Vagobond is a cool online travel magazine we deemed worthy to include in the exclusive "Travel Recommendations" list on the A Month of Italy website. A special thank you to Vago Domitio, the creative force behind Vagobond, for the great review of the book. Here are some excerpts:
The thing that most captured me as I read was the sense of how it made me feel good about the life I lead and the choices I’ve made. Chris is a hard working guy – like me. I spend a huge amount of time writing, editing, working on projects, and building a future for my wife, our daughter, and me. The thing is though, I always make sure to take the time to enjoy life too. Chris pointed out at one point that the average working American father spends an average of 37 seconds a day with their kids!!!! What?
And yet, there is much more to this book than the adventures and misadventures of an American family in Italy – instead, this book is about finding the balance in our lives between work and play – it is about the importance of taking the time to really live – and it is filled with powerful messages that every stressed out CEO or entrepreneur needs to read. The reason? Because life is sometimes meant to be fun and sometimes it is meant to be downright silly.
Ultimately, this book is about Italy and more. It’s about Tuscany, food, culture, and the misadventures of travel – but, beneath the surface, this book is about the choices we make in our lives. It is about how to be more effective in our work, more loving in our families, and how to enjoy the art of our lives – both on vacation and at home.
As to the rest – it’s an enjoyable story about traveling in Italy and it offers some funny stories, beautiful descriptions, and some inspiring moments. It’s a very good book and I recommend that you read it.
For the complete review, click here.
Thanks, Vagobond, and thanks to all who've read and recommended the book! May you strike out on your own adventures soon!
Here's a portion of another article someone sent to me demonstrating that some companies are weighing in on the idea of the "Art of Vacation." In my latest book, A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation, I try to make many of these same points through an emotional, dreamy, and (hopefully) humoruos narrative that will provide the impulse people need to take strategic breaks themselves. In this article, we see that a company has decided to give its own incentives toward that end.
Bart Lorang calls it a "paid, paid vacation."
The CEO and co-founder of Denver-based software provider company FullContact is offering his employees a $7,500 bonus to go on vacation, on top of their normal vacation pay.
So what's the catch? There's three, as Lorang describes in a blog on the company's website.
First, employees must completely go off the technology grid, meaning no e-mail, texting or phone calls. In conjunction with the first rule, employees are not allowed to do any work while on their trip.
Third, employees must actually go on a trip. Lorang explains he believes all his employees deserve a nice vacation, and he chose the $7,500 dollar amount because he believes it is enough for a family of four to take a trip to Mexico for a week.
"We felt that everyone should have the opportunity to take a nice vacation without constantly worrying about how much money they’re spending while on vacation," Lorang blogged.
Lorang tells KDVR he had the idea for the incentive when he was browsing photos of his trip to Egypt. He was struck by a photo of himself riding a camel among the pyramids, but he was texting.
He says experiences like this have made him realized the value of completely disconnecting during a trip, and wants to encourage his employees to do so as well.
Some of Lorang's software engineers that have taken him up on his offer say while it was difficult initially going off the grid, they ended up loving their completely unplugged vacation.
“Absolutely fantastic. I mean you get so used to waking up to emails in the morning,” engineer Kyle Hansen tells KDVR.
His coworker Robbie Jack says though it was hard to give up his gadgets for the trip, he found it extremely beneficial.
“The biggest benefit is when you get back. You’re so much more invigorated, recharged,” Jack told KDVR.
(For the full articel on Fox News, click here.)
Dear readers: What do you think of Lorang's three requirements of A) completely going off the technology grid, B) doing no work while on vacation, and C) having to actually go on a trip?
Since the release of my latest book, A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation, I have received countless connections to others who are also touting the power of vacations. Here is an article that appeared on CNN. For those of you who have read the ITALY book, you will notice some similar points!
Relax, it's only a vacation
Vacationing with no agenda -- for some travelers it's heaven, for others a week or more of unscheduled free time is like staring into an abyss.
Planning for a vacation is usually part of the fun for me, but largely skipping the research and reviews on a recent trip to Costa Rica was surprisingly refreshing.
Arriving without a bunch of expectations and a long list of things to see and do and accomplish wasn't entirely premeditated. I ran out of time, and since the friend I was traveling with is a native Spanish speaker, I felt great about being able to resolve those inevitable travel snafus. Also, we did book hotels a couple of weeks in advance. (I probably would have melted into a puddle of anxiety otherwise).
We did a lot -- zip lining, snorkeling, bird watching, tarantula spotting, sitting on the beach -- but without that gnawing sense of missing something really important. Ignorance might indeed be bliss.
