I’ll be gone next week on vacation. For a whole week. Not a workation, where I take a continuing education class or attend a conference and do some sightseeing in my down time. Nope. This time it’s an actual vacation vacation.
I’m heading out to the Big Apple to get my Harry Potter geek on by seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway. We’ve got several other fun things planned, but the play’s the thing we’re (Ok… I’m) really going for. Well, that and the Woolworth building that they used for exterior shots of MACUSA ( MAgical Congress of the USA). You have seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, right? Wait. I don’t want to know if you haven’t. Anyway, I digress…
The thing about vacations is that they’re supposed to be all relaxing and chill and you’re supposed to return to work feeling well-rested and ready to tackle things head-on again. But the truth is, vacations can often be more stressful than relaxing.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people proclaim the need for a vacation from their vacation. I used to feel the same way, until I started paying attention to the specific things about vacations that actually stressed me out (like ex-husbands). Just kidding. (Not really.) Once I knew my stressors, I started taking steps (like getting divorced*) to really be able to enjoy my vacations… you know, the way you’re supposed to.
*So crappy vacation time wasn’t even in the top 10 reasons I got divorced, but much more enjoyable vacations was one of the many happy, happy results.
So, as I’m preparing for this trip I thought I’d jot down a few ways to help you ensure a less stressful, more restful vacation. Don’t worry, most of them don’t involve huge life changes like divorce.
There’s no magic formula for how to do this, as each couple or family is different. Maybe each person chooses one or two activities, or more depending on the length of vacation, that everyone will do together. That way each vacation has something for everyone. This works really well for vacations in places like New York City where there really is something for everyone.
Perhaps you decide to have some group activities that everyone agrees on, but some individual or smaller group activities for those activities that don’t have a consensus. Does only one of you wanna go to the ABBA museum*? Do only two of the four of you want to go to the Farm Tools Festival*? Make it a “fend for yourself day” where everybody does their own thing.
*I have no idea if there’s an ABBA museum or a Farm Tools Festival, but they seem like activities that you either really want to do or really DON’T want to do.
Or… maybe you rotate who gets to choose the destination and main activity (within reason/budget of course). Got a Harry Potter fan(atic) in the family? I’ll bet they choose a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The beautiful thing about this type of trip is that there’s a lot of variety at theme parks so even the *Gasp* non-Harry Potter fans can find something enjoyable.
If you have young kids, you’ll probably have to get creative if you want to do some grown up activities that the kids will absolutely hate. Maybe you take a solo visit to the Guggenheim while your partner does something with the kids and you return the favor so they can see the military museum you have no interest in.
All I know, is there’s nothing quite so stressful (and by stressful I mean miserable) than never getting to do what you want on vacation. When you put your mind to it, I know you can come up with a great solution.
I don’t know a single person who wants to waste even a minute of their vacation, but many don’t like planning or organizing. Well, you can’t have a stellar vacation without some organization and planning.
A few ways to organize your vacation (feel free to organize by more than one category at once):
Seriously. Normally I love to plan my vacations. And by love, I mean LOVE it. Nothing heightens my excitement for an upcoming vacation like going old school and looking through guide books, then jumping back into the 21st century and spending a whole day curled up with a pot of tea and Google.
But in the last couple weeks, I’ve had a few extra stressors and haven’t had the time I normally like. Trying to find my normal amount of time was stressing me out, so I changed tack. I went into what I call “options mode.” Instead of fine tuning things like restaurant choices or travel routes, I researched subway apps and downloaded the one that had the usability I liked but also had at least a 4 star rating. I also googled “restaurants near [activity]” and made a list of ones that were casual, had vegetarian options, and didn’t require reservations. Normally, I’d have restaurants narrowed down to two or three (max) options near each activity, but knowing when to adapt your strategy can mean the difference between making yourself (and everyone around you) miserable or actually enjoying yourself.
That leads me to…
Do you hate waiting for a table at a restaurant? Make reservations! Are you like me, and hate having to leave an activity before you want to? Make sure the places you eat don’t require reservations.
