Opposites Attract, Vacation Edition.
February 19, 2010 9:39 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend likes relaxing vacations on the beach. I prefer the excitement of foreign countries. I know of countries that can satisfy both demands, but how do we adjust to each other's mindsets?

His ideal vacation: beach, sleeping in, drinking with friends, nice hotels, relaxing.
My ideal vacation: unfamiliar country, getting up at the crack of dawn, backpacking, drinking with strangers, hostels, immersion.

I know plenty of countries have both beaches and great cultural activities, like Turkey, Thailand, Brazil and Italy. But I'm a weirdo who hates the beach. I'm a pale redhead, prone to skin cancer on my shoulders and arms, and usually spend beach week indoors with a book or dipped in Bullfrog 98. Unlike my laid-back boyfriend, I don't really think of vacations as time to unwind--that's what weekends are for. And I'm worried that I'll annoy the dude if I make him spend his hard-earned relaxation time in a foreign country where we don't speak the language or know the culture very well.

So beach-haters, how do you have fun in the sand? And sun-worshippers, how do you avoid feeling taxed and overwhelmed when traveling abroad? Couples with one of each: how did you compromise? What were your favorite countries to see?
posted by zoomorphic to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
One obvious solution is to go to countries with cultural activities near the beach. You get up early and go to cultural stuff, he gets up late, goes to the beach and you meet up for dinner. That depends how mich time you want to spend together on vacation.
posted by Jahaza at 9:45 AM on February 19, 2010

Best answer: Vacation separately!

No, seriously, otherwise each of you will have to do a lot of compromising and both of you will have a mediocre vacation instead of each of you having a great one.
posted by coryinabox at 9:46 AM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Going to Greece might be a good way to go. Sweetiekins and I went there in August, and the mix of couchsurfing/food/culture was enough to keep me occupied, while there were good beaches for us to hang out on when we wanted to slow down a bit. Also, don't think that you have to spend every minute of a vacation together. Heading your own separate ways on some days and meeting up for dinner at night can make for a great vacation too.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:49 AM on February 19, 2010

Go to Britain. It's never hot enough to burn horribly, and while the culture isn't utterly different to the US, it's small enough for you to do both. Brighton is close to London by train and a lovely place to go and relax.
posted by mippy at 9:50 AM on February 19, 2010

One of the happiest couples I ever knew vacationed separately except when they were camping with their six children. He liked to stay home, putter around the house, and have friends over. She liked to ride her bike 600 miles, go on safaris, paddle the boundary waters... Over the years she went on many adventures with various friends and relations who liked that kind of thing, while he kept the home fires burning.

If Jahaza's plan won't work, it may be possible that trying to vacation together will be one of those horrible compromises where you're expended lots of resources and nobody is happy.
posted by not that girl at 9:50 AM on February 19, 2010

Oh, and Brighton is a crazy party town, particularly if you have gay friends around.
posted by mippy at 9:51 AM on February 19, 2010

As a British person, I can tell you that you're taking a big gamble coming here for "sun on the beach" ;)
posted by greenish at 9:56 AM on February 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

My SO and I are the inverse of you - she loves the beach, I...don't. We have successfully compromised by going to places where we can spend half our time doing fun non-beach stuff and the other half hanging at or near the beach. One successful vacation spot was Belize: we spent the first half on the mainland, hiking and caving, and the second half on one of the Cayes.

Another method of compromising that worked well in the Greek Islands was to combine adventuring and beach-going. On Milos (highly recommended!), we rented scooters and drove from beach to beach around the whole island. We got enough beach time for her, but in 1-2 hour stints that I found manageable both for my skin and my restless spirit, and it was fun experiencing different beaches in different areas. This way the beach becomes more something to explore and less just a place to sit and veg - though after a day of riding a scooter in the hot sun, a swim and a bit of down time on the beach under an umbrella was much more welcome.
posted by googly at 10:03 AM on February 19, 2010

Yeah, find someplace that has both. Zanzibar has great beaches but also a lot of interesting areas to explore. You won't know the language or the culture but there are a lot of (mostly) European tourists who don't either and things are kind of set up for that. Your boyfriend can relax on the beach all day drinking and you can wander around Stone Town, look at monkeys, ride the dalla-dalla minibuses around or go for a walk. Although it is hot you can cover your shoulders and arms and people will think you are just being respectful.