Have I been doing it wrong all this time? After the trip, I consulted a trio of sages -- a travel agent, a psychiatrist and a life coach -- to see what vacationing advice they'd offer to people who want to avoid going back to work dragging, desperate for another vacation.
Maybe you don't need three professional advisers to have a nice trip, but some Type A would-be vacationers could use a little help. You know who you are.
We asked: Your vacation planning tactics
"If your vacation causes you stress, it's not a vacation, it's a should, a to-do or an overachieving chore," said Laura Berman Fortgang, a career and life coach and author of "Living Your Best Life."
Trying to squeeze too many activities into one trip with "no built-in time to chill" can be exhausting, especially when your trip lasts a week or less. (Ours was a weeklong trip and we visited three places. Overly ambitious?).
27 must-sees on earth
Consider this strategy, posted by enthusiastic planner Kris Stafira on CNN's Facebook page: "I usually do plan every minute of every day, but then our family sets our priorities and we make SURE we do those things -- the rest happens or not, depending on the day. I tell my kids they can relax at home -- vacation is for SEEING and DOING and LEARNING!"
Right. But what if life at home is just as busy?
Berman Fortgang recommends taking at least 10 to 14 consecutive days away, if at all possible, and building in time to do nothing.
"A week isn't a lot now. At the pace that we all go and the amount of adrenaline that we force our bodies to produce because we move so quickly -- your body doesn't really recover from that in a week," she said.
Berman Fortgang and her husband are self-employed and they shifted their family's schedules years ago to be able to take European-style, three to four week vacations in August.
"Just knowing on that sixth night you didn't have to pack up to leave, then we started relaxing," she said.
Switching off from the 24/7 work ethic
From a psychological standpoint, vacation offers time to build resiliency, according to Dr. Gregory Fricchione, director of the Benson-Henry Institute of Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The term, adopted from structural engineering, refers to the ability to bend or adapt, but not break, under pressure.
I employed a little of that when I figured out shortly after we got off the plane in San Jose that two of the three places we'd picked to visit were not in fact within day-trip distance of each other, but actually three hours apart by van and boat. (Everything looked really close on the map. This is where reading up and carefully mapping things out comes in handy.)
Strong connections with family and friends and meaningful and positive experiences bolster resiliency. Your stress response, an alert to threats that spurs you to action, is also a key component, Fricchione said.
The stress response is essential, but it burns a lot of energy, so avoiding stressors is part of what's restorative about vacation.
If you want a restful trip, ask yourself "what's a nonthreatening and socially supporting and meaningful and positive experience for me to have? And it would be different for different people," Fricchione said.
Sitting on the beach reading books is just the thing for some people. For people with highly active, risk-taking personalities that don't satisfy that side of themselves at work, an adventure trip can be very fulfilling.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with having a very busy vacation. Being outside your normal habitat has its own benefits.
"There is something rejuvenating about that in the sense that your mind is very alert, your senses are very alert," Fricchione said.
"If you enter into that experience and you're not exhausted at the beginning, it can be very energizing. It's a nice kind of stress, in a way, and you have enough resiliency to deal with it."
Fricchione suggests taking stock of how you feel and what would be restorative for you and planning your time off accordingly.
14 outstanding airport amenities
Listening to yourself
People who go for the trips they think they want instead of the type of experience they really want and need are the ones who come home needing another vacation, said travel agent Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel in McLean, Virginia.
"The reality is a vacation should really be about you and what your body needs, what your mind needs, what your soul needs and what your heart needs, and that drives good vacation decisions," she said.
Scully asks her clients about their best trip ever and for two reasons why they loved it. She takes those and other responses and tailors a trip to suit everyone in the group.
"We try to put a balance in what they're asking for so if there are choices and options, something is going to work," she said.
(For the rest of this article on CNN, click here)
Just the other day, my wife Terri was in a place where for no apparent reason she was forced to take a new number and begin her wait anew, without any explanation or apology. When she finally got to the counter she was greeted with an artificial urn labeled, “Ashes of Trouble Customers.” Nice. (Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, it was actually a government office and not a bona fide business, but we’ll leave that huge topic for a future post.)
Every now and then, however, someone surprises us. When it happens, it’s as refreshing as the sunshine after a cold rain.
