The four stages of a “perfect” vacation

We put so much emphasis on impressing others with our travel adventures that we miss out why we took the vacation in the first place

Woman with her traveling bag on a vacation

All of us need a break from the busy-ness of our daily routines. That is why we take vacations. Unfortunately, most of the time, our vacations tend to keep us even busier and we return home exhausted, rather than replenished. The logic is that, having travelled thousands of miles and braved airline food, wailing babies and co-passengers with smelly feet, you might as well squeeze in as many activities as you can till you’re ready to drop dead. Besides, what’s the point of going to an exotic place if you cannot brag to your friends and neighbours about all the adventurous things you did there? Or so most people think.

Pre-vacation

Most of our vacations follow a predictable pattern and style, from the planning to the actual vacationing. The preparation phase of a vacation is exciting. It takes considerable creativity to imagine everything that might go wrong while travelling [snowfall in summer, food poisoning, sudden craving for theplas in Heidelberg] before deciding what to stuff in your suitcases. The day of departure is the most hectic: emptying the fridge, stuffing door-gaps with newspapers to keep the dust out of the house, making frantic calls to newspaper and milk delivery guys, triple checking if all the doors and windows are locked before rushing off to the airport or train station. When you are roughly halfway to your destination, you are suddenly seized with the nagging feeling that you might have forgotten to turn the gas cylinder off. You spend the remaining journey imagining a charred house that will greet you when you are back and a life thereafter spent in penury.

Nonetheless, in my experience, a vacation has four stages: when, where, I can’t believe I’m finally here, and phew! It’s good to be home.

Most of our vacations follow a predictable pattern and style, from the planning to the actual vacationing

When

Deciding when to take a break is governed by a lot of factors. If you have school and college-going kids who are still not embarrassed to be seen with their parents, you plan your getaway to coincide with their holidays. Nowadays, however, most children spend their vacations in coaching classes and other activities that are supposed to turn them into super-achieving clones. Regardless, family vacations do happen, and planning them can be a nightmarish experience.

Contrarily, if you are unattached, so to speak, planning when to take a trip is a relatively personal decision. You simply wait for the symptoms to show up. These include restlessness, driving your colleagues insane with ‘I-could-so-do-with-a-break’ whining, and extreme envy at your just-returned-from-Leh friend’s travel photos on Facebook.

Where

This is usually dictated by three things: ‘must-visit places’ listicles that you browse while pretending to work, vacation pictures shared on Facebook or Instagram by “friends” you’ve never met, and a long, hard look at your bank balance and all your outstanding bills. Gone are those days when people could throw darts on the world atlas to decide their next holiday destination. The passionately patriotic Indian these days keenly follows prime ministerial itineraries to draw inspiration for new destinations.

A vacation has four stages: when, where, I can’t believe I’m finally here, and phew! It’s good to be home.

I can’t believe I’m finally here

So you’ve finally arrived at your dream destination. You congratulate yourself on booking the ‘romantique suite’ at the so-called heritage hotel after weeks of sifting through listings on travel websites and burning midnight oil extracting the essence from conflicting reviews. And it turns out to be a matchbox in a rundown building with a sewer-side view [your room with a view]. Not the type to waste time on heartbreaks, a DSLR camera slung around your neck, you set out immediately clutching maps and lists of must-dos [usually in multiples of 10] that you downloaded from someone’s blog.

You risk being disowned by the Worldwide Association of Hyper Tourists till you record the most ‘out-of-the-world’ experiences in a day and get herded around like cattle in tour buses. When you get time from watching the sunrise from the top of a volcano and the sunset from behind shrubs filled with rare snakes, you pose and preen in front of monuments, fountains and the Armani store, hoping one of them turns out to be a superb profile picture that fetches you hundreds of likes on Facebook.

It’s not a vacation well-spent till you exclaim “Oh god! I’ve put on so much weight” every few hours. It’s not fun till you feel guilty of having too much fun. Within a few days of hectic vacationing and plying yourself with meals so exotic that you can’t even pronounce their names, you start craving ghar ka khaana and the comfort of your own bed.

It’s not a vacation well-spent till you exclaim “Oh god! I’ve put on so much weight” every few hours

Phew! It’s good to be home

Vacations may be cruel reminders of how boring our regular life is. But when you finally walk into your living room—nursing bunions, lower back pain and a tan that makes you look like a roasted aubergine—you inhale the stale air and exclaim, “It’s so good to be home!” That’s the cruel irony of our lives: we long to escape our mundane lives and when we finally do, we start missing our boring yet comforting routine.

Then you commit the biggest mistake of weighing yourself. After you’ve managed to scream the daylights out of your neighbours and the pigeons on your balcony, you Google “how to lose weight in 10 days” and put yourself on a punishing diet. Within days of washing kilos of unwashed laundry, restoring the house back to its shining glory, eating 20 grams of carrots and 6 raisins for all your meals, going through zillions of unread spam and emails, and putting extra hours at the office to finish all your pending work, your vacation euphoria becomes a distant memory.

You are completely drained. You flop on your chair and exclaim, “Damn, I am so tired, I could certainly do with a vacation!” And the cycle begins all over again.

A version of this was first published in the December 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Purba Ray
Purba Ray is unable to befriend people who are more interested in the number of bedrooms in her apartment than the epic list of her pet peeves, which includes zealous parents who are proud for no reason. She vents her angst writing damning posts on her blog and praying no one reads them.

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