Planning a summer vacation -- no small task

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Don't rule out seeing the world's largest gofer

Summer is right around the corner, and chances are your kids are counting the days until they gain their summer freedom. After you've done your spring cleaning, mulched and mowed your yard until your green thumb has turned black, and listened to you child or grandchild tell you for the umpteenth time they are bored, you will realize it is time to plan your summer vacation.

Planning a summer vacation is no small task. Many families or couples save all year to "do it right" for that one special week. So expectations are high, especially if you have children involved. There is one important question you need to ask yourself to ensure your vacation is a perfect one.

"Am I a mover and shaker or am I in a rut and loving it?"

I like to think there are two types of vacationers, I categorize them as either "Movers and Shakers" or the "In a rut and loving it" gang! Which are you? To decide ask yourself what you want out of your trip and what are you trying to accomplish?

Are you wanting to pass on a family tradition in your vacation experience? Do you enjoy the tradition of returning over and over to the same place (These are the "I'm in a rut and loving it" folks.) or are you game for something new and exciting every year (The "Movers and Shakers.")? This are important questions to ask yourself and to discuss with anyone else participating in the vacation decision process.

What are your expectations? Neither type of vacation is better than the other, it is a personal choice on what makes you happy. I understand both perspectives. As a child I grew up with the in the "Traditional Rut" vacation. Our vacation never changed, it was destined to be the same for all eternity.

For our annual family vacation my dad would herd us to the brown, wood-paneled Ford Pinto Wagon, pile our luggage on top and begin the vacation we renamed in later years: "The Relative Run." This annual trek began in Portland, Ore., and didn't end until we reached Hettinger, N.D. This was the same trip we took every year from the time I was 4 years old until I left home.

This "vacation" included tantalizing ports of call such as Uncle Tom's in Kennewick, Wash., Uncle Paul's in Spokane Wash., and of course no vacation would be complete without stopping at Uncle David's in Missoula, Mont., where my cousin would torture me as we swam at the "Big T," which was a swimming pool shaped as , yep you guessed, it a giant T.

Every year somewhere between Bozeman and Butte, Mont., my mom and dad would have "The Fight," and my sister and I would discover what true sibling rivalry was all about, and for about 300 miles no one would speak.

As awful as this may sound, this traditional trip also holds some of my fondest childhood memories. Only in the Montana flat lands, somewhere between Mile City and no where, lies the world's largest gofer, and in the tender years of my youth I saw it. For 200 miles as we chugged along in our Pinto-mobile, reading frequent signs saying "See the world's largest gofer just xxx miles ahead," my sister and I counted the mile markers towards the mighty gofer.

We continually begged our father to stop and asked "Are we there yet?" or " How many more miles until the gofer?" and "Can we see the gofer?" My father's stern reply every year was the same "No! No! No!" We'd whine and cry over the cruelty of being denied access to experience seeing the world's largest gofer as our blue Pinto rocket sped past the gofer's home.

Finally one year our persistence paid off and my father gave in and stopped at the rickety building along the interstate with the faded sign that read: "Home of the world's largest gofer." After my Dad paid the family's toll to the attendant for the privilege of seeing the mighty creature, I remember my heart pounding with anticipation as I pulled back the faded curtain and stepped into the next room. There he was in all his glory! The world's largest gofer was nothing more than a big faded concrete gofer statue about the size of our blessed Ford Pinto.

"You got to be kidding!" exclaimed my mother, laughing. My dad's face got really red and somehow both my sister and I realized the importance of being silent ... another 300 miles of silence. However, these traditional types of vacations are the ones that you talk about, laugh about and enjoy as the memories carry you into adulthood, and give you stories of joy to pass on to your children.

The second kind of vacation is one filled with variety and newness and carries with it different and unique type of fun. Our family has elected to select this as the type of vacation that is important to us.

We enjoy the experience of trying new foods, countries, states and cultures. We rarely do the exact same thing twice. For us variety is the spice of life! So in itself this has become our tradition of mixing things up a bit. We may cruise one year, hit Disney the next, try that all-inclusive resort in the Mexican Riviera.

For summer vacations the options are endless. A Smoky Mountain retreat in Gatlinburg, a visit to the Amish countryside, a train ride to Glacier National Park, a visit to the Biltmore or tea at the Memphis Peabody.

This year I have a special treat for my family. In July we are scheduled to land in South Dakota and view the scenic sights of Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.

I've decided that maybe, just maybe, if my children are especially good, I'll take that back road to the border of South Dakota and Montana. And if they are really, really good and ask me ... I just might stop and take them to the home of the world's largest gofer!

Carolyn Kempf is president of Elite Travel in Cape Girardeau. (334-1234 or

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