A few days ago I read an older post from Penelope Trunk titled “4 Reasons traveling is a waste of time”. In it, she mentions that, as a kid, her parents “took her all over Europe and the Caribbean” and that it exhausted her. She then lays out her four reasons for opposing travel.
I’m not going to address Penelope’s four points one by one. I disagree with her basic premise and believe that if done right, travel is anything but a waste of time.
Notice I said “if done right”. I’m not speaking about business travel, which would definitely be exhausting after a while, but travel for pleasure. In order to get the most out of it and not feel like you’ve wasted money (and time), there are a few things you should know and about which you should be completely realistic.
First and foremost among these is:
What kind of traveler are you?
No trip, no matter how exciting it may sound, will be enjoyable if you ignore this point. For instance, some friends of mine love the website couchsurfing.org. They have traveled all over the world through this network, taking advantage of the hospitality of like-minded strangers and offering the same in their home. And while parts of this sound great to me, I know that it would never work for our family. My daughter, when hearing about it, said, “Yuck! I would never want to do that!” And you know what? That’s ok. Better for us to be realistic than plan an extensive couchsurfing trip and then hate it.
So make a list. Do you prefer staying in self-catering apartments or full-service hotels? Do you love camping or traveling in an RV? Would the idea of swapping homes with someone appeal to you? (If so, you can check out homeexchange.com.) If you prefer hotels, what kind of hotel? Youth hostel, budget, luxury? Do you want to travel by train or rent a car or hike from place to place? Can you make do with a carry on sized bag for a week of travel or do you need a mini version of your closet at home? Do you want to “unplug” while you are away or be able to post photos on FB and Instagram every day? If you are camping, do you prefer KOA campgrounds or off the beaten path? Are you an adventurous eater? Do you love going to a place where you don’t speak the language & fearlessly utilizing your pocket phrase book? What kind of climate do you prefer? Do you love organized tours or wandering around on your own?
Be brutally honest. Now is not the time to feel bad about not wanting to camp in the outback and pee in a hole. You must know your own travel personality (and that of your family) if travel is to be enjoyable.
Once you know what kind of traveler you are, stretch yourself
Right. So you’ve determined that you love the beach, cannot travel without at least 5 different pairs of shoes and never want to cook for yourself, make a bed or share a bathroom when you travel. 5 star hotels are your faves, but you’ll go 4 star in a pinch.
That’s great. Now camp for a night. Or sleep in someone’s den. Take a day or two and hike in the mountains or go canoeing on a river.
If you stretch yourself you will get more out of any trip. You will learn a lot, even if it’s just “Yep, I still don’t love camping.” Chances are, though, you’ll come away with at least one or two good stories if you go out of that well established comfort zone, even if only for a few days. And you never know, you might find that you actually LOVE camping because the tents are so much better than you remember as a kid and you realize that what you hated was the smell of musty canvas and a saggy, dripping top caused by not pulling the ropes tight enough!
Know your budget
If a trip costs more than you can really afford, you aren’t going to enjoy it. Sure it’s a “once in a lifetime” thing, but over-stressing your budget is the surest way to ruin a trip. You’ll have overly high expectations for one, and if any unforeseen expenses pop up (as they almost always do) your ability to deal with them in a graceful and stress-free manner will be greatly challenged.
This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Trying to cram 5 star tastes into a 1 star budget, for instance. Balancing your husband’s love of surfing with your kid’s yearning for the desert. Satisfying your own penchant for exotic spices with everyone else’s meat and potato palates.
It can be done.
Today more than ever there are so many options to help you out. Even websites like Expedia or Kayak are great for tips & cheap flights, and no matter what your preferred destination, you can find on line sites, blogs and travel tips on how to get the most out of your time and dollars spent. Ask friends for their advice (bearing in mind your own travel preferences and limitations, which may be different than theirs). Maybe instead of one large trip you would be better served breaking it down into 3 or 4 shorter trips. Maybe this year you travel domestically on shorter trips (which in the U.S. still gives you a multitude of diverse options) and next year you do one larger trip overseas. Maybe you spend 3 days in the lap of luxury rather than two weeks at a Motel 6.
The options are endless, and as long as you approach them in the spirit of adventure and discovery with a good dose of “realism” thrown in , travel will never be a waste of your time.