I just got back from a week-long vacation with my partner and the lyrics from the great Rolling Stones song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” come to mind. It’s been happening more as more as I get older—I feel, for lack of better words, blue-balled by my vacations. When we book the trips, I get so excited. In fact, I probably enjoy looking forward to the trip more than I enjoy actually taking it. Once we are there, it just doesn’t quite live up to what I had in mind. But, it’s not necessarily that any tangible thing about the trip—from the hotel to the fruit cocktails—wasn’t what I expected. It’s more my inability to really connect with that feeling of complete relaxation and, you guessed it, satisfaction. I think the last time I felt the true freedom and weightlessness that vacation can bring was in my college years. And I was trying to figure out why that is. I have some theories on why it’s harder to relax on vacation as you get older.
Your savings are becoming more precious
With each passing year, you have a more realistic view of how much money you need to save in order to not just retire at a reasonable age, but also to retire comfortably. Let’s not forget about the prospect of buying a house. I’m reaching a point when my partner and I would like to do that, and as we watch housing prices in our desired neighborhoods rise and rise, we realize that our savings just aren’t what they need to be to reach our goals. So it’s just harder to spend money on vacation and not feel a little bad about it.
There’s a lot more prep work
We have to ask someone to get the mail because we’re at an age when we know the second we leave, something like a jury summons or late notice for an important bill will arrive. We need to ask someone to watch our pet. We have to tie up loose ends with work if we want any chance of not working on vacation. Then we spend a lot of vacation wondering did we forget something?
You must use those credit cards just right
We’re getting better acquainted with credit cards and all the ways they can improve and save you money on travel. But sometimes I wish we’d never even known about them because now we stress about putting them to work in the most efficient manner. Make sure to link that one to Uber since we get 5 percent cashback on Lyft/Uber this month, make sure to put the plane tickets on this one because we get more points for airfare there, but put the hotel on the other card since it gets a deal with that chain hotel. One mistake and we miss a chance to save a decent amount of money.
You need those days off to refuel
The older we get, the more stress and responsibility we have in our lives. We need our vacation days to work double time when it comes to relaxing and refueling us. We’ve really just put a lot of pressure on these days to give us all the energy we need for the rest of the year.
Work follows us everywhere we go
Doesn’t work follow you everywhere? You can pass things off to another employee or an assistant, but you know you still wind up checking your work email during your vacation. Even if you just have to respond to one small thing, it sucks you out of that vacation mindset and back into that grind. We live in a time when there’s no excuse to ever fully unplug.
You try to rush to get there
There is this hurry up and wait thing going on. You want to leave as early as possible to milk that first day at the hotel. You want to get there by noon so you can have lunch the first day by the pool. You want to get on the road by 9am to beat traffic. You want to get your baggage off the trolley before everyone else so you aren’t the last ones in a long line to catch a cab. Just getting to vacation can be stressful.
So you argue with your partner
Since you are in such a hurry, you start picking fights with your partner or travel companion. If he causes you to leave so much as 15 minutes later than you wanted because he’s shaving, you blame every thing that goes wrong that day on him. The traffic. The long line at the place you stop to get lunch. You just nitpick and now you aren’t getting along with the person with whom you’re supposed to be relaxing.
You’re more particular about the activities
You used to go with the flow. When you were younger, you wouldn’t even make any reservations or plan any activities. You’d just check into your hotel and see where the day took you. Now you really want each day to be perfect so you’re doing all of this extra planning. You’re waiting on hold with the customer service of kayaking tours and comparing prices for different beer tastings. You’re working harder than a travel agent.
You hate the feeling of a wasted day
If a day of vacation doesn’t go the way you’d hoped, you won’t let it go. You wanted that sense of nirvana—that release—and you didn’t get it. And that day alone cost you $200 between the hotel and the food so you’re inconsolable. You set the expectations very high for each day, so it’s very easy to be disappointed.
A $16 cocktail makes you angry
You have a better grasp on what things should cost now, and you work hard for your money. So as you buy a $16 poolside pina colada, and pay $20 after tax and tip, you just think, “Well. I’d have to work 45 minutes to make that money back!”
And all those unexpected expenses
The little unexpected expenses begin to add up. The resort fee. The taxis. The door cover at the nightclub. Tipping every hotel personnel who brings so much as an extra towel or bar of soap to your room.
You’re familiar with the service industry
You’ve probably worked a few service industry jobs at this time so you can’t turn a blind eye to what goes on. You know they might just throw your undercooked steak in the microwave. You know they may never actually clean the top blanket in the hotel room. You also know that those cheery smiles at the front desk are fake, and this staff really need a vacation themselves.
You’re a finicky sleeper
You can no longer just blissfully pass out any where at any time like you could in your twenties. You need a pillow and a mattress of a particular firmness. You need the thermostat at just 70 degrees—no more and no less. Every sound from the vacuuming of a room down the hall to a kettle across the hotel wakes you. And if you had so much as 1.5 cocktails, you’re up four times in the night to pee.
There are other obligatory trips
You’d like to fully lean into this trip but you are just becoming resentful thinking of all the other trips you have to take but don’t want to take this year. Like the trip across country for your partner’s sibling’s wedding or your friend’s baby shower.
You really want to connect with your partner
Another major thing you want from this trip in addition to relaxation is connection to your partner. Part of the reason you booked this trip was to strengthen your bond with your partner. But you just can’t get on the same page about what to do, where to go, where to eat, and what to see. You fixate on the activities more than the company and it stands in your way of connecting.