This recent trip to Baja felt like it went so smoothly. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been to the area before – or maybe it’s because I’m finally feeling like I got this travel thing down. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way:
Relax, you’re on vacation! I’m a big worrier, and it’s really annoying, but I’ve found a good solution to ease my mind while I’m away from home. About two weeks before I leave, I make a to-do list of what needs to be done both at home and at work – having that long stretch of time with your mind focused on leaving town helps you remember all those incidental things.
I also have an extremely trustworthy friend check on our kitties while we’re gone, and that’s a big relief. After I’ve checked everything off the lists, and we’re on the road, I can worry about all the things that probably won’t happen or I can relax and know I’ve done all I can on my end.
Pack Light! Travel is all about the experiences, and if you’re traveling with family or friends, the time spent together is so important. Even if your vacation requires both casual and dressy attire, and even if the weather is all over the board, you always wear the same things. You do. If you’re going to be driving in your own car, a rental car, or traveling by bus or train or plane, you don’t want to be hauling all the crap from your closet around everywhere.
If you’re only staying in one place, it’s really nice to not be overwhelmed by choices, a few things on hangers and a couple of drawers for everything else is perfect. When you get back from a day at the beach and you freshen up, you don’t want to be standing in front of the closet wondering what to wear, you want to be with your friends, cocktail in hand, watching the sunset. Right?
The week before we head out for a trip, I put all the clothes I’m going to need – or everything I think I’ll need – in one area of my closet. Throughout the week, I pare it down and make sure the pieces actually go together before I pack.
I thought I was doing pretty damn good for this trip to Baja – Matt and I actually shared one (checked) bag – until I was unpacking in front of my BFF, Tim. He expressed concern over the amount of clothes I brought. And he was absolutely right. I didn’t wear half of what I had brought for our 12 day trip – and we didn’t even do laundry.
Things won’t always go according to your plan. To soak up every moment of your trip, you have to take all the unexpected things in stride.
We were almost to Todos Santos when one of our tires blew. Immediately a family pulled over to help. Despite the language barrier, and how long the whole ordeal lasted, and the fact that we didn’t actually need help – we really enjoyed what transpired.
Changing the tire took way longer than expected – the spare was in an odd place, as was the crank to lower the tire, and there was no manual as it was a rental. We had a cooler full of cold drinks, and grandma accepted a beer – which she drank in the shade with her daughter while taking selfies, while the son/grandson helped change the tire. After the spare was successfully attached, they wouldn’t accept money from us. We all shook hands and while we profusely thanked them, they thanked us too. (This isn’t the first time we’ve had car trouble in Baja, the other flat tire was a very positive experience too. I think it’s important to note that if you plan to drive around a bit in Baja, you probably will have a flat tire.)
Keep your expectations in check. Todos Santos wasn’t the quiet, romantic town we had lusted over two years previous. Well, it still is, but we went into town in the middle of a hot, dusty day during Holy Week. And there were fully packed tour buses everywhere. Instead we found peace outside of town, near El Pescadero.
Take the group photo… right away (even if you’re all still pale and pasty!). You think you have so much time ahead of you, but it flies right by. Take advantage of a beautiful setting or the gorgeous light, even if it’s on Day 2. And if you’re with close friends or family – but you don’t live near each other – have those conversations immediately. You know what I’m talking about, the ones you can’t have over the phone, the ones that are best over a cup of coffee or glass of wine.
My friend Tim always initiates a round table discussion of what our favorite activity was that day or to list a favorite quality of the person sitting to our right while we’re eating dinner. That keeps us focused on staying present and reminds us to be grateful for what we have. I love that.
Take so many photos. More than you think you’ll need, especially if you want to document the trip with a scrapbook or digital album. Take pictures of the details and things that delight you. If you’re uncomfortable taking your expensive camera out in some areas, snap a picture with your smartphone. They are so prevalent in so many areas now and locals and tourists alike are taking pictures or texting with their phones.
It takes awhile to ease into vacation mode, give yourself a break. On that note, it also takes awhile to process the whole thing after you get home. Because I’m stepping away from my everyday life when I travel, I always imagine that I’m going to have these amazing epiphanies about what direction to take next. I don’t. But over time after coming home and getting back into the regular routine, the benefits of the vacation slowly seep in.
Travel has wonderful restorative powers. Not only does everyone deserve a vacation, everyone needs a vacation, even if it’s just for a long weekend.