Do you prefer spending all day, every day at the pool drinking mai tais? Then don’t schedule a lot of activities. Hate having too much down time? Make sure to keep a fairly busy schedule.
If only it were that easy, right? The thing is you have to take your travel companions into consideration. If you’re a pool and mai tai kinda person and your travel companion likes to be forever on the go, y’all got some compromising to do. Maybe they spend a day chillin’ with you and you spend a day living large with them, and another day you each do your own thing. Maybe you split your days into busy time and lounging time. It doesn’t matter what arrangement you come up with as long as both of you are happy with it.
Nothing wrecks a vacation like leaving the credit card, event tickets, or some other necessity (that can’t be cheaply or easily replaced) at home. Make a list for your trip if you have to. Or better yet, make a master list of all the things you might need, laminate it, and then use a whiteboard or china marker to check off each item as you pack it. Wipe it clean when you’re done and keep it in your suitcase between trips. That way, as soon as you open your suitcase, you’ve got the checklist.
If you always forget the same thing, put a simple reminder note in your suitcase and leave it in there between trips.
It’s easy to over plan or to be rigid in your schedule, but that’s not good planning, that’s just a recipe for seeing whose fuse blows first. It’s also where your “must do,” “want to,” and “if time” lists come in. Instead of having a rigid schedule, you have one activity from each list in mind for each day. If your must do activity is sooo enjoyable or engrossing that you want to stay longer, or traffic is moving super slow, you just kick the “if time” activity off the day’s roster. Easy peasy.
It’s not just your days and evenings that need some wiggle room, but also your journey there and back.
If you’re like me, you book a super early flight the first day of vacation so that you can have maximum time at your destination. But… when the alarm goes off in the middle of the night so you can get to the airport 2 hours before your 5am flight you wonder how you’re even allowed to walk around making adult decisions. (I’m still working on this one.)
I also used to book the latest flight back that I could find. Again, to maximize vacation time. I used to book this flight to arrive home the day before I had to be back at work and never failed to regret it. Nowadays, however, I give myself at least 1 full day to be home before I have to be back in the office. Since building wiggle room into the journey home I’ve encountered various plane delays, flight cancellations, and the like. In the past, these would give me paroxysms of anxiety but I can take them in stride now because I’ve got some wiggle room and won’t have to worry about cancelling clients because of a delay due to weather or plane maintenance.
It’s good to build some downtime into at least a few of your days. This allows you time to just explore without having an agenda. It may sound a bit like planned spontaneity but how are you going to have a relaxing, refreshing vacation if you run yourself ragged the whole time? You might be thinking, “But… I’m having fun! That should relax and refresh me.” Sorry. Fun is fun. Relaxation is relaxation. Not that you can’t enjoy relaxing, but fun tends to be a more active pursuit. They really are different. So, if you hate the word or concept of relaxation, think of it as exploration time or the day you get to sleep in. Or, if you’re a morning person, it can be the day you go to bed even earlier like I imagine you long to do as much as I long to sleep in.
Easier said than done, I know. But… Not only will it take a couple days to decompress from your loathsome job for you to start really enjoying yourself, nothing will take the wind out of your sails a few days early like having to return to a work environment you hate. The last day or two of vacation should not be filled with dread because you have to go back to that hellhole of a workplace. I’m just saying.
To be clear, I’m not talking about some magical scenario where you love every last bit of your job and nobody or nothing ever causes you frustration. That’s a hobby, not a job. If it’s all you can do to drag yourself out of bed and into work each day, it might be time to think about a change. Likewise, if your health complaints magically go away while you’re on vacation and then come back full force when vacation’s over, your job is probably the reason. This is especially true if you normally have to follow a very restricted diet just to keep your symptoms under some semblance of control at home, but abandon it while you’re vacationing and have no symptoms. Same goes for bodily aches and pains that magically go away on vacation with or without the orthotics or other adaptive devices you normally use.
Fine, here’s the tl;dr version: Be organized, but not too organized. Make sure you do some things that you really want to do. Know yourself. Make sure you have some wiggle room and downtime in your schedule, you know because enjoyment, traffic, unforeseen circumstances. Be brutally honest with yourself about who you’re traveling with and why.