Observe Exhibit A: our family cocoon packed into a small minivan traveling sleepily through rush hour traffic in Rome. Scooters zip by on all sides, cars dart in and out, horns blare, and pedestrians play chicken with cars by avoiding eye contact. After three hours of hazard-avoidance, our quota is used up and we collide noisily with a passing scooter (see previous post for details). Since the incident occurred on a busy street directly in front of our destination hotel, I suggested Terri take our kids inside to safety. Within moments, I became vaguely aware of hotel employees in black uniforms extracting the baggage from our damaged vehicle. Next I looked up to see one of them bringing me a bottle of water with two fancy drinking glasses. Soon, the general manager of the hotel was standing next to me, comforting me, advising me, and reassuring me that he would provide assistance to help my with any language barrier issues.
After several hours of cleanup and paperwork, we were ushered to the hotel’s courtyard where our children were comfortably seated and being pampered by the hotel staff. We were offered drinks and informed that we had already been checked into our rooms. As a final exclamation point, I was informed that the hotel would additionally be changing my flat tire for me. “Prego, prego, we insist!” I was told.
The hotel in question? The Hotel Forty Seven. The general manager? Paolo Dalle Vacche. The employee who brought me the water and took care of my children? Piero Galli. The man who changed my tire? Valentino. I mention them all here because they deserve worldwide recognition for putting into implementation what most people only talk about – world-class customer service. Thank you gentlemen! Grazie mille!
So, do you think I’ll stay at the Forty Seven upon my next visit to Rome? Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.
When it comes to you and what you do for a living, here are a couple things to think about when attempting to provide true customer service:
This list is by no means exhaustive, but you get the idea. Can you imagine what the world would be like if companies absorbed just these five lessons deeply into their operating psyche?
All of this makes me wonder why more companies don’t get it - why they don’t truly implement the high-sounding platitudes and pronouncements that litter their flashy brochures and walls.
I have two questions for you, dear readers:
(Please share your responses in the comment section below. I want to hear them!)
Thanks for participating!
Traffic whizzed by on both sides as a protective ring of motorcyclists and scooter riders stood guard. The rush-hour sun was hot like a mid-day melt. A policewoman did her best to address me in English to see if I was physically okay. The fallen scooterist held his lower leg in pain as the ambulance arrived. In the background, I heard the loud sound of rushing air, then noticed it was coming from the rapidly flattening front tire of my rental van.
Something I attempted to depict in my new book, A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation, is that there are two main things necessary (I believe) for maximizing your downtime:
First, a definite break should be made from your normal life. This means to truly get away. If your life looks like a race, your vacation should not.
Second, emergence in a foreign and unfamiliar environment will produce all sorts of unforeseen benefits. When everything is unfamiliar, your senses are over-stimulated and you begin noticing much more in a completely fresh way. You no longer subconsciously ignore 99% of what confronts you because you suddenly don't know what to ignore and what to let in. (By the way, it is not necessary to take an expensive foreign vacation to accomplish this. There are other methods, such as attempting things you’ve never done before, staying in accommodations different from those to which you’re accustomed, spending time with people of a different culture, etc. which can provide the same result.)
If you truly do both of the above, I promise you experiences and memories to last a lifetime. Let everyone else travel over and over again through the worn out ruts of routine; the real adventure begins when you step away from the known and submerge yourself in the unknown.
Sometimes, however, the formula misfires.
"I'm pretty sure you won't get arrested or anything," the hotel general manager said, trying to be reassuring.
"Arrested?" I managed to gulp in reply.
"No, no, no. It's not your fault. Obviously. You have no need to worry."
Still, I was shook by what had happened. There's a good reason the phrase "it happened so fast" has become a cliché for traffic accidents, largely having to do with the fact that it's entirely true. In this case, I had only caught a glimpse of a black streak whizzing past my left window before the scooter's foot peg caught my front tire. I had been looking left at the hotel at which we were arriving, just beginning the process of determining how to access the parking in the upcoming piazza, when the black streak materialized into a crashing, spinning scooter accompanied by a pronounced "clunk" and Terri's startled gasp. Then in slow motion I saw the scooter rider tumble and roll as his bike "high-sided" him. I jammed on the breaks, shut off the van, and rushed out to the fallen rider. Amazingly, tens of other scooter riders had already dismounted and were attending to him as well. “Thank God,” I thought, realizing in an instant that it could have been much, much worse.
And then the long ordeal of the after-crash bureaucratic slow dance began. Those funny sounding European sirens blared, a smashed up ambulance took forever to carry the scooter rider away, police in all types of uniforms talked to observers, each other, and finally, me. After nearly two hours, the scooter rider's banged up leg was being attended to at a nearby hospital, his girlfriend came to drive his surprisingly intact scooter home, the police had me sign a statement, and we drove on the flat tire to get the van off the road and to the curb directly in front of our hotel.
