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The Wonders of Serendipity

Matt Villano

Sometimes, the best plan for a family vacation is to make sure there’s time for no plans at all.

After a month in Hawaii with a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old, this is my new motto. My reasoning: Fewer formal itineraries generally lead to greater serendipity, a phenomenon that can be defined as a bunch of “happy accidents.”

These “accidents” comprise the unexpected, those encounters and discoveries kids will remember forever, the stuff about which you and your partner will be talking for years. These pleasant surprises constitute some of the parts of family travel we like best. Putting yourself (and your kids) in position to experience them should mean more memorable vacations for everyone involved.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve stumbled into some of this magic at an idyllic spot on the Big Island of Hawaii called Puakea Ranch.

As the name suggests, the place is an actual ranch, complete with horses, cows, chickens, goats and countless numbers of geckos. There are four (incredibly luxurious) cabin-style houses here. On 33 acres. And that’s it.

This kind of open space means lots of room for happy accidents. Like the time Blue, a white horse, “mugged” our rented truck by leaning in and smooching my toddler. Or the time we came home from a lazy afternoon in the nearby town of Hawi to find two friendly (maybe even too friendly) goats standing on our picnic table. Or the time we wandered through the fields and learned about dragonfruit and horse poop and the difference between city roaches (yuck) and country roaches (not so yuck).

It also means serendipity kids can discover on their own; because the ranch is gated and there are only three other cabins full of people, Powerwoman and I have been comfortable letting L run around out front on her own—something we’d never do at home in suburbia (or at fancy resorts, for that matter).

She was solo when she saw her first centipede. She also was alone when she met the “Psycho Chicken” who chased her for her snack.

She’s been talking about both of them non-stop ever since.

I want to be clear here—I’m not advocating that you go away, check in to non-traditional accommodations and wait for happy accidents to occur. Instead, I’m encouraging you simply to open up the schedule.

I recognize this flies in the face of conventional wisdom (and traditional thinking) that busy kids are happy kids. I recognize it might seem odd to go away and leave some days on the calendar blank. I even recognize that what I’m suggesting could be difficult for parents who like to control every aspect of their young kids’ lives.

But trust me. A little lack of structure goes a long way. And the benefits can last a lifetime.

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