The summer months are now fully upon us. And I think I can speak for most of us in saying that summer means more than an obnoxiously uneven tan. Among other things, it means that if we have a whisper of free time, we want to use it, and we want to use it well.
The first time I was on a transcontinental flight, I was in my 20s. I have since become addicted to traveling, collecting passport stamps the way some collect stars at coffee shops (admittedly, I collect those too).
Traveling invites us to tune into the present moment in a way that we often overlook when we are in familiar settings. But really, there are many small attitude shifts and behavioral changes we can make in order to harness the benefits of downtime, whether that be on official vacation days, or whenever you have a spare moment to chill out.
Whether you have the opportunity to travel near or far this summer, or are just looking to let go in the comfort of your own home, here are some tips about how to make the most of it:
1. Make many plans for a given time-frame.
This holds true whether you're on vacation or having a staycation. For instance, if you plan to go to an outdoor concert one evening, make sure you have a plan B (and/or a plan C, D and E!). And then also be ready to discard your plans altogether. There is nothing more rejuvenating than the rush of spontaneity.
Sure, if everything worked out the way you planned in life, it would be great. But it would also be somewhat boring, right?
Sometimes the unplanned can have amazing consequences. Sometimes the fact that your hotel didn’t receive your online booking leads to you meeting other travelers who become lifelong friends. Sometimes the rain makes you realize that what you really needed was a night at home to go to bed early, instead of hauling all your stuff to the park for that concert you didn't want to see that badly anyway.
So be prepared to discard all your ideas of what may happen. (And if you don’t want to loosen the reins too much, making a plan B to go along with your A’s may be the route for you.)
2. Honor that everyday life is still going on.
You are in the midst of your free time, be it vacation or the weekend. The sun is shining and you aren’t a slave to your email. Unfortunately, the majority of the world around you still has stuff to do and groceries to buy and so on.
So be cognizant of the fact that life — real life — is still swirling around you. Not only will you be more compassionate, you will also appreciate every moment even more.
3. Differentiate "great stories" from "perfect moments."
This is an extension of my first point. Take this experience I had as an example: Once, I had the opportunity to stay in a resort in Costa Rica that was in the middle of nowhere. People say "the middle of nowhere" as a euphemism all the time, but trust me, this was really true. We first got in a jeep in murky terrain. Then we got on a boat and our luggage got soaked. Then we rode mules through a pretty deep river, without supervision, while locals laughed at us.
Was it ideal? Heck no. Was it a great story? Yes.
In short, it's important to realize that your expectations for how you spend your free time may appear "disappointed" when things don't go as planned. But making sure to distinguish the value of the present moment, whatever it may be, from your conceptual idea of "the ideal experience" may help you to roll with the punches.
4. Put the camera down.
Instagram is amazing: not only do you get to showcase the elaborate lunch you prepared for yourself over the weekend, but you also get to see what your friends are up to and show them how you've been enjoying life. Whether you're seeing wildlife, visiting the Eiffel Tower, or doing a fun craft project at home, there will always be photos you want to take to document your pleasurable downtime activities.
And while I'm not suggesting you never take photos, I am suggesting that you don’t take all the photos. Soak in where you are RIGHT NOW, and make some memories that will keep you company on tough days at work in the future.
5. Get cozy with the idea of doing nothing.
It is so exciting to have free time that most people — travelers and homebodies alike — make sure that none of that time remains free. How ironic!
And sure, vacations are certainly moments in time that can be filled with great experiences, from museum visits to plans with friends to wine tastings. But take it from me and my fellow seasoned travelers: part of the reason travel is so powerful is that it invites us to change up our pace. I know that when I'm away from the rhythm of my routine, I feel so much more comfortable allowing myself to relax.
So I challenge you to this, no matter where you are: try keeping some of your free time actually free.