Ah, the vacation!
A time for relaxation, spontaneous activities and an opportunity to unplug from the demands of career and modern life. As the saying goes, a vacation is “your chance to get away from it all.”
Unless you have children, that is. In that case, a vacation can be anything but carefree. As every parent or caregiver for children knows, kids need activities and a schedule. After putting in 40 or 50 hours a week at your job, week in, week out, month after month, lying on the beach and absorbing the rays for a few days may be your definition of heaven – but an eight-year-old or even a teenager will likely need a whole lot more to keep them occupied and entertained.
The tendency among those vacationing with children is to overschedule, keeping the kids busy from dawn until bedtime, making sure they are never bored and their attention never wanes. Maybe hit the beach in the morning, a museum in the afternoon and some event at night. It may be surprising to learn, but many young people do not like pressure-filled, over-scheduled vacations any more than you do.
So let’s look at five fun and family-friendly activities that do not involve a hectic pace or even a lot of money, yet are a great way for a family to enjoy each other’s company while soaking up local customs and traditions.
Games & Puzzles
A vacation is a fine time for a family to bond. Without the pressure of jobs and schools, a family can, at last, enjoy uninterrupted time together. So why not grab some games or puzzles and spend some quality time on the beach or on that great hotel room balcony with the spectacular view?
Games can run the gamut from old-standbys like checkers, chess, and the ever-challenging Monopoly, to exciting, more exotic jigsaw puzzles from places like Plaza Japan that give family members of all ages an opportunity to team up and learn together while having fun.
Racing from a museum to some famed historical site can be educational and even fun. But one of the best ways to really soak up and enjoy a new or foreign culture is through their cuisine. And what child does not love food?
So don’t treat food as an afterthought. Consider it the main event of your trip! Unlike the United States, most cultures—from Europe to the Middle East to Asia—have a reverence for food and can spend hours eating a single meal. Find a restaurant that specialises in serving meals bathed in local customs. This is a great way for your family to spend some relaxing time together while learning about the culture and people you’re visiting.
Don’t tether children to the hotel and some nearby beach. It’s a shame how many families simply plant themselves at some resort as if that’s all a country has to offer. Trips within trips can be fun and exciting.
Plan a full-day excursion, maybe on a boat or in a car, and really get out to the surrounding areas. This way your children can see actual locals at work and play and take in as many historical sites as possible. The key here is not to over plan. Simply make the effort to be a little adventurous on your vacation. Your kids will thank you for it.
Whether it’s a concert for a band you’ve never heard of, a children’s puppet show or street dancing, let your children discover local forms of entertainment. Too many young people go overseas nowadays and sit around watching “Game of Thrones” or “The Flash” on their iPads—just as they do back home.
Attending a dance or music festival with people their age is a terrific way for children to mingle, make friends—and even learn. It will create some unforgettable memories.
Explore local markets and outdoor bazaars
All over the world, from Paris to Athens to Istanbul to Buenos Aires, from capital cities to small towns, locals shop, dine and just stroll among myriad outdoor markets and bazaars. Loud, colourful and a true emblem of the local culture, these markets will prove a delight to children, who will love diving into stalls filled with fabrics, food, toys and trinkets.
Especially for American youngsters used to sterile, homogenous shopping malls back home, watching Parisien’s tasting cheeses or Moroccans fiercely negotiating the price for a bolt of fabric, outdoor markets will prove to be an eye-popping and exciting adventure.
Carolyn Clarke has been writing about family, travel, and travelling with family for nearly 10 years. A native of Southern California, Carolyn enjoys hiking, mountain biking, and the occasional beach run when she’s not typing away at her keyboard.