Every travel-lover has done it: No matter how fulfilling, awe-inspiring, or “worth it” our trips are, we’ve told tiny half-truths about exactly how perfect everything was. Maybe you’re a workaholic who couldn’t stop checking email in a tropical paradise, or you’re part of a large family who embarked on a cross-country road trip…with mixed results. But when you gush to your friends back home, all they hear is the highlight reel…and none of the snafus.
Why do we lie about our vacations?
“With the rise of social media, many people feel compare themselves to their friends and families who post about their ‘amazing’ vacations online,” says clinical psychologist Roudabeh Rahbar, PsyD. “What many hide are the actual realities of travel, i.e., stress, fights, illness, or an overall bad time.”
Pair that with a limited number of vacation days to burn each year, and the heat is on to have a magical, Instagram-worthy time. But there’s good news: Budget Travel sourced advice from experts to help you avoid the travel snags you might be tempted to gloss over, so next time, you truly can have a dreamy, stress-free trip—no Pinocchio-style white lies necessary.
LIE NO. 1. TRAVELING IS RELAXING
The Reality: You’re thrilled you were able to take a vacation, of course. But between running through the airport to make your connection, wrangling toddlers, driving in an unfamiliar place, or packing in as much sightseeing as possible…you’re exhausted.
The Fix: First, resist the urge to create a schedule so strict it reminds you of the crazy-busy life you're trying to escape. "The unnecessary anxiety starts when you book a vacation and think you have to see everything and do everything," says family therapist Kimberley Clayton Blaine, MA, LMFT. "Leaving ample time in between activities allows you to taste the wonderful food and mingle with the culture and people around you without the hustle and bustle and stress."
When you find yourself in a moment that should be blissful, but your mind is frenzied, try this trick from psychologist and author Susan Albers, PsyD: "Use your all of your senses. While walking on the beach, hold out your hand and name each of your senses as you make your hand into a fist. Thumb equals touch—the feel of sand on my toes. Pointer finger equals smell—ocean air. Middle finger equals sound—waves crashing. Ring finger equals taste—salty air. Pinky finger equals see—blue sky. Repeat wherever you are."
Remember this maxim: “Things always go wrong.” Anticipate problems as best you can, but use setbacks as constructive learning experiences that will help you prepare for your next trip. “Perhaps, you’ll learn that you are less likely to have delays when you take the first flight out rather than the last,” says Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. “Or to leave yourself a day between finishing up work and setting off on your trip so packing isn’t as rushed.”
If you still find yourself freaking out? “Take deep breaths and focus on the moment,” says Rahbar. “Even when that can be difficult to do, try to focus on a happy memory or a pull up a picture on your phone that makes you smile."
If that doesn't do the trick, put on your headphones for a few minutes: The beautifully designed mindfulness app Headspace offers short, guided meditations and a free "fear of flying" exercise, designed to calm you before you step onto an airplane, all delivered in a soothing British accent (free app and introductory exercises, subscriptions from $6.24 per month, headspace.com).
LIE NO. 2. YOU STAYED "UNPLUGGED"
The Reality: You brought your phone along to the pool, to the beach, on a hike, and on an expedition to explore temple ruins, sneaking peeks at your inbox (and Facebook and Instagram…) whenever you could get a signal. “Many people truly do want to unplug,” Rahbar says. “They are most likely embarrassed to admit how addicted and connected they are to the virtual world. Lying about unplugging goes along with how we lie about how much we drink or work out.”
The Fix: Airplane mode. And not just when you’re cruising at 36,000 feet. “Put your phone on airplane mode during the day and plug in in the evening as you wind down from the day,” Rahbar says. “A lot of times when we have our phone on airplane mode, we forget to turn it back on. Or set time limits for yourself—i.e., one hour or two hours a day.”
Workaholics, before you jet, loop in trustworthy coworkers ahead of time so they can take care of routine business, and tell them to avoid cc'ing you on group emails. “Be sure to put an away message on your email that tells coworkers when and under what circumstances you should be contacted,” Levine says. One example might be that you are only reachable via emails marked "urgent," and you'll only be checking your inbox for one hour at 9 p.m. each night in the time zone you're traveling to. The less available you appear, the less people will be inclined to bug you.
LIE NO. 3. TRAVELING WITH YOUR PARTNER WAS ROMANTIC
The Reality: You fought with your partner about decisions both big and small, from who’d get the window seat on the plane to which exotic food cart to track down. At times, it wasn’t pretty. And it definitely didn’t make you want to jump each other’s bones.
