The only time you see “vacation’ mentioned in travel articles today is to bemoan the fact that Americans take so little ‘vacation time’. Serious travelers don’t take vacations. They are supposedly searching for something much deeper.  Vacation seems to imply sitting on a beach sipping tall drinks. I think this is a misnomer. At least it is for me.

Am I vacuous or worse yet, “not energetic” to just want to go somewhere different and plan nothing and see what happens?   Honestly, I have become weary of trying to have the ultimate experiential, authentic, life-changing, wellness,  unplugged time of my life on every trip I take.  How many times can you change your life in one or two weeks?  Moreover, I am pretty happy with mine as it is.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel. I love experiencing new places, meeting new people and fully appreciate my need to broaden my perspectives with all the above.  But I have been planning my trips to death, both personal and for work.  I have been worried that if I don’t schedule every minute, I won’t be able to fit everything in; serious FOMO. But no more.  I no longer want to fit everything in. I want to match my days to my mood and my experiences to what I have discovered of the day before.  Experiences that I rarely foresee before I leave.

Station Wagons and Beaches

Vacations, when I was growing up, were crowding the family and dogs into the station wagon for yearly trips to Myrtle Beach.  These were always planned over the fourth of July week because that is when the textile mills in North Carolina closed.  My father was the doctor for many of these mills so that is when we went.   They were great and my brothers and I continued to argue and fight for attention just as we had at home, but the memories of these beach days are stronger than those of my time at home.   A change of venue and change of pace, plus more attention from our parents was just the tonic we needed.  And we knew no different.

Mussolini and Romanovs

Mussolini's Home

Mussolini’s Home outside Rome.

Maybe it is age and maybe it is that I have been fortunate to travel so often, but unplanned time to explore a new or familiar locale is now my primary goal when planning a trip.  This is a little difficult as a travel writer when my mandate for travel is usually a specific topic, but I find my readers usually prefer the unplanned story.

Last year in Rome, I booked Context Travel (a fabulous company that my Travel Advisor suggested I use) for a full day private tour of Renaissance Rome. (Heaven forbid I have an unscheduled minute in a city with so much to do.)  The tour was good in the morning but the real change came as we ate lunch with our historian guide.  She was outlining the rest of our Renaissance day and it sounded good.  But I just asked her off chance, what site would she recommend that few know about?  She immediately said Mussolini’s home right outside Rome.  Hardly Renaissance and not fitting the story I was supposed to write, but I was fascinated and articles about this little known site followed.

I asked the same question in St. Petersburg, Russia and the guide took me to Romanov mansions that had not been open since the revolution. We spent the day wandering around Alexander Park and discovered the abandoned playhouse of the children of Russia’s last Tsar, Nicolas II, just as it had been left when they went into exile.  These were some of my best travel experiences ever, both unplanned. No Catherine Palace with the thousands of other tourists, just wandering a park with no one else in sight, just as the Romanovs did.

Romanov Playhouse

Alexander Park, Playhouse of the children of Nicolas II, the last Tsar of Russia.

My husband and I are planning a cruise this August and we were just online trying to pick out excursions.  We went through day by day.  But I stopped mid-way through this familiar exercise.  In many ports, we decided to wander alone or hire a private guide and ask them to show us their favorite hidden treasures.

Authentic? Experiential?

IMG_1874

The author, on an unplanned day in Helsinki….a true vacation to me.

I know the cruise will be wonderful.  It may not be life-changing—but again, I am kind of happy with mine as is.   There will be fewer Instagram posts of iconic landmarks, but truly, aren’t we all a little tired of those?  And the article I will write?  It might just be about something you never heard of.  The trip will be authentic (aren’t they all?) and it will be experiential (because I will be experiencing it—don’t we all do that every trip?) and most of all it will be personalized, to the moment.  It will be a vacation, just not in Myrtle Beach, but I won’t hesitate to call it that.

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