For the past five weeks I’ve been attempting to plan a vacation to celebrate a milestone birthday for my husband. We decided we wanted to go on a river cruise on the Mekong with our whole family.
Two days ago, I finally realized I was trying to plan the wrong trip. How did I come to that conclusion?
Perhaps you’ve heard of athletes, actors, authors, or artists talk about being in the zone or the flow when they are performing their craft. Many people also recognize this “flow” as being in a state of alignment with God, Spirit, the universe, your higher self, or whatever language you choose.
The same concept of alignment applies to everything we do in life including something like planning a vacation.
Let’s look back over the past five weeks. After making the decision to go on the river cruise, somewhere around mid April, it took about another week or two to get online and do some preliminary research on dates and cabin types.
I sent a personal email to a woman I know who works for the company and never heard back from her. I thought that was odd as she’s always very responsive, but perhaps I had sent it to an email she doesn’t check often. I was not motivated enough to send a second email.
Then it was another two weeks before I discussed with family members what I’d learned. A few days later I called the cruise company and asked a few questions, but felt sort of ambivalent.
I next sent a “request for a quote” form in through the website and still never heard back from anyone. Are these people really ignoring me? I’ve always gotten prompt responses before.
But let’s take an even closer look. The whole time I was trying to research and plan, I felt tired and uninspired. Everything seemed so difficult. Not in the flow.
When I compare this with planning previous family vacations to New Zealand and Australia, I remember feeling excited, joyful and that everything was so easy to do - three definite signs of inspiration.
It finally dawned on me that this is not a vacation we are supposed to take. Once I let go of the idea that it had to be a river cruise, I immediately thought of an even better and easier way to celebrate my husband’s birthday. It turns out he had reservations as well about the cruise, but didn’t want to say anything to me.
When planning your trip, pay close attention to how you are feeling during the process. Frustration, fatigue, overwhelm, or boredom are signs that you are not in the flow (alignment) and perhaps this isn’t the right trip. I have hilarious stories of when I’ve ignored those feelings and forced travel, but those are for another time.
Remember this. You always forget something. The catch is to make sure it’s not something important like you’re purse, driver’s license, passport, or medicine.
I have showed up to the ticket counter at the airport, reached for my wallet and realized I had left my ENTIRE purse back home on the couch. The sickening feeling in my gut paralyzed me for several seconds. This was the last flight of the day and I had to get back to Kansas for school the next morning.
The attendant at the counter snapped me out of my stupor by actually checking me in without ID, and saying if I hurried back home, I could still make the flight. Clearly the moons were aligned that night as we headed back to Alexandria from Washington National Airport, then back again, and hit every green light with no traffic.
Once I got back to the airport, there was NO line in security and I had to literally sprint to the gate, but I made it - the last passenger on the plane, sweaty, out of breath, with everyone staring at me.
I’ve left my driver’s license back at home in a brilliant (not) attempt to sanitize my wallet of all items that I wouldn’t need in a foreign country, forgetting that we would be renting a car.
We show up to the rental counter and that’s when I noticed I had deliberately taken it out of my wallet. So my husband, having not followed my instructions to sanitize his wallet, had to do all the driving. I’ve forgotten my bathing suit, book to read, brush, toothbrush, makeup, shoes, headphones, the list is endless.
I finally realized that it is impossible to remember everything I need, especially when I am packing for the entire family. As you may have experienced, kids don’t remember much or plan in advance, but have definite opinions when they notice a favorite item missing. This usually occurs hours after you’ve already left.
Do I make lists? Absolutely I do. But I still always forget something. What I’ve come to understand is that I must prioritize the most important items, the show stoppers, and quit worrying about the rest.
Most likely, I can buy whatever it is there if I need it. However, a passport, wallet, phone, prescription medicine, my son’s phone, or my daughter’s bear, are not easy items to replace.
So I check, check, and recheck those items I’ve determined as critical and sensitive before I leave the house and before driving away. We are actually taught to do sensitive items checks in the military before leaving a location and upon arrival; it just took a while to apply that logic to my personal life.
