Family Memoir Parenting Travel

When Vacation Lowlights Become Highlights


The other night, I asked my son to tell me his favorite memory from our recent vacation in The Happy House. It was a good one. We swam in the pool and the ocean. We visited with neighbors and spent a day at Magic Kingdom. We planted palm trees and went bike riding. We even had a dinner party where guests came over to watch Syracuse University get crushed by the Wolverines in The Final Four.

“Sitting in my rocking chair and eating pie,” my son said.

Seriously. That was the highlight?

But then I remembered.

When my brother and I were young, we went on a family vacation to Florida with our parents. For weeks, they told us we were going to have the best vacation – ever.

After a long flight and what felt like an even longer drive, we made it to our hotel It was nighttime, and we were all exhausted, so my father left us in the car and went to check in at the front desk. After a while, he returned with a map, a compass, a walkie-talkie and a survival guide.

Not really, but it would have been nice if he’d had that stuff.

Because we walked in circles forever, trying to find The Nepa Hut.

Apparently, the clerk had given my father explicit instructions. We were supposed to walk down a path to where the crushed shells ended, take a left, then a right, being careful not to fall off the pier into the ocean. Eventually, we’d see a gecko sitting on a rock. Or something. I don’t really know.

What the guy at the front desk should have given us was a flashlight.

It was so freaking dark, we couldn’t find our damn room.

Dragging our bags behind us, we wandered back to the lighted lobby where my father confessed we were lost.

My mother must have caused a fuss because we ended up with a guide.

Once in the room, we started to unpack. Someone went to the bathroom.

I heard the flush.

And then I heard my father. “Oh no! he begged. “Omigosh! No!”

Click for photo credit

You guessed it. The crapper was overflowing. Water poured over the lip of the toilet, spilling onto the floor until the tiles were soaked.

Though my mother threw towels onto the tile floor, the icky water would not stop, and the carpet outside the bathroom door was soon drenched.

While my father dialed housekeeping, my mother chastised him for using too much toilet paper.

My brother and I couldn’t stop laughing. The poopie geyser in the bathroom? That was the best.

He and I danced around the ever-widening wet-spot as our father warned us to keep away from the bathroom door.

It’s one of my favorite vacation memories.

Memories are weird. If I think about it, I suppose it isn’t so much that I love the fact that our toilet overflowed. It’s more that my parents had set this expectation that our vacation was going to be totally awesome, and even when things didn’t go to plan, we found a way to make the most of it. I love the memory of all of us being together, flailing around, figuring things out, being perfectly imperfect with each other.

I suppose if my son forever remembers kicking back in a rocking chair eating a slice of raspberry pie, well, as the kids say, that’s the shit.

What is one of your weird vacation memories? What about memories involving toilets?

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109 thoughts on “When Vacation Lowlights Become Highlights

  1. I don’t know, I think sitting in a rocking chair eating pie would be my fondest memory of any trip.

    We used to drive from Maine down to Florida to go to Disney and visit relatives. So I have vivid memories of us kids laying down in the back of my dad’s wood-paneled station wagon during the trip. (seat belt laws were nonexistent I guess) We thought that was the best: having our sleeping bags and pillows in the back, playing license plate games. I don’t remember much about Disney except the monorail was cool.

    1. I’m with Darla re: pie!

      My favorite vacation memories often involve some sort of hilarious quote, repeated indefinitely, and usually said by someone with an accent, or drunk, or both. When Peppermeister and I went to San Diego many years ago, we rented this little speed boat. This Irish dude showed us how to drive it, and said, in the most amazing accent, “She might not look like much, but she’s a fast one!” That was almost as good as one of our Australian tour guides saying, “Have a giggle at ya-self!”

      Oh man. Maybe you had to be there (yes, you did), but oh man.

    2. We rode in the back of my dad’s pickup from St. Louis to Missouri for 5 years before the cheap bastard finally bought a camper shell. Of course he liked to drive through the night so it was pretty cold. I remember my brother and I taking turns sticking our heads through the sliding glass window that separated the cab from the back of the truck to bitch moan and groan about how tired or thirsty or cold we were. They were nice and warm and holding hands while driving. It was like first class and we were coach.

  2. Hahaha, your poor mother on that vacation! Murphy’s Law strikes again!

    We used to drive from Iowa to North Carolina every summer (we too had a happy house, though that’s not what we called it), and my favorite memory is walking down to the very end of the beach. If we went during low tide, there were often these magical tidal pools that were like natural swimming pools. I loved those.

