A Rough Guide to Vacationing with the 'Rents

With their matchy-matchy St. Kitts hats and broad smiles, who wouldn't want to vacation with these two?
Years of piling into minivans should have taught us all better.  Taught us that there is no such thing as a "relaxing little vacation", when short-fused parents and their fussy offspring spend an entire week together in tight living quarters.  Inevitably, there will be a meltdown of sorts over a wrong turn or a cockroach infested Taco Bell.  Mom will want to explore every pit-stop along the way.  Dad will start growling over how much time we are losing on the road.  Brothers and sisters will wage epic battles over back seat territory.  By the time your whole clan reaches the beach, no one will be speaking to one another.

And yet, we tell ourselves,  "These were the theatrics of yesteryear.  Surely vacationing with one's parents as an adult is a whole different ballgame?" The answer: Yes and No.  The truth is, as we age, we seem to become even more set in our ways.  Dad will be snappier than ever, Mom will still want to explore the historical aspects of every single "Quickie-Mart" you pass, and you will still insist on eating at Joe's Crab Shack just for the novelty of shack-cuisine. But you'll probably also be better at diffusing angry family situations before they escalate, which definitely comes in handy.

My now-married brother Joe hasn't traveled with us (Mom, Dad and I) since 1999. Which means that I've had plenty of time to finesse my solo-set of rules to live by as the third-wheel on my parent's yearly beach vacations.  Our recent hot-spot has been Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. A nice place to go to if you enjoy American kitsch, like store-bought fireworks on the beach, beer cozies and loads of flag bikinis.      

So if you're over 25 and considering going on vacation with your parental units, follow my rough guide below and I promise you that you'll keep the bickering to a minimum:

Rule #1: Find your own way there.  When I was young I had no choice but to buckle-down and ride with my 'rents (who will always choose driving over flying if they can).  Now that I'm older, I can fly down unaccompanied and save myself the arduous 32 extra hours of travel time.  This means that I'll not only be fresh-faced when I arrive at my destination, but I'll truly be looking forward to catching up with Ma and Pa.

Rule #2: Put away your foodie ways for a week.  If your 'rents are not the type to fuss over mealtime, then my suggestion is to keep your gripping over how bad frozen foods are, and how much instant coffee sucks to yourself (this is if you have a kitchen in your rental).  I try to sneak in a few home-cooked meals for us all during the week (which they appreciate). But I know in my heart that one night will still be hot dogs and fries night, and I've made my peace with it.  Cheap wine and Perrier will still make you feel like a winner.  If your parents are gourmets, then enjoy every second of it.  Make them take you out to fancy steakhouses. 

That's $4 Rosé, my friends.  It was worth every American bill in my purse.

Rule #3: Make sure to bond one-on-one.  Sure it's swell hanging out on the beach with those crazy kids, but it's also nice to squeeze in some seperate face time with each of them. As empty-nesters, they probably also need a break from each other.  I shop with Mom and go on beer runs with Dad.  It's as simple as that, quality time never felt so good.

Rule #4: Don't expect to go clubbing.  If you are still in your "single and ready to mingle" faze then I wouldn't suggest going on vacation with your parents (unless they are also the partying types).  I know from experience that my days will be spent on the beach, and my nights will either be spent playing mini-putt or finally giving in to The Big Bang Theory (it's remarkable how funny it is when there is nothing else on TV).  I like a set schedule without much bru-ha-ha, and so do they.

I'll admit, I actually stay up later than usual on these vacations (11pm!), so I'm already feeling rebellious and free.  At home, Jer and I usually tucker out by 9pm (even on Saturday). 

Rule #5: Pack your own distractions.  Imagine if there is suddenly a week of heavy rain and you're stuck inside with your parents playing countless hours of Canasta.  Yikes! I make sure to bring a few novels, a notebook, a cookbook and a DSLR camera that I can toy around with.  This prevents me from getting too philosophical as I stare out at the waves. Dad's eyes start to glaze over when I ask him about the meaning of life.  
Rule #6: Laugh it off.  Despite all your careful planning, there will still be at least one or two moments on the trip when even three sensible adults will lose their cool on each other.  I take those moments with a grain of salt and try not to let it cloud the rest of the trip.  After the fact, it can even become a funny story, like the night we went to Red Lobster and my mom found the A/C too cold so she wanted me to abandon my full plate of lobster, crab and my frozen margerita.  No friggin' way.  My parents were reaching for the bill as I was furiously cracking my crab legs with my teeth to try to get every last bit of meat out of 'em.  Very ladylike, I assure you.

Rule #7: Give your parents the credit they deserve. You may think of yourself as a saint for agreeing to go on vacation with them, but consider what they have to deal with (an almost thirty-something who believes they are still entitled to endless freebies).  I really do appreciate vacationing with my parents more as an adult, because I realize now what a blessing it is to be able to enjoy our time together in good health and happiness.  Crab is just a bonus.

I wasn't just gonna let that sucker scuttle off my plate, now was I?
Happy Vacationing, Y'all!