Ever feel like you need a vacation from your vacation? I know I have felt that.
Typically it goes like this. I left my packing to the last minute, so things are strewn all over my bedroom floor and bathroom sink as I cram in everything I see into a carry-on (because I will be damned if I check a bag in). Invariably, the airport is a cluster with the slowest humans on the planet stacked up ahead of you in the security line. The flight attendant was rude on the flight, your seat-neighbor was a snorer or had a wailing baby, and as always, the airplane food was inedible.
Once you get to your destination, you are just stressed thinking about all the things you NEED to see and you run around checking everything you can off your list. Wherever you go is a hurdles course of oblivious big-organized-tour tourists or annoying Millennials doing-it-for-the-gram. Your cabbie doesn’t speak English and/or made you wait an extra 30 minutes this morning. The barista at the coffee shop gave you the wrong coffee order, you got stuffed into a smelly Subway carriage, the airline lost your luggage, you got ripped off by a street vendor, you got food poisoning by the same thing your iron-clad-stomached friend also ate; the list of things to go wrong on vacation is endless! And then you come back from your much-needed vacation to a disaster zone of a house with the mess right where you left it.
OK, Exhale. Let’s talk about how to go on vacation and really be on vacation instead of coming back worse off than when you left for it.
1. Take it slow
“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.” ~Kahlil Gibran
Do you want your tombstone to say “she saw everything she could possibly see and here is a list of all those things” or “she experienced life the way she wanted to”? Just saying…
The first rule of thumb when you are on vacation, BE on vacation. Now if you are anything like me and bumming all day and tanning on the beach is not for you, you can still balance being active on vacation with keeping yourself sane.
My trick is that when I do my research, I pick a couple of things that are on the beaten path that I have to see. Let’s face it, you are not going to leave Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame (nor should you, they are amazing!!). Then I pick a few things that are off the beaten path where I don’t have to contend with hordes of tourists and long lines.
Leave the rest of it open to the opportunities that present themselves while on-location. Allow yourself to take someone up on a local restaurant recommendation or to stand and gawk at a cool doorway you chance upon.
You don’t have to see everything. Just relax, and truly allow yourself to be on vacation.
2. Unplug for part of your stay
Yes, I know you want to document every single moment of your trip for the sake of your Instagram followers, and Snapchat and Facebook Live it while you are at it. I don’t need to tell you that it takes away from you truly being able to experience a place. But I do want to tell you that it is OK to step away from the digital mayhem and unplug for a while. Every time I have done that, it has felt like an invisible giant that was sitting on my shoulder has lept off and disappeared into the night. Seriously, we don’t even realize how much pressure it creates in our minds when we feel we have to capture every single thing for our social media profile or have every single unknown demystified by always being on the grid.
As noted by the Center for Humane Technology
, all the technologies that surround us are caught in a “zero-sum race for our finite attention.” And if you are paying attention to your Instagram feed, you are probably not paying attention to other things around you. And what a shame to miss out on the very experience that you traveled possibly thousands of miles for.
Pick up a local newspaper instead of going on the CNN app on your phone. Look at an old-fashioned paper map instead of Google Maps. Write in your journal instead of hiding behind your camera lens. Read a book instead of browsing Facebook updates. Better yet, don’t read at all. Sit outdoors while you eat your meal and observe the people around you; how do they dress, how do they interact with each other, where are they going, what can you learn about their daily lives?
Get off your phone for a few hours, get off social media; an e-reader is allowed. Just read, write, watch, soak it all in.
3. Make the most of your mornings
OK, OK, this is only for those of you who are morning people. But even if you are not a morning person, I suggest you make the most of your inevitable jet lag and start your day early.
There is something magical about the morning time. You get to watch a place come alive as people wake up and start their days. And just before people spill out into the streets like an unleashed dam and fill every nook, you get it all to yourself. You notice details you might otherwise miss, like the street vendor setting up his wares, the sweet smell of jasmine wafting through the streets, or the enchanting call of prayer emanating from the mosque.
Research has shown
that mornings are a good time to harness your creativity and energy. You can take advantage of the relative calm before the chaos the day and experience your travels in a more mindful and reflective way.
4. Find time to be aimless
I mean it, no agenda, no plans, no sense of direction. Just go. This might sound dangerous but hey, what’s the worst that could happen? You get lost? Well, then find your way back.
Our evolutionary instincts have been honed over thousands of years of navigating the unknown, so have faith in yourself. You will be OK. If you are brave enough, try wandering without a smartphone. Use an old-fashioned map and ensure you have something that has your hotel address on it (like a business card or a cocktail napkin). And then just wander.
Some of my favorite discoveries during my travels have been ones that I chanced upon by accident. Give yourself time for some chance encounters. It’s thrilling in a way that planning every minute of your trip could never be.
5. Connect with nature
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” ~John Muir
Fact, nature is good for your health. Don’t believe me? Are you a city-dweller through and through? I feel yea. I am one too; always considered myself a city person and there was a time I assumed nature-seeking was for those hippie tree-hugging types. It wasn’t until I moved to Northern California that I came to appreciate being out in nature in a whole new way. I realized that the cleansing and unclenching that comes from being out in nature even for a few hours.
