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Memories or Nightmares

Every year for the past seven years, my family and I have taken a Spring break vacation with my parents.  We have been up and down the East Coast beaches of the United States, and even off the beaten path of Interstate 95 one year for a vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains.  My husband and I always want to travel to a different place each year, especially so our children can experience the cultural differences of the United States and the world.

This year we visited Duck, North Carolina in the Outer Banks.  While on the beach one evening taking a family walk, the kids started to complain that they wanted to go back to the condominium.  My husband responded "These moments will be memories."  My son quickly replied "or nightmares."  Little did he know how true this statement could be.  It all depends on your actions and reactions.

When I was a child, my family traveled at least a few times a year. With the exception of visiting family, we always camped, whether it be in a tent, pop-up trailer or a Minnie Winnie mini-motor home.  My memories of these trips are fond ones.  However, it seems that each of these vacation memories involves one vehicle/equipment breakdown scenario, such as brake failure or loss of alternator function.  These usually were nothing that caused us to cut our trip short, only just a brief diversion, usually involving shopping, getting a great meal, seeing a new town, and meeting new and interesting people.  Each of these instances always involved the incredible hospitality of the local residents.

The first unfortunate incidents I can remember were on a trip to the Outer Banks, North Carolina. While on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania, the brakes on the pop-up trailer seized causing us to stop at a gypsy moth-infested rest stop while my father and brother fixed them.  With this same trailer, the cables on all four roof supports snapped at different points in the trip, prompting a trip to the lumber yard to get manual supports (wood boards) just so we could raise the roof and have a place to sleep (but not without using whatever was available until the next day when the lumber yard opened).

The Minnie Winnie gave us more comforts of home, but also had more mechanical failures.  We had
breakdowns in Waco, Texas, the Badlands, South Dakota, and outside Penn State University.  In each of these cases, we were fortunate that the needed parts were readily available. We got to see some amazing things while on these family adventures.

The first camping vacation I have clear memories of was a trip to Florida in 1976 (I was eight years old).  This was my first visit to Disney World when it was just the Magic Kingdom, long before Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Downtown Disney.  We continued onto south Florida, eventually to the Everglades National Park.  Here we were, a family of five with three children ranging in age from eight to 13, pitching a tent next to a canal that was teeming with alligators.  Some of our camping neighbors thought we were crazy and feared for our safety.  At this campground, we caught crabs in these canals, cooked them at our campsite, and had a marvelous feast.  We also got terribly sunburned!

During a trip west to Yellowstone National Park in June of 1983, we witnessed Steamboat Geyser, the world's tallest active geyser, erupt, shooting water up to 300 - 400 feet in the air.  The thundering roar of the geyser commanded our attention and drew us in to see its glory.  This particular geyser does not consistently erupt like Old Faithful, so it was probably a once-in-a-lifetime event that we experienced.  This wiped out any nightmares caused by mechanical breakdowns!

My one older brother, however, sees these memories as nightmares.  It wasn't until one recent family gathering that I found out his true feelings about these vacations.  He enjoyed the places we visited and the amazing experiences, but did not enjoy the camping part.  I realized that he was always the one helping my father respond to these breakdowns and fixing the problems.  He also was the one who helped pitched the tent, set up the pop-up, get the fire going, and all the "man" jobs there were to do. We all had our tasks to do, but he always got saddled with the the extras that required additional muscle or mechanical ability.

All my vacations, whether as a child or an adult, have had unfortunate and adverse experiences.  I tend to be an optimist, so I find the bright side and fun aspect in these misadventures.  Each vacation has its own special set of memories, some of which I now look back on and laugh even though they were not funny at the time (did I mention traveling in the eye of a hurricane because we could not evacuate in time?).

These are the types of experiences my husband and I want to share with our children.  It will be up to them to interpret them as memories or nightmares.  I hope that our positive reactions during adverse situations help to mold their future behavior and help them see the positive side of life.

How do you react to adversity during travel?  The way you react could be the difference between a memory and a nightmare.

by resident writer Gwen D'Amico


  1. I always enjoy reading your posts. I enjoyed reading about your various adventures when you went camping with your family. As a family we loved to go camping. We're always striving to be positive even when unexpected things occur. My hubby and I were caught in the middle of a very loud storm while we were camping. To this day that is one of the foundest memmries I carry in my heart. :)

    1. Thanks Lucy! It is nice to know that you enjoy my writing. As I was writing this piece, I realized just how many traveling adventures I really have. It is these special times that warm the heart.

  2. As long as no one is seriously ill or hurt, I don't mind little mishaps on vacations. It's when you get lost that you drive by that little mom-and-pop diner with the rhubarb-cherry pie your family remembers with longing for years. It's when the car breaks down that you get to have the most fascinating conversation with the mechanic who used to be a Jesuit priest. The amazing part of inconveniences is only obvious in retrospect--when you're in the middle of the problem, you have to remind yourself to look for it.

    1. I totally agree Becki! Some of the best meals I've had were because of these mishaps. There are some amazing people in this world that you just have to open your heart to meet. Thank you for reading and responding!


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