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With so little paid vacation available to Americans, the urge to hit as many tourist highlights and collect as many passport stamps as possible is high. But traveling at a blistering pace is downright exhausting, and usually just turns your well-intentioned, well-researched, expensive and dreamy trip into a chore.
Of course, we all want to get the most out of our vacations. And we're all guilty, to some degree, of cramming too much into the daily schedule. But there's another way to vacation—one that involves actually less travel and more time in one place. Slowing down your pace of travel (and being realistic about how much and what you can see and do) will help your whole family embrace a more immersive, cohesive and less stressful way to enjoy a family vacation.
Here are seven benefits to slow travel:
1. You meet the locals (and their kids)
Slow travel means you're really able to dig your heels into a destination, even if you'll only be somewhere for a short time. Focusing on the local routines and traditions—what people eat, where people shop, how people spend their time—provides a much more insightful look into a place than if you just breeze through the museums and amusement parks.
If you really want to get to know a destination, bypass tourist attractions and hang out at the local pool, park or playground. This is where you're likely to find other parents—and where your kids will make new friends. These kinds of encounters will make your trip more personal and memorable as well.
2. Discover less-visited parts of a destination
You might not hit all the must-see sites in a destination, but if you ask locals where they spend their time, your family will have a much more authentic experience. Sometimes the most interesting and insightful experiences are not the fanciest, most advertised or most famous. Instead, they're where you can check out a different aspect of a place—a perspective known only to those who live there. These are places like the local market where people bargain for groceries or community events where families gather.
3. Focus is quality, not quantity
Long after you've returned home from your travels, you won't remember the name of a painting you saw in the museum or details a tour operator mentioned. What you will remember are those moments when your whole family was together, smiling, laughing and simply enjoying each other's company. This is an opportunity to set work aside and focus on people who matter most in your life. So take advantage of it completely.
The ultimate goal of your travels as a family should be to create and enjoy unforgettable moments together—even if those moments are simple and seem mundane. It's OK to linger at the beach while the kids make sand castles. There is nothing wrong with forgoing dinner out and ordering pizza in while you play board games as a family instead.
4. Skill building
Yes, vacation is all about having fun, but when you aren't constantly on the move, it can also be an opportunity to learn something new. Children are especially adept at picking up foreign languages. So let them interact with kids at a playground or chat with folks you meet around town. Check to see if there are art classes available at your destination or try a new outdoors activity, such as rafting or hiking, to foster new skills.
Parents, don't forget this is your vacation too. If you have time to step away from the little ones for a while, consider signing up for a cooking class or finally learn how to tango.
5. Real relaxation
How have we forgotten that vacations are meant to help us relax, not stress us out? Yes, you should take time to visit hot spots in your chosen destination, and there's no reason just to sit around your accommodations. But don't forget to appreciate your moments of downtime as well.
If everyone is tired after spending the morning wandering around town, then crash for an afternoon nap. If breakfast turns into a leisurely affair vs. a quick meal on the go, so be it. After all, this is what vacations are really for anyway.
6. Save money
Let's face it: Vacations get expensive very quickly, especially if you are shelling out money for entrance fees for an entire family. Popular attractions charge an exorbitant amount of money, because they can. Restaurants on the well-trod tourist trail tend to increase their prices. But you don't have to pay them if you don't go. With a slow travel mindset not focused on trying to do it all, any money you spend is an investment in quality experiences.
Consider renting a home rather than making a reservation at a hotel next time you travel. That can save you money upfront and also give you better opportunities to explore untapped neighborhoods, meet others living in the area and enjoy downtime in a home-like atmosphere instead of crammed into a two-bed room. Also, shop for groceries at a street market rather than eating out every meal. This not only saves money on food but also ensures everyone in your family will have something they like to eat and offers a more genuine local experience.
Despite the fact you're on vacation, your kids still need a routine. Tired and irritable children are never fun, regardless of where in the world you might be. Maintain a flexible schedule that accommodates normal times for getting up in the morning, eating, napping and going to bed at night so that everyone is in a better mood throughout the trip. When you let routines dictate travel plans instead of travel itineraries dictating daily routines, you'll likely feel like you achieve more on your family vacation anyway. At the very least, there will likely be fewer meltdowns.
So now that you're planning your winter vacation—or maybe even thinking spring break or summer 2016—keep this in mind: you need to slow down.