Five Ways to Screw up Your Vacation


Most of us only get a two or three weeks of vacation a year, so when it comes to planning that long awaited escape, it’s important to get as much out of the experience as possible. There are a few simple steps you can take though to ensure that you are maximizing your vacation time, and not inadvertently screwing up your long awaited trip.

1. Planning – I am a self-confessed over planner. There is nothing I enjoy more than researching my next travel destination and planning out every second of our visit. Luckily, I almost always ignore these intricately planned schedules. Rather than go to these extremes though, for a truly rewarding vacation, a planning balance has to be struck. Prior to your trip, it is always a good idea to research the destination, but only construct a loose time line of sightseeing. A hazy idea of what you want to do is smart, efficient and ultimately will save you money. What’s important though is not to plan to the point that your trip ceases to be fun. You’re traveling for a reason – you are taking a break from your normal routine and exploring the world, hopefully relaxing at the same time. If you plan every moment of your trip, you miss the entire point; usually, the most fun and rewarding experiences are the ones for which you don’t plan and probably didn’t even know existed. So, plan a little, but don’t go overboard.


2. Food – One of the most important aspects of the travel experience is food. There is no better way to learn about the culture than by participating in meal-time rituals and sampling the same culinary staples as the people who live there enjoy every day. If you are gone for a week, your opportunities to participate in this experience are limited, so don’t waste your time. While it’s fine to eat at McDonald’s or something similar once or twice, don’t make this a habit. Instead, seek out the street stalls, cafes and restaurants that will provide you with rich, meaningful food memories. In Paris try a crepe; in Madrid snack on churros and in Singapore don’t miss the hawker stands. These experiences don’t have to be expensive and actually, the most meaningful ones will be some of the cheapest. While touring the city or area, take note of small bistros or food stands that aren’t too pricey, but which can provide an authentic food experience. Better yet, check out the street food offerings. Some of the best meals I’ve consumed anywhere in the world have been eaten while standing up.

3. Experiences and sight-seeing – Most places that we travel to on our vacations are carefully selected and are the result of a lot of thought and discussion. When I’m in the Riviera Maya, beaches are important, if I’m going to Europe then there are landmarks and museums I want to make sure I see and visit. But don’t let these primary attractions be the beginning and end of your travel experiences. Yes, in Paris you should see the Eiffel Tower, everyone should. But don’t stop there. Rent a bike one day and see the city on two wheels, take the train out to the Fontainebleau Forest for some hiking or take a cooking lesson in the heart of the city. Do some research, think creatively and seek out experiences that will create a more robust, and fun, vacation. Don’t limit yourself to the top ten landmarks in your guidebook, instead look around you and find ways to step back and REALLY experience the area.

Eiffel Tower

4. Slow Down – Vacations are a commitment and investment, both financially and in terms of your time. Given these facts, there is a certain pressure to do and see as much as possible in order to validate the return on investment. Just like planning, going to extremes when traveling is a recipe for vacation disaster. Unless you’re traveling to a deserted island, there is almost a certain guarantee that you will not be able to do and see everything. I know it can be hard, but you have to accept your limitations and acknowledge the fact you will MISS some landmarks, sites, museums and general spots of interest. If you don’t accept this travel reality, then you will drive yourself, and everyone with you, crazy in a mad attempt to rush about and “do it all.” By trying to see everything, you aren’t learning to appreciate the destination and instead, are merely traveling to tick things off of a checklist. Your travel memories will be that of a camera viewfinder, and not of the experience itself. If you really want to experience everything a place has to offer, either plan to spend more time there or, better yet, plan another visit for next year.

5. Not going – There have been several articles written lately about the sorry state of American travelers. According to recent reports, only 30% of Americans even have a passport, much less actually use it, and of all American vacationers, no matter where they go, the vast majority work while trying to relax. This is not good! I understand the desire of not wanting to travel far, limited resources and wanting to stay connected, but EVERYONE needs periodic breaks from daily life. Even if the vacation is a couple of towns over, take it. Use your benefits and take time off. Not only is it a healthier way to live, but travel is one of the best things that only we can do for ourselves.

