December 13, 2016

5 Reasons a Vacation Can Disappoint




All of us have probably experienced at least one vacation that didn't live up to expectations. The planning, the anticipation, along with the money and time invested produced a flop. No matter how we sugar-coated the experience, that vacation was disappointing.

Of course, some of the reasons can be purely bad luck: getting sick or being injured can happen. Something goes wrong at home or with family and the vacation must be ended quickly. But, in thinking about vacations my family and I have taken over the years, there are five factors that seem to conspire to lay waste to the best-laid plans. Being reminded of their potential to mess things up may help you avoid a vacation washout. 


Over or Under Scheduled

I am a planner. When my family and I take a vacation, the days are often plotted as carefully as a military campaign. If we are going to spend the money and take the time, by golly, we will not waste a minute, we will enjoy everything and at double speed. Luckily, my wife and one of my daughters are fine with this. Our youngest, though, does her best to suggest we take time off to smell those darn roses, sleep in, and leave time for simple pleasures. I will be the first to admit, her approach is gaining appeal as I get older. Why should a vacation be a forced march?

When Betty and I took our first Alaskan cruise this year, I became aware of the joys of under scheduling. Yes, a cruise ship offers all sorts of ways to separate you from your time and money. But, you can choose to skip most of it and simple enjoy the scenery passing by the windows, eat when you are hungry, and watch others rush from seminar to casino to sales pitch. 

Each of us feels most comfortable with one of these two models. Adopting the wrong approach can leave you frustrated.  


Unrealistic Expectations

You walk to the corner mailbox and back once a day. You stroll with the dog to the neighborhood park first thing every morning. Neither of these activities means you are ready to hike across England, or tackle part of the Application Trail. Swimming a few laps in your pool doesn't prepare you for an ocean dive to earn your scuba certificate.

A vacation with an ambitious goal can be tremendously satisfying, or quite a letdown. Trying different foods, avoiding the top tourist destinations while seeking out where the locals go are laudable targets. Trying something physically beyond your capabilities, or forcing yourself to only eat local cuisine for a two week stay in Sweden will probably lead to disappointment, if not injury or illness.

Knowing your limits and knowing what crosses the line from interesting to excessive are important.

Wrong place or wrong time

You don't like cold weather yet you decide to go to Iceland in January because the airfares are cheap. Bugs and humidity drive you batty. Even so, you decide Miami in August would be a fun experience because the hotels are less expensive. 

Your oldest child just landed the lead in the school play, but you think it best to take the whole family on a camping trip to Yosemite. Your wife opened a new business that needs her full time attention for several months. You are surprised when she balks at a week in New York City.

A vacation is a balancing act between time, needs, and location. While not everyone may be jumping with joy, everyone should be engaged enough to agree that the potential for fun exists.

Expecting it to be the same as home

I shudder when I hear a tourist complain about something by saying, "We do that differently at home." My immediate thought is, well, stay home! What would be the point of going somewhere and having everything just like where you live? Isn't the point of travel to see and experience differences? 

During our trips to Europe, I can't count the number of times I heard travelers react poorly to everything, from the time restaurants open, to the type of toilets that are available. A foreign country isn't home. Even parts of this country have different customs and norms, even names. Don't ask for a milk shake in Boston or a grinder in Amarillo. Different can be good.


Bad weather (really bad!)

We have spent 3 days stuck in a motel in Key West during a hurricane. We have been almost blown off the road during an RV trip through West Texas. Betty and I experienced six straight days of rain in Bermuda. We were caught in a blizzard near Yellowstone in late May.

Bad weather happens. It happens when you are spending time and money on a special trip. Mother Nature always wins. You can only change plans on the fly, make the most of a bad situation, but realize you will have a great story to tell when you do get home (our daughters still remember the Key West "adventure" almost 25 years later). 

Bad weather also teaches us that no matter how much we like to be in control, that is usually just an illusion.



28 comments:

  1. Enjoyed your thoughts about vacations and how they can go wrong. The main reasons seem to be our own shortcomings - expectations, planning or lack of it, forgetting about culture shock, etc. I liked your description of simply enjoying the scenery on the cruise to Alaska! Right now, that would be my ideal way to spend a vacation!

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    1. The weather on the cruise was pretty bad, so inside activities were encouraged. Even so, it was nice to just enjoy the setting and activities swirling around us.

