Everyone has a different idea of the perfect holiday. For some, the idea of lying on a resort beach doing absolutely nothing for two weeks is absolute bliss (come to think of it, I am not sure I know many people who would think of that as anything but bliss). But, for others, the perfect holiday is exploring new cities or countries and packing days out with museums, sightseeing and trying all of the best restaurants. I have always been the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I love the resort holiday as much as the next person and for the sake of my own sanity I should probably plan them more often, but if I am going to plan a holiday, it will inevitably be jam packed with as many sights and experiences as I can squeeze in.
As wonderful as it is to see everything a new place has to offer, it is more often than not overwhelming. It is not unusual for me to come back from a holiday more tired than when I left. In my frenzy to see and do everything, I forget to actually relax. Holidays can be very stressful, especially if you are in charge of the planning. Figuring out transportation to, from and during the holiday, budgeting, finding good places to eat, trying to plan your sightseeing to avoid the long lines and the crowds of hundreds of other tourists vying to see the same thing – it’s not exactly the epitome of relaxation. But it doesn’t have to be exhausting. A holiday, whether it is on a beach, a cruise ship, a city or all three, is exactly what you make of it.
It is easy to find time to relax on a beach where there is not necessarily much to do. It is not so easy to find time to truly relax when visiting a city like Paris for the first time. My best friend is the complete opposite to me. No matter what the destination, she will find a way to spend a large chunk of her time doing nothing on a holiday. Oddly enough, travelling with her, I always have a wonderful time. I tend to make her see more than she would have normally without me, but she also makes me relax more and take more time to just sit somewhere and enjoy the liberty of not having a schedule. I am pretty lucky to have her. Compromise like this does not always work and some opposites can end up arguing the whole trip. So make sure you choose your travel partner wisely.
When planning a trip that is inevitably going to demand more energy such as a city break or a trip that involves multiple destinations, there is a simple structure you can follow to make sure your holiday never becomes tedious or overwhelming. Divide your day into three parts – morning, afternoon and evening. As a general rule wherever you travel, the sights, museums, and tourist areas are going to be more crowded in the afternoon than the morning. After all, most people like to sleep in on their holidays. If you are one of those people that feel refreshed enough to handle the lines and the crowds after sleeping in until eleven every day, I applaud you. For me, I am relaxed only until I see the first long line. Then the jostling, shoving and ducking under selfie sticks starts to take its toll. I would suggest instead waking up at 8 or 9 and going first to see whatever tourist attraction you have planned. After, spend the afternoon relaxing. This can be anything from napping to strolling the streets, whatever is most relaxing for you, but choose something that doesn’t involve any mental gymnastics. Then you are once again ready to enjoy the evening in whatever way you want. Obviously, this structure will not work every day. If you know you are going to have a late night out, give yourself the next morning to sleep in. If you want to spend the whole day in the Louvre, go ahead, but maybe make sure that day is sandwiched between two days which are not quite so full with things to see. I wouldn’t, for example, plan to walk your feet off in the Louvre the day after a ten-hour day exploring the castles in the Loire Valley. Be realistic.
It is easy to go on holiday to a new place and get swept away by everything you see and experience. It can be a whirlwind of excitement so much so that you don’t even realise that you’re not fully experiencing the moment and the place. Taking time to relax instead of feverishly rushing from place to place allows you to fully enjoy the place, the culture, the people, and everything else you discover. Seeing less often allows you to experience more. And make sure you are not just seeing everything through you phone screen or camera lenses …
Top: Plaza de España in Seville, Spain
Bottom: Córdoba Spain
Photography by Savannah and Alexandra Hayes