Have you ever been on a vacation and come home having the feeling that you need a vacation from your vacation? Have you ever phoned home and said something to the effect of ‘We’re exhausted, but we’ve seen this, and that, and that, and that, and that’? When you plan trips, do you juggle your itinerary to try to fit things in?
If the answer to any of those is YES, read on.
Growing up, my family traveled quite a bit, and in my adult life I have continued that tradition with my own family. I’ve been to many places and sat at the foot of countless landmarks. Still, if I look back at it all, it amazes me to recognize where my fond memories come from, and which vacations I count among the best. That said, I’ll give you the short list of my vacation memories to build up to the point of this article.
During my first time to Italy in 1983, I visited Rome, Florence, Milan, Positano, Pisa, Modena, and Calabria. I visited each and every landmark in each of those places. However, my strongest and fondest memories come from sitting outside of the home of my friend’s grandmother in Calabria. I watched the goat and the chickens run around… the children playing n the streets. The sound of a family speaking a language I didn’t understand. The little old lady wearing black and sitting in front of her door all day as she mourned her husband. I remember seeing feathers on the ground while noting a missing chicken… and being told we were having chicken for dinner that night. I remember the sweet look on ‘Nonna’s’ face as she would serve me and say MANGIA with that huge smile of hers. I remember the smells and the sounds as though were yesterday. As I think about this experience from 24 years ago, I take a deep breath and smile. I have no such fond memories of any landmarks… just memories of having seen them… as though they were merely checked off a list.
Don’t get me wrong. I am happy to have seen those landmarks, but they don’t define the vacation. Rocco’s grandmother had a much greater impact.
My first trip to England was two years later. Again, I saw most of the ‘must-see’ sights. But other things happened on that trip. I proposed to Paola, and we went to Manchester for her friend’s wedding. Besides the obvious wonderful memory of having become engaged to the love of my life, my fondest memory of that trip was an evening in her friend’s house laughing with friends. I remember going downstairs and walking to the corner store for something and noting how incredibly British everything was. It was an evening of full immersion into British culture. It was a great day, and far more memorable than having seen Buckingham Palace a few days prior. Again, I am happy to have seen the sights, but they did not define the trip.
I was motivated to write this article as I was looking at part of an itinerary of a soon-to-be guest of ours. It was hectic and filled with tons of landmarks and little time in between. I told her about my first trip to Paris. It was a business trip that left me very little time to see anything. Still, we squeezed in the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. On our last day, we had a 3 hour window of time before our flight during which I made a mad dash through the Louvre… Saw Mona, and thought how great it would be to spend a week in this museum. Still, when I think about that trip, I think about a lunch we had with some clients outside of the city in a small farmhouse Bistro. I got a sense of the culture. That lunch is a fond memory. The Eiffel Tower was… well, The Eiffel Tower. It was merely checked off.
On yet another business trip, I was in China. The Great Wall was fascinating. The Forbidden City was amazing. But there was a night in particular in Xiamen that we had dinner with associates and their families that really sticks out in my mind. We talked and talked and talked. I learned so much about the culture and the people I was sharing a meal with. I learned their political perspective, their family values, and their view of the world. It was such an incredible experience. The great wall was… Great. But that dinner defines not only my trip to China, but a new understanding and appreciation I gained for their culture.
I could go on and on. I have similar stories for so many other places, so many other trips. I’ll convey just one more trip to finish my point.
Seven years ago Paola and I went to Bora Bora for a week. When we got there, we quickly learned that there is absolutely nothing to do on the island. Everything there is to see can be seen in a morning. You can swim, snorkel, boat and lay out… period. When it gets dark, there are only two things to do: Sleep and… well, it is definitely a place for couples. And that is all we did.
To this day, I count Bora Bora as the best vacation of my life. I also count it as the vacation in which we saw and did the least. It was 0% landmarks, 100% experience. 0% itinerary, 100% relaxation.
I have never before, nor since come home from a vacation so recharged! In fact, I keep a large fish bowl full of Bora Bora sand and shells on my desk as a reminder.
All of these experiences are of course my own, and they may or may not fit your personality. However, in watching our guests, I see the same thing time after time. None of our guests in Soriano have ever written us about their wonderful memories of The Trevi Fountain. They write us about their wonderful memories of ‘that evening sipping wine in Piazza’, or ‘that time we had pizza together’, or the little oddities they experienced here and there. It is the culture that grabs them, not the landmarks.
In fact, it is never the things you plan on that define the trip. It is always what happens in between. So if you plan a trip with a schedule loaded with monuments and landmarks, you may not have enough time in between to make those wonderful memories… and you are more likely to go home needing a vacation from the vacation than relaxed.
If you are planning a trip to Italy (or anywhere for that matter), try to fight that urge to get it all in. If you try to control the experience, you will miss something special. Slow down and let the experience of a wonderful new culture come to you. I promise it is worth it.