Opinion | Vacationing 101 for Those Who Have Forgotten How

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By Jenni Avins

Ms. Avins is a Los Angeles-based journalist who writes about culture and lifestyle.

I used to fancy myself a pretty good vacationer. I’m a lifestyle reporter; excelling at leisure was sort of my thing. But on my family’s recent weeklong trip to Mexico — our first real getaway since the pandemic began, and our first family vacation since our baby was born — I floundered.

You may, too, if you’re planning a trip this summer. No matter how mellow a traveler you are or how lucky you might feel (as I did) to take a holiday at all, vacationing this year is likely to be intense. As Covid restrictions are lifted around the world, we are heading into what experts warn will be a chaotic summer tourism boom driven in part by people’s desire for something called “revenge travel” to make up for experiences missed during the pandemic. They promise airport pandemonium caused by airline staff shortages, exorbitant inflation-driven prices and crowds at popular vacation destinations that rival prepandemic levels. Fun!

And many of us vacationers are not in the most adaptable frame of mind. Even for those who have avoided serious illness, anxiety or depression, the pandemic has been emotionally taxing. I doubt I was the only one to daydream about the fabulous trip I’d take when I could, or to build up some unrealistic expectations of it.

The collision between these expectations and the realities of travel hit me a few hours after my husband, 1½-year-old daughter and I landed in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Driving our rental car to Walmart to stock up on groceries before heading up the coast to our destination (which seemed a sensible idea at the time), we found ourselves stuck in standstill traffic for over two hours.

“Why did we do this?” I beseeched myself and the blue cloudless sky, watching our first afternoon of vacation tick by. Did we think there wouldn’t be paper towels in the condo we had rented, or at a nearby market? Or that Walmart would have superior limes and mezcal, compared with a roadside stand or a local bar? (My theory is that the pandemic left me overly concerned with having groceries on hand, and averse to unnecessary outings for sundries. I’d forgotten that unnecessary outings for sundries are actually one of the great joys of traveling!)

I comforted myself with the thought that once we arrived and unloaded the stroller, three giant bags and groceries from the car, my vacation self would emerge: relaxed, flexible and ready for a surf session followed by a mezcal margarita on the terrace — while wearing one of several sundresses that had been gathering dust in my closet since 2020.

Reader, she did not.

In retrospect, I see that my struggle began long before we left home. Over the last several months of the pandemic’s repetitive grind, I had invoked the promise of vacation every time I found myself feeling trapped. I’d spent countless hours texting friends about their favorite vacation destinations, gazing at live footage of surf breaks around the globe and scrolling through photos of rental units clearly taken with fisheye lenses.

At first, we kicked around a trip to Hawaii (the TV show “White Lotus,” may have been satire, but we all saw that beach). We researched Maui, then Kauai, then Oahu, before becoming overwhelmed with the choices, the costs and the prospect of many hours in an airplane over the Pacific with unmasked strangers and an unvaccinated toddler.

By the time we decided to go instead to Mexico — more affordable, and just a couple of hours away by plane — it was so late that we had to expedite our daughter’s first passport, and scramble to renew mine. Pre-Covid, I would have never allowed my passport to expire. But who needed a passport in 2020? Or 2021? Or early 2022? Not us. And as my passport had languished in a drawer, so too did the adeptness at travel that I had previously prided myself on.

You might be thinking, Well yes, you had a toddler, what do you expect? But it wasn’t just that. I was also exhausted by what felt like 36,902 months of Covid and other horrific world events. When we finally boarded the airplane, I was wound tighter than my overstuffed roller duffel.

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