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By Brian Forbes / Dec 24, 2013

Next Year, Gift Your Family a Great Experience

family christmas experience

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We all have moments in our lives that inspire change. Mine came one cold morning while watching my small children flounder in a sea of Christmas gifts. And as their weary heads bobbed amidst the strewn wrapping, stockings, bows and toys, I was convinced that my wife and I needed to take a closer look at the experience being delivered.

This is not to say we weren’t blessed. We have a large family who is very close to our children and the abundance was their way of showing it. It wasn’t that my kids were spoiled – living off a young journalist’s salary is pretty lean – but watching them unwrap an assembly line of gifts and expecting them to be equally grateful struck me as unfair to all parties involved.

The Alternative Christmas Gift

This experience led to the big question: What has more lasting value, the latest Spider-Man action figure, or time spent together? Adults would agree it’s the latter, but how do you make that time memorable and not just another day around the house for the kids?

The solution: Get the kids one gift each, then take the money that you would have spent and put it toward a quick family getaway.

Call it an alternative Christmas gift, but it’s been one of the better decisions our family has made in the past seven years. The kids love it – more importantly, they remember the time fondly and speak in great detail about it years later – and we’ve made it affordable. With that in mind, I put a list of three things you might want to consider next year if you have the mind to change up the Christmas gift experience.

1. Pick the right destination. To stay affordable, you’ll have to avoid the obvious holiday locales such as ski resorts or some beaches. But there are countless places in between and not too far to drive that offer small-town charm, free outdoor attractions and scenic views.

2. The more the merrier. Family time rarely translates well in a hotel room. We’ve become big fans of Vacation Rentals by Owner, which boasts more than 540,000 rentals worldwide. Grab the sleeping bags and defer the costs by packing in the family. It’s like a giant sleepover, and what kid doesn’t love a sleepover?

3. Entertain on the cheap. It’s amazing what a change in scenery will do. Everything is new and worthy of exploring. Then at night, load up the fireplace, cook a meal, watch movies, brew some cider, play board games and … wait for it … talk.

Those are my ideas. I’m sure you’ve got plenty yourself. Share them below. And have a great holiday season this year and next.