Going on a vacation? Use this guide to create a different kind of experience and make sure you have the best time of your life -- after all, it's your time and your money -- don't waste it making the same choices you would at home!
1. Schedule nothing on arrival/departure days: Especially if you are traveling internationally, but even an hour time difference can cause symptoms of jet lag. Make sure you schedule rest. Note that traveling east to west causes the worst jet lag and often traveling west to east means you will have none (so arriving in Bali you will be raring to go, but coming back, you may be intermittently exhausted for a few days).
2. Suspend family arguments and control issues: This is everybody's vacation, and for just these few days, let harmony reign. A good rule of thumb is unless it will cause an accident (will, not might -- you can trip crossing the street) or screw up a whole day's plans, maybe you can let it slide this time and allow the kids to set their own schedule or yourself not to plan things down to the minute.
3. Schedule downtime: Have you ever come home from a vacation so exhausted you needed a vacation? Here's what we do for our tours: interweave full-day tours or activities with half-days and schedule nothing every 4th day. So your schedule in Morocco might be:
Day 1 - Full day tour of Casablanca
Day 2 - half-day camel ride out into the desert, dinner at Rick's Café Americain
Day 3 - morning belly dance class, afternoon - transfer to Marakkesh
Day 4 - day off, dinner at Riad where we're staying
Day 5 - full day tour of Marakkesh
4. Stay flexible: It's vacation, not work. It's a new place. Things may not go according to plan; in fact, they rarely do, especially in places where the culture doesn't run the same (like Hawaii or Bali, where they have "rubber time" -- talk about needing to be flexible!) Does it really matter if you are on time, or if there's a detour? As a wonderful exercise that will serve you well when you are back home, give yourself a day to explore where you make no advance plans and just ask locals for suggestions as you go - you never know when your waitress at breakfast or the cab driver will suggest something terrific!
Tiger's Nest Monastery in Bhutan, experience something new on your trip, especially if it takes you outside your comfort zone. Who knows? Perhaps going to the trouble of taking your shoes and socks off to walk on the little strip of beach you stumbled on will turn out to be one of the highlights of your whole trip!
6. Be open: Your own culture is wonderful, but they don't do it that way where you're vacationing, whether it's Texas or Thailand. Don't expect it to be the same and don't mind when it isn't. If you wanted it to mirror your past experience, you could have stayed home.
7. It doesn't have to be perfect and neither do you: If you make a cultural mistake (like touching someone's head in Indonesia) just apologize and move on through it. You'll know for next time and you'll probably never see these folks again. Don't let something small blow up into something big that will ruin the trip or be all your family remembers.
8. Be mindful: Can you let it go before you complain or "fix" something? It's vacation -- the perfect time to relax moment to moment, not just for the few hours you're lying on the beach. Perhaps it didn't quite go as you planned -- maybe you snapped at the security guard, or the bellman, or your husband. It's never too late to take three deep breaths (which calms you instantly), smile, offer an apology (if it's needed) and put it behind you. Holding onto your bad feelings can ruin a whole afternoon or a day of this precious time. What's really more important?
9. Slow down for gratitude: This is a great exercise for yourself, and works as well when you are with family or a group, whether you are on a family road trip or a private tour of Stonehenge. Take the time to notice something you can be grateful for, or ten things! Everyone can turns telling each other gratitudes, and it's a great opportunity be happy in the moment.
10. Stay present -- lose the technology: For heaven's sake turn off your phone and leave your computer at home -- did you really come all this way to be tied to devices... or your boss? If you've got a guide with you, ask him or her to take photos. If you're the photographer, limit yourself to some pictures when you arrive at a new location and a few at a great "view spot." Otherwise, you run the risk of seeing your whole trip from behind a camera, which is an arm's length experience at best. When you get home and settled do take the time to upload your photos to an online service like Shutterfly or Snapfish. You can download them almost instantly (in chronological order) into a photo book that will make a wonderful gift for others on the trip or for your own memories.
11. Give back: Whether it's volunteering for a half-day at a local charity, making a donation to the animal shelter down the road from your hotel, or acknowledging housekeeping with an extra-big tip, this is a small way of giving back to the place you're visiting. Like adding an 11th tip on a list of 10, give more than you need to -- it feel almost as wonderful as a vacation.
All photos © Spirit Quest Tours, except Tiger's Nest Monastery © Joshua Liberman, The Tao of Photography