With the vacation season upon us and many of us seeking to escape to a warmer place, I thought I’d share my thoughts on how we can maximize our vacation experience beyond merely getting fat poolside with a bunch of other “gringos” seeking the same thing. Now, that might be your thing, and I don’t judge those who are needing to recharge the batteries with some quiet time at an all-inclusive in the Caribbean. However, if you want to experience something a little different, or want to feel inspired or even energized when you get back on the plane to come home, I offer up these 5 simple steps to create a vacation experience that will not only be memorable, but more importantly, transformational.
1. Be Curious. Regardless of whether you are at an all-inclusive in Cuba or you’ve rented a small hut in the rainforest of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, there are always opportunities to explore the environment around you, beyond your immediate surroundings. No, I am not talking about doing something dangerous or risky or unsafe. I am merely talking about getting slightly off the beaten path, trying different foods, learning about the local culture, or simply talking to a local or another traveler from a different part of the world. I know I crave some gringo food every once in awhile when I’m in Costa Rica, but I also know the gallo pinto is so much better and usually leads to a conversation, or an experience I will never forget. Typically taking me down a path so refreshingly different than when I hit the Hard Rock Café Guanacaste. Go for the rice and beans and an Imperial! Trust me. It’s so much better than the gringo burger and a Bud Light!
2. Be Open. Being curious will only take you so far if you are not open to the experience or even just the potential the experience may hold. Being open means not judging, not being afraid, and most importantly, not making assumptions about something you know little about. Again, being open doesn’t mean taking uncalculated risks. It really means dropping your guard and dazzling someone with your best Spanish in an attempt to make a connection. No, not “dos cervesa por favor.” You can do better than that. It’s about being open to more than just trying new foods or seeing new sights. More importantly, it’s about being open to new perspectives and a world view that might be very different from your own. Marcel Prost once wrote, “the real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new sites, but in having new eyes.” However, if you are stuck in a hot tub and someone starts to talk about the genius that is Trump, leave immediately. No sudden movements. Just walk away.
“The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new sites, but in having new eyes.” - Marcel Prost
3. Be Aware. Awareness is something we all possess if we zone in, slow down, and really focus on our surroundings. A few weeks ago, I wrote about experiencing a sunset in silence. No talking. No photos. Just me and the energy of the sun and my companions. Put down the phone. Be still. Slow down your breathing. Simply BE in the moment and you will be amazed at what you see and what you feel. You don’t need to be in a rain forest in Latin America to do this by the way. When we are acutely aware of our surroundings, we see things that often go missed. We see those sunsets in a completely different way. As the Buddhist teacher Ayya Khema once said, “We may believe it’s the quality of the sunset that gives us such pleasure, but in fact it is the quality of our own immersion in the sunset that brings the delight.” Try not taking any photos for a day, or even a week. Sometimes we worry more about the photo op than actually immersing ourselves in the moment and capturing a memory that really can’t be conveyed through Instagram. That moment and the memory it created is just for you – cherish it!
“We may believe it’s the quality of the sunset that gives us such pleasure, but in fact it is the quality of our own immersion in the sunset that brings the delight.” - Ayya Khema
4. Be Reflecting. Reflection is something that is getting increasingly difficult to do as we are overwhelmed with stimuli on a 24-7 basis. True reflection can only be done when we are still, quiet, and give ourselves the opportunity to delve into our thoughts. It’s just YOU and YOU! Think about all those amazing moments you’ve had on your vacations of the past. What do the best moments usually involve? Great people. Lot’s of laughter. Amazing food. And, hopefully some incredible sunsets. However, as we reflect on these moments, think deeper. Think beyond WHAT you experienced. Think about HOW that experience may have impacted you or changed you or simply caused you to slow down and appreciate what’s truly important. This about the emotions you felt as a result of that experience or interaction. Reflection, when grounded in a state of openness and awareness, can take us on a journey that brings new meaning to our experiences.
5. Be Writing. Journaling is something I am sure most of us have done at one point in time during our lives. Did you know that writing something down not only helps in terms of retention of information, it also increases the amount of important information we retain. When we delve deeper into our experiences and subsequently record those experiences, what we are really doing is keeping a history of the most important moments of our lives. Moments that have impact. Moments driven by emotion. Moments that have meaning. Moments that make us who we are. By keeping a journal (and not just when we travel I might add) we are really writing the story of our lives. It’s our own personal non-fiction novel we can turn to from time to time, serving as a reference to the moments, the experiences, the places, and the people who have helped shape the person we are today. That’s why reflecting on not just what happened, but how it made you feel is so important. And, when we capture those emotions on paper, something special happens. It’s part of a deeper journey that can take us to places we never dreamt we could go.
So, get out there and explore. Trust yourself and don’t be afraid or make assumptions. Think of your next vacation as more of a journey. As a wise man once said, “a vacation is defined as something separate from our everyday life while a journey becomes part of us. So, go on a journey, don’t take a vacation. Forget the trip of a lifetime… tackle the adventure of the day.” Safe travels everyone!