Travel stress, and a surprising way to avoid it.
I travel a lot, and in recent years i’ve traveled in a myriad of different manners. Alone, with family, to fancy resorts, and to tiny B&B’s with no one around for miles except the owner. A little tent camping and a hostel thrown in for good measure, too. One constant has been that travel brings about stress. We ‘vacation’ to take a break from everything, but for us (and most people, I assume) we don't have a never-ending well of money and time, so planning and paying for travel also includes a huge amount of pressure and anxiety over how we can possibly fit such breaks into our lives. I will preface this by saying that one thing I always require in my travel, regardless of budget or length of trip, is autonomy over my schedule and as few tourist activities as possible; I really loathe anything with an admittance line, shuttle service, crowds of people taking photos, guide books, drink tickets, wristbands, or ‘meals included'. When I visit a place, I like to walk around my own or with my family, get a sense of the textures, aesthetics, smells, etc, and talk to people that work in the stores/restaurants just because it’s fun. I like to re-visit places a bunch of times because once my curiosity is piqued, I really like to exhaust it. I can see why some people could say i’m bringing all this travel stress on myself by not just going on a cruise and letting them take care of everything, but a cruise or an all-inclusive stands in stark opposition to nearly everything I believe in, so I choose to bear the burden of travel plans myself.
Looking back at this variety of travel experiences, I see that the easiest trips - the ones that allowed for the least stress and the least anxiety - were the ones that looked on paper to be the ‘hardest’. I blogged previously about my solo hiking trips to England, and those win by far for being the most affordable, the simplest, and the most restorative. The big resort trips to Hawaii and Florida have been great too, but the massive amount of planning, calculating loyalty point options for weeks in advance, researching allowable destinations that please everyone, and booking the second the reward slots open, the packing for a multitude of activities, the expense of food and jet ski rentals and scuba excursions, all of it - it’s just so MUCH. A solo hiking trip requires basically nothing except a good attitude and willingness to be damp for more than a few hours. If you bring friends or family, they also only require the same things.
Before I tried the hiking, we had stayed in a barely-standing VRBO ‘cottage’ on the beach in Anna Maria, Florida. AMI has no chain hotels or resorts, and we were determined to stay ON THE SAND, so we went with the best option that could fit the 4 of us and our budget. On AMI, even the sketchy looking places can be pricey, and our cottage had some holes in the walls that afforded a view of the sand, and I don’t think the bathroom had been free of humidity in years. However, we left there saying we would absolutely come back and stay in the same place, because the destination overall was so perfect for us. That experience blew open a whole new way of traveling for me, and afterward I didn’t even think twice about booking nights in rural pub inns with no showers and chicken coops for neighbors. On my recent hiking trips, I had originally wanted to sleep wild camp, but I was determined to wear all my gear, and I just wasn't sure if I could physically carry 8 days of clothes, snacks, a tent, sleeping bag, etc for a climate that could be both wet and cold at night. However, even with booked accommodation, I averaged only $100 per day including food, and I could have brought that down even more if I only ate packed snacks. I felt completely spoiled and extravagant when enjoying a sit-down meal on those trips, even if it was just a grilled cheese and tomato soup. The liberation that comes from relying only on your own two feet, and the occasional friendly ride from the son of a cafe owner that happened to be going your way and she insisted he take you, is surprising. You have no cab to pay for, no rental car counter line to argue at, no penalty fees for being in a strange and remote location, no closing times or gate check-ins, even your hands are free because of the backpack! The really good part is that the whining stops. It’s an interesting psychological transformation that happens when people are only depending on themselves, and not technology or the occupations of others in order to provide them with a service. You just ‘do it’. You don’t hem and haw over paying for parking, or cabs, or tours. You can’t complain when the service is slow or the driver is rude, or the pillows aren’t firm enough. All there is to do is rely on yourself and enjoy the moments. If you sit for 3 hours enjoying the sunset while eating cheese and crackers and wiping your hands on your pants, you enjoy that sunset a lot more than you would if you were distracted by the loud party at the table next to yours that also made a reservation for a ‘sunset view’ table. Sure, I love getting dressed up for dinner, even if it’s pizza, but I REALLY love to not worry about which outfit to pack for which dinner and which restaurant will have a menu I can eat from and has prices I can tolerate.
I’m getting pretty sidetracked here, but that’s par for the course when I think about travel. That’s probably why like the 'simple’ travel better as well, because there is less static to get in the way of enjoying the trip. If you have been twisted up trying to figure out what kind of trip to take yourselves or your family on, one that would best help you unwind and de-stress, seriously consider going in the complete opposite direction of the all-inclusive, preplanned, and prepackaged trip. Free yourself from the comforts that we burden ourselves with and find a trip that provides you with less in order to experience more. It doesn't have to be 2 weeks of constant physical exertion in the outdoors - that works for me but not everyone. For example, we are headed to New Orleans soon for a long weekend, and since we’ve been there before, our ‘plan’ is to just get there and walk around or rent bikes and NOT have a plan. We are staying cheap, plan to never be in the room, and just wander. Another option if you aren't a wanderer and a walker might be a trip that focuses around a class, or a skill, like a week at a ceramics studio or art retreat - no rental cars or dinner reservations needed.
Letting go of all the soft landings and conveniences that we think promote relaxation can actually be more relaxing than clinging to them and being afraid to go without. I’ve only been home a few days, but already I am wondering how to scam my way into another walking trip, and maybe this time taking it up a notch and sleeping out? Who wants in on that delicious freedom???