Dawn Novascone // Fall 2015

Fitting vacation time into a busy schedule isn’t easy — but it’s vital for a balanced life. To help you plan your next escape, we asked four well-seasoned travelers to share their tips.



Perspectives: What’s your perfect getaway?
: My idea of perfect getaway has changed drastically since we had our child. It was exploring a city without a map. Basically wondering around and enjoying local food. For example, in Madrid, we probably had six to seven mini-meals a day. Starting out with breakfast, we’d walk down the street and hop into a café and have coffee and churro and then going to another small place to have another little bite. We would have one or two tapas and then walk around the city and eat another tapas and enjoy a glass of wine at another place. And finish up at a wonderful Sherry bar. But since we have a child, the idea of being at a place that we all can enjoy like exploring the beach to look for fishes, crabs, and sea shells while I can read a book and fall asleep uninterrupted sounds great.

YY: After a recent trip to the Scottish Highlands, I have been enjoying the new past time of hiking as often as I can. So the perfect getaway for me would be a hiking trip with a friend or two over a few days, whether over mountains or on an island. The idea of hiking during the day and at the end of the day, a warm meal and a few cold beers and later a spot in a cabin at night feels great. Something about the simplicity of being out in nature with good friends with no plans other than to walk the trails puts things in perspective. One realizes that some of the main ingredients that make life meaningful are friendship, health and the privilege to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds you.

BH: I love traveling to places with stunning scenery, history to learn and cultures to experience. I visited Iceland in 2014 and would place it in the category of “a best place to visit” as it incorporated each of these for me. I’m not the type to sit still when I travel, especially to international destinations, though I do like to be in one place long enough to absorb the local culture. I’m not a sit on the beach type of person, and I’ve never been on a cruise. I’m just not interested in it though a river cruise in Europe sounds appealing.

NG: I think the perfect getaway is where you can relax and enjoy life to the maximum without having to worry about the little things. It is to go and experience something new and exciting such as learn a new culture, language and meet people with an interesting lifestyle.


PERSPECTIVES: What tips do you have for planning the ideal vacation?

KM: The ideal vacation again is very different with or without a child (insert laugh). But one commonality is: Don’t over schedule! We never set an itinerary when we traveled pre-child and we still don’t. We have a rough idea what we may want to do while there, but we generally try/hope to do one thing everyday or every other day. That way if we see something else along the way, we can just do that and adjust what we are going to do the rest of the day. Having too much of expectation will create more anxiety and can ruin the day if it doesn’t go as planned, at least for me.

YY: I like to do a lot of research and planning before a trip, often online, reading up on reviews and tips from other travelers who have been where I am planning to go to. Some people may find the planning a bit of a straitjacket that leads to a rigid itinerary. But I find that it offers alternatives and options as well as helps list my priorities for the trip. Often while traveling, it is impossible to see all the sights and do all the activities so it helps to have your own must-do lists. And it never hurts to have more information.

BH: There is so much travel information out there these days that it can be difficult to sort through all the chatter. Don’t forget to contact the local tourism office for information. Find your passion at the destination — as an example, I like gardens — and then seek out those places and activities that fulfill your passion. Also visit something new that you wouldn’t find or do at home. I walked on a glacier in Iceland, something new for me. I also suggest you not plan too much in advance otherwise you might miss something special once you get there – unless it’s something you really want to see. We once missed a tour of Alcatraz in San Francisco because I thought we could book the tickets when there. On the contrary, we toured Alaska in an RV rental — a great way to see Alaska, by the way — but without a campground rental. We let the weather determine our direction and were rewarded by some spectacular places spur of the moment.

NG: Here are some tips for an ideal vacation:

  1. Do your homework and read about the place you are going to visit so you do not miss out on the great things to visit, fun events or festivals.
  2. Learn few words and sentences of the place you are going to visit, if your destination is international and even if it is within the USA — we also have subcultures. Every place has its own different language and culture. It would save you to time and in some cases embarrassing moments.
  3. Check the weather before leaving so that you can take the most appropriate wardrobe for all kinds of occasions when on your vacation
  4. Always pack a very comfortable pair of shoes. You will need them when doing lots of walking. Not having a good pair of shoes can ruin your vacation from the start.
  5. Be prepared and have a map of the places you’ll be visiting. Know the surroundings so you can get around without getting lost from the beginning.
  6. Read in advance about key restrictions when entering the country, such as passport, visas or documents you should have while in that country
  7. Check before you travel if there are holidays during your visit as this could prevent you from going to some entertainments as they could be closed.
  8. Check the government website before departing if there are any warnings to travel to that country.
  9. Have a packing list and write down all the things you need. Also check with the hotel or place you are staying to see what they have available for you in your room. The less you take and have to carry, the better.
  10. Take the right converters or power cords and adaptors so you can plug in your cell phones and tablets.
  11. Do not forget to pack your medicines as these will be vital for a safe and comfortable vacation
  12. Be sure to call your credit card companies, your bank and cell phone carrier to be sure you let them know where you are going so they don’t block your bank and credit cards. If they see activity in a foreign market or a different location the bank might think it’s fraud.


PERSPECTIVES: Why is taking time off so important to your career and personal life?

KM: Recharging is important because you are reenergized and able to refocus back to work and feel really good about being effective. It also is important for your own personal life to be able to reflect and collect back to yourself instead of being a stressed parent.

YY: Because I think we all need time to wind down and reflect as well as recharge our batteries. I think it’s easy to become myopic and get tunnel vision about a certain aspect of work, especially if one’s work is intense. A change of scenery makes all the difference sometimes.

BH: I can’t speak about its importance to a career since travel is my career, but for a family a vacation it is a great bonding time. We have taken our two boys on vacation every summer since they were babies. It teaches children how different yet alike we are to people around the world. The kids learned to ride subways, read a map, talk with people from new places, speak a few foreign words, and more. Today they are confident travelers who can find their way around the world.

NG: It allows your body to recover from long working days. It clears your mind and helps you bond more with your loved ones, increases your creativity and allows you to learn about other places.


PERSPECTIVES: Is it possible to truly disconnect from work while away?

KM: Sure, if you don’t have any Internet connection or cell phone signal. I just haven’t been to places where I don’t have either. But it’s all about mentality and being present in those moments with yourself or with your family.

YY: Sure, it’s possible. But I think it depends on how involved one is with work, the kind of vacation, i.e. the length, the location and the view one holds about the work/personal life spheres. I had a job that required international travel from time to time and whenever possible, I would take a few days off after fulfilling my work obligations to see the local sights and learn something about the culture. In those cases, when I have made a conscious choice to combine business and pleasure, I usually don’t have a problem disconnecting myself.

BH: I’m not sure you have to disconnect to get away. Some of that is a mindset more than an activity. The world is so connected now, and it is fairly easy to find Wi-Fi anywhere you travel. I own two businesses so I need to check email every few days, but other than that I make sure my desk is cleared and projects caught up so I can enjoy my time away without thinking about work.

NG: The only way is to not take your laptop and not check emails. Get busy and book lots of fun activities so you do not think about it. Usually if you go to a place where there is no WiFi you will not be able to check your work e-mail and calls. Places like the Grand Canyon where there is no reception for cell phone are good.


PERSPECTIVES: How do you get off the beaten tourist path?

KM: Just wandering around the place without any guidebooks. It’s harder to do with smartphones and Google Map. I actually used to love reading guidebooks on the way back from vacation and saying, “Oh, we have been there. Oh yes, we got to see that! Oh, let’s try to see that next time.” It gives us a reason to say that we need to go back. I often had good intentions of researching, but those good intentions were never put into practice and I often ended up skimming through those guidebooks on the way to places. Therefore I never end up planning the trip ahead of time. So I developed this pattern of after the fact research and luckily, my spouse is the same way.

YY: I think it’s just using common sense. Often it’s easy to spot tourist traps and overly touristy places (big tour groups, all-inclusive packages, etc.). But sometimes it’s difficult. I mean the pyramids of Giza, for example, is probably the most touristy spot in Egypt, but yet one would have to join the masses to see this ancient wonder of the world. It also depends on much time one has. Getting off the beaten path means having to find things out on your own and that takes time. I’m afraid this is getting harder to do as our world has become so much more connected. Everyone has a copy of Lonely Planet so even when you are out backpacking, it’s often that the backpackers end up at the same hostel or following the same suggested routes.

BH: Go where the locals go, eat where the locals eat and stay out of tourist shops. Destinations are getting better at offering authentic travel these days. Hire a local to give you a tour, stay in people’s homes, shop in local groceries, travel on buses, trains, bikes or walk — these are just a few of the ways to get off the beaten path.

NG: Take it easy, do not do it all, go for a swim or a walk or a nice work out simply do what you enjoy doing and relax. Be sure to allow a day to do nothing and let yourself go to a fun place where you can relax and not be running from one place to another. It is really important to stay in a good place that can assist you with direction, has many activities, provides great transportation or is centrally located so everything is near you. Be alert of your surroundings to be sure no one steals your bags or any important item as this could ruin your vacation.


PERSPECTIVES: How do you ensure that you’ve absorbed a country’s culture beyond
the guides?

BH: If I go home and feel content that the vacation was worth it and all I do is talk about the people I met and the unique places I visited.

YY: There have been many times that I have been lucky enough to visit places where I have friends or know people, and I think that’s crucial in experiencing the local culture. If that is not an option, being open to socializing with local people will give your trip a bit of local flavor. I often find that if you follow places that serve authentic local cuisines, you’ll probably end up with some local insights too. I think being able to speak or understand the local language also is a major plus. If possible choose accommodations – AirBnB, couch-surfing or a bed & breakfast – that allow for interaction with the locals, which can be an inroad to more genuine experiences. But it’s also largely dependent on how open or closed a culture is to outsiders.

KM: Food! And going to the local grocer is so important. When we went to Italy, there was a little town where we stayed and I walked around the town center literally gathering food. Getting fruits, cheese, bread, wine, etc. I don’t speak Italian so I just watched what people were buying and simply pointed to what I wanted. I also tried to learn how to say basic phrases like hello, good evening, thank you, etc. Locals are generally kind knowing that I don’t speak the language but I try. Also getting lost in the city is a wonderful way of new discoveries. But again, it’s harder with the smartphone these days. We used to travel without making a reservation for lodging so that we were free to roam around the country and stay where we liked longer. But that’s not practical with a child.

NG: Get to know the locals. Be adventurous and taste their food. Be careful with the water as this can make you very ill. Be sure that you find a local place to stay so you can truly experience the culture, meet locals and really experience their way of living in a regular day. Again do your homework, read about the culture and learn some words and phrases so you do not offend the locals, but instead have a better chance to connect with them.


PERSPECTIVES: What’s the worst mistake you’ve made or watched someone else make?

KM: I was fired from driving in Ireland after two to three minutes behind the wheel. My spouse wasn’t comfortable with my driving.
YY: The best plans are sometimes easily foiled when you don’t have enough local geographical knowledge. An island-hopping trip to the Greek Isles two years ago became a bit of a nightmare when I preplanned my itinerary without taking in full consideration of how the regional Meltemi winds can ravage the seas and disrupt transportation between the islands and to the mainland. Spending many number of hours being violently seasick on ferries between the islands and having to rearrange accommodations due to delays in boat schedules notwithstanding, the coup de grâce was missing my flight connection home from the capital, making the trip hundreds of dollars more expensive than it should have been.

BH: I’ve seen people who want the destination to be just like home and who turn their nose up at local food and customs. I’ve also been shocked to see how some people insult the locals with their American superiority comments.

NG: A big mistake is to take too much or take things that are very valuable that could be stolen or lost. I have seen many people not take their medications or comfortable shoes. Many people assume they can go to a foreign country and expect others to adapt to their needs. They need to do the opposite – learn about the culture and adapt to the new place so they will be respected while visiting a new country. Most importantly be safe and smart about whom you can trust so you are not placed in a bad situation or end up in trouble with the local government. Every country has its own restrictions and rules. Learn what these are and follow them.


PERSPECTIVES: Parting advice for travelers?

KM: Enjoy those moments and be flexible. It is a vacation after all, and you took the time off to enjoy and being disconnected with everyday hassle.

YY: Traveling can sometimes strain the best of relationships when you end up having to spend a lot of time in close quarters with another person (even if it’s someone you know well). Don’t take things too seriously if things get heated up. Compromising will go a long way to ensuring you have a nice time on your vacation and that your personal relationships remain intact.

BH: Take photos with people in them, both with you in the photo and with locals. Don’t take just scenery photos. You can buy a postcard with that.

NG: Traveling can be exciting but it can also be a bad experience if you do not prepare well. Go over my tips and simply set yourself up to enjoy the trip. Be respectful of a new culture, open-minded and adaptable. Have fun and relax as life is too short to let the little things get to you. If your luggage gets lost in transit to your destination be prepared by having the things you really need in a small carry-on. If you experience something you were not expecting be prepared and do not let these things ruin your ideal vacation.

NG: Be respectful of a new culture and be open-minded and adaptable. Have fun and relax as life is too short to let the little things get to you.


Meet the Travelers

Yee-Yin Yap (B.A. ’97, M.P.A., ’99)

Moved to Stockholm, Sweden, in 2000 to work at an international democracy institute

Favorite destination: Enjoyed each place I’ve visited



Beverly (Metzger) Hurley (B.A. ’79)

Travel and garden writer, and public relations professional in Raleigh, N.C.

Favorite destination: Thailand



Kazuyo Masuda (M.A. ’98)

Ethnographer at Ethnographic Research Inc., Boston, Mass.

Favorite destination: Each destination has a different attribute for me to love, so it’s hard to say!



Narbeli Galindo

Instructor of International Business and Finance at the UMKC Henry W. Bloch School of Management

Favorite destination: Geneva, Switzerland, and Sintra, Portugal

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World of Imagination