Journal: Don’t Forget the Family Vacation

Man jumps from boat into ocean in Mexico

Words and photos by Adrian Narvaez.

Remember when you were a kid and your parents would take you on family trips during winter or summer break – you’d pack up the minivan with coolers and blankets or stuff the suitcases and fly out to somewhere tropical to soak up the sun?  You didn’t have to worry about school or basketball practice or doing well on exams. Then you go off to college, move to another state for a new job, or even start going on your own trips with friends. Life get so busy that you forget that your first taste of travel probably occurred with your parents.

Couple wearing sombreros in Mexico

Teva Arrowood Swift sneakers in sand in Mexico

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Mexican flag waves on back of yellow boat in ocean

Man serving grilled meat on Mexico

While back home recently, visiting for only the third time in the past year, my mom voiced a wish: Instead of having a big party for her 60th birthday, she wanted to go on a family trip. It had to be somewhere warm and somewhere none of us had been before, and an hour later we had our Airbnb and flights booked to Cancún, Mexico.  I was ecstatic; tacos and burritos, a warm break from the Colorado winter, margaritas, and I didn’t have to spend a dime. Count me in.


“My mom’s itinerary included one thing I’d tend to avoid: guided tours.”


When I hear Cancún, my first thoughts are of spring break, tourists, and drunk college kids being obnoxious. What I found were quaint islands off the coast (like Isla Mujeres), thousand-year-old Mayan archaeological sights in Tulum and the neighboring Mexican state of Yucután, and hundred of cenotes (fresh water swimming holes) dispersed throughout the region. However, my mom’s itinerary included one thing I tend to avoid: guided tours.

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Man carrying clothes up stairs in Mexico

Red macaws in Mexico

A fresh water cenote in Mexico

If you ask any of my friends, they’ll tell you that I love to plan trips.  Figuring out routes on a map, exploring while unconstrained by anyone’s schedule but my own, and going to the not-so-well-travelled locations the tourists never venture to– these are the things I look for in a new destination. But hey, I was with family, and against my better judgment, I agreed to the tours.


“All in all, we were having fun. At least, I thought we all were.”


It went well—at least for the first few days.  We took a ferry to Isla Mujeres, then snorkeled and laid on the beach.  We explored Chichen Itza, a large pre-Columbian city built by the Maya people and one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World.”  We swam in cenotes, something I didn’t think my parents would do. We spent a day at Xcaret, a water theme park and zoo by the ocean, which offered an underground river and a spectacular night-show covering the history of Mexico.  All in all, we were having fun.  At least, I thought we all were.

Adrian Narvaez sitting on steps of Mayan ruins

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View of boat in clear water on coast of Mexico

Feet wearing Teva sandals by Mayan Ruins

A grass roof hut on pier in ocean.

Couple running by colorful wall in Mexico

My mom wanted a family vacation where we could spend time together, but my sister, her boyfriend, and I would just go off on our own once the tour bus parked. It didn’t take long for my mom to take notice and with that, the mood changed. On her actual birthday, out of frustration, she told us to do whatever we wanted on our day trip to Tulum.  Surprised at first, I soon realized how selfish I was being.  I mean, how could I only be thinking about myself on my mom’s birthday?

Feeling tense, we got back to our Airbnb midday and spent the next couple hours alone in our own thoughts.  Once dinner rolled around, my dad, being the pacifier he’s well known for being, got us all together to celebrate my mom turning 60.  We apologized and spent dinner and the rest of the night enjoying ourselves in a park in Downtown Cancun where we were surrounded by locals, eating churros and other Mexican treats from food trucks while music played in the background.

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Man serving churros from stand in Mexico at night

Point of view shot of man holding coconut

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Foot in Teva Original Universal Premier women's sandal

In this park, we found something both my mom and I both wanted, an intersection that isn’t often visited while traveling.  I could tell my mom really appreciated this time together and after we got back to our Airbnb, she thanked us for an unforgettable night.  We left the next afternoon, tanned, full of seafood, and just a little closer as a family than before we arrived.


“It’s humbling to know how much you can still learn (or relearn) from your parents the older you get.”


Go travel as much as you can, get out there and see what the world has to offer, do things that you never thought you could do, but don’t forget to take some of these trips with your family. We think our parents will live forever and tell ourselves there will be a “next time” because we’re so accustomed to them always being there.  It’s a humbling and refreshing feeling to know how much you can still learn (or relearn) from them the older you get; that family is everything and regardless of how many times you argue or disagree on something, they will always be there in the end.


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