    We also loved license plate games, and the Alphabet game was pretty fun, too. We had to find all the letters on the alphabet on whatever we could see from our window – billboards, road signs, license plates, whatever. So much fun. I can’t wait ’til my kids are old enough to participate in that roadtrip game.

  3. I remember telling a group of 15/16 year olds that the out-of-camp trip they were going to go on would be the best trip of their lives, and I remember this group being grumpy for most of the trip and that I tried to make them happy by giving them a (single) Pop-Tart. And while, 31 years later, they remember the trip, I don’t think it, or the Pop-Tart were part of the best camping trip of their lives, right Renee? I think I over sold it. :/

    1. Omigosh Betsy! This made me laugh out loud, for real! You know what? It was a freakin’ great trip. It really was.


      I never got that Pop-Tart. This is not a lie. I believe those were given out after I chopped off my toe. I was pretty out of it, so I was not in the mood. SOMEBODY must have eaten mine. And do you remember the rain on that trip? You might have oversold it, but your enthusiasm all these years later? That story just gets better, doesn’t it? 😉

  4. We also used to drive from Syracuse to Miami to visit our grandparents (with a detour to Disney), with my brother and I sleeping in the back of the station wagon. My dad always like to leave the hotel early to beat the traffic. One year he woke us up and said “6am. Time to go.” My brother and I dragged ourselves out of bed, outside into the dark, and went to sleep in the back of the station wagon. We woke a few hours later. It was still dark. Turns out Dad couldn’t sleep. “6am” was really 3am. I found out years later that Mom didn’t even know how early it was until she was showered and dressed.

    Maybe the best memories are more about the spontaneous experiences you have with the people you love, and less about all that exciting stuff you actually planned.

    1. Hahahahaha! That must be a family gene. My dad always used to drag us to the airport like two hours in advance — this was before all the crazy airport security stuff. Mow he probably goes 4 hours early. Just in case. I love that you accidentally got up at 3 am to start your vacation. Sooooo funny!

  5. My weird vacation memory was the vacation that was almost over before it got started. My car broke down about 5 miles East of Troy as we were on our way to Maine. At least we were close to home. The car was all packed for vacation. It was towed back to my mechanic bright and early in the morning as we had left at the crack of dawn that August day. Luckily, Eddie was able to fix my car by noon and we were able to get to Maine by 6 p.m. that night (I called they held our reservations) and we only missed a half day of our vacation.
    My other weird vacation story happened when we went to Virginia Beach. I slathered on sun-screen and went down to the beach with my daughter and had the most awful reaction to the sun-screen. My eyes felt like they were burning and my skin was on fire. I was allergic to the PABA in the sun-screen (this was before PABA-free sun-screen). I had to take a shower to rinse the stuff off and shop to find a sun-screen that didn’t have the offending stuff in it (I called my doctor). Then we continued the vacation in relative ease.

    1. Oh no, Maire! Cars breaking down on vacation is no fun at all. And an allergic reaction to the sunscreen! That is an epic fail. You must have looked like a little raspberry with weepy eyes. Can you at least laugh about these things now? A little?

  6. A rocking chair and pie? Yeah, that pretty much sounds like perfection.

    I think I’ve blocked out all the mishaps in my childhood vacations. My mother did not handle mishaps well. They would not have been fond memories for anyone. Unfortunately, it is a trait she has passed down to her daughter. I’m working on it.

    1. There’s only ONE thing that pisses me off on vacation. Serious: the car can break down. The shitter can overflow. The park can have long lines. I can get sunburned. The beds can be uncomfortable. We can get eaten by mosquitoes. But it had damn well better be sunny! 😉 My family vacations while growing up were filled with drama. My father is pretty Type A and I always picture him driving white-knuckled. His sphincter generally relaxed by the time we had to go home.

  7. Me being about 6 or 7 taking a boat ride (about the size of a lifeboat, sat about 10-12 people) in Ausable Chasm and throwing up all over the back of the dude sitting in front of me.

  8. my favourite vacation memory is parking the stupid trailer in the parking lot of a hotel and staying at the hotel instead of camping–
    Love your favourite memory–it is much funnier than mine–though if we had not parked the stupid camper–then no one would have had much fun!

