Why? What goes wrong, what trips us up to make our best efforts a cardboard mockup of what we'd hoped to achieve?
There are any number of factors, and dissecting them really serves no purpose. Instead, let's focus on some things we can do to make things go well.
- Make a plan - write down, on paper, exactly what you want to achieve. Sometimes we think we're doing one thing, and we end up chasing ghosts down blind alleys. For a trip, look at the resources available where you're going, and decide which ones are the most important. If you're into museums, plot them on a map, and try to set a timeline for visiting the ones that are within reach. Chicago's a good example - the Museum of Science and Industry is a half-hour train ride from the Museum of Art, but both are close to the subway, and you can visit them in a long afternoon. Check out transportation - can you find parking, or should you plan on taking a bus or subway from your hotel? On what schedule do the trains run? Again, write it all down, take your 'battle plan' with you, and stick to it. If you decide to spend more time at one museum, make sure your mate is on board with that decision, and alter the time you'll spend at your subsequent stops accordingly.
- Allow for problems - identify the potential upsets, and, yes, write down what you'll do if they arise. What if the weather turns sour? Museums are fine, but the boat ride might be iffy. What's your fallback? If you have one, you can immediately shift to Plan B. Making up Plan B on the fly can take more time than you have, and you can wind up in a McDonald's burning away your time by looking at maps and guidebooks, and eventually going nowhere. Other problems are unexpected closures, or the simple, painful matter of sore feet. If all you've planned requires walking, you can quickly be out of luck - and out of fun.
- Nurture anticipation - a vacation with your mate is a big deal, so treat it accordingly. Talk about what you'd like to do, and how you'd like ti to feel. If you want to have romantic moments, make that clear - springing romance as a surprise for a wife who's looking forward to hiking the Grand Canyon, rim-to-rim, isn't very kind. There's usually room for both, but make sure that the time allowed is flexible enough to allow both.
- Plan meals - this may sound almost silly, but it's even sillier to spend time looking for a Burger King sign when you're supposed to be having a good time in Exotic Chicago (well, I LIKE Chicago!). Choose where you'll have dinner each night, and make reservations if needed. Have a list of eateries close to your destination for breakfast and lunch. A relaxed meal is a great way to relive some of the fun you've been having, and to look ahead to the Fun to Come.
- Be patient - if your spouse is chronically late, allow for that in your timetable, instead of making an issue of it while on the trip. Why put your spouse on the defensive? Just build in the slack.
- Don't overpack - take enough clothing, and other necessities, but remember that in many places you can buy extras you may need.
- Bring a camera - don't depend on your cell phone camera. Make the trip a special occasion, and get some good pictures.
- Limit check-in calls - you may need to call babysitters or elderly parent or business partners, but limit the calls in duration and scope. Let your callers know that you expect them to deal with problems while you're away, as in away on holiday.
- Get souvenirs - when traveling alone, I usually buy a book or two, that will remind me of the trip. It doesn't have to be trip-connected, just something you know you got 'there'. It's a nice nudge to the memory.
- Scrapbook it - within a few days of getting home - no later - start building a scrapbook of your trip. Facebook is great for this. If you do it while it's fresh you can keep all the details you will gradually forget - the details that you may have enjoyed the most.
Traveling with your mate can be one of the most rewarding things you can do in your marriage. You'll learn things about a new place, and you'll learn things about each other.
What do you do, to make a trip special?