Walking through the aisles of the Park City Walmart on Christmas Eve with a $20 bill in hand, I selected the movie “Old School” and a bright orange construction vest for the first-ever Child Family White Elephant.
Instead of going the traditional route and getting nice gifts, we opted for a sillier version of the classic holiday game. It ended up being so entertaining — especially when my dad fell off the ski lift in the neon vest the next day — that we do it every time my whole family is together for Christmas.
Such occurrences were common during my family vacations, as my parents and four siblings never fail to make me laugh. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how often I have taken these moments for granted.
Growing up, my family was rarely in the same place at the same time, as my four older siblings and I had different interests, hung out in separate social spheres and were busy with various sports and extracurriculars.
Vacations were the one time we were forced to spend time together, and they changed my life irrevocably.
Whether we were skiing out west, lounging on a beach in the Carolinas, visiting family in England or traversing across Europe, my family always made the most of our time together. If only I knew how limited our opportunities to travel together would become.
As I look back on long car rides and flights with my family — namely my siblings and I bickering, complaining and driving our parents insane — I remember the thrill I felt sitting in the middle seat of our bright red suburban as we escaped our everyday lives to embark on an invaluable journey.
I can’t help but regret my ignorance of the positive aspects and my focus on how much my brothers’ loud music and my sister’s teasing bothered me.
My siblings and I are now closer than ever, much of which I attribute to the countless hours spent traveling together, realizing we actually enjoyed each other’s company.
My favorite place to visit was — and still is — my grandparents’ house in Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire.
The ten-hour car ride was always spent fighting over what movies to watch, singing along to Bohemian Rhapsody, spilling drinks on each other and making up ridiculous car games. These road trips to Sunapee stand out to me just as much as the vacations themselves do.
We spent our days on the water — tubing, wakeboarding, fishing and kayaking — with ear-to-ear smiles on our faces. Our nights consisted of barbequing our catch of the day and playing manhunt in the nearby forest.
And when the bittersweet time to go home came, all of us — slaphappy, sunburnt and exhausted — piled into the car together.
Now that I go to school far from home and my siblings live all across the country, from Denver to New York City, bringing the whole family together in one place has become a logistical nightmare and a rarity.
Even when we are able to get together, the trip begins and ends at our destination, void of one of a vacation’s best parts — the journey.
In September, for the first time in over a year, my entire family was able to get together for my cousin’s wedding. Nostalgia quickly set in.
As I stepped out of my Uber at the hotel and greeted my siblings and parents in the lobby, I experienced the same elated feeling I used to get each time we packed ourselves into the car.
Though we hadn’t all been together since my brother’s graduation in May of 2021, we didn’t skip a beat. Just like our vacations when my siblings and I were kids, the weekend was spent laughing until our stomachs hurt and making memories that will last a lifetime.
That weekend proved to me that no group FaceTime or Zoom call can amount to even a fraction of what it’s like to travel with my entire family. As we struggle to plan a time for all of us to be together again, I vow to never take my childhood trips for granted and to instead work to live in the moment every time we are together.
The saying “the days are long, but the years are short” rings true as I look back on the past nineteen years and everywhere I have been fortunate enough to go with my loved ones.