National Lampoon’s William’s Family Vacation

We took a trip to Purgatory and rented a room at the base of Hades while wildfires burned nearby. 

Yes, like Bilbo Baggins, we were ready for another adventure in the Williams Gang style.

 For the average family, summer means kids out of school and time for the family vacation. Typically, for our budget, that means a car vacation and another episode of torturous hours in a small space with two boys.

It’s a replay of Dumb and Dumber, what is the most annoying sound in the world? Repeat annoying sound, then add complaining, fighting, whining and start all over again!

However, we have been planning to save enough to expose our twins to the joys of flying out west and discover less smoky mountains and more rockier, so, when a really good deal on airline tickets popped up on my husband’s radar, we jumped.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing more beautiful than my moisture ridden, humid Appalachian Mountains, but it was time for something a bit different. We had visited the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina on our Spring Break to experience 8 to 10 inches of snow and for my Mississippi bred boys that was awesome, even with our less experience driver trying to traverse the snow laden paths.

Unlike the Griswold gang, this time we took to flying rather than driving and if you work it right, the cost is less than driving 20 plus hours across Louisiana and Texas which has never thrilled me much.

The twins have logged hours of backseat driving, especially since we travel back home every two months which adds over ten to twelve hours total each trip. We wanted them to experience airline travel and with Southwest Airlines special, flying from Nashville to Albuquerque, New Mexico for two hundred a piece was a deal! Huntsville’s airport is known to be the most expensive in the country, so we drive the hour and twenty minutes to the music city’s terminal to fly.

Why Albuquerque? Two reasons, it was cheaper and since Carl has flown several times to that area for work, it is one that is familiar.

We booked a SUV for around 40 bucks a day with unlimited mileage so that we could drive northward thru the New Mexico arid region, a sight the boys have never seen, a sandy, brown environment.

Our destination? Durango, Colorado, and the beautiful rocky and aspen decorated peaks, to stay at a VRBO condo rental with two bedrooms, one with twin queens which meant thankfully the boys could have their own bed, no bed wars like in all hotel rooms! The condo was located at a ski-lodge, Durango Mountain Resort or known as Purgatory, and our new temporary home was on Sheol Street.

Did I feel superstitious about all the afterlife references?

So, we did our first flying vacation. Let’s just say, the shorter route is always the best route with 12 year old boys!

Clark Griswold answered the complaints of his two kids about driving with, “Why aren't we flying? Because getting there is half the fun!”

So my Carl answered, “Why aren't we driving? Because getting there would be NO fun!”

Well, for first time flyers, our boys would agree that flying is better than riding in our SUV for days.

My Carl
A National Lampoon movie is always filled with adventure and mishaps, and every Williams’s vacation meets similar obstacles. My Clark Griswold  is a 6’5, ruggedly handsome red head, named Carl and on the second leg of our flying trip we had to split up due to a fully booked flight.

My Carl was seated next to the ‘drunken-trouble-making couple.’

Barely mid-flight Mr. Personality who was nearly thrown off the plane pre-takeoff was in full form and that’s when the flight attendant decided to move Carl to the front, saving him from having to deck the small weasel of a guy. At least in her estimation, but he is a very patient, red head having been married to me all these years, so the guy was in no danger. But to say he was rude and disruptive was an understatement.

Happily we arrived at our destination with all our luggage, carryon’s and kids to discover our great rental car deal, prepaid and booked had been rented out, leaving the rental company, ADVANTAGE, with nothing to give us to drive.

I wish my redhead husband would have gone all ‘red’ but he is trying to set a good example for the twelve year olds, and Payless Rental Car, not the shoe store, was able to accommodate us.

Road bump averted!

That’s the first rule of family vacation, something will go wrong but never panic, a solution is just a few patient moments ahead.

We did not get our SUV and instead lost some cool points by renting a Chevy Impala, which by the way, rode very smoothly, except when we drove up mountain dirt roads that needed a truck or a Subaru.

As Clark Griswold, we like to embrace the land we travel so we rented the cheesy, Nativo Lodge, an overly styled Southwestern themed hotel for the first night, ate at the best Southwestern restaurant in Albuquerque, Sadie’s and off we went on our adventure.

We experienced beautiful hikes, although my Mississippi lungs struggled in the high altitude, dangerous scenic drives where Carl’s knuckles were white with tension. Thankfully our rental car’s tires were good because the shoulder of the road was a few thousand feet drop and no rails. 

Million Dollar Hwy video

We climbed up cliffs after viewing cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, we hiked in the desert in Santa Fe and enjoyed our Southwest adventure. 
 To prove it, the trip was heavily documented with three cameras, videos, and souvenirs!

Maybe we are a bit old-fashion, but one highlight was the drive to the meadow where in 1969, John Wayne filmed the fight scene in True Grit. All I kept thinking was, I wish my dad, who died not too long ago, would have been there and seen it.

Then I flash back, to my own childhood, when my dad took me on my first family trip in our car to the Smokies and I rode up my first real mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee where I think I had my first real panic attack!

Boy, have I come along way baby, to ride the Million Dollar Highway, one of the top ten most dangerous mountain highways and all I could think of was how beautiful it was. No panic! Maybe I was a tidbit nervous, but no fear!

The whole point of the family vacation is to make memories, to bond, to survive and then when you are old, you can remember back at those special times.

The Williams family vacation was a success and thankfully, we did not run in to any Cousin Eddies.

Tracy Williams is a syndicated columnist and can be reached at or like at or read my blog at


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