Like so many others, I remember exactly what I was doing when I first heard about the attacks of September 11, 2001. I was in ninth grade & heard my older brothers talking about some kind of plane crash as I got ready for school. At that point, it wasn’t clear what was actually happening & I remember one of them saying they thought it was an accident. I went to school not realizing how serious the situation was. When I got there, they had all the TVs in the school turned on. As I hung out with my friends before school started, I remember standing in the common area, all staring at the TV that hung there watching the towers smoke & finally realizing how serious of a situation it was. It was during my first period English class that we watched live as the first tower fell. I remember how quiet it was as we all sat there in shock & my teacher quietly walked over to the TV and turned it off before we had the chance to watch anything else. We then spent the rest of the day, wandering from class to class, our poor teachers trying to help us stay calm & understand. Of course, I came home & as a family we tried to understand it as well, along with the rest of the country & world. I cried many times that day & in the following weeks. I’ve cried many times since when I think of the lives lost to the senseless act of terrorism. I feel it deep in my heart the importance of remembering what happened & the people we lost.
Consequently, when we had the chance to visit New York City many years later, we made it a priority to visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. For me, it felt like a token of respect. I could not in good conscious go to New York City & not visit. I felt the same way when I visited the island of Oahu. I felt compelled to visit Pearl Harbor for the same reason. There are just certain places that though they are the sites of tragedies, they have since been turned into beautiful memorials that we are then allowed to visit. Historic sites in general, whether they be memorials, battlefields, burial grounds, churches, etc., can be some of the best places to visit as a traveler. The history of the world is held in those special places & I believe it is a good & important thing for all of us to visit, learn, show our respect & remember. So how do we do that?
Since we often visit these places of importance while on vacation, it’s easy to let the levity of being on vacation overshadow the fact that we are often, walking on sacred ground. Below you’ll find a few tips for how to enjoy your experience at these important places, but also show respect to the events that happened there.
First, talk about where you’re going in advance. Whether you’re traveling as a family & have kids, or you’re doing a getaway with adult friends, I would encourage you to talk with everyone about these important sites before you go there. Talk about where you are going & why it is important. Everyone has a different perspective & understanding of the world & just because I may understand the importance of a site, that doesn’t mean the people I’m traveling with do. Or maybe none of us understand why a site is important, but we know everyone visits there for some reason. Do some basic research & talk about what happened at these sites before you get there. This allows everyone to put a site in context & in my opinion, you’ll then arrive with a sense of respect that will help everyone govern their behavior in a positive & respectful way.
Second, be respectful of posted placards. This may seem obvious, but there have been many times I’ve visited a memorial & even though there is a sign that says, “Please stay off the memorial,” some kid is being allowed to play on it. Or we go into a church & they have it posted, “Please, no pictures,” and someone is going around taking pictures of everything. I saw this very thing happen when we were visiting Westminster Abbey in London. If you haven’t been there, it is a remarkable place with incredible historic value. Part of that comes from the fact that the church is basically a cemetery. There are hundreds of people buried in the floor & in the walls, so you are literally walking over the final resting place of many. They tell you multiple times as you move through the queue to enter that pictures are not allowed once inside. There are posted placards everywhere saying the same thing. Yet, every few minutes we would hear one of the people working there announce, “No pictures, please.” Or you’d see them approach someone and kindly ask them to put their camera away. Sometimes, it’s not about the next great Instagram photo you’re going to get. Sometimes it’s about appreciating where you are & showing the respect a place deserves. The bottom line is, we are guests in the places we visit & it is not for us to determine that our opinions or wants are above what the stewards of those places have deemed appropriate.
Lastly, though not required when visiting a site, I recommend using provided audio guides or at least reading available signage about a place. This allows you to slow down, take a breath and learn. Allow yourself some time to briefly dive into the specifics of what makes a place important. It’s not just a building or a statue or a relic. Important things happened in these places. People lived & often died in these places we now visit in our abundance as tourists. They have stories to tell if we will only listen. I have found that when I do this, I am often touched and the feelings I experience give me a greater appreciation for those that came before me & it solidifies in my memory the importance of a place. I firmly believe that everyone can feel the spirit & energy of a place by slowing down enough to learn & appreciate.
There are so many wonderful places in the world to visit. Some of the best have the hardest pieces of history attached to them. They are worth visiting & we should visit them. We need to be respectful though. At least understand the basics of why a place is important before you arrive so you can gauge your behavior in a respectful manner. Follow posted placards. Remember, you are a guest and if the stewards of a place ask that you do something, it is your responsibility to do it. Finally, learn all you can. It is our duty to remember the past so we do not repeat it. I firmly believe travel is one of the best educators, but it is only through our respect of the places we visit that history can be heard.
Deciding who to travel with can make the difference between a great trip & an, um…okay trip. There are a few people we have traveled with in the past that we will never travel with again. We are lucky that we still have decent relationships with those people in general, but there is no way we will be traveling with them again. Nope, never. However, what do you do when grandma decides to pay for everyone to go to Disneyland? Or one of your best friends puts together a girl’s weekend? What do you do even in smaller groups of people you like and choose to travel with, but who all have their own opinions?
While traveling is always a choice, sometimes we are put into situations where we feel an obligation to go, but you know it’s not going to be ideal with the group of people you’re going with. It could be because you don’t get along, it could be because one person can’t ever get out of bed on time, or it could be there are just so many of you, moving everyone takes forever. So how do you navigate these situations & still have a great vacation, plus make sure your relationships are still intact when you come home? It’s a hard question whose answer is as unique as the groups traveling together. However, in my experience, I’ve recognized a few helpful tips to help navigating traveling with a group.
First, set expectations beforehand. Whatever the expectations are, make sure people know in advance. Everyone has some idea in their head about how they would like their vacation to look and when you’re traveling with a group, I can almost guarantee that differing ideas are the norm, not the exception. If those ideas are not acknowledged in advance, it can lead to hard feelings very quickly while on the trip itself. There is nothing worse than showing up and thinking things are going to go one way just to have someone tell you your ideas are completely wrong & things will be done the complete opposite way. Not setting expectations beforehand is just asking for people to be offended which sets a dark tone for the trip from the beginning.
To set those expectations, I recommend meeting together beforehand (whether in person or video chat). Do not just text or email, but actually get together and talk. Body language & tone of voice are very telling. Maybe over text I can fool you into thinking I’d love to go to that famous sushi restaurant because I’m afraid to tell you no, but when you look in my face, and can tell I’m uncomfortable when we are actually talking about it, maybe I can find my courage to admit that I hate seafood. You may still choose to go to that famous sushi restaurant, but at least I can go find something that I like better, and it’s no surprise to you, keeping us both happy. Legitimately talking with each other allows everyone to voice what their vision for the trip is and knowing beforehand what to expect from the others in your group, can save a lot of hurt feelings & arguments later. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say everyone will agree (more on how to navigate that next), but at least you’ve all had the chance to get an idea of what the other people you’re traveling with are thinking. Please remember to keep it civil! This discussion will set the tone for the entire vacation. The idea isn’t to convert everyone to your way of thinking, it’s to help everyone get an idea of what to expect from each other. Different ideas are a good thing, so be open to what others have to say and don’t get offended if it doesn’t match what you want. You never know when someone will have the one great idea that makes the trip.
Okay, you’ve gotten together to set expectations. What specifically do you talk about? Besides the obvious logistics of a trip (hotel, transportation, etc.), I believe it’s important to somewhat establish what your daily routine will look like while on vacation. The best piece of advice I can give a group traveling together is to recognize from the beginning that YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER. One more time for the people not paying attention: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER. You heard me. You do not have to spend every waking moment together. This is probably the biggest mistake I see groups traveling together make. They feel like if the trip is with everyone, they have to spend the entire trip together. To that I say, what about your sister who has to stop in every gift shop? What about Grandpa who has to have a full sit-down breakfast every day? What about your cousin who has two kids under the age of five who need a nap & to go to bed early? What about YOU and what you want? Every individual has their own needs & wants that may not exactly match up with each other. That’s OKAY! Stop trying to force everyone to do the same thing! Instead, do what makes you happy. It’s vacation! You’re supposed to escape regular life for a bit, relax, experience someplace new & have a great time. Sometimes, trying to move an entire group along is just painful and not fun for anyone, so do not force people to do everything together. If it is important to spend at least a little bit of time together (which is reasonable since you did go on vacation with each other), I have a few suggestions.
Designate one activity per day as something you will do together. For example, maybe everyone gets together for dinner. It gives you the chance to spend your day how you choose, your sister goes shopping, Grandpa takes a long breakfast, you visit the museum you’ve been dying to, but then you all make a point to come back together to share experiences & enjoy each other’s company. You set a time & place & the expectation that everyone will be there. This is an easy way to give people the freedom they need, but also to have time together in a pleasant circumstance.
If you need or want more time together than one activity per day, then I suggest doing your research beforehand about what is available to do in your destination (see our blog post “Planning Never Hurt Anyone”). Once you have a good idea, let each person or family unit pick ONE thing they absolutely have to do & make sure everyone gets the chance to do their one thing. This helps everyone to feel important & satisfied. This is good advice for even small groups traveling together & my husband and I often do it with my parents & our friends. For example, when we went to London with my parents, we each picked one thing we had to do. I wanted to visit the Tower of London, my mom wanted to take an excursion out to Stonehenge, my dad wanted to see The Phantom of the Opera. They are all very different things, but we all enjoyed them & everyone felt like they had contributed to what ended up being one of our favorite trips ever. Oftentimes, what one person wants to do will overlap with the wants of someone else, so even if you only get to pick one thing, often you get to do lots of awesome stuff and maybe even a few great things you wouldn’t have found on your own.
The key to this plan though, is to make sure you don’t whine & complain when it’s not your turn. If your sister chose to go shopping as her one thing, make the most of that time with her doing what she loves. If Grandpa chose breakfast at a famous local restaurant, enjoy the experience & time with him. This will allow you to see & do things you may not have elected to do yourself, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing. Everyone is empowered to make a choice & everyone supports each other in that choice. However, if you can’t be a good sport about it, don’t do this. Go back to picking one thing each day that the group does together, and just do what makes you happy the rest of the time.
Traveling with a group can be a difficult experience, but it can also be very rewarding as you build positive relationships and create new memories together in a new place. Open the lines of communication with everyone early & recognize it’s okay if you don’t do everything together. In fact, it’s often a better idea than trying force everyone to spend every minute together. If you need help, we are always here. We would be happy to help you navigate traveling with a group. It is a different experience for sure! Visit our website to get started: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
There are two kinds of travelers in the world: Those who plan, and those who don’t. I get it. There is something freeing about heading somewhere and just going for it without a set schedule. I believe there are times when this type of travel can be wonderful. However, in general, I believe that making a plan actually gives you more freedom when you arrive at your destination to do what actually matters to you. Let me explain.
A few years ago, my husband & I were heading to London. We were very excited & I had done a lot of research about what we could do while in town, we had identified what each of us “had’ to do, and felt like we had a pretty solid plan. I’m personally of the opinion that if you’re going to pay to get somewhere, you should experience it for what it is. And knowing what there is to do, is the first step. Anyway, I was talking with a friend prior to our trip and we realized we were both going to be in London at the same time over the course of a few days. I asked him about what his plans were, curious to see if he knew about something that I didn’t. His reply to me was, “We’re just going to go and see what happens.” I was shocked that he would go all that way and not do ANY research on what he might like to see. I told him as much and even made several suggestions, but he insisted that was how they wanted to do things.
The time came, and we both found ourselves in London. We met up one evening for a dance concert & we asked if they would like to join us the next day for what we were doing. He said yes and the next day we had a lovely breakfast together and he tagged along as we went through what we had already planned to do that day. We were leaving that evening, so after helping him buy an Oyster Card (tube pass so they could get around town), we left them to their own devices. Fast forward a few weeks and I see this friend again. Naturally, I asked him how his trip went and he said, “You know, I think you’re right about making a plan. We got more done with you in that one day than we did the rest of the trip.” I learned that they had done a few other things, but not very much & they ended up staying in the room a lot of the time. I thought, “What a tragedy!” We had such a great time in London & it made me sad that he didn’t have the same experience.
There are a few points I want to make here. First, you don’t know what you don’t know. Traveling to someplace you’ve never been to can be overwhelming. It is often a new culture with new experiences that can be tricky to navigate if you’ve never experienced it before. Knowing beforehand what your choices are can help you start to make a plan to navigate this new place and experience. Second, if you know what your choices are, you can spend your limited time on vacation doing what you’re actually interested in. I believe there is something for everyone everywhere, but you have to know what there is so you can find what you like. A little bit of research can go a long way & your travel agent can help you navigate that.
Travel agents by their very definition help “plan” people’s vacations (Obvious, I know). Usually that means helping to acquire hotels, attraction tickets, airfare, etc. These services are super helpful (see our post on “Why Use a Travel Agent”), but did you know that as agents, we often have a well of knowledge about many destinations that our guests simply aren’t tapping into?
At Woodbrey Family Travel we pride ourselves on creating personalized itineraries based on where people are going & who is going. For example, we provide a multi-page document that outlines how to navigate the Disney parks based on your group type (traveling with kids or with only adults will look very different), or how to prepare for & make the most of your cruise, etc. Our goal is to help you know as much as possible about your destination before you travel. However, as previously mentioned, we’ve noticed an interesting trend in how people approach being given this information. Either people soak up every word of the information we give them, or they ignore it completely and just go off on their own. I’m not saying it’s wrong to just “go for it,” but I can tell you that after helping thousands of people with their trips, and traveling all over the world ourselves, those who had a plan almost ALWAYS have a better time than those that don’t. There is nothing worse than getting somewhere and then wasting time standing around asking each other, “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” I would encourage all travelers to use the resources your agent provides & do your research!
In the case of planning a vacation, the people who do their research & start to formulate a plan actually enjoy that process. It’s kind of fun to think about and make plans for vacation. Plus, you have the added (and more important) benefit of knowing how to tailor your time on your vacation. If you choose to stay in your hotel room the whole time, great. At least you’ll do it because it was a conscious choice and not out of ignorance of what your options are. There are too many amazing things to see in this world to travel without a plan. Remember, a little bit of planning never hurt anyone!
To request a quote from Woodbrey Family Travel so we can help you make that plan, visit our website: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php