Wasn’t it just barely spring? Somehow it’s now August, and I’m riding passenger, just at the beginning of our eight hour road trip home. My mind is crammed full with a week’s worth of new memories. Although to be fair, the most crammed thing right now is our CR-V.

As I watch the Adirondack mountains flatten into my beloved Midwest plains, I have a little (okay, a lot) of time to reflect on how I’ve changed as a vacationer. Family vacations have always been my favorite thing ever. Even as a teen, I never “outgrew” family vacations. In fact, that’s when our vacations intensified in adventure and risk taking.

Vacations meant fun, family, and food. What more could I want? My mother handled everything from the scheduling to the packing – every single detail was handled expertly by her. I literally had one job: have fun. I took that job to heart. But as I grew up, I carefully took note of what my mother did that made our vacations so smooth and peaceful. Nothing was left to chance, and she had backup plans for her backup plans.

Following in my mother’s footsteps

As a 20-year-old about to embark on a flight one third of the way around the globe for a study abroad, I found myself boarding a plane for the first time alone, in charge of my own tickets, with my own money. I was in charge of me. For the first time ever.

To say that anxiety was in full force is an understatement. I constantly checked (and double- and triple-checked) my purse to make sure my passport was still there. I was the definition of compulsive. I didn’t know to keep track of everything without spazzing out. My mother made it look so easy, yet I just felt stressed. What was her secret? Eventually, and thank goodness, I met my husband who really helped me mellow out some of obsessive compulsions.

Letting go

Coming full circle, I am now the mother preparing for family vacations. I am the one in charge of budgeting, packing for my little ones, and loading up the car with food and snacks. It’s up to me to think of all the “just in case” scenarios we might encounter. Although, I am now a much less stressed traveler. I don’t have time to quadruple-check for my passport in between doling out applesauce pouches and taking the kids on their 47th potty break in 10 minutes.

Once I accepted that I will never pack a suitcase as neatly as mother or roll a sleeping bag as tight as my husband, I finally breathed a sigh of relief. I am me offering the best of me and all of my time to my family as we vacation around the world.

A lesson in adapting

Just in case you wondered if my old habits were still ingrained in me, let me tell you a story: Although I was packing and using a list (albeit at 1 a.m.), I managed to forget every single shirt for my two-year-old. Seriously? Luckily, his brother shared clothes with him, but the old me would have obsessively checked that list and would have never missed such a mistake like that one. The new me laughed and thought it was a hoot when my youngest donned a tank top that went down to his ankles.

I am not degrading preparedness – oh no, my overflowing cargo area is evidence that we were prepared for many, many things on our adventures. I am merely discovering myself through the looking glass of a vacation. As I let go of what I think I should be, I am free to explore the world and live truly in each and every second.