What do you do to make your vacations extra awesome?
June 22, 2009 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Bestow upon me your vacationing wisdom. What have you learned to do - or not do - during your vacation in order to make it the most enjoyable, rejuvenative few weeks you might have all year?

The location and loose structure have been established, so I'm not asking for any advice on where to go or specific recreational activities...(there will be wonderful scenery, good food, ocean, beach, fishing, boating, drinking, music, family, boardgames!).

I'm just wondering about the things you've learned about vacationing that would be worthwhile to pass on. Tell me what you do to make your vacations extra awesome, given that the time passes so quickly and before you know it, you're back at the daily grind.

(But please, don't say "Don't check your work email." That's just too obvious. And I won't have internet access anyhow.)
posted by kitcat to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (31 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I bring an epic book with me, note some trite DaVinci Code book, but something significant: Don Quixote, For Whom the Bell Tolls, etc. That way I always have a time and a place to associate with the book.
posted by furtive at 3:39 PM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

posted by furtive at 3:39 PM on June 22, 2009

Be willing to split up. If you're in a group and you want to do different things, do different things. Agree to meet for meals and share stories. And try to get a bit of exploration done at the beginning so you don't feel all rushed at the end.
posted by jeather at 3:40 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

If anything goes wrong, try to look at it from the big picture. Be helpful when there are problems, but don't let them cloud your emotions.

Bring a smaller bag than you think you need, especially if using planes, trains, or buses.

Get to know someone local: a grocery store owner, a bartender, etc. Maybe the guy at the bakery when you get breakfast.

and 2nding jeather's suggestion about splitting up. When everyone gets to do what they want to do, things go more smoothly.
posted by JauntyFedora at 3:43 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Take videos with your camera. The sounds of a vacation add a lot to the photos.
posted by smackfu at 3:48 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't spend your vacation documenting your vacation with photos and videos. Live it instead.

Include "travel days" as part of the schedule. Don't plan on getting anything specific done on days when your only goal should be getting there or getting home. Likewise, don't make travel days entirely about travel. Give yourself the freedom to get distracted.

Keep schedules loose. Have a couple of things on the agenda to do that you can get to when nothing else seems to be going on. Build in lots of downtime.

Don't rush from destination to destination! Get there, hang out, see what there is to see.

Meet the locals.

Send postcards.
posted by majick at 3:59 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pack super-light: I only bring what I can carry in a shoulder bag. You have no idea how much ditching "stuff" liberates you!
posted by aquafortis at 4:02 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

In preparing for a vacation, I always try to strike a perfect balance between being prepared enough that we can do whatever we want but not so prepared that we can't do whatever we want.

Translation: I fully research the attractions, activities, restaurants, etc wherever we're going and take along the information related to these. This way we can make last-minute decisions about what we want to do or where we want to go. When the vacation is over, there are no regrets about missing something because we didn't know about it.
posted by DrGail at 4:09 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't do anything you don't want to do. That is to say, don't do things you think you have to do. You're on vacation - you don't have to do anything. If you're in Paris and just love wandering the streets and stopping at cafes and bakeries but aren't interested in fine art, then forget the Louvre. Just do what you want.

The trickier thing is to avoid getting dragged to do things you don't want to do by someone else who does. But that's more a question about learning how to compromise & communicate well in relationships.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 4:17 PM on June 22, 2009

Don't try to get everything done that you can. I recently went on a 12 day/10 city tour of Europe. There's no way we could have done everything we wanted to do, especially in Paris. So we picked stuff we really wanted to do and made the most of it. I think it's much better to miss out on 3 museums and really see 1 than to see all 4 in a half-ed ass way.
posted by theichibun at 4:19 PM on June 22, 2009

If you're being a tourist somewhere and looking to do activities, plan for something either in a morning or an afternoon, but never both. Spend the rest of the day either relaxing or doing something spontaneous. That way you get a good combination of chilling and doing stuff.
posted by gaspode at 4:24 PM on June 22, 2009

Best answer: Don't do anything you don't want to do just because you feel you should do it.

I just came back from the most relaxing beach vacation ever. We go to the same place every year, but this time it was especially fine because I allowed myself to do nothing at all. I was sitting on the beach thinking, you know, I should take a walk down the shore, because that's what you do when you're at the beach, and I always do it. But I didn't want to, so this time I just allowed myself to totally veg out - I never made it further than my umbrella. I saw an ad for snorkeling and I thought, I should do that - I can tell people all about my amazing snorkeling experience. Then I realized that seriously, I'd rather not do anything at all. So again, that's what I did - nothing. The only misstep was a trip to the outlet mall. I went because I go every year, and because it seems like something you should take advantage of while you're there. It was no fun. The fact is, it's never been fun, so I've vowed to never go again.

Wherever you go, people will say you HAVE to do this or that while you're there. Listen to them and then just do whatever you want.
posted by Evangeline at 4:25 PM on June 22, 2009

And I should have previewed, because Conrad said it much more succinctly than me.
posted by Evangeline at 4:26 PM on June 22, 2009

Best answer: Naps. Seriously, when else do you have the luxury of a daily nap?
posted by spinturtle at 4:41 PM on June 22, 2009 [4 favorites]

Buy a calendar as your souvenir. Put it up in your office to recall memories all the rest of the year. Visit local supermarkets and buy weird everyday stuff. I enjoy writing in a travel journal in down times, as a group activity. Read previous threads on car games and introduce them when en route as necessary.
posted by Morrigan at 4:52 PM on June 22, 2009

I like to schedule a free day for when I return home. If I arrive home on Sunday, I take Monday off. I can unpack and unwind and keep a little of the vacation bliss going. It's so much better than having to rush back to work.
posted by Majorita at 5:01 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Leave while you're still having fun.
posted by dhammond at 5:14 PM on June 22, 2009

What you said was very good, too, Evangeline. I mean, sure, previewing helps avoid doubles on "here's how you flash your EEPROM," but for less clear-cut questions like this, I think additional voices are great. You make a great point - vegging is completely okay on a vacation. Hell, that's why it's called a vacation!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:42 PM on June 22, 2009

Bring a towel.
Seriously, it is more than just a joke from a great book - it is a smart thing to pack.
posted by Flood at 5:44 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't let taking pictures distract you from actually enjoying where you are or what you're seeing, especially if this involves a fleeting moment.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 6:08 PM on June 22, 2009

Keep that "loose structure" loose and you should be OK. Personal anecdote: My wife and I went to New Orleans with some friends to see the Voodoo Music Festival one year. Only thing is, after spending the night having fun at the casino, we didn't feel up to dealing with the crowds. So we didn't actually go to the concert. And that was okay. We had fun roaming the French Quarter instead. Just do what feels good at the time, even if that means doing nothing at all. You go on vacation to get away from the pressure of daily life, so by all means let that pressure go.
posted by aperture_priority at 7:08 PM on June 22, 2009

Best answer: A very wise friend once said that the only rule for travel is:
Take half the clothes [you planned on] and twice the cash.
To which I would add:
No shopping, unless it's for unusual music or food. There's malls everywhere, don't waste your precious vacation time on them.
I've gotten pretty good at journaling about a trip for about 15 minutes in the morning with my tea - a few years later it's enjoyable reading about the trip, and when done daily you catch some details that are lost in time otherwise.
Some more talented than I (Mr dbmcd) keep a sketch or watercolor journal.
posted by dbmcd at 7:55 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

vacations we've taken go much better if there's a certain patience about things going a little weird. (taking wrong turn, long line, etc.)

agreed on the buffer day at the end of the vacation, or at least returning fairly early on the last day.
posted by epersonae at 8:19 PM on June 22, 2009

This winter I took my first real vacation as an adult, to Cuba. I don't wear a watch and forgot my cell phone charger, so once my cell battery died I had no watch. There is basically no such thing as buying a watch there, so I spent the rest of the week living off the clock. It was revelatory. In order to catch timed things (lunch, shuttle pick up), I would have to walk down three flights of stairs from my room to the lobby. The room phones didn't work and none of the TV channels showed the time. After a day or two I was spending my time much more freely doing things like sitting around writing in my journal, or having a coffee in the sunshine. Even though my home schedule isn't very hectic or structured, having no sense of time was freeing.

Don't overschedule. Ban sightseeing if you can - even if that means going someplace where there wasn't much to see. In Cuba I brought no guidebook and made friends at the hotel who gave me maps and showed me where things were. When I went into Havana, I would just sort of amble around with the general awareness of where things were if I felt like going to them. Sometimes this meant I would skip a museum and sit in a garden courtyard watching schoolkids learning to dance.

