Monday, April 11, 2016

Vacation State of Mind

I have a serious love-hate relationship with traveling.

In certain phases of my life, I've loved the idea of visiting new places, but I've always hated the packing and upacking rituals and living on wrinkled clothing out of unorganized luggage and having to drag your belongings everywhere you go. As I had kids and the amount of stuff I had to manage multiplied exponentially (because, let's face it, Dads don't really do that sort of leg work), I began to loathe the idea.

Something has shifted in the last year or so, though, and despite the work involved, traveling feels exciting. The headaches are many, but the rewards are great.

Living with a Vacation State of Mind

More years than not, my family and I visit Florida sometime in the spring months (something we tend to desperately need with our slow-moving-seasons here in Buffalo.) We just returned from our trip this year, and so much of it has stayed with me.

When we arrived and stepped into the familiar guest room at my in-law's house, I was determined to not let things get unorganized and out of hand. As the kids dressed for their first dip in the pool, I turned HGTV on the little television (for whatever reason, I watch a whole lot of that in Florida?) and I unpacked our suitcases into the dresser and in the bathroom.

I stored our suitcases away in a corner, set our books out on our night stand, hung up jackets and dress clothes in the closets, and set out my pop-up hampers from the dollar store to catch all of our dirty laundry. I created a changing station in the boys' room (normally the office) by setting up diapers, wipes, swim diapers, and the big boys' underwear under their side table. Every morning, I'd open the blinds and make the beds, straighten up the night stand, toss laundry in the hampers, and return water glasses to the kitchen. I hung up wet pool towels and bathing suits to dry over night each night. I did at least one load of laundry each day and returned it to our temporary living spaces.

Things operated so smoothly, that packing our last day was a breeze. (It is, of course, a major perk to be staying in a full-fledged house with a washer and drier. The only dirty laundry we came home with were our bathing suits and beach towels, which I dried quickly and stashed into laundry bags that I'd gotten at the dollar store years ago - 3 for $1 - and bring along on every vacation.)

I'm not sure why I was so resolved to stay on top of things this year. Part of it is that I feel bad invading my in-laws nice home with three messy kids and parents that are usually struggling to keep up with the mess they radiate. Part of it is that I wanted to allow my husband to have maximum quality time with his parents, and my kids to have the same with their Grandparents, while keeping things from getting overwhelming. And part of it was simply that I was motivated to do all of those things since they were on a much smaller scale than normal.

I kept thinking about that idea - how the simplicity of it all helped me excel. And it didn't take away from enjoying my vacation in the least.

I came home, still thinking of these ideas, and wondering how I can work them into my every day life. One thing I kept stumbling over is - I don't have an office job. I do plenty of work and wear many hats and certainly have my share of running around to do, but since I don't have an office and its accompanying boss to report to - why can't I live more like this in my daily life?

These were the things I noticed:

Smaller Surroundings
When we are visiting Florida, our personal space is very limited. We have one bedroom with a closet for Matt and I, one bedroom for all three boys (the two big guys on the pull out couch bed, and the little guy in a pack and play), and one small guest bathroom. These three areas sort of become our territory during our stay. We are responsible for their use and upkeep, whereas the "public" areas of the home are not. That's not to say that we should come home and immediately stop caring what our kitchen and living rooms look like, but that made me come to a few conclusions.

1. Smaller spaces don't have to be so debilitating. I often get bogged down by the size of my home, but look how well and relaxed we lived with only three small rooms as "ours". So by that logic, shouldn't a whole home (even if it is very small) be plenty?

2. Our more personal spaces deserve so much more attention. On vacation, we keep those rooms in good shape because we know those are the only areas where we can take a break, rest, recharge, and be ourselves. Isn't that always true of our bedrooms? So why do we treat them like a catch-all? I don't know about you, but when guests are coming I always clean the public areas of my home and throw all of the trash to hide in my bedroom.

