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Going on a family vacation doesn’t have to be an expensive, exhausting, stressful adventure. A relaxing time away from should provide chances to get to know each other better away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday, and give ample opportunity for creating unique memories together.
When there are young children involved, trust me I know, we may need to lower our expectations of what “vacation” means. But, sometimes I think we stress ourselves out financially, physically, and emotionally by cramming in too much “to-do” on vacation.
Our family did a pretty big road trip over spring break. Weeks later, we are all still saying it was one of our best trips ever. What made this trip so special? Nothing. Seriously. We did hardly anything “touristy.” This trip was all about visiting friends and family and hanging out with each other.
So, here are 7 tips for you to consider when planning your summer adventures.
#7 Couch surf whenever possible.
Couch surfing is an actual thing and there are websites where you can connect with people across the globe who are willing to host travelers. We have friends who are couch surfers and they’ve made life-long friends across the world. They say it’s one of the best ways to experience a locality. On this trip, we stayed with people we know. If you’ve got friends or family willing to let you crash on their couches, spare beds, or on the floor on air mattresses, it’s one of the most fun ways to re-connect with people you haven’t seen in awhile. Rather than visiting for just a few hours and then heading to your hotel, you can stay up late, after the kids have gone to bed, sneaking an extra dessert and coffee and chatting (or playing video games) until wee hours in the morning. The extended time with people is a treasure. We’ve hosted a number of family and friends over the years, and it’s always a joy to have guests. Sure, it’s extra work for you and the host, so don’t overstay your welcome, and be considerate of their work and school schedules. But a couple nights with an old friend? So priceless.
#6 Take advantage of road trip spontaneity.
One advantage of traveling by car is if you see a billboard for something interesting, you can make the extra stop. Build some flexibility into your travel schedule for extra adventures. On our first day of traveling, we realized we would be stopping for dinner in a town where an old friend lived. We hadn’t seen him in 17 years, since our wedding! I sent a quick text message to say we would be passing through in a few hours and wondered if he would be free for dinner. Turns out he was available and we had the greatest time catching up for a couple hours. (He said we made his month!) That was the best detour of the trip and an unforgettable couple hours. When you’ve scheduled yourself so tight, you miss out on fun spontaneous adventures. Stress less. Stop more!
#5 Be a locavore.
Whenever possible, eat at local restaurants. My friends wanted to go out for breakfast one morning, and my only request was no chains. They took me to a locally-owned bakery and cafe. The three of us (yes 3!) split a Cuban breakfast sandwich that was to die for. I can’t get anything like that at home. Then there was the guava-cheese pastry. I may need to find a local source for those. I’m not sure I can survive months on end without tasting that again. Eating local gives you a taste of the unique cultures of your host town.
#4 Some of the best activities are free.
We’ve paid for theme parks and zoos over the years, and those can be great fun. This trip, however, we mostly did free activities. From afternoons at local parks to a few hours walking the beach looking for shells, the best and most relaxing activities are often free. If you’re couch surfing, ask your hosts where the best local spots are. They may be able to point you to off-the-beaten-path destinations that are less crowded and unheard of. They may even know of free concerts or other family activities that are happening during your visit. Check the local news station’s website for a community calendar for free activities too.
#3 The best souvenirs are free.
Since we’ve returned home, the things the kids keep showing everyone from the trip are the small baggie of shark teeth we found on the beach, the giant “walking” sticks they brought home, and a bag of rocks they collected along the way. (The tadpoles, however, stayed in the pond.) When we did give them a small amount of spending money, what did they buy? A bag of rocks. Go figure.
#2 Kids don’t need you to manufacture experiences for them.
Every time we turned around, the kids and their friends had found a new activity. Whether it’s playing board games, skipping rocks in the lake, chasing lizards, or playing hide and go seek, kids know how to play on their own and have a great time. You don’t have to schedule every hour of your trip with a special activity.
#1 Musicals really do mirror real life.
So, this maybe isn’t a tip, but something I learned on vacation. I love musicals. I love watching them, and in high school I loved acting in them. But, although they are fun, I always thought, “Really? Who just breaks out into song over every little thing?” Now I know. My 7 year-old does. He can make up a song about everything, right on the spot. And he did so, all vacation long. From putting pajamas on, to playing cards – there’s a song for that. How I wish in the midst of my laughing-til-I-cried, I had turned on the audio recording on my phone.