Pop quiz! The family vacations you'll remember fondly will involve:
A. Wild roller coasters, all-you-can-eat buffets, and a nonstop itinerary
B. Extreme sports, luxurious hotels, and energetic tour guides
C. Board games, an empty schedule, and a lot of rain
At least that's the answer for me. My best family vacations have involved long walks down dirt paths, hours baking stews and fresh cinnamon rolls, evening swims in frigid water, and lots and lots of rain.
While some might prefer the finely manicured white sand beaches to the slightly musty smell of an old cabin, many people I know crave unplanned days of board games by candlelight, forgotten paperbacks, and bread cooked over an open fire.
That may be because I live in Denmark, a country where doing nothing is a national pastime. It's called hygge, and according to the Danes, it's a word that can't be translated. But I'll try anyway.
Hygge is pronounced using guttural sounds that seemingly only native-born Danes can deploy. For the rest of us, it sounds like "hoo-gah."
So what is it exactly? As Meik Wiking, CEO of Denmark's Happiness Research Institute (yep, it's a thing!) wrote, hygge is defined as "an atmosphere and an experience ... it's about being with people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe."
Danish dictionaries use words like comfortable, friendly, cozy, spontaneous, nice, and safe to define it. For me, hygge often shows up while on vacation. It's about slowing down, getting back to basics, and remembering why we're all here in the first place.
Hygge has become somewhat of a buzzword in recent years. Amazon overflows with books that promise to show you how to do hygge, how to cook hygge, how to design hygge. There are hygge games, hygge coloring books, and even hygge planners.
If you need to purchase a planner for hygge, then you are doing it wrong. It isn't about buying things or planning things. Hygge is personal and it's natural. Just take a vacation where you tune out all of life's distractions. I guarantee that you will be left with a hygge that's entirely yours.
If you want a relaxing family vacation, consider taking the hygge route. Unlike Disney World and city getaways, hygge-based vacations involve little planning, a small budget, and a short packing list.
Here are a few tips for creating a genuinely hygge vacation:
Forget about your wallet. Hygge isn't about spending money. Most things that you need for a hygge-based vacation — raincoats, board games, books, blankets — either come with your rental or can be bought at a local thrift store. Resist the temptation to head to the nearby amusement park or museum. Let hygge unfold naturally.
Find the right place. Hygge is at its max when life's distractions are out of reach. Find a cabin, rental house, or campsite that offers the bare essentials for keeping you and your family comfortable. Stay away from places with a lot of nearby attractions. Forget about TV and internet access. Choose a place with lots of walking trails and open spaces instead. Bonus points for a good view.
Be prepared to be bored. Modern society isn't set up for boredom. Our phones give us entertainment at our fingertips, and there's never a shortage of screens to keep our little ones busy. But when all of that is removed during vacation, something magical happens. Adults start reminiscing, teens begin making eye contact, and kids start noticing things like bugs, leaves, and dirt.
Be prepared for these moments. Bring along necessities for campfires, board game nights, beach reading, and long walks.
Don't obsess over the forecast. The Danish capital of Copenhagen averages about 170 days of rain per year. Because of its inevitability, Danes don't whine about rain. A common Danish saying is that "there exists no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing."
Don't fret if it's going to rain during your vacation. Bring a good raincoat and take a walk on the beach anyway. Race twigs down streams, jump in puddles, and don't be embarrassed to dance in the rain — it's fun. Or stay inside and snuggle up with a good book, play charades, or bake some bread.
Throw out the schedule. John Lennon apparently knew a lot about hygge. Life really is what happens when you're busy making other plans. See what happens when you have nothing scheduled. Relish the spontaneity of an unplanned vacation.
Don't forget the snacks. If there's one thing Danes love, it's good bread, and there's a loaf for every occasion. For summertime and family vacation, there's snobrød, a.k.a. "twist bread." Because of how it's made, it's the most hygge of them all.
You make twist bread in much the same way as you would roast marshmallows, by wrapping the dough around a stick and holding it over an open fire. I'm a fan of this recipe from Nordic Living. The process takes about 20 minutes. Those 20 minutes of warming yourself near an open fire are where the magic of hygge happens.
Stephanie Bergeron Kinch is a freelance writer who has lived in Denmark for more than a decade. She loves taking hygge-based vacations to Danish and Norwegian summer houses with her husband and three young children. She can be reached at www.pearlcity.dk.
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