Family Vacation Photos

What You DON’T See in Our Family Vacation Photos

Our family recently took a 2-week road trip through WA, OR, and CA. We visited six state and four national parks, camped under the Redwoods, frolicked in the Pacific Ocean, hiked through breathtaking scenery, and ate and laughed with friends and family.

I’ve been happily perusing the photos from our vacation (or “family trip” to be more accurate, per M. Blazoned’s brilliant analysis). Like most vacation pictures, these photos show gorgeous vistas and genuine smiles, children playing and families picnicking, magical moments of beauty and bliss.

But photos never show the whole picture, do they? This seems to be a problem in the Facebook age. Studies suggest that constantly seeing people’s “highlight reels” on Facebook can lead to sadness and/or jealousy. Apparently, seeing photos of our friends basking on beautiful beaches while we’re waging the war on whining with our wee ones can make make us feel all icky inside. Go figure.

Since I don’t like the thought of people feeling icky inside, I thought it might be helpful to share what you don’t see in our fun family vacation photos:


The “Kids Having a Unique Experience” Shot

What you see: Happy kids peering down the empty center of an ancient Redwood tree.

What you don’t see: My kid stomping away angrily because I wouldn’t let her slide down the hollow after our much older friend (and Boy Scout) did it first and found it to be too treacherous. (That slope was much longer and steeper than it looks in the photo.)

The Natural, Candid Kid Portrait Shot

The “Totally Natural, Candid Kid Portrait” Shot

What you see: Happy boy on the banks of a swimming hole in Yosemite National Park gazing lovingly at his mother.

What you don’t see: Me carrying unhappy boy away from the swimming hole while he throws an enormous conniption fit over the fact that it was time to go and we couldn’t find the “perfect hiking stick” he had found on the way there. Someone actually slow clapped as I escorted him away. Good times.

The Family Walking Towards the Gorgeous Scenery Shot

The “Family Walking Towards the Gorgeous Scenery” Shot

What you see: Our big group of family and friends walking into the woods for a lovely picnic lunch under the amazing granite formations of Yosemite.

What you don’t see: We had just driven three cars full of hungry children in circles for 20 minutes trying to find a parking space near the visitor’s center, to no avail. (Fair warning: Yosemite Valley is NUTS in August.)

The Nature Discovery Shot

The “Awesome Nature Discovery” Shot

What you see: Our little nature lover showing how big the sugar pine cone she found was.

What you don’t see: The teeth-gnashing negotiations that ensued when I said she couldn’t bring the sap-dripping pine cone home with her. Taking this photo was her consolation prize.

The "All-American Ice Cream" Shot

The “All-American Ice Cream” Shot

What you see: BoyWonder REALLY enjoying his hard-earned ice cream after a day of hiking at Yosemite.

What you don’t see: The whining that ensued after he finished his ice cream because I would not also buy him Cheetos. GAH.


The “Kids All Sitting in One Spot Smiling and Calm” Shot

What you see: Six happy kids in a hammock at the campground in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

What you don’t see: Four parents telling kids for the 527th time to stop throwing dirt, stop yelling and screeching (sorry, fellow campers), and stop playing in the fire.

The Breathtaking Vista Shot

The “Breathtaking Vista on a Beautiful Day” Shot

What you see: A gorgeous view Crater Lake’s incomparably blue waters from the Phantom Ship overlook.

What you don’t see: Me spending the entire 1/2-mile hike to this overlook dealing with a six-year-old having a cow because I wouldn’t let him get a Swiss Army knife. (Man, traveling is tough on the six-year-olds.)

The Kids Actively Playing in Nature Shot

The “Kids Actively Playing in Nature” Shot

What you see: Kids enjoying beautiful Plaikni Falls in Crater Lake National Park.

What you don’t see: Every one of those kids revolting over the 1.3 mile hike to get there because (and I quote) “We’ve already seeeeen enough beautiful sceneryyyyy!” Wah. Wah. Wah.

The Siblings Hugging While Gazing at the Sunset Shot

The “Siblings Hugging While Gazing at the Sunset” Shot

What you see: Our three loving children bonding over the beautiful sunset at Crater Lake.

What you don’t see: Me working through one child’s emotional crisis in the car ten minutes before this, and two children fighting so badly ten minutes after this that I made them sit in the car together at the campground until they hugged and made up.

Parenting doesn’t stop when you’re on vacation, alas. And photos don’t show the whole story, it’s true.

It’s not that these photos don’t show reality. They do. These were real, honest, lovely snippets in time filled with joy and wonder. But it’s also reality that they were bookended with not-so-lovely moments. Such is life. Especially with children, God love ’em.

So don’t ever look at people’s vacation photos and think you’re seeing the whole picture. I guarantee their trips have as much normal family and kid drama as yours do.

The pictures they share won’t show that, of course. We want to remember the good times, not the annoying ones. And over time, the whining, arguing, and complaining that come with traveling all melt away, and what we’re left with is the beautiful memories we’ve chosen to capture and hold onto.

That is, after all, why we take vacation photos. 🙂

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 10

  1. So totally true, I love it Annie! Reminds me of our family’s nomadic summer holidays. Sometimes going over the photos is the best part of the holiday, as there is space and mental energy to really appreciate the places we have been to without all the real life drama that happens before, during and after the photo shoot, which can interrupt any parents appreciation of the moment!Don’t I know it! Thanks for reminding me that my experience of parenting is shared by other mamas out there.

  2. Annie, I loved this post. You made me laugh out loud. In this day and age, it’s hard not to have FOMO when using any kind of social media platform. It’s a nice reminder that nobody’s trips are perfect, and we really only share the best parts of the “story”. Thanks for keeping it real!

  3. Thank you for this post. I saw it ages ago and it kept coming to mind when I took photos of my kids on our vacation last month. The trip was super fantastic but not every single moment was perfect. It was real life and this post helped me realize that real life is perfect.

  4. Have you ever heard of obedience? Here’s how it works: you’re a really cool mother who goes ziplining and camping and reading funny books out loud and toasting marshmallows, and when the time to go comes, you say, “Pack up, guys. We need to leave.” And they sigh and ask if you can’t stay another 10,000 years, and you say you wish we could but we can’t, and then they pack up and go. It works best if you start it in early childhood, but you might be able to swing it even now.

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  5. What we also did not see-and what delighted this grandmother’s heart-was commercial entertainment or any electronics. Bless you for teaching your children the joy of being a family. When they are grown, they will laugh more about what we didn’t see than what we did.

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  6. What do the kids remember? The good times and spending time outdoors with their families. Their memories look like the picture album. They don’t remember the bad times.

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