Family vacations are boring — and that’s awesome!

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By Christopher Elliott

Family vacations are boring. If you don’t believe me, just ask your kids, and they’ll tell you how boring they are. They’re very boring. (At least that’s what mine tell me when we travel.)

But let’s explore that truth. Kids say “very boring” as if it’s a bad thing, but maybe it isn’t.

As the summer of 2018 winds down, let’s take a moment to celebrate the virtues of boredom. That’s actually not the word I would use, though. It’s more “sameness” or “consistency.” Once you take a moment to ponder the beauty in patterns when you travel, whether you’re hiking, visiting the beach, or skiing, you may not ever want anything else.

Aren Elliott on an 11-mile hike in Sedona, Ariz.
Aren Elliott on an 11-mile hike in Sedona, Ariz.

A daily hike can be boring — and addictive

Routines are part of every trip, including vacations. You can’t help it. At some point on Day One, you wake up and say, “What are we going to do today?” Or maybe, if you’re a planner, you ask it much sooner.

If you’re in a place like Sedona, Ariz. (where I’m writing this), then the answer is: hike, of course. The area behind my rental is wilderness. I can see a path called Old Post from my kitchen window. In our first 24 hours in Sedona, my son and I followed Old Post to the Airport Loop Trail, one of the most scenic hiking paths here, if not in the United States. It climbs to a peak with a stunning 360-degree view of Sedona that allows you to soak in the positive energy of an upflow vortex (if you believe in that kind of thing). It’s slightly more than three miles of hiking bliss.

The next day, we tried another one, Ridge Trail. It featured even more postcard-perfect red rocks and mountains, bracketed by a deep blue sky. Then another, Carroll Canyon, a path that curves along a mountainside and crosses several dry riverbeds. And before we knew it, we were in a routine.

Every day, we wanted our fix of Sedona. Our morning hikes became longer and longer. Three miles, six miles, nine miles, and finally, after two straight weeks of hiking, a 4 ½-hour, 11-mile hike to the top of Cathedral Rock.

I recognized this routine from past trips. Being in a place sometimes begs you to establish a routine, whether you’re hiking, swimming, or exploring. But hiking is particularly addictive. For years, before I became a nomad, my daily routine involved walking around the block repeatedly. So falling back into the hiking thing was too easy. Falling into that routine in a place like Sedona was an unexpected bonus.

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Erysse Elliott in Tillamook, Ore., in 2017. The beaches in Oregon are cold and endless.
Erysse Elliott in Tillamook, Ore., in 2017. The beaches in Oregon are cold and endless.

Beach vacations are boring, too

Beaches also suffer from a sameness. There’s a rhythm to beaches, from the early morning beachcombers to the late night campfires. I still remember our favorite beaches. Sanibel, Fla., with its abundant shells. San Diego, with its surfers. Tillamook, Ore., with its incredible sunsets.

To young kids, this predictability can seem monotonous. You have to explain it to them: It’s not monotony, but consistency.

“Dad,” exclaimed my then 10-year-old daughter, “I don’t want to go to the beach again.” (Here’s everything that you need to know before planning your next trip.)

She’s used that line before. On this occasion, it was her answer to my announcement that we were headed to the water’s edge in Oregon yet again. She thought she’d seen it all, but we hadn’t visited the Cape Meares lighthouse yet. That beach had cliffs, and the Pillar Rock monolith emerging from the Pacific, and puffins. On an unusually warm July afternoon, it was perfect. I made my point. The beach may feature water, waves, and sand — but it’s so much more.

You can visit the beach every day when you’re on vacation and do the same thing and the sameness can be exciting. It should be exciting if you can frame it correctly for your kids.

Aren Elliott carves in the fresh powder in Sun Valley, Id.
Aren Elliott carves in the fresh powder in Sun Valley, Id.

Here’s to the daily ritual of skiing

Skiing is one of the most ritual-heavy vacation activities I know. You wake up, eat a carb-heavy breakfast, bundle up and head out for the day. Tradition prescribes lunch, après-ski and dinner. But you’re free to determine which runs you take during the day.

Sometimes it’s difficult to see these patterns until you’ve been doing them for a while. It takes about a week of daily skiing for me to see the routines for what they are. They’re the train tracks that enable you to ski until your legs give in. And interestingly, you hit a point where you say, “I could do this forever.” That’s when you know you’re not a slave to a routine — you have mastered it. (RelatedWill American do a good deed for these Boy Scouts?)

My middle son is the most habitual skier. Iden, 13, can spend a full day on the slopes, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up ready to do it again. He’s never used the “B” word to describe skiing, and he’s skied everywhere and in every condition. It’s funny that he can appreciate the patterns of a ski vacation but thinks that other types of activities (ahem, hiking) are incredibly boring. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all. (Related: The divine truth about a spiritual vacation.)

Sameness can be beautiful. Consistency can be beautiful. So are routines. Don’t let your kids or travel companions call them boring. It’s really just a matter of explaining the infinite diversity of sticking to a schedule. But if they insist on calling them, or you, boring, then own it. Tell them that being boring is beautiful. They’ll figure out the truth — eventually.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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