Slow down, do what matters to you, and focus on why you vacationed to your destination.
As of the beginning of 2024, our family of four has traveled continuously for more than 500 days. Jodie and I have been reflecting on what we’ve learned and how we get fulfillment out of our travels with kids. Here are 5 slow travel tips for families, of things we consistently do. Each helps us get what we want out of our experiences, and our travel and sightseeing days go more smoothly.
1. Filling your day with non-stop activities is overrated and leads to exhaustion, burnout, and regret.
So many people in travel media give the impression that they sightsee from 5 a.m. until 2 a.m. We find packed, over-scheduled days to be overwhelming and under-satisfying.
Is time limited on a trip? Of course. Rushing from one activity to another leaves people distracted from where they are, what they’re doing, and who they’re with. They come home with many photos but few memories.
Filling your day with non-stop activities is overrated. Exhaustion, burnout, and regret are not the souvenirs you want to bring home. Our top slow travel tips for families boils down to doing less and being more present.
2. Stopping for snacks, hydration, breaks, and general rest is essential to a satisfying sightseeing day.
For starters, downtime is actually key to enjoying your day. It’s like digestion. (Seriously.) You don’t just start shoveling in more grub. You take time to digest. Travel is the same. After an experience, activity, or attraction, it’s good to take time to decompress. You savor what you’ve done. That goes a long way toward building your memories of the trip or experience.
Downtime is essential, even more so when you are traveling with little humans. We adults also need breaks for snacks, meals, hydration and general rest. Kids need those things all the more. When we neglect downtime for the sake of rushing to the next thing, we wind up tired, cranky, and ready to throw a tantrum—and that’s just the adults.
It’s okay to have downtime, any time you and your family need it, as often as necessary. Plus, when your day isn’t over-scheduled, you take away the time pressure of feeling like taking a break is breaking your schedule. Downtime doesn’t take away from your trip. If anything, downtime makes your days smoother, less stressed, happier, and more worthwhile.
3. Identify the 3 most important experiences you want to have.
We take family vacations to specific places for our own personal reasons. When our trip activities align with our priorities, our travels become more fulfilling.
Our family sets 3 experiences we want to have. Once we complete those 3 tasks, destinations, or activities, we can leave knowing we accomplished our goals. If we do anything else beyond those 3 things, that’s great. If we stay in the area longer, we might adjust the number from 3 to 5 or 7.
Setting a defined number of things we want to do gives us focus, helps us structure our time (including when we want unstructured downtime), and helps us leave every destination feeling accomplished, happy with what we did, and knowing we have built the memories we want to go home with.
4. Do what matters to you, not what a “things to do” list says to do.
Look around online for destination info, and you will find endless lists. These spark ideas. The tricky part is losing sight of the distinction between suggestion and instruction. A “things to do in X” list can easily become a “must do” list.
But it’s not.
Useful slow travel tips for families aren’t complete without remembering that your trip is about what you want to do. Lists, articles, videos, social posts, podcasts, whatever, are nothing more than perspectives and suggestions (including ours). You are taking the trip. Your experiences and plans are fulfilling when they align with what matters to you.
5. You won’t be able to do it all. Let go of trying to.
The amount of activity options for a destination is absolutely staggering. But the thing is? You will never do it all.
And that’s okay.
For example, I’m writing this from Fes, Morocco. During the 6 weeks our family is traveling throughout Morocco, we are only visiting Tangier, Rabat, Fes, and Meknes. We considered Chefchaouen, a lovely place we’d heard glowing things about from many traveling families we know. However, getting there requires a multi-hour, winding bus ride. The kids rejected it. Our itinerary also excludes other notable destinations, such as Casablanca, Marrakech, and Essaouira. These are amazing places. They didn’t fit our priorities on this first trip to Morocco.
The world offers more than we could ever experience. We don’t worry about what we didn’t do. Sometimes we tuck it away as an idea for a later trip. We care about what we do together. As long as we travel according to our priorities, we trust that we will do what matters to us.
Slow down, enjoy, and connect
Slow travel tips for families come down to simple mindset tweaks you can bring to your trips and vacations.
Whether you’re taking a day trip or vacationing for two weeks in another country, you’ll get more satisfaction and better memories out of your family travels if you slow down, enjoy, and connect. For the 12 countries and 500+ days we’ve been traveling full-time as a family, our mindset has made all the difference. Exploring new places, trying new things, and meeting new people doesn’t overwhelm us. We find satisfaction in both our travels and each other.
Travel can be fast-paced, full of packed days and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It can also be slower, with open time and activities based on your priorities and interests. That attitude refills our love of being on the road. It is also how we cherish our contentment when we leave a place and go home, too.