Ask people “How are you?” these days, and they’re apt to tell you. They’re caught on the treadmill of life. They’re rushed, harried, overworked and under-hugged. They’ve got too much to do and way too little time in which to do it.
What’s saddest is when the same do-it-all-now philosophy carries over into our weekends or long-anticipated vacations. We pack those schedules with activities, errands and chores, places we need to see, things we must do and people we need to visit.
Taking 10 days off? Then we have to pack three weeks worth of experiences into the trip.
Knock it off! Otherwise you’ll come home more fried than your morning eggs and you’ll decide it’s easier not to go at all.
Recently, we searched for ways to reclaim the joy of traveling. It meant we had to plan ahead.
Here are some of the ways we did it:
1. Be realistic. We rearranged one trip so we were gone a day longer, but that allowed us to spend the night at a Bay Area motel before flying out the next day, rather than dashing up north in the late afternoon to catch the plane in San Jose and arriving cross-eyed and exhausted at our ultimate destination about midnight. Wiggle room is good.
2. Don’t rush. We got to the airport several hours ahead of time. After our e-boarding passes zoomed us through check-in, we spent the rest of our extra time reading, watching people and planes and simply relaxing (or as relaxed as one can get in an airport these days). I can read a book as easily in a waiting-room chair as I can in a hotel.
3. Leave yourself elbow room. Leave some time unplanned, so you can go with the flow or just kick back.
4. Avoid things that make you nuts. On a trip to Orange County, we completely rerouted our itinerary to avoid the white-knuckle trip that is 2004 driving on LA freeways. Instead, we spent the night in Oxnard and drove to Huntington Beach early the next morning via Highway 1/Pacific Coast Highway and other coastal roads. We never set wheels on an LA freeway.
The stoplights added about an hour to our trip. Big deal.
No, I wouldn’t want to do that trek on a sunny August Sunday afternoon. But on a foggy Friday morning, it worked just fine.
5. When planning doesn’t help, change your plans. We left early for home to avoid Sunday freeway traffic. About noon on one trip, however, we found ourselves faced with stop-go-and-mostly-stop traffic.
I hate waiting in lines or traffic, so we got off and had lunch instead, then walked around for a while to let the car-jam subside a bit.
6. Before your trip, go to www.mapquest.com/ or other map site and print succinct directions and maps for all the unfamiliar destinations. Then cross-check them with paper maps, because Websites can be just as wrong as a GPS unit.
Planning ahead can, for instance, help reduce the panic when you’re faced by a heavy traffic at a five-street intersection in San Francisco, and none of the one-way streets seem to take you where you want to go.
7. Think about what you really want from your hotel. We try to stay in modestly priced lodgings that offer mini-kitchens, with the (for us) luxurious choice of going out to eat or cooking in.
Especially in an area we don’t know, the search for a good restaurant can be like frog-kissing in search of a phantom prince. Many nights, a weary me chooses to heat some soup or fix a sandwich rather than take a chance on a bad eatery. Other times, we just don’t want to invest two hours of our vacation on an upscale dinner when all we want is something decent, quick and simple to eat.
8. Leave the “to do list” at home. We haven’t given up the browse-in-gallery type shopping on vacation, but we try to avoid the mandatory kind. In that mind-set, it’s amazing what we can do without.
No, we can’t always use these methods on every vacation, especially not when we’re driving 350 miles each way on a three-day trip. But we’re learning ways to give ourselves a break on that kind of travel, too.
We don’t wear ourselves out. We don’t rush. We get off earth’s treadmill and start controlling our own pace and destinations.
Gee, isn’t that what a vacation is for?