Recently, I asked for some advice in a social media travel group about a short trip I’m considering taking with two of my kids next year. I happened to mention in my inquiry that my oldest son (who will be in high school) and my husband would be unable to go.
Although the absence of two of my family members from the trip wasn’t even relevant to my question, it caused a considerable amount of controversy. Some of the responses:
“Wait, you’re not taking one of your kids?”
“I would never consider going on a vacation without my entire family.”
“Pull your high-schooler out of school.”
“Life is too short, you all must go.”
“So sad that you think of some family members as a bother.”
“Making lifelong memories as a family is super important.”
“Vacation means the whole family.”
Apparently, the idea of a partial family vacation really touched a nerve in some people. I was not prepared for all the backlash!
My Family’s History with Partial Family Vacations
This is not the first time we’ve considered traveling without all five members of our family. In fact, we do it often!
When you have five people in your family, traveling gets expensive, even using miles and points. It takes so many more resources to get our whole family somewhere vs. just one or two of us. Also, when we all go, we have additional expenses of pet sitting, airport parking, etc.
When my kids were younger, my husband went on a few road trips in Texas to see his friends and family. Each time, he would take a different kid with him. When he traveled to Houston to see a friend, he took our middle son since his friend has a son about the same age. Another time, he took my oldest son to visit family. My daughter also got her own solo road trip with dad.
A few years ago, I took my two boys to Disney World for a reunion. My daughter stayed at home with dad.
Three years later, she got her own solo trip with me to Disneyland.
Last December, I took my son to Denver to visit my mom. I will likely return this summer with a different kid.
The kids and I have also taken several trips together without my husband. His work schedule doesn’t allow him to travel as much as we would like. We visited the Mall of America by ourselves:
And we tackled Washington, D.C. on our own for a short trip to update Russian passports:
This summer, we will have about two weeks in Florida without my husband. He will join us for a 3-day weekend and July 4th week.
One lucky time when the stars all aligned, my husband and I were able to travel to New York City just us, without our kids.
Admittedly, it’s much easier to accomplish these partial family trips with the help of miles and points. It’s hard to pass up a short trip when you can fly and stay in an awesome hotel for (almost) free.
For most people, going on at most one vacation a year is the norm, so I can understand why the thought of not taking the whole family is shocking.
Why I’m Ok with Partial Family Vacations
We can pursue our individual interests. Even though my husband and I are like two peas in a pod, we still maintain our individual interests. He loves to travel for cycling events, which don’t interest me. I love hotel pools and water parks, which isn’t his cup of tea.
We can do more and see family more often. If we had a requirement that all five of us had to go on every single trip, we simply couldn’t go as many places. Cost and work/school scheduling conflicts would eliminate some trips altogether.
We can spend time alone with each kid. When you have three kids, it’s hard to spend a lot of time with each one individually. Short trips with one kid give us that chance.
We can reconnect as a couple. Even though we only had one chance to travel as a couple without our kids, the alone time was precious to us. I wish we could travel as a couple more!
Sometimes, staying home is more fun! For the people left behind, sometimes the opportunities at home are better than the trip! It could be a chance for a one-on-one excursion to the zoo or local theme park. Or, it could be a sleepover with friends without having to worry about waking up the little siblings. Maybe staying at home means a weekend of being spoiled by Grandma!
When Partial Family Vacations are a Bad Idea
I obviously underestimated just how controversial partial family vacations are. As I discovered, partial family trips are a hard “no” for some people. But I say, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
In my opinion, partial family vacations are a bad idea if the same person is always excluded or when the trips are always skewed in one person’s favor. When things become unfair, kids (and adults) do notice!
With that in mind, I want to make sure that my kids are treated fairly equal with trips and vacations. We are not going to exclusively go on solo trips with our “easiest” kid just because it’s easier on us. (And I’ll never tell which kid is easiest!) If we take one kid on a trip, I want to make sure we plan something similar for the others down the line, or do something equally as fun at home while we’re gone. I’m keeping score, as I know my kids are, too.
I also don’t think it’s right for grandparents and extended family members to play favorites when it comes to family trips. It just causes hurt feelings and resentment. My husband and I will make every effort to treat all of our future extended family members equally.
There are certain situations when I want my entire family there. For big milestone overseas trips, I want all of us to experience the new country together. For example, when we visit Russia, we will all go. We won’t exclude my daughter just because she wasn’t born there. The trip will be a big deal to all of us. Also, when my husband and I celebrate our 25th anniversary with a trip, we will invite all of our kids, not just one or two.
My entire family will still go on at least two trips a year with the whole family. I cherish the time when all five of us can travel together. However, there are times when we will break off into smaller groups for partial family vacations. It’s what works for us.
Have you ever gone on a partial family vacation? Do you enjoy traveling with just your spouse or just one kid at a time?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.