Family vacation is a barrel of lies except for the overpriced Junior Ranger vest.

by Janelle Hanchett

“Family vacation.” It has such a nice ring to it.

But what it actually means is: Spend money on tiny hungry humans who complain too much, get tired by 4pm, and probably won’t remember any of your valiant efforts at family bonding.

I don’t mean that.

I may have meant that.

Stop shaming me for my lack of gratitude.

Seriously, why do we bring them?

Don’t tell me about “education” or “lived experience” or whatever other helpful thing you’re about to say. I am clearly not interested in that at the moment.


Vacation with kids is like regular life with kids only it costs more and there’s an added layer of THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE AMAZING. IT WAS SO AMAZING IN MY HEAD BEFORE WE LEFT.

How many times a day on vacation do Mac and I look at each other and say: “We’re never bringing them again?”

Well, that depends on how many hours we’re awake.

Twelve hours? Twelve times.

Fourteen? Fourteen.

Eighteen hours? 27 times because after 14 hours it triples in frequency (Don’t check my math. I did not calculate.)

In the past three weeks, we’ve taken our kids to a wedding in Port Townsend, Washington, which required a FLIGHT, on an AIRPLANE, and we took them camping in an RV for three days.

As a reminder, my kids are ages: 4, 8, 12, and 16. One might think the older ones are super chill on vacation, and one would be correct if measuring them solely against the total-body-mind-spirit-breakdown of the toddler by 6pm since naps apparently don’t happen on vacation and when they do, they don’t count.

They’re like tiny refueling sessions so the kid can arise more batshit than before.

But if gauging from basic attitude and mercurial emotions and bickering over stupid shit that does not matter ever at all ever, teenagers rank pretty fucking high on the “WTF ARE YOU DOING HERE WITH ME ON VACATION” meter.

Between arguments over who sits where everywhere we go – restaurants, planes, cars, the ferry, benches, the ground – to all four kids simultaneously losing it by hour two in Washington traffic (seriously, Washington, fix your infrastructure), poking each other in the car like a goddamn stereotypical sitcom, there are just so many moments when I truly, at the bottom of my soul, cannot understand why we bring kids with us on vacation.

Other fun pastimes:

  • Trying not to lose them in public places
  • Trying not to let them drown
  • Trying to find public bathrooms because somebody has to pee even though we just left the pee place
  • Trying to navigate new roads, ferries, and drivers in an unfamiliar car while the kids throw punches and wail about Cheez Its
  • Trying to pack
  • Trying to unpack
  • Trying to pack and unpack and then pack again and unpack once you get home which will either happen immediately or 2-4 weeks later
  • Trying to hike
  • Trying to not let them get sunburned while hiking
  • Trying to keep caring if they get sunburned
  • Trying to keep caring if you lose them
  • Trying to keep caring at all, about anything
  • Trying not to micromanage them to the point of uselessness for all (“Let them be happy, free children!” BUT DO NOT LET THEM GET HARMED IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER.)
  • Spending so much goddamn money on food at every meal you resort to buying loaves of sourdough at grocery stores and throwing it at them
  • Sticking the toddler in a car at 3pm and flailing about hysterically trying to keep him awake until you’re back to the actual bed because god knows those 20-minute car naps that somehow replace the 2-hour ones create a Satan death child for the rest of the day
  • Trying to talk a teenager out of a random, nondescript tantrum
  • Trying to talk a toddler out of a random, nondescript tantrum
  • Trying to talk yourself out of a random, nondescript tantrum

At one point, I simply screamed: “EVERYBODY STOP SPEAKING.” Oddly, it worked. It was one of my more successful moments, in fact.

I could go on. Should I? Nah.

Truly. Why the fuck do we do it? And more importantly, why do we keep doing it?

Well, I’ll tell you why.


We do it for the goddamn junior ranger vest.

We were in the gift shop at Olympic National Park when my eye landed on an adorable, overpriced little green vest situation that said “Junior Ranger” on it. It was covered in pockets, and I knew our four-year-old, Arlo, would lose his shit for that thing, so I showed Mac and he was like, “Um, yes,” so we bought it, and told Arlo he was now The Junior Ranger and must fearlessly lead us on our hike.

My god the seriousness of that child while receiving his charge. Very official.


We clipped some sunscreen on it. He went around fastidiously asking if anyone needed it. We were a party of about 11, and every single one of us needed it. Twice.

We get on the trail and there he runs, straight to the front. George tried to get ahead of him, but never fear, unbridled earth-shattering shrieks from Jr. Ranger Arlo soon deterred her.

“I AM LEADING!” Okay, tiny human with a day-old man bun. We get it.

He walked and walked, until he needed daddy to carry him uphill. Which daddy did. Junior Rangers sometimes need carrying.

