Tag Archives: vacations

Why Taking Vacations Is Hard

vacation
Image: Chen Mizrach via Unsplash

When my mother died earlier this summer, I went back to the U.S. for two weeks and cleaned out her apartment. Most people wouldn’t consider clearing out their mother’s apartment a holiday. Trust me, it wasn’t.

And yet, I came back feeling like I didn’t deserve another break, even though – after her death and five months of lockdown – I was completely burnt out. My daughter pleaded with me to take a vacation in Europe while it was still possible and still cheap. (American friends who can’t even travel to the next state right now, apologies for what is to follow…)

I said yes, even though it felt wrong. We went to Venice and Malta for 10 days. I’d not been to Venice in 22 years. But with the most amazing walking tour book EVER in my hand, it was like discovering the city all over again. Meanwhile, I couldn’t even place Malta on a map before we went there. Now I’m completely au fait with the island, including the likes of the proverbial Blue Lagoon. (Paging Brooke Shields…)

Needless to say, that trip was the best thing I did this summer. It was fun, culturally stimulating, and totally relaxing. I bonded with my daughter and enriched my understanding of the world. (Top tip on Malta? Don’t eat the horse. Or the rabbit liver…ahem.) Lord knows when – in the current environment – I’ll be able to travel again.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is me. Work was slower than usual this summer due to Covid. That – ironically – created more time for a vacation. Lord knows there have been many summers over the past 15 years where the best I could muster was astaycation, a micro-trip, or no vacation at all. And yet, I felt that on some level I didn’t “deserve” to go away this summer.

Moreover, as an American with that firmly ingrained notion of “two weeks of vacation per year” lurking somewhere in my subconscious, it seemed like I’d already clocked my time when I went to the U.S. This, despite all the research telling us why vacations are actually good for productivity.

And let’s face it. When your work mantra is “more,” rather than enough, taking a vacation will always feel wrong.

But on the principle that if you want to change your life, you need to actually practice being your future self, I took the plunge and don’t regret it at all. I think about that trip every day. In fact, now that work has ramped up considerably, I firmly believe that trip is helping to fuel my energy.

How about you? Have you ever struggled with taking vacations? How did you cope?

Tips For Adulthood: Five Secrets To A Happy Vacation

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Vacations can be stressful. Even if the goal is to relax – which it (hopefully!) is – it’s incredibly easy for something to go wrong either before, during or after the trip that gets in the way of having fun.

I’m about to go on a short vacation myself so I’ve been thinking a lot about holidays. And as I began to prepare for this particular trip, I realized that I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the course of my traveling life, which I’ve tried – over time – to rectify.

Here, in short order, are five tips for having more fun on vacation:

1. Make a Standard Packing List. I actually got this idea from my hubby. And while – like many of his suggestions (pickle pickers notwithstanding) – I initially railed against it, over time, I have come to see the virtue in having a standing “packing list.” (For an eloquent defense of having a packing template, see this article by my Politics Daily colleague Emily Miller.) Our list includes all standard items of clothing for winter/summer wear, assorted cameras, ipods and videos that we might need for entertainment, children’s medicine to cover just about any minor ailment and a list of things to do before we leave (e.g. cancel the newspaper, turn down the heating, etc.). We even have a column for those items we need to bring if we’re staying in an apartment where we’ll need to cook meals. Try it! You’ll feel the pre-trip anxiety dripping off.*

2. Pack Light. A lot of people (including Emily Miller herself) disagree with this advice. And there’s no question that it’s easier to throw in outfits for any occasion/weather rather than trying to figure it all out in advance. But I just had a family of four visit me in London with – wait for it – one carry on suitcase for an entire week. That’s right. Each person was allowed three shirts, two pairs of pants and a pair of shoes. That’s it. Not only did they avoid all sorts of lines and baggage claim fiascos, they could easily schlep around their luggage *and* their children without having to stress about who was grabbing what. As someone with a family that usually looks like some sort of urban version of the Beverly Hillbillies when we travel, I’ve taken this to heart. My daughter has already begun identifying her two pairs of pants. (Note: Gretchen Rubin makes an exception for books, and I do, too. There’s nothing worse than running out of good reading on a holiday.)

3. Figure out in advance if you plan to exercise. Another lesson learned the hard way. As with many things in life, I think one can easily divide the world into two types of people: those who like to work out while they’re on vacation and those who don’t. I know that I’m squarely in the second camp. I work out regularly during my “normal” life, so for me, it’s really not fun to try and squeeze in a work out when I’m on holiday. Not working out is one of many reasons I think of it as a vacation. But I know lots of people – my husband, for example – who love working out, especially on a vacation. It relaxes them further. Either way is fine, but just be sure you are honest with yourself. Because if you are in the second camp, boy, can you save a lot of space (see #2) – not to mention guilt – by recognizing this ex ante. Staring at those running shoes gathering dust in the hotel closet? Yuck. Just say no. (Remember: There are no “shoulds!”)

4. Leave at least one buffer day when you return. You can do this either by coming home one day early or by telling others that you’re coming back to work one day later than you really are. Either way, the idea is to create some space for yourself to transition back to your real life, whether by answering email, doing laundry or just re-acclimating to your normal schedule rather. For the first time in ages, I’m going to take several days off next week after I return from holiday to get ready for my upcoming move. It was really hard for me to allow myself to do this (speaking of “shoulds!”). But now that I know that I have that buffer time, I’m much more relaxed about the vacation itself.

5. Be sure you have the credit card you booked your trip with on you. I know what you’re thinking: duh! But my husband and I have twice had the experience where we happened to change credit cards right after booking a trip. We then promptly forgot that we’d done this, canceled the card (literally cut it up with scissors), and then showed up on the day only to discover that we didn’t have the right card with us. One time, we actually had to miss our train and wait an extra hour so that the people at the train station could phone our bank. So: do as I say, not as I do, on this one. Trust me.

What have I left out?

*I’m a big fan of packing lists and checklists in general. But here’s a great screed against becoming overly dependent upon them, from Big Little Wolf’s Daily Plate of Crazy.

Image: Cutting Up A Credit Card by wynlok via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Night At The Museum: Why I Hate Camping

I figured out something important about myself over the weekend. Or, more accurately, I figured it out again:  I’m not a camper.

This realization came to me whilst attending a sleepover at the British Museum on Saturday night with my 8 year-old son. He’s a “young friend” at the museum and as with all things, membership has its privileges. In this case, he was invited to attend an evening of workshops surrounding the current Montezuma exhibit, followed by a sleep-over and early morning access to the exhibit.

What’s not to love, right?

Well, a lot, actually. At least if you’re me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in awe of the quantity and quality of things that British museums – especially this one – do in the way of inspiring and educating children about art and history. It’s one of the things I love most about living over here. By way of example, in a mere four hours on Saturday night we decoded Mayan glyphs, made a Mexican headdress, chanted to some Aztec Gods and listened to a Day of the Dead Story teller. In short: brilliant.

But then there was the actual sleepover. And here I was less charmed. As I lay there around 2 a.m., wide awake on a cold, stone floor amid the Assyrian statuary…in a sleeping bag (graciously loaned by a neighbor)…with my 8 year-old son lying next to me, grinding his teeth…in a room full of snoring strangers….under the watchful eye of “A Winged Bull For Sennacherib’s Palace” I thought:  Right. This is why I hated camping all those years.

I know. I know. It’s not real wilderness-style camping. But it bears enough similarity to warrant the comparison. To wit:

*relative deprivation from creature comforts (e.g. bed, heating–those statues are cold!, shower, normal food)

*living in groups and listening to/participating in other people’s personal rituals (e.g. sleep, eating, teeth-brushing)

*that curious modern creation that is the sleeping bag

It probably would have helped if I’d had an air mattress instead of the yoga mat I brought to add an extra layer of comfort. (Not.)

It probably also would have helped if I were ten years younger and didn’t yet know the aches and pains of that pesky piriformis muscle that’s been acting up so much lately.

And – to be honest – it probably also would have helped if I were just a different person. I don’t know. Someone who really excelled at Girl Scouts, perhaps. Or didn’t find it really strange to brush my teeth in front of 20 other people.

But I’m not. And much as I love my son, I don’t think I’ll be repeating that exercise anytime soon.

But I’m happy to have learned all of this – again – about myself. Because at the end of the day, adulthood is about realizing who you are and what you enjoy in life.

I had the exact same realization the other day when looking at a friend’s vacation pictures on her computer. As I watched slide show after slide show of her recent family holidays, I realized that in every single one, she and her husband were engaged in some sort of “extreme sport” – whether it was kayaking or mountain climbing or windsurfing.

Whereas when my husband and I take a holiday,we tend to go to a lot of museums (in the daytime!), frequent cafés and catch up on The New Yorker.

Which is, I suppose, a long way of saying “to each his (or her) own.”

It’s also a long way of saying that the next time I spend a Night at The Museum, it will be on film.

Image: Night at the Museum by Frangipani via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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