If you've been following me for a while, you know I've been 'on the road' an awful lot lately. These days I'm more likely to be traveling than at home. Most recently I spent a week back in Hawaii, on the Big Island, where I went on a challenging hike to view the active lava in Volcanoes National Park. It was a good reminder that I need to get back in the habit of regular workouts - traveling all the time makes it easy to break a routine. Between the heat and the uneven terrain, it was pretty brutal - tough even for my guide who makes the trek a couple of times a week.
I was gone much of last month in Baja, Mexico, swimming with the sea lions and meeting the grey whales, an incredible experience - and in early January, I visited both Kauai and the Big Island. Just the month before, it was the Amazon jungle in Ecuador.
While I'm grateful for all of those experiences, being constantly on the go can start to wear you down after awhile, making it hard to appreciate the little moments, especially when you're working at the same time. I came to a realization recently that it's time to start slowing down and avoid over planning, not only to avoid the risk of burnout, but to make the most out of every experience rather than trying to cram in every bucket list adventure possible. It's something I had gotten in the habit of doing, with so little time off at most "regular" jobs. If I was lucky enough to have an entire two weeks off, I'd plan every minute of it. But there was no time for just reveling in the moment, and actually enjoying the experience for what it was.
I remember a trip I took with my daughters to Tulum, Mexico. We never left the place we stayed. We spent our days, snorkeling, swimming, and taking afternoon naps instead of rushing around to see the sights. When we came back, we all had a different perspective, we felt so relaxed, as if we were on a different plane, watching all of those people frantically moving around us and wondering why they were all so in a hurry.
Over planning your day-to-day activities can make you a neurotic, stressed-out person who feels like you would have been better off if you hadn’t planned anything in the first place.
One of the keys to avoiding that is to leave plenty of room in your schedule for the unexpected and stop being constantly worried about having “the perfect trip." What's the worst that can happen? You'll have some downtime for chatting with locals in that cafe or pub? Maybe you'll wander the streets and discover an unexpected gem. Maybe you'll meet someone who will invite you into their home for dinner, or bring you to places you might never have found without the insider knowledge?
Do you really want to follow the exact same itinerary as every other tourist, spending your entire trip wedged between them as if you're being herded from sight to sight? Escape the crowds but focusing on slower travel, which will give time to venture off that well-worn path, and still enjoy a few bucket list attractions too.
Plans change - let them. Don't go overboard with the planning. Instead just have a general idea of what you want to and where you want to go, rolling with whatever might happen. It's an amazing feeling, without the pressure to do and see it all.
Looking back, I've realized the travel experiences that have most impacted me are the ones where I've been able to actually spend time - a week or more, really getting to know the locals, their favorite restaurants, their favorite things to do, connecting with the people. Even if you are limited to two weeks of vacation time, I think you'll get more out of it spending time in one or two places, rather than trying to cram in as many different cities as possible. Otherwise, you may be "seeing" a place, but it's not much different than watching a documentary on TV. Instead, get to know it, understand it, connect with the people.
That's why on my next trip to Ireland, leaving May 1st, I'm taking it slow, with nearly an entire week on Inisheer Island, and nothing planned at all - other than lying on those rocks and listening to the sounds of the waves crash against them anyway. Soon after in June I have an entire week in my dream house in a remote area of Newfoundland on the Great Northern Peninsula, timed to enjoy the St. Anthony Iceberg Festival, iceberg viewing and whale watching, though what happens in between will all be a surprise!