At one point, Uncle Cedric asked Arlo, who was stomping along in front of him, “What’s in your vest?”

Without breaking his stride, from over his shoulder, with an air of dismissive superiority, Arlo said, “Junior Ranger stuff.”

Like, you moron. Fuck off. This is top-secret information.

He wore it the whole hike, occasionally picking up rocks and beer bottle caps and sticks and flowers to stick in the pockets. He wore it later at the beach, where he collected shells. All the other kids brought it up constantly, praising his ranger skills, exploring the vest, suggesting he add this and that.

I think it may have been the cutest fucking thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

He slept with it that night.

And when we got home, when all the vacation shit was covering the kitchen table, entryway, and living room, Mac said, “You know, all we’re going to remember from this shitshow is the fucking Junior Ranger vest.”

And he is right. And it will be worth it.

The most expensive Junior Ranger vest in the history of humanity, and yet, somehow, it’s alright. It’s what we needed with our whole, broke, bickering hearts.


Junior Ranger does not find you amusing.

UPDATE: In looking for photos for this post, scrolled through all vacation shots. Now crying at the unending beauty of it all. I want to go back I LOVE ALL THE CHILDREN.


Have you had a chance to read my book? If so, would you leave me a quick review on Amazon and Goodreads? I’d be immensely grateful. It’s very helpful to authors.

And if you haven’t, did you know that it’s also “wickedly funny?” Somebody official who knows a lot about literature said that.

Or maybe it was some dude on Twitter. Your call.

But yeah, we talk a lot about the seriousness of the topic – motherhood & addiction – but my strongly held belief is that we absolutely must laugh, a lot, even at really fucked up things. Amazon editors even said it was “one of the best books of 2018 so far” in the humor category.

Also, a few people have been asking me about the audiobook. Yes, I narrated that shit! At a recording studio in Sacramento with half-naked women all over the walls. It was lovely. They were motivating.


Hey also one more thing: I made a brand new writing workshop for people who don’t know where the fuck to begin in revising their first draft. Check it out

  • Anne

    Just got back from a 2.5 week road trip and my main memory is being so proud of 5yo for hiking 1.5 miles at high elevation, in a thunderstorm, to see 3000 year old trees, then screaming that she had to poop just as we reached said 3000 year old trees. She may or may not have pooped next to 3000 yo trees I’m not at liberty to say

  • Lori Renna Linton

    I literally just ordered your book about 30 minutes ago and then I opened up my email and the latest post was there. If you ever come to Vienna , I would love to have a coffee or get stuck in an elevator with you (that sounds creepy…only mean that you’re funny as hell and there aren’t that many people I would want to get stuck in an elevator with).

  • Denise Brick

    I’m tearing up at your junior ranger vest. We happened upon the same vest and I’m the asshole who didn’t let her 7 year-old have the vest because it was waay too small for her and it was too expensive for something that doesn’t fit. Why wouldn’t I just hold on to the part of her that still wants to be little for just a little longer? I’m not here to beat myself up, truly, just that vest is so awesome and a 7 year old is getting a vest with patches and pockets for her birthday next week.

  • Heather

    THIS. THIS. Wish we’d found our version of that dang vest. Maybe next time, after time has somehow erased the memory of this summer’s difficult… er… vacations (or “trips” as I’ve come to refer to the – ‘cuz they ain’t no vacation) . Thanks for putting into words all the he things I’m ashamed to share (because no one else could possible have these experiences or feel this way). Love you!

  • Ellen

    As always Janelle, so so good, thank you. Just did a month of traveling ourselves and, well, I can relate to all of it. Except the teenager part, but I consider myself warned.

  • Shelley

    Took my two boys (5 and 7) on a 6 week tour of National parks from North Carolina to Alaska and back. I should mention that my FIL came along with us and we lived out of our mini-van. It was amazing and terrible at the same time. The Junior Ranger program was one of the highlights of the trip. Of course now every time I try to take a souvenir rock, a life long practice, my two well trained junior rangers remind me we must leave things as we find them. So now I just sneak around and hide my rocks from them. ????

  • Grace

    I am on a mini “vacation” with my kids who are sleeping next to me as I type. They are 7&4, and your line “bickering over stupid shit that does not matter ever at all ever,” could not be more accurate. Whyyyyyyy? Thank you for this timely post. At least I know it’s not just me!

