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Family vacations are the best kind of vacation

Growing up, my parents always said they didn't want to take the four of us kids on a big vacation because they "wanted us all to remember it." Being the oldest, I thought that was completely unfair. I didn't care that my youngest sister was over six years younger than me and probably wouldn't remember Disney World; I would remember it, and that's all that mattered to me at that time. Well, that mattered and also probably New Kids on the Block, leggings, and Beverly Hills 90210.

Now what matters to me are the memories that we finally did get to make on family vacations. Another rule my parents had was that we would never fly anywhere—if you flew, you didn't get to see as much of the country as when you drove. So the six of us were always piled into a rented mini-van for days on end.

Our first big family vacation was in 1996 and it was what I call the "Tour of Florida." We started in Destin where we visited family friends, then we went on to Orlando and three days at Disney, and ended in Key West. I was 16 at this point so I was in my "too cool for my parents" phase. Luckily, my other sister was 14 so we basically followed my parents around and checked out any "hotties" (cute boys). My mom, trying to be cool, once asked if he had seen any "toddies." We both almost died of embarrassment.

After Orlando we went to Key West. Disney had sucked our vacation fund dry, so all I remember of Key West was a lot of walking around. On the way home my head began to badly itch. My mom looked at my scalp and freaked. I had lice. We all had lice. Before we left for Florida, my youngest sister had spent a week at Girl Scout camp where she picked up lice. We had been crammed in a mini-van together for two weeks. We had been sharing hotel rooms, beds, pillows, and towels. Not only that, but we had probably left behind lice in every hotel.

Needless to say, we drove from Key West to Missouri in 24 hours. Our first stop when we got home? A laundromat, then a drug store.

The next summer was a two week trip to California and back, hitting major highlights like the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Arches National Park, Death Valley , Sequoia National Park, Golden Gate Bridge, Yellowstone, and Mount Rushmore. I was dropped off between Sequoia National Park and the Golden Gate because I was attending summer school at Stanford.

The vacation began with excitement as we were driving through Kansas. We always started our trips at night because not only did it save on gas since we didn't have to run the air, but we kids would sleep. (You would drive at night too if you had four kids.)Well, this night we couldn't sleep because it was storming. The lightening was going across the entire sky. Then, out of nowhere, we saw a funnel cloud. It wasn't huge, but a tornado doesn't have to be huge to be scary. The semi-trailers were pulling off the highway. But us? Dad dropped the hammer and we sped away, frantically searching the sky the rest of the night.

Early the next morning we were in the Rockies. We got out of the van at a McDonald's and immediately had to put on sweatshirts and pants because it was freezing. We drove the rest of the day and that evening got out of the car somewhere in Nevada (I think). We immediately had to take off our sweats and put on shorts and tank tops because it was incredibly hot.

My dad had bragged to people at work that we were going to see both the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam in the same day. We saw neither, although my dad made us promise to tell his friends we did see both and we saw them both in the same day like he said we would. In reality, we got lost. We saw what my dad called, "the beginning of the Grand Canyon." I call it some tall, red rocks.

Next stop was Vegas so my parents could do some gambling. Instead, we got a flat tire and the next day I got a sunburn. Then all hopes of seeing the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam were shot because we had a schedule to keep so I could make it to my first day of school. However, my dad's friends still think we saw it all. In one day, of course.

The last night before I went to Stanford was magical. We were outside of Sequoia National Park, in a cute little hotel in the hills. We ate dinner outside on the patio of a restaurant, under an umbrella surrounded with twinkle lights. After dinner, we went for a swim in the hotel pool. I remember looking up at the full moon and thinking, "I will never forget this night."

The next day we woke up before sunrise. My dad wanted to go through Sequoia so that we could see General Grant, the largest sequoia tree. We drove up into the foothills for what seemed like forever. Finally, we got to the sign that said General Grant. We didn't even get out of the mini-van—we looked up at the tree in front us, looked at each other, shrugged, and said, "I've seen bigger trees in Missouri. We came all this way for that?" It wasn't until years later we would find out we had to get out of the car to walk and see General Grant.

I don't know if it was nerves or motion sickness from the winding roads, but I ended up getting sick. In a Taco Bell cup. In the back of the mini-van. Not exactly one of my proudest moments.

My parents were right, though: it was best to wait until we were older to take vacations so that we could remember them. Our family vacations are something I will never forget...even if they do include lice, vomitting into a Taco Bell cup, and always getting lost. I can only hope that when I have children of my own, our vacations are half as exciting.

And of course they'll remember them because I will wait until they're old enough so they won't forget.
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