We had begun the day on the dangerous, tight, twisty Amalfi coast, cruised at high speed on the Autostrada, and had wangled our way through crowded, rush-hour Rome without incident, only to have this happen at the very last minute of the journey.
Gathering ourselves in the hotel’s courtyard, my family and I said a prayer for the young man on the scooter. Meanwhile, the staff of the Hotel 47 catered to our every need (I will highlight more about their amazing service to us in the next post). I sat still for a moment, feeling totally exhausted and drained. I had certainly accomplished everything I teach about submersion in another culture! But it was time to go home.
As I depict in my book, A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation, one of the most interesting aspects of travel is the chance to notice things that are usually obscured by the bustle of daily living. This is even more true when traveling internationally, when so much is unfamiliar, and, well, foreign. I particularly enjoy the signs and other public displays that make it across the language barrier a little worse for wear. Sometimes, something IS lost in the translation.
I love quotes like that. However, I think I've grown to realize that excuses aren't entirely useless. They do have another function. Excuses can be helpful in pointing out where you have blind spots, crusty attitudes, or inflexibility. If you'd like to figure out what might be a limiting factor in your thinking, take a good look at the knee-jerk reactions that pop into your brain (and probably out of your mouth) when someone hits you with a new idea or concept.
Let me give you an example.
Since my upcoming book, A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation is coming out in just a few days, I've been communicating a lot recently about the concept of taking time off for the purpose of intentional renewal and restoration. I've shared statistics about how few North Americans actually take vacations, especially the types of vacations that involve truly unplugging from professional responsibilities and invasive electronics. When people are confronted with this type of information, some recoil and blurt excuses. "I can't afford to take time off work," or, "I don't have the time," or any number of similar, reflexive responses. I believe reactions such as these are helpful clues people can use to unlock their thinking and take it to a whole new level.
Let's start with the first one: "I can't afford it." If this is the automatic response then perhaps it indicates an out-of-control financial situation, incorrect financial thinking, materialism, or an overstressed condition. "Genius," you might say, "of course it means those things." But here's where this gets constructive. Now it's time to ask the question "Why?" How did things get this way and how can they be fixed? After all, financial difficulties are not a fatal disease, permanent condition, inevitable, or insurmountable. And proper time off to think or restore one's vigor (and to "think one's way out of difficulty") might go a long way toward breaking out of the financial doldrums. There is also the positive, productive tension that can be gained from dreaming about something beyond one's current financial reach (such as a "dream" vacation). So the very thing some people might think holds them back from proper breaks in their life may only be overcome with the strength to be gained from doing so in the first place. In effect, some people seem to say they need the medicine so badly they cannot take it.
The second one: "I don't have the time" is perhaps even more indicative of incorrect thinking. In effect, this mindset is proclaiming that one is too busy to become more effective. "My saw is so dull that I don't have time to stop and sharpen it!" However, I do understand legitimate external constraints placed on one's time by employers and clients, and in fact, wrenching the time out of one's calendar for proper breaks is the biggest challenge of all when it comes to this concept of "rediscovering the art of vacation." Therefore, let's slice this pie up into smaller pieces.
There are different types of restorative breaks. Restoration should be viewed as part of an overall strategy in which breaks of various sizes are scheduled into your life on an intentionally periodic basis. I like to classify these breaks into four sizes: Micro, Mini, Macro, and Radical.
Micro Break: This can be anything from a few hours to a whole day off.
Mini Break: This is from a weekend to a week or so.
Macro Break: This is somewhere between one to three weeks off at a time.
Radical Sabbatical: This is a break of at least four weeks and can last up to several months or even a year.
These random delineations are made here simply to convey the idea that all vacations are not created equal, and sometimes even the simplest "staycation" (in which the participant "stays" at home and doesn't go anywhere) can be effective. It doesn't take humongous sabbaticals to recharge one's batteries all the time, especially if different sized strategic breaks are being deployed in one's life on a regular basis. However, the lure and power of a true "radical sabbatical" should not be ignored. Just because it is out of reach financially or time-wise at the moment, doesn't mean it should not be placed on the horizon as a future goal.
So excuses can be instructive, and may even lead us to discover where we can grow and change. Check your responses to the concept of properly utilizing the "art of vacation" in your own life, and ask yourself if you've been offering up obstacles to yourself instead of opportunities. Turn your mind in the direction of "how can I" instead of "why I can't". This is true in all categories of life, not just vacations, but this particular illustration is just so fun. After all, who wouldn't want to learn how to be just as productive, if not more so, while having a greater amount of fun and being more rested at the same time? That's what the art of vacation is all about, and it's why your excuses should serve as pointers to possibilities instead of prohibitions on productivity.
