My husband’s family decided to take a trip together at an all-inclusive resort in Cuba. After a year of illness (and recovery) they hoped for a life-affirming week of family time. It meant fourteen people travelling together, including six children. At the end of hurricane season. On a tight budget. Good heavens.
I confess that preparing for the trip was not joyful. With the school (and church) year in full swing, there were a million things to deal with at work and at home. A regular week in our family is chaotic, and here I was rummaging around for sunscreen and beach towels. Add to that my son’s 10th birthday (I needed to pack gifts and balloons) and Halloween (“Come on, mom, we can dress up even in Cuba!”) and I was exhausted. Then there was the anxiety about being in such close proximity to so many people for so long. Did I mention that I am an introvert who hates the beach and sunburns in about a minute and a half?
It was not a great start. Once we were on our way, however, I was determined to find joy and meaning in my time away. Now that I am home again, I am happy to report success. Here are my top five tips so that you can have a deep and satisfying holiday of your own, whether your budget, your time or your family is big or small.
1. Eat, drink and be merry, locally. Enjoy local delicacies. I didn’t smoke a Cuban cigar (I left that to my father-in-law), but I enjoyed sampling the rum and ate lots of coconut. Discover local ingredients by sampling new foods and new dishes. It will connect you with the people who actually live in the places you visit, as well as their geography, climate, and traditions.
2. Find those in need. Before I left I did some research and found that there was a Presbyterian Church in the town nearest our resort. I also learned that there were some specific items they needed to support their work with the poor. We made a special trip to visit, and shared the gifts we had brought for them. We were warmly welcomed, I heard about the work that they do, and I left feeling good.
3. Dance with the waiters. Well, you don’t have to dance with them, but definitely talk to them. When you visit any restaurant or hotel, there are all kinds of people working hard so that you can relax. Appreciate them. Treat them with respect. Tip them as well as you can.
4. Stop and smell the flowers. Even if you don’t particularly care about plants or gardens, notice the natural world around you. I enjoyed carefully sculpted flowerbeds and tropical plants. My son loved laying on the beach and finding shapes in the clouds. All of us watched the moon at night as it waned a little each day.
5. Laugh. Play. Be silly. How often do you have time for that at home? Even grown ups can play on the pool slide, dance with wild abandon, or swim with dolphins. My favourite time of day was just before supper, when adults and kids gathered in the lounge for pina coladas and a game of Bananagrams (a travel-sized word game). Laughing is good for your spirit. It also creates memories that will make you smile long after the vacation is over.
This list is by no means exhaustive but it certainly filled my week with gratitude and wonder. I not only recharged my batteries but was able to learn, laugh and share. I came home with photographs of smiling people and memories of fabulous adventures.
Time away from work is a precious luxury, and so is the opportunity to travel. May you take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, and may your vacations be rich and full of life for you and for those around you.