Ah, vacation. A break from routine, a chance to see something new, and create wonderful new memories. Vacation is something we should all do on a regular basis, least of all because there are very few jobs that don’t allocate some type of vacation time. How sad is it that so many Americans accumulate large amount of unused vacation time that either never get used, are rolled over from year to year, or are paid out at the end of the year?
Whatever the reason why Americans are not using their PTO (paid time off) as they should, it isn’t beneficial. Studies show that we work better with a break in routine – we are more energized and warm, fun memories generate more enjoyment than buying more stuff, and spending enjoyable time together creates more bonds between friends and families. In short, going on vacation is something that we should be doing more often.
The trick is how to have the best vacation ever. There is nothing worse than an overpriced vacation combined with draggy, whiny children, the breakup of old friendships, and wet and cold shoes to convince you to never move past a 10-mile radius of your house.
Firstly, decide whom you would like to go with. You can choose to go by yourself, with all those wonderful benefits of not having to juggle other people’s schedules and desires, or with one good friend who has similar desires and hobbies (nothing ruins a friendship faster than taking a trip with a group of people who have conflicting desires) or a spouse, with or without children. Secondly, keep a list of flexible dates handy on your phone, or on a calendar near your computer. Then, when crazy deals pop up, you can grab them without needing a conversation first about when you are able to take off work, conflicting schedules, holidays, etc.
Childcare: If you have children and decided to leave them behind, line up quality childcare. This is not the place to scrimp. There is nothing that will ruin your vacation more than the burning guilt you feel when your children are on the phone 24/7 begging you to come home. I recommend finding a good babysitter that your children are already familiar with and who can come to your home. This way, your children are in their comfortable settings and have everything they need. I prefer to give my children a present just as I’m leaving, to help create the idea that they are also having an experience (with a babysitter, all sorts of adventures can arise), and then bring home a small souvenir.
Itinerary: If your children will be coming with you, spend some time creating an itinerary that is child-friendly – short activities that can be reasonably walked by someone with short legs. Instead of creating a day-by-day itinerary, I like to create a list with links of many different options that look interesting. Then, I ask locals what they would recommend. Very often, major destinations are considered tourist traps for very good reasons: long lines, overly priced, and not much of an experience. Locals will know of free museums, festivals, parades and flea markets that might not be on a typical tourist website. You also get the experience of the genuine culture of the city when you act like a local.
Stroller: I always recommend bringing as many strollers as possible, even for children as old as six. When a child is jet-lagged and tired, it might look weird for him or her to be sitting in a stroller, but who cares? You will (probably) never see these people again and your child won’t be dragging his feet and crying that he is tired. If you are comfortable using a Bjorn or baby sling, it’s a great way to keep smaller babies calm in strange settings.