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15 Ways to Ruin the Very Best of Vacations

How many ways can YOU take a lovely setting and turn it into an emotional swamp?

Key points

  • Unless your destination is Lourdes, don’t expect miracles.
  • Don't count on a change of place to initiate a change of attitude. Your emotional issues roll right along with you; they're in your carry-on.
  • Deciding what you each want from the time you're choosing to call a "holiday" is a discussion to have before you embark.
  • On occasion, travel and adventure are best enjoyed in retrospect; you can edit out the lousy, unnerving and icky parts. Don't panic.

I just flew back from Europe and boy, are my arms tired.

I'm not kidding: I'm seeing an orthopedic surgeon tomorrow.

Not that I'm catastrophizing, but I tripped and fell over a small rise in a friend's garden in Provence. No fall from a garden—well, not since Eve's anyway—has ever happened in a lovelier setting. While I've probably done nothing wrong, I want to make sure. It's good to check that no real damage has actually occurred. That couple in Eden should have thought about doing the same thing before their passport was rescinded by the Authorities.

The pain in my arm—the one I used to break the fall—might also have been exacerbated by another incident. I broke the handle of my supposedly unbreakable suitcase, meaning I had to roll my luggage around the pebble and cobblestoned streets of France while bent over the short, carry-on wheelie like the Hunchback of Notre Dame's less graceful sister. Talk about sophistication and joie du vivre! Let’s just say Catherine Deneuve would not have auditioned for the part.

This trip was meant to be the culmination of several dream-vacation fantasies. I had saved up for it for months and months, and it was meant to be a celebration of gratitude for my spouse and me. Some of the journey was indeed wonderful, but it is with full confidence and personal experience that I can attest to the facts I present below about how "one" (see how I try emotionally distancing myself with rhetoric here?) might set out with the best of intentions only to self-sabotage or be thrown-off by others. Forget the pain in the arms—here's how to be a pain in the neck during your vacation:

1. One way to get off to a terrible start is to have entirely unreasonable expectations. Believing everything that’s been wrong or weird for the last few days, weeks, months, or years will be fixed, altered, or cured by taking your act to a new venue is to throw self-determination to the winds. Remember that wherever you go, you’re taking yourself with you.

2. Unless your destination is Lourdes, don’t expect miracles.

3. You and your travel partner having totally different wishes for what you’ll enjoy, experience, or achieve during your holiday is an almost sure-fire way to wreck the trip, especially if you haven’t approached the topic before your plane approaches the runway. One of you wants to immerse themselves in the perspectives and contexts afforded by immersion in a new culture while one wants to Zip-Line? This kind of difference is bound to lead to furiously whispered café-conversations.

4. You’ve known each other for decades, but somehow the topic of whether you like dinner-cruises has never come up in conversation before tonight? Really?

5. Remember: details matter when you’re trying to ruin somebody’s day without getting blamed for it. Denying that you knew the hot water might be limited after you took an extravagantly long shower merely attests to your childlike innocence when it comes to matters of international bathing habits. How can you be held accountable for the faults of another nation’s plumbing?

6. Take unflattering photographs of everything.

7. Make sure you’re not what anyone would call “a good sport.” Pout, sulk, sigh audibly and often, whine, roll your eyes and make “Ughhh” noises in a manner theatrical enough to put a spoiled teenager to shame as soon as your partner makes even a positive suggestion.

8. If, however, you are in a genuinely miserable situation (there is no potable water, no toilets, it’s hot, or cold, or raining, you smell tear gas in the air from the recent demonstration, the bridge is closed, the road is out, your heel is broken, your jacket is not waterproof but rather some ridiculous version of water-resistant which means it actually absorbs rain, the market closed early, the shrine your grandmother loved is closed for renovations, and your travel companion keeps saying “Just think of what a fascinating story this will make one day!”), you are permitted to sulk.

9. Argue over directions, even if both your GPSs agree on the route. Even without maps, you can do it. Say one is more scenic or the other doesn’t go through any of the significant towns.

10. There’s always an interesting discussion to be had over how much, exactly, to tip.

11. Disagree over the temperature of the room—too hot? Too cold? It’s got to be one or the other—what are you, a follower of literary critic and writer Christopher Booker with his theory about the “dialectical three” where the first two ways are always wrong and the third, mediating, middle way is just right? Not you, Goldilocks. You go fiddle with that thermostat just after you hear the first slight snore.

12. Compare everything to what it was like years ago and determine that all human progress is degradation.

13. Windows: opened or closed? Just a bit? What noise? I said, WHAT NOISE?

14. Bathroom light: on or off? Off? Even if one might fall down in the middle of the night in unfamiliar surroundings and risk hurting one’s vulnerable arm?

15. Remember: Vacations and travel are about making memories. Memories you can edit, unlike those unflattering pictures you’ve been tempted to take. So maybe you should make more of an effort now to do better, not bully your way into a bad moment or mood, and instead embrace the moment (but gently, what with one’s shoulder and all)?

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