Less Belongings
Okay, I get it...this has been a "thing" for a while now. Marie Kondo tried to tell me this before but I could only half-listen because as a crafter and a person that assigns memories to belongings (because I'd otherwise forget them), I have a hard time with the minimalist ideal. But when we travel, don't we do so with only our most essential and favorite things? Sure, there are certain dictated necessities depending on the location and weather we are traveling into, and so maybe we need to pack hiking boots though we wouldn't wear them day to day. But those things aside - don't you tend to bring the outfits you feel you look best in? Small bottles of your favorite products (but not your whole vanity)? Only your 2 or 3 favorite pairs of shoes? 1 or 2 books you know will fit your time best? Vacation sort of puts us into a natural Konmari method. I can't help but think it every time I travel - - if I end up stranded with only the things I have right now, wouldn't I be totally content? Would I even miss 90% of the things I left behind?

And of course, this is what made keeping up with laundry SO SIMPLE. With only one bathing suit, a couple pairs of shorts, and a few tee shirts rotating around per person, I could have everyone's clothes back in their dressers at the end of the day. I don't think I could ever narrow down my outfits that far - I fall too in love with colorful pieces, and I love shopping way too much. Yet, it's worth thinking about that our choices and chores become so much easier when we have less things to juggle.

Vacation certainly simplifies this to another level. The truth is, even if we moved in there with only what we brought for our trip, our rooms would eventually be overrun (and too crowded) by school work, mail, books, and everything else it takes to run a life. It just sort of points out that we can not only get by with much less, we can be happy with it, too.

Easier Upkeep
This is basically just restating my last two points, but with less personal space to be responsible for, and less belongings to manage within them, chores are not stressful. May we always find a way to minimize things in relation to the room they belong in.

Don't Miss A Moment
When you're on vacation, don't you feel like you want to make every minute count? Especially when you're traveling in late winter/early spring from somewhere cold like Buffalo, to somewhere warm like Florida, you don't want to miss a moment of sunshine and 80 degrees. So when we're on vacation, we make sure we are present, intentional, and productive. That doesn't mean we schedule every moment - in fact, we find (and sometimes create) many moments when we do absolutely nothing but close our eyes and turn our faces to the sun. No matter how slow or fast the moment, though, we are there - we are in it. We are saying things like, "Isn't this so great?"  Why can't we do that every day?

A Little Preparation
In order to make the most of each moment, we're always thinking ahead on vacation. We keep an eye on the weather and our bucket list of things to do, and then we find the places to fit everything in (without going overboard with scheduling...unless of course you're in Disney, and it's counter productive to not plan.) I always take a few moments to asses what we're doing and what we'll need on the next day of vacation so that it runs more smoothly and we can leave the house a little earlier. When I'm at home and getting through each day, I'm usually so tired by it that I don't at all care to think about the next one. Which brings me to....

this little guy was definitely tired on our way home, though ;)

No One Cares About Being Tired
To an extent. When you're in Disney, for example, those beds call your name by 9pm and you don't care about anything other than sleeping. And travel days are always exhausting. But whenever you have plans to leave the house/hotel room or do something, you're not thinking about how tiring it is to prepare and go do something - you just do it. You're excited, motivated, and ready for fun. Sometimes these things are completely exhausting, and even sometimes stressful - but when you're on vacation, you don't care. You're there for the experiences. In our every day lives, the places we have to go feel boring and monotonous because they are so repetitive and common. But who says we can't look at them the way we look at outings on vacation? I mean, think about it. Racing to the gates at rope drop at the Magic Kingdom, and standing in the burning hot sun to wait for entrance to an attraction is EXHAUSTING. And also stressful. But do you care? I know I don't. Comparatively, isn't preschool drop off a walk in the park? So maybe find a little joy in the every day errands.

