My husband, kids and I have just returned from a month of travelling and what a wonderful experience it was! I was a bit anxious before leaving as we had never been overseas with the kids before and I wondered if the pace would be too much (we travelled around quite a lot of Europe). But no, with only one or two hiccups (and what would a holiday be without them?) the experience was fantastic.
However this is not a travel post (although if you want to set aside say, half a day, I am more than happy to share most of our 4000+ photos with you!) No, I wanted to share with you what I cherished as much if not more than the experiences we had – the benefits from an extended time and physical distance from home and the daily routines of life.
No news can be good news
We did not follow any news (print or electronic) while we were away, and we were not trying to keep up with local information either. No details from school, work, current affairs, relationship issues of friends and family (other than some sneaky peaks on facebook – and even that didn’t happen when we lost wifi connection for a few days). The lack of information was so refreshing! I had not realised how constant snippets of information, both positive and negative, clutter my thinking and sway my emotions. I realise that, in switching from distress to joy to anger to ambivalence or envy, depending the information that I am bombarded with, I am merely reacting – there is no conscious decision making going on. It leaves me with little time to process and form my own views. It’s also emotionally exhausting.
Freed from this, I found my attention and focus on others was better – I connected better. And THAT was really important. One of the reasons for our travels was to spend time with Al’s sister and her family, rather than being reliant on skype (which is ok, but ..). Being mentally present (once we’d recovered from jet lag, of course) meant I was able to develop stronger bonds that I might otherwise – as well as enjoy the connections I watched developing between my kids and their cousins, uncle and aunt, and watching my husband reconnecting with his sister and her family. Similarly when we caught up with friends, or made new ones, the process was far more engaging. I realise how cluttered my mind must have been beforehand – it was literally as though the fog cleared. Thanks to my parents, sister and brother in law, and friends, who helped with dog minding, mail monitoring and the like, we really could leave these aspects of life behind for a while.
Now that we have returned, I plan to be far more selective in how much I seek or absorb the news around me. I can then be far more effective in using that information to make decisions, to choose actions, or to engage effectively in the world around me. And having said that, the most significant information still finds a way to be heard – be it through snippets of conversations from people around you, newspapers left on seats, and so on. You find out somehow.
The world is a big place. You can’t see it all – and that’s ok
When we were planning our trip, there were so many areas we wanted to see. We thought we had narrowed it down to manageable areas. Nope. There was still so much to see and do. But life isn’t a race – it’s not a question of how much we can squeeze in. There is a joy in selecting to take things at a slower place We may make it back another time to see the places we couldn’t get to on this trip – or we may not. But we were able to enjoy fully the experiences that we did have.
There is so much richness and beauty around if you take the time to notice it
I acknowledge by travelling in Western Europe and choosing the regions we did, we were exposed to places of stunning natural and man made beauty, in some cases, places that had changed little over the centuries. However, it was the smaller details that stood out to me – the subtle variations in plantings within different regional plazas, for instance, the beauty apparent in the well-worn woodwork of the study doors in many french buildings, the pride that small stall owners took in displaying their wares. The ease of public transport (mostly) and the variations with the tickets to different locations. And the courtesy that many people showed us as we stayed in their home towns. Some of these things are easy to take for granted if you don’t spend the time to notice. Sometimes we don’t have the time. On this holiday, we did – and it enriched our experience.
Preparation is good and so is going with the flow – and you won’t get the balance right all the time
I tend to like to plan. Al tends to like to go with the flow. Planning is a bit of a Catch 22 for me though. If I have a plan in place, I get extremely anxious if we do not keep to schedule, or if weather or other circumstances prevent the plan from being fully realised. But with no plan, I can drift – and I don’t like to drift. Especially when we have come all this way. It seems to waste time – and that can’t be a good thing. Or can it?
One of our best days was spent at lovely stretch of beach on the Atlantic Coast, and wandering around the surrounding town. We spent an unplanned day in St Jean du Luz, and, even though it meant missing out on another part of the trip, it was one of the best things we did. Conversely, squeezing into our whistle stop Provence visit an evening in Avignon was magical, even though the kids did not have dinner until 9.30 at night, and were pretty worn out the next day. The opportunities, when they arise, are there to be taken.
Spending good, solid time with your family to bring you closer
You know, Al and I have pretty good kids – and Al is not too bad either! For those of you who know my husband, son and daughter, that hopefully might not be too much of a revelation for you (and I know, logically, that I am very lucky to have these three special people in my life). However, sometimes I lose sight of this fact.
In my day to day life, as I run from one activity to another (not literally – see my comment below re. health), I can even feel that they create more of a hindrance than a blessing. Not something to be proud of, but true.
Spending concentrated, purposeful, relaxing time together has reminded me of all the wonderful qualities that the three most important people to me possess. It has also exposed some attributes I never would have thought they possessed. There are too many examples to list here, so I will pick one only.
Despite the previous heading, sometimes you do need to plan a bit. We did not plan our last day in Paris well (this is an understatement!) Consequently, we spent a good portion of it literally running, with our luggage, along various streets throughout Paris, pulling our suit cases behind us, stumbling over cobble-stones, up and down stairs, in and out of train stations and buses, and through gravel covered parklands, to try to get to the Eurostar on time. We were therefore constantly tipping the suitcases over as the wheels got trapped, or knocking into Parisians and ourselves, or crossing back and forth streets holding up traffic as we went. In other words, we made a real mess of our timing as we tried to navigate a metro system that was half closed down for infrastructure works but not identified on the metro’s ‘up to date’ travel planning website.
Prior to our trip, I never would have expected my two children to cope the distances we covered, the uncertainty involved, or the lack of clarity about what was taking place (and we kept trying to communicate with non-english speakers – my French was poor, to say the least, so this probably exacerbated the problems). While Al and I were arguing over a period of some two hours or so, Sam was helping Phoebe with her bag up the stairs, Phoebe was comforting Sam as he was getting worked up because we might miss the Eurostar to London (a fair worry, as it did happen). Both children acted in a more adult manner than either of us. I was so proud of them afterwards (at the time, I was too frustrated!)
Disagreements (ahem) will happen from time to time – and that’s ok
Paris was not the only place where Al and I had some tense moments – thinking about it, they did tend to happen when we were in transit from one place to another. Our kids do not always see us disagreeing. Sam, in particular, was not really comfortable witnessing it, as he is fairly distressed by conflict. And sometimes we did not apply the best techniques to resolve our differences – the silent treatment or yelling, for instance, don’t turn out to be very effective (who knew?). However, when we pulled ourselves together, and worked through our issues, we could generally sort them out fairly easily. And in most cases our children witnessed good conflict resolution – and saw that if both parties respect one another, disagreements do not need to be feared.
Allowing thoughts and ideas to float in and out is a wonderful blessing
On our holiday, we were making decisions all the time. However, they were different decisions to those we normally make – generally less binding. That was freeing. It gave me space to contemplate ideas, to observe different lifestyles of people in different cities, for instance, the implications of findings explained within museums we visited, or the beauty within art work on display. I did not have to form a opinion or take a stance – I could just enjoy these new experiences for what they were. In doing so, I found I had new ideas and insights on a range of topics and certainly gained more from the reading I did (because of course I took a number of books with me to read). It really was wonderful.
Rest and movement are wonderful partners to help feel energised
Final point – I set off with ambitious plans (like I often do) to start running again, do a daily exercise program and the like. Who was I kidding? We were busy enough going from activity to activity to introduce another change. However, while I wasn’t running (except in Paris, of course!), I was far more active than normal. We spent days walking through cities, around major tourist sites, bike riding, swimming, hiking, and up and down stairs within apartments, underground train networks, the Eiffel Tower, etc. I was moving more than normal – and that was a good thing. We also slept more than normal – sometimes because we were sharing rooms with kids and needed them to sleep, and sometime just because we were so tired. These two changes, along with the awareness that others were watching my chocolate intact, meant my health did improve while I was away. No wonder I am feeling invigorated, despite the jet lag!
So these are some of the benefits I experienced from our recent holiday, and I feel so fortunate to have had them. How about you – what do you love about holidays?