The Prodigal Griswold Returns: 4 Lessons from the First Vacation Movie

As the theater darkens and the Griswold Family 2.0 comes into view, you know the forthcoming road trip is not going to go well.

Fans of the original Vacation, myself included, have an almost mythological reverence for the first film. So while it is brave for the Griswold family to again drive across the country, it is even braver to attempt a modern take on a classic. The new iteration is not a remake, but a sequel, where Rusty Griswold takes a page from dad Clark’s book and in an effort to connect with his kids and wife decides to bring his family to Walley World.

Taking a road trip to connect with your family is a great idea, provided it’s not derailed by your version of Cousin Eddie, deceased relatives, and totaled vehicles. Road trips mean families are in the car together for an extended period of time—and quantity time can result in quality time. Dr. Lotte Bailyn, a therapist interviewed for P:TO’s latest report, said, “Vacation provides the conditions where organically these quality interactions can emerge, which are the core of a good relationship.”

As one of five kids, I’ve taken a lot of road trips. The math of seven plane tickets is reason enough to get in the car—or, in our case, conversion van (until your immediate family has been mistaken for a church group, you haven’t lived). As a proud Midwesterner, I’ve taken a lot of long road trips—my people think nothing of 12-hour drives. My brothers and I did our fair share of fighting, but many years later, some of our annual pilgrimages to visit grandparents or go to the beach are favorite memories. Maybe that’s why the Vacation movie has always spoken to me.

I’ll see the latest installment when it comes out this week, but here are the lessons I hope the Prodigal Griswold gleaned from his first cross-country road trip with America’s most well-meaning but least-lucky dad.

Don’t kill your bonding opportunities with sing-alongs. Sing-alongs are great—for about a hot minute. Kids don’t want to hear their parents sing (I may or may not have heard this from my own daughter). I bet even Springsteen’s kids have a moment where they say, “We get it dad. You’re from New Jersey.” Create a shared playlist where everyone gets a say so your time for bonding isn’t superseded by headphones.

Avoid felony charges—call your bank before you go. Stuck without cash or credit cards, Clark robbed the hotel’s cash register (admittedly leaving a check for what he stole). Online banking has improved substantially, but it’s always a good idea to call your credit card companies before you go. No one in the family has fun when dad goes to jail.

Plan ahead so you don’t miss out. Google has made life a lot easier for us today than it was for the Griswold family of the 1980s, arriving at a Walley World closed for repairs. Clark remedied this situation by brandishing a realistic looking BB gun at park security and threatening him into opening the park. But let’s assume that won’t work for everyone. Plus, planning does more than ensure you don’t miss out. Project: Time Off research proves that people who take the time to plan out their time off well in advance are happier with every element of their lives—most notably with their personal financial situations.

And for heaven’s sake, keep your eyes on the road. Christie Brinkley is not out there looking for you. 

July 28, 2015