  • Anna

    Three weeks, just my 8-year-old daughter and me. Transatlantic (her first) to northern Europe for her to meet the relatives there and especially to see how much bigger and different the world is from the insular, often backward place we live. Morning meltdowns triggered by pre-breakfast low blood sugar followed by simple bliss when she bit into her morning roll. Rampant lack of enthusiasm for anything, until we actually got to the place and did or saw the whatever (except for the harbor tour by boat, there was no recovery from that). Heartbreaking bedtime talks about things that went on in her classroom this past school year that she can only talk about now because she’s not tattling once school is out. The magic of LegoLand Billund. Seeing her learn to handle train travel and international airports like “no big deal”. All the feels, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

  • Siri

    Trying to keep caring if they get sunburned- or scrape their knee or slightly fall out of a tree they were trying to climb or stung by a wasp. It makes a mother feel simultanously mean and full of common sense when you just let them cry it off. Because you know a new accident is just around the corner.

  • Carolyn

    Love this!

    My son and I are currently visiting my parents in Georgia. I will say now that he is 17 it is more of a vacation for me. When our son was younger, my husband would comment that at least I was going on vacation. There is no vacation involved when you are staying at your parents house with a young child; It is just a change of location. My husband got the vacation because he stayed home.

  • Cheeze

    Yeah. We did the Grand Canyon thing this summer. Loved it, but I really think all mommies/ wives should just take solo vacations by themselves. Leave the bat shit crazy children and spouse at home to fend for themselves. But, they better clean up the damn house before I return. Just sayin’…

  • Monica

    TRUE all of it! Here’s my mantra: traveling with kids is NOT a vacation, it’s a trip. And it’s stressful, expensive and never fun! What I started doing this year instead: each kid will get a one-on-one vacation over the next several years. That way there is only one kid at a time and NO fighting or arguing and that one kid gets undivided attention. Love your posts!

  • Jenn

    Thank you. On hard days I like to read your stuff and feel ok about being a parent.

  • Jessica

    We just got back from a short trip with our kids – one and four. Your depiction is exactly what traveling with ours was like. Slightly miserable, bit now that it’s over, I get wonderful imaginative stories from my 4 year old. We asked ourselves WTH a lot and said never again…now, we’re saying, “where to next?”

  • Aubrie Entwood

    Just sent this to my husband with the note, “if only it was the kids who were annoying on our family vacations.” I think it’s him, he thinks it is me. And, staycations don’t work…who the fuck invented THOSE? Maybe for people who are never home…but not for me who is always home and always with the kids (homeschooling…yay?).

  • Farrell

    I love every bit of this post.
    My worst family vacation was in November 2013 when me, my then fiancé, soon-to-be step-son and my daughter went to “the happiest place on earth” – DisneyWorld. The kids were both 10 and we were all crammed into a single room (bc staying on property is freaking $$$) and the kids argued the entire time- even fighting about who got to open the door to our room after an exhausting day of standing in line and eating overpriced crap; my fiancé and I argued the entire time- mostly about who would get a chance to run away from the kids first and who got to go fetch “adult beverages” from the bar alone. My daughter, who has been to Disney with her dad every year since practically birth (spoiled!) declared it the WORST Disney vacation EVER.
    Ps- the marriage didn’t last. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the signs.

    • MaryEl

      I live 2 hours from D-world. My kids are 19 and 15 and have never been there, at least not with me. A couple birthdays ago, I gave my daughter a choice between a day at mouse land and $100 cash, she chose the cash. I was soooo relieved!

  • Onica

    I saw you on the Mukilteo Ferry to Whidbey Island during your recent vacation! Yes, Washington traffic is awful and don’t get me started on ferry lines. I had just read your book a few weeks before and had been reading your blog so I had seen photos of your family. I didn’t put together that it was you until after you walked by or I would have loved to say hello and tell you how much I enjoyed your book. I can relate to your post about vacations with kids and many other posts. My kids are 25, 24, 21, 20, 15, and 11.(Yes, I’m insane) I have had the hardest times with teenagers on vacation. So often they seem like they are having a horrible time but I have found that they look back on most vacations with very fond memories. (sorry if this reply is a repeat, the first time I tried to send it on my phone and it doesn’t seem to have gone through)

    • renegademama

      Oh my gosh that’s amazing! I wish we could have met. Love this.

  • Sharon

    My husband’s family really wants us to come to Orlando for a post-Christmas family get-together. I told my husband he is welcome to take the five-year-old by himself. But I’ll be staying put with the toddler–because daycare is open starting Jan. 2nd. When his family implored me more to make the trip down, I said flatly that I didn’t want to travel with a toddler. They were like, “Well, duh. No one likes traveling with a toddler! But, memories.”

    They did not convince me.

    Then, they said, “No, really, everyone will help out. You’ll have lots of people to pitch in.”

    Not buying it. I know how these things go. I’ll get down there, they’ll play with the 2-year-old for 20 minutes and then they’ll all hit the beach, while I’m stuck in the house with the toddler that goes to bed at 7 p.m.

    Still not buying it.