When I was a kid, my parents were determined that my sisters and I would see all 48 contiguous states. So every summer, they’d pack us in the Aerostar with enough provisions that would make anyone on the Oregon Trail jealous and head off to road trip through another section of the United States.
When I look back on it, I have no idea how my parents did it—the three of us sometimes bickering, sometimes singing more than 100 verses of I’m Hen-er-y the Eighth, I Am, sometimes hanging out the window mooing at the cows we drove by.
We looked forward to those vacations every year…but I have no clue how my parents held it together and felt like they had some semblance of a break from the every day. I mean, that’s the whole point of a vacation, right?
How did no one get left somewhere in the middle of South Dakota after “A little bit louder and a little bit worse” turned into an all-out scream fest? How did they unpack and repack the van every morning and night, when the world’s best Tetris player probably couldn’t do it?
I don’t know how they did it, but I’m glad they did. We made it to 47 of the 48–sorry, North Dakota—and I’ll forever cherish both the memories we made along the way and the appreciation for our country I cultivated. (And an appreciation for my folks. They are both brilliant and insane for schlepping us all over the country every summer.)
Related: Pinching Pennies? How to Plan a Killer Vacation When You’re Broke
But sometimes you can’t always plan a road trip or a vacation. Sometimes, to have a vacation at all, you’ve got to do it now. Sometimes, with everything else going on, you just can’t put one more thing on your plate.
Here are a few simple vacation ideas that will keep your stress levels low:
1. Plunk down in one place.
It’s so much easier if you have to plan for just one locale—whether that’s a beach house, one city, a resort or a cabin somewhere remote. Choose somewhere that offers what your family is looking for in a vacation and then move in and relax for the rest of your vacation.
2. Use military services.
Not only will you save money, but you’ll make life a little bit easier when you use military services in the area. Don’t feel like fighting the crowds at the beach or lake? Many bases have their own recreational areas that rival (or honestly, are nicer and cleaner) than public ones.
3. Stay put.
Not ready to venture somewhere else? Create a staycation of your own and enjoy what your area has to offer. As military families with crazy schedules and only a short amount of time in one area, we often don’t get to really know our area well. A staycation is a perfect way to uncover the gems right under your nose.
4. Keep it in-house.
Go for the all-inclusive package at a resort. Perfect examples? Great Wolf Lodge, the Disney theme parks and Sandals. All offer all-inclusive packages… and military discounts. Really.
5. See what happens.
Toss your planner and phone out the window. Instead of planning out the details of your days, just enjoy them. Take a blanket outside and read that book you’ve been meaning to. Throw football with your kids without worrying about a timetable. Walk down the street and find a restaurant that looks interesting—and don’t worry about reservations or what you ate last night. (You’ll survive if you eat pizza 2 nights in a row!)
6. Get everyone on board.
No matter where you go, make sure that you have a family meeting. Create the expectations for vacation and hear what everyone wants to do.
Are cell phones allowed at all? Only at certain times? Do the kids want to go to the pool every day? Is there a roller coaster at the theme park that’s the #1 family priority? Honor everyone’s opinions and ideas and then create a family plan of action for the week.
7. Don’t worry.
The very public nature of our lives online bleeds into how we conduct ourselves in real life. We try to make things look perfect for the camera…or we try to do bigger, better things to impress others.
And if we’re not doing that, we’re feeling inadequate, like we don’t measure up to our friends and the wider world. Don’t worry about that.
Worry about the here and now. You and your spouse are only this age once. Your kids are only this age once.
You have one golden, beautiful vacation together this year. Take a deep breath and embrace it for all of its crazy, nutty imperfections.
You’ll never have another one like it again, no matter what you do, no matter where you go.
And have a wonderful vacation together.
Because in the end, that’s what you’ll remember: being a family in one place, on one schedule, even if it’s been raining the whole week, even if the beach has biting flies…even if your kids are on verse 87 of Henry the Eighth and you’re pretty sure you’re about to lose your mind.