10 Lessons I Learned When My Family Vacation Was Ruined

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When family vacation plans get uprooted at the last minute, is everything ruined? Or is it a time to seize the beauty of the unknown? Here are 10 ways to embrace change from a positive perspective.

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I’d been packing for our vacation the entire day — everything my kids, husband and I needed for four days of theme-park fun at Universal Orlando, followed by a relaxing week in the Dominican Republic. I had planned this vacation for months and was excited to take the kids on their first international jaunt, expose them to Latino culture and the Spanish language. Hotels and flights were all arranged. Excursions and horseback riding adventures were already promised. It was going to be a great trip!

Right after zipping up the last suitcase, only hours before our early morning flight the next day, I decide to organize our passports and other necessary paperwork. There was my husband’s passport and mine, right behind my daughter’s, but… where was my son’s passport?

Long story short — it was gone. GONE! We looked for hours, ultimately getting on our flight to Florida knowing that we would have to cancel the connecting plans to the DR. I was devastated.

Our vacation was ruined.

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Or was it?

Here are 10 things I learned from my ruined vacation:

1. A mother will do anything to see her children light up with happiness. It took a few days, but after the kids got in “vacation mode,” my heart was full. While a missing passport might have ruined our vacation plans, deciding to make the best of the situation was the only alternative. What else is a mom to do?

2. My husband and I make a pretty good team. A ruined vacation — and what we thought was going to be the best time of our lives together — proved that maybe we’re not such a bad team, after all.

3. Sometimes strangers know best. Since we had an extra week to kill in Florida (you know, the one we were supposed to spend in the DR), we decided to ask around for family-friendly beach suggestions. One very nice man proclaimed, “I’m from Jamaica and the best beach in Florida is only two hours away.” So, that’s where we went. Jamaicans know a thing or two about beaches and, needless to say, he was right.

4. Planning doesn’t always equal better. I love to plan, don’t get me wrong. But since I didn’t have time to plan this leg of our adventure, I didn’t have anything planned. And you know what? It was exactly what my family needed after a frantic few days at the theme parks.

5. No planning means no expectations. I had no expectations of the sleepy, little beach town where we stayed. Honestly, because it was so low-key, I likely would never have planned to visit it, or had high expectations of the “quality time” we were supposed to create. Instead, since I had already ruined our “real” vacation, this experience was free to be as amazing as it turned out to be.

6. Kids are more flexible than expected. I thought that when I told my daughter we wouldn’t be heading onto to the DR, she would freak out. Actually, she didn’t care at all. She was happy to be together and enjoying new surroundings as a family — although, she did wonder about that horseback riding excursion.

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7. All is not ruined if you’re having fun. Perhaps it’s a “mom thing,” but feeling defeated in the midst of two happy children just doesn’t seem possible.

8. Thank goodness for travel insurance. Right?!

9. Kids need time to play — even on vacation. We spent hours of unhurried time on the beach. No events to attend. No dinner reservations to meet. The sunrise and sunset were our only deadlines each day. It was bliss watching my little ones play together — and I will cherish those memories for many years to come.

10. A vacation can’t be ruined if you’re spending it with the people you love. I was so upset about ruining the originally planned vacation that I almost didn’t want to go at all. How foolish of me. The biggest lesson I learned is that you should value vacations on the quality of the time you spend with your loved ones, and not necessarily on the exotic location in which those memories occur.

The “ruined vacation” has become a life-changer for my perspective on family travel. My husband believes that the passport went missing for a reason, and maybe he’s right. The unplanned portion of our vacation was everything I didn’t know our family needed. While I’ll always be a planner, I’ll also surely embrace the possibility of spontaneity and adventure in our family travel more warmly.

Photo credit: Vanessa Bell
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