10 Secrets to a Great Vacation

When I was six years old, my parents and I moved to their favorite vacation spot on the Jersey Shore. Twenty-seven years later, I followed in their footsteps and moved to my favorite vacation spot – Rome. Four years later, I now live in the South of France among a group of people from around the world who followed this same urge.

My vacation advice is from the point of view of someone whose entire life could be loosely defined as a vacation. But, sometimes I forget that people did not grow up the way I did, and who do not live like I do now. So, with that in mind, I’d like to impart my know-it-all wisdom to those who live a lifetime in two weeks every year.

1. Stuff in other places doesn’t work like stuff does at home. Toll-free numbers don’t work. Your laptop plugs won’t work. Even with an electrical adapter, your hair dryer will knock out a city block. Air-conditioning is a luxury. Customer is not always king.

2. Not everyone speaks English. If you’re going to a foreign country, learn to say ten useful phrases and their possible answers. You can do it on the flight. Make a phonetic cheat sheet if you have to.

3. Act like everyone speaks English. While this seems contrary to what I just said, I don’t mean when you’re talking TO locals – I mean when you’re talking NEAR them. No loud comments or complaints – someone is always listening.

4. Don’t fight the daily rhythms of your destination, because you’ll only get frustrated. Eat, shop, run errands and rest when the locals do.

5. Schedule one thing a day, two at the most, even if it means you won’t get to everything you want to see and do. This way, you won’t have to run through the museum or schlep to the other side of town right after lunch. Relax! Also, this leaves you some time for unexpected adventures.

5A. Take a day to do nothing but walk around and take pictures and have long, leisurely meals.

6. Experience at least one sunrise, and one midnight stroll (in a safe place, of course). You’ll get a unique view of your destination.

7. Upon arriving, get to your lodgings as quickly as possible – even if it costs more. Traveling is exhausting and you’re dragging luggage – now is not the time to learn a foreign city’s public transit system. You’ll have plenty of time to play navigator later.

8. Don’t rush out of the hotel like you’ve been shot out of a cannon. Take the time to plan your route and traveling logistics for the day before heading out. If you get lost, head into the nearest hotel, bar or public indoor establishment before pulling out your map – it’s safer and you’re more likely to get someone to help you find your way.

9. If you find a shop keeper, tour guide, or taxi driver you love, ask them where to eat. People love giving this kind of advice. Don’t ask at the hotel – they’ll send you to overpriced places that cater to tourists.

10. Choose your fellow travelers wisely, and talk about your expectations for the vacation before you arrive. It’s OK if you don’t have the same expectations – you don’t have to be joined at the hip the whole time. It’s healthier if you spend some time alone during vacation, even if you’re with your sweetheart.

7 thoughts on “10 Secrets to a Great Vacation

  1. Boy, #5 is so on the money. Americans looking at Europe always see how *close* everything is and assume they can do the whole continent in a week. They get resentful when I tell them they should pare back their activities and do the one-or-two-things-a-day thing. They never take into consideration how compact this place is, either — understandably so, because besides Manhattan and a few other cities, no place in the U.S. is.

    And #8: hey, instead of hauling around that guidebook (which, yes, I recommend you take so you can make last-minute changes of plans), copy out the pages you’ll need and carry them with you. You’ll look like a student or a businessman instead of a clueless tourists: everyone’s always staring at printouts or photocopies of *something*. Every time I see some kid stumbling down Oranienburger Str. with a huge copy of Let’s Go Europe in his hand, I want to mug him.

  2. #6 is my goal on my next big trip. Usually I am utterly wiped out by 9:00 pm and can barely keep my eyes open. I know I’m missing out on a lot by going to bed early.
    And I should be able to manage at least one sunrise. I get up with the roosters every morning anyway.

  3. So true. I think many Americans have trouble with #4. “What do you mean I can’t get a BLT here? Why don’t they open until 11 AM? Why is this place closed for two hours in the afternoon?”

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