Travel Triumph: Getting down to the business of downtime

A few weeks ago my father-in-law was giving me a hard time about the fact that when traveling, I bring a book along. It was all in good fun of course, but basically, he implied it seemed crazy to him that anyone would find time to read while traveling. I believe his exact words were, “You’re the only person I know who goes to Europe and reads the whole time!”

Well, not to contradict my elders, but when traveling I do not, in fact, bury my nose so deep in a book that I see nothing else – not by a long shot. I do, however, occasionally enjoy some downtime which sometimes does come in the form of getting lost in a good book. Here’s the thing about travel…

Travel is:

  • Fun
  • Exciting
  • Crazy
  • Wonderful
  • Rewarding

Travel is also:

  • Confusing
  • Hard
  • Exhausting
  • Frustrating
  • Boring (this one mostly just occurs in the air)

That first list? That’s fantastic stuff… who needs a break from all that? But the second list? Those are things that sometimes warrant a little break.

Obviously, you always want to see as much of (any random place) as you can. I mean, after all, that’s why you went to (any random place) but still, I think downtime is grossly underrated. Without a break now and then, bleary-eyed tourists run themselves ragged trying to tick off all the boxes for a city’s most important sights, couples bicker over stupid stuff not because they really care who read the map wrong, but because sleep deprivation has made them cranky and families return from vacations with a blurry mishmash of memories where everything they saw runs together.

Washington DC middle school trip

I experienced this kind of trip just once. It was my 7th grade trip to Washington DC and they ran us into the ground. It was utterly exhausting and I swore to never do that again. So far, I haven’t.

If anyone ever tries to tell you that downtime is wasted time, don’t listen to them. Maybe they’re like my father-in-law (some kind of superhuman, energizer bunny hybrid) but for the rest of us mortals, a little break now and then can be a real asset to a trip. And here’s why…

  1. Hanging out in a city plaza and doing some old-fashioned people-watching affords you a glimpse into the local life that running between the big sights just doesn’t.

    Giant chess set in Salzburg, Austria.

    Also, you might be able to play some giant chess like my sister did here in Salzburg, Austria. (circa 2004)

  2. Whiling a day away by getting off the beaten path with no particular place to go gives you a chance to see what the rest of the country is up to, not just the parts near the main attractions.

    Opening a gate in Ireland.

    How do you know when you’re off the beaten path? When you have to open your own gate on a country road like this one in Ireland. (circa 2012)

  3. Spending a lazy afternoon on your hotel balcony allows you time to reflect on all the new things you’ve experienced so far on your trip.

    Volcano in Antigua, Guatemala.

    And if you were at our hotel in Antigua, Guatemala you could also watch an active volcano huff and puff the afternoon away. (circa 2009)

  4. Letting a morning get away from you in a pleasant park recharges you mentally and physically (traveling is not for the wimpy footed) for an afternoon of exploring.

    The tent hostel grass in Munich, Germany.

    Also you might get to chit-chat with some cute Irish boys like my sister and I did here in Munich, Germany. (Don’t freak out, this was circa 2004 and we were both very much single.)

  5. Enjoying an intimate dinner for just two lets you hear your spouse’s take on all the new things you’ve been seeing. (This is really fun – it’s fun like a first date all over again.)

    Porto dinner out

    They say you don’t really know someone until you travel with them. Usually this is said in a negative context but with some people, it’s a good thing. Imagine getting to know someone you love all over again. Now imagine it’s while you’re sipping vinho in a charming little restaurant in beautiful Porto, Portugal. If you’re part of an old married couple like we are, you can’t say that doesn’t sound like fun.

  6. If you haven’t seen your travel buddy in a long time (okay, so this one might just pertain to us) staring at one another over a generic hotel breakfast lets you appreciate some of the everyday parts of life that you’ve missed doing together.

    Leonardo Boutique Hotel in Munich, Germany.

    I got up super early every morning last winter in Munich to sit and have the hotel breakfast with Andy. I don’t have a picture of breakfast but here he is right after on the street walking to work. It was the only time I’ve ever routinely gone right back to bed after breakfast. It was also the only time I’ve ever routinely had two breakfasts each morning. On a completely unrelated note, my pants fit a bit snug after that trip. Weird, right?

  7. And sometimes, spending an evening alone in your hotel room with a book or (and if unsubscribe from my blog because of this next one I will totally understand) a Netflix movie on your phone can be a nice reprieve from a difficult day. Sometimes after a hard day it’s nice to curl up with a bunch of characters who never make you feel stupid or yell at you and make you cry for something you’ll never quite understand. (That’s right Italy, I’m looking at you!)

So on your next trip, you have my blessing to take it easy and savor the experiences whether or not they technically have anything to do with the place you’re visiting. Cultural, personal, interpersonal or even literary experiences are all worthwhile in my book.

And frankly, when it comes to time spent flying, there are only so many rom-coms you can subject yourself to in one sitting and you can only stare at a pitch black horizon somewhere over the Pacific Ocean for so long. Next time my father-in-law gives me a hard time about taking a book along on a trip, I might just have to remind him of that fact.

I just realized the entire inspiration behind this post was a picture that I haven’t included yet. I took it in Guatapé, Colombia last month while Andy was napping and I was on the bed next to him reading my book. The picture isn’t much but I took it because a breeze had just come in through the window and the sky was blue and we were both completely, 100% enjoying our day. At that moment we weren’t out experiencing the culture to the fullest, we weren’t meeting new people or reveling in new experiences, but we were having a good time and if you ask me, that’s good stuff.

Hostal El Encuentro window in Guatape, Colombia.

3 responses to “Travel Triumph: Getting down to the business of downtime

  1. I like your version of traveling. Books of one kind or another go nearly everywhere with me. Not that I’ve been “everywhere…” But still.

  2. Pingback: Travel Tricks & Tips: The best travel-planning advice you’ll ever hear | See Jules Travel·

  3. Pingback: Travel Fail: We gain a day in the Irish countryside |·

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