In my life travel has has been a catalyst for my career, an integral part of my education and a formative influence on my growth as a human being. After 15 years touring Europe and North America, I have come to regard vacationing as essential for mental and physical well being. Here are a few important benefits.
Something to Look Forward To: Do you know that feeling when you order something from EBay and you’re waiting for it to come? Planning and anticipating a vacation can have the same effect on a much greater scale.
Six months before I graduated college I decided on a celebratory backpacking trip through Europe. The anticipation made that last semester fly. Pouring over maps, seeking out hostels and ordering equipment in the weeks before also whetted my appetite for adventure.
Years later, when my wife and I were living in Istanbul, we made a point of traveling every two to three months for the same reason. Living in such a large and crowded city and daily doses of culture shock had a tendency to wear us down. Thus planning out short trips to Cyprus, Munich or Cappadocia was a carrot helping us cope with the daily grind.
Problem Solving and Exploration: Europe is a gigantic, elegant obstacle course. With dozens of countries in close proximity, each with its own language, cuisine, customs and rules, your abilities to negotiate languages, avoid getting ripped off, navigate mass transit systems and manage your time are constantly tested. These challenges, if met with resourcefulness and courage, provide much of the flavor of traveling abroad.
During the first month of my backpacking trip I followed a carefully planned itinerary through Spain and France. However, as I was about to depart Nice for Switzerland, I found that I could not ignore the desire to see Rome. Spontaneously I hopped a train to the border town of Ventimiglia where I discovered that getting to Rome would require a five hour wait and a series of overnight trains. I made the best of it, camping out by a deserted beach on the Mediterranean where I swam, read and ate a picnic lunch. Once in Rome, I was essentially homeless while I worked out accommodations. I was tired, dirty and nervous but I was also exhilarated; I had managed the situation.
If you’re looking for a trip rife with such problem solving, the island of Sicily is studded with beaches, nature preserves, cities and temples that are scattered throughout its stunning countryside. Try renting a car with a rough itinerary of cities and hotels. From locals you can find the real gems of the island, the sites between the tourist traps.
Sunshine, Exercise and Sleep: If you’re looking for recharge, a properly planned vacation can provide the rejuvenation you’re looking for. Sunshine produces vitamin D and can clear up skin. Swimming in the ocean and walking on sand are also excellent exfoliants. Exercise minimizes stress and promotes the flow of oxygen. After a hard day of hiking or white water rafting, you’re also practically guaranteed to have a good night’s sleep.
Having lived in Colorado for the past four months, I can attest to the variety of exciting activities on offer. You can find trails in Rocky Mountain National Park for all skill and fitness levels. In winter Colorado boasts the best ski resorts in the country. For thrill seekers the state offers rafting on the Snake or Arkansas rivers, climbing at the state’s 54 “Fourteeners” and even skydiving, hang gliding and ballooning.
De-stressing: There is, of course, a lot to be said for truly the relaxing vacation. If you live a high octane, pressure filled life, rest, luxury and pampering can be just what the doctor ordered.
In 2008 my wife and I were lucky enough to have two honeymoons. After our wedding, we flew down to Savannah, Georgia where we stayed in a stately 19th Century B&B replete with hot tubs, fireplaces and gourmet breakfasts. That week we simply wandered, enjoying seafood, art museums, carriage rides and even a couple’s massage. We took each day slowly, enjoying one another and refusing to be prodded by an overly packed schedule.
Two months later, while back in Turkey, we discovered that, owing to the effects of the Economic Downturn, flight and hotel prices for Europe’s most luxurious destinations had more than halved. Thus we spent an eight day trip in Venice over Christmas in a four star hotel a scant hundred yards from St. Mark’s. We made entire afternoons out of browsing boutiques or finding charming bistros in the remotest corners of that most intricate of cities. Some nights we stayed in watching Christmas movies in Italian and eating pizza, gnocchi or caprese from room service. It was decadent and, even with our savings on air and hotel fare, extremely expensive. However, I treasure those memories and I wouldn’t trade them for ten times the money that we spent.
Thus, while you may not be able to afford a trip to Venice, London or New York City very often, if you’ve got the spare cash, you’d be amazed at what feeling like a rock star can do for your psyche.
Sex: While sociologists don’t collect the data, it’s basically a fact that couples have more sex on vacation. Think about it: no work, good food, good wine and sunshine all the while surrounded by good looking and fashionable people. Sounds like an easy recipe for intimacy.
If you’re looking for some alone time, try a fall or winter vacation. With cold weather and less daylight, you’re more inclined to spend time by the fire or beneath the sheets. One of the best romantic vacations is a weekend trip to Lake George in upstate New York, particularly when the leaves change. There are numerous secluded cabins with lake views around town. You can also take moonlit cruises.
Romania is a fantastic winter getaway. The eastern European nation is still one of the most rugged, beautiful and cheapest corners of the EU. The Carpathian town of Sinaia was a favorite with the Romanian nobility and later, the Soviets. At the ski lodge, which can only be reached by two gondola rides, you can enjoy roasted pork tenderloin served on a wooden slab and piping hot spiced wine served at your cliff side table overlooking the mountains and miniature town thousands of feet below.