Did you know Italians get 42 days of paid time off from work each year? It’s true, even if that seems like a fantasy for people who live in our hard-working culture. Americans typically earn a week of vacation after a year on the job; after several years of slaving away, that increases to two weeks. Small wonder that we often feel the need to pack as much fun as possible into that 7 to 14 day stretch.
We dream about it all year. We load up the credit cards paying for it. And we have high hopes that our trip to Pensacola or Provence, our hike in the Rockies or our cruise to Ibeza is going to be nothing short of fabulous. And if you’re part of a couple, you’re probably hoping for some romance along with the adventure; if you’re single, maybe you’re sharing your vacation with friends.
Traveling together can be the ultimate test of friendship or romantic compatibility. People can do just fine with one another back home, but 24 hours a day, 7 day a week uninterrupted time together can be difficult. It’s hard to get away from one another when you get on each other’s nerves. One of you wants to see everything there is to see in this new place, and the other one wants to dance all night – or sit in the sun with a novel.
Experienced partners grow to understand the rhythm of time away from home. They allow each other to be playful in different ways: one guy wants adventure, the other one wants the freedom to stick his nose in that novel he’s been meaning to read for months. Those aren’t mutually exclusive, but compromises are called for.
You may not need to schedule every hour, but it’s good to think about a realistic schedule. Allow yourself some down time – particularly if you’re hoping for some gourmet lovemaking. (Too much hiking or museum-touring and you’ll probably want to sleep instead.) And realize that no matter how much you love one another, sharing time around the clock can make you feel starved for some alone time. Experienced travelers understand that’s not rejection – its realism.
Traveling well is an art, and there is more than one way to be good at it. I have a friend who has mastered traveling to Europe for two weeks with only a roll-aboard suitcase. He can also open a bottle of wine when no one remembered to pack a corkscrew for the picnic. Traveling with him is a delight because he’s open to improvising and nothing flusters him.
I have another friend who always does everything with a certain style. Traveling with him is loads of fun – if you don’t mind spending lots and lots of money. Moral: pick your traveling companions carefully. If you aren’t free to choose who’s going along with you, decide how you’ll handle these sorts of differences when they come up. Because they will! A good rule of thumb, as in so much of life, is to not sweat the small stuff. Successful traveling involves give-and-take. If you’re not open to compromising, traveling is likely to be a chore. I’m fond of Rick Steve’s advice: if your traveling and you don’t get what you want, change what you want.
Talk beforehand about what you are most looking forward to on your trip and you’re much more likely to set realistic expectations. If you let your fellow travelers know that you’re excited about the nightlife on your cruise and will probably be sleeping late as a result, they aren’t likely to feel abandoned when you’re not joining them for early-morning aerobics.
Getting your needs met while accommodating the needs of others is the sort of social art that helps to build a rich life and important friendships. And great travel stories. So decide for yourself that having a bad time just isn’t an option, and don’t forget to pack your camera!
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