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  2. I traveled in the Pacific northwest with a group of people from the south. I don't know how many of you are familiar with the southern concoction called sweet tea, in which vast amounts of sugar are stirred into a pitcher of hot tea, which is then served over ice. It accompanies every southern meal. One woman, everytime we went out, kept replying "sweet tea" when asked by a waitress or server what she wanted to drink. She kept getting blank stares, but would just say, "you know SWEET TEA." One server said, "Well I can give you iced tea and you can add some sugar packages to it." The woman traveler said, "That's NOT the same thing." All through the trip she was repeatedly irate wondering why no place served her familiar sweet tea. After awhile I just felt like saying, "Will you please shut up about your sweet tea." On the same trip, at a buffet I selected what I thought was small curd pineapple cottage cheese salad, but one bite told me it wasn't. I asked my traveling mates, "What on earth is this?" No one knew. I described it to the tour guide, and she said, "Oh, that's "frog eye salad." It isn't actually a salad of frog eyes, but a regional dish made from a very small spherical pasta called "acini di pepe." Little discoveries like that are fun when traveling, even though I didn't care for the dish!

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    1. I remember the first time I was on a business trip to South Carolina and ordered iced tea and got the super-sweet stuff you refer to. I learned to order unsweetened tea if I wanted to keep my blood sugar in check.

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  3. I would add: falling for the hype, meaning you go where everyone else is going, the place featured in the newspaper travel section, the place where you're "supposed" to go (like "Hawaii" or "Paris") whether you want to go there or not. As for me, I know I don't like to stand around and look at things, and I don't like to go places where they don't speak my language ... so I don't go to Europe, I don't go to museums, I don't go look at scenery. I go visit family, or I go to the beach. Maybe that makes me boring, but I know what I like!

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    1. Knowing what you like does help in vacation planning, but disappointments are still possible. I love Hawaii and would live there part time if I could. Even so, paradise wears thin after awhile and the prices.....ugh.

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  4. A bad day on vacation is better than a good day at work. Just saying... :-)

    www.travelwithkevinandruth.com

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  5. and then occasionally we stumble into political unrest. The natives get uppity, or some other local issue, block roads, or miles of farm equipment.

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    1. I have never experienced that, but it certainly happens.

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  6. I remember the 7 days of rain in Kauai and we were staying on the dry side. We made the best of it and spent lovely mornings visiting places in the rain. Then spent lovely afternoons drinking Mai Tais on the lanai at all the fancy resorts watching the rain. It was still Hawaii and I still remember that trip.

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    1. There are no bad days in Hawaii, though being there during a hurricane or severe tropical storm may test my beliefs.

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  7. I love all of your points. Traveling can be wonderful, if we leave our pre-conceived expectations at home. What other cultures do - or don't do - isn't better or worse... it's just different. Being a happy traveler means embracing these differences.

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  8. Hi Bob! YOu're right on so many of these "tips." They can certainly take a good vacation and make it less than fun and fulfilling. I've read that one thing that makes a big difference is "planning" to end your trip on a high note. Behavior science says that we tend to remember and judge the value of something based upon that final memory...so if you can plan a big "wow"! at the end you are stacking the deck for a pleasueable ending. (as long as the weather cooperates) ~Kathy

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    1. That is a good idea, Kathy. If we don't over-plan or try to cram too much into our time away, we won't be too tired to enjoy that final peak experience.

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    2. For our trips I always plan "one day on" seeing the sights doing tourist stuff and "one day off" to relax and just poke around. works for us.

      - David

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  9. As people who travel 4-5 months out of the year now, I can truly say over the years we have had virtually all wonderful experiences on past and current vacations (although if one is retired, are they truly vacations anymore)? The one time we had a less than ideal experience was in Biloxi, when we had a great place on the water. First morning my wife woke up covered with bed bug bites, necessitating a trip to urgent care. The place but us up at a nice casino for free, but it was not the Golden Nugget or others on the water. Outside of that insect incident we have had great luck in the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia (yet to hit either Central or South America).

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Be willing to try new things, don't expect the experiences and accommodations to be the same as "back home", and be willing to enjoy meeting new people. If you can do those things you will likely have a great time.

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    1. Bed bugs? Ugh.

      I will readily admit it takes me a few days to unwind enough to enjoy some place other than home, but once I do things are usually good. And, I have never run into rude or unpleasant "locals" who make me feel unwelcome.

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  10. Hi Bob, After reading this post , I'm in agreement with your youngest. Why be in such a hurry to have a good time? We should savor those moments. This past May we took an Amtrak from California to New York with a sleeper car. A great way to travel and we did plan a few things to do while in Manhattan. We stayed in Queens in an Air B&B and took the subway everywhere. 911 memorial and museum, a walk through Central Park, Statue of Liberty, Times Square, sure. Even had time to mix in a Broadway Show and a Yankee's game (booked while we were there). We left a lot of time to "freestyle" to shop and eat our way through all five boroughs. Yes, the trip took some planning. Riding the train was so relaxing and you actually see so much of the country that you fly over.

    Vacations should just be a time to relax and unplug after getting from point A to B. We are not in control and that's just part of life. If things happen, take a breath and we'll figure things out and make the best of it.

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    1. You have captured the key point of the post, Russ. Travel isn't always about the destination. That is one of the things we enjoy about RV travel. Each day is different and each place you spend the night (or several nights) offers something new.

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  11. A favorite travel memory for me was when my brother asked me to accompany him and his young daughter on a business trip to Guatemala. My niece and I would wander the capital for a couple of days while he was in meetings, me being the ideal adult to accompany her because 1) I loved her to pieces, and 2) I spoke Spanish. Then he'd arranged for a guide to take us all into the rain forest to see Tikal, a Mayan city in the rain forest. The trouble was that the State Department hadn't quite lifted a travel advisory after some political unrest, although my brother's extensive business contacts assured him all was fine. I had my own kiddos to whom I needed to return safe and sound. I vacillated until about two hours before the flight, but, in the end, I could not leave a ten-year-old to be in a hotel room in a country where she did not speak the language for hours on end while my brother was in business meetings. I went. My brother's contacts did not explain to us that if my niece and I took a taxi from the hotel to nearby Antigua to buy textiles and other crafts at a native market, we would not be able to find a taxi back. This was way before cell phone days, so I resorted to asking a non-English-speaking shop owner if there was a taxi service she could call for me. There was. Turns out, however, she called an unlicensed service who brought us within a few blocks of our hotel back in Guatemala City but who would not drive any closer (because they'd have been in trouble) and who demanded an unusually large amount of money for the ride, which I was afraid not to pay. Nor did my brother explain to me that in order to get to Tikal at that time, we'd be traveling for hours in an open Jeep-type-vehicle over a rough road, being stopped multiple times along the way at road blocks manned by armed gendarmes with ammunition belts criss-crossing their chests, with our guide telling us to let him do all the talking. Nor had my brother explained that I would, despite my best efforts, still somehow come down with the traveler's disease and run 102-103 fevers overnight while we stayed, all in one room, with electricity for only four hours a day, being asked to use as little running water as possible. Then, if I wanted to see Tikal, I would rise with them (despite said fevers) after a sleepless night batting off huge bugs to climb Tikal before dawn, holding onto roots and ropes strung up the hillside so that we would be on top of Tikal at dawn to hear the howler monkeys. It was a glorious trip! But, perhaps there's a reason that my favorite trips after that one were to old-world cities where we sat in beautiful central plazas and watched people stroll past. I loved visiting frigidly cold stone cathedrals that were architectural marvels in their time for mass, knowing that we were speaking the same words that Catholics across the whole world were speaking, forming our own communion with the people whose countries we were visiting. I still wish I could go back to Tikal, though. I hear there's an actual hotel now!

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    1. That's a great story, and one that would have passed my personal limits for exploration. A little roughing it is fine, but actual physical danger from men with guns or being stranded and extorted to get home....no thanks. Looking back now you have a great adventure, but at the time I would guess you were a little less pleased.

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  12. Being from Phoenix where rain is so rare, we actually enjoy going places where it rains some.. like the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii... Ken has even suggested we rent a nice bed and breakfast in Oregon or Washington state in rainy season just to storm watch!

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    1. Several years ago we did just that, with a B&B right on the Oregon coast during the winter. A massive storm battered the place with waves and spray. It was magnificent.

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  13. My daughter and son in law went to Thailand in October, a vacation that they had planned and looked forward to for a year. Just as they left, the king in Thailand died, plunging the country into mourning and closing many of the things they had looked forward to doing and seeing. They had some bumpy times, exactly for the reasons you described, but for the most part they were able to roll with it. They recognized that they were seeing history in real time.

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    1. Sort of like our planned trip to England, scheduled for September 14, 2001. Needless to say, it never happened! Your family's did.

      That is an interesting set of circumstances for the two of them to experience. I would have been a nervous wreck.

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  14. I am an overplanner, trying to pack as many experiences into each trip as possible. Strangely enough, when I look back, it's the places where I slowed down and stayed awhile that I remember the most. I've been caught in a riot in Barcelona, contracted hepatitis in Spain, been pickpocketed in Mexico City and Tijuana, experienced a car break-in in Portugal, and the whole family got lice from a hotel at Disneyland. But as you say, these make great stories after the fact. I think the most frustrating vacation experiences usually revolve around differences in opinions/expectations of others - either those you are travelling with, or those that you have gone to visit.

    Jude

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    1. Heavens, Jude, your travels would make a great series on the Travel Channel. The fact that all that happened and you still go places is inspiring.

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