Few things captivate and sustain us like the prospect of upcoming travel. With eager anticipation, we escape the drudgery of daily life by transporting ourselves to deserted beaches, vibrant cities, or majestic peaks. When we browse Pinterest and gaze at the artworks we’ll see and the foods we’ll eat, we feel a palpable sense of excitement. Indeed, one study found that the time leading up to a vacation is just as fun as the vacation itself!
All this fantasizing can distract us from the gritty realities of travel. Because for all of its glories, it’s not without challenges. Here are five common misconceptions about travel, plus some research-backed strategies for overcoming them.
Myth #1: “When I get there, I’ll finally be able to relax.”
The problem: By getting away from work, household chores, carpools, and other responsibilities, you’re merely setting the stage for some satisfying R & R. But, for anyone accustomed to the frenetic pace of daily life, simply plopping yourself down in a new environment is no guarantee of mental quietude. You’re still you--multitasking, restless you--even in a new and foreign place.
The advice: Further set the stage for relaxation by eliminating potential distractions. Tie up loose ends that may plague you while away: an unfinished project, an unpaid bill, an email chain left hanging. And a simple email away-message can remove the pressure you may feel to keep in touch with work.
If you’re a particularly busy-minded person, you might even consider practicing the art of mindfulness and savoring before you go. Eat mindfully, without TV, a book, or a computer to pull focus. Go for a walk and simply look around, taking in your surroundings. Because if you can’t do this sort of thing at home, why are you so sure you can do it on the road?
Myth #2: “I should stay away as long as I possibly can.”
The problem: This one makes a ton of intuitive sense. Particularly if we’re shelling out for an expensive plane ticket and suffering through a lengthy flight, we should maximize that investment by making the trip last as long as we can. However, more time away is not always better. If your arrival home is frenzied, and if you make a jet-lagged, bleary-eyed transition back to everyday life, the relaxing benefits of your vacation can be totally counteracted. Plus, when looking back on the trip, the way in which it wrapped up plays a key role. So, if your trip ended on a stressful note, it will make the entire thing seem less great when you look back on it.
The advice: It’s pretty straightforward: Suppress your intuition and leave a buffer, a day or two to transition back into daily life. Use that time to rest and regroup - laundry, grocery shopping, naps, and Netflix - while also reflecting on your travels.
Myth 3: “We’ll rekindle our romance.”
The problem: We downplay the interpersonal challenges of travel. Long hours on the road, crossing time zones, feeling grubby and hangry, the constant need to compromise, – these all have the potential to undermine the need for connection and romance we crave. Plus, many of us are unaccustomed to being with anyone – even our partners – 24/7. Suddenly, there he or she is, right up in our space in that cramped hotel room. All. The. Time.
The advice: Communicate. State your needs. For example, if you’re an introvert, know that you might need some time to yourself each day. (It may be best to say some of these things before you leave, just so your partner is less likely to take it personally in the moment, but it’s possible you may not know.) And when your partner is making you crazy, question your attributions. Are you really annoyed with him or her, or just tired, hot, or hungry? Don’t underestimate the power of a snack, a nap, or a quiet walk to diffuse a stressful moment.
Myth 4: “I’ll be happy just lying on the beach.”
The problem: Relaxing on the beach--or the terrace, or the mountaintop--is the stuff of travel fantasies. Unfortunately, our attention span often doesn’t allow us to do this happily for too long. We can grow surprisingly antsy in the presence of unchanging scenery, with only our thoughts to keep us company.
The advice: Add in some activity and challenge. You don’t need to take surfing lessons or ski a black diamond, but consider something enriching and culturally immersive that appeals to you: a cooking class, bike tour, or museum visit. You’ll get a deeper sense of place, a feeling of purpose, and maybe even experience the absorbing and elusive state of flow. And then, at the end of the day, that beach chair will be all the more inviting.
Myth 5: “I’ll hate coming home.”
The problem: You were longing to get away from it all. You did, and it was wonderful. And now, you have to return to all of the things you longed to escape.
The advice: Realize that your trip will live on in your memory. In fact, one reason experiences trump material possessions is because they tend to get better with time! You can encourage this process by looking back over your photos, telling your favorite stories, and placing mementos in strategic locations to jog memories when you least expect it.
Also, let your recent escape be a springboard for personal growth. What did you like most about your “travel self”? Maybe unplugging from social media was surprisingly freeing. Talking to locals or trying new foods made you realize how bold you can be. Walking places rather than driving made you feel fit and energized. Try these things out in your ordinary life. Coming home can be a great time for making changes, both big and small.
Finally, homecoming can make you aware of the small comforts and routines that you often take for granted. A closet full of clean clothes, a familiar language, and a reliable internet connection can't really compete with the Grand Canyon or the Great Wall of China, but they're certainly worth appreciating!