Holidays can take on a role which is way beyond their capacity to fulfil.
We look forward to a couple of weeks away from work in a different or exotic location and hope this activity (or lack of activity) will recharge our batteries, get rid of our stress, save or enhance a relationship, bring families and friends together, provide a store of happy memories and generally improve our physical and emotional well-being.
We imagine we will return from holiday sleek and bronzed versions of our usual selves, rested and relaxed, ready to pick up the challenges of everyday life with renewed vigour and sharpened insight.
You are constantly surprised to find these notions sour and fade more quickly than your tan, if you had one, or that bottle of Metaxa or Limoncello languishing in a cupboard which never quite manages to re-create the atmosphere of a balmy Mediterranean night and whose presence, like airport souvenirs, seems to mock our attempts to escape our humdrum worlds.
Have realistic expectations
Don’t expect everything to be perfect or even nearly perfect. The whole process of going on holiday is fraught with opportunities for mishaps and disasters. Crucial items will be forgotten, travel arrangements will not run smoothly, destinations will not be satisfactory in every respect, the weather will disappoint, people will not change.
Decide on just one or two things that you would like this holiday to provide. Make them things that are more or less within your control.
Think in terms of ‘I would like’ or ‘What I hope is that…’
Decide to be tolerant about things that go wrong, because they will go wrong.
Communicate and negotiate
When a couple or a family or a group of people go on holiday together there are a multitude of preferences and expectations to negotiate. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect that you will get everything you want. At the same, you are not being fair to anyone, yourself included, if you always agree to other people’s suggestions regardless of your own preferences.
At a suitable time, earlier in the process rather than later, discuss what aspects of the holiday matter most to you.
‘I really want to swim every morning.’
‘The excursions I would really like to go on are…’
‘I’d like at least a couple of long walks.’
‘All I want is the beach.’
‘I don’t mind what the place is like as long as the night life is good.’
‘I like to plan each day in detail.’
‘I want to go round the museum.”
‘I want to go round the shoe shops.’
If at this point you are wondering why on earth you have committed to spending time away with this bunch of people, well, at least you all know where you stand, and can take steps to avert rows or simmering resentments. Being open about what you anticipate and what you enjoy means that no one can say ‘Well, how was I to know that you are allergic to sand?’ Listening to others’ preferences means that you can find a way of accommodating their wishes.
Accept what you take with you
The act of moving from one place to another or swapping one way of life for another doesn’t mean that you or any one else becomes a different person. If you are unhappy or frustrated or anxious or stressed, these are the attributes that accompany you. If you are in a difficult or challenging relationship with any of your party, it won’t change just because you are on holiday.
One of your hopes for this break might be that you change in some way, or that a relationship changes. If so, once you have identified what it is, decide what you can do to bring about this change. It won’t happen automatically. And it might not happen at all. In fact, you might reconsider the idea that a holiday is a good time for this kind of development.
Being in a different environment may cause people to behave differently, in a good way or a bad way. Who knew that sun, sea and sangria would turn your normally reserved friend into such a firecracker? Or that a family member has been waiting for this opportunity to unleash his hidden sergeant-major?
Just bear in mind the ‘holiday factor’ if you are tempted to reassess someone’s personality and your relationship with that person. An afternoon in the Algarve may not translate to a month in Manchester.
Accept what you leave behind
Part of the holiday experience is discovering different cultures, foods, ways of life, and part of its therapeutic effect is enabling you to shrug off the burdens of your everyday life. This can entail, to a lesser or greater extent, abandoning your support network of routine and comfortable familiarity.
Being without your props can be unnerving and unpleasant, especially if things don’t go well. What you can do is create a little bit of security in your holiday situation. Choose a few things you enjoy, such as having coffee at a particular bar, or an activity at a particular time of day, and build them into a mini-routine. Look for what there is to enjoy rather than thinking about what you are missing. It will all be waiting for you when you return.
Leave work behind (as far as you can)
There’s a balance between cutting off completely and staying in touch enough to reassure you that your world isn’t collapsing in your absence. If you really can’t do the former, then set some boundaries for the latter. Disconnect as much as you can. Change your outgoing message, set up an out-of-office auto reply, and make it clear when and to whom you will be available. Decide to check messages and make contact at certain times only. Focus your attention on the things you have decided are your priorities for the holiday.
Remember, it’s only a holiday
Investing too much in any activity is likely to lead to disappointment. Give enough thought to your holiday to maximise enjoyment, but don’t overdo it. It’s a holiday, not a military campaign. It’s a brief step away from your everyday life, not a test of your stamina or organising ability. You might have a bit of a good time, or a lot of a good time, or you might not. Either way, there is no point in putting pressure on yourself.