  9. Amazing! We had a similiar experience. It shall be cherished as the most funny crazy vacation we ever did. In spite of everything I remember laughing, laughing, and laughing over every tragedy. ( Is this really happening to us?)

  10. Great subject! The lowlights make better stories, like the time there was a rat eating a carcass in the parking lot of the place we’d just eaten. We love that story. And it couldn’t be more disgusting!

  11. (this isn’t a vacation memory)

    A friend and I were at a party once and he went to use the bathroom. Toilet was clogged and started to overflow. He jumped up to take the lid off the tank and grab the ball-cock to keep it from flowing anymore… but the lid was broken in half, a fact concealed by a little towel and a ton of grooming products. So now he had to explain that the toilet was overflowing on to the floor… AND he’d dumped all of their brushes, q-tips, hair gels, etc. into the bilge water.

  12. The lesson here is to tell the kids it’s going to be the worse vacation ever – by setting the bar low, you can exceed it quite easily.

    We went to Texas to visit family when I was 12. I got sick from dinner at the Big Boy, and threw up all over the hotel bathroom door in the middle of the night. I remember this because it was literally 12 years later that I vomited again, and, I didn’t do it again until I was 36. True story.

  13. Sometimes it is those weird ones, the ones you don’t choose. I remember very vividly playing checkers with my father in the lobby of some hotel. I have no idea how old I was or where we were even on vacation. I just remember the checkers, a game we had at home. 🙂

    1. Isn’t that awesome? Just a tiny snippet of a moment can stay with you forever. I’ll bet you remember everything about that lobby. And the chair. By the way, I can’t believe he won that game. Always protect your queen! 😉

  14. Pie and a rocking chair. I love that kid. The one and only time we visited Florida, we camped in Panama City. And a hurricane rolled in. And a tornado touched down in our campground. This was at the time that my parents had relegated my sister and I to the tent, while they slept in the VW camper van and under no circumstances were we to go into the van. We stayed sitting upright in the tent until we were more afraid of the weather than our parents’ anger, and ran to the van. At which point our tent ripped out of the stakes and blew away. We drove to a hotel where my Dad threw up all night. This was different from the trip where the car broke down in St. Louis when it was 104 degrees.

  15. I’d go with the pie without the rocking chair, otherwise I think the pie would end up on the outside of myself after I’d eaten it…

    Toilet memories on vacation? Ah, that would be when I and half a coach load of other women had to pee at a roadside public urinal in Spain. It had short saloon swing doors and we stationed one woman an each end on look-out duties while the rest of us tried to work out how to pretend to be men without the requisite bit of anatomy… !!

  16. i love it!! vacation memories are so funny – what makes a trip great are those moments that make us laugh or just enjoy a nice piece of pie. your son is so zen. 🙂 on our vacations, even at disney, our kids would say their favorite moments were the pool and the tv in the room. ha!

    1. It’s so true! My brother used to love to just BE in a different room. He’d sit on all the chairs and the different beds. Once he picked up the phone. It was a different color phone, like beige or something. He thought it was just the coolest phone. Can you imagine? The PHONE was the highlight that time. And you ain’t kidding when you say my kid is Zen. He teaches me things every day.

    1. Dude, it’s c-c-c-cold up here! We LIVE in the mountains. You want to ski? You can ski 8 months of the year. We have to come South to defrost. And I think it’s written in the Torah or something because we Jews have to come to Florida. Or something. It’s like…peer pressure. Oy.

    1. You had your passports pickpocketed! I can’t even imagine the nightmare that ensued. Or maybe it was in the good ole days when people weren’t as security conscious and you could get a new one without being sent into a rule for an anal probe. By the way, didn’t you think the Mona Lisa was over-rated. She was soooo small! Just sayin’.

  17. I really liked this post. I’m afraid to ask my son which part of which vacation he’s remembered most over the years. It will involve my spending the most amount of money in a place we could least afford. He still remembers our room number, he bandied it about so much during our stay: $15 pool goggles? $8 Snickers bar? Don’t mind if I do. Room 308.

  18. Hey Renee thanks for the read…the dead tour guide to refresh your memory! I actually just compiled a mess of crap that was editied out of a much larger project…the disease is actually NH Lymphoma and the head injury was from a break in to my house…it was quite a year! Anyhoo….thanks for the feedback …I have been toying with removing that version and ponying up to break it into its seperate parts…Maybe I will start right now….thanks for the inspiration!

