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How to recapture the relaxed old-fashioned family vacation

SIBLINGS
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Private, cheaper rental options abound these days, but it's costing us something much more valuable.

When I was a kid, my family spent a week every summer at Tan-Tar-A Resort on the Lake of the Ozarks. It was a trip organized by a family friend, one where multiple families joined together to rent a block of hotel rooms at a discounted rate. The resort had a dock on the lake, and we took turns signing up for 30-minute turns on jet skis or hour-long tubing and water skiing sessions. In between, we kids had the freedom to roam the hotel … we explored the long, winding hallways full of gift stores and curiosity shops, used our pocket money to buy pizza and candy, and every once in a while ran into our parents.

It was always surprising to round the corner and see my parents sitting at a table with their friends, talking and laughing. Or to look up from inside the candy store and see them strolling past, hand in hand, their faces relaxed and happy. They were never in a hurry that week, never stressed or rushing or worrying about what was next on the agenda, and their faces reflected it. They looked 10 years younger, like all the burdens of life had slipped off their shoulders and given them the sudden freedom to enjoy the days, their kids, and each other.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how much of that freedom came from the benefits of staying at a hotel — as travel writer Terry Ward notes at Fatherly, this aspect of vacations has been seemingly lost in today’s world of private vacation rentals and Airbnb.

Despite the ubiquity of private vacation rentals today, the advantages for an old-fashioned hotel are clear to me. For starters, staying at a hotel is a no-strings relationship. Everyone’s clear without having to sign any contracts or scroll through any guidelines about what both parties are getting out of the arrangement. The whole point of a vacation, after all, is enjoying time together that’s free of the duties of home. When I manage to play hooky from the day-to-day with my family, the last thing I want to think about is having to make beds, load the dishwasher and launder dirty towels.

Most of the vacations I’ve taken as an adult have been of the Airbnb variety. It’s significantly more affordable, so it always seemed prudent to find a vacation rental with plenty of room where we could stock up on groceries, cook for ourselves, and not spend a fortune eating out.

But the thing is, we end up paying for the money we save in something infinitely more precious — time, and the freedom to enjoy it. Our vacations have never been as relaxed as the ones from my childhood, because we’re not really vacating our life. We’re just moving it to a more scenic location and filling it up with the same activities — grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry. It’s not exactly relaxing to spend the first day of a vacation making a grocery list and trying to decide how much perishable food we’ll actually consume in our limited time. Nor is it relaxing to spend a day sight-seeing and then have to come back and cook dinner, wash dishes, and do the laundry.

The next time we take a family vacation, I’m going to do it differently. Instead of trying to find the cheapest option so we can spend money on other things like sightseeing, I’m going to find the most affordable all-inclusive destination. Even if there’s no lake or beach nearby, I’d still rather spend those precious days of freedom being genuinely free to just enjoy them with my family. No dishes, no laundry — just the luxury of clean sheets, continental breakfasts, and long hours with no task at hand but to listen to my children’s stories, make up silly games, and give them the gift of memories they will cherish their whole lives.

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