When traveling in Europe over major holidays, you may find the restaurants closed for dinner. Most hotels, even smaller pension-style places, will take pity on you, however, and let you use their kitchen or help you heat up food.
On a recent trip in Annecy, France, we bought delicious pre-made dishes from a gourmet traiteur (deli) and the hotel manager happily heated them for us. We set out a nice table in the hotel bar, shared a glass of champagne with another traveling couple, and the hotel staff brought us slices of Christmas cake for dessert: a wonderful Christmas dinner!
For many Americans, the reality of vacation days is grim. Except for those meager 14 days we hoard each year, we’re confined to an office, tied by a phone cord or stuck at home mowing the lawn. With the drudgery of daily living before us, we sometimes forget travel isn’t always about going places: it’s also about how we perceive the world.
When we travel, something imperceptible occurs in our brains. Our senses are more acute. We are more open to new experiences. We crave adventure. If we use these same traits during the other 351 days of the year, it can have a profound impact on our mood, our energy and our happiness. With that in mind, Gadling has compiled 10 simple tips to help you take a vacation from everyday life:
- Use your senses – Ever noticed the tiny sculptures on the facade of the post office? Or really smelled the vegetables at the farmer’s market? We notice the sounds and sights and smells of traveling because we want to “take it all in” – but vacation does not have a monopoly on rich sensory experience; take a few moments as you go about your daily routine to stop and notice life around you.
- Walk – Walking goes hand-in-hand with your senses. You notice more when you’re not behind the wheel of a car. Walking slows you down, allowing you the leisure to notice the tiny details you might miss when you whip past in a moving vehicle. You’ll even get some easy exercise.
- Bring culture to you – experiencing a foreign culture doesn’t require a plane ticket. You can interact with faraway lands and strange languages down the block. Host a foreign exchange student. Learn a language. Watch an international sporting event that starts at 3am. Eat a delicacy you’ve never tried before.
- Be a local tourist – there’s a monument or landmark near your hometown you’ve never visited. It’s so close by and filled with tourists, that we pay it no heed and plan to visit later. Go check out that place. You might find you enjoy it, or even learn something new about where you live.
- Take a detour – admit it, you take the same route both to and from work. Don’t sweat it – humans are habitual by nature. But next time, take a different side street. Instead of driving to work, take your bike. Fly there by helicopter if you have one – you’ll notice landmarks, buildings and new scenery you’ve never seen before.
- Be a reporter – the writers at Gadling may have the luxury of a travel blog at our disposal, but we don’t have a monopoly on self-publishing. Capture what goes on around you as if it was a trip – write down your thoughts on a blog, take some digital photos or make your own movie.
- Take a risk – there’s something about the brevity of trips that forces us out of our comfort zone. Perhaps it’s because we have no time to waste – decisions we agonize over back home are made in an instant. Don’t be afraid to do the same thing when you’re not on the road, whether it’s at your job or a new flavor of ice cream.
- Improvise – you remember how you missed that train in Italy and ended up staying up all night with new friends at the bar? Somehow everything works out, even if it’s not how you expected it. Travel teaches us to adapt to changing circumstances. That goes for life at home too – even if you didn’t get that promotion at work or your weekend plans fall apart, the unexpected can be a positive if you choose to embrace it.
- Adopt a new persona – it’s easy to fall into familiar traps around family and friends because they expect you’ll act a certain way. That disappears when we’re far from home, where we’re free to try on new personas and act in unexpected ways. Nobody knows you, so what’s the difference? Don’t be afraid to be more self-confident at home as well. The expectations of who we should be and what we do are largely self-created. Don’t be bound by expectations!
- Be amazed – we stare in awe at the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall because they are truly amazing sights. But all around us lie amazing stories, interesting locals and technology that would have boggled our ancestors. Go seek them out. Admire them. Just watch this video if you need convincing.
For us, staying with friends and relatives is part of our trips. Not all the time, but often. Part of going from here to there that interests is to stop in for a visit with people we’ve become friends with over the years. Not only do we get a chance to catch up, but we get the insiders view of where they live. They know the fun places to go that don’t show up in guidebooks and we get to see things through their viewpoint. Since they don’t run for cover when they see us coming, I suppose they enjoy our visits.
Here are some rules I read in an article culled from a variety of sources that give some hints on what to do to be a guest that your hosts will be happy to see again. Several are mentioned in this tip sheet from AdvancedEtiquette.com
- Three days is generally the maximum time for a visit (There are exceptions. Clarify beforehand)
- Pick up after yourself and take the bedding off before you leave
- Gifts are swell. Bring one. It doesn’t need to be expensive. (I bring gifts for kids in the family also.)
- Write a thank-you note (I read once you can write it and leave it on the pillow or dresser)
- If you break it, offer to pay for it.
- Don’t make their refrigerator yours. Ask first before nibbling away.
Here are some more tips to make the visit run smoothly.
A month ago, when gaddling blogger Dave Luna mentioned he was going to Disney World, he received some terrific advice. Now that Spring Break season is here, I’m adding tips from a friend of mine who lives in Orlando. Last Christmas Day when I headed to the Magic Kingdom with my two children (a 14 year-old and a 5 year-old) and my father to see what we could in 10 hours, we tried his recommendations. They seemed to work.
Tip #1. Go Left. When there are two lines, go left. He said most people go right. Our longest wait? 35 minutes for Space Mountain.
Tip # 2. Start at the back of the park and work your way to the entrance. Most people start at the entrance and work towards the back. Space Mountain was our last ride. It’s at the front. My dad and son actually went on next door’s Buzz Light Year again while my daughter and I were on Space Mountain. That line was 20 minutes.
Other tips: Rent a stroller before the entrance gate to avoid a long line once inside. Just show your receipt at the strollers and you’re off. If it’s going to rain, buy rain ponchos early. You might be wearing one for five hours. We did and they lasted. If it’s raining lightly, go on Aladdin’s Carpet ride. The line will be non-existent and since you’ll be wearing your poncho, you’ll stay dry.
Also, get FAST PASS tickets to cut down wait times. These passes are free and reserve ride times. Each ride has a FAST PASS dispenser at the ride’s entrance. We did this for Splash Mountain and it worked great. We sped to the front when it was our turn. Plan a strategy though. We never made it on the Peter Pan ride. By the end of the day, the line was 80 minutes (it’s at the back of the park) and the FAST Pass ticket when we thought about getting one was for three hours later. We were in our car by then.
Last tips: Be prepared to say “NO.” Every themed ride ends in a gift shop. Our meltdown came at Pirates of the Caribbean. Also, don’t let anyone talk you into leaving before the fireworks. They are spectacular, even if they fill the park with smoke. For more tips courtesy of the Magic Kingdom, click Read.