In light of the fact that most of us don’t have many opportunities each year to take a vacation, there is a lot of pressure to make the most out of every trip. Following these tips, and remembering to slow down and enjoy yourself, will help create special memories that will last a lifetime.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

23 thoughts on “Five Ways to Screw up Your Vacation”

  1. Love this post. I’m working and going into school, so I have to try and fit all my vacation into a short period of time. These are really good tips. Especially the last one. Sometimes I can get caught up with the cost of travel, and it makes me doubt wanting to go somewhere. Then I give my head a shake, and go back to looking for cheap airfare and hotels/

    1. I’m so glad you liked it. I’m constantly amazed at the cool things to do and see that are within a 5-hour drive. I”m also a huge fan of last minute deals – there are some great bargains to be found.

  2. OMG, did I need to read this right now (as I’m planning–and trying to overplan, as usual–my next trip).

  3. I remember when I was about to head off on my RTW my grandma clutched at my arms with a wild look in her eyes and said “you’ve paid for the trip. Now see everything.” She shook my a little repeating this mantra “see everything”.

    It is still exactly the opposite of the way I travel :). Seeing everything is the worst idea ever (though my grandparents did just that rushing around to different sites at the age of 75). Maybe if I was 75 I would feel more pressured but I always get the idea that I will come back to places again.

    This was really great advice Matt!

    1. Thank you! It’s hard to resist the temptation to see it all. Trips can be expensive and there really is tremendous pressure not to waste the time. But the real waste is running around, trying to do it all and you don’t really get to experience anything.

  4. You are so right! EVERYBODY should take time off and go on vacation. Even a short one. I usually use a week at a time (both weekends included) so I can plan at least 2 vacations a year. Long weekends are excellent too. :) After a vacation I’m always more energized and productive at work. It’s a win win situation.

  5. I remember when I first visited Paris, I was totally hectic about the planning process. I even had a timed schedule! Of course nothing worked out as planned, and I’m glad it didn’t.

    Today, I would rather spend my research time listing places I want to visit or restaurants I want to go to and go with the flow once I’m on location. But travel schedules suck – and are totally useless most of the time. Travel is not a marathon!

  6. If you can’t fit in a major trip this year, I’m all for #5 too :)
    Exploring your home turf has great benefits not only for refreshing your own soul, but its kinder on the planet and is also great for the local economy, which everywhere at the moment needs help :)

  7. I’m totally guilty of #1. I blame it one me being German :) But maybe I just like to plan? I have gotten better over the years and plan less now… I guess that’s progress, right?

    PS: I love the pic of the sandwich! Where was that? I know it says Falafel in the title, but it looks like fried potaoes. Did they maybe mix it? In Safaga, Egypt, there’s a little fast food stand where they sell all kinds of fried goodies (including Falafel) in sandwiches like that, but they never mix them. Now I’m hungry and gotta go home :)

  8. Great post and I always find #4 to be my biggest problem, once we get somewhere I want to see everything and do everything. As a self-proclaimed “civilized traveler” I try hard not to focus on doing everything but instead enjoying everything that we’re doing!

  9. I love #2 food combined with #4 slow down, some of the best days I’ve had traveling have involved a trip to a grocery store and then hanging in a park for most of the day.
    Cheese, bread, wine, people watching and I’m happy!

  10. Ah slowing down… I made the mistake my first trip to Italy of whizzing through everything, almost to the point of not enjoying it! Who can really say they’ve seen a city in only a day? Great post Matt!

  11. I liked this post and I agree that over planning can really wreck the mood for the vacation. I think I did this during our Hawaii trip and I ended up in a foul mood.

    But in the end, I just let go and did whatever. I had more fun that way.

  12. A great post :) specially #2 Food, lol you should take care when your destination is here in Egypt :D

  13. A timely post for me! I’m guilty of over-planning when I’m researching, but tend to use that info as a “possibilities” list. I always think ‘I can always see it next time I come’ if I miss out!

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