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.
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.