While planning a holiday, we often obsess over finding the perfect destination. The highest mountain, the bluest sea, or the most beautiful sunset is what we all aim for. However, having high hopes and great expectations for the perfect holiday might end in disappointment. Why don’t we find happiness on our vacation? Maybe we should stop planning our holidays as strictly as we are used to.
During my recent travels through Peleponnese, I experienced the benefit of traveling without a plan. I did have a list of famous places I wanted to visit and a route that would take me there. In between, however, I wanted to see as much as possible of everything I came across on on the road. The things I did not know existed before I was there. And it was at these places that I felt most grateful.
I planned to visit Epidavros. Epidavros was a small city in ancient Greece and had the most well-preserved theatre. The site is on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites and is a famous tourist attraction. A must-see. And after visiting, I can say it is a truly impressive ancient site in Greece.
Afterward, I found an old sign pointing me in the direction of “The sunken city of Epidavros.” A not-well-known and not at all popular site. However, following the signs, I ended up at a deserted beach, and just off-shore, I found the ruins of an ancient villa, inhabited by fish and sea-urchins. Now, that’s an experience!
Stop planning and chasing
We all live a busy life with full agendas. Work, exercise, kids, and social gatherings. We live according to a schedule, always busy with too many things, rushing from one place to the next. Holidays are scarce, and often we want to get the most out of them.
I believe many people are afraid of not fully utilizing their precious time off or expensive airplane tickets. What if I fly from the USA to Greece and only visit one island? This is why many of us make the mistake of taking a schedule with us on our holidays.
I met someone who had just ten days of vacation in Greece but wanted to see everything during these days. He flew to Athens, visited Peleponnese, and got a plane to Rhodes. Trying to visit many famous sites, he forgot to plan time for his holiday and returned feeling both tired and disappointed. He did not experience Greece, nor did he find happiness. He did not allow himself to do so.
By allowing yourself time to relax and explore whatever you find on your way, a holiday can get way more exciting and rewarding. You don’t need the plan to visit the fanciest places or chase the most Instagram-able pictures. Let go. That’s what a holiday should be.
Lower your expectations
Going somewhere for a holiday believing this place will be amazing, will probably result in at least a bit of disappointment. Most of the information we find online is edited or based on perfect circumstances. However, chances are small that you will experience this ideal image. Human happiness is often a result of us exceeding our expectations. But when your goal is a flawless holiday, it will be extremely difficult to surpass your predictions.
Besides the location, I believe we also expect too much of our holiday. Divorce rates, for example, increase significantly after summer vacations. A big part of the year we are ok with the problems we encounter in our everyday life, telling ourselves that things will get better during our holiday. This way, we put so much pressure on our vacation that you can be almost certain of disappointment, and in the worst case, a divorce when returning home.
But when you allow yourself to lower your expectations, true happiness can be found on even the simplest vacation. I see this not only in myself but also in the people around me. Today, I am in the North of Greece, in Xanthi, a location that does not really allow for high expectations, nor does it have great weather at the moment. However, the tourists I see right now in front of me, are dancing on the beach. Celebrating their time together and being free.
I rarely see tourists as happy in more famous locations in Greece. And I believe that when they made the choice to visit a less-known and less perfect place, they opened themselves up for happiness during their vacation.
Change your purpose
I won’t say that everyone should stop visiting the more popular islands and sites in Greece to have a happy holiday. You can go island hopping or visit the turquoise waters in Elafonisi. You can go to Santorini to watch the perfect sunset. But don’t let these small things be the main purpose of your holiday.
Leave your home and country behind simply to get away from them. I believe the best vacation goal is to get away from your scheduled life and instead just live in the moment. One, you will succeed at this goal almost always. But more importantly, with this goal, you will have countless unexpected experiences and little moments of happiness throughout your vacation.
Book a hotel you know nothing about
Don’t check the location or the amenities before going. Instead, set a budget and book whatever pops up first. I did this with 8 out of 10 of the previous hotels I have stayed in, and all of them surprised me in some way.
When you search for a hotel on a budget, you can try to find the best one, but there will always be something wrong. You read about it and expect it to be good. But if you don’t want to pay more than 25-30 euros a night, I can promise you it will never be good, no matter how much you research.
By just booking the first available hotel, you skip the mental step in which you create expectations. You can say it was cheap and will probably look cheap. If you arrive and find the perfect mattress, great shower, or sea view, the room is exceeding your expectations. Which means happiness.
Greece has many famous sites, but even more road signs pointing you towards the least visited touristic locations. Try following one of them and see where it leads you! Often when the attraction itself is not very interesting, you might come across a hidden tavern, idyllic church, or undiscovered beach.
Food is also a perfect topic for curiosity in Greece. Everyone knows feta, gyros, and mousaka, but there is so much more. Every region in Greece has its own local cheese, for example. And the recipe of mousaka changes throughout Greece. Ask taverns what their seasonal specialty is instead of just ordering from the menu. Try new food and local products.
Enjoy the road
In Greece, it is a shame to just travel from one point to another without enjoying what is in between. Going off the highway and instead choosing the national roads, you will pass by traditional villages, old churches, mountains, and small beaches. You will see real Greece, the things that make this country special. So don’t move around awaiting your next destination. Enjoy the journey, and be open to new experiences and opportunities along the road.
No one knows better how to enjoy an area than people who have lived there for years. Be open to tips from locals, and not just the hotel owners. Especially in non-touristic places, the Greeks are open to having conversations. Often they have interesting things to say about the region they live in and know the hidden gems around. Follow their advice and experience happiness during your vacation!