Here are our top 7 tips for adding some unscheduled time into your next vacation:
1. Plan the Unplanned
Scheduling unscheduled time into your next vacation is important. Why? Because it probably won’t happen otherwise. While planning unplanned time might seem counter-intuitive, hours and days fill up fast. There are must-see sites, to-do lists and of course, that restaurant your friend said was to die for. Time without an agenda is often last on the priority list. Blocking off some free time will ensure that it actually happens and doesn’t get bumped by something ‘more important’. A full unplanned day is ideal, but not necessary if your schedule won’t allow for it. A few hours can be enough to recharge. The important thing is to shift from a ‘must do’ mindset into a more relaxing ‘just let it happen’ one.
2. Go With the Flow
One of the great benefits of agenda-free time is that it allows freedom to enjoy the moment. The ability to do what you want, when you want seems an integral part of a vacation but in reality, over-scheduling can limit opportunities. Free time can give a sense of ‘what’s next’ excitement as you open yourself to unplanned activities and just let the day unfold. Maybe everyone is feeling chill. No problem hit the poolside or beach with a book. Or perhaps adventure is in the air. Via Ferrata anyone? Wait, look! A caricature artist! These pop-up adventures can be the highlight of a vacation. After all, vacations are about taking us out of our routine and into the unexpected.
3. Take Turns Taking the Lead
Sometimes there may be disagreement on how to spend available free time. OK, almost always, at least in my family. One family member wants to swim. Another wants to eat. I just want to chill. The solution? Rotate leaders and be sure to include the kids. Adjust the leadership time according to how much time you have available. Even an hour per leader spread out over a few days will help everyone feel included. For kids especially, it can be a chance to flex their decision-making and leadership muscles, giving them a sense of empowerment. I remember following my kids around for an hour from pond to pond at a resort. We found frogs and tadpoles and dragonflies and a lot of fun amongst the lily pads. It is one of my favourite memories, and it wouldn’t have happened if the kids weren’t in charge.
4. Agenda Free Doesn’t Mean Adventure Free
Unplanned time doesn’t have to mean adventure free time. Sometimes the very best adventures are the ones that happen either at the spur of the moment or completely by accident. A prime example is when I had my unexpected ‘running of the bulls’ (well, ‘running of the cows’ at least) in Costa Rica. You can’t plan the really crazy stuff! Having time to wander and discover can lead to unforeseen opportunities. Small adventures, like exploring a resort or a park with the kids, can be as much fun as big ones. Being agenda-free allows you to be open to new experiences and to cultivate a spirit of spontaneity. Like those books I loved as a kid, you can go out and choose your own adventure.
5. Wind it Down
When on vacation, we often want to spend time in peaceful relaxation. But that can mean different things to different people. For some, reading by the pool is pure bliss. For others, a swim or a jog is the key to relaxation. Unscheduled downtime can help accommodate everyone’s rest needs. Reading, activity books, family board games, a walk in the woods, a bike ride or even that rarest of family vacation activities, a nap, are some simple ways to wile away an afternoon. No planning required. Kids get grumpy when they are tired, and let’s be honest, we aren’t much different. Kids and adults alike will benefit from some rest…whatever form it may take!
6. Go Device Free – Try an Analog Afternoon
This is a tough one. I get a little panicky just thinking about being away from my phone for any length of time. But there is a tangible link between disconnection and discovery. Somehow, being cut off from the digital world allows us to fully engage with the world right in front of us. And being fully immersed in our surroundings allows us to seek and find adventures big and small. Disconnecting can also help keep us agenda-free. No schedule reminders. No sightseeing lists. Just distraction-free interaction with the environment and the people around you. Turn off the phone for a few hours, walk out the door and see what adventures await.
7. Ask Someone ‘In The Know’ then Go
Another idea for an unplanned adventure is to ask a local for some insider information. Of course, you need to be safe about who you ask. Hotel concierges can be a great source of information, and not just for the hot tourist spots. Let them know if you are interested in something off the beaten track and they might have a couple of hidden gems to share. And as a bonus, they will likely have information on safe transportation and where to eat along the way. Asking “We have three hours. What should we do?” is a good place to start. Of course, concierges are not the only sources of local information. Travel information centres and restaurant and hotel staff are other excellent sources of local knowledge. When you have some agenda-free time, local insight can inspire a spontaneous, less touristy adventure.
So the next time you plan a vacation, fit some unplanned time into your schedule, you and your family will appreciate it! Some of our favourite memories were from the spur of the moment, happening now, random adventures!