May 2, 2022

A Disappointing Vacation

 


A week or two ago I asked about your vacation plans for this coming summer and fall. Has Covid and its aftermath changed how and where you will go? Have the last few years of being pent-up made you ready to hop onto or into anything that moves...any excuse to get out of town?

As expected, the responses reflected folks' mixed emotions about an important part of their life that is being approached with caution. Slowly, major trips are being rescheduled and fingers crossed by some, while others remain close to home or in the more protected confines of an RV.

With these travel possibilities ahead, one reminder must be voiced: 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. Yes, even post-Covid, a getaway can get away from you.

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 at double speed. Luckily, my wife and one of my daughters are fine with this. Our other offspring 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, that her approach has gained much appeal as I get older. Why should a vacation be a forced march?

When Betty and I took our first Alaskan cruise a few years ago (just before Covid was even a thing), 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 simply 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, and 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 is 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 milkshake 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 almost been 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 30 years later). 

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

There is never a bad time to learn to exhibit more patience at things you cannot change. There is never a wrong time to learn to adjust your plans.

But, why do these learning moments have to happen on vacation?


33 comments:

  1. Shortly after we took delivery of our first travel trailer, we spent five days in Pennsylvania with our kids, who were ages seven and twelve at the time. It rained all five days, the Italian bakery we were all looking forward to visiting was closed and we spent eight hours in a Philadelphia hospital emergency room since one of the kids needed stitches after a fall on the steps of a museum. We decided right then and there that, if the four of us could survive five rainy days in a 240 square foot box, we could handle almost anything. No matter how well we plan or how much we hope, life sometimes throws curve balls. It's how we handle life's disappointments and difficulties that matters. My guess is that anyone who shakes off the curve balls in daily life will be better equipped to handle travel troubles and vacation woes when they arise.

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    1. Good observation, Mary. Attitude is the key to getting through life, one filled with lots of curve balls. Once we had two full days of rain while in the RV, but it was only the two of us, plus a dog and it wasn't bad, except for walking the dog in the rain and mud!. Question: ever been back to Philly?

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    2. Bob, we thought Philadelphia was delightful. We got to see everything we wanted and even some things we didn't plan on (like the ER). It's not on our "Return To" list, but part of the reason is simply that it's a large city. Do you have ties to Philly?

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    3. i was born there and lived in the area for the first 8 years of my life.

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    4. Ah, then I'm guessing that the city's history and culture didn't make much of an impression on you at that age.

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  2. Bob, I meant to comment on your previous vacation post so I'll add my 2-cents worth here. I can't remember a trip that was thwarted in any way. We've certainly traveled from time to time throughout our 43 years of marriage but my wife and I have pretty much come to the conclusion that "less is more". Day trips and one or two night stays are all we need every now and then to satisfy the travel urge. And it's a pretty weak urge at that. The one most recent exception to this was 3 years ago when we spent 10 days in England (Oxford, Cotswolds, Yorkshire Dales) with our adult son traveling with us and serving as travel planner and rental car driver. We LOVED it. But, it was because he was with us. On our own we like the occasional short getaway. If you've read Donna's recent post on Retirement Confidential called "Do you need a vacation calibration?" then you'll understand some of our thoughts. I like to cook and we eat healthy so finding good affordable food while traveling is challenging. A lot of vacation/destination locations are maximized to extract as much money for minimal return. I'm a planner like you and all of that planning just seems too much for what we get. In short, I guess our daily retirement lives are enjoyable so there really doesn't seem to be a need to "go away" to escape or recharge. Change of scene every now and then is nice. But again, a day or two seems to satisfy that.

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    1. I am in your universe, Don. We have done our share of traveling, but anymore I am content with an occasional getaway for something special. Taking Betty to Disney World a few months ago pretty much "cured" me of plane travel and horribly overpriced, crowded, touristy-type places. I am glad we did it, but have no interest in going again.

      We have a 4 day getaway to the White Mountains of Arizona in July. Otherwise, maybe a two-day trip to Bisbee in the fall and I will be good. Betty still wants to revisit the U.K. in a year or so. Hopefully we will have enough miles built up to take that 9 hour flight from Phoenix in Business Class!

      BTW, I agree with you, Don. I would have left the wine in the car.

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  3. The length of a vacation is key. Two weeks seems to be the sweet spot for me; after that, I'm antsy for home. Most of my out-of-country vacations (England, Australia, Costa Rica, TX, Portugal) were to visit with friends and family; you don't want to overstay your welcome. And with that, choosing a travel partner wisely is key as well. I've never had a vacation per se go bad but there have been some airport experiences at either end that I could do without. Part of the fun is in the planning. I think we need to determine the purpose of the vacation - change of scenery, R&R, experiential/service. Like Mary says, be prepared for some curve balls. I once heard this comment - create a life that you never need to take a vacation from. I get as much or more satisfaction from the short day trips that Don refers to.

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    1. Your two week comment resonated with me. Regardless of where we are going, it takes about 3 days for my "bubble" to burst, meaning I finally relax from the trip and the change in routine to enjoy where we are. I have been known to have a bit of a meltdown and demand to go home, a few hours after arriving somewhere. Lack of control may be the trigger, but Betty knows it is coming and talks me down.

      And, yes, after two weeks my focus starts to shift toward home. That was not true in the RV, but it is on vacations that involve planes, trains, or automobiles.

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  4. I just got back from a week-long trip to New York. A round of golf got rained out; I spent a day and a half sick in bed; I missed a family dinner and the dance program we'd bought tickets for in NYC. Bummer. But ... I nevertheless got to see some old friends; did get to go to one family dinner at a fun NYC restaurant; spent time with my son and sisters. Disappointing. But a good vacation nonetheless. I guess it all depends on how you look at it.

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    1. I won't use the lemonade from lemons cliché (?) but you are quite right. What could have left a bad taste in your mouth, didn't. One of the factors that separates a satisfying retirement from one that is a slow slog through life is how difficulties are handled.

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  5. Our worst vacation was, by far, our most expensive, a two week cruise around South America. It wasn't weather or illness, it's just that it honestly wasn't that interesting and there was a not so subtle vibe of anti-Americanism in a few places. Fine, we have other places to spend our cash.

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    1. Interesting. It reminds me of people who rave about a trip to Antarctica. Looking at snow, ice, and rocks while spending a small fortune to do so has never resonated with me.

      An honest revelation: I am uncomfortable in two specific situations: where the area is so poor and living conditions are so miserable that I feel quite guilty spending so much on a vacation, and a place where I am not welcome. I experienced both those feelings on a trip to Jamaica, enough so I have not been back to the Caribbean.

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    2. Some friends talked us into a winter getaway a few years back. It was an all inclusive in Jamaica, and the poverty we drove past on the way to the resort made me very uncomfortable. The resort employees were friendly and not unwelcoming, but the inequality made me very squeamish. We won't be going back.

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    3. Don't write off the whole Caribbean based on a visit to one island. If you go to the Cayman Islands you'll probably find most people make more money than you do. Among others the French Islands of St. Martin or Guadeloupe are reasonably prosperous as are the Virgin Islands (U.S. or British). Of course the package holiday bargains are going to be on the more cash strapped island nations but they certainly aren't all like that.

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    4. Betty and I did go to the Caymans 45 years ago and enjoyed it. We had a trip to St. Croix scheduled years ago that was wiped out by a hurricane. Your point is well taken.

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  6. Being a planner myself I can understand the over scheduling problem. Our first post-retirement trip to Greece was busier than we liked so mid-trip we started taking "days off" there were things planned but we just didn't do them. Now what I do is I plan one day on with an activity, sites to see, or travel between places (say going from one city to another) and one day off where we can just kick around and do whatever interests us or nothing at all. We find that works well for us.

    I pay attention to the typical weather for that time of year when planning our vacations. One thing I have learned is that usually the "high season" is the high season for a reason and going "off season" typically means the weather won't be the best. Most often I book a couple of weeks just before or after the high season to have somewhat reduced crowds and usually the weather is still good.

    You are right about travelling to a foreign country and then expecting it to be the same as home. It 100% won't be which really should be one of the reasons you went there in the first place. But if certain things are not for you please do your research ahead of time and then decide if it's still worth it for you to go there. This is not a criticism, live your life as you wish to, but no sense going somewhere only not to like it for whatever reason. As Socrates said: “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”

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    1. We tend to book things during the "shoulder" season: between high seasons. Peak tourist time does usually mean better weather but also means means more people and higher prices.

      Avoiding a place where you think you will be uncomfortable with most customs, food, and activities is good, common sense. At the same time, one must remember that to experience new and different you can't stay firmly entrenched in your comfort zone.

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  7. To travel locally or out of the country always brings new things to experience and discover. "Discover" is the root word here. That's why we go places, isn't it? Being retired for me is like being on vacation. If I want a change in scenery I can go on a hike or just hop on my motorcycle with no specific destination with just the road. The "road" is now our escape route post Covid times if we have no desire to ride in a tube, boat, or train. Last October we towed our trailer and had our first winter camp trip along the coast of Northern California and up the coast through Oregon. We booked campsites for two night stays and really enjoyed our meals and camp fires in the evening. Morning coffee sipped leisurely and then an after breakfast hike to keep things moving. Was there rain and fog? Yes, you're coast side so you just layer up and enjoy it. Clean air and majestic sights, it doesn't get any better to truly appreciate the day when you're in the moment. A lot of gap time to just savor being outdoors, that's living. In a rush? Of course not, I did that during the working years. I fight the logic of rushing to have a good time. Like when you go to Hawaii, no one is in a hurry. If you're a type A person, good luck with your blood pressure level. When we travel these days, keep an open mind and attitude. We are not in control and there will always be curves coming our way. Enjoy the sunrises and sunsets, we only have so many to be grateful for.

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    1. When I read your comment I have an urge to get another RV. You have captured some of the best parts of having your home with you, in nature, and no schedule.

      As a type A persoanilty I do find it hard to let go for the first few days of any travel, though I have improved since retiring. I no longer worry about gettimg back to work. But, old habits die hard.

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  8. Or the plane struck by lightening along with 12 others (all jumbo jets) and ending up stuck in Heathrow for 2 days. Hubby getting sick from not drinking enough, missing the first two days of the tour. Yup, a good story. However, we made the most of it and still had fun once hubby was feeling better. Moral of the story, go a couple of days early and be sure to drink enough.

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    1. Good advice, especially about staying hydrated. At our age that is crucial.

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  9. We once took a family RV trip with our three young kids, my parents, and my just barely adult brother and sister. It was a crowded adventure which started out OK, detoured in Salt Lake City for a two day repair of the rental RV, and each morning started with the news enumerating the day of the Iran Hostage Crisis. We drove from Minnesota through the Black Hills, into Reno and then San Francisco where we picked up my brother's son to bring him back home. To LasVegas, Hoover Dam, through New Mexico, up to Colorado, through Nebraska and finally made it back to Minnesota. Without going into the gory details, we call it the Winnebago Hostage Crisis and that about sums it up.

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    1. Spare us the details, but with the number of people crammed into a rental RV, I can picture it. The name is a clever tie-in to that time in our country's history.

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    2. Ha! Many crazy trips from Minnesota, including the Black hills with kids and ……. 100% travel with kids and as adult/retirement aged are on two different planets. My dear husband who died 26 years ago at 41 had a saying that rings true for now my adult kids on vacation with the grandkids (the older two each have six, my older daughter and her family are going with the RV for three weeks inJune to Yellowstone and around) but his quote is “it always took us a few years to think we had a good time”. And it’s so true, we will all reminisce about that “great last time in Duluth” forgetting fights, lost kids, flat tire……ha! We repeat his phrase often and have good laughs about the memories. The bad fades the good becomes better!

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    3. That is absolutely true..we remember the good parts of something while the negative parts fade away.

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  10. What in the heck to you call a milkshake in Boston??

    Add to your list getting caught in the middle of a revolution in another country. Yep, that was a vacation to remember. Still grateful to the person at the consulate who whispered to us to go straight back to our hotel and stay there.

    Loved reading people's stories. By the way, I'm with the other daughter. My first time in Paris was only a weekend, and I decided to just stroll along the Seine and sit in sidewalk cafes and people watch. I had a much better time than if I had tried to cram all the sights into such a short time.

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    1. If you order a milkshake in Boston you get flavored milk. If you want ice cream you order a frappe.

      I'd say getting caught in a revolution qualifies as the worst vacation ever.

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  11. I've always said that the most important thing to pack is a good attitude. Two people can experience the same event and come away with completely different impressions. Why not choose the positive one?

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  12. I actually like the hiccups that sometimes come along during a "planned" trip. They're like markers in our lives. Like a pacemaker that beeps when you're in Greece because you left the remote in the US and when you shocked yourself on a stove the pacemaker reacted. So you go to an ER in Athens where no one speaks English and you get excellent care even though they don't know your name. Makes for the memories!

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    1. Well, that is quite a memory, Linda! That is a first for this blog.

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