The non-vacating vacation

The underside view of the Eiffel Tower obscures current construction for a platform elevator at the tower base.
The underside view of the Eiffel Tower obscures current construction for a platform elevator at the tower base.

Seeing as many places as possible while the opportunity is present is probably a good idea.

I’ve spent the few weeks living out such a mantra.

It’s great: There are a lot of great photo opportunities that come along with the territory. More pins get put in the world map. New foods are tried, hotels and hostels are stayed in, and new friends are met.

In just four weeks’ time, I’ve seen Scottish Highlands, eaten Lisboan pastries, celebrated Barcelona’s culture, basked in Florence’s sunshine, waited for Venice to flood, trekked around ancient Rome, climbed to the top of the Italian mountains, watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle and strolled around a Welsh castle.

Seeing each of these sites was an amazing culmination of experiences.

It was also exhausting.

Traveling so many places in such a short period of time can be marvelous, but it has its downsides.

Living out of a carry-on suitcase for four weeks can be difficult, especially when it’s still relatively wintry outside. Staying in hostels can be fun, but lack privacy. Making sure you fit in everything you want to see in a few days requires waking up early and staying out late, with little time for relaxation and a lot of running around and climbing cities’ many hills.

The shorter the stay, the more stressful it can be. Ensuring you fit in everything you would like to do is impossible, but narrowing down sites can seem limiting at times.

Looking at short trips from this perspective, it turns into a “non-vacating vacation” – a stressful few days of running around, cramming sites and experiences in while worrying more about getting to the next place by dark than enjoying the place you should be because you are right in front of it.

Although I knew better, I tried this method the first day I was in Paris with my family. We only had 48 hours in Paris (one evening, one full day and one morning), and I was determined to fit in as much as possible. Even though we got in in the late afternoon and were staying 30-40 minutes outside of the city center, I was convinced “we must make the most of our time”.

After hastily checking in to the hotel, leaving my cell phone in the room and rushing to the train station to catch the RER to central Paris, I rushed everyone off to fit the Louvre in before it closed at 10:00. We arrived by 8:00 and power-walked past Caravaggio’s, Goya’s and DaVinci’s. We saw the Mona Lisa. We beelined to the Egypt exhibit to catch a few sphinxes before being politely ushered out by museum staff closing the place down. We emerged starving, wandering into the first cafe/bar we could find, realizing only after we ordered drinks it was a well-run tourist trap. We wandered to find the Metro that would take us back to the RER, and settled in for our 50 minute train ride back to our hotel.

Back at the room, we were exhausted. We tried the non-vacating vacation at my suggestion, and it didn’t work.

The next day, my mom created a new game plan: we see what we see. We had a general outline of where to go. We covered a ton of the city at a less-stressful pace. We walked without adding “power” in front of it, we skipped things we realized we wouldn’t have time for. We stopped for coffee in cafes and strolled down streets. It was a better day. It was a better way to see Paris.

Back at the room, we were still exhausted. We covered a whole major city in one day’s time. But we knew we could wake up the next day relaxed and prepared to leisurely see Notre Dame and find some macaroons.

Seeing as much as you can in the short time you’re given seems like a good idea.

But sometimes it just doesn’t work. When the stress of running around gets in the way of the relaxing, escapist part of the vacation, it just isn’t worth it.

The non-vacating vacation may produce a lot of photos in front of famous things, but it’s not fun for everyone. Sometimes, celebrating what you do get to see and accepting what you don’t is the best plan for a vacation.

It’s amazing what you can learn from your mom.