by Emma Howden
Make the most of your time away
Since recorded history began, humans have enjoyed travel as a form of recreation. Around 900BC the Queen of Sheba heard about the astonishingly wise Hebrew King Solomon and travelled from afar to see him for herself. Wealthy Greeks and Romans travelled for leisure to their summer villas on what is now the Gulf of Naples. In the 16th century it became fashionable for young upper class men to travel to cities including London, Paris, Venice and Rome, as part of their education in the arts and literature.
Whether, like the enigmatic queen, your idea of a great itinerary is going to investigate something fascinating or like the more contemporary Europeans you travel to expand your knowledge and understanding, you are in good company! And it’s likely that for many of us, our ideal holiday combines more than one of these elements. Whatever your perfect getaway comprises, here are a few easy ways to make sure you make the most of the opportunity:
Do something that broadens your outlook
American author Mark Twain is credited with saying ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.’ It’s true! Perceptions we hold from afar look completely different when we get close enough to better understand the worlds inhabited by strangers. Make a point of doing something that will give you insight to a different lifestyle or culture. It may be simply taking time to visit a memorial to a significant event in the region’s history, or participating in a local event or learning a new skill on a locally-run course. Whatever feels good for you – prioritise that!
Make up your own mind about something famous
The Queen of Sheba apparently tested King Solomon’s reputed wisdom by ‘asking him hard questions.’ In the same spirit, travel is an unrivalled opportunity to put flesh on the bones of history and examine for yourself the things you’ve heard or read about.
Years ago I trailed behind a crowd of tourists on a guided tour of the Tower of London, which, if you’ve ever done, you’ll know is both interesting and entertaining. But it was as we gathered on the cobblestones outside the tower’s chapel and our guide described, in situ, Anne Boleyn’s final moments leading up to her execution, that all of that dusty history suddenly came to life vividly in a way it never had before – and I’ve never forgotten it.
Research how to best engage with what’s interesting where you are going. Use the Internet and your local host to find out what’s going to be most appealing for you.
Eat something regional
Food is important; we need it to live. But eating can also be a more profound experience. It draws people together, encourages connection and conversation, and – when it’s good – it evokes pleasure.
The UK doesn’t have a global ‘foodie’ reputation but it should! Try something truly local when you’re traveling. A cream tea never tasted as good as when consumed in the West Country. Be bold in Scotland and order haggis, a ‘beautifully fragrant yet savoury’ accompaniment according to one head chef. Laverbread has been nicknamed the Welshman’s caviar. (Since it’s made from seaweed perhaps you could combine sampling it with finding it on a foraging tour!) From hand-pressed cider, juice or wine from local vineyards, cheese or nuts … Ask your host to help you try something unique to where you are.
Take in something beautiful
Beauty is balm for the soul. It reminds us what is good about being alive. Whether you get pleasure visiting beautiful heritage houses or just imbibing the glory of nature itself in a local beauty spot, earmark at least one thing to see or do simply because it’ll fill up your ‘feel-good’ tank.
Talk to someone new
It’s not by chance that the movie Shirley Valentine gained cult status in its time. The story of a middle-aged, taken-for-granted housewife finding romance on holiday in Greece resonated with a generation – and perhaps the appeal of being appreciated by new eyes in a fresh light is something we can all relate to. If you haven’t seen the film or can’t remember the ending, I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s fair to say it touched on the pitfalls of a holiday romance. However, there is undeniably a joyful freedom in conversations with new people that can just be about enjoying an exchange in the moment. That’s one of the greatest benefits about staying with a friendly host, but it’s also true of encounters with local people during your stay.
Ever come back from holiday and felt like you needed another one just to recover? Whenever I’m away for a week or more, I schedule in one pyjama day. Depending where I am staying, actual pyjamas aren’t always appropriate, but a day to slow the pace, go for a walk, read a book – whatever makes you properly unwind – is invaluable.
Love getting home
‘No one realises how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.’ – Lin Yutang.
I’d agree with this too. Keep me at home for too long, I get frustrated and complain of cabin fever. However, let me loose to discover brave new worlds and there is nothing as sweet as the first night back in my own bed – content and emotionally full from new experiences.
Emma Howden is a mum, sister, daughter and friend. She is a communicator at heart, believing understanding gained through clear communicating and listening can usually go a long way to help most relationships stay healthy. In a previous century she started her work life as a mainframe computer programmer, but now is loving a second career in communications, which has taken her to roles at a number of great charities. She has two sons who’re off at uni, and so is learning first hand all about making the most of living a good “second half”.