The Earnheardts | Planning an (epic) family vacation

But this next adventure will be the first, big, post-pandemic (or, at least, near-the-end-pandemic) family trip. At this point, we’re all so desperate for new surroundings, our next trip could be anywhere, and we’d be satisfied.

In late-2020, there was a clear, albeit unspoken, understanding in our home that there would be no weekend trips this year. It’s not that we’re heavy travelers, but in normal times, we occasionally managed to take the kids to a local indoor water park.

Follow Pigeon Forge News on Google News

Follow Pigeon Forge News on Google News

There are several reasons why we decided to forego these small adventures.

First, it wasn’t safe. And even if we took the recommended precautions, it didn’t sound like a very good time. I mean, who wants to sit poolside wearing a mask? No thanks. It just doesn’t have the “rest and relaxation” vibe one would typically associate with a vacation.

Second, we have been worried about money. Yes, there were some outrageously good travel deals right now. Do a quick search of Vegas hotel deals in March 2021 to see what we mean. Even still, our budget, like that of many families, is much tighter than usual. 

Finally, any family vacation we take next will be remembered for a lifetime. You might be thinking, “The Earnheardts must be doing it wrong. Aren’t they all memorable?” Most of the time, the obvious answer would be yes. Or at least, maybe all vacations are memorable in their own ways.

But this next vacation will be the first, big, post-pandemic (or, at least, near-the-end-pandemic) family trip. At this point, we’re all so desperate for new surroundings, our next trip could be anywhere, and we’d be satisfied.

Even in good times, we didn’t have a huge travel budget, so we’re not too hard to please. Our last epic family vacation was a trip to Niagara Falls in June 2019. Our kids like to say they “traveled abroad” that summer because, well, if you really want to see the Falls, you’ve got to see them from both sides: U.S. and Canada. So, passports in hand, we crossed the border. 

We did the typical touristy things on that trip. We rode the Maid of the Mist. We tasted Canadian maple syrup (sorry Canada; it tastes the same as the U.S. variety). We watched the amazing light shows and fireworks that lit up the nighttime spray. We successfully stopped Oscar from jumping the fence to, as he put it, “go for a swim.” Adam even suggested that Oscar walk around wearing a life preserver. “Ya know, just in case.”

Memories of that last Earnheardt vacation seem so distant now. We have photos and videos, but the real memories are fading. We’re craving something new, but mostly, we’re looking for an escape. We want a release from the mundane life of going to work and to school, coming home and making dinner and cleaning house and doing homework, going to bed, and waking up to do it all over again – day after day.

We like being around each other, which is a feat in and of itself for a family of six. But we think we’d really like to be around each other a lot more in a different location for a few days.

We’re also craving an escape from Youngstown. Nothing against Youngstown or the Valley. We moved here specifically to raise our little family. We’ve been comforted by the way our community has reacted to the pandemic. But as the pandemic lingers, so does our wanderlust.

So, when even the thought of a short weekend away isn’t in the cards, we do the next best thing: we plan.

Mary Beth read that one of the best parts of a vacation is planning it. She’s right. It gives us something to look forward to. According to a study in “Applied Research in Quality of Life,” Jeroen Nawijn and his colleagues found that, “Vacationers reported a higher degree of pre-trip happiness, compared to non-vacationers, possibly because they are anticipating their holiday.”

Anyone who travels knows the fun in selecting the location, dates, hotel rooms, and (Adam’s favorite part) all the places you’ll eat.

Over the last few months, this is exactly what we’ve been doing — thinking about the next big epic family getaway. We’ve talked about it for months, throwing our ideas on fun, but relatively inexpensive locations within driving distance (i.e., for us, that’s about 8 hours these days). You may recall that we wrote a column this past summer asking the kids where they wanted to go.

I don’t think we’re ready for some of their suggestions just yet, but we’ve landed on a location. While we’ve been in the mood to plan a vacation, country music legend Dolly Parton has been in the news (don’t worry, it’s for good reasons — as if there would be a bad reason for Dolly to be in the news). Somehow the two things have mixed together and now we’re planning a late-summer trip to Dollywood.

Mary Beth has been advocating for this since well before March 2020, but it took the pandemic for the stars to align. The kids drank her Kool-Aid — even if they (and Mary Beth) can only hum along to 9 to 5 — and the idea of going to an amusement park in the Great Smoky Mountains emerged as a good cure for cabin fever.

Adam intends to educate the family about Dolly’s music with a Spotify list during the car ride to Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

Normally, everyone would sit back and let Adam make the vacation decisions, but this time, we’re involving the kids more. They all want a hot tub. Sadie wants her own bed. Ella wants a pool. Oscar wants to hug Dolly Parton. Katie wants to catch a pigeon (see, she’s got this thing for birds, and she thinks that if we’re going to Pigeon Forge, oh never mind). 

We see the anticipation grow when we talk and plan. We’re working together to create something that we’ll mark on the calendar and count down the day. It’s fun, but more importantly, it’s hopeful.

We’re likely to still need our masks, and there will probably be reduced capacity in the park (which might be a good thing: i.e., ride lines). But for the first time in a long time, we have a sense of optimism. As a family, we’re looking ahead to taking a step out into the world, to see something new together. 

If this tenuous start to the healing process holds, our family will be off on new epic adventures, making memories that will last a lifetime.

Adam Earnheardt is professor of communication at YSU and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists executive board. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn. Mary Beth Earnheardt is a professor in the Anderson Program in Journalism at Youngstown State University where she advises student media. You can follow her on Twitter at @mbexoxo.


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