Vacations are strange to me. You relax, you take in some sights, and temporarily forgo your responsibilities.

When I travel somewhere entirely new, I surrender expectations. I prevent the attempt to recreate the past, and I totally avoid nostalgia.

I know what you're thinking: what's not to love about that, ya grump?

Give me just a second to explain. Or, like, 8 minutes. For me, productivity equals happiness. I love to create, to explore, and I practically need a daily adrenaline rush. Fellow productivity spirit animals, or those simply looking to get more out of their status-quo vacation: read on.

I've charted a few “must do's” for your next adventure.

1) Explore (new places)

Bruges. It's quiet,  quaint AND full of breweries

Pick an unfamiliar place to visit. If you've charted your next vacation for a destination entirely new to you, good on you! If a trip to that sleepy Florida town you visit annually is already booked:


I kid. (Kind of...) I have trouble revisiting places. I wind up in my head, pitting my current experience against my previous, and wondering where could I be instead? When I travel somewhere entirely new, I surrender expectations. I prevent the attempt to recreate the past, and I totally avoid nostalgia.

Hold your sympathy - this isn't a bad thing. This frees me up to eventually feel nostalgic about the currently nostalgia-free trip. Still with me? My most favorite memories, formative experiences, and best stories stem from my first trip to a new place.

2) Seek (new experiences)

Once you've arrived at your brand-spanking-new destination, get out of your hotel (and stay out)!

You don't have enough time on your trip to do all the things that could change you (for the better) forever, so it's in your best interest not to waste what time you have. Find an activity or an event that excites you (it could/should also scare you a bit).

Have you ever danced in a moonlit courtyard with a crowd of strangers at 2 a.m.? I have! It's a powerful experience. Have you ever swam off of the coast of a distant continent? It's rejuvenating (and not just because it's really cold). Have you ever taken an overnight train across a strange country? It's like being in a Hitchcock film.

Our midnight train from Munich to Amsterdam/how to feel like you're in a WWII drama

You get the picture.

When in Rome, do cool stuff, aka, just because they have HBO in Italy doesn't mean you have to watch it.

3) Form (new friendships)

It's the people that you meet on your travels that shape your story.

I've noticed recently that all the photos I've taken of epic landscapes, famous architectural landmarks, and ancient artifacts all feel, well, lifeless. Boring, even.

The pictures that I've held onto over the years show people – friends, family, former strangers turned friend, turned family. I say that to illustrate the importance of the people that will share your journey- those who start out with you and those that you meet along the way.

Jules and I revised half our plans for our European backpacking excursion because of some stellar recommendations from the guy I sat next to on the flight. He had lived all over the world, was incredibly personable, and he didn't laugh at me when I, in my naivete, ate the decorative chunk of butter during the in-flight meal. He was one of the most gracious people I've ever met.

Jules and I made two great friends while waiting on a train to Nice. We spent a day on the rocky beaches of coastal France with them, explored the old part of the city by night, and learned quite a bit about Norway, their home country (we still keep in touch – cool, huh?).

The hospitality and generosity of spirit of the people I met in Morocco has informed how I view their country, and completely reshaped how I greet new experiences.

In short: go out and meet people!

4) Strive (for growth)

This is a tall order. Now that you're in a new place, doing exciting new things with your delightful new friends, you have the chance to really grow.

What does that mean, exactly?

Well, a lot of things. Be open to discover what that means for who you are right now and where you are in your personal journey. In the past, I've kept a journal during trips, which has helped me reflect on meaningful events and encounters, and observe small wonders in the everyday things.

Throwing out your itinerary for a day (or part of a day) helps you check in with your gut. Asking yourself ,“What do I want to do today?” in a new environment can help clarify your needs at the most basic level.

Ideally, your trip will be a balance between the peaceful and the exhilarating, the meaningful and the asinine, the purposeful and the whimsical. Take a little time to listen, to say, “yes”, to where the day takes you- at the very least, you'll encounter a new experience.

At best?

You may discover a version of yourself you never knew existed. We did.
Joan. What a BAMF.