Emotional Health · Family & Friends

How was Your Vacation? Mistakes to Avoid Next Year

Summer is at an end and many of us are finishing up our last vacation days this year. Hopefully, it was relaxing and restorative, but it’s well known that both free time and travel have challenges. Now is a good time to note the ones that can be spoilers.



If you can avoid it, don’t stay home. It’s hard to relax when the responsibilities and reminders of daily chores are all around you. If you must “staycation,” do as much as possible to alter your usual routine and make relaxation a top priority.

Travel, on the other hand . . . where to begin? Car travel in summer can be fun, but traffic tends to increase, particularly if you are going to a popular resort location. Where my house is located in Long Island, you cannot make a left turn out of our driveway from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Period. Unless it’s 2 a.m.

So we rent our house and go elsewhere.

Deciding where to go can be tricky, since everyone has the same idea. While going far afield is attractive, air travel is a marathon of challenges these days. The New York area, where I live, offers few reasonable ways to get to the airport by public transport (unlike almost every city in Europe) so prepare to shell out a lot of money to get there because being driven by friends or family is not a thing in New York (unlike every other city in the US).

Airports themselves are now in a constant state of pandemonium. Checking or not checking bags, going through security, and boarding now all have different options depending on your status. First class works better, but do you really want to pay 10 times as much for the privilege of getting on the plane faster and eating slightly better food? Unless you have frequent flyer miles helping out, most of us choose coach, which itself has several levels to choose from. On a recent flight I opted for “extra comfort” in tourist class. Wading to the back through the cabin to use the rest room, dodging frustrated parents trying to soothe crying infants marching up the aisles, the scene in standard economy looked like a local bus somewhere you are likely to share your ride with chickens.


You’ve Arrived

Arriving at your destination (saddled with the equivalent of two weeks extra stress from your flight), it’s time to rent a car. The Lisbon Airport, where I landed this summer, had its car rental area right in the terminal. Great news. The catch is it takes a minimum of 90 minutes to be served, and there are no seats in the waiting area.


Where to Stay

AirBnB is a very popular and sensible option these days. Once you have navigated the car to your rental location, with the help of Google maps (prepare for the Google lady’s unique pronunciation of foreign street names), you will find a bottle of wine, provided by your host, waiting for you. You will notfind salt, sugar, coffee, or paper towels, and so your first stop is the market, where you will have to load up on staples. These you will have to leave for the host or the cleaners when you depart (unless you want to put that salt in your carry-on bag).



Summer is a great time for families to gather, but is it a good idea? Especially if this is your only time for rest and relaxation, consider that family time can be stressful and sometimes upsetting.  Sentimental or religious holidays often demand family gatherings, but if your relatives are less than enchanting, it might be time to exchange the annual holiday at the in-laws’ lake house with something less emotionally fraught.

If you are lucky enough to stay with friends on your vacation, you may find this is a mixed blessing. Unless you know them very well, you may be surprised by your hosts’ different rituals and rhythms. If you are a couch potato like me, who wants to sit in the sun and read, be advised that your friends may think you need to see the sights—all of them—while you visit. And energetic friends will want to be up and out bright and early to beat the local travel and find parking. Jet lag or adjusting to the new time zone gradually is for sissies. You are up and out at 8 a.m., trying to avoid carsickness and terror as you drive through winding roads the width of small driveways.

Traveling or staying with friends should be carefully considered in light of how well you know them and how likely you are to get along. When in doubt, limit it to 3-4 days at most. The same goes for houseguests, of course.



At many destinations, seeing the sights is a challenge, too. It turns out many other people are headed there too. While friends may know the tricks of avoiding crowds and discerning what is most worthy of a visit, if you are on your own you may have a hard time deciding what to do. The Internet may help, but only if you can get reception. And be warned: helpful as she is when you are driving, the Google lady is hopeless if you are on foot. “Go east,” she says, as the arrow spins and readjusts every time you turn around looking for the sun for guidance. You give up and buy a map.

Unless you have some expectation that you will never pass this way again, it is not necessary to see and do everything. Less can be more, and pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion is reckless. Unless you enjoy that sort of thing, of course.



Cute, authentic local shops are hard to find, and again, merchants who know that’s what you want can exploit you as a tourist. Local intel is often your best bet, because everyone else has read the same guidebooks and websites that you have.

If you are shopping for friends and family back home, remember that a small gift is often sufficient to show you are thinking of them. A small item, such as a unique tea towel or local soap, can be more than enough for most people.

I have had good luck consulting several different sources and comparing notes. If you see the same kind of comments over and over, you can generally trust them. With restaurant reviews, it can be tricky, because so many factors determine what makes a good experience. If you come upon a place that is generally very well reviewed but has a few angry customers, it pays to check that person’s other reviews. Some people have strange standards, and others only post reviews when they can complain.


Go Local

Usually things that are popular with locals have earned their loyalty. It can be fun and illuminating to try to participate in local customs and enthusiasms when possible. Understanding what it really feels like to live elsewhere is one of the most rewarding things about travel, and though it’s hard to achieve in a short time span, it’s worth a little research to discover what the locals like about their own town and following their lead.

The important thing is to remember what your goal is for your vacation and keep in mind what kind of traveler you are. Leisure time is increasingly rare and should be treated as a precious resource—one that’s not renewable, either. If you have been doing the same thing for every vacation without getting much reward, try shaking things up next year.

Even though finances can put a strain on your possibilities, a risk reward analysis sometimes yields surprising results. Though you may save money staying with family, you are squandering time if you end up taking a vacation that is more stressful than it is relaxing. And though doing the same thing every year may be a safe bet, studies show that trying new things stimulate parts of the brain that keep us young and even help us feel more connected to others.






Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.