The one thing that can save a bad vacation

When we plan vacations we don’t think of bad vacations. We think of sunny skies, happy visits with friends and family, new adventures or the joy of revisiting favorite spots. We don’t often imagine things that can go wrong. And that could be a mistake that can cost you precious patience and happy memories.

My family and I just returned home from a trip that by some accounts was wonderful and also packed with crap we could have done without. Our patience was tested, as was our flexibility.

This trip started like any other, with dreaming.

It was turning cooler in Switzerland where we live, and while it’s beautiful here, it’s not my hometown. It doesn’t hold my memories or traditions and I started to crave a good old Michigan fall. I searched flights, a place to stay and our budget. Then I convinced my husband that he really wanted to go to Michigan in the fall, too.

I could almost smell the apple spice, see the orange bumps of the pumpkin patches and green trees with tips of purple and yellow. I craved the sound of announcers calling football games and sampling cider and donuts at the orchard. I wanted my girls to get this glimpse of my roots. 

We booked a room at an adorable bed and breakast, the Millpond Inn, in a charming village close to my sister, where my mom had lived for a few years before she passed away. The streets are lined with historic homes, quaint small-town shops and reknowned restaurants. There is a park and library within walking distance. And there were lots of things on the village calendar during our stay. It would be perfect.

When vacations go bad

Our first week’s plans were shuffled with the weather, lots and lots of rain. By the end of the week our youngest developed a fever, but she was happy so we just tried to keep her out of kissing range of her cousins. We managed to find some indoor activities for everyone and spent some much-needed time with family.

But the second week hit like a hammer. Though the weather turned perfect, my daughter’s health was not. We’d just sat down to eat at the Taste of Clarkston when our 3-year-old had a head-to-toe allergic reaction to some unknown irritant. I said goodbye to friends we had seen for five minutes and sped off to the emergency clinic where the poor little one spent the evening getting poked and drugged and we were introduced to the epi pen.

A couple of days later, she woke with what we thought was strep throat. We were back to the clinic. Then back again that night with a reaction to her medication. Then again in the morning for more testing, and finally, on the day before we left, when she wasn’t improving, more testing, more drugs and a corrected diagnosis of mono.

She was a trooper. Drugged and eating her popsicle, I texted family, canceled plans for dinner, and had to say goodbye to everyone over the phone instead of in person.

I was so happy we had a better understanding of what was happening with our daughter. But there was a little piece of me, that selfish piece that no one likes to talk about, that was disappointed and a little sad that we were missing out on the rest of our trip — visits with friends and family, planned day trips, even just the relaxing fun pace I’d been looking forward to, the entire reason flew across the ocean to begin with.

How to save a bad trip

But the truth about vacations is that the days away are really just like any other day or week at home, subject to variables and the state of being human. We never know what will happen. Whether it’s flight delays, hurricanes or illness, it can all affect your vacation and often does.

The one thing that can save, or salvage, these times is acceptance. When we accept that we can’t control everything but we can control our reaction to it, we can change the dynamics of a tough situation. We may not get the vacation we’d hoped for, but we can accept that this moment is our reality and choose to stay calm and centered so that we don’t conjure up even more stress. And if you’re lucky you can find other ways to enjoy the time.

Will there be disappointment? Of course. I would have loved to finished our night with friends, had dinner with my cousins, gone to the craft show where my mom used to sell her jewelry, had our bonfire not rained out.

Put acceptance into practice

One way to prepare for acceptance is anticipation. Start before you get on the plane, or book your hotel, or plan your roadtrip. Keep your dreams of the perfect escape, but also remind yourself it may rain, you may not have as much time to do as much as you think, you may lose luggage or have other difficulties. Give some thought to how you might react to that. Practice, like an athelete, makes facing the real thing easier.

Make some back up plans–pick a few rainy-day activities and keep your schedule open and flexible. Be OK with not doing everything.

Come up with a little mantra for the times when things get disappointing. I used to say, when I traveled solo, “whatever happens happens”. I’d repeat it over and over again whenever I got nervous about canceled trains or arriving in a city without a place to stay. If you repeat this to yourself, quick and easy, you won’t be so moved to frustration when things don’t go as planned.

Remember, you will find a way around your situation, you always do, just like when you’re at home. But those changes don’t have to mean a completely wasted trip. Your trip may just end up being something you never imagined when you accept what you have to work with and find a new way look at it.

Think of any good things you’ve done and be grateful for them. Then start planning your next trip!

Have you had vacations that have gone down the toilet? How did you handle it? What tips do you have?

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Showing 17 comments
  • Tamara
    Reply

    Tara, I am so sorry!