Don't call/email/text. I know you say "don't check work email" but do without any of it. Just disconnect. If you're bored or lonely, meet locals where you're staying or fellow travelers. And there's something really interesting about quietly enjoying silence, either alone or with someone else. One of my favorite things about going to my Grandad's cottage when I was younger was the occasional hour in the evening where we would sit around the living room listening to the crickets and the loons and read our own separate books. Grandpa would sometimes clear his throat and read a passage of something he found interesting, but unless particularly engaging conversation sprung forth, we'd just go back to reading quietly. It's pretty nice to just enjoy quiet moments without feeling the need to say anything (something I can only manage when I'm by myself these days, heh).
posted by SassHat at 8:25 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Clean your house before you go.

Coming back home to a spotless house after spending X hours traveling is great.
posted by Redmond Cooper at 8:57 PM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This may sound weird, but if you are presented with the opportunity to eat something delicious not normally available where you live...eat it. (Obviously I'm not talking about endangering your health--I am not advocating that people with diabetes start wolfing down vast amounts of chocolate or that people with cholesterol problems start sucking back animal fats just because they're on holiday.) Just indulge yourself a little if you want to. When I was in Paris last year I didn't try as many different awesome French cheeses as I wanted to because of the voice in my head saying "Don't eat too much cheese; it's not good for you." I wish I had ignored that voice.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:21 PM on June 22, 2009

Best answer: Pay attention to the Peak-End Rule of Satisfaction. I'll quote from The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz:

Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues have shown that what we remember about the pleasurable quality of our past experiences is almost entirely determined by two things: how the experiences felt when they were at their peak (best or worst), and how they felt when they ended. This 'peak-end' rule of Kahneman's is what we use to summarize the experience, and then we rely on that summary later to remind ourselves of how the experience felt. The summaries in turn influence our decisions about whether to have that experience again, and factors such as the proportion of pleasure to displeasure during the course of the experience or how long the experience lasts, have almost no influence on our memory of it.

(...) Thus, you might, in retrospect, remember a one-week vacation that had some great moments and finished with a bang as more pleasurable than a three-week vacation that also had some great moments, but only finished with a whimper. The extra two weeks of relaxing in the sun or seeing the sights or eating great food makes little difference, because they recede from awareness over time.

(...) It's unlikely that a great one-week vacation is truly better than a great-single-week-followed-by-a-pretty-good-two-weeks vacation. But that's what people say they prefer. The discrepancy between logic and memory suggests that we don't always know what we want.

So, plan your holiday to have a big peak, and save something really special for right at the end too. The rest doesn't really matter. You could have a horrible time, but if you nail the peak and the end, you'll remember it as the time of your life.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:42 AM on June 23, 2009 [6 favorites]

If you are planning on doing any amount of walking over and above what you'd normally do, take at least two pairs of your most comfortable shoes. Rotate them. Every time I forget to do this, I end up with a blister or something, and then I get cranky. Who wants to be cranky on your vacation because your stupid feet hurt??
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:15 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

After you have packed, take out half of it and leave it behind. I've always been happier when I can bring myself not to pack too much. And, a shirt bought on vacation always brings back the memory of where I was when I got it. The lighter you can travel, the less you have to mess with all that stuff--carrying it, packing it, etc. but I'll second SuperSquirrel--take an extra pair of shoes and trade off each day. Also, try to always eat at local places, not chains. I can still remember a bowl of cream of mushroom soup I had in Berlin while the rest of my group went off to Pizza Hut.
posted by midwestguy at 10:51 AM on June 23, 2009

I do a lot of things that people warn against.

I eat street food. Some of the best food I've ever eaten cost less than a dollar, had fantastic people-watching views, and were fed to me by the kindest people on earth.

I talk to strangers. Even if I'm not fluent in the local language, it helps to know a few words. And who best to learn from than from a local? I've earned some great grins from strangers when I used some slang to say hi.

I lose maps. Wandering around has afforded me some of the best photographic opportunities on my travels.

One of my favorites quotes is: "I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world." - MA Radmacher Hershey. Yeah, so look at the moon. Alot.
posted by HeyAllie at 11:29 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

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