The Fix: Talk about the trip beforehand, but go beyond discussing which airline and hotel to book. “To avoid unnecessary or unproductive fights…create a vision for your vacation and make a plan to fulfill it,” says Judith Wright, co-author of The Heart of the Fight. “Ask yourself: What is the purpose of our vacation? And become clear on why you are going. To ‘escape’ is not a sufficient reason. Great reasons include ‘to enhance my relationship with my partner,’ ‘to get more distance on my life,’ or to ‘restore or rejuvenate.’”
Then, Wright says, set concrete goals about “what you’ll talk about, how you’ll be with each other. What kind of experiences do you want to have together? What experiences do you want to have separately? There is nothing wrong with together time and alone time. Just be clear when setting goals and expectations.”
LIE NO. 4. VACATIONS ARE GREAT FOR FAMILY BONDING
The Reality: Your daughter spent the vacation with her nose buried in her Kindle, your son barely looked up from texting his girlfriend, and your partner spent every second she could get at the spa (a.k.a. away from you). Or, conversely, you spent so much time in close quarters that you longed for a solo vacation, sans the fam.
The Fix: Treat trip planning like you’re a general in a war room. “Choose types of vacations that appeal to a range of interests and activity/energy levels,” Levine says. “For example, grandparents might want to book a stateroom in a ship within a ship on a large megaship that provides rock climbing walls and zip lines for kids. Make sure sleeping arrangements are appropriate for different ages, e.g., so an aging parent or young child can take a nap during the day or early risers aren’t paired with later risers.”
A "coach" approach, using the word “team” to foster inclusiveness, can help too, says psychologist and travel-guide author Michael Brein, Ph.D. Tell the kids: “We are a team about to engage upon a great travel adventure." And if they misbehave: "We need to get along better and create a great travel environment that can maximize the experience for each and every one of us.”
LIE NO. 5. YOU GOT A GREAT DEAL ON YOUR TRIP
The Reality: After all the fees and surcharges, the fares and lodging ended up being more expensive than you’d have liked. You swear to do better next time. Or you didn’t realize your all-inclusive plan didn’t count the premium liquor as free. Or maybe you had the best intentions to save cash by skipping meals, then ended up starving and ordering room service at a markup.
The Fix: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. No one can be a whiz at saving money every single time. Much of our favorite advice can be summed up in this article, by Budget Travel's Editor in Chief: 25 Best Money-Saving Travel Tips. A few more hints: Check Google Flights to ensure you're traveling at the least expensive times, to the least expensive airports. Look at the prices on the Google Flights map, and you might find that you can have the Caribbean vacation you want on a completely different, less expensive island than you had originally planned to visit.
If you choose a low-cost airline, like Spirit or Frontier, make sure you understand what costs extra, like selecting your seat and reserving space for your bags at the airport rather than online beforehand. Sign up for email alerts from all the major airlines, AirfareWatchdog.com, and your favorite hotel companies, and follow them on social media too. You'll be among the first to hear about bargains, and the deals will find you.
At resorts, always read the fine print for all-inclusive deals. At some properties, you can order a whole bottle of champagne up to your room, gratis. At others, they literally rope off the Johnnie Walker Black unless you’ve paid to upgrade your status.
LIE NO. 6. YOU CAN'T WAIT TO GO BACK AGAIN
The Reality: You borderline resented where you were, whether you had a rough brush with poison ivy and mosquitoes while trying find your inner outdoorswoman or had to dodge herds of sunburned tourists at the swim-up bar. Some people love visiting the same place over and over again, but this time, you’re certainly not one of them.
The Fix: Don’t beat yourself up. Having not-so-positive experiences is crucial to becoming a true world traveler. “As we travel, and especially in the condensed space-time of travel, as we grow and learn from our experiences, we are ever more capable of making better and more rewarding travel decisions,” Brein says.
And before you write off the experience completely, give the locale some credit: “Perhaps you only scraped the surface of a destination and want to dig more deeply or experience it more authentically,” Levine says.
LIE NO. 7. DOWNTIME WAS FUNTIME
The Reality: You were as bored as bored could be, whether you were by yourself on a solo trip or lounging next to your family on the beach for a week.
The Fix: Maybe your trip was just too long—hey, it can happen. Or you know now that you'd prefer not to be alone if you can help it, and that's a good thing:
“The hospitality industry has never been as welcoming of solo travelers (and their money), from reducing or eliminating single supplements on cruises to having long tables at restaurants," Levine says. "Also, the sharing economy has made it possible for solo travelers to live with locals—e.g., Homestay, Airbnb—share meals with them—Mealsharing, EatWith—and meet up with them as guides, e.g., ToursbyLocals.com, Context Travel.”
And then there's the old-fashioned way to find a friend (and, no, we're not talking about Tinder tourism—not that there's anything wrong with that). "Even if you are shy, make efforts to engage other single people, hospitality staff, and even families," Levine says. "Most will go out of their way to engage a fellow traveler."