How I travel

I'm a planner. I don't cope well with travel where I have to make major decisions every day. I like to look up in advance what the major points of interest are, which ones are close to each other, and plan out efficient days based on this. I also care about actually enjoying the local food when traveling, so I use Chowhound and Tyler Cowen's Ethnic Dining Guide (as well as the recs in guidebooks like lonely planet, recommendations from locals, and even Yelp if need be.)

I think this is related to my mood regulation - I can get excited about planning a vacation, and then about going and following the plan - but if I wake up in the morning and ask myself, "What do I want to do today?", I'm going to sit in my room bored and hungry and annoyed at myself for wasting time until something like 1PM.

While this is my native mode of travel, two alterations have made vacations much better for me:

  1. I learned not to schedule every minute of every day super tightly. I don't do well counting on serendipity - I strongly prefer to plan for success - but if I don't have tentative plans I'm willing to abandon - if I don't explicitly leave room in my schedule so that if I run across something cool I have time to explore it - then I end up missing out on a large part of the benefits of traveling to a new place: the pleasant surprises.
  2. I decided that not "doing things / exploring" but instead just occupying space and doing something I could do anywhere, like reading, can be the best use of travel time. I used to feel bad about this, like I was wasting precious sight-seeing time or something, since I could read ANYWHERE but I can only see this city when I'm in it. I'm still learning to properly value things I could do some other time or place; to value them highly enough relative to one-time opportunities. It helps to remind myself that economic value is ultimately determined by subjective preferences, and if I'm satisfying my inframarginal preferences, I'm reaping a CONSUMER SURPLUS!

These principles combined to produce one of the better vacations I've had. My partner and I were going to friends' wedding near Boulder, CO. We decided to fly out a few days early and make it a vacation. We looked up some things to go see and do in advance, but decided not to plan past our first day. It turned out that Pearl Street in Boulder has some very pleasant coffee shops, and a few good new and used bookstores. We ended up spending a couple of days mostly just hanging out in coffee shops, reading, and buying more books when we were done. I needed this. (I hadn't had much of a chance to do this back in DC because I was still doing grad school at night on top of my full-time job, which kept me busy with homework, and left little time for pleasure reading.) I enjoyed almost every moment, felt recharged afterwards, and was even able to replicate this experience back home - trying it on vacation reminded me how much I missed reading just for the pleasure of it, and how much nicer being in a nice coffee shop makes it.

* Yelp suffers from the problem where people to whom a "good" means "the portions were large, the servers were submissive, and the food was unchallenging" are rating things on the same five-star scale as someone for whom it means "it's a hole in the wall, the guy behind the counter yells at everyone, but holy shit the food is like nothing I've ever tasted before, I wanted to sing."

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