The Myth of the Perfect Family Vacation

Jen Millard December 18, 2019

When will I ever learn?

As I write this, I am fresh off the plane after a week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with my two kids.

If you saw the pictures I posted on social media you would have assumed every day was sheer perfection. And you would have been right, but only to a point because perfection is not attainable when you’re taking kids out of their routines and comfort zones and plopping them into brand new situations and environments before heaping on loads of unrealistic expectations that should directly (in your mind) correlate to the amount of money and effort you’ve spent on this experience.

And the funny thing is, our trip really was fantastic. It was a 10/10.

We met up with family we love dearly and don’t get to see nearly enough. My daughters spent seven straight days with cousins they’d never met and they all got along fabulously.

Cousin love

The weather was incredible; 29 degrees every day and not a drop of rain. I drank margaritas with fresh lime juice and ate the best tacos of my life. Every morning I drank coffee and did yoga on our balcony as the waves crashed and roosters announced the day.

Me enjoying a peaceful morning on the balcony

We visited secluded beaches with crystal clear water where my kids surfed the waves, built sand castles and never once asked for their ipods.

We zip lined over the Mexican jungle and kayaked in a fresh water stream. We saw a whale breach in Banderas Bay, tracked iguanas the size of smart cars and hand-fed baby monkeys.

We saw more of the “real” Mexico than I did in all my previous trips to all-inclusive resorts combined. We walked, we took the bus, we met the locals and we spoke the language (sort of).

Waiting for the bus

Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for anything more in terms of the overall experience. But more times than I’d like to admit I found myself frustrated because my kids continued to act like, well, kids.

The problem, therefore, lies with me and my expectations because of course the same things we deal with at home would follow us to Mexico. Why would I think for a second that they wouldn’t?

In Mexico, my oldest refused to sleep in her own bed, crushing my dreams about a room and a bed to myself.

In Mexico, my kids still bickered mercilessly and made each other (and me) crazy by pushing buttons only seven and ten-year old sisters can push.

In Mexico, my kids still wanted cereal and donuts for breakfast. Avocados, guacamole, huevos rancheros… nothing could tempt them away from packaged foods. And it was the same at dinner and lunch:

“Mmmm…. Look guys, tacos!” was met with wrinkled-up noses and head shakes. Even the flaming bananas were declared “too squishy.”


So when I ask “when will I ever learn?” I’m not talking about drinking the tap water or paying strange men for donkey rides (though those are also important lessons). I mean when will I ever learn what travelling with kids really means? Because here’s what spending money, time and energy on making memories in a foreign country doesn’t mean:

It doesn’t mean your kids will stop bickering.

It doesn’t mean they’ll develop a sense of adventure when it comes to food.

It doesn’t mean they’ll appreciate a spectacular sunset over the ocean.

It doesn’t mean they’ll stop complaining about being too hot / tired / itchy / wet / thirsty, or hungry.

It doesn’t mean they want to have all the experiences you want them to have.

In other words, it doesn’t mean they’ll stop being seven and ten.

Before children, my vacation fantasies always came true. Amazing resort: check. Sexy scuba instructor: check. Reading books all day by the pool: check. Becoming a parent has made me an uptight cow in a number of ways, but most glaringly is the resentment I sometimes feel over not being able to move through the world the way I want to.

When my kids came rushing into my room, screaming at each other and in tears while I was trying to enjoy ten minutes of shavasana I wasn’t really pissed about the argument because the argument is meaningless and I know that’s what siblings do.

What stresses me out is that I have these two other people making demands and derailing my own desires. Yes, it’s selfish but it’s also about wishing they could experience what I’m experiencing, whether that’s a peaceful sunrise or a delicious meal. I get so wrapped up in wanting things for them that not only do I forget to enjoy the moment myself, I often ruin it for all of us.

My seven-year old went zip-lining thousands of feet above the Mexican jungle, but I’m pissed off she won’t try an enchilada?? Clearly I need to work on managing my expectations and not getting caught up in unrealistic vacation fantasies.

And maybe the “perfect family vacation” does exist. Maybe it’s not a myth and maybe the secret to attaining it is to focus more on “family” and less on “perfect.”

Me and my girls


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