With my brief foray into tango, I almost broke one of my travel philosophies. And that’s not to fall prey to “travel shoulds.”
As in, the things you think you should see/do/experience in a particular place.
For years, I felt like I needed to hit every museum in each city I visited. I thought it was necessary to learn about that area’s history, culture and arts. Never mind that I’m not a huge museum-goer in my day-to-day life; I almost never visit the world-class institutions here in NYC.
On other occasions, I made myself eat what I felt I “should” be eating: Chinese food for every single meal in Hong Kong, even though I was really craving a break from the cuisine. A loco moco (white rice topped with a hamburger patty, gravy and a fried egg) in Hawaii, when I actually just wanted a fresh fish sandwich.
I thought that I had to go-go-go on every trip. I hopscotched across cities, beaches and mountains (and climbed every volcano, hit every attraction and tried every restaurant in my path) in an effort to see as many parts of a country as I could in a week or two.
But over the years, I’ve realized that vacations should be exactly that—time off from all the pressure, stress and guilt of everyday life. And there’s no need to make yourself do something you don’t want!
I’ve learned that you can learn tons of culture and history outside of museums. Talking to locals at your hotel or on the bus yields fantastic stories and information about a place. Eating a non-indigenous dish can show you how a culture interprets a cuisine that’s not its own. An awesome family trip to Negril, Jamaica reminded me how re-energizing it can be to stay in one place for an entire trip.
There’s no good reason to force yourself to do something you don’t want to, because you feel you “should”! If you hate staying out late, you shouldn’t feel obligated to experience another country’s nightlife. If you’re frazzled from your flight, or from several days on the road, don’t feel guilty about lounging by a pool for a few hours.
That sounds obvious. But it’s so easy to get caught up in vacation excitement and the feeling that you have to pack tons of activities into your precious few days away from work. (I’m always on the go at home, so it takes conscious effort to slow down, once I’m out of NYC!)
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t get out of your comfort zone—you should definitely seize those opportunities that fill you with nervous excitement. That’s when you’ll often experience the most rewarding moments. I’m talking about those times when your heart isn’t into an activity. Or when you’re exhausted and need a break. Or when you’re convincing yourself to do something over another option you’d truly prefer.
One of the best parts of travel is experiencing a place the way you want to. So go ahead and skip the trendy new restaurant and return to that cute hole-in-the-wall you ate at the night before—and order the same exact dish. Or sit outside people-watching (and eating gelato), instead of strolling through that famous museum. Or go to bed early and wake up refreshed, instead of dragging yourself to that street with all the music bars.
(Climb that volcano only if you want to—not just because it’s there. Volcan Santa Maria, Guatemala—which I did climb, last September!)