What I Learned After a Long Vacation

When was the last time you had a real vacation? I say real because with the internet, it’s very possible to continue working even in a secluded beach in the middle of nowhere. I struggle with this. Whenever we go out to relax, I usually find time to check email, respond to a few inquiries, and even on occasion, extinguish a few work fires.

A vacation is an opportunity not only for rest and relaxation, but also for learning a thing or two. This can be difficult if you are stuck on your phone the whole time distracted by the internet. If you leave space to let your mind wander and think, you are more likely to absorb the whole experience.

We were fortunate enough to go on a vacation that didn’t have internet, which forced me to stay present and to focus on what was happening in front of me. As you can imagine, it was lots of fun and an eye opening experience.

For some context, we cruised around the Baltic Sea and visited seven countries. The ship was called the Regal Princess. I wrote about it here.

Here are the things I realized after a long vacation:

No internet is great!

Internet on a cruise ship is incredibly expensive and often unreliable. When you have a moving building with six thousand people all sharing the same internet in the middle of the ocean, bandwidth and connectivity issues are a challenge. That said, I loved having no internet. I don’t often get the opportunity to truly switch off and enjoy the company of the people around me. Not only was I able to focus on the experience more, other people were forced to do so as well. It was just another reminder of how we’ve grown accustomed to having the internet and how it pulls on our attention on a 24/7 basis.

I’m not going to be one of those people lamenting about the perils of the internet. Weighing out the pros and cons, obviously the internet has done more good than bad, but a reminder to take a break from it every now and then can only be good for us.


It’s ok to shut it down for a while.

Isn’t that the whole point of a vacation? When else are you going to get an opportunity to shut down that part of your brain that’s always revving, always ready to go, always ready to hustle. During the vacation, it forced me not to think about work, it forced me to put aside goals for a few weeks, it forced me to rest. That’s the most important part, a real opportunity for mental rest.


Take it all in.

Part of visiting a new place is taking it all in, all the new stuff. There’s a different culture to experience, architecture you may have never seen before, unfamiliar weather to bare, shops with unique concepts to explore, food you’ve never even thought about. There’s so much to take in. Appreciate it and stay in the moment.


Babies are heavy.

Literally heavy. I didn’t realize I would be getting as much exercise as I did. The kiddo is almost two years old and weighs 30 pounds. That’s a lot of weight when you’re walking at least 10km a day. Fortunately, we had a stroller, but there are times when he refused to sit and wanted to be carried. I even missed seeing a museum because we opted to rest in a cafe.

I’m glad we brought him. Not for him, I doubt he’ll remember anything from the trip, but for us, the parents. It was great to have spent all this time with the kiddo. Seeing his face light up when we visited the zoo, letting him try new food, even the struggle of finding a bathroom whenever he did number two was a fun experience. Hopefully we have many more like that, except next time.


I wish we had a bike culture.

We spent most of our time in Copenhagen, Denmark. A few realizations: First, it’s an incredibly expensive city. If you are visiting, get ready to spend a ton of money. Second, everyone uses credit cards. We didn’t need to exchange any of our money to Danish Kroner. Even the food trucks accepted credit card. Third, everyone rode a bicycle. The streets didn’t have the ashy smell of car exhaust. People were out on the streets and everyone looked as fit as a horse.

In central Copenhagen there are more bikes than citizens. 520.000 inhabitans and 560.000 bicycles.


Imagine if Cebu were a bike-centric city. There would be sidewalks and bike lanes protected from the hot rays of the sun by the cover of trees. The few cars on the road could move freely because most people used bikes. There would be less pollution and dust. Quirky stores and cafes on the side streets would cater to the walking population. Wouldn’t that be grand?


Walking is blissful.

Speaking of walking, it’s amazing what happens when you have a city designed for people. It pains my heart every time I think about Cebu and how we’ve designed it primarily for cars. There are few sidewalks, no bike lanes, and public transportation is lacking. Everyone chooses the least efficient mode of transportation. When a city is designed to be walked with good public transportation, something magical happens. It becomes a beautiful vibrant city.


Be open to surprise.

The first time I traveled with my girlfriend-now-wife, I was in for a shock. She had everything planned out to the minute. 7am wake up, 8am eat, 930am museum, etc.. She was determined not to miss anything.

There are a few problems with this approach. First, you will stress yourself out. The world is by nature chaotic. Imposing your will via a strict schedule can only end in frustration. Second, this doesn’t allow for small surprises that can happen along the way.

The very nature of a cruise entails tours and scheduled stops, but they were smart enough to allow the option of free days to do as you pleased. During one of those days, we found ourselves in a tiny little coffee shop perched in a quiet corner. After a few minutes of enjoying our order, a trio of classical musicians appeared and played music. These little surprises are everywhere if you are open to them.


Hungry to work.

I became much hungrier to get back to work. It’s a funny thing when you love what you do, you don’t want to spend too much time away from it.

When I was away, I can’t lie, I sometimes wished I could turn on the laptop, hop on the internet, and send a few emails. I even missed a Monday Musings for the first time ever. But the vacation made me realize that I liked my work routine. Even though I had a great time during the trip, I was itching to get back.


Be open to different ideas.

Times are a changin’. All over the world, antiquated ideas are being challenged. If you told me ten years ago that we would visit a town that openly sells marijuana on the streets, I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I would have been downright scared to go. Growing up, I was made to believe that this substance was one of the worst things in the world. It is clear now that that isn’t the case. In fact, it can be downright good for you.

The place we visited is called Freetown Christiania. I didn’t partake in any of the “festivities” but it was an experience to walk through there. There were vendors on the street openly selling substances that could get you jail time in the Philippines. The story of Christiania itself is an interesting one. It’s a good read.

What I’m trying to say is a good trip does more than just open your mind to new ideas. A good trip changes you in some way.

Here’s hoping that all your future travels are a good trip.

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