Maximized Vacations

Nomadic Matt has a post up about “Maximizing Your Vacation Time.” It’s a really good read and actually fits well with my usual methods of travel. From his post:

Go off the grid – They say it takes 2 days for people to settle to relax and settle into “travel mode.” To expedite that process, turn off your electronics, get off Facebook, and don’t even think of opening your inbox. Disengage yourself from the real world and spend your time thinking about your trip and all the wonderful things you’re going to do while you’re on the road. Keeping your plugged in means you’re simply keeping yourself back home and not where you are.

This is tough for me. I work in the online political space and am literally on multiple email accounts from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep. I’m on dozens of email lists and all told, probably get and read between 200-500 emails a day, depending on the time of year. For the first couple of years in professional life, I essentially couldn’t sign off of email. I was addicted and I would always be anxious about missing important emails or breaking news. It made traveling not much fun.

Over the last two years, though, I’ve been getting much better at this. I turn off email listserves. I put up an away message on my work account and diligently refuse to check it. I limit myself to a brief amount of time checking my personal account each day. I’m not totally at the place where I can completely go offline, but I get better with every trip I take.

Travel like a Turtle – I already mentioned above that less is more when you travel. Don’t feel like you have to see everything and go everywhere on your short trip. There’s nothing wrong with taking your time in a place and getting to know it. Most travelers check off the majors sights and then move on to their next destination. You can do better than that. Get to really know London instead of trying to squeeze half of England into your trip. You can always come back. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off ensures only have time for pictures.

This is one of my core things with traveling. I want to enjoy where I’m visiting and I can’t have a good time when I’m rushing. I’d rather see one or two interesting things in a day at a leisurely pace than see every major site a city has to offer. This means make choices, sometimes hard ones. But more often than not, being able to immerse myself into what I’m doing while I’m away is more rewarding than coming home with 300 pictures of churches and monuments.

I was in Italy for spring break my freshman year of college with two friends. We figured out that the best way to enjoy what we were doing involved a lot of sitting around, watching people, drinking espresso, and studying art and architecture. We got the point where our days were so filled with sitting our way through Rome that we thought about writing a book, “A Sitting Tour of Rome,” spoofing off books that focus on walking tour. We planned to include places that had lots of benches, good views, what times of day they were in the sun or shade, and whether anyone would hassle you for loitering. The book never happened, but my appreciation of enjoying a good sit in a different part of the world certainly has.

Relax – This is your vacation. You want to relax and rest and experience your trip your way. When I go to a new place, I like to get into the pace of life there. In places like Barcelona, for example, that means sleeping late and staying up late, and in place like Fiji it means early to be and early to rise. Go with the flow, relax, and enjoy your trip. It’s not the number of things you do but the fun you have that matters.

This is so key. As I’ve advanced in my professional life, the value of relaxing and de-stressing in my travel has increased dramatically. I recognize that I lead a busy and professionally stressful life and vacation is key to my ability to keep working at a high level. In many ways, I more look forward to slowly taking in a destination, unplugging and relaxing than I do the specific details of where I might go. The joys of a particular city, island or country are what make travel interesting. But in my life as a young professional, it’s hard to separate travel from my need for decompression. Hopefully I find time to do more extensive and long-term travel at some point in the future, where the focus for the trip will move beyond primarily about taking a break from working and shift to being more exclusively focused on experiencing other cultures and embracing their pace. In the mean time, I’ll keep practicing unplugging from my electronic life when I travel.

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