My beloved New York Times recently ran an article about planning the perfect vacation. In a nutshell, the article compiles recommendations suggesting that anticipation of a great trip is just as important, if not more important, than the trip itself; long weekends or long holidays away don’t make a difference; you don’t need to completely unplug to have a good time; and actually try to enjoy yourself (yes, people need guidance on this).
I’ve traveled far and wide; I’ve done the jet-to-Paris-for-a-long-weekend to the let’s-escape-to-a-Caribbean-resort to let’s-be-cheap-and-go-camping to 10 days in the Galapagos. I’ve gotten food poisoning in Jamaica, developed a yeast infection in Spain, called a doctor to my hotel in Dublin because of severe cramping, and spent my last 15 cents on toilet paper before being flown out of Cuba. Had our plane been delayed for any reason, I seriously would not have had a dime to my name because I had absolutely no purchasing power there. I was out of cash and couldnt’ wait to get to Mexico to shop. During my travels, I’ve lost money, underwear, an iPod shuffle, and this hand-crocheted hat I’m wearing here as I ride a monorail at Newark airport to board a plane to London.
But I still had an awesome time wherever I was because I was someplace new doing something I probably hadn’t done before. The setbacks became part of the adventure. Take the Galapagos; our luggage got lost during a transition in Quito and remained there for over a week while we island-hopped. I went without clean underwear and we had to sometimes hand-wash the few clothes we had. Thankfully you don’t need a lot of clothes to enjoy the beach. Or take strolling through Seville asking cashiers at neighborhood pharmacies if they have yeast infection cream? How do you say “anti-fungal vaginal suppository” in Spanish? We weren’t successful despite my husband being fluent in conversational Spanish.
None of these vacations were perfect, but we still had a great time. Here’s why:
Anticipation is fun!
– A 1997 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that the period leading up to the vacation is often the best part. You’re going somewhere! What could be more fun? Although the data is more than 14 years old, I wholeheartedly agree. I need to have a trip on the calendar. Doesn’t matter where or when but something to somewhere needs to be on the books. For six months, Istanbul was on our calendar and we even had tickets for a long ride on Turkish Airlines, which were quickly replaced with tickets to Cancun. And you know what? We enjoyed looking forward to both trips even though one didn’t happen.
Realistic expectations go a long way here and abroad
– If the plane lands safely, the car doesn’t break down and everyone gets to their destination, then that’s a good trip. If the hotel is clean, not loud, and there are no bugs, that’s also a good trip. If no one loses their wallets, that, too, constitutes a good trip.
Have money, but don’t go nuts with it
– We love eating street food. It’s authentic, cheap and a great way to experience a culture and a neighborhood. We don’t need five-star dining to feel special. I want to eat what the abuelitas are cooking. And stay at two-star hotels that serve breakfast. I hate hunting for breakfast early in the morning; I prefer to stumble downstairs and find some fabulous buffet of crossiants, nutella, bacon and coffee (ok, and fruit, too) waiting for me. Yes five-star hotels are beautiful; we stayed at the Swiss Hotel in Quito and it was stunning with its diaphanous arrangements of roses. But I’m not on vacation to stay at a hotel and I don’t need to be pampered. A nice, soft bed in a quiet neighborhodd at a clean, bug-free place works for me.
Roll with it
– If you get your panties in a knot over the small things during the day to day at home (assuming your panties don’t get lost in baggage claim as mine have), you’re probably not going to leave that habit behind when vacationing. But the whole point of a vacation is not to worry. Delayed taxis, lost luggage, and upset stomachs are all very annoying, but not worth coloring the whole experience.
Bottom line? Enjoy the experience, from planning to coming home. Happy travels!