The disadvantage is the plane tickets are a lot more expensive then to Florida or the Caribbean.
posted by ChrisHartley at 10:04 AM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

My husband and I have similar issues. We both love to do the things you like, but I also have a beach bum streak, while my husband does not. When we vacation together, there is part compromise, part heading out on our own. There are days where I really just want a beach or a pool, and since he's not into that at all he does his own thing for a while. I think if we insisted on being together all the time, we'd end up strangling each other by the end of it because inevitably one of us is going to lose out on stuff we want to do.

We both really value spending time together on vacation, which is why we rarely do that separately. If there is a beach at our destination, I spend a bit of time there on my own and let him do his thing for a few hours. If vacationing together is not so much of an issue for you guys, going separately entirely might be an even better option because then no one has to compromise.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 10:06 AM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Separate vacations can be nice, but if you really wanted to do it, you would have. In my experience, here are some places you can do both:

JAPAN: Without a doubt, given the outline, my first plan. My recs would be Okinawa, or Kamakura. Okinawa has warmer water, better snorkeling, more little hotels on little beaches. Lots of English on the main island especially because of the presence of 50K+ Americans. Kamakura has TONS of history, temples, architecture, etc., but it is also very clearly a beach town with lots of surfers, and some trails surrounding it for walks, etc. Plenty of umbrella-covered bars on the beach, and drinking everywhere. It is Japan, after all. Kamakura is about 90 minutes from Tokyo. You can rent all kinds of boards and other water toys. Not everyone speaks English, but lots of people read it, young people can usually speak but are generally shy to, and lots of signs are around.

RIO DE JANEIRO: Beaches are nice in Rio, both your classics (Ipanema, Copacabana) and some farther removed from the crush, where you can spend some resort days. You will meet lots of strangers on the beach, where beer is delivered cold for $1. It is easy to get around; you can spend mornings together on the beach, then head out by subway or taxi to shop, eat, climb around in the rain forest (yes, in the city), or go stand under Christ's toe. Signs are usually crap, and you have the stress of travel in a big, developing city, but quite a lot of people speak enough English to help you.

W AFRICA (Ghana): Not as high on the "nice hotels" ranking, but you have simple bars on the beach and people who live in the nearby towns/villages just hanging out and drinking with you. Going around by bus/taxi is easy, as is getting a house to yourself for a week or two and doing nothing. Life is led largely outdoors, and lots of people work outdoors, or at street stalls, etc. Lots of shaded outdoor spaces in consequence, and people around to meet. Safe, stable country. English is an official language, most people, especially if they deal in tourism, speak it.
posted by whatzit at 10:07 AM on February 19, 2010

Best answer: The girlfried just texted me from Konark, India, while I was enjoying myself with Metafilter and a cup of coffee from the comforts of our home. Seconding separate holidays as an option!
posted by Sourisnoire at 10:13 AM on February 19, 2010

Barcelona is calling your name. Vibrant city on the beach = win win.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:19 AM on February 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Totally not a "beach person" either - but I thought Hawaii was great. Skip Honolulu, go to the Big Island or one of the other less traveled islands. Leave him on the beach and go poke around. Not another country, but plenty of adventure and remote places to explore!
posted by beyond_pink at 10:25 AM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Could you find other beachy activities to do that aren't sitting on the beach? Go somewhere with watersports or snorkeling and nice beaches, and while your boyfriend relaxes in the sun, you can be out doing something more interesting.
posted by kro at 10:28 AM on February 19, 2010

Have you considered a cruise, perhaps in Northern Europe in the summertime? That way you could get off the ship first thing in every port and go hiking, exploring, etc., and your SO could sleep in, get room service, sit in the sun by the pool, and generally hang out. In the evenings, you'd be eating in a familiar, comfortable restaurant, with or without exciting new people.

