How do I get through a terrible vacation without a meltdown?
August 18, 2008 7:33 AM   Subscribe

How do I de-stress during and after an awful, expensive vacation? I am in the midst of a disappointing, stressful vacation and will be returning in a couple of days to my stressful, low-paying job. The breaking point is near. Help it to not happen.

I originally went on this vacation with the anticipation of having an excellent time visiting good friends I haven't seen in a while. I was also looking forward to a much-needed break from my job.

But as the departure date grew closer, I began to have second thoughts. It became apparent during the planning process we'd mostly be doing activities I find uninteresting at best, stressful at worst, and attempts to suggest other activities were ignored. It looked like the vacation was going to be a good deal more expensive than I could afford, and I felt the friends I'd be visiting have changed in a such a way that we'd no longer connect as we once did.

But my travel partners (including my significant other) encouraged me to not bail out and promised it would be great, and so I came along anyway. My gut instinct has unfortunately been pretty much right on track. I don't even want to call what I'm on right now a vacation, because "vacation" implies a degree of relaxation I'm not even close to experiencing right now. I'm stressed from doing lots of activities that I hate and are way, way too expensive for my budget. It feels like I'm experiencing all of the stress of my day-to-day life, only without the opportunity to engage in the hobbies that relax me, and with the extra kick of losing money instead of earning it (I have an hourly job). I skirt the poverty line, so the money issue is a big one.

It does not help that this would have been my first real, no-strings-attached vacation in many, many years, and due to money, job, and school issues there won't be another one for a relatively long time.

I can't simply bail on the expensive, awful activities, as everyone else really wants to do them and me sitting at the hotel or going off on my own would lead to bad feelings all around. When I have made the suggestion of doing something like that the reaction has been bad enough that I worry there would be some tremendous melt-downs if I actually went through with it.

And yet I'm having trouble hiding the fact that I'm upset at myself for not initially standing my ground and not going and upset at my friends and significant other for badgering and guilt-tripping me into coming here. The vacation is not over yet. I need a way to get through the rest of it, and then get back into the super-stressful job and devastated finances without completely exploding from disappointment and rage. How can I make the best of this?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, I have been there before. Twice, in fact. Heck, very close to ALMOST three times. And, no, I have no advice, unless somehow you think you can manage to return early. That usually solves it for me.
posted by The Giant Squid at 7:42 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, without any specifics it's difficult to advise you specifically. You say your significant other is on the trip with you -- can you muster any good feeling based on his/her enjoyment of the trip, or your old friends' enjoyment of the trip (being glad about the pleasure they're getting, sympathizing with them if you can)? Is there really no aspect of any of the activities you can find something interesting about?

Can you divert yourself with something personal to do relating to the shared activities, like taking photographs (i.e., losing yourself in the details) or writing in a journal?
posted by aught at 7:44 AM on August 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

I can't simply bail on the expensive, awful activities, as everyone else really wants to do them and me sitting at the hotel or going off on my own would lead to bad feelings all around.

Yes, you can. "I'm sorry, I really can't afford to go" is a perfectly reasonable thing to say amongst adults. If they have a meltdown because of it, that really is their problem; just say "I'm sorry, I really can't make my budget stretch. You guys go and tell me all about it when you're back!"
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:45 AM on August 18, 2008 [21 favorites]

Dude, fake an illness. It works every time. "Ugggh. I'm too sick to {insert expensive stressful activity here}. It must have been something I ate. Oh god! You all go on ahead, I am just going to go back to sleep and maybe I will feel better when I wake up." Wait till they leave and then go sit by the hotel pool and read. Faked illnesses are so key to interpersonal relations that they should teach that shit in schools.
posted by ND¢ at 7:47 AM on August 18, 2008 [26 favorites]

"I can't afford to do that, I'll just go for a walk instead." Get some quality time with yourself. Make it clear that it's not that you don't like their company, it's just finances, and you don't want to get back in debt. Make sure you hook up with them again in the evening and ask them all about it.

If they're going to go into a meltdown about that, well, fuck 'em.
posted by handee at 7:49 AM on August 18, 2008

Cut the remaining activities in half--carefully choose the few that will make you feel the least terrible and firmly tell everyone that man oh man, you wish you could do more, but your financial situation won't allow you to (this WILL work, but you must be firm. No true friends or SO will force you to go over-budget if you are clear that you ARE over-budget--don't make this into a joke to avoid embarrassment, as for it to work you need to be very clear). To get the most out of the rest of your trip and your cash, do things like buy cheap and healthy snacks to nibble on from grocery stores, and then keep your restaurant food-buying to a minimum (get a salad when everyone else is buying full dinners--and then snack like mad back at the hotel).
posted by eralclare at 7:51 AM on August 18, 2008

Bail out. Tell your SO calmly and succinctly that you're having a rotten time and you're leaving. He's free to enjoy the rest of his vacation but you're going home now. No drama, just a statement of fact. Eat the fee to change your ticket and chalk it up to experience. (At least you won't be buying expensive restaurant meals at home.)

You may lose your "friends" over this but it sounds like they're pretty lousy friends if they're pressuring you to do stuff you hate and can't afford, with threats of meltdowns if you don't comply. Stand up for yourself, get on the next flight out, and unwind in the comfort of your own home.

Let me emphasize again: no drama. State your intentions and follow through without getting caught in a shouting match, tears, or other manipulation. Calm determination is emotional Teflon - nobody can get any purchase on you, you just slide right through difficult situations without getting stuck.
posted by Quietgal at 8:00 AM on August 18, 2008 [4 favorites]

Wow, I'm sorry. I'm surprised your friends would put you in this position, and am even more surprised that your SO isn't more supportive. I'm not generally a fan of dishonesty, but would pleading illness (something like a migraine or back problem) get you some much needed alone time without causing more drama? Also, I would imagine your SO knows your financial situation, so if s/he insists on you doing things out of your budget, I think it's only fair that s/he helps defray the cost, if not cover it entirely. That might help with the financial stress.
posted by katemcd at 8:00 AM on August 18, 2008

I also think you should fake not feeling well. Then you can just lounge around and relax, without people feeling like you aren't their friend because you don't want to do the stupid shit they fell like doing.
posted by chunking express at 8:12 AM on August 18, 2008

I can't simply bail on the expensive, awful activities, as everyone else really wants to do them and me sitting at the hotel or going off on my own would lead to bad feelings all around.

That's not true. Or rather, why are the "bad feelings all around" so much more important than you having a bad time?

You sitting at the hotel and moping will of course cause everyone to feel bad for you and about you. But maybe I'm just an insensitive jerk, but I've never had a problem saying "ok guys, you go and have fun at the casino; I'm going to take a walk and visit the botanical gardens — if anyone wants to join me, I'll be leaving right after breakfast." Not everyone has to like everything, and not everything has to be done in lockstep with a big group.

But if you say this in a really whiny way, or have a big pity party over how you were forced to sit in your hotel room while everyone else had big fun, then of course there will be plenty of bad feelings generated. Don't be that person.

I don't know where you are, but I've never been anywhere that doesn't have a bunch of cool things that can be done for cheap. Archeological sites, or old buildings, or cultural exhibitions in the central plaza, or make yourself a walking tour of dive bars that you find listed on the internet. Meet up with everyone else for dinner, and go along on the more fun activities, like eralclare suggests, and have such a fabulous time going your own way that you glow with happiness.

But it takes being willing to stand up for yourself and being minimally assertive; if you aren't willing to do even that, you aren't leaving yourself much option beyond just going along and bringing everyone down with your bad humor.
posted by Forktine at 8:14 AM on August 18, 2008 [8 favorites]

If they're close friends, I'd just lay out the money situation: "Look guys, after setting aside the money for gas home, I have exactly $42 left to spend, seriously," then you can explore the options together -- you stay home, they pay for you, you all do something cheaper, etc.
posted by salvia at 8:15 AM on August 18, 2008

Also, the people suggesting to fake a mild illness (headache or "I think I ate something that isn't agreeing with me" or "I got too much sun yesterday") are spot-on. That's always been the socially-decorous way to get out of doing something with a group. You plead a headache, everyone else goes off to the beach, and you are free to have an affair with the sexy foreigner do your own thing.
posted by Forktine at 8:18 AM on August 18, 2008

If youre doing more than two activities a day then its not a vacation. Its work. Tell them you want to cut down.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:19 AM on August 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Without whining, just say "Well, today I'm going to do X instead. When and where should we meet for supper? I'm over budget, so let's try somewhere not too expensive." Then just go. What kind of SO or friend insists you do things you don't enjoy and can't afford? If they suggest somewhere you cannot afford, say you can't afford it, so you'll meet them there for dessert. Don't sound upset about this -- it's fabulous to wander around on your own.

If you want your SO to come on a few of the excursions with you, ask them specifically. Otherwise, let everyone else go do what they enjoy. (If they do come with you -- some people insist on doing everything in a vacation together -- and complain, tell them you're sorry they're not having fun, but you are, how about you meet up later and compare your days?)

You also might want a frank discussion with your SO about this. The friends seem like it might not be worth the effort.
posted by jeather at 8:21 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Faking an illness definitely works if your friends can't deal with you simply preferring some alone time at the hotel.

Another coping mechanism, if you are so inclined, might be to start composing the hilarious tale of the Worst Vacation Ever that you can tell for the rest of your life. Embellishments and creative license are encouraged - make a mental list of everything that sucks about this trip, and come up with some cringingly good anecdotes you can tell at parties, or one long tale of woe - but told with humor rather than self-pity. If you have a journal or blog, write it there, if not, practice your delivery. [NOTE: Do not tell story to the same friends pressuring you to "enjoy" this crappy vacation.]
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 8:27 AM on August 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

>> I can't simply bail on the expensive, awful activities, as everyone else really wants to do them and me sitting at the hotel or going off on my own would lead to bad feelings all around.

I feel for you, but you must bail! I had to do this. Pick one or two activities (even if it's just dinner) for which you will join them each day. Otherwise, disappear. You need a vacation, be it chilling in your hotel room or whatever. But, take the time *you* need.
posted by zeek321 at 8:27 AM on August 18, 2008

If you take the fake illness route, be sure to inquire on the group's activities when they return. If they ask about your day simply say you've been resting and are feeling a bit better. Then ask about a detail of their day and express happiness that your illness didn't stop them from enjoying their day.
posted by onhazier at 8:31 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh no! Ifeel your pain. It's rubbish. I don't agree with the fibbing over illness. Just say you need some time out and then take it - it's yours! Vacations are supposed to take you away from obligation and this sounds like its becoming more like work than work. You paid to come all this way, you've already hung out with people, it's ok to take time off. Tell your SO you need a break from the gang, then hop off for a couple of days to yourselves (or on your own if need be) with literally no place to be at any given time.

If drama ensues, don't get dragge in and just leave them to it.

And - there will be time when you get back *if you make it happen*. Maybe this is where you can get some practice in asserting your needs.
posted by freya_lamb at 8:51 AM on August 18, 2008

I am going to accept your statement that you can't bail; it may also be the case that even if you did, the money would be gone.

Given that, pretend -- rigidly, totally -- that your friends are treating you to these activities. It is extremely generous of them; you have such good friends! Convince yourself of this. It can be done.

This will best simulate the sunk cost/commitment aspects of your situation, improve the prospects that you will enjoy yourself a little, and make you nicer to be around.

Just don't get carried away and offer to spring for dinner.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:09 AM on August 18, 2008

But as the departure date grew closer, I began to have second thoughts.

It sounds like you gave up on it before it started (although good reason). There's nothing worse than being on vacation with someone miserable. Bail now - I pretty sure everyone, most importantly you, will be happier for it.
posted by letitrain at 9:21 AM on August 18, 2008

I absolutely agree that if you don't want to be part of a meltdown, fake an illness. You have a headache. You think you might throw up. Everyone should just go on ahead and you'll join once you're feeling better. Then, do whatever you want to do.

If they feel bad because you're not there, that doesn't obligate you to make yourself broke and miserable. It's their issue. They are adults. They are responsible for their own lives and feelings. They made choices that resulted in this situation. You did not hold them at gunpoint and force them to plan expensive, annoying activities. Leave them to lie in the bed they made. It is not your job to do anything and everything possible to ensure their comfort. Just accept that they might be unhappy and take care of yourself.
posted by prefpara at 10:00 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have been there and I am sorry. A bad/spendy vacation is not that great and feeling like you are not having a good time AND pissing away money/time is also not that great. Here is what I would do, in your situation, I know you are not me, but maybe this is helpful.

1. What everyone says, choose a few events to go to and indicate that you can't afford the others and that you will be doing something nice [NOT sulking] that is cheaper instead. Feel free to be like "oh hey I miscalculated, but the fact that this is costing more than I anticipated is making this stressful and not fun for me, I'll catch up with you guys for dinner and you can tell me all about it! No one likes a wet blanket, but if you are handling your own issues/problems that is a mark in your favor. You don't have to fake an illness, but it's totally okay to be like "I am needing a little alone time, the stress is affecting my sleep and ability to have a good time..."

2. Have a serious talk with your SO about strategy. If they think you are just being a spoilsport about it or "hey you SAID..." I'd try to have a realistic discussion about "okay I'll plan better next time but what can we do about this NOW?" Maybe your SO can chip in for something that is more spendy so you don't feel so pinched? Maybe they can help you beg off from one big ticket event? Part of the reason people partner up is to make bad situaitons like this better, not worse, give them an opportunity to help you.

3. Don't blame people. At some level you chose this thinking it would be a good idea. It turned out not to be. We all make mistakes and this one is a little costly and unfun for you. That said, it will not kill you and you never need to do this again. So, let people off the hook [your friends who are pressuring you and spending too much money, in your eyes, your SO who is not being particularly supportive or nurturing as you are unhappy, yourself who got you into this mess in the first place]. Your life will be long and this will recede into the distance, but if you spent the whole time HATING it, the emotional imprint will be stronger and more damaging in the long run. Try to salvage your sanity [even if it's by faking sickness and going to read a book] and remind yourself that you chose this. I sometimes spend entire conferences thinking "I CHOSE this, I CHOSE this...." over and over, but I prefer that to people being like "what the fuck is your problem?" at me. Also if you are the sort of people that can laugh at a trainwreck vacation, see if you can see it through that lens.

4. other people's meltdowns are, at some level, their problem. You feel stuck between sucking it up yourself because you don't want other people to have a bad time and "making" them have a bad time. My guess is they KNOW you're having a bad time and that doesn't really raise the tone any. Coming clean about this "hey I'm not really able to destress without some time doing hobby-of-choice, I'm going to take the afternoon to do that and come back this evening ready to go!" is a way of handling your own problem and not really making it into someone else's. If maybe your SO isn't friends with the other friends, the two of you can decide to take an afternoon.

5. Split money from the other stuff, mentally. A lot of times people say "oy it's the money!" when its' really something else. I don't mean to downplay financial concerns, but make sure you're not putting the cost issues as a stand-in for your general lack of control feeling [i.e. if someone offered to PAY your way to alligator wrestling, that wouldn't really make you want to go, would it? maybe it would, in that case it's really a money issue but I don't think that is what is happening here]. I think you are stressed about the event and telling yourself "I TOLD me so..." and it's easy to have money be a stand in for other things. For your own reasons, try to split out what is a problem money can solve from what isn't.

In any case, best of luck. Feel free to send me or any of us a postcard from the WORST VACATION EVAR and maybe just getting some perspective on it will make the next few days not so horirble.
posted by jessamyn at 10:18 AM on August 18, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'm all for the playing sick route to get out of doing things you don't want to.

Once you get home put on gentle music, fill the tub up with hot soapy water and maybe light some candles. If you don't have a bathtub, fill up the biggest pot you have with hot soapy water and soak your feet while watching a good movie.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 10:25 AM on August 18, 2008

Sorry to hear your vacation is turning into a nightmare.

Could you and your SO take a vacation from your vacation for a few days? From the way your post is written, it seems like you've got quite a long time away from home. If you were in Rome right now, for example, perhaps there's a logistical way for your friends to go one way (Florence) and you and the SO to go another (Bologna) and meet up at the end of the trip (Milan)? If your SO says it wouldn't be fair, why not suggest it to everyone?

And if you can't afford to leave and get another hotel, could you engineer a few days when everyone can do whatever they want, and then meets up for dinner or drinks in the evening and shares photos?

I think there's a way to gracefully suggest this and dodge the oncoming conflict; while I don't know your friends, I would like to imagine that there's at least one other person in the group who isn't a total jerk and will vocally support you - or even come along with you and the SO! - if you said something that isn't even about your opinions about them and needing a break, but just "pops into your head": "You know, ever since Mr X's art history/auto shop/whatever class in ninth grade, I've always wanted to do (cheap fun thing in the town you're in right now: go on a gelato tasting quest? try to surreptitiously photograph elaborately coiffured old ladies?) - he did it in 19xx and said it was a total hoot. Anyone want to come with me?" If you don't have any takers - and remember, you didn't ask for permission so much as announce that you're going to do this (you are an adult and are allowed to do this, I remind you) - say something like, "No worries - what are you going to do today, and where should we meet up later?"

And when you get home, you and the SO should do as much as you can to mitigate the negative effects of this trip as you can by planning one that only the two of you will be going on. Save as much as you can, budget well, keep your goals modest and achievable, and enjoy the time away. A camping trip or weekend at the beach where you organize everything yourselves a few hours' drive away can be just as relaxing as a slickly-marketed three-week package tour of Brazil or something, since you control all aspects of the trip.
posted by mdonley at 10:28 AM on August 18, 2008

In 5 to 10 years you will probably not be talking to these people any more. Real friends don't force others to go way beyond their budget and have "meltdowns" if they refuse. But in 5 to 10 years you will still regret not taking advantage of the time to relax in [vacation destination], especially since you don't have the means to travel often. Your friends and SO are not responsible for making you happy - YOU are. YOU need to take proactive action to make that happen. By staying back at the hotel, you're not doing anything TO them. They are responsible for their own feelings.

So you didn't stand your ground before you left. Well, now you're here, today is a new day, and there's no need to punish anyone, including yourself, for your present situation. (The suggestions to "play sick" aren't very honest, but avoid the punishment of others.) All you can do is create a new situation. Stand tall, be assertive, and check yourself for any whinyness/poutiness before you open your mouth. If you find yourself wanting to whine and pout, you probably have a tendency to make others responsible for your feelings. Now is the time to be an adult and realize that it's your responsibility alone.
posted by desjardins at 11:00 AM on August 18, 2008 [5 favorites]

I agree with jessamyn, esp #3.

But, via desjardins:

In 5 to 10 years you will probably not be talking to these people any more. Real friends don't force others to go way beyond their budget and have "meltdowns" if they refuse.

This is well motivated but one sided. Probably the friends really believed you would like it; if I was with someone who seemed miserable, to the point that they were going to stick it out at the hotel, I'd be upset too -- albeit not have a meltdown.

I can't speculate as to whether you will know these people in the future, but you will probably know them a damn sight longer than anyone on this board.

And as to what good friends do, what "force"? I think the OP's situation sucks and it isn't all his/her fault, but I can hear someone saying that good friends don't agree to go on expeditions and then become killjoys.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 1:05 PM on August 18, 2008

Sorry. this sucks. Just nthing jeather and others - try just saying "I want some down time since I'm on vacation and will meet you guys later for dinner." If there is still too much fuss, I would probably just say I wasn't feeling that well. Sorry you're going through this. It really sucks when people think they have to do every last thing together.
posted by gt2 at 1:27 PM on August 18, 2008

while you keep mentioning "bad feelings all around" if you decline an activity, you don't mention anything about YOUR bad feelings. why aren't those just as important?
posted by micawber at 2:08 PM on August 18, 2008

nthing the people who are saying to bow out of the expensive activities. I've been in that situation before and the best thing I did was take some time by myself, go to a bookstore and get a book I was excited about, and just hang out and read my book. You are technically on vacation - do something that is fun for you (even if everyone else on earth would be appalled that you went all the way to Hawaii to read a science fiction novel indoors).
If that means spending the day getting high on caffeine and pay internet at a cafe, do it - it's probably cheaper than what your friends had planned anyway.And then they can come back and tell you about what they did and you stand a chance of enjoying it second-hand. You owe it to yourself and your traveling companions to try not to be miserable.
posted by smartyboots at 9:10 PM on August 18, 2008

Nthing telling them to just deal, and go do stuff without you. Fight for yourself. If they're not willing to accommodate what you need without throwing temper tantrums, they're not such good friends, anyway. Just my $0.02 .

Good luck in getting some actual R&R.
posted by Citrus at 7:06 AM on August 19, 2008

Another coping mechanism, if you are so inclined, might be to start composing the hilarious tale of the Worst Vacation Ever that you can tell for the rest of your life.

Excellent advice. Bill Bryson has made a career writing books about just these sorts of things.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:36 AM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

As I see it, the real problem isn't that your vacation is more expensive than you expected, or that the activities that your friends and SO want to do aren't interesting to you. The real problem is that you convinced yourself that you wouldn't enjoy this vacation, and now you are making that come true. You have a low-paying "really stressful" job waiting back at home. You have tight finances. All of these things are related - all of these things come from the expectations you make for yourself. You create tight finances and stressful situations in your life by expecting it.

You aren't going to enjoy this vacation until you DECIDE to enjoy it. You have to change your mindset before anything else will change. Change your expectations and the rest will change too. (Really.)

As pointed out above, you can easily get out of activities you don't want to do. There are quite a few different things you can do:

1) Be honest and frank: "I can't afford to do X."
2) Fake illness.
3) Pick a different activity and say "Tomorrow I'm going to do Y." and STICK to it no matter what others decide they want to do with their day.

BUT... None of these will make you HAPPY unless and until you decide you are going to enjoy the rest of your vacation. The transition has to happen in you first, before you can make it happen to your plans and environment.
posted by jcdill at 2:38 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your ¨friends¨ would have a tremendous melt down? If you are not dependent on them for transportation (and if you can spend your money on some other way to get home instead of these expensive activities, you are not dependent on them for transportation), go ahead and let them melt down. Let them get mad and stomp off and sulk, and be happy that you will never have to put up with these people again.

I take pains to get along with people I´m traveling with, even if I have to keep a lot of things to myself to keep the peace. Recently, I had an experience where someone else did have what I guess ¨tremendous melt down¨ is a good term for, and we ended up parting ways. It was terribly inconvenient for me and cost me a bit more to arrange transportation, but it was incredibly freeing and relaxing. If these are people you don´t wish to be friends with anymore, let them blow up and walk off in a snit, and be gone from your life.

You traveling with your SO complicates things. It sounds like your SO likes different things than you do, pushes you into spending money on them that you can´t afford, and isn´t very supportive of you. Presumably, there is something keeping you with this person other than that you need to share a hotel room with them until your flight back. If that is the only thing keeping you together, call the airline and see if you can change your flight. If not, I guess the only thing you can do is compromise.
posted by yohko at 9:11 PM on August 19, 2008

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