We highly-caffeinated, over-achieving Americans often approach our vacations with the same mindset that we bring to our workaday lives: pack as much into as little time as possible.
I think it’s time to re-think what a holiday is all about and how to get the best of downtime. To that end, approach your trip with a mission to discover yourself as much as you discover your destination. An authentic vacation is not so much about where you go as it is paying attention to the messages and sensations you experience. How can you bring them into your daily life? Do you feel your priorities shifting? If you answer “yes” to these, you’ve vacationed the right way.
Here are some suggestions for planning an authentic vacation for you and yours. They follow my motto to “Pack Light, Travel Slow, Connect Deep.”
What’s important to everyone?
No two people have the same interests. Take an inventory of everyone’s interests and plan your trip so that each person gets to do something that makes it special for them. This helps build patience—your special experience is coming.
BONUS: You might discover a new passion because someone introduced you to theirs.
Opt in, opt out
When possible, let folks opt out of an experience they’re not excited about and plan the schedule accordingly. For example, I am a history buff and museum hound who likes to read all the displays and talk to the staff.
If I’m traveling with others who don’t take equal delight in that kind of afternoon (hard to believe!), we work our plans accordingly and perhaps go our separate ways to enjoy our interests. If that isn’t possible, I do my part to speed up, and they do their part not to nag.
Let everyone—even the kids—help plan
When everyone gets a say—even if it’s just where to eat one meal—they’ve bought into the itinerary and are less likely to whine or complain.
There are a dozen ways to involve kids of all ages in planning. Give an older child responsibility for an entire travel day to plan the roadside stops, or a destination city to research and make recommendations to the rest of the family. Give a smaller child two acceptable choices of restaurant—a simple and effective way to involve them.
If you find yourself saying, “If we leave at exactly this time we’ll have just enough time to make it to that destination,” you’re doing it wrong.
The most satisfied vacationers provide ample flexibility into their schedules. Allow for at least 40% of each day to be unscheduled so you experience what I call “road magic.” You never know when a roadside billboard will call to you or when you’ll meet an interesting person and want to extend the experience; that’s road magic.
That said, allow yourself the flexibility to let go of something you’ve planned if another more interesting opportunity presents itself. Go with the flow.
Children are scheduled within an inch of their lives during the school year and are especially in need of unscheduled downtime, even when they act otherwise (see “theme park mindset” below).
Enjoy “being” instead of craving “doing”
Last October I was heading down a slope at North Carolina’s DuPont State Forest when someone on the path below asked me, “Is there anything to see up there?”
I assumed they didn’t want to hike for the sake of being in nature—that they wanted to know what “attractions” were to be seen if they expended the effort to climb the slope.
I call that “theme park mindset”—the preference for constant entertainment and stimulation. Kids and adults both experience this urge to be entertained, and the agitation of not getting it will eventually pass if you let it run its course.
If you practice yoga, you know what I mean; your instructor will tell you the same thing when your muscles begin screaming during a long hold only to relax when you remember to breathe.
Generally speaking, kids will begin tuning into the world around them when the adults are willing to let them work through their initial agitation.
Don’t try keeping up with the Joneses
Set a budget and stick to it.
One way to make lifelong memories is by camping. If you don’t want to pack a tent or don’t have one, many KOA campgrounds have cabins with linens, fully-stocked kitchens, heating and air conditioning. Plus that, there are always other kids in the campground to play with.
A few hours romping on the playground is a great way to work off the energy that has accumulated in the back seat.
Pack light, pack right
If you’re on a road trip, maximizing space and legroom is your first priority. Hardshell luggage takes up too much room (as you see above), so instead give each child the same size duffle, pillowcase or plastic trash bag and tell them they can pack whatever fits in it. What doesn’t fit stays at home.
Pack a separate bag for everyone’s overnight needs like toiletries and pajamas. This way, when you pull over for the night, you won’t have to unpack the entire car.
Entertain the kids
Here’s a TV interview I did with some tips for keeping the kids entertained and engaged during a road trip. Enjoy!