If you google the phrase, “don’t let your vacation be ruined by…” you get 23,100,000 results earnestly explaining how to avoid 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, flood …
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.”
A beachcomber's house I stumbled upon in Portugal.
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.”
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
As we journey through the pandemic together, my blog provides a regular supply of survival tips, comfort food recipes, and the wry humor we all need to lighten our hearts on dark days.
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