How many of you feel that you need a vacation after taking a vacation? All the planning, preparation, exhaustion, and regret on the things that we didn’t get to accomplish. I used to be a relentless planner for my vacation, dreaming of the ideal and perfect vacation that provides the sweetest memories. I researched the destination to death, monitored the weather by the hour, and tried to squeeze in as many popular attractions or activities as possible. I even created a spreadsheet to optimize my Disney trip to minimize the wait time and maximize the attractions that our whole family can get to (that’s before the digital wrest bands) tailored based on their personal preference. It’s a big operation!
Things do not always turn out the way you want. Flight delays, weather events, pandemic closure, and most importantly my teenagers' unpredictable moods and ever-changing preferences made me give up the dream vacation ideas for the past 3 years, in exchange for real learning experiences. We explored all the metro parks in our city in one year, tried several not well-known state parks within 3 hours' driving distance, and visited a few big cities with no special attractions in mind. We walked in the mud, biked in the rain, wandered around the city, and skipped most of the major attractions. We talked to people and met friends. We learned how to deal with the differences among our own family members. I let my teenagers learn and explore the world on their own without a guide, and experience different ways of living.
Now, vacation has become a truly relaxing and recharging experience. I used to optimize our activities based on the weather, but I found that biking in the rain for two hours in the summer was actually fun! My daughter walked around the city without a map and enjoyed all the surprising things she discovered at the various shops. She even learned to exchange dollars to local currencies when one of the largest network providers went down and all credit card transactions were not available. She gave cash to old grandmas who were selling homemade snacks on the street at a very cheap price just to make a living. She felt so sad for them. My boy said the best experience was to wander around the city with his sister, instead of going to the highest-rated museum. We enjoyed the conversation with a Canadian professor we met while walking in the rain and learned about Canadian’s points of view on America. We met both new and old friends in the cities and found having time with friends is far more attractive and memorable than any tourist attraction.
My kids have taught me a lesson that I almost forgot about. Vacation is actually part of the learning experience: learning about ourselves and each other, learning about different ways of spending the 24 hours we have every day, learning about real-world outside our little bubbles, and learning about handling the unexpected and solving problems in reality, not in the classroom nor on the perfectly planned vacation itinerary. We start to appreciate more what we have than to regret what we don’t have, such as a perfect vacation. With an unplanned vacation, we came back relaxed, recharged, and refreshed with a new perspective on the world and life.