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Vacation Lessons from the Griswolds

By Kerry Lyons
updated February 21, 2017
We suspect you'll never come close to the blunders committed by Clark Griswold and his family in the Vacation movies starring Chevy Chase. Here, some real-life lessons the Griswolds learned the hard way—so you don't have to!

As summer winds to a close and the kids head back to school, we can't help but daydream about our next family vacation. And when we think of family vacations, we can't help but to reflect and chuckle at the antics that Clark Griswold and his family made famous during the '80s classic, National Lampoon's Vacation.  Here's a trip down the Griswolds' memory lane—and some for-real tips on how not to travel like a national lampoon!

Traveling with Grandma? Be Prepared!  No one really knows why the Griswolds' Aunt Edna kicked the bucket in the back seat, but it's possible she forget to pack her meds. Be sure to renew any prescriptions prior to departure and bring a copy of your prescription just in case it gets lost along the way.

Take time to enjoy the scenery. Remember when the Griswolds arrived at the Grand Canyon and Clark (a.k.a. "Sparky") simply gave a head nod and pronounced it "Great!" before turning around and hitting the road? Granted, he was on the run for other reasons (see below) but if sightseeing is on your agenda, be sure to build in enough time to see the sights in their entirety.

Road trip? Time for a tune up. Nothing says setback quite like a roadside breakdown. And no family suffered setbacks quite like the Griswolds—especially after they missed that "Road Closed" sign and the family wagon took flight before coming to a bumpy landing in the desert. Before you hit the road for the long haul, brush up on the basics: Change your oil, fill your wiper fluid, and make sure you're ready for the elements wherever the road may take you.

Always pack a swimsuit. You never know when an alluring pool will present itself. While Rusty and Audrey were disappointed by the algae-filled pool by the Grand Canyon, Clark couldn't resist the water (or Christie Brinkley) later in the trip. To avoid any embarrassing skinny-dipping snafus—and/or your spouse yelling from the balcony—always bring your bathing suit… and save your birthday suit for home.

Avoid the lines at theme parks. Remember when the Griswolds finally arrived at Walley World? The lot was empty, the "Chariots of Fire" anthem swelled to a crescendo… and then came to a grinding halt when they realized the park was… closed. Closed!  All those miles, all for naught. Don't let this happen to you. There are better ways to avoid long lines—and major renovations. Check your destination's website before you go and consider buying the "express pass" that many parks offer to ensure that you won't disappoint your own little Rusty or Audrey.

Don't take no for an answer. If there's one big lesson to be learned from the Griswolds, it's not to let two little letters stand in your way. N.O.  They faced it when looking for directions; they faced it when Clark ran out of cash and they faced it when they got to Walley World. But it didn't stop them. And it shouldn't stop you either. It's a good reminder that it never hurts to ask—for that room upgrade, for the AAA discount, for the free dessert. You just may find yourself with a private tour of Walley World—or a Friendly's Fribble on the house. Either way, it pays to (politely) challenge a no.  

Check the pet policy. As you may recall, poor Aunt Edna's dog met his maker somewhere on the side of Route 66. With his nasty nipping and bothersome barking, he wasn't much for making friends but even so, no dog should have to go the way he did. Recognizing that not everyone may love your four-legged friend, do your research before you go; make sure Fido is welcome at the campground, rest stop, hotel, and with any family members you may meet on your way. If not, sign him up for doggy day camp while you take to the open road.

Always bring some backup cash. Or credit. After Clark and Ellen's cash was stolen and cards were lost, they were left up a creek. Or, more aptly put, on the side of a Canyon. The Grand Canyon. Without two nickels to call their own. Clark solved that dilemma by swiping some cash from the hotel register; if robbery isn't your thing (and we don't recommend it!), be sure to have a backup plan. Store the 800 numbers you need to order replacement cards in your phone or, if you prefer, keep a copy of your card (front and back) hidden in the depths of your suitcase. That way you can be sure the shot you bring home is one of a magnificent vista—not a mug shot.

Visiting the cousins? Plan age-appropriate activities that will be fun for all. If you recall, the Griswolds' visit with Cousin Eddie, family and vacation don't always go hand in hand. While the kids were introduced to pot and porn, Clark was reminded that Hamburger Helper "doesn't need any help at all." To make sure that the whole gang has a great time, plan ahead to find local sights that will keep everyone engaged—and out of trouble.

Confirm your accommodations. After a long day on the road, you need a place to rest your weary head. For our pal Clark and his brood, there were times the pool was green and the bed was coin-operated… and vibrating! If that's not your thing, do your homework. Check online reviews, make a few calls, and ask your social circles (online and off) for suggestions. You'll be glad you did when you sink into a cozy bed at the end of a long travel day rather than cramming into a sleeping bag like Clark and Ellen.

When in doubt, channel your inner Griswold and sing, sing, SING! Whether it's the Walley World theme song or a rousing rendition of "Mockingbird," nothing says family fun like a sing-along… even if Mom and Dad are the only ones singing!

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