Family vacations look different for each and every family. Some families would rather getaway to a tropical beach resort while some prefer a lakeside cabin. For my family, vacation means going to the cabin in East Gull Lake, Minnesota.
For almost every summer since I can remember, my family has made the 19-hour drive from Northern Virginia up to East Gull Lake, MN, two hours away from the city of Minneapolis. We'll spend roughly two months there.
The typical reaction I receive when I tell people this is, “How are you able to be there for so long?” or, “I bet that’s so special and you’ll always remember the memories you have had up there!”–Both of which are reasonable and true reactions.
My response to the former would suggest asking my parents how they make it work around their job schedules. Anyone in my family would tell you that it is certainly is a blessing that we are able to get away for so long, even with the reality of jobs.
To the latter, my thoughts have changed over the years. When I was younger and without a phone to keep up with my friends from home, the summer could feel long and lonely. I knew I was lucky to spend my summer vacation on a Minnesotan lake. But I cared more about my friends and the Virginian pool days that I was missing out on. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve not only learned how to make the most of my time in Minnesota, but I've made friends through working at the nearest golf course, Craguns. Getting to know the locals, including not only my co-workers but those I serve on the golf course, has been such a fun experience. Working has made me look forward to MN summers so much more because of the social connections made.
On that note, here would be my advice to the parents; If you're planning an extended trip at one location, try to find resources for your children to make friends. For younger kids, this could include a day camp or a community or church event. For older kids, a summer job is one of the best ways for them to meet friends and stay busy.
Regardless of whether or not I'm busy working and meeting friends, a typical week on the lake is full of family-friendly activities. It can look like anything from water-skiing to swimming across my grandparent’s lake for my “cardio workout” of the week. Other popular activities include tanning on the shore, fishing on the boat, biking around the lake, or picking up ice cream at the nearest resort lodge.
Another summer classic is the town’s “turtle races”. Yes, you heard that right, turtle races. Every Wednesday the nearby town of Nisswa hosts races that anyone can enter any turtle in. When I was 6, I had the great privilege of racing a turtle that won, and consequently had my name announced on the radio… quite the claim to fame in a small town like Nisswa, MN!
One favorite family tradition has been catching and frying fish for breakfast whenever friends come up to visit. The best time to get out on the boat and go fishing is early morning. So we will either cook the fish right after or freeze them until the evening. My personal favorites are Sun Fish, but we've also caught Walleye, Bass, and Northerns. There's truly nothing like some fresh fish with a side of hash-browns for breakfast!
I would absolutely recommend to anyone getting away to a small town for some time in the summer. (Specifically if that town in East Gull Lake, MN… but I’m biased). I understand that this is not always practical for everyone, or that you may be unsure where to get away.
But any family can make their own twist on an experience like this. Whether you are a bigger Midwest, East Coast, or West Coast fan, find a lakeside destination where you and the family can escape. Any lake-town destination will have rental options, so do you research in advance to find the perfect spot, whether it's a rustic cabin or luxurious resort. There are many fantastic ways to have a memorable family getaway!