Reading through a travel magazine or one of the myriad travel blogs, it’s hard not to get envious. For anyone who loves to travel, it can be agonizing to hear stories from people who seemingly get to travel all the time, visiting far-flung areas of the world that to most people seem like fantasies. As someone who gets two-weeks of vacation a year I not only understand these feelings, but I live them.
What tends to happen to 9-5ers like me, is that when you finally do get to use that much coveted vacation time, you go a wee-bit overboard. Ok, a lot overboard.
Over the years I have been guilty of some fairly egregious travel over planning. From comprehensive planning TWO YEARS in advance, to my somewhat infamous use of tabbed, 50-page travel binders, it can be said that I had a problem. Requisite with this insane level of over planning is the feeling, no, the compulsion to see and do as much as humanly possible. Set aside the fact that this is the only time off for the entire year, my trips used to be 24 hour marathons of tours, monuments and whatever else I could squeeze in.
This planning compulsion come to a head when we planned a last minute trip to Ireland. We arranged it to coincide with a four-day holiday weekend, so that we wouldn’t have to take any time off from the work. The downside to this was that we barely had two days in the Irish capital to explore and see what we could. In typical over planner mode, I purchased the city passes and proceeded to do nearly EVERYTHING on the list. We’re talking about dozens of sites and attractions. We nearly ran from one spot to the next in the unseasonably chilly Dublin weather, desperate to pack in as much as possible.
The result of our Irish marathon was a very blurry memory of Dublin and complete and utter exhaustion. My partner had never been like me, I was the one who over planned and he always graciously tolerated my foibles. This trip though was too much for even me and it suddenly hit me what I had been doing all these years. I talked about experiential travel and the importance of going off the beaten track, but was I really doing it?
Dublin was an extreme. We normally do not travel to Europe for a long weekend and when we are on vacation, we have much more time and flexibility to travel at our own pace. But the Dublin trip was almost like a science experiment for me. I had created my own little travel biosphere and could observe the ridiculous over planning I am nearly always guilty of. The decision was made, I needed to change.
I wish there existed a group for people like me, a sort of travel planners anonymous. Since that time I have fought the almost primal instinct to plan our adventures to the last second. I do have my momentary lapses when I schedule every moment of a travel day, but I almost always follow it up with a leisure, or no activity day. Like a cruise ship activity director, I now try to create a balance between experiences and relaxation not only for my own benefit, but to keep my relationship intact.
I don’t think I’m alone in this phenomenon, particularly amongst those of use who schlep at a desk for most of the year, gradually ticking off the days until our next vacation. Vacation time in America has become an oasis on the horizon for most of us, something to keep us sane while we go through the daily machinations of work life. It makes sense that one would try to make the most of this time, to do as much as possible. I get that.
Ultimately though, this tendency to over plan, to try to make each and every trip perfect is self-defeating. What ends up happening is that you don’t enjoy your trip and you actually get far less out of it than you could. What is key in trip planning, is finding ways to really experience the destinations you visit. Even though you will have only a brief time there, you can still learn more about the cities or countries than what is represented in its brochures and guidebooks.
In a previous article, I discuss my favorite travel experiences. These are ways in which I stepped away from the map and must-see lists, and thought about what made the places tick; what EXPERIENCES were endemic to the areas that made them special. I try to do this now whenever I travel and the experiences thus far has been far more memorable than a Ho-Ho bus or endless cathedrals or royal apartment tours could ever be.
So when you find yourself planning your next adventure, be it to a favorite beachside resort, or halfway around the world, look for ways to take the trip to the next level. It doesn’t have to be expensive or obscure, but it does have to be memorable to you. After all, we don’t travel to collect location stamps or to mark sites off a list. We travel to collect the experiences and memories that we not only carry for a lifetime, but that also make us better people for having done them.