In America, we have a tendency to overwork. We fetishize discipline and drive, and anyone who isn’t putting in extra hours at the office clearly doesn’t want it enough — whatever “it” is. We hoard our vacation, barely taking time for holidays and leaving the idea of summer trips in the dust.
So, it’s no wonder that when we do think of planning a vacation, we often imagine lounging on a beach or sitting poolside, a cocktail in one hand and a magazine that we might (or might not) flip through in the other. Taking time off work means taking time to do nothing, relax and recharge, and Instagram all about it.
We’ve got it all wrong.
It’s time that more people left behind resort culture and turned their trips upside down. I’m not saying that everyone needs to climb a mountain or become a backpacker, but it’s time vacations were rethought.
The tendency to disengage and checkout for a week in order to recharge is backwards — our minds flourish and grow when we challenge ourselves, experience new things, and create new memories. Introducing yourself to a new culture and challenging your assumptions about how life is to be lived is the ultimate way to inject fresh perspective to your age-old routine upon return.
Travel for Enrichment
Lounging is a great way to relax (and a good beach day certainly has its place), but it’s totally insular. Spending your vacation time in a resort predetermines what you will experience. You’ll be surrounded by other travelers in an environment designed to feel familiar enough while still maintaining the guise of an exotic destination. You’re paying (and probably too much) for the privilege of complacency. By limiting what you do while abroad, you’re not giving travel the ability to comment on your life, make observations, or teach you.
Travel has the potential to make you uncomfortable — and that’s good. Stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t always pretty. That’s okay. Growth and connections happen when you set aside your learned behaviors and allow new information and situations to shape who you are. Travelling for extended periods of time has the ability to change your personality, opening up your mind to new experiences and even increasing your emotional stability.
When you’re consistently in stressful situations (remember that not all stress is bad), you learn how to take care of yourself. Being in a new country with new people and food helps you to understand basic things about yourself, like how much sleep you need, how extroverted you are, and how you prefer to make friends.
Heading out on vacation prepared to embrace the local culture of your destination and learn about yourself in the process changes the game. When you put down the smart phone and stop “doing it for the ‘gram,” you get to look at your environment with fresh eyes and revel in what you enjoy most.
Travelling has the potential to be so much more than an escape. When I travel, my goal is to leave everything I assume behind and fully immerse myself in a new world — one that will challenge me, show me new sights, and maybe even teach me a thing or two about who I am and where I belong in the world.
Making It Happen
Writing a list of dream destinations a mile long is the easy part, but actually getting away can feel impossible. Financially, it may not seem feasible. Chances are, though, there’s a way to make travelling work for you.
If your budget is holding you back, figure out where the shortcoming is. Either you’re not making enough, or you’re spending too much. First, track all of your spending for a couple months and see where you can cut expenses. If you find you have the money available but aren’t setting it aside, try a savings challenge. It gamifies putting money away and makes it more gratifying.
If you find you’re not making enough, though, you’ll have to get more creative. If you just want to save up enough to pay for a vacation and offset taking time off work, considering adding a side hustle (or six). Our digital culture serves us well in this respect, and you can find someone to pay you for just about anything. Take up dog walking, freelance writing, delivery driving, or whatever tickles your fancy.
If your travel yen is bigger than a week-long getaway can satisfy, you’re not alone. The digital nomad life is gaining traction, and getting started is easier than ever. In fact, you might already be employed with a company that offers remote work options. If you’re not, take a good look at your skill set and consider how you can leverage those skills for freelance work. Digital nomad life may be more feasible than you think.
While You’re Abroad
It’s all good and well to talk about idealistic travel where you’re breaking out of the resort mold and experiencing the culture, but it’s another thing to do it. Here are a few things to keep front of mind as you’re heading out into the world:
- Budget travel is your friend. Whether you’ve got limited cash flow or not, who doesn’t like to save money? With the prevalence of AirBnB and other similar resources, cheap no longer has to mean sketchy. Shop around for bargain housing, independent tour guides, and restaurants off the beaten path that locals swear by. You’ll stretch your dollar farther and get closer to the culture while you’re doing it.
- Talk to the locals. They’ll know your destination better than any guidebook will, and you might even find an impromptu tour guide. At every restaurant I eat at on trips, I ask the waitstaff what I should do in the city if I only have a day. They’ll give you the highlights and almost everyone answers differently.
- Build your freelance resume. If you’re taking any sort of extended trip, making money while you’re abroad is a great way to offset travel costs. If you’re not actively freelancing while you travel, you can take advantage of plane, train, or bus time by taking free courses that’ll build your resume — one step closer to that digital nomad life. You can also guest post for travel blogs or other sites to build your portfolio.
- Make it easy to work. If you have to put time in “at the office” while you’re abroad, don’t make it difficult to do. Block out time in your schedule (first thing in the morning gets it over with) and stick to it. Find a space that’s strictly for work, bring your headphones, and tune in to get the job done, whatever it takes.
- Don’t forget to play. While this might be an anti-resort, down-with-lazy-vacation manifesto, there’s still a time and a place for relaxation. Give yourself a beach day, get a spa treatment, or binge a little Netflix in your bathrobe; it is vacation. Just don’t neglect the wonderful, rich world right outside your door. Go forth, experience, and learn.
Alyssa Robinson is a happy Pacific Northwester with a background in Communication and Management. She enjoys writing about communication strategies, budgeting, and travel, and is always up for a good debate. If she’s not reading or writing, she’s probably cooking something delicious or waltzing around a ballroom.