Ideally, you are able to get out of the major cities and explore the countryside. When I was in Cuba, exploring the small cigar farming town of Vinales was a great break from the hustle of Havana. In Scotland, driving through the vast expanses of rolling hills in the Highlands was a nice change of pace to touristy Edinburgh. If you are in Ireland and around Dublin, head over to the lush Wicklow mountains. In Nicaragua, head to the relaxing, secluded Little Corn Island off the coast. If you are in San Francisco, you can choose between heading north or south for some epic coastal hikes.
If you are not able to peel yourself out of the city limits, perhaps you can find a park in the city. Central Park in New York City, Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, and Alameda Park in Mexico City, all show that city planners know what they are doing when they put parks smack dab in the middle of the city chaos. Of course, there is nothing quite like like the beach to get your soul to relax.
So get out into nature; you might even increase your life expectancy while you are at it!
6. Build wellness into your trip
Whether it’s indulging in some spa time or meditating every morning before you leave for the day, finding some time for self-care can ensure you are taking the time you need to restore yourself. There have been times I have gone on rugged adventures, hiking, camping after which I have treated myself to a spa day and a relaxing foot rub. Or if you been eating and drinking your weight on vacation, a detoxifying hot yoga class and some time in the sauna might be exactly what you need.
Working out during traveling can be a tough thing to manage; why spend time in a windowless, dusty gym when you could be out and about? I substitute gym time for walking, walking as much as I possibly can. Some days I will just walk, not taking public transport or Ubers anywhere. Not only is it good cardio, it will also give you a different perspective on the place. Other times I will research and find a local yoga or spin class and drop-in. Or if you have never tried yoga in your life, maybe this is the time for you to try it! Hey, it could get a lot worse than trying a yoga class in Bali!
Whatever your preferred health and wellness activity is, just make it your intention to be good to yourself – mind, body, and spirit – and indulge in some guilt-free self-care!
7. Manage your emotions
“Don’t make a permanent decision for your temporary emotion.” ~Unknown
Don’t get frustrated because things don’t exactly the way you want them to.
I was recently in line for a shuttle bus in Banff, Canada taking us to a beautiful place called Moraine Lake. It was cold and rainy and there was a group of about 40 of us waiting for the shuttle lined up shivering. We were relieved when we saw the shiny, black bus pull up and immediately realized there was no way it would fit all of us in there. The shuttle bus driver told us much the same and a group ahead of us launched into a tirade telling the shuttle bus driver it was preposterous that they didn’t have a larger bus and how ill-organized the whole thing was.
Now, the thing is, the driver has no control over this and while you might think that letting him have it will make you feel better, it’s more likely that the negativity you feel will ruin your morning. I am not suggesting you become Gandhi and absolve yourself of all negativity. Allow yourself to feel frustrated, annoyed or raving mad for a minute or two, then move on from it. You are on vacation after all; don’t you owe it to yourself to fuse it with positive energy?
8. Leave your entitlement attitude behind
This is especially true for those of us traveling from a developed country like the U.S. or U.K. to a developing country. Expecting things to operate just the way it does at home and getting frustrated because they are not is just a gigantic waste of emotional and mental energy.
Remember that the places you visit are not built around you, the tourist. They are built around the people of the place, their lives, rhythms, their culture, and practices. Respect them, take it easy on yourself and those around you, and let some things go. You are much more likely to have an enjoyable time that feels like a true vacation. What’s more, you are more likely to be receptive to ways of life different than your own and truly and empathetically understand the local culture. Isn’t that the whole point of traveling the world anyways – to build bridges of understanding?
9. Ease back into post-vacation reality
OK, now for a super specific and practical suggestion. This is something that truly never occurred to me until more recently. I have always been so keen on making the most of the time I get to spend in a new place that I have never thought about taking an extra day when I return to get adjusted back to the day-to-day. This is especially helpful if you have a long commute back with hours and hours of sitting in an airplane. Needless to say, there is nothing more likely to wipe the memory of a lovely vacation than a 20-hour flight cramped in with minimal leg space eating stale, tasteless airplane food. Now imagine that being the last thing you do before heading back to your day-to-day chores and your work emails? Sounds like a recipe for a meltdown! Baking in a couple of recovery days allowing yourself time to acclimate back, look back at all the pictures you have taken (or better yet all the things you wrote in your journal; see Tip 2) and getting your laundry done might be exactly the buffer you need between vacation and reality.
Another great tip I learned from a colleague was to create a calendar invite for your first day back to work with a summary of where you left things. Believe me, even a long weekend away is enough to erase the memory of the presentation you were working hard on before you left, or that email response you owe your boss. Or perhaps it’s just a reminder to get your Amazon Prime order done as soon you are back so you can restock your fridge.
Send yourself a calendar invite for your first day back reminding yourself of where you left off in real life.
10. Declutter your return
There might be nothing worse for your psyche than to return after your vacation to a bedroom that looks like a tornado zone and unwashed dishes growing mold. It can be really anxiety-inducing to come back to chaos. You owe it to your post-vacation self to make it as easy as you possibly can to reintegrate yourself back into your life. Clean before you leave for vacation – make your bed, clean out your trash, empty the laundry basket because you know you are going to fill it right back up when you get back!
Want 5 tips for a stress-free return from vacation? Check out these tips.
Want tips for a more mindful travel experience so you make the most of your vacation by being present and grounded while being adventurous and curious? Check out my 10 tips for mindful travel.