If you google the phrase, “don’t let your vacation be ruined by…” you get 23,100,000 results earnestly explaining how to avoid flood season, hurricanes, burglars, pickpockets, sub-standard hotel rooms, the stress of traveling with your family, the stress of traveling without your family, ghastly intestinal parasites, jet lag, lost luggage, mosquitos, scams, kidnappers, fire, bedbugs...
It’s a wonder anybody ever leaves home.
And yet, is a “perfect” vacation really what we want?
“I pay top price and expect the best,” an American once told me. “I want to be certain that someone has gone before me every step of the way to make absolutely sure that I’m seeing the best views, eating the best food, and staying at the best hotels.”
To me, that’s like paying someone else to take the vacation for you, then following, sheep-like, in his footsteps. Where’s the adventure? The spontaneity? The soaring joy of discovering some utterly unexpected and perfectly enchanting corner of the world all on your own? Besides, what vacation could possibly live up to those standards? When your holiday costs as much as your car, you expect seamless luxury and a peak experience, two things that don’t naturally go hand in hand. If the benchmark is perfection, every trip is going to fall short occasionally; a simple delay at check-in can leave you feeling cheated and disappointed at the “failure” of the trip.
Don’t let your vacation be ruined by don’t-let-your-vacation-be-ruined syndrome. Here are five ways to avoid stressing about having a “perfect” vacation.
1. Lower your standards. Don’t set goals like “trip of a lifetime” or “dream vacation.” You can go broke and/or crazy trying to pull that off. Plan trips you can afford with realistic timeframes. Leave room for spontaneous detours, delays, and dawdling.
2. Relax. Take a moment to think about how you want to feel at the end of your holiday. Let’s say it’s relaxed yet energized, with greater clarity of mind and lightness of spirit. Constantly demanding perfection of your environment isn’t likely to get you there. Travel always has its challenges, and the “success” or “failure” of the journey has a lot to do with how graciously you’re able to meet them.
3. Leave your job at the office. Constantly checking emails, phone messages, Facebook likes, and Google Analytics means your mind isn’t on vacation. If you can’t go cold turkey, set aside a few minutes (OK, an hour) a day to deal with the outside world. Then stop. If you can’t … well, you’ve learned something about yourself that you might want to think about. After you check your iPhone again, of course.
4. Prepare to be changed. Before you go, consider how you’d like to be different when you come home. Is your daily life too hectic? Too dull? Too structured? Too directionless? What would you like to learn about the world and yourself? Every journey transforms us, if only into grumpy, exhausted complainers. Maybe you can set a slightly higher goal for yourself than that, and stay open to fresh experiences that might support the changes you have in mind.
5. Take pleasure in the unexpected. It’s how the universe reminds us that we are not, in fact, in control of everything, or even a small portion of it. Which is frankly a relief for people like me, who have a hard enough time managing our email accounts, let alone the course of human events.
Rich and I once arrived at a small, charming English hotel to find that the receptionist had disappeared. Other incoming guests loitered about in growing annoyance. Finally, after an absence of 45 minutes, the young man came hurrying to his post, explaining that he’d been up in housekeeping and somehow hadn’t heard the phone. Two minutes later a young maid sidled in, and from the elaborate way she and the desk clerk avoided eye contact with one another, it was pretty clear she’d been upstairs helping him inventory the sheets.
I whispered to Rich, “It’s like staying at Faulty Towers.”
“Isn’t it great?” he said. “You don’t get this kind of entertainment at the Four Seasons.”
5/29/2013 04:02:13 pm
"inventory the sheets"? Is that a euphemism? I particularly like #4 prepare to be changed... we should all be open to that.
6/1/2013 04:54:25 pm
Yes, that's definitely a euphemism! In fact, the expression has already gone "spiral" – that is, it's begun to circulate among friends, who are now using it as a joking reference to romantic shenanigans.Glad you like #4; it's really the key to enjoying travel!
5/29/2013 07:36:21 pm
Good advice. It's amazing what we live through, and how it enriches us. Love your blogs.
6/1/2013 04:56:46 pm
Thanks, Nancy! Living through crazy times not only enriches us, it makes for great stories to tell. Glad you like mine...
5/30/2013 12:34:47 am
Super post and something to think about, especially taking trips with realistic goals and timeframes, which I think will help with all the other points. When I stayed in San Francisco for a week, there were two of those minor earthquake tremors, both when I was asleep, which was quite thrilling to experience, and a drunken group tried to get into my room (by mistake). I was travelling alone but wasn't fazed by any of it. Also, I went to a spa weekend for my friends birthday and we got lost in the maze of corridors in the hotel. We opened one door to find it was a cupboard, but the previous visitors had left a used Femidom in the corner. Eurgh!
6/1/2013 05:02:18 pm
Sounds like you had a pretty wild trip to SF and managed to take it all in stride. Well done! Sometimes I think the main benefit of travel is teaching us how to keep our heads under surprising circumstances.
6/1/2013 05:06:17 pm
I love the idea of going somewhere nobody knows you so you can visit yourself! Something to really think about... Thanks for sharing that, Maria.
5/31/2013 01:38:55 am
This is a great reminder about what it means to be a traveler, a voyager, a seeker, instead of a tourist. Makes me want to hit the road!
6/1/2013 05:06:55 pm
Me too, Lynn! Writing about travel always gives me itchy feet...
6/22/2013 08:33:45 pm
I enjoyed your remarks and philosophy. I'm 72 and just returned from a trip to China with my sister. My great accomplishment: to use a squatter with grace and agility. (I'm lying) The Chinese are lovely people.
6/24/2013 07:08:34 pm
Bonnie, I give you credit for trying to use the squatter, with or without grace and agility. Never easy at any age, especially when you're not used to it. My yoga teacher says it's great for building strength in your legs. Sounds like a great trip! I envy you, as I've never (yet) been to China. You're a lucky woman.
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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