In Defence of the Do-Nothing Family Holiday

I’m waiting patiently for my Do-Nothing Family Holiday – and I’ve been watching with mixed envy and smugness over the summer as my social media feeds fill with friends and acquaintances heading off on their annual summer pilgrimages. I’ve watched them choose and plan their summer family holidays, and then watched how those trips have panned out, my feed filled with city explorers and sunshine hunters, beaches and pools in plentiful supply, staying in everything from villas to tents.
I’m mildly envious because I’m here, at home, still working and snatching the odd free few hours for a domestic adventure or two – but I’m smug because I know when everyone else goes back to school and work, our turn will come. The crowning glory of the home education year is the ability to holiday in September when the weather’s still high, but the prices and crowds are way low.

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But I watch so many of these family holidays curiously, seeing the constant feed of exciting activities, tourist attractions, cultural highlights and the seemingly necessary endless stream of family holidays which are busy and filled and productive, planned and organised far ahead.
I do get it – when your holidays are limited and time is short, you feel the urgent need to cram in as much as is possible.
We even do it ourselves; I have come to recognise that we have two distinct holidays. When we stay in the UK we’re busy people: every day is planned the night before, and we usually intersperse long hiking days with castles, beaches, and slower more obvious exploring.

do-nothing family holiday
family beach time By Solis Images | Shutterstock

But when we go find the sunshine? We do nothing. I mean.. nothing. We find a quiet secluded house with its own pool – and we make no plans. Literally zero. There’ll be the odd trip out for food, we may go and explore a local town or market, we may even have the temerity to spontaneously choose to go somewhere a little exciting like a mad French theme park. But on the whole we stop. We breathe. We read, we swim, we snooze – and we actually relax.

And yet when I happily declare plans for a Do-Nothing Family Holiday to friends and family they look at me in polite judgement. It feels like those long slow lazy hazy holidays have been taken over by a new frenetic drive for all the experiences right now, as much as we can possibly stuff into two weeks.
When we took off for a month’s road trip round Italy in a motorhome we had a carefully, minutely-planned itinerary, and took in as much as we possibly could. And yet, the section which brings back the fondest memories? The four days we spent on the beach on a huge, beautiful (empty end-of-season) campsite, simply spending time relaxing, enjoying the ocean and being with each other. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. After the frenetic touring, it was heavenly.

family holiday fun By sakkmesterke | Shutterstock

When we’re having a Doing Holiday, we’re all up and out early, lunches made, kitchen tidied, day planned and the evening dinner already sorted. On a Do-Nothing Family Holiday? We’ll meander out of bed when we’re good and ready, drifting outside for breakfast as we wish (my favourite part of those holidays is the fact I rise before anyone else, and get the first pot of coffee sitting peacefully in the quiet stillness of the early morning). Lunch is whenever someone starts mentioning they’re hungry – often not til mid afternoon – and dinner will be whatever can be casually thrown together as a joint effort some time in the evening. Mess is ignored, games are played, teens are allowed to rise whenever they like with never a judgement, and screen time is unrestricted if that’s what they fancy. It’s their holiday too.

Family camping By Monkey Business Images | Shutterstock

But doing nothing? It’s hard. It takes days to really get the hang of it – your brain buzzing with the weirdness that you should be doing something, shouldn’t you? We found the same when the kids were in school – the first few days of any holiday were fraught as they found themselves in the oddity of unstructured days and self-reliance with no one directing their activities at every turn. A discombobulated tetchiness abounded until they eased off the pace, found some solid rest and re-discovered the joys of themselves and their family.
But soon a new oddness occurs. Calm happens. And when you finally stop fighting and find yourself stretching luxuriously into it, it’s a deeply wonderful feeling.

Choosing to do nothing even comes with numerous proven physical health benefits, including a decreased heart rate, an increase in the oxygen and glucose to the brain – and better digestion!

You’ll Actually Be More Productive

What’s more, taking a proper break – it makes you better at your job. JP Morgan was a well-known workaholic; and yet he strongly believed in a balance between work and rest:
(he) “could do a year’s work in nine months—but not in twelve months.” Without three months of rest, in other words, he wouldn’t be able to do what he did during the rest of the year. “I can get done in 10 months what I could never do in 12,” he said.

We all know that feeling when you get home from your holiday, facing the massive list of tasks that has built up in your absence, feeling tired and worn out and in need of a holiday just to get over the holiday. Yeah -n you don’t get that feeling after a Do-Nothing Family Holiday. You come home refreshed, zingy, bouncing and ready to tackle the world (and usually with plans to make your fortune so you can spend the rest of your life on a Do Nothing holiday…) .

slow walks on a Do-Nothing Family Holiday
A family holiday spent pootling By | Shutterstock

Here’s Where your Ideas Are

When our brain is allowed to be idle, we gather creativity.