More Steps Per Day
Since we're talking outings and living intentional moments - can we talk for a sec about the fact that it's more healthy? Because here's the deal. I do yoga a couple times a week, and whenever the sun's out and it's above 50, I love taking the family for a walk. I'm up and all over the place doing chores and chauffeuring the family van on a daily basis. But between all of that, I'm mostly sitting still. Or racing to the next moment when I get to. And you know what? My FitBit shows it. Even on my busiest days at home, I usually only hit about 6K steps. On vacation? It's more like 8-9. (And if you're in Disney, you can count on like 18K a day!) Not caring about how tired things make you, and making the most of every moment, means you're moving and being healthier just by being.

It's Easier To Make Time For Good Things
I am fully versed in how important it is to make time for yourself and to slow down in your every day life, but we're such an accomplished based society that we can't help but focus on our to do lists first and foremost. Monday-Friday there's not much of a choice. Kids have to go school, and adults have to do their various jobs. On the weekends, though, do we have to fill them with all of the projects bouncing around in our heads? Sometimes, of course we do - otherwise nothing would ever get done. It's just so much easier to give ourselves permission to slow down and enjoy when we're on vacation. We deserve that more than once or twice a year, and without paying for pricey airfare first.

Early, Slow Mornings Are A Good Thing
I have so much to say on this topic, but it's a post for another day. For now, I'll just tell you that Matt and I made it a point to be awake before the rest of the house every day of our vacation. I know what you're thinking - why on earth didn't you sleep in? We have young kids that are up before the sun, and we're staying with a set of Grandparents that would have gladly watched them so we could keep sleeping. But I guarantee you that we got so much more out of doing this than sleeping in would have offered us. We'd tip toe to the kitchen, make a pot of coffee, grab a biscotti each, and go sit on the lanai. As we listened to the breeze and watched the sun rise, we'd chat and read our books and listen to meditation podcasts. By the time everyone was waking up, we'd already fueled our minds and bodies, and spent some quality time together.

Often, on vacation, I tend to feel left behind. It used to be because I always had a nursing baby, and I'd end up stuck in a bedroom with him while the rest of my family went off on boat or jet ski rides, or went swimming. It can be other things, though, too. Like my husband and kids getting pulled into video games with cousins, or my husband being on grill duty. Or even more simply - the domestic side of things were still my responsibility, and sometimes they had to be done while everyone else was enjoying themselves. This vacation, though? Every day started with quality time together - time that also enriched ourselves individually - and our days felt more connected, even if we found ourselves doing separate things later on.

Stay tuned for another conversation about making the most of your mornings. I have so many thoughts to share with you.

Okay, so we've just looked at all the ways living life in a vacation state of mind is wonderful, but let's be totally real for a second here. Despite the advantages these things offer, the truth is that many of these things had support that normal life doesn't. Like....

1. A spouse always being available instead of at work all day.
2. Even MORE sets of hands in the form of caring Grandparents.
3. Not being totally on the hook for every meal and/or meal clean up.
4. Not being responsible for the state of the public areas of the house (even though we did make sure to keep our kids' messes to a minimum.)
5. Freedom of doing whatever whenever (and for us, that was an even bigger deal, because we have a dog with separation anxiety that requires arrangements whenever we plan to leave her.)
6. A lot of misc tasks being left behind, like dealing with mail, paying bills, doctors appointments, feeding animals, etc.
7. Not having to drive the kids to and from school each day.

And those are just the things I can think of off the top of my head.

Even so - if we could just inch towards living life in vacation mode, wouldn't the world be a happier place? My oldest son kept asking if we could move to Florida for good, and though the idea of perpetual Summer and access to fun outings is appealing - I've been there and done that. I lived the life of missing family and friends, familiar surroundings, and the change of the seasons. We used to live in Charlotte, and we lived that life long enough to know that in the end, you always want your version of real life back.

So the goal, then, is to make real life feel as exciting as a Florida vacation does. I have some ideas in mind for how to cultivate it - - what are your thoughts? What could a vacation state of mind do for you?

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