Every summer my family trades our condominium through an international home exchange club. We have lived in strangers’ houses, driven their automobiles, walked their pets, and talked to their families.

This past summer, we traveled to Hawaii’s big island for three weeks. We lived aloha, from our morning glass of POG, to pau hana happy hour.

From our travels, we learn new ways to live once we are back home in Colorado. I’ll tell you what we’ve seen, but more importantly, I’ll show you what we’ve learned by traveling by looking at a few of our favorite family trips.

Kilkee, County Clare, Ireland

As tourists, we saw rugged cliffs, green fields, and castles.

As travelers, we learned to slow down, even while on a vacation. When the sun shone, the town blossomed with sidewalk tables. Gift shops burst with bright beach toys, and plastic giant ice cream cones invited people in for treats.

Following a cue from the Limerick weekend visitors, we learned to take life at a slower pace. A walk on the sandy strand, a pint of Guinness, and some fish & chips were all we needed for a fun day. Why rush? Where were we going? A day off should be leisurely.

Heerlen, The Netherlands

As tourists, we saw canals, tulips, and Vermeer’s paintings.

As travelers, we experienced the influence of history. In our Dutch living room, we met with the adult son of our exchange partners. Ramon told us that our home was a recreation center for the Germans during the Occupation. Toward the war’s end, the U.S. Army moved into the house. An American doctor fed Ramon’s then-starving grandmother and then delivered his mother into the world of a war-torn Holland.

“My mother,” said Ramon, “owes her life to the U.S. Army.”

Copenhagen, Denmark

As tourists, we saw the Tivoli Gardens, the Little Mermaid statue, and Hamlet’s Elsinore Castle.

As travelers, we learned that it takes very little to make a person content. That summer of 2008, a worldwide survey found the Danes to be the world’s happiest people. As a family, we set out to answer this question: Why the Danes? We came up with this answer: Simplicity. Life is kept simple in Denmark. Look at a Lego brick, Denmark’s most famous toy—a plastic cube that locks onto another cube.

We also noted that the preferred transportation is the one-gear bike. Less is more seemed to be the motto for life in Copenhagen, and we happily followed the Dane’s example.

Slowing down in Ireland in May

When we travel, sure, we see stuff. But more importantly for me, I learned to slow down, appreciate history, and accept that less is more. This May, I will be leading a group of travelers to Dublin for a week in the city of James Joyce, U2, and Guinness. The pace will be much slower than the tourist coach buses, but think of how the travelers will learn a great deal. I know I will.

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