I have traveled alone and with friends, with my husband, and later, my ex-husband & kids (yes, really!), pregnant, and solo with my children at every stage from infancy to adulthood. What I know for certain is that each trip brought happy moments, adventures, and, yes, challenges to finding joy. Such memories!
Being the resourceful (stubborn) woman that I am, although I find anticipatory planning is critical to my comfort, I also find it equally important to be adaptable and find ways to enjoy and cherish my travels along the way. On those rare trips where the challenges overwhelmed me, I learned valuable insight into what I truly need to be happy when I travel. I would encourage you to search your heart for the same discoveries. It will make your travels all the richer for it.
No matter who I travel with, where I go, or what hiccups we meet along the way, I have noticed a few common threads that have made it easiest to relax, immerse myself in the present moment, and to return home refreshed.
1. Know why you are traveling.
Sounds simple enough. But honestly, you are setting yourself up for anxiety and conflict if you cannot answer this simple question: "Why am I going?" Following someone else's list of "must sees" can be a recipe for disaster. If you are fan of art, then entering 30 art museums may be your version of paradise.
If you become bored after the fifth Monet then daily visits to art museums does not belong on your list. If seeing sculpture but no paintings is what makes your heart sing, then skip the sections of the museum that do not interest you. There is no one right way, just your way! It is YOUR vacation. So honor your own agenda.
Before leaving for my recent travels to Ireland, someone asked me "Why Ireland?" My initial, silent response, was "Are you kidding??" But it is a fair question. We are all drawn to different places and experiences.
Ireland is one of the most beautiful and inviting places that I have visited. The Irish exude a fierce pride in their hard fought independence and anguish over memories of centuries old losses. Yet the Irish are some of the most genuine, and generous people I have ever met.
I was traveling with my son, cameras in hand. We agreed that our focus would be seeking local lore, megalithic tombs, ancient fortresses, and majestic coastal views. Ireland was the perfect place to venture with these purposes in our hearts. We have family history and living relatives there, connections that called us to explore for ourselves. It is liberating to let go of someone else's to-do list and to focus upon what makes your own heart sing!
2.Keep it simple, Take Time to linger- WHAT YOU DO MATTERS
Again this seems obvious, but an overly ambitious itinerary doesn't leave time to savor unexpected discoveries. I had booked two nights on a working farm near Kilkenny, called Lawcus Farms. It had wonderful reviews on Trip Advisor; but they honestly didn't come close to describing the magical essence of the place. I felt an immediate ease and sense of calm upon entering this beautiful place and as if I was leaving family after only two days with Ann-Marie and Mark. We came home with much more than beautiful photographs, in part because we did not hold tightly to a prescribed itinerary. We allowed time to linger.
3.Travel off season WHEN you have a choice.
If you have had the luxury of traveling off season when places are less crowded, then you know how wonderful travel can really be. It is easier to find lodging, the lines are shorter, and wait times for entering points of interest are almost nil.
Knowing that you can change your plan without consequence is attractive to many people. Booking lodgings as you go can be freeing, and safely done off season. That said, I have found that knowing where I am staying each night allows me to relax and enjoy the daily excursions. Even traveling off season, having my lodging arrangements in place gives me a framework for my travels and the peace of mind to become immersed in the moments.
After a long day of explorations and driving on some of the tiniest roads known to man, (okay I haven't been on every road known to man, so this COULD be an exaggeration), we arrived in Strandhill, Sligo. There are no street lights and very few signs to guide you. But I had booked a bed and breakfast inn ahead of time. All I had to do was find the white house with the dormer windows, IN THE DARK, on a country road barely wide enough for two cars. Yup!
Needless to say, I phoned the inn and spoke with the couple who run it. I was asked what landmarks I could see...really!! It was pitch black but I finally passed a pub, clearly marked, and shortly after, the church where he asked me to stop and wait. Five minutes later he drove up, flashed his lights and escorted us to our destination..white house, dormer windows, warm welcome!
4.Know WHERE TO STAY-When in doubt, find a Bed and Breakfast Inn
I highly recommend Bed and Breakfast Inns when traveling, especially when journeying to a foreign country. The proprietors know the local lore and sites and will recommend good restaurants and alternate routes that take you past incredible sites that are not always found in your typical guidebooks. You are guaranteed a warm, hearty breakfast, interesting conversation, and a warm welcome upon your return from your day's adventures.
Choosing places where my own family have stayed in the past made sense as I was making reservations. Having a trusted advisor recommend a place so far from home was reassuring. And, we were greeted like old friends. Charming!
5.know who you are with and your own limitations
No matter how much you enjoy the person with whom you are traveling, travel requires patience, consideration, give and take, and a good sense of humor. Having open communication and a willingness to compromise are critical. Discuss ahead of time with your travel mates their most important agenda items.
Know each person's requirements for privacy, and factor those things into your itinerary as well. It is up to you do your own homework regarding dietary restrictions and medications before you leave for your destination so that it doesn't weigh heavily upon everyone else.
At the same time, know that unforeseen illnesses and injuries are a part of daily life no matter where you are. Be prepared to slow down if need be and accept this change as an opportunity to linger or read that book that is at the bottom of your suitcase.
Finally, remember that you are a guest whenever you travel. Be grateful for the opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture and know that please and thank you are welcome sounds in any language!