Guestpost by Lauretta Zucchetti
I developed a talent for escaping stressful situations at an early age.
I was around five when I discovered the art of fleeing: Whenever family members fought in front of me, I would open the door to our courtyard, run like lightning across our town of Pavia, Italy, and take refuge in my grandmother’s arms. Over the years, I’ve found more sophisticated ways to retreat from hectic circumstance. Along the way, I’ve learned a few essentials, particularly when it comes to getting away and loving it and getting away and coming back wishing you’d never left.
The Passive and Active Vacation
In general, there are two types of vacations: One is strictly for rest and relaxation; the other is an exploration. To take advantage of the former, it’s best to stay at a place that offers everything you need so that you can focus on finding tranquility. Think of all-inclusive resorts and places like Club Med: The details are taken care of for you, and the extent of your worries is deciding what to wear to dinner and which activity you’ll elect to participate in the next day.
The latter—which, for the record, is my favorite—requires much more groundwork. It also requires creativity, flexibility, an adventurous spirit, and an open mind. It might be a scuba diving escapade off the coast of Barbados, hiking Machu Picchu, or backpacking the Appalachian Trail. Whatever it might be, you should be prepared to say goodbye to what you’re accustomed to and hello to a whole new world, especially if you’re traveling outside of your native country. The language will be different, as well as the currency, the customs, the accommodations, the food, and the people. Embrace it all, as the purpose of an exploration is to broaden your perspective, learn about new cultures and yourself in the process, and revel in the great diversity of our planet.
Expect the Unexpected
When visiting a new and unfamiliar place, pack a willingness to roll with the punches. While traveling in Southern Europe last year, I made the mistake of assuming that every hotel I’d booked would offer internet access.
I stayed at a fabulous hotel on a beach in Santorini that was perfect in every way except one: I was on a deadline and I couldn’t get on line. Every time I asked the proprietor about it, she stared back at me as if I had asked her why they didn’t serve iguana for dinner. The hot water stopped working on my second night at the apartment I rented in the heart of Rome—a surprise, given what I paid for it. It was a Friday and, alas, Italians don’t work on weekends; I couldn’t get it fixed until Wednesday of the following week when a plumber was finally available. I ended up signing up at a local gym in order to take hot showers.
In Spain, I tried to book a train ticket online only to realize that my credit card wouldn’t go through on their website and had to conduct the business over the phone. All of these incidents were nothing more than minor inconveniences, but they do create stress, which translates into returning home less rested and not wholly satisfied.
Rest & Relaxation, or Adventure & Excitement?
Which type of vacation to take depends not only on your budget and the amount of time you have but also on what you believe you need. Will several days of lounging by a pool rejuvenate you, or do you want to reenergize your body, mind, and spirit by trying something—and somewhere—entirely fresh and new?
My advice? If you only have a week, don’t leave the country. The amount of time required to travel abroad will eat into your vacation days—and that’s without factoring in jet lag. If you have more than a week and energy to burn, set out on a trip that will allow you to delight in the unknown and far away from your own backyard. (In a recent study conducted by the Institute of Applied Positive Research, it was determined that 84% of vacationers reported returning home happier when they traveled outside of the country.)
If you select the latter, be methodical in your planning. Ask friends and family members who are familiar with the region for their advice, or if they have someone in the area who might be able to provide you with an insider’s perspective. Read reviews with a close eye. Arrive primed for possible hiccups in your plans, and treat them not as annoyances but as part of the experience–an entertaining tale you will one day be able to share with others.
Finally, if you’re traveling in Southern Europe, have a home base—in a flat or a hotel—and take day trips via train from there. Driving in countries like Italy, Greece, and Spain is maddening, and will add a considerable amount of stress to your trip: The drivers are aggressive, and navigating the maze of streets involves a healthy dose of fearlessness and speed. Southern European countries have excellent public transportation, so take along a small, portable suitcase and enjoy the stunning vistas from the comfort of a train seat.
And if your hot water stops working? I know the name of a terrific gym.
Lauretta Zucchetti was raised in Florence, Milan, and Pavia, Italy. She is a writer, motivational speaker, career and life coach, and the co-founder of Africa Hope Alliance, an organization that provides assistance to impoverished villages in Kenya. Lauretta’s writing has been featured on Thank the Now, SoulFriends, and A Band of Women, and is forthcoming in Literary Mama and Crone: Women Coming of Age. Her award-winning essay, “Mothering Mothers, and Finding Comfort in the Branches of an Empty Nest,” will be published in A Band of Women’s anthology, Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: 71 Women on Life’s Transitions. She lives in Northern California, plays drums in a band, and recently wrote a memoir about her Italian childhood.