Many people exert an amazing wealth of common sense when they're on their home turf. But put these same individuals on vacation and they throw all caution to the wind.
It's easy to understand why. We're prodded to get out of our comfort zone, push our limits, to do something novel on vacation. Who wants to post a selfie that shows you drinking a craft beer from the safety of your beachfront balcony when you could record a video of yourself stalking grizzlies in Montana or bungee jumping in Queenstown, New Zealand?
While I'm all about exploring new lands and discovering hidden treasures, I know how illness or injury can ruin a trip. I also know my physical and psychological limits. Sure, I push my comfort zone, but always within reason.
So on a vacation in Chicago, I checked out the architectural wonders and culinary delights, bicycled around the waterfront and explored the city's many green spaces. My friend, however, was tempted by the flying trapeze because, after all, she could see modernist buildings and parks anywhere and, well, she's not a foodie like I am.
My friend claimed she was plenty ready for the trapeze because she was a regular yoga practitioner. (How that set her up for an aerial silks class is beyond me.) She didn't bother telling anyone that she had a lot of overuse injuries in her lower extremities because of her dance background. So, she did several maneuvers while being suspended by her ankles. And three weeks later, she was still limping from microtears to both Achilles' tendons.
Then there was my novice mountain biking trip based out of Winter Park, Colorado. Our gung-ho guide wasn't thrilled by what he termed my “negative attitude towards trail obstacles.” At the end of a week, I was the only one of the seven people who wasn't decked out in Band-Aids, ace bandages and gauze pads. Was I the best mountain biker? Hardly. But I was the only one who got off my bike and walked it over or around pretty much every last obstacle.
Finland's Lapland region is a winter wonderland with all manner of thrilling adventures, including dog sledding and snowmobiling. Neither are my favorite activities—I prefer long-distance Nordic skiing—but I took myself out of my comfort zone, on my terms. On the snowmobile, I was the slowest by far, even though almost everyone else in my group (especially two who shared a snowmobile) egged me on to go faster on the straightaways and numerous curves. We'd been traveling for more than an hour when I saw a commotion up ahead. That speedy pair had hit a large rock that was concealed by snowdrifts. They were thrown from the machine and missed slamming into a tree by inches.
And, as far as the dog sledding goes, none of us were that skillful. So I opted to sit in the rear, rather than drive the dogs. Seeing that the wooden sled had no cushioning whatsoever and anticipating that this could be a hard ride, I opted to sit on my ultra-fluffy down jacket, using it as a shock absorber. At the end of the many-mile, undulating journey, I was in fine shape, but I couldn't say as much for one young woman who I knew had a previous disc herniation. (She was on pain meds and ice packs for several days afterward.)
My journey to the Amazon was loaded with informative naturalist guides and leaders. Pre-trip, we received packs of materials and complete lists of everything we needed to do to stay healthy and safe during the 10-day tour. Every day we were warned about health precautions we would need to take for the numerous excursions. One day we were told the village we'd be visiting on foot had chiggers, reason to use plenty of insect repellent and wear long pants tucked into socks.
Yet, one woman arrived on the skiff wearing sandals sans socks. The guide had to persuade her to ask her husband to peel off his socks—he was plenty protected, wearing tall hiking boots.
One morning, another traveler told me she was up all night with traveler's belly. She explained that she took Imodium and, when that didn't work, she took a couple of gel caps another traveler gave her. She had no idea what they were. Who takes pills of unknown origin from strangers? But on a vacation, we feel trusting and invincible. I asked her to describe the gel caps and realized they were also Imodium. So she ended up taking a triple dose of the medication.
She didn't tell anyone she was sick and, apparently, hadn't rehydrated properly, even though our guides repeatedly told us the day would be stifling and that we needed to drink frequently. She nearly passed out on the walking trail.
Does all this behavior reflect a lack of common sense? Or is it vacation mind, where we put all our health conditions, trepidations and safety warnings on the back burner in the interest of having an experience with which we can regale our friends and family? Whatever the reason, on your next vacation, even if you're packing light, take along your common sense. And, if you're traveling with reputable tour operators, follow their advice for staying safe and healthy.