the door. Either way, slowing down your expectations and going with the flow is critical to surviving a family vacation of this magnitude.
Highlights of North Straddie
The “Gorgeous Gorges” Walk & Swim
Breakfast at Green Room Cafe
Hike to Blue Lake
Surfing and 4×4 Beach-Going at Flinders Beach
Eating Fresh Moreton Bay Bugs
Take the Tips, Thrive
If you pack these tips and use them on your next family vacation, you might not just survive but you might thrive.
Recent studies show that the benefits of travel, particularly family travel, are immense. Family travel offers time for family bonding, improving relationships and overall happiness. Travel is even said to thwart divorce! These feelgood travel vibes trickle down throughout the family from grandparents to babies.
So instead of dreading your next trip with Aunt Edna, Uncle Lewis or your in-laws, embrace the time as a chance to make your family stronger and happier.
By using “God Save the Cheese and Wine” you can avoid hanger outbreaks and appease everyone from babies to oldies because everyone loves a cheese plate!
If you “Keep ’em separated,” you can create enough space for you to breathe and relax with your nuclear family.
The “30 Minute Warning” and its cousins “10 Minute” and “5 Minute” are just so damn useful for every sluggish person you know especially kids because you know they take 4-eva-r to do the most simple task. Just think of a child trying to put on its shoes.
You know what I mean. “You Can Go Your Own Way” gives your family members autonomy and break from each other. Finally, “Have a Little Patience” is another full time maxim that works so well in so many situations. I still hate waiting but I can do it without tearing my hair out.
So, I ask you, with all the increased loving feeling between you and your immediate family and the banked goodwill that will last for years between you and your extended family, how can you pass up a generational family vacation?