I snapped a picture a couple of days into a vacation I took with my family to the Florida Keys. As I sat on the back porch in between a day of fishing and the traditional post dinner card game with my kids, I knew I would want to capture this moment. It was beautiful, so I recorded it on my iPhone and ran inside to kick a little 12-year-olds butt in UNO. The next morning, I woke up early and grabbed my phone for a little morning technology time. As I looked back at the photo of the sunset, I was struck with how mindlessly I had taken that picture. It was almost as if I took the picture simply because it was a pretty sunset and people are supposed to take pictures of pretty sunsets, so they can share them on social media! I most certainly was not taking in the beauty of that moment or experiencing it in any significant way. In fact, I wasn’t taking in or fully experiencing most of that vacation but was going from one activity to the next trying to pack our schedule with fun and memorable events. It was a poignant moment for me. One that actually changed the remainder of that vacation for sure, but hopefully one that changes the way I do all vacations going forward. Here are the lessons I learned while lying in bed, phone in hand, about how to have the best vacation ever.
- DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE BORED…TOGETHER
My tendency when on a vacation is to try to do too much. It has always been important that we GO at all times so that we can make the most of our time together. So we fish or dive and snorkel, then we go to the pool, then we eat dinner, then we play a game or throw a Frisbee or fish some more, then we go to bed, then we wake up and do it all over again the next day. That’s how the Ronsisvalle vacations work. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a good intense game of UNO, but there is something wrong if every minute of time is filled and there’s little wiggle room to just be still as a family. What would have happened if I had looked at that sunset, walked inside, invited everyone to go watch the beauty unfold with me and then just stared at the stars together? No agenda, no plan, just that moment together. My hunch is I’d have more than just a memory of a pretty sunset on vacation. Instead, I would have a memory of actually experiencing the beauty of that sunset with my wife and my children. That’s more than a good Facebook post. That’s a rich memory that will last a lifetime.
- DON’T RUSH
One study on time perception found that the experiences of being busy, rushing, and finding that there is not enough time to get things done are associated with the impression that time is passing quickly. That’s why we often get to the end of a vacation and feel as if it has just flown by. My goal for vacations going forward is to take an extra minute or two to do whatever I need to do at a more deliberate pace. Maybe I wouldn’t choose to invite everyone out to watch that sunset next time, but instead would sit down and take a few minutes to just let it sink in and to experience it fully by myself. That will only happen if I make the decision to slow down and be more intentional about convincing myself that I have all the time I need to live in each moment as it comes.
- DON’T DO THE SAME THING EVERYDAY
The first day of vacation often seems longer, partly because our brains are busy processing the new environment and new information. The busier our brains are processing this information, the less we experience the autopilot mode that makes our days blend in with each other. I recognized during my vacation that my over scheduling and over structuring was making the vacation feel pressured, stressed, and quick. One reason I walked inside instead of slowing down long enough to appreciate that sunset is because I was in autopilot mode. I was too focused on what I should do based on my self-imposed expectations that I mindlessly did the next thing on my list. My goal going forward on vacation is to switch things up more often and seek out activities that are novel and exciting. Maybe I will swim with sharks. Perhaps I will parasail. Whatever I do, I am committed to abandoning the autopilot generated by my schedule and embracing some variety. My hope is, as I pursue novel activities and embrace the flow of what comes next in a mindful way that I’ll have more than just a good vacation. Instead, I’ll be fully engaged in a wider range of feelings like excitement, satisfaction, pride and awe, amongst others.