Living your best life is an idea with growing notoriety, yet we seem to think that a vacation is a vacation and there isn’t a right way to travel and recharge. Wrong. Almost every seasoned traveler has done it – you experienced an otherwise fantastic, amazing,wonderful vacation only to come home uninspired, unrested and feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation. Well, no more. Follow these tips to get your mind right and be intentional about your time off so you really can have Your Best Vacation while in pursuit of living your best life.
A recent business trip, turned vacation was just the opportunity to field test strategies for making the most of my vacation time away from home. Here are the top five:
1. Decide You’re Worth It and Leave it at Home (or the office)
You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy! Busy, busy, busy. Managing households, kids, school, work, businesses, employees, deadlines and on and on. We’re all so busy we just need a vacation to keep from losing our ever loving minds. Unfortunately, we keep taking all of these problems with us on vacation. We come home unfulfilled with even more to do’s and dreaming of the next time we can just go on vacation, repeating this self-defeating cycle.
It’s time to remember why you’re taking a vacation in the first place. Why spend thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars on a vacation only to bring your problems and workload with you? Here’s the deal: you’re worth it. If you don’t invest in a little R&R to recharge your batteries, you won’t be able to achieve what your capable of in the long run. You need to realize that without a break – a real break – you can’t operate at 100%.
Leave Your Baggage at Home
So make the decision that you and your potential are worth investing in. Book that cruise, resort, tour or round-trip ticket, but then make the commitment to get your non-negotiable responsibilities addressed and completed before you leave so you can leave that guilt at home and enjoy your time away. Make no mistake though, this is 90% attitude and 10% action. Just accept the fact that you aren’t that important and the world will still be turning when you get back.
Not only should you enjoy your vacation – you need to enjoy your vacation, and all of those important people in your life – your spouse, children, friends, co-workers, and employees – they need you to really and truly enjoy your vacation even more than you do. If you don’t, they’re the ones who pay most. Once you accept this reality, you’ll see that bringing your problems with you defeats the entire point. The only baggage you should bring on a vacation is the kind that you can put a luggage tag on.
2. Be Intentional – Have a Goal
Great, so we all know truly investing in our sanity is a worthy undertaking. Now we need to consider what we’re trying to achieve. Setting goals are important in every aspect of life, so why not vacation time? Think about it, what are you trying to achieve? What do you need?
Whether we admit it or not, most Americans should realize just how good we have it. Just about every American is the envy of the majority of the world’s population. Travelling simply to better appreciate what you have and where you live is a worthy goal itself.
Maybe you feel like daily life is drowning you? The to-do’s and deadlines increasing at an incessant pace. Maybe for you travelling to be able to step back and prioritize what is most important in your life is a great goal.
I can’t tell you what your goal should be, that’s for you to discover. I can tell you that if you take 10 minutes, go into a quiet space, close your eyes and really think about what is frustrating you most in life, then think about that through the lens of travel, you are likely to uncover a mighty fine goal for your next journey.
3. The Company You Keep
Vacations are (usually) about shared experiences and it almost goes without saying that choosing your traveling companion(s) wisely is key, yet time and again I hear of people in need of a relaxing getaway or an exotic experience for self-reflection choosing to hit a “popular” vacation spot with their kids or a rowdy group of friends. To be fair, I have nothing against these kind of trips. In fact, each year I aim to take the family somewhere incredible so the kids can experience something new and to schedule at least one guys’ weekend to meetup with old friends. These are important and you should try to do them, but let’s be honest, just because your employer counts them as paid time off doesn’t make them vacations.
Match the purpose for your vacation with the people you want to share it with so you can achieve your vacation goal. This can even be a solo trip. There is no rule that says you have to travel with someone else if your travel goal is really about self reflection – you may need some alone time and that’s okay.
Beg, borrow or steal baby-sitter time so you can go on an adventure with your spouse (for as long as you can, but it’s okay if it’s just for the weekend) or try proposing a new, slower kind of trip to your friends. You never know, they may be up for something new too.
4. Have a Plan, Allow for Margin, and Actively Seek Small Surprises
Isn’t it so romantic to say that you’re just going to buy a plane ticket somewhere, anywhere, and then just wander? Sure is. Know what? It is also stupid. Believe me, I’ve done it, twice. Sure, it is fun and sexy and makes you feel like you are really living, but that’s just the travel equivalent of pheromones talking. Just like a romantic weekend fling as a 22 year old, it all comes to an abrupt end and leaves everyone feeling slightly hurt. On both occasions I came home feeling like I wasted my time, like I missed something, like I should have seen this or experienced that. Why? No goal and no plan!
I’m not suggesting you have an itinerary broken into 10 minute increments like my Uncle Ken (true story), but there’s a happy middle ground.
Once you identify the goal for your best vacation, have a plan to do things, visit places, or meet people that will serve the goal.
Allow for Margin
Plans are made to be broken though, or at least bent. So the most important aspect of any itinerary planning process is to build in margin – free time. You will discover something, likely lots of somethings, that you simply must do while you’re there. Great, that’s the really fun part of travel. Unfortunately, if you have an itinerary with no margin, you’ll be forced to choose, and in choosing, you’ll be necessarily disappointed.
Using the margin that you build into your itinerary is the perfect opportunity to really and truly enjoy travelling and all of its small surprises. Here’s a silly example, but for me, one that is very real. My wife and I are about to board a river cruise departing from Remich, Luxembourg. We arrived by plane at 10 AM. The ship doesn’t leave until 4 PM. My instinctive response is Hey, that’s 6 hours, let’s shove as much crap into the itinerary as we can so we don’t miss anything.
Seek Small Surprises
Fortunate for me, I was testing this strategy to build in margin and we just spend a few hours talking, relaxing, walking, and seeing what the sleepy riverside town on the Moselle River has to offer on a random Thursday afternoon. Jackpot. In that few hours we discovered an epic tree-lined riverside walk, the largest leaf I have ever seen, and a beautiful row of cafes that called to us to enjoy a coffee together.
Unique? Not really. The most incredible travel experience? Not even close. Worth writing an article about? Nope, sorry. A chance for my wife and I to really connect, to really slow down for a few hours, to get our minds right to enjoy our trip? Bingo.
Plus, I mean, look at this leaf. Ridiculous.
5. Get Local to Really Create Memorable Travel Experiences
Mental state, goals, traveling companions (or not), and a matching plan – all check. I think you’ll find that almost any vacation goal is compatible with this fifth strategy. I used to shun the idea of getting up close and personal with real, live locals. However, the more I travel the more I uncover the most memorable, genuine, and gratifying experiences when I have the chance to interact with real people who live, work and play where I am visiting.
Appreciation for other cultures, understanding how I can be a better person, or just relaxing without pretense all can be accommodated by getting local. What’s great is that it’s easier than ever to meet local people. There are a world of small group and private tour offerings to choose from that cover just about any interest. In fact, I have an upcoming column about local food scene tours in Florence and Rome that was put on by Eating Europe – simply fantastic. See some more ways to live like the locals in Germany.
Even easier, the next time you’re traveling, venture away from the hotel, find a local restaurant, and talk to the server or bartender. 95 out of 100 times they are thrilled to share something interesting about their lives, their country, and their culture or just to answer a question that may be on your mind for how locals live. Book that local tour or step out of your comfort zone, ask a question and see where it leads.
I promise, you’ll come home with a smile and an appreciation for life that you didn’t have when you packed your bag.