It's not a perfect solution, but it might give you both some of what you are looking for. Different cruises have different types of people, but some might work well for you. A few years ago we took my then-94-year-old grandmother on a cruise to Norway and Iceland, and I had a great time hiking, walking etc. with others off the ship on days when I went out on my own.
posted by sueinnyc at 10:32 AM on February 19, 2010

Best answer: My parents, who travel frequently, are in a similar situation, primarily because of vastly different energy levels. They've basically solved it for themselves, like others here are suggesting, by becoming comfortable each doing their own preferred thing, usually for most of the daylight hours, and then meeting up around dusk for an interesting evening. Every 2-3 days, they'll plan to spend the whole day together doing a fun compromise, such as introducing each other to something they've discovered on their time apart. It tends to be less frustrating to be separated when they look at time apart as giving something to them that they can in turn give to the other. So Mom will enjoy basking/wandering around the market/visiting with friends/exploring a winery/taking a bookbinding workshop while Dad climbs Montserrat/hunts for glimpses of rare seabirds/dives with sharks/explores mountaintop monasteries and then they meet up to eat and enjoy a cultural performance of some kind and talk over the day and introduce each other to new acquaintances and share pictures they've taken, etc. They've particularly enjoyed Belize, South Korea, Ireland, Croatia, Spain, and India. Right now they're taking an extended vacation centered on Florence, with smaller trips to Austria and Greece. Definitely, spending up to 2/3 of their time completely apart hasn't hurt their enjoyment of these places.

And I personally make no excuses for hating the beach proper given my tendency to burn and a family history of skin cancer. I show up with a massive umbrella, dressed like it's approximately 1895, and rarely stay for more than an hour during daylight-- usually to bring lunch and drinks to share with my melanin-enabled kin. But it's a nice way to check in for a bit, and no one feels too guilty.
posted by notquitemaryann at 10:34 AM on February 19, 2010

nice guesthouses or pensions -- or traditional hotels in places like japan -- could be a compromise between fancy hotels and hostels
posted by mail at 10:34 AM on February 19, 2010

Response by poster: The disadvantage is the plane tickets are a lot more expensive then to Florida or the Caribbean.

Oh right, that was my other concern. It's one thing for me to drop $300 on a plane ticket to the beach for a 4-day weekend getaway; it's quite another to ask him to shell out $800 for a plane ticket to Istanbul and then spend 2 weeks in Eurasia.

I have a great traveling buddy who's got my back if I want to go abroad and my boyfriend doesn't, but I'd like for us to be able to travel as a couple every once in awhile. Even though last night he roped me into going to the beach in May (I was under the influence of wine and he delivered a very powerful speech about compromise and friendship and whatever), I'd feel pretty guilty using that as leverage for a far more costly jaunt overseas.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:39 AM on February 19, 2010

Seconding Barcelona. You'll be just a short pleasant metro ride away from each other while he's on a beautiful clean mediterranean beach, and you're gawking at beautiful Gaudi buildings. Plan it well and you could definitely find tickets for less than $500 each.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:59 AM on February 19, 2010

how do you have fun in the sand?

When you get to the beach, you dig with your hands to make a gigantic hole. With the sand you've extricated, you can sculpt something really impressive! Like a giant octopus! Take a photo of it, then fill the hole back in at the end of the day so no one falls in. The next day, do the same thing. Sand sculptures require both beachy relaxation-time AND a squirrel-like need to be industrious!
posted by Greg Nog at 11:05 AM on February 19, 2010

Beaches and I don't get along so great. I'm a super pale blonde Nordic type. I literally can't tan. I went on a honeymoon to the US Virgin Islands and had a pretty good sunburn going on my back by Day 2. So I went out and bought a rash guard shirt like surfers wear, similar to this. It has a UPF of 50. I wore it the rest of the trip over my swimsuit and did not burn again. Plus it gives you a sporty surfer girl vibe, instead of labeling you as an obvious sun hater. :-)

I recommend getting a big straw hat, sunglasses, and one of those shirts. Sit on the beach in a nice chair with a book and a cool drink. If you get hot, run into the ocean for a minute. The shirt will cling to your skin and cools you off for a while as it dries, which is nice. For fun in the sand/water, I discovered snorkeling is pretty easy and helps scratch that exploration itch.

I agree with what others are saying about maybe just each of you do your own thing during the day, then meet up for dinner and mutually agreeable activities (museums, must-see tourist attractions, etc.) Or maybe strike a "tit for tat" deal, "we can sit on the beach today, but tomorrow you have to come with me to the Mayan ruins; if we eat at the hotel restaurant today, we're going to an authentic local eatery tomorrow." Also, Puerto Rico and Mexico are both pretty cheap to get to, with a lot of cultural stuff for you and beach resorts for him.
posted by castlebravo at 11:18 AM on February 19, 2010

So, you're kind of worried that you'd be asking him to spend a ton of money doing something he's not that into.

One option is to try to plan your trip with his preferences in mind. I spent 15 days in Egypt with a group, and the tour schedule was laid out to alternate busy and relaxing pretty well: about the time we got irritated with temples, we were relaxing on a boat for a day and a half; then another couple days of doing things, and 2 days on the beach; then another couple days of doing things, and a free day before we went home.
Another option is to plan a long trip for you and a short trip for him - basically you schedule your go-go-go time with a long relax-until-you're-bored break in the middle that you spend together, and tack on as much touring as he can handle after you're done at the beach.
Another thing I've found is that, as a non-beach person, going as a couple is pretty boring, but going with a group of people can be a lot of fun. Somebody's bound to be doing something interesting. If you like the idea of hostels and hiking, you'll likely meet people in your destination of choice, some of whom want to do your kind of thing, and some his, so you can split up for parts of the days without either of you being abandoned.

Or, was your worry that if you both fly across the world, and you go see things and do stuff, but all he sees is sand, that he's not getting the "full value" of the trip? In that case you have to relax and go with the idea that he's getting everything he wants. New beaches are great. New scenery is great. New food is great. Even without leaving hte beach, he gets a slice of culture, food, and language, and gets a real cultural impact out of the trip. If he does not place personal value on experiences like hiking up Mt. Sinai, then the value of his trip is the same whether he does that or not. You do not place personal value in coming home with a good tan, so the value of your trip is the same whether you've done that or not.
posted by aimedwander at 11:37 AM on February 19, 2010

Regarding Barcelona, I found the "Tourists go home, you're destroying our city" posters a bit unwelcoming.
posted by dhoe at 11:54 AM on February 19, 2010

I'm gonna second the cruise idea. There are a lot of them that go to really interesting locations and that can be a nice balance.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:19 PM on February 19, 2010

Regarding Barcelona, I found the "Tourists go home, you're destroying our city" posters a bit unwelcoming.
posted by dhoe

We didn't see anything like this last October. Nor did we interact with anyone who was anything but gracious and friendly (nor were did they seem annoyed that we only spoke English and some Spanish, no Catalan, more amused than annoyed). Also the Spanish economy is quite bad right now, so in general I'm sure they would welcome tourist money.
posted by haveanicesummer at 1:00 PM on February 19, 2010

Best answer: Mrs aqsakal turns into a lizard in summer, goes to the beach and falls asleep and barely moves for 8 hours. I get totally bored by two square metres of sand in about three and a half minutes, plus I burn badly. We've worked it out by using a motorbike (our own when near home, renting if overseas): I drop her off at a nice, secluded beach, agree on the pickup time, and go off exploring, come back at the agreed time and take her home for shower and dinner. We are both perfectly satisfied with the result, and as a bonus I often discover some place nearby that would interest her, so that on a day she'd like to do something different, or the weather isn't too promising, she gets to see my Best Of hits, already filtered and selected for her delight.
posted by aqsakal at 2:20 AM on February 20, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you for your answers! As for cruises, I'm pretty neither me nor my boyfriend can stomach a cruise after reading DFW's essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" [PDF]. But I really like the idea of going off on our own when we vacation in countries with beaches and marketplaces, alley food, museums, etc. Thanks, everyone!
posted by zoomorphic at 7:12 PM on February 20, 2010

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