    I loved the description of your anticipation, I could see the blue sky and the colorful leaves, I could smell the apples and the donuts…

    And then BOOOOOM. Poor little girl, and poor you!

    What I was thinking, being me, was “at least English is her first language, and she knows her way around the medical system!” During one of our trips Colin fell and had a nasty cut in his chin, and he was bleeding and crying badly. I grabbed him and went to the hotel lobby, asking for help. They gave me ice and asked if I needed a doctor. It was our last day before flying back. In Switzerland I would have tried to see our pediatrician – but in NYC? All I (thought I) knew was that waiting rooms at ERs are packed, and if you waited too long they could not sew a wound anyway. So we just cleaned it the best we could and used a lot of band aid and M&Ms.

    So now you’re gonna have to convince hubby to go back soon – to claim your rain check on the fabulous vacation!

    Happy jet-lag from one who’s slowly getting back to normal…

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      Yeah, that’s how I feel every day here in Switzerland! 😉 ha ha ha It is really tricky when you’re in another country and get sick. I’m glad it worked out for you. M&Ms are magic medicine!

  • Stacy
    Reply

    Aw, I’m sorry your little one was sick! How awful for everyone! We had a few “learning curve” trips when my eldest was small where we realized that city trips small kids weren’t a great match! Now when we travel we usually stick to low pressure situations. The last time we flew was when my son was 11 months and given his current energy level I think flying might be on hold for quite a while, lol ….

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      The funny thing is they change so fast, those little people, give something five or six months and it’s a whole new story!

  • Kate
    Reply

    I’m so sorry it all went wrong! How is Olivia doing? I’d never heard of mono before. It must of been a worrying and stressful time for all of you. However I love the wisdom you share about acceptance. We can find joy in all sorts of ways, and sometimes the perfect vacation just isn’t so perfect and that’s okay.

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      She’s better now, thankfully. It can last more than a month in some people. It was pretty crazy, but surprisingly was able to just go with the flow. I was sad to miss some things, people. And I got pretty stressed at times, but just remembering what you can and can’t control makes all the difference.

  • Ashley
    Reply

    Oh what a total bummer. I’m so sorry your little one and you all had to go through that and hope she will be feeling better soon. What a great example for the kids though to just take things in stride and teach them that our own attitudes can really make the biggest difference in how we experience things! And yes, you definitely need a do-over for that magical fall vacation. 😉 We are leaving for Portugal in 2 days and although it’s currently 80* and sunny, by the time we arrive it’s supposed to be cool and rainy and I have a killer sore throat. Looks like I might need to practice my positive attitude also!!

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      Oh no, I hope you have a great vacation and the sore throat will vanish soon. There is always something, isn’t there. Somehow it hurts more on a short trip, but yeah, acceptance! It can go a long way in destressing a tough situation 😉 Have a great trip!

    • Robin Vengadasalam
      Reply

      Living here in Spain, we aren’t too far from Portugal. And our weather is warm with a bit of rain here and there. Hoping that you feel better and the weather is great! Haven’t been to Portugal yet. Heard it’s amazing!!! 🙂

  • Hanka
    Reply

    Hi Tara, I almost cried while reading your post. It must have been so tough for you and your family! Hope your daughter is now all right.

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      Oh yes, everyone is doing well. Just one of those things where it keeps piling up and it made me remember that what I’d planned isn’t always the path we get to take. Thans for your wishes and thanks for reading.

  • Rachael Soster-Smith
    Reply

    Oh what a horror! But yes – we can control our reactions to everything. That is all we can control. A great reminder 🙂

  • Claire
    Reply

    Oh no I’m sorry to hear this but glad your daughter is OK. Kind of makes me think we made the right decision not to do a whirlwind trip to Oz anytime soon tho… :#

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      ha ha, it was worth the trip! do it. be spontaneous. there’s no telling when things will happen, even if you planned your trip to australia for a year!!!

  • Robin Vengadasalam
    Reply

    I can SO relate to your desire to go home and the predicament you found yourself in with your daughter. I’ve been living outside of my country for over 14 years, in Germany. Being the Phoenix girl that I am, I NEED sun and warmth and friendly faces. We try to go back as much as possible, especially in the winter. And about 1 1/2 years ago, while enjoying home, my daughter woke up to a HUGE jaw one morning three days before we were supposed to head back to Germany. Needless to say, many dentist appointments and about $1000 later, she ended up with a root canal due to the fault of the surgeon back in Germany that performed her wisdom tooth extractions! And you are absolutely right, an expectation and good attitude are very important when traveling with family! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      Oh my gosh!!! Did you end up able to go home on time? (With some choice words for the dentist!!!)

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