The Rockwood Files: Riptides, sharks, and crocodiles — oh my!

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Tom and I had plenty of reasons not to plan a trip this summer – too many crowds, too expensive, too hot, too tiring. But after we saw our 19-year-old college kid make a cross-country road trip with three friends – armed with nothing more than a duffel bag and a smile – we felt inspired. Maybe we should see something new, too.

But I made it clear that I’m too old (and picky) for the kind of trip my son and his friends did on a shoestring budget. They slept in a tent, got locked out of the car while stopping to see the largest well in America, and washed their clothes by wearing them into the ocean. (For the record, that doesn’t count as “washing,” but he and I agreed to disagree.)

Nonetheless, I’m happy he had such a fun adventure. That trip helped him fall in love with the Rocky Mountains, marvel at the Golden Gate Bridge, eat fantastic food in the Chinatown area of San Francisco, watch sunsets on the beach, and see daybreak at the Grand Canyon.

When he made it home, Jack said we should plan a family road trip to close out the summer before he and his older brother head back to college and our daughter starts her senior year of high school. So, we picked a beach on the East Coast where we’ve never been, and now we’re planning the trip.

Finding the right place to stay is the trickiest part. In a perfect world, you want to book a place that feels like an upgrade over what you have at home, right? Why pay hundreds of dollars a night for a bed that feels like a slab of concrete, scratchy sheets, or a bathroom where the toilet practically bumps elbows with the shower?

But fancy vacation upgrades come at a price that can drain a bank account faster than you can say, “Luxury condo is steps from the ocean.” So, we searched and read tons of reviews to reserve that elusive “happy medium.” (I’ll let you know after the trip if we got it right or had to sleep in the car.)

When our three kids were younger, we rented a cabin at an upscale resort in Branson, Missouri. When we got there, it only had two small beds. The resort manager said they could bring us a cot, but it would cost extra. So, Tom propped an ironing board between two chairs, covered it with blankets, and convinced our 6-year-old daughter that it was a special bed just for her. At the time, she loved it. Now that she’s a teenager, she never lets us forget about the time we made her sleep on an ironing board on vacation.

I’ve assured her she’ll have a real bed for this trip. And we will sit by the ocean, play in the tidepools, and walk beneath the graceful oak trees draped in Spanish moss. Since calories don’t count on vacation, we’ll eat wherever the locals recommend, and dessert shall not be skipped.

Is it possible to be both excited about a trip and anxious at the same time? Yes, it is. The national news has riled me up about potential riptides and shark attacks. And what if a rogue crocodile sneaks out of a lagoon to chase us? Should I bring an emergency tourniquet, just in case?

Even though my paranoid mom-brain would prefer we stay safe at home, I’m glad we’re going on this trip. Summer is short. Kids grow up. The time for making fun memories is now.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon.