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The most important thing to take on holidays

Holidays are high points in our lives. A chance to luxuriate and relax, or a chance to explore and be challenged. Holidays allow you to be dazzled by new and amazing people and places. Holidays are AWESOME!!

Except when they are not. When planes are delayed, or there is a screaming child on board. Or it rains, or we get sick or the accommodation is cramped/grubby/noisy. Or the tourist sights are a letdown or the best rooms in the National Gallery are closed due to strike action. There are so many small and big hassles that can mess with our plans and leave us feeling letdown or short-changed.

Some time ago I noticed that the higher my expectations for a holiday were, the more likely it was that reality wouldn’t match up. So now I realise that the most important thing for me to take on holidays is low expectations.

There is a clear relationship between our expectations and our happiness:

Expectations matching reality = acceptance or contentedness

Expectations exceeding reality = disappointment

Reality exceeding expectations = delight

When traveling there are many, many parts of reality that we can not control. It is only by lowering or removing our expectations that we can increase our chances of being pleasantly surprised.


Nowadays I set off with the acceptance that the weather might be awful or that one us will get sick or that the passenger in front of me will recline their seat for the entire plane trip. That is not to say that I am gloomily predicting that these things WILL happen. But by acknowledging the likelihood of hassles I am not heartbroken or outraged when they occur. I can bypass the seething or lamenting and move straight on to adjusting my plans (or in the case of the plane seat, my entire body) and making the best of the situation.


Much as we like to think of holidays as an escape from our daily grind, wherever we go we run smack-bang into messy reality– the good, the bad and the ugly. When we can ‘take it as it comes’ we can save ourselves the exhausting work of wrestling with disappointment and instead chalk it all up to experience. 

There is an old Arab saying: “Trust in God, but first tether your camel”. This healthy balance between hope and hard-nosed practicality can be a fantastic way of approaching travel.  We can make our preparations in a way that stacks the odds in favour of a terrific trip, then throw ourselves into the hands of the universe. We can hope for the best but plan for the worst, crafting our Plan B options for transport and sightseeing, packing the anti-diarrhoea medicine and tossing in a few muesli bars in case we get stranded. And of course, don’t forget that indispensable travel companion, a sarong. Bonne chance!


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