Then hours or days later, the items I have forgotten make themselves known and it’s no big deal, maybe a slight inconvenience, but not catastrophic.
So the secret is to remember that you will always forget something.
There are of course dozens of more things I love about Japan, but for brevity’s sake, I chose five. Being that we are moving back in less than two months, I thought I’d share a little about what excites me.
1. I LOVE the convenience stores. The food is so much better than what we can get here unless you go to a WaWa. There are many fresh options that are neatly packaged for a quick, healthy, and easy lunch. Normally quick and easy does not equate to healthy, but in Japan it does.
2. They have vending machines everywhere (I’ve seen them in the middle of a country field) and you can get hot coffee or tea in a can. This is a jarring experience when first one picks up the can from the dispenser. It’s quite hot! But so appreciated on a cold, blustery day.
You can also get ice cold coffee or tea and I’ve definitely pressed the wrong button and received the disappointingly cold can on a frigid morning as I’m waiting for the train. Blue = cold; Red = hot, quite simple really, but alas mistakes still happen.
3. Omiyage (oh-me-ya-gay). These are gifts or souvenirs that you buy to give to friends, family, or coworkers when you return from a trip. Generally, you can buy candy, sweet treats or pastries that are beautifully packaged and wrapped and quite tasty.
These shops are everywhere (train stations, airports, rest stops, hotels, etc) so there really is no excuse to not to come back with Omiyage. “Gifto?” the salesperson will ask? Hai, Gifto onegaishimasu.
4. Public spaces are so clean. Though seemingly counter-intuitive because there are NO public trash cans anywhere, there also isn’t any trash laying about. The Japanese pack up their trash and bring it home with them. This took some getting used to and I admit to stashing my trash in a restroom at the first opportunity.
We definitely were unprepared for our dog deciding to unload in the middle of the sidewalk as we walked to the car on the way back from the vet. Ugh?? We thankfully had a plastic bag in the car, but what do we do with it? Yeah, we had to bring it back in the car with us. Not ideal, but hilarious.
5. There are festivals all year long. Every town has its own festival to celebrate whatever tradition or special day happens to be occurring at that time of year. Similar to our own street festivals with food and music, but different in their cultural entertainment with dancing, drums, parades and so much more. I had the pleasure of dancing traditional Tanabata in several parades and festivals (pictured).
I’ve barely scratched the surface and I’m looking forward to learning and seeing more this second time around. If you follow me on Instagram, be sure to look for my posts in late summer.
One way to know you’re trying to do too much is if you’re feeling in a hurry, anxious, or worried while on vacation.
Often we get so excited to be in a new place and we want to see and do everything. Who knows when we might make it back, if ever?
Here’s the thing, it’s not possible to see and do everything. That’s the reality.
A great way to help you prioritize your time on a trip is to set an overall intention for your vacation.
Are you taking the trip to relax, sightsee, connect with family, experience the culture, explore in nature? You may want to do some or all those things, but one will stand out as the most important.
This will be the intention you focus on when planning your trip. Going somewhere to sightsee as the priority is very different than traveling to a destination for the purpose of relaxation.
If you’re traveling with children and want to get the most out of family time, an aggressive schedule with hard times to meet may leave you feeling strung out as you herd cats - cats that don’t want to see this or that monument/museum.
It’s best to get input from those traveling with you, but overall one person has to be the primary decision maker. That’s the military in me, but it does work. You’ve heard the saying about too many cooks in the kitchen.
As an example, the kids and I are traveling together this summer for my son’s birthday. The intention for the trip is for him to see and hang out with his good friends. I’ve not planned anything else other than our transportation.
It’s not a sightseeing trip - though that will probably happen anyway, but organically and not because I scheduled it. Knowing the intention, I can release any concerns about FOMO (fear of missing out) on something because the purpose of the trip doesn’t revolve around my desires.
My daughter knows that this trip is not about her and that she’ll have a separate birthday trip (yes I’ll have to remind her repeatedly). I’ve just found it to make things a lot easier.