  19. When I think of our vacations I think about mom and dad waiting until the last minute to decide that we were going to Florida and we’d pile into the truck and make the trek from St. Louis. Mom would go get a trip tick from AAA and we’d drive straight through until we were at a beach. They never once made a reservation in advance. We’d have to stop at three or four places before we found one with a vacancy and dad would be getting increasingly grumpy since he drove all night. I would still like to vacation like that, but my wife’s insistence on having a place to live for the week for certain has won out in the end.

    1. My father’s OCD would NEVER allow for such spontaneity. Seriously, they would have divorced if my mother ever suggested that my father deviate from the charted destination. I think he might be more pleasant to travel with today, since the advent of GPS systems. Except he doesn’t trust them. 😉

  20. For my vacations I always tend to remember what book I brought to read. I know–I’m such a nerd.

    I love that you did the Yeah Write link. I want to do that some time, too. I’m not sure what keeps me from it. I think I’m not 100% sure how the link up concept works. Does everyone read everyone’s? Does it get kind of out of control?

    1. It’s a great concept. And yes, everyone reads — so there’s a lot of great traffic. People post on Tuesdays. We all vote for our favorite five pieces on Thursdays. (You can vote even if you didn’t post — as long as you belong to the Yeah Write community.) Winners announced shortly thereafter. This is only my 2nd time, so I hardly know if what I speak, but you’d be great there. The challenge is keeping it short! 600 words, baby!

  21. Awesome post. I always wonder which parts of the memories we’re creating for our daughter will stick. Half of my memories of our family vacations involve just getting there. My dad was a pilot so if we flew to our destination, it was on stand by. There was always a possibility that the flight would be oversold and we wouldn’t go anywhere at all, so I remember sinking into the seats with relief just before the doors closed and the plane pushed away.

  22. This is great. Strangely, I have fond memories of a family vacation to Port Aransas, TX, where we all got sick with a stomach virus. I just remember us all being together and figuring things out, like you said. A good lesson that we don’t always need to go all out to create great memories for our kids.

  23. Haha, love this! Memories are weird, the good ones, the bad ones, the small pieces of life that stick with you. So glad you and your son have your own favorite vacation memories; even if it’s the small stuff.

    1. I just saw someone who said our brains remember the REALLY good stuff and the REALLY bad stuff, but not so much of the stuff in-between. I suppose it makes sense. The in-between just becomes blurry. I suppose the fact that our vacation was really just sooooo awful (and believe me, there were other AWFUL details I left out) makes me love this vacation even more.

  24. “Perfectly imperfect with each other.” I love your poop gyser story and hope my kids have as fond of memories of our family mishaps as you do of yours. Those family moments are the best – in hindsight, usually – but still. Happy house indeed! Great post!

  25. One time, we took our kids to the coast to see the ocean. It’s a couple days drive to get there, and we stopped at all of the spots that we had pre-planned to, based on brochures and books, as the “have to see” stops. The thing that our kids remember most, and still talk about, even though most of them are grown now, is not any of those sights, or even the ocean. It’s the 2 bit waterslide that we spent the night at by accident when we had to detour around one of our scheduled stops.

    Even though we could have and they wanted to, we never went back. I knew it wouldn’t be anywhere near as cool the 2nd time around. 🙂

    1. No! You should never go back. It’s never good to go back. They’ll see that 2 bit waterslide and be completely underwhelmed now. I’m thinking you’ve got the makings of another blog post in this response. Your writing is dynamite. I loved this week’s piece!

  26. Ok, so I am in Egypt with my friend and she had purchased some hashish. Go ahead, smoke it in the dug outs lined with multicolored carpet and eat carrots with cream cheese on top in the dessert ruins. It was cool to live like the bedoins for a while. But then, when it came time to return to Israel by plane, she decided to put the hashish up her woohoo. I can admit I may not always be a rule follower, but when it comes to taking drugs across international lines I know when to draw the line. I left a day later and let her go on her own. One of my better decisions.

  27. Our latest vacation to Key West the trip home was a total nightmare. Beyond the fact that we had two planes… the second was delayed for 3 hours. Thank the techy world we live in, the Ipad and the Wifi hotspot because with a 7yr old that would of been a nightmare in itself. But we finally get on the plane and all is going well. All of the sudden there is this horrible smell. Someone near us had something that did not agree with them during the delay. Then in perfect timing my daughter yells… UUUUCCK what is that horrible smell. With our luck in continued for the rest of the flight home.