“…there are plenty of potential methods of freeing your own creative thought — alcohol, caffeine, doodling, exercise — there is one common thread that seems to keep cropping up. Time and again, the research points to the simple fact that to do more, the human brain needs to, at times, be given the ability to do nothing at all.
“Brain idling” is credited as the secret ingredient behind so many of the things that creative people love and enjoy and need. The need to unplug and just exist is why we enjoy time outside, why we shouldn’t be staying at work so long or so late, why we prefer to use analog tools, why so many of the greatest thinkers took walks and played games and did puzzles — or at least, that’s what the science seems to be indicating.”

credit: What Does Brain Idling Actually mean

So how do you manage to have a Do Nothing family holiday? it’s one thing if you’re on a solo adventure, or a kid-free break. But with the children in tow, that’s not possible is it? Well sure it is – we’ve got four kids, and have been doing to for years. As with all things, it’s all about the balance – and getting a few holiday basics right when you book.

First – choose the right Location for your Do-Nothing Family Holiday

A fab deal on a big hotel in Lanzarote is not conducive for us – we choose instead a peaceful secluded self-catering property where we can holiday to our own rhythm. But for others, simply shifting from hotel room to the beach or the pool, and having dinner served without you thinking about it is actually a perfect Do Nothing break.
Think about what will relax you the most. Then do that.

In general, get out of the city and head to the coast or to the mountains. Make sure there are a few things within easy reach for a day trip or two, and that there’s the option for swimming (beach, pool, river or lake – it doesn’t seem to matter which, but a body of water is an essential and integral part of any holiday) on your doorstep.
Choose something with a view too – we once had a beautiful house in a beautiful region of France. but we hadn’t realised until we got there that it was enclosed in forest at the bottom of a steep valley. It felt restricted and almost claustrophobic – and every evening we forced into walking the local lanes to see the setting sun and enjoy the evening as out own back garden was dark by 6. Conversely, a rather ordinary and ill-equipped house with very little in the way of garden had a beautifully wide, house-wrapping balcony with a spectacular view which we enjoyed day and night (we often slept out there as it was too hot in the house). Still one of our favourite French holidays.

Do-Nothing Family Holiday enjoy the pool
kids love an outdoor pool By FamVeld | Shutterstock

Remember: Doing Nothing Is Different To Being Bored

Make sure you are very clear that what you choose to do is not going to be what everyone else chooses. I will gladly swim for an hour, then sit with my kindle and not move for eight hours straight. Mr LittleStuff prefers to intersperse reading with napping and strolling the local lanes. The teens will sleep and noodle on their phones til lunch time, eat, enjoy a mad afternoon burst of physical stupidity in the pool, retreat to their phones, play games all evening and then choose to swim again before bed.
But there will be days of restlessness – two solid weeks of sitting makes you feel less rested and more sloth-like. Don’t get bored – head out and do something.
Also – don’t BE boring. Remember how to holiday as a kid – play games, have fun. Invent new pool games (we use dive sticks and a ball for hours of competitive fun), slide down sand dunes, jump the waves, play catch ball or hide and seek.

Whether they’re four or fourteen, your kids’ absolute best idea of holiday fun is having your attention, and spending time laughing with you. They don’t need amusement parks, ancient monuments or kids clubs. They just want to play with you.

Family play By DGLimages | Shutterstock

Finally – Be Sure you Pack to Do Nothing

Don’t encumber your travel with huge cases, 12 pairs of shoes and overthinking the dress requirements of every situation. You’re not planning on going far, or doing much – remember it’s a Do-Nothing Family Holiday. Most of your days will be simply spent – a variation of swimwear and beachwear will do! Pack an outfit or two for going out, but keep it simple – your suitcase should be full of swimsuits, sarongs, board shorts, tank tops, a summer dress… nothing fancy, everything comfy. Minimal make up, and one necklace to go with one dress is all I take – my family really don’t judge me if we go out twice in one week and I wear the same outfit both times. I know they don’t judge me, because they’re all doing the same. What, you think the waiter knows, notices or cares?

But there are some essentials – books, flip-flops, comfortable loungers or hammocks, tech (phones, tablets and handheld gaming – Nintendo wins here, ours won’t travel without DS’s and/or a Switch), an Audible account (fantastically read audiobooks whilst zoning out in the sunshine. Heaven.), and younger kids will need imaginative play toys – we used to pack a careful selection of Playmobil figures, cars, pencils/paper, activity books, and whatever the current top favourite toy of choice was).
Finally, be sure to leave your expectations at home. Let go of your preconceived notions of how everyone will behave, what everyone will do – just accept and go with the flow. Do what you enjoy doing, and let them do the same.

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I get it - when your holidays are limited and time is short, you feel the urgent need to cram in as much as is possible. But when we go find the sunshine? We do nothing. I mean.. nothing. We find a quiet secluded house with its own pool - and we make no plans. Literally zero. and I'm not sorry.

Author: Laura

A 70's child, I’ve been married for a Very Long Time, and appear to have made four children, and collected one large and useless dog along the way. I work, I have four children, I have a dog… ergo, I do not do dusting or ironing. I began LittleStuff back in (gulp) 2004. I like huge mugs of tea. And Coffee. And Cake. And a steaming cone of crispy fresh fluffy chips, smothered in salt and vinegar. #healthyeater When I grow up I am going to be quietly graceful, organised and wear lipstick every day. In the meantime I *may* have a slight butterfly-brain issue.

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