Here’s Why Your Last Vacation Sucked

Here’s Why Your Last Vacation Sucked

Understanding the common pitfalls of unfulfilled holidays can make your next trip better.

An ex-teacher got mugged in broad daylight in San Francisco, a friend nursed a high fever for a whole week in Chicago, and I wasn’t able to access the paid Wi-Fi in my London Travelodge.

Yes, those are terribly pitiful stories indeed (especially the latter), but bad luck isn’t the main reason why people end up with below-average vacations. In order to objectively know if we’ve had a bad holiday, the question we should ask ourselves first and foremost is this: Why do we travel?

One of the most common answers to this question is “to experience new things.” If that’s truly the case, the objective is clear: try as many things as possible that we won’t be able to back home. Do that, and we’ll come home happy and without regrets. Yet, many of us who claim this to be our true motivation for travel, often find ourselves on the flight back home – with our itinerary boxes fully checked and iPhones filled with Instagram-worthy photos – wondering why the trip didn’t exactly live up to the hype we built it up to be.

Why is this so? The answers may lie within yourself.

Possibility 1: You’re just checking off the boxes

I visited Paris for a day during my family trip to London several weeks ago, and upon stepping out of our Eurostar train at Gare Du Nord, the first thing we noticed was that the weather was really warm – something we left Singapore specifically to avoid.

After an unsatisfactory meal and a pointless perspiring journey along a couple of vintage monuments we knew nothing about, we decided to take a cab to the famed Eiffel Tower. What happened next made me contemplate the purpose of our entire vacation.

There we were, with the majestic icon of the French capital standing right above us. My dad took his phone out for a family selfie. Satisfied, he then said: “Okay! Let’s go.” Feeling a little perplexed, I ignored that comment and told him I was going over to the other side of the road to get a better look at the tower. “For what?” he declared, “We already have a photo here. It’s so hot, it’s time to go.”

That’s when it hit me. Did we come all the way to Europe just to say we’ve been here?

Consider these words of the infamous historian and travel writer Jan Morris.

“Travel, which was once either a necessity or an adventure, has become very largely a commodity, and from all sides we are persuaded into thinking that it is a social requirement too.”

Travel is increasingly being seen as something to do rather than something to experience, and that’s where the problem lies. The act of travelling, while becoming more convenient, isn’t the most affordable activity for the average person. If travelling around the world falls under your bucket list as an item to be ticked off, along with owning a car and getting your first kiss, you’re better off saving the money and buying a fiction book instead.

Is the fact that you’re there more important than actually being there? Ask yourself this question the next time you find yourself instinctively whip out the camera phone overseas. This leads me to my next point.

Possibility 2: You’re not living in the moment

Contrary to what most people believe, the memories of your experiences stay put. When you attempt to capture those moments excessively, ironically, you lose touch of the actual moment.

Mindfulness is the concept here – the state of conscious, active attention on the present. Why is it that we sometimes choose to close our eyes when we smell or taste something delicious? The truth is we experience a sensation fully when we get rid of all distractions. If you’re always thinking about the framing of a photo or where to go after this, you ignore what’s right in front you.

Try it – the next time you have a meal, be entirely present with your food. Put the phone away, turn off the television, let it be just you and your food. I assure you, and because I’ve actually just tried it myself, your taste buds will come to life and thank you for it. I won’t forget the taste of this sweet beancurd for a long time.

Similarly, the view of that city landscape will look much better if you allow your hands to be free. Take in the lights and sounds in all of its glory.

A scene from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty springs to mind. Sean O’Connell is up on the mountains of the Himalayas looking for a rare snow leopard, but chooses not to take a photo when it ultimately appears. Asked why, the photojournalist said: 

“Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”

This isn’t to be mistaken as a plea to roll back the years and gain some sort of moral high ground because you don’t like technology (far too many people on YouTube do that). By all means, take the picture – but remember to appreciate what you see before you do, for your heart will render the photo meaningless if you don’t.  

Also Read: Who Are Those Travel Photos For, Really?

Possibility 3: You stay within your comfort zone

Ah, the comfort zone. That metaphorical place every motivational speaker wants you to get out of. To be fair, you have good reason to do so as a traveller. Imagine a friend from overseas came over to your apartment for a short visit. You suggest having some of your country’s culinary specialities for dinner, but he insists both of you eat at KFC instead because he’d rather not try something his stomach isn’t used to.

“Ah, but what a pity!” you think to yourself. Imagine all the delicious local food he’s missing out on… Yes, exactly. You don’t experience new things while staying in your comfort zone. You’re already here. Don’t be afraid to do what the locals do, eat what the locals eat, and go to places that tourists don’t usually go. You didn’t come all the way here for more Subway and Starbucks.

For me, the difference between good trips and bad trips lies in whether we are able to tell stories, big or small, of our adventures to our friends back home.

Till today, I remember vividly the experience of paragliding along the edge of Puli in Taiwan, gulping down every form of pizza and burger you can think of in downtown Chicago, and celebrating the victory of a football game with fellow fans in Tottenham.

This quote by author James A. Michener explains it best:

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”

Perhaps too often, we let the glamour of the destination override the thrill of a new adventure. Let us train ourselves to be mindful, present, and bold in our travels, for if experiencing new things is our ultimate motivation, we should aim to do just that.

About Author

Renald Loh
Renald Loh

Renald prefers to improve upon his uneventful life as opposed to writing 70-word bios describing it – and that's the reason he travels. He also enjoys plunging himself into an abyss of "I should not have done that's" in the hopes that one day, he may sit his kids down by a fireplace to tell them stories long enough to create a sitcom that ends better than "How I Met Your Mother".


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