Recently, I went on a 5-day vacation. It was terrific, but not because we did once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It was terrific specifically because we did “regular” vacation things.
I planned this vacation as I do most planning as a Product Manager – I started with the requirements.
I started with coarse basics – what’s the goal of the vacation? To get away with my kids and have fun together. So I came up with a list of requirements, product management style – that is, no solutions:
- No flights. That’s a COVID risk I’m not willing to take yet, for a vacation. When I planned this trip a few months ago, we did not know when vaccines would be ready; as it is, by the time the vacation began, my 3-year-old had gotten one shot but was not fully vaccinated yet. Buses and trains are OK, as is driving, but nothing more than six hours or so of travel.
- Get away. Not a “staycation.” If we saw local sights, we should at least be in a hotel so I could be present with my kids and not worry about doing house chores.
- Accommodate my 3-year-old napping in the afternoons (approx 1-3 pm) and general flexibility. My 6-year-old has anxiety, and sometimes we simply have to leave. A timed experience with no re-entry means I have to be willing to go and lose the entry fee if the situation calls for it.
- Something engaging for my kids that they will love. They’re 6 and 3 years old, and I don’t want to spend the whole vacation trying to convince them to do something fun or listen to them complain.
- Focus on being active, preferably outdoors. Since it’s summer where we live, that wasn’t too difficult.
- Accommodations: Hotel or rental house, strong preference for a pool in the hotel, at least one bedroom that’s separated by a door so the kids can go to sleep and I can stay up without bothering them.
Once I had the requirements, I could engineer possible solutions. Requirement #1 helped narrow down what we could do. Living in Boston, we could go to the Berkshires (mountain range three hours away), New York City (four hours away), the beach, arbitrary city (Lowell MA, Mystic CT, Hartford CT, etc.), Mount Washington, amusement parks (Six Flags and Story Land)…there’s a lot of options.
However, since it is all within driving distance due to requirement #1, it was by nature something repeatable. It wasn’t a trip to Paris where I would regret not seeing the Eiffel Tower. If we didn’t see something, we could go back some other time.
I wanted to focus on an activity that was best or only possible in summer, which ruled out a lot – for example, New York City has tons to do, but summer’s heat makes everything, well, stinkier.
Accommodations were a big part of the decision – I ruled out tent camping, it’s a lot of work, and I wanted to have a vacation too. I settled on Cape Cod, basically the beach, with the second choice of Story Land because in a few years, my kids will be too old for it.
I looked for hotels or rental properties on Cape Cod, within walking distance of a beach, for the easy back-and-forth. And something that had a pool – my kids LOVE swimming and jumping into a pool. If I couldn’t find something that met our accommodation requirements on Cape Cod, we could try Story Land. I was lucky and found a beach place and booked it.
My partner isn’t an outdoorsy guy, so I told him he didn’t have to come, and called my sister and invited her to go with us. This way, I’d have help wrangling the kids so I could relax on vacation too.
Things began to get complicated – my sister decided to sell her house and move while the market was hot, as her youngest is going off to college this fall. The move was nine days before the vacation, so we kept the vacation planning to a minimum until after she moved.
Tools of the Trade
Usually, we use Google Sheets to plan vacations – one sheet for ideas, one sheet with a column for each day once we figure out activities, and one sheet for figuring out who paid for what and making it fair at the end. Google Sheets isn’t lightweight on mobile devices, so I asked around and decided on a Trello board.
We liked that URLs were clickable, and things were easy to move around – we brainstormed ideas in one swimlane, then had one swimlane per day and moved around activities as we saw fit.
Vacation: The MLP Version
An inflatable park sounded really co0l, but did I want to spend $100 for all of us to go for just a few hours (nap time interrupts things) and risk leaving after only an hour or so if my kids weren’t having a good time?
My 6-year-old LOVES trains, but there’s not much to do ON a train – did I really want to spend $90 for an hour on a train when my kids might get bored in the first 5 minutes?
I spent about 2 hours researching ideas. In the end, we didn’t do most of them, we spent most of our time in the pool, at the beach, and playing games together – my 6-year-old’s current favorite is Mille Bournes.
Thursday, we arrived too late to see the Japanese paper theater. Sunday, it did not rain, but my 6-year-old developed swimmer’s ear, so my sister took my 3-year-old to the beach near our hotel while I took my 6-year-old to Urgent Care. We then met them at the beach. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go to Gina’s beach, but that also meant less driving around. Monday, we packed and left since checkout was 10 am; we found a local playground and then had lunch. We avoided the pool to avoid more swimmer’s ear.
MLP stands for “Minimum Lovable Product.” In the MLP that was this vacation, M stands for “minimal” – my kids are super happy swimming or playing in the sand, so that’s what we did. For food, we had free breakfast in the hotel, went to a supermarket a few times for lunch supplies and snacks, had dinner al fresco at a restaurant, or got food delivered to our hotel room.
We did make it to story time at the library on Friday morning, and we did one excursion – to the Heritage Museums and Gardens. We found the maze, looked at a Wampanoag wetu, saw art sculptures made from trash, spent time in a lily garden with a waterfall, and played in the Hidden Hollow and Treehouse. We were hot and tired after a few hours so we stopped by the indoor, air-conditioned automobile exhibit on our way back to the car. We left lots unexplored, including the labyrinth and carousel – which we can do next time.
As minimal as it was, there were some unexpected extras that happened, mostly good ones:
- I thought I booked a 2-room hotel suite. As it turned out, it was a 2-bedroom hotel suite, complete with a separate living room, full kitchen, and full bathroom. I decided to invite my mother along, as she also needed a vacation, and we had the room. She carpooled with my sister and really enjoyed relaxing and doing nothing.
- It was handy to have other adults around, so I could take one kid to urgent care when I had to.
- My mother and sister took my kids to the beach one morning and let me sleep in. I got an extra TWO hours of sleep!
- My mother and sister babysat the kids Saturday evening while I had lunch with a friend who has a family house on the Cape.
- My kids wanted to sleep with me, and I learned that my 6-year-old tosses and turns ALL NIGHT.
- My partner invited a friend over and had a great weekend without family responsibilities. Win/win!
- I brought my computer “just in case.” I did not open it once. I did no work. Some of that was luck, and some of that was my awesome coworkers covering for me.
After the trip was over, I carved two small stamps to commemorate the occasion. Like the vacation, they were simple, easy, and filled me with happiness:
So, what’s the tl;dr on how to I had a good vacation? I set core requirements and met them – minimally.