Essays · Strangers

On Vacation

This week’s travel series was inspired because (in the U.S. at least) we are heading into summer. Late May through early September is the time when temperatures heat up, kids are out of school, and people start taking more trips. Whether its a weekend at a nearby beach, or the dream vacation you’ve been planning for months (or years), there are things you can do that will make it better, and things that could make it worse, both for you and for the millions of people traveling with you.

Now normally I’d start with traveling with kids, but I covered most of this on Monday. Quick refresher: travel is hard, kids are kids, we all are in this together, so everyone needs to just calm the fuck down and be more understanding. Cool? Cool.

In fact, that’s a general theme with travel. It can be fun, but it can also be stressful, and losing your shit over things you cannot control is not going to help with that, at least not in the long term. And if you lose your shit enough, your family is not going to want to be around you. You don’t want to be the one who ruined vacation, do you? Of course not. You want to relax, have new experiences, and share time with your family and friends.

Tip 1: Learn about where you’re going
Whether you’re going a few towns or a few continents over, do a bit of research. While this is especially important when you’re visiting cultures that you aren’t familiar with, it’s also relevant for the nearby weekend trip. Is no vacation complete for you without one fast food breakfast? Some small towns don’t allow chain restaurants, so prepare yourself before your whole weekend is ruined. Do you really like to finish off the evening with a beer in your hotel room? The grocery stores might not sell after a certain hour. Basically, for the nearby weekend jaunt, think about the things you’ll need (or want), and figure out if where you are going has it.

If you’re traveling to a new state or country, read up on it. Check out the ‘basics’ chapter — its usually the first or the last — in those guidebooks that people may not buy anymore thanks to the internet. When are banks open? Does everything shut down for two hours at lunchtime? Are museums all closed on Mondays? Are there parts of their culture that you might be totally oblivious to but that are critical to the people who live where you’re going? Learn about it. You don’t need to be an expert, but you shouldn’t show up knowing nothing. That’s a jerk move.

And if you don’t already speak the language, learn some phrases that you might need. Ones related to transportation, hospitality, health, food, and basic human interactions are handy. And get a phrase book (or app) so that you can look things up. Google has a really cool one that uses your phone’s camera and translates in the moment.

Tip 2: Don’t Act Like Everyone Exists to Meet All of Your Needs
Yes, you traveled all the way from San Francisco to see the Sistine Chapel. But if you didn’t do what is necessary to get tickets for a tour, that’s your fault. Don’t try to convince people to change the rules for you just because you’re on vacation. Lots of people are on vacation, and they all managed to figure it out.

This especially applies to people you encounter who work in the service industry. These folks are just doing their jobs and trying to earn a living; don’t take up all of their time telling your stories, don’t ask them to do things outside of their job descriptions, and do tip them when appropriate.

If you’re genuinely confused or haven’t navigated whatever system is being used, that’s okay! Ask someone, like the person who owns the apartment you are renting, or the concierge at the hotel. You don’t have to know everything, but don’t act like everyone you encounter owes you special treatment because you’re on vacation.

Tip 3: Try New Things
If you’re in a new place, don’t just do everything the same way you always do. If there is a cuisine that the place you’re visiting is known for, try it. If there’s a specific type of art the region specializes in, check it out. Yes, there are resort vacations that involve being a lump (in a good way); I’m talking about the ones that involve exploring somewhere new.

Yes, it can be uncomfortable, but this isn’t what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life. If you taste the local delicacy and it is not your thing, okay. You won’t order it next time. But who knows – you might love it. It might end up being the thing you tell everyone about when you come back.

Tip 4: Remember That This Is Home To Someone
Keep in mind that wherever you are going is home to someone else. If you don’t like the architecture? Don’t loudly proclaim it ugly. If you don’t like the national dish, don’t spit it out. Don’t gawk at people living in poverty; they aren’t there for your amusement or pity. Be respectful of the places you visit, and follow the local rules and customs. Depending on where you are going, you might stand out, but do your best to blend in.

Also recognize that while (in my experience, at least) people are generally willing to help, not everyone who you pass by will have the time to answer your questions if you get lost. Someone isn’t an asshole or rude if they aren’t able to stop and help you navigate the subway system; they may just have to get to work.

Tip 5: Learn The Language
If your first language is English and you are traveling to a nation where English isn’t the primary language, the responsibility is on you. Have you ever seen the Amazing Race? The level of jerk behavior that comes out when contestants get in a taxi is astonishing. Quick tip: ‘rapido’ is not a universal word. If there is a communication barrier, be kind, see if you can sort it out using technology, and if not, thank them (you learned how to say thank you, right?) and figure out another way of accomplishing your goal. Don’t yell in English, don’t be rude.

Tip 6: Have Fun
I know, I know. But hear me out. I know that I can get caught up in the stress of flights or drives and unknown locations that I can miss the fact that I’m lucky enough to even get to go on a vacation. Yes, there will be challenges, and there can be serious things that put a big damper on your vacation. But try to keep it all in perspective. Take pictures but also enjoy the moments. Write down experiences or places that stand out so you don’t forget them when you get home. Think of the tough moments as the great stories they will eventually be. You’re lucky to get to experience time away; enjoy it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *