My boyfriend and I recently returned from our summer vacation, the first either of us has taken in many years. We visited Seattle, Portland, and several cities in-between. We came home with countless bug bites, a few souvenirs, and lots of special memories. Though the entire trip was spent on-the-go, I had just enough time to reflect back at the end of each day and identify some lessons and realizations gained from the experience.
- Plan the essentials and then leave the rest to chance. This is my boyfriend’s motto in all areas of life, but one that’s been more challenging for me to adopt. However, chronic fatigue has exhausted my inclination to give a fuck, so we booked flights, rented a car, and made lodging arrangement… and that’s it. Upon arrival, we flew by the seat of our pants and it worked out spectacularly. We accepted late-minute invitations to play board games, tour Microsoft’s Halo museum, and catch up over coffee. We wandered aimlessly, fell in love with new places, stumbled into brilliant art galleries, and laughed endlessly at the phallic road names along the US Route-Highway 101. With no definitive plans, there were no expectations and, thus, no disappointments.
- The worst experiences make for the best stories. Our first hotel had bedbugs, the initial rental car had engine problems, and my bank card wouldn’t allow me to withdraw money. My poor navigation skills led to a lot of frustration and South Indian food in Seattle was terrible (despite the high Indian population). We missed our original flight after over two hours in the security check line, our flight home was turned back mid-flight due to mechanical issues, and we slept on the floor of the airport awaiting our 5 am flight. A few days later, we’re already laughing about all of the unfortunate details.
- Don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path. We wandered through downtown Seattle and saw the very same fortune teller who told my boyfriend he’d be be married at age thirty-one over eighteen years ago. (Meeting the love of his life counts, right?!) We unintentionally drove past the homes he lived in, the hospital where he died (and came back), and the Starbucks where he spent thousands of hours sketching. We ran into a boisterous woman who he used to hang out with at an exclusive club and another mousy woman who was a nude model at his favorite downtown art studio. We discovered incredible trails within the Olympic National Park, a small town in Washington which we hope to soon call home, and an incredible hole-in-the-wall restaurant in downtown Portland. None of these things would have been possible if we’d micro-managed the entire trip.
- A digital detox provides the space to reconnect with the real world. Aside from occasionally pulling up a map, I didn’t touch a phone or computer on the trip. No one knew where we were or what we had planned for the day; no one saw pictures of our current adventures or asked what was on the agenda. Every moment was spend savoring the experience and enjoying nature and good company, completely unencumbered by the thoughts or opinions of others.
- Pay attention to everything and appreciate the small things. Notice the smell of the salty breeze and the subtle shifting of trees in the wind; appreciate the beauty and the nourishment provided by nature. Notice the homeless population sprawling across the rapidly-growing cities; be grateful for a safe home, regular meals, and a network of support. Notice the abundance of parents setting aside their phones to actually play with their children; revel in their contagious glee and hang on to that hope that our youngest generation just might turn out alright.
- If you’re not satisfied, speak up. In the last two weeks, I’ve had to complain a fair amount. We left our initial room due to bedbugs and I’m demanding my money back since we ended up paying for a second hotel during the same period. We traded in our malfunctioning fuel-efficient rental car for a sports car “upgrade,” which increased gas costs; after mentioning this, the generous refund exceeded actual fuel costs, bringing the rental cost down to $18 per day. The airport and our flight home were a nightmare, but opening up the dialogue resulted in future flight credit and a food voucher for use during our airport strangers sleepover.
- Your trip doesn’t need to be expensive, nor cheap. While we did our research to ensure the best value on our lodging, flight, car rental, and the small things in-between. Once these big ticket items were covered, we chose not to fret about spending $30 on dinner when the new room didn’t have a kitchenette. On the other hand, our souvenirs come at no cost and included rocks, sea shells, and miniature pine cones. Before going on vacation, think about what that reprieve from everyday life means to you and then ensure your spending reflect those values.
- Take your vacation home with you. There is something magical about leaving home, setting aside everyday responsibilities, operating without a schedule, and unearthing moments of whimsy. Upon your return home, try to limit screen time and spend a bit more time face-to-face with your favorite people. Spend time in nature and appreciate the subtle beauty of the place that you call home. Live simply, minimize excess, and find small things to get excited about.
Have you been on vacation lately? What valuable lessons have you learned along the journey?