A friend once defined the perfect outing as one that includes natural beauty, culture, fun and family. So why be afraid of doing anything out of the ordinary? Why spend the weekend paying bills or cleaning the house? On Saturday afternoon, why not get beyond the local mall? If you are an ex-pat, remember that your stay here is probably limited, so take advantage of the time you have to explore this fabulous region. Essential Edge contributor, Janet Hill, a pro on the subject, offers up 10 rules for a succesful outing: (This piece was first published in 2009)
1. Pick a single destination or activity. If you are heading to another town for the day, pick one activity that will be the focus of your trip. Sometimes it’s hard to stick to one thing, but at the end of the day, you’ll be glad that you spent quality time rather than trying to fit in everything.
2. Don’t drive more than three hours to get there. You should allow at least 4-5 hours to enjoy the experience. This still makes for a very full day, but is a helpful cut-off when making decisions. It is also the limit for most kids and spouses.
3. Adapt your speed and let your kids set the pace. When I took my kids to the Swiss Transport Museum in Lucerne last spring, I couldn’t keep up with them. Their enthusiasm made the day.
4. Vary the type of day trip. Follow a nature hike one weekend with a trip into town the next. If your focus is on history one weekend, try something modern the next time. Alternate cultural events with fun – and don’t worry about what your friends might think. Silliness has its virtues.
5. Be flexible – if you had planned a museum day and the weather is glorious, head for the park instead. Don’t waste a beautiful day by staying indoors.
6. Do your homework. Know the opening times, how to get there, and how much it costs. There are innumerable websites that make this task easy – and they are a great source of new ideas.
7. Keep your sense of humour. Nothing ruins an outing faster than grumbling over cost, time and unexpected surprises. Sometimes the things that go wrong bring the biggest smiles later on. I still laugh at some of the would-be disasters from my trips as a child with my parents, and am thankful they taught me to laugh instead of cry (or worse).
8. Time in the car is family time, too. Use the time during the drive (or on the train) to talk to your children, play games or discuss ideas for future weekends. A friend of mine once joked that I am usually up to my waist in guidebooks in the front passenger seat. I believe in cultural osmosis, and time in the car can be a perfect time to tell stories or give a bit of historical background.
9. Think logistically. Pack a picnic if you are going to be travelling around meals, and don’t forget to stop regularly to walk around and stretch your legs. Bring a map, water and books or toys for the kids. Don’t forget to bring music, and agree ahead of time to tolerate everyone’s choice (not always easy in our family, with music ranging from grunge to German baroque).
10. Small children enjoy a change of pace, too. Don’t assume that your small child will get nothing out of a day trip. While they may not remember it later in life, the exposure at a young age to new experiences will increase their curiosity about the world, and yield a more rounded, interesting individual than one who has grown up trailing their parents around on errands. Teach them early on to look with their eyes (not their hands), and get down to their level to explain things to them.
Finally, check out the Essential Edge for tips on where to go, and last but not least, don’t forget to enjoy yourself.