Israel Diary: Magical Mystery Tour

As we’ve discussed our recent trip to Israel with friends, one point continues to come up: how (and why) did we keep it a secret until the moment we left. So I thought I’d describe both our method and madness here, in case you enjoy tormenting your family as much as we do.

It all started when the kids were very young. We decided that it didn’t make sense to wait until the baby/toddler/whatever was awake, only to stuff them into a carseat/booster/seatbelt so they could sit for hours and think about their bladder.

So we would get up early (like 4am) in the morning, carry them from bed to (the already running, warm) car where they would inevitably fall back to sleep, and then get on the road. We would get 4 or 5 hours of solid drive time before they woke up. Then we’d stop, get them dressed, grab some breakfast, and get back on the road. For most trips, we’d be “there” by lunch – enough time for the kids to run off some of that pent up energy before dinner and bedtime.

We just forgot to stop doing that as the kids got older. It was waaaaay too much fun to hear their exclamations when we woke them up (especially the oldest, whose invectives now include “You people need HELP!”)

To all of this we added the “special magical backpacks” – new backpacks filled with stuff we get at the dollar store. Nothing valuable, nothing that we’d worry about losing along the way, but all new and interesting (at least for the duration of the trip). So that once people are awake, they have something to keep them busy. In recent years, these backpacks also contain various electronics – DVD players, laptops, i-thingies, etc.

And then there are clues. We hand out clues every so often during the drive to our destination, giving hints about where we are going and what we’re going to see. On the ride to Boston the clues included a cardboard “man” cut out from a Minute-Maid can (Minute Men), a pebble and matchbox car (Plymouth rock), and a paperback novel from the “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” series (featuring the cat Salem on the front). The clues are meant to be obscure, to keep the kids guessing. Only the final clue is the big reveal. But it generates hours of conversation along the way about where we might go, where we could go, where we would like to go.

“What about cloths? How did you handle packing?” is the most often asked question. Obviously when the kids were little nobody noticed. As this kids have gotten older our tactic has been both simple and elegant: a combination of sleep deprivation and outright lying.

First, we manufacture some reason why laundry isn’t getting done quickly. We’re both busy, we run out of (that is to say “hide”)  laundry detergent, etc. Then we do the laundry late at night, and stuff it way into suitcases.

There were some differences for the trip to Israel (no long drive, no early wake-up) but the key parts remained the same. We surprised them with the news at lunchtime; we handed out clues (which included sunscreen, sand, and an orange – which of course was a red herring since it could easily have meant “Disney” – along with honey, an airplane with holes drilled in it (“holy land”) and a crocodile (because Hamat Gader – an alligator farm and water park – was too cool not to put on our list of places to visit).

Most importantly, in the process, we guaranteed that getting generated almost as many memories as being there.