  28. I have a similar memory…
    We’re pulling the trailer into a camping spot, and my dad hit an exposed root that punctured the septic tank.
    That was NOT a fun clean up, but in retrospect, it was hilarious.
    I loved this post.

  29. One of our most favorite vacation memories was the time my little brother was being sassy about putting on sunscreen and accidentally squirted himself in the eye. He bawled, my sister and I rolled on the floor laughing, and my mother yelled in exasperation. I think it was my mother’s insane reaction that made it hilarious to us even till this day.

  30. good god you have a lot of comments, woman!

    this was great. i remember so often as a kid: pulling up late at night to a destination; all groggy and mucky mouthed from sleeping in the car with my mouth open. the night air would be cool and damp or just not what i was used to. always disoriented. always tired. the rooms smelled musty; wanting to sleep but too excited to sleep. lumpy beds; cold pools, but family. always family.

    family: the vacation you take with you.

  31. There are so many to choose from! I remember driving along Highway 93 and seeing the city lights of Denver when I was on a family camping trip. Little did I know that I would drive up and down that highway every weekend years later!

  32. Great vacation memories! lol I enjoyed that.
    It’s interesting. I have been all over the United States, touring so many different and glorious sites. However, the one that sticks out in my head was when I was about 16 or 17 and was at a park in KY. I met a girl there and we, eventually, took a walk. I kissed her (that was it, sorry) and that kissed caused a lot of trouble down the road, but what I remember is kissing her. It was a good moment.
    By the way, Susie L sent me.
    My contribution is a short story from about a week ago.

    1. Hi Scott. I love that you remember that kiss. I recently learned people remember great trauma & periods of great joy. Obviously that memory brought you great joy. I hope. Thank you for coming to visit I’ll be over to check out your story shortly.

    1. I just heard that people remember WARM FUZZY memories and TRAUMATIC ones. The rest kind of blend in the middle and get forgotten. I found that rather fascinating. But it kind of makes sense. So nice to meet you. I loved your piece this week.

  33. We’ve got some odd ones, like a trip where three out of four of us ended up in the urgent care center, but for 3 different reasons. A good one (but still surprising) was when all of us–kids included, got upgraded to first class right before boarding an overseas flight. 🙂

    1. 3/4 of the family in Urgent care? What the deuce did you do to your family, Coleen? Were you researching “How To Murder Your Loved Ones” on Google? 😉 After that you guys deserved an upgrade to first class. Cosmic karma. Even if that happened a long time later. 😉

  34. Susie’s blog is helping me get caught up on my blog reading, and I’m so glad it brought me to this post! Toilet story? Probably the one where my sis and I came home from the grocery store only to find my husband standing on the driveway looking all kinds of worked up. Apparently he went to sit on the toilet only to find a big frog waiting to kiss his *ahem* derriere. 😉 The problem is, I’m terrified of frogs based on an allergic reaction as a child. He was freaked out…so my sister had to save us both.

    1. A frog? In the toilet? And you’re allergic? Wait, whaaaat? Have you ever written about this on your blog. If som will you send me the link. It sounds delicious. And if not, will you please consider writing about it for my #SoWrong series over here?

  35. Renée, I’m going to have to stop visiting your blog … or someone has to add another day to the week. I think I just spent my vacation here in your ‘comment land ‘ . Your posts are hilarious treasures in themselves and the comments plus your responses just keep kicking everything up notch after notch. You better be working on your novel too! . The world is waiting …

    1. Patricia! I know, the comments are just fabulous, aren’t they? As for the novel. It is with Amber West and Jami Gold right now. And then there will be edits. It’s gonna get ugly. But then I’ll be closer, right? This is the year. I feel like this is my Spring Break before finals. 😉

  36. my vacations always go…unexpected. Like when we thought we were on the right train, the cheap one, and didn’t have $ for the expensive one….the railroad police or whatever just put us in the unheated luggage storage compartment…fun times,

    1. But you remember it. So it must have been awful-funny. If you know what I mean, right? Were you sitting next to the woman who smelled like armpit-stank? I had that once. Also good times. Apparently, the olfactory sense if very close to the trauma center of the brain. 😉

  37. The hysterics and humor that just ensued after reading the post AND the comments? OMG … I need to pee.

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