I’m in the midst of planning – well, more like dreaming – about a winter getaway and it got me thinking about why people really travel. My working theory is that on holiday, most people simply seek novelty to break up the monotony of their reality, whether it’s new experiences, a change of scenery, meeting new people or perhaps stepping out of their comfort zone temporarily in some way. Here’s what I think goes a long way to making it all work out:
1. First you need a clear idea of what you’re running away from and where you’re really trying to go.
A holiday can often fall flat if you haven’t checked in with yourself lately. At a minimum, vacations are about shaking up your routine to carve out more time to do what you enjoy (stuff that fills your tank) and less of what stresses you out (stuff that drains your tank). It sounds obvious enough, but I’ve been in the adventure travel industry for more than a decade and it’s amazing how many people don’t get this basic concept right.
If you’re going to have a real holiday, it’s not about just being away from work, but also about being away from the parts of your life that feel like work for you, whether it’s planning or cooking, staying on top of your inbox or planning every detail of your day. For example, if you resent having to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic noticing your blood pressure rising by the minute, find an escape where you won’t need to drive or, better yet, why not escape to an island where there are no cars. Don’t rent a car in Tokyo.
As a family, we try to have an overseas holiday annually and we’ve managed to have some great sunny beach vacations in recent years – Fiji, Rarotonga, Hawaii, and the North Island of New Zealand. For my husband, who grew up on the beach, our annual vacation is a chance to go “home” and away from the trappings of modern life that wind him up.
2. Hand the control over and go with the flow.
Step out of yourself for a couple of weeks by dropping all the ordinary everyday things that you do. In my case, I love to potter around in the kitchen, but providing three meals and several snacks daily for a family of five with a variety of food allergies and intolerances every day of the year gets to be a bit of a chore. On most of our family vacations, we’ve rented a place with a kitchen and I just carried on doing what I do at home just with fewer tools (hmm… it seems even travel professionals fall into the same trap), so not surprisingly, our holidays haven’t been completely relaxing for me.
In my own defence, it’s not that I haven’t wanted to delegate the meal planning and preparation, I’ve just never found an acceptable alternative i.e. an all-inclusive beach resort we can afford that creates organic, gluten-free meals my kids will eat. I haven’t stumbled across anything yet that ticks all the boxes, so I’m on a renewed hunt for a getaway where someone else is in charge of making sure we don’t all starve – wish me luck and if you know where this travel nirvana is, please let me in on the secret!
Lowering your standards is one option, but finding a solution that exceeds your expectations (especially the bits you’re quite attached to) – now that’s the makings of a memorable vacation! This morning I came across a testimonial from a client who came trekking in New Zealand with us that captured this concept beautifully: “We’re huge planners. It was so awesome (and relaxing) to NOT have to plan a minute of this trip. Not having to worry about anything – the guides do a great job of handling all the work.”
3. Become your alter ego.
If you want to move beyond covering the basics when you’re away from home, you’ll also want to look at fulfilling some sort of fantasy (I don’t mean that literally, necessarily). Most of us have some sort of ideal fantasy version of ourselves – the “what do you want to be when you grow up” version – that we put aside when we do grow up, usually because it’s not practical in some way. It’s hard to raise a family if you run away to join the circus, for instance. But attending a circus school and learning the trapeze for a week might just scratch that itch and you’ll come home with your head held a bit higher, knowing you could have been a mega-star under the big top, you know, if you actually wanted to. Cooking schools and photography trips are other examples of living out G-rated fantasies.
A more subtle version of this is the essence of adventure travel – overcoming personal challenges to alter the way you see yourself, but then also have a great vacation at the same time. Some people may say they climb a mountain simply because it is there, but if you look a bit closer, slogging up to the summit can mean recasting yourself as a superhero in your own life – it opens up many more possibilities. If I can feel really good about myself for achieving a goal that was a bit of a struggle, what else am I capable of? Maybe adventure travel is just a continuation of outdoor education or summer camp for grownups.
So it is possible to have a real vacation – you just have to stop doing the ordinary, which is really what an escape is all about, isn’t it?