Recently, I asked everyone in my family what they would consider the perfect vacation. Lauren, my wife, favors a no-kids trip to Hawaii for sightseeing and whale-watching. Ben, 12, wants to go to Australia for the 2000 Olympic Games. Zack and Lindsey, 10 and 8, would choose a beach vacation where they can splash in the surf and collect seashells. I like places loaded with history (like Washington, D.C.) or natural beauty (like the Grand Tetons). I'll have to find an exotic locale rich in history, with beaches and mountains and a major international sporting event. There should be someone to watch the kids part of the time. And whales. We need whales. Such places do exist. But unless we win the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, we'll never visit them.
Somewhere between the beaches of southern France and the World's Largest Ball of String lies a good compromise destination for our family. But, while searching for the perfect vacation, we've learned what Clark Griswold and his family discovered in National Lampoon's Vacation: It isn't about reaching Wally World. It's about experiencing life together along the way … provided no elderly relatives die en route. Look elsewhere for advice on how to pack your travel wardrobe into Ziplock bags, or how to fly anywhere in the country for $29.95. We're going to focus on planning the vacation experience: creating memories that will outlive your Visa bill.
We've enlisted the help of four family-vacation veterans: Sandy and Michael Haverstick of Algona, Iowa, (married 25 years), who have four children, and Joyce and Bob Heinrich of Minnetonka, Minnesota, (married 39 years) who have six kids. Name virtually any American vacation spot and one of these couples can answer, "Been there; done that."1