In our family, Kim does most of the planning… groceries, kid schedules, workouts for us, house maintenance, and yard work. She is the best and I really appreciate her for it. So when it comes to family vacations, Kim deserves a break. I’ve made this my one and only planning job, so I really can’t mess it up. (No pressure.) This is going to sound like a cop out to my one and only job, but I have discovered something over the last few years: You don’t want to plan a perfect vacation.
You don’t want the best possible room and days full of perfectly scheduled activities or endless leisure. When it comes to a family vacation, you want it to be at least a little outside your comfort zone. You want it to be a little like The Amazing Race.
Getting A Little Uncomfortable
Kim and I have talked about this before, but we really loved our time on The Amazing Race. Not for the obvious reasons like winning the race or getting to see the world, we loved the fact that they took our phones and internet away.
They made life a little uncomfortable for us, and it was something we needed. We loved the fact that it was hard to get from Point A to Point B, and it only worked when we worked together. Without any outside distractions.
Did you know: Working together actually makes life better? There is actual SCIENCE behind it. A recent study found that sharing experiences makes people rate those experiences as more intense than people who underwent them alone. Even extraordinary experiences are disappointing without friends or family.
Happiness is inherently social.
7 Tips for Forced Family Fun
So in that same vein, I wanted to plan an experience for my kids that wasn’t perfect, was out of our comfort zone, and most importantly, that we would do together. (Some forced family fun, if you will.) Here is what make it a success:
1. We went somewhere we’ve never been before.
Fun Fact: I researched ski trips to Utah, Colorado, and France. Guess which one was the cheapest? To our surprise, it was France. (The Euro is not exactly crushing it right now, so it may be worth checking out.) We’ve never been to France as a family, so that box was checked. Also the Alps, even though they didn’t get as much snow, are the most stunning sight your eyes will ever see.
2. We went to a place with limited connectivity.
Being 6 hours ahead on time, and in a hotel with shady internet, there wasn’t much staring at phones, and all the TVs were in French or Italian. Research has found that the mere presence of our phones nearby (even if they’re face-down, on silent, or in our bag or pocket) reduces our available cognitive capacity and functioning, even though we may feel like we’re fully focused and attentive.
3. Our rooms were clean and safe, but that’s it.
The rooms made you want to get out of the rooms, if that makes sense. They were clean and welcoming, but you definitely didn’t want to sit in them all day. PERFECT!
4. The activities were NOT easy.
If you’ve ever been skiing in the US, there are clearly marked trails with great color coded difficulty ratings. Those maps and ratings are totally different in the Alps. It led to some nervy moments, one in which PC almost skied off the edge of a cliff. But we worked together and got out of danger.
The next day after skiing, we climbed up a wall of ice with crampons and hooks. (That picture is my daughter Lola, if you can believe it.) There were ropes and guides and safety measures, but it was still hard. The euphoria of completing this task was something that we all experienced together. It’s been proven that getting out of your comfort zone improves happiness.
5. Navigating was an EXERCISE.
We had to walk everywhere without much help. It was not a super touristy town, so everyone spoke French. We had to find ways to communicate when we needed it and sometimes we got lost. Speaking of…
6. WE GOT LOST!!! (And that’s a good thing!)
Getting lost on vacation is freaking great. I am a huge proponent of getting lost. You meet new people, experience new parts of the world, and best of all, you get to get UNLOST!
I asked Lola what her favorite part of the trip was. Her answer: When she and I left the group to ski down a harder slope. We took a wrong turn (those trail signs you guys!) and got to a part of a slope where THERE WAS A ROAD IN FRONT OF US THAT CARS WERE DRIVING ACROSS. We crossed the road, got back on our skis and ended up at the bottom of the mountain IN A DIFFERENT CITY THAN THE ONE WE STARTED IN.
Lola was yelling at me for taking a wrong turn, but she was laughing the entire time. (It was pretty hilarious.) We were lost in the Alps, but we were together. We found a gondola where no one else was even wearing skis, so we asked someone in French how to get back to where we started. My sense of direction was the point of ridicule for days, which, if you know anything about teenagers, is just great.
7. Keep it local.
It’s important to incorporate activities that aren’t necessarily touristy, and more like things the locals do. So we bought tickets to a hockey game. No one there spoke English, the whole building was a fire hazard, and the beer guy dispensed beers with a keg he attached to his backpack in the stands. We learned the French cheers for the team and bought t-shirts. We have no idea what the final score was, but we had fun.
Whether you are planning a family vacation or something fun around town, do your best to disconnect, try something new, and maybe even get lost. Kim and I are so grateful for this time we spent with our family and we’d love to hear about your experiences too! Tell us about your forced family fun, and listen to our podcast this week for more fun stories from France: