Summer Vacationing: No Walk in the Park

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Why does it seem that going on vacation can leave us more exhausted than when we left? And what hope do we have for a truly refreshing getaway?

Leaving Financial Habits at Home

Most of us save up for our vacations. Our everyday life contains a seemingly endless series of tradeoffs where we seek to maximize income, minimize expenses, and cobble together enough funds to take a few days off with the family. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with being frugal and careful with our money. Like any skill, it can become a habit and maybe even a compulsion. Fans of the “Extreme Couponing” TV show know the look on the eyes of shoppers as they roll giant baskets of goods past the cash register, paying little to nothing. In big ways and small, we all enjoy getting what we consider a “good deal.”

But the financial habits of everyday life can scuttle any pretentions of rest and relaxation. Travel is expensive. Things at home always cost less, and we know where to get them for the best prices. Outside of our geographic comfort zones, we’re cast adrift in resort towns, which, in a scramble to make enough money to get them through the off-season, charge whatever the market will bear. Fine dining is a great complement to travel but if you’re comparing your bill on the road to what they charge back home, it can leave a bitter taste in your mouth that no chef can improve. And when it comes to hotels, I’ve found “value oriented” lodgings frequently not worth the savings over higher-end establishments.

As long as frugality remains a must, enjoyment becomes a nice-to-have. It takes me, and I assume a lot of other people, a force of will to put down the workaday habits of holding on tight to every penny. There are also some travel options that can help. Most cruises and some resorts are billed as “all inclusive,” meaning you pay for lodging and food at a fixed price, all up front. With the bill safely out of the way, there’s less need to obsess about the tab. Another option for outdoorsy types is camping. By bringing your tent or travel-trailer and your food, you can really save as long as “roughing it” is something you can count as fun.

Herding Cats

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One thing that traveling with family has taught me is that the more people traveling together, the tougher it is to relax. I naïvely assumed that, given modern mobile technology, navigation and coordination would be a breeze. But this assumption breaks down for two reasons. The first reason is technical. In simplest terms: technology disappoints. On the road, phones run out of charge, network coverage is often spotty where you stay, and hotels ration Wi-Fi to extract more money from guests.

The second reason is entirely human. Traveling companions fail to answer calls, don’t read or misconstrue texts, and get lost in spite of GPS. People also rarely have exactly the same taste in food, hotels, or attractions, so negotiating each of these options grows in complexity with each additional traveler in the group. Spontaneity can be nice in small groups, but becomes much harder to broker past the first carload. With bigger herds, pre-negotiation and sticking to your guns can simplify the vacation equation.

I Thought I Would Like It

Miswanting — failing to predict what we will enjoy — can also play havoc with vacation planning. Vacations can be a good place to try new things, yet the emphasis needs to be on “try.” Tour guides are in the business of making everything look appealing. Self-knowledge and imagination are the best defenses against finding out that you’re not having nearly as much fun as the folks in the glossy photos.

The sheer magnitude of events needs attention as well. Some people continuously crave excitement and new experiences, while others want only to sit under an umbrella and watch the scenery. The rest of us fall somewhere in-between. I’ve found it all-too-easy to over-schedule a trip and feel more exhausted than when at home. On the other hand, there are penalties for under-scheduling, especially at the peak of the season when advanced reservations become mandatory. Yet it’s far easier to pick up a few extra activities or side-trips if the pace seems to slow, than to throw on the breaks when everyone has been looking forward to a packed slate of scheduled events.

The final gotcha of miswanting comes as a result of age and maturity. When I was younger, I couldn’t get enough of the beach. I liked to swim in the waves and walk on the sand for miles. This year I found I’m only lukewarm on the beach experience, and I didn’t expect that. Maybe if I had known, I would have proposed something different.

Most travel guides will tell you how to go somewhere, where to stay, and what to see while you’re there. But I’ve learned that to truly relax and enjoy a trip requires a separate set of skills: financial, managerial and psychological, in order to make a mere trip into a time for rejuvenation and a series of beloved memories.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Pat Orner Oliver on .

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