We humans have a special ability to rationalize anything we want to do, even when, deep down inside, we know better. And consider: When is this more true than when we're traveling, and especially eager — even desperate — to suspend our disbelief? For instance, here are some of the ways expectation and reality misalign when we plan for and embark on vacations or other travel.
1. This will banish my burnout.
Sure, we go on vacation to relax and unwind... but it seems like plenty of us plan our trips in such a way as to make ourselves even more stressed — for instance by seriously over-planning our itineraries. When you do that, you run the risk of actually returning to work, or other obligations, more stressed and exhausted.
“Simply getting away doesn’t give you the recharge. Taking stress out of your day to day is what does that — travel is fraught with the unknown and the unknown is stressful for your mind and body,” says life coach Betsy Rosenfeld Vargas. One way to make sure you're hitting the reset button, she suggests, is to "plan your vacation well ahead and with someone who knows the lay of the land so you and your overtaxed mind can go on autopilot.” But only you know what your mind and body really need, so try to tap into what will reinvigorate, versus sap your energy.
2. Learning the language will come naturally.
We didn't pick up anything in years of high school Italian but we believe we'll learn the language from one week in another country? Hmm.
“Truth is, language fluency by osmosis, or immersion, takes much longer than people think — even with a good base, it can take six months or more to become fluent,” says Annalisa Nash Fernandez, an Intercultural strategist and coach.
Contrary to some travelers' best intentions, they may find it way harder to understand a fast-talking local than they think. “On a case-by-base basis, the locals may want to hang out with you, but generally speaking they're not on vacation like you are, and have their own friends and a job to go to,” says Fernandez. So it's best to learn a few key phrases in advance rather than assuming your romantic notions about chatting with strangers in cafes will help you navigate.
3. I can't wait to experience a new place!
This sounds innocent and straightforward, right? Yes, but if you spend the entire trip snapping selfies, you risk missing the whole experience. (Consider how social media has changed — if not ruined — everything about how we travel.)
"With a camera, you will capture images of your journey, but you won’t capture the context, which means what you saw before and after, what you were feeling, and how seeing that shiny thing made you feel. Ditch the camera for a journal and write every single evening, suggests ays Ken Schneck, author of Seriously... What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew.
4. I will probably need this unnecessary thing I'm about to pack.
Unless your trip is to a resort that will whisk your bags to your room with no further schlepping necessary on your part, really think about what you need so you don't damage the quality of your vacation by lugging around a suitcase full of studded stilettos that are probably not practical for cobblestones, but would be so cute if you fall into some fabulous plans with hot European strangers. "I think most ladies can relate," says Lindsey Epperly of Epperly Travel. "We haven't worn something in over a year, but when we're packing for vacation... we might just wear it!"
She adds, "In reality, we overpack and don't up wearing half of what we brought. My best tip is to choose one color scheme and stick to it; that way you can pack less outfits and, no matter what you mix and match, it'll look good and have all you need."
5. All this walking will cancel out all this food.
Sure, you can eat a huge meal at every stop — you are going to burn all those calories walking around the city constantly, right? Wrong.
“Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week,” says Jacqueline Kelly, a sports psychology consultant and personal trainer. Don't overestimate how much actual exercise you will truly get on vacation and if it will balance out you murdering your diet. “Dipping your feet in the pool does not constitute exercise," Kelly says. Ugh, right.
6. This borderline but cheap hotel will be good enough, since I'll barely be in the room.
It's easy to convince yourself you'll spend no time in the hotel while traveling, so you can just go for the cheapest room available. But consider this: Quality and abundant sleep is one of the main benefits of taking vacation. So don't opt for a room that's too uncomfortable — or too creepy — to allow you to do just that. "Do you really want to spend 10 hours in a room where the cleanliness is questionable?" says Anthony Melchiorri, host of Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible and founder of Argeo Hospitality.
7. This flight time is kind of crazy, but I'll make it work.
You thought that 6:00 a.m. flight won’t be so bad, but you didn't count backward: To get to the airport at 4 a.m., you'd have to leave at 3 a.m., and get up at 2 a.m. Womp womp!
Really think your flights through, before grabbing an impulsive one based on price alone.
"Based on my experience, the early-morning flights are typically the busiest. Airport and planes are packed, since the early morning travelers are usually business professionals. In addition, airports aren’t fully staffed at this time so expect longer wait times," says Melchiorri.
Budgeting for time is essential, especially when traveling with children. Always give yourself more time than you need. Same goes for being overconfident in your ability to make super short connections. Anything could happen in that brief period with no room for error — whether it’s waiting on the tarmac or being stuck in the last row of the plane, it may not be worth the stress. "In one instance, I was scheduled to be on set at noon. Rather than taking a 9 a.m. flight and landing at 11:30 a.m., I took the 6 a.m. flight... on the day Delta’s computers crashed. Thankfully, I had factored in enough time so that I wasn’t late. Things happen, so always budget time wisely," says Melchiorri.
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