Why vacations are good for me.

When Evan and I went on our honeymoon, we unknowingly established from the get-go what would become our vacation routine. It goes like this: we pick a large city and spend the entire vacation eating and walking around the city as much as possible. We’ve had good luck booking hotels on Priceline: we’ve usually booked 4 or 5 star hotels in the heart of the city’s downtown area for less than $200/night. (We did try airbnb once, but Evan doesn’t love the idea of staying at a random person’s house.) We usually throw in a sporting event, museums, and parks. And that’s that.

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I love it. I am much more of a city person than a beach or outdoors lover. I like to see culture and architecture, and I like access to lots of coffee and food. We enjoy taking public transportation whenever possible. I have a feeling this routine will change eventually, especially when we’re looking for summery escapes from Michigan’s winter and we have kids who just want to play all day. (Admittedly, I am SO looking forward to the days when my kids are old enough to entertain themselves, and I can spend a vacation curled up with a good book.)

It’s been several weeks since we went to Chicago (almost a month already!), but I’ve still been thinking lots about that trip. I felt totally refreshed when we got back. In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes about the importance of novelty in increasing our happiness, and I think experiencing big cities is my favorite way to seek out novelty. I always feel invigorated after taking in the sights of a new place, and I come back with greater appreciation for home.

But while thinking about Chicago trip, I think I’ve uncovered another, unexpected reason why vacations are good for me. A vacation forces me to say what I need.

Under normal circumstances, I hate admitting out loud that I need or want something. It’s a frequent issue in our marriage. More often than I care to admit, I passive-aggressively stew because Evan didn’t help with something or failed to acknowledge a need I didn’t even express. The solution is so simple: if I want help with the dishes, all I need to do is ask him to help me. When I ask, he then knows something is a priority for me in that moment, and because he loves me, he’s more than happy to help. He can’t know when I don’t tell him. (I’ll even do things like this when I’m hungry or hot or cold…it’s craziness, I readily admit.)

As I went through the reGroup process, this issue came up again and again within my small group. So often, one of us would say, “The whole situation could have been avoided if…” or “I would feel much better if…” or “If only I had been brave enough to ask that…” At one point, my friend Kailey looked around at us and said, “Why is it so hard for us to say what we need?”

For the most part, I don’t want to seem selfish, self-involved, or needy. It’s rooted in my constant need for approval: I subconsciously think people will like me more if I’m not too needy, because they will need to do less for me. Ironically, my love language is acts of service. So basically, I am getting in my own way all of the time by not giving others a simple opportunity to care for me well. (I’m mostly thinking about my marriage here, but I’m sure this applies in other relationships as well.)

When I’m at home, I’m caught up in my own routine and for the most part, I can do my own thing and meet my own needs. If I’m hungry or thirsty, I can just walk to the kitchen and get myself a snack or drink. If I’m cold or hot, I go upstairs to grab a sweater or open a window. Because I’m responsible for grocery shopping and a lot of other errand-running during the week, if I decide I need something, I usually just get it.

But on vacation, that’s not doable. Everything we’re experiencing, we’re experiencing together. We don’t have a fully-stocked pantry or access to our closets, and I can’t just help myself to what I need. I actually have to say out loud, “Hey, I’m kinda thirsty. Let’s stop somewhere and get a drink.” I have to admit, “I’m freezing. Let’s do something indoors.” Because I was pregnant in Chicago, my requests came even more frequently than they normally would: I need to sit down and put my feet up, I really want something sweet to munch on, I need to use the bathroom again.

Don’t get me wrong: independence has it’s upside, obviously, as does sometimes putting the needs of others before my own. But as an approval-seeking, codependent, recovering perfectionist, I have to ask myself where my desire for independence is coming from. Do I simply enjoy the feeling of taking care of myself? Or is that that I want to appear selfless and flexible so that others will think better of me? I recognize how silly some of this sounds because–hello–I’m a human being, and no one would expect me to not be hungry or thirsty or tired once in awhile. Still, like always, it’s the simple things that trip me up.

Exploring a new place pushes me out of my comfort zone in so many ways, but I’m realizing that it’s not just about the culture or architecture or sight seeing. It’s about the ways it forces me to lean into and rely on the people I’ve chosen to adventure with, to personally acknowledge what I need and readily say it out loud.

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