{Mis}Adventures in Family Vacationing


A half-hour before our van broke down in the mountains, I thought about how unexpectedly well our drive was going.

We were on our way to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, our first-ever seven-day family vacation and 11-hour drive. The whole week before we left, a stomach bug made its way through the house, depleting our trip-prep energy and robbing the sleep we needed to drive the distance in one day.

Despite our 4-year-old still riding under the weather, we decided to go for it. We got out the door around 7 a.m. and were cruising into the curvy mountain drive by mid-afternoon. Car sickness? We had that covered, with our usual victims driving (me) and dosed with Dramamine (my son).

We’re going to make it. In one day. By bedtime.


Once we were seemingly in the middle of nowhere and about halfway between home and the beach, our 2-year-old van suddenly struggled to accelerate and switch gears.

I would press down on the gas and the engine would rev, but the car wouldn’t go any faster than 40 mph on the highway. I couldn’t change lanes quickly enough to hit the rest stop, so I veered onto a narrow shoulder at the base of a rocky hill.

We got the kids out of the car as traffic whizzed by at 60 miles per hour and climbed through hip-high weeds to find a rock to rest on. We did our best to remain outwardly calm for the kids (“Here’s a snack! Here’s your tablet!”) and silently mouthed various versions of “What do we do?”

But the kids! They stayed calm. A little scared, yes, but a lot less ruffled than expected.

The next hour was a string of phone calls to AAA and the highway patrol, requiring frantic decision-making between multiple less-than-ideal/safe/economical options. We were finally towed to the only nearby auto shop open past 3 p.m. on a Saturday.

The car guy welcomed us and said he would take a look, so “Why don’t y’all just head over to the diner next store and get some food while you wait?”

The diner’s comfort food and friendly staff were a welcome refuge from our harrowing past hour. We quickly became regular customers as we ventured between there and the auto shop three more times. In short, they couldn’t fix the van without voiding the warranty, so they would tow us to the dealership.

That is, right after they put a new radiator in their tow truck.

One hour of tow truck repair turned into three, as we stood among broken-down cars haphazardly parked in a dirt lot, draining the batteries on our phones, tablets and patience as the clock ticked slowly by. We were stranded with nowhere to sleep and no car to drive.

But the kids! They relished in a brownie treat, story time with the windows down in the broken-down van, card games at the restaurant, and extra tablet time.

Darkness fell and the kids’ bedtime had long passed. It was then that we learned the tow truck wouldn’t be fixed until the next day. After more shop delays – chickens had to be fed and jet skis had to be towed – we piled everything we could fit into a soft-top Jeep, including two car seats and three adults, and allowed a stranger to drive all that was precious to us into Asheville for an overnight stay.

We unhooked the car seats again (anyone with children will know this is a noteworthy and taxing detail), unloaded our gear, poured ourselves into the hotel room, brushed everyone’s teeth, figured out beds, and collapsed.

The kids passed out quickly, while my husband and I laid there for hours unable to unwind enough to sleep. There were still unknowns to wait upon and decisions to be made.

But the kids! They were sound asleep. We were all safe. Everyone we encountered that day showed us kindness and grace, even if it wasn’t on our timetable.

The next morning, after several we-have-a-van, we-don’t-have-a-van conversations with the rental companies, we piled into our borrowed van and headed back to the auto shop to transfer the remaining gear out of our van. We left our van in the shop’s care and set off for Hilton Head.

The rest of the day was filled with pouring rain, unexpected traffic delays, and a stomach-sick kid in the car. When we finally passed South Carolina marshland, a brief rain hiatus and peeking sun revealed a huge double rainbow arcing over the island, as if greeting and rewarding us for our journey. We exchanged looks of relief and hope.

We settled into our poolside villa right around actual kid bedtime, with two tired little boys who still had enough energy to be excited about their shared bedroom for the week. Once we tucked them in, we flopped onto the couch and took a moment to reflect on our misadventures.

Did we really have to wait for a tow truck to be fixed in order for our broken van to be towed and repaired?
Did our son actually lose his lunch in the rental van?
Did we seriously get outranked by chickens?

But mostly, we counted our blessings. We were safe. We met many strangers that day who showed us compassion. We were lifted out of bad situations and into safe havens.

And our kids!

They were the biggest surprise of all. While there were moments of worry and whining, they also showed great resiliency and growth through the ordeal.

We almost didn’t take this trip due to dreading the drive with two kids who don’t love car rides. An 11-hour drive turned into two full days of travel, and our oldest son told us it was actually fun. Bottled-up emotions and stress trickled out in other ways that week, as expected, but we still called it a win.

We enjoyed the beach, mini golf, a pirate cruise, dolphin spotting, pony riding, and swimming through our week on the island. Our drive home couldn’t have been smoother, including a seamless pickup of our van (with a new transmission). We made it home in one day. By bedtime.

The youngest and oldest in our crew grew that weekend. Would I have chosen it? Absolutely not. But I can’t deny the resiliency and flexibility muscles stretched and strengthened in all of us in the face of adversity.


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