He sat down at our table with an affable smile and a warm welcome that didn't require a single word of English. We stammered through broken greetings and soon learned he was the owner of the ristorante. Leio was his name, and he inquired about who we were, where we were staying, and how long we were in Italy.
"Il Trebbio," we said, pointing in the general direction of our villa, and mentioning also the name of the owner, "Maria Grazie," which always seems to bring acknowledgment and recognition. Leio smiled, nodded, and said, "Io nato il Trebbio!" meaning, "I was born at il Trebbio!" Astounded, we dug in further, straining our thin Italian to its maximum limits, but nonetheless determining that our new friend Leio, owner of the Bastian Contrario ristorante (which I mentioned briefly in my upcoming book, A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation), was indeed born in the main house of the villa complex we are currently renting. Actually, we are in a farmhouse building thought to have been built in 1627, restored in 1839, and again in 1999. We are not in the main house, but a farmhouse out behind a more recently built palace of some sorts, that was probably constructed in the early eighteenth century. Leio, it seems, was born to some caretakers or workers who were living on the property of this marvelous, multi-generational (it is still in the same family as the original builders, themselves descended from land grants to French nobles by Charlemagne) estate. Next, Leio brought his own blend of "dolci vino" (sweet wine) to the table for us to try, and it was delectable, and probably not even alcoholic (but the best grape juice you ever did taste)! Then he brought out photograph after photograph of the marriage celebration of either his son or grandson (we can never be sure with this language barrier we are so desperately trying to work through) in Miami, Florida. We saw photos of Leio with Shamu at Sea World, Leio wearing funny glasses at a party, and Leio with a happy wedding couple who were also sporting crazy eye-wear. We parted fast friends with Leio, but not before discovering that the nice people with two kids at the adjacent table just happened to be the couple who had just taken up residence on our same property at the "cottage" next to our villa. More introductions and discussions followed as we learned that they were from Toronto, Ontario. Again, with promises to get our kids together the next day at the pool, we had made more friends in a foreign land.
In A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation, I wrote about how we seemed to meet and become friends with people at every turn, finding interesting folks from around the world we felt we'd known forever. Just what is this phenomenon of meeting people from different cultures, lands, and backgrounds and striking out for common ground? Why is international travel so fraught with serendipitous relationships that occur so easily one barely has to make an effort?
Just this morning, Terri and I rode the motorcycle up the steep hills into the medieval city of Cortona, parking conveniently just outside the city walls and walking to a cafe in the Piazza Signorelli. Immediately, Terri spotted Alessandra, the cooking class instructor she so enjoyed the year before (and who makes an extremely favorable appearance in the A Month of Italy book), and upon approaching her to reacquaint ourselves and say a quick "hello," we were immediately invited to have a seat and join her and her new cooking class clientele about to embark upon an adventurous day of culinary delights. We chatted amicably, Alessandra spouting off many of her classic witticisms (such as, "The mother of the idiot is always pregnant") and promising to email Terri some new recipes. She absolutely refused to allow me to pay for the coffees and danishes, shouting to the owner of the cafe across the tables and umbrellas of the piazza. By the time I reached him with money in hand, he folded his arms, shook his head, and said, "It is impossible. Alessandra wants to pay," in broken English.
Maria Grazie and husband Massimo, owners of Il Trebbio and some of the most gracious hosts imaginable, invited us to dinner last Saturday night in the garden courtyard behind the main home on the estate. Then, plans changed as their younger son announced his intentions to arrive that evening from Florence with his three small children, wife, and mother-in-law. Maria Grazie and Massimo insisted we still come to dinner, and the party of expanded size gathered in the three-hundred year-old courtyard for wonderful Italian cuisine and even more wonderful fellowship. Laughter, scampering children, and conversation flowed as if we'd all been best friends recently reunited. Finer evenings have rarely been seen.
I could give more examples of these types of nearly spontaneous, serendipitous moments of quality time with interesting, warm-hearted people that seem to happen to us once we are loose and abroad in a different culture. Is it just that we are normally too busy with our daily lives to allow room for this type of unplanned, unexpected bonding when we are at home? Is it that we must first break out of our normal routines in order to experience new relationships that are anything but routine?
I chalk all this up to the wonder of travel, the art of vacation, and the endless possibilities for meaningful connection with other human beings once we're removed from self-importance and mundane responsibilities. I sincerely hope that I can inspire many more fortunate pilgrims to wander abroad, shake a foreign hand, and embrace those of other lands, generations, and cultures. Indeed, it is the richest reward of travