In a little over 90 days, I’m going on vacation. I know, that’s hardly news worthy of a blog post, let alone a mention. Yet in my case, heading back over to Barcelona and Madrid in late May/early June is something more than just travel, as regular readers know. And as I prepare for my trip, there are a couple of things I’ve learned about how to think about travel, that may be of some help to you in the future.
I’ve not had a vacation of more than a couple of days since 2011, so this two-week vacation is something I’m really looking forward to. Oh sure, I’ve been to weddings, conferences, and gone home for holidays. I’ve even had a couple of four-day weekends out of town visiting some good friends. However in terms of an actual vacation, i.e. packing a suitcase, traveling to somewhere far away, staying in an hotel, and not having anything specific that one *must* do for a week or two…it’s been quite awhile.
Traveling for two weeks by yourself can get rather lonely. I’m fortunate that I’ve plenty of family to visit, but it’s not really the same thing as traveling with others. In fact, it can be quite easy to get depressed at the start of your vacation, if you’re not careful.
If you’re not sure what I mean, let me explain by directing you to this blog post by travel guru Samantha Brown. In it, she describes something which I sometimes feel, as well, but didn’t realize that others suffered from. Because for some of us, at least, there’s a kind of melancholy that hits, as soon as you reach your hotel room, which is particularly potent if you’re traveling on your own.
“There’s a strange feeling I always get,” she writes, “when I arrive at my hotel room for the first time: ‘well now what?’ It’s this mild fleeting depression that marks that I’m no longer anticipating my travel, but am here.”
After all the weeks of planning and packing, making sure you get to the airport on time, fighting your way through security, cramming yourself into a flying tin can, then doing the whole process in reverse – hopefully without losing your luggage – you arrive! You check in to your hotel, you’re taken to your room, and everything appears to be clean and in working order. The bellhop leaves, you sit down on the end of the bed, and now you don’t know what to do with yourself. This trip you’ve been planning has just started, and already you’re at a loss.
The trick, as I’ve found over the years, is this: you need to schedule things. Samantha Brown suggests getting outside and going for a walk to familiarize yourself with the neighborhood around your hotel, and of course that’s a good idea. In fact, you should be doing that on Google Maps Streetview long before you leave for your trip. However the real antidote to either first or last day vacation blues is having a schedule, so that you alternate periods of activity with periods of loafing about.
When I travel, I create an agenda for myself to follow, with rest times worked into it. After all, there are works of art to look at (and possibly acquire); photographs to share on social media; articles and blog posts to research and write; day trips to take to both familiar and unfamiliar places. These things should be interspersed with periods of indolence: sitting in a café or on the beach, watching people or looking at beautiful buildings, strolling through gardens or just wandering around aimlessly.
The worst thing you can do, it seems to me, is to go on vacation with no set plan about what you’re going to do while you’re there. It’s a bit like being cooped up in the house during a blizzard, like we recently went through here in DC. The first day is pretty exciting, watching the snow come down and checking media to see the city come to a grinding halt. Yet by Day 4 of being inside the house with nothing specific to do, it gets pretty old. Or at least, it does for me.
Whether you’re going to the shore, or to a foreign shore, have a loose plan for what you’re doing on your vacation. As an adult, you know that you need some degree of order and structure in your life, intermixed with leisure, if you’re going to get the most out of your job; the same applies to how you ought to travel. So besides enjoying the down time, when you enjoy doing nothing at all, make an advance reservation for Friday night at that restaurant you read about in Saveur, or put on the calendar that on Thursday you’re going to tour an historic site or museum.
And as part of that planning, make sure that, as soon as you get to your destination, you know exactly what you’re going to do as soon as your bags are put away. Me? I’m heading straight to the Caffe di Francesco on the Passeig de Gracia. I’ll send you an Instagram.