According to Plan


There’s a side to vacationing that isn’t all that much fun. Or relaxing. There are aspects of planning a trip that are frustrating, stressful, and sometimes, downright infuriating. They include picking the vacation spot, and coordinating the transportation.

I travel often, usually heading abroad every other month. Sometimes, it is for research for a book or an article I’m writing, and sometimes it is required for my husband’s job. Often, it is purely for pleasure and adventure (with a little writing snuck in here and there). For some reason, it is this latter type of traveling that makes for the most stress.

First of all, where in the world to go? Literally. Our plans for London or Lisbon can be dashed after a look at the prices of flights. Or, the unbelievable price of the rental car paired with a cheaper airfare to Dublin may nip that destination in the bud. There are so many costs to consider; the flight is cheap, but the hotels are horrendous (Venice in May), or the hotels are a steal, but there is nothing to do (Venice in December).

He wants mountains and waterfalls, I want architecture and history. I like riding the train, he likes driving around in a tiny car. Traveling with another person is an exercise in compromise and teamwork, and that begins the moment the wallets come out to book the trip. A five-star hotel near the Eiffel Tower … or a comfortable loft in St. Germain des Prés?

So, one compromises. Perhaps a coastal village near Renaissance cathedrals to sate our appetites for nature and culture. An admirable three-star with free breakfast instead of that five-star we couldn’t afford.

And after all that, there are still the excursions to consider! But, fret not. Vacations are supposed to be fun. A European adventure usually calls to mind arms full of shopping bags and well-dressed, hat-wearing people sitting leisurely at a café, a glass of wine in one hand and an espresso in the other (and if there was a third hand, it would be holding a croissant). But so often, these sunlit, pastel-perfect ideas of a vacation fall short of our imaginations in the midst of the “seeing it all” hustle and bustle.

My husband and I are equally guilty of this. It is hard not to attempt to check off every last curiosity and “must-see” on our well-researched Internet list or guidebook. But we hardly try that anymore, and I advise against it. It isn’t worth it, and it will make you hate traveling.

More trip advice? Stress like crazy about finding the destination and transportation. Scream and yell and debate with your travel partner over prices and packages, car rental and train tickets, economy comfort seating and upgraded hotel rooms. Frazzle yourself over the logistics, and then when you’re there, kick back.

See your top three sites in any given place, and then settle into a bistro chair and sip something sweet. Look around, smile, laugh. Talk about the castle or cathedral you visited earlier in the day. Sit on the beach and watch the waves. Admire the people around you and judge your own ill-fitting garments against theirs and promise yourself a wardrobe update. Buy a scarf. Buy two scarves. Eat the chocolate mousse, or the éclair or the stroopwafel. Stay out past your bedtime, then sleep late – and enjoy it.

It’s a vacation, after all. And once the planning is over, and you’ve arrived in that perfect location on that optimal flight, relax. You made it.


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