Have you ever returned from a vacation feeling you need a holiday from holiday — another week of pressing the snooze button to recover from a bittersweet holidaze? As much as we’d expect our city breaks and visits to holistic beach towns to be a serene break from the everyday, complete with all the noise and nuisances muted out, they can often end up leaving us bedazzled after the airplane has made its final swoop en route back home. If you haven’t tried a more serene, mind-enriching experience yet, you’d be enthused there’s actually a more mindful way of getting around your favourite hotspots in Europe and beyond. All you need is to hop on the bandwagon: get your passbook ready and airplane-mode on… here’s how to enjoy your next vacation without running out of breath.
Words: Hanna-Amanda Pant
Stay True to Your Wanderlust Spirit Sans the Sense of Obligation
You may want to plan months ahead and overwhelm your schedule with museum visits, magnificent architectural sites and marvellous monuments, or tourbus hopping to squeeze the most out of your layover time. But why the rush? Sometimes it’s worth re-thinking your options and the pace of movement. Opting for a more spontaneous way of getting around can sometimes be the key to a relaxed holiday. Leave some gaps in your schedule to actually enjoy the pulse of the city you’re spiralling though, and the quiet pace of summer passing by. You’re entitled to some me-time for taking it all in.
Last August, I decided to go for a rather spontaneous week-long Spanish holiday, only vaguely setting the travel itinerary in place. I arrived in Melilla, a lesser known autonomous city of Spain in North Africa, without any pre-planned schedule in place, except to wander around. On top of visiting the obvious places, like the fort, I was left with plenty of time to have a dozen spontaneous coffee breaks and nibble on Arabic pastries. Also, to admire the city’s Catalan-inspired architectural enigma, and forget myself people-watching on the quiet, harmonious seaside resort. To silently absorb the city’s tranquil atmosphere and stretch my toes out in the sparkling sand. That way, a single lunch became a pleasantly lazy affair, the hustle and bustle of the world around me was unable to disturb this hedonistic oasis I experienced. I had also planned on staying exactly as long as I felt like — I didn’t plan my departure in advance, but decided to go with the flow. That way, I ended up staying for an extra night at Melilla Puerto Hotel just at the beach (much recommended), and opted for an overnight boat cruise crossing the Mediterranean to Malaga, Spain, two days into the holiday. And no regrets. Sometimes it’s well worth deciding your length of the stay on the spot, as it doesn’t oblige you to leave when the destination exceeds all expectations. And if you worry about hotel costs for that extra night or two to squeeze in some more time, you’ll be surprised by the amount of great last-minute deals booking.com has on hold for us, the spontaneous adventurers.
Pack Light and Prepare That Capsule Wardrobe Carefully
If I’d count all the occasions I’ve crammed every single item of clothing I own — from accessories to shoes — into a tiny suitcase burdened with more kg-s than it can bear, I’d run out of lifetimes. No matter how many times I’d assure myself to think through the outfits beforehand, I’d still manage to overpack for the most unexpected occasions — counting up all the youneverknowwww-s, from celebrities I might accidentally run into, to more gloomy reality-checks related to the unexpected surprises the local weather might bring along. I was the one to pack for the most unexpected occasions. However, it’s worth being more practical and plan ahead. Multi-purpose clothes and capsule wardrobe do help here a create deal. Begin planning your holiday wardrobe from the already existing items — starting from the very basics — so you could just shop for the missing sustainable items, if needed.
There’s no need to pile up useless items into online shopping carts: start from what you already have from previous seasons. Even if you spend extra 20 minutes thinking through your holiday outfits — and we, women, know how important the holiday wardrobe is — it’s totally worth saving up space for the souvenirs and local produce you might want to bring along from travels to the distant, exotic lands. Also, be well aware of the local climate and pack some seasonal gear. Even if you never know what London weather is up to despite the season, it probably won’t be monsoon season in Barcelona in mid-August. So, learn to pack light for the blazing temperatures, plan well for winter, and add some extra layers, like scarves and polo necks, for the in-between seasons, like autumn and spring. It’s also a joy to sit back and relax without having to worry about such minor things, like the wardrobe. Instead, you have all the time in the world to inhale the magical sunsets in pastel burnt orange hues and sit down with an ice cold afternoon l’aperol or skinny blueberry tart admiring the lightness of August nights on an Italian piazza.
Give Up the All-Inclusive Package Holiday; Instead: Immerse with the Authentic Local Culture
We all know how head-spinning the atmosphere at famous tourists attractions can be, so to load your batteries sans stress, learn to spend time like locals. It may sound like a cliché that does not deserve reiteration to some avid explorers, but becoming a connoisseur of a few local fads doesn’t necessarily mean staying completely off the beaten track. A real traveller inhales in new experiences by focusing on a rich multitude of the local culture: art, history, cuisine, architecture and local traditions. As a great time-saving tip, follow the customs of the locals: don’t forget they already have all the spare know-how of the destination! Whether blending in with the locals entails taking your Saturday completely off from chores Tel Aviv style, or learning to sip on café con leche as early as 7a.m on a terrace in Spain to boycott the heat. Or celebrating a good few hours of Mediterranean-style siesta and coming out after an invigorating nap for some late-night activities and local music. A great bonus: immersing with locals can also help you to save up the buck, as we all know restaurants made to accommodate tourists never turn out a bargain.
It’s worth getting your research right and seek for less-known places, where the locals eat. Even if they’re not 5-star rated on Tripadvisor. Even if the menu is lined up on an old chalk board marking a few dishes in local language only. That way, I’ve stumbled upon more than affordable 3-course menus in France, without any of the waiters speaking a word of English. And perhaps that’s the catch. In fact, the best meals I’ve ever had were at the tiniest local restaurants located in tiny alleyways without a tourist in sight, be it Spain, Vienna, St.Petersburg or France. You just have to trust your gut, choose a favourable cuisine and work out the place to meet your needs and budget. We also learned how to order our go-to drinks in the local language in Spain and never ended splurging a fortune, as our attempts were always appreciated. Even if it sometimes means using your hands and feet to communicate your orders, the reciprocal quality of the most authentic food, wine and entertainment is well worth it. Do not follow tourist-traps and avoid crowded main squares, even if your initial plan is to relax with a drink — the prices and packed atmosphere can often kill the joy. Unless you truly want to be a part of it. Following the steps and customs of locals also doesn’t take a lot of courage, just get started and you’ll never look back. You’ll soon realise unspoiled places exude their own kind of magic and thrill.
Choose Your Activities Well, and Company Even Better
Every destination you visit needs a certain amount of background knowledge — a recognition of its perks and its threats. Every destination has its own character. You probably wouldn’t enjoy Santorini as much as a family package holiday, but it would turn out to be the most romantic trip of your lifetime when choosing to go as a couple with that special one. Also, Thailand or Morocco might look like great places to explore alone, but at least bring your sister or girl gang along, not to get entirely lost in such a foreign culture imposing its own risks. Although it all depends on your own personal bravery and solo-travelling is certainly getting all the hype, if you dare.
However, it’s also worth thinking twice when choosing your travel companions. And that way you enjoy more, too. In the end, what’s the point of experiencing new cultures at all when you cannot share the newly-found knowledge with anyone? It all comes down to sharing what you learn and observe. Over a meal with a spectacular sea view on a Greek Island it’s also easier to bond with your loved ones in a relaxed environment. Or get someone to look after your belongings when out for a hike or seaside dip. And nothing beats sitting down for a cold beverage after a day of adventures to take it all in, reminisce about the day and connect through humour. You probably also don’t want to choose someone as a travel partner when you’re not on good terms with them — don’t forget there’s even a saying you will not know someone’s personality unless you’ve travelled with them. So, my advice would be, it’s not worth taking the risk and going with someone you’ve just started dating (unless you’re impatient and really want to test out the relationship), or a friend you tend to share different tastes with already back in your familiar hometown. As much as you’d think people are more willing to compromise when on holiday, this is not often the case. And sometimes, even deciding over the most simple things, like where to have a meal or what time to start your day, can stir up a mess and cause an unnecessary hullabaloo.
Appreciate Seasonal Offerings & Squeeze in Some Mindful Retreat
To loop back to the beginning, you’ll never enjoy the holiday as much if it seems like following a strict schedule full of mundane chores: breakfast at 8a.m, then a day of speed-walking through museums, churches, temples, meccas and historic monuments. Quick lunch, city tour on a bus, dinner, 5-minute foot massage and back to bed. No one is asking you to speed up, as if your holiday was a rat race! According to your chosen destination, leave some gaps in your schedule to find out what you truly like to see, and what perhaps to skip. Do some activities-mapping that revolves around your passions. Also, make sure you observe the (sometimes seemingly barely-there) local cultural differences — e.g. if the stores are closed on Sundays, when are museums offering free admission, what’s the best time for an afternoon siesta, what’s considered dinner time according to locals, and when does the sun set. These can give great indication about scheduling in different activities for the day. Be open to surprises. Saw a really interesting antique market or botanical garden you’d like to explore for more than the scheduled 30 minutes? Do it! Give yourself a break. Explore some interests-based places you really enjoy.
The historic landmarks, like Notre Dame and Park Güell, will always be there. But the atmosphere at the fishmongers’ hall, a gourmet cheese tasting event, or organic fashion trade show are all seasonal affairs, and 2011 is definitely different from 2018, judging merely by the atmosphere. Different cities have also a seasonal cultural calendar worth following, like Venice Film Festival in early September, or tulips season in full bloom around mid-April in Amsterdam, so you might want to focus on that very seasonal niche. Or quite the opposite, avoid it in the high season. Many cities worldwide also offer a variety of mindful retreats, like open-air yoga classes, cooking lessons with all-organic ingredients, digital detox, or even spiritual spa retreats offering a journey for all the senses. Make sure to do your research on seasonal events and make the most out of the mindful activities that interest you.
Just remember, there’s no one winner when it comes to stumbling on the next holiday bonanza. But you can easily transform yourself from someone who’s got to hit up all the must-see’s to someone who approaches travelling on a more laid-back, but deeply reflective, compelling and sensory level. Simply give yourself some time to breathe. Learn to get lost in a mix of cultural melting pots, and pick up the tiny rubies and sapphires from a cornucopia of gemstones. And remind yourself — if there still wasn’t enough time to see everything you planned for this vacation, there’s always next time. Don’t stress over schedule changes and make sure your travel agenda doesn’t read like your most stressful workday full of presentations, caffeine induced adrenaline and back-to-back meetings. You’re on holiday to take the best memories of the year back home with you — a holiday should, after all, entail a spectrum of colours, aromas, the sun, lagoon water and that special, mythical quality of the light that is only found at the destination. Reminisce about these treasures, even if summer itself is long gone, and most importantly, learn to switch off guilt-free.