Before you spend any time researching hotels and things to do, spend some time reading about the place itself. Why does this place appeal to you, what there would appeal to your family? What is its history? What’s the climate like when you will be there? Get a feel for the lay of the land. Find out what vacation-destination has that interests you.
Why should you do this? It’s the key to planning a vacation that fits your family and the things you value.
I’ve spent a lot of formal education and working years learning about other cultures. It’s how I like to spend my time. I’m confident in my ability to get by when I’m traveling to a new place. I’m not the most well-traveled person I know, I’m not even close, but I get by. I’m pretty fearless traveling with my kids, and I’ve been known to say that being outside of my comfort zone is my comfort zone.
I recently learned, however, that just because I love other cultures, have a flexible travel attitude and a bit full of myself, doesn’t mean I’ll enjoy it as much as I could.
We spent Easter weekend in Prague. I’m familiar with the city. As a travel agent, I helped many clients plan their trips there. As a study abroad advisor, I worked with professors to plan educational tours of the city for their students. I have good friends who are from the Czech Republic, friends who have told me about must see spots. I googled “kid-friendly Prague” and made a loose plan for our days. I was armed with knowledge from the broadest sense, from an educational standpoint, and from locals.
On the way to Prague I told my husband, “you know this is the first time since I was about 8 that I have travelled somewhere that I don’t know any substantial part of the history, that I had absolutely no clue to the language, how to say thank you. I don’t even have a general idea of what the city’s layout is. Weird.” Yes, I downloaded an app to teach me basic Czech. But, the 5 minutes a day I spent a week before the trip just wasn’t the same as studying a language. I knew that our hotel was in an ideal location, but I didn’t know what made it ideal. I figured that I’ll just know when I get there.
Then I got there. I realized that I knew nothing. And I wasn’t learning through osmosis. I didn’t know what made the Charles Bridge so popular; I didn’t even know that it was a pedestrian-only bridge. As we were walking around this city, this amazingly beautiful city, I wasn’t fully appreciating it. I wasn’t connecting to it. All I could think to myself was how beautiful it was, and what now?
When we went back to the room, I was a bit confused. Why the disconnect? Part of the reason was that although I had all this “things to do in Prague” superficial knowledge. I didn’t have the “why do I care” part figured out. My husband, who had been to Prague before and loved it, wanted to help me. He took over planning the rest of our trip. The first thing he did was book a walking tour for Easter Sunday. During this tour, with kids in tow, in the rain, and with a large group of people, I started to learn about Prague. As we passed by various buildings and bridges, the tour guide pointed out some historical facts or told an intriguing story. I slowly started to enjoy myself and the city.
What I Realized
On the way home to Germany, this was the big topic in the car. Somewhere in my cockiness, in my” worldliness”, in my zest for going with the flow and just doing, I forgot the essential part of why I loved traveling. I’m a firm believer in the journey is the destination. Part of that journey is learning. Part of that learning is finding out why you think traveling to a particular place would be a good fit for your family.
I hear people who travel around Europe come back and complain that all the cities are the same. There’s no real difference. And this makes me sad. Each place, regardless of how small or how similar it is to other places, has its own history, story, and uniqueness. If someone is traveling and senses that every place is the same, it means one of three things: they haven’t taken the time to learn about what the place offers that applies to their life, they’ve been traveling too much and need a break to process it all, or they shouldn’t be traveling at all because they just don’t appreciate it. (Ok, there’s also the fourth reason which is like my mom, they spend too much time in the shopping zones and those truly are similar from city to city.)
I’m lucky. Prague is a 7 hour drive away. We can easily return. Not everyone has that convenience. Actually, I don’t have that convenience everywhere I travel. We are all limited by either time or money or both. We have to make the most of our travels, and as families, we have to do what we can so that everyone will look to traveling as a positive thing.
Three days after returning from Prague, I started this blog. My goal from the beginning has been to encourage families to explore and engage in the destinations they travel to. I think it’s more fulfilling. There is no right or wrong way to travel, but I the more you learn about where you’re going, the bigger the payoff.
This post is the first in a series I will be doing about managing expectations while traveling. This post is part of Travel Tips Tuesday with Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels click on the links to read more great travel tips!
Have you ever felt disconnected to the place you were traveling to? How did you try to change it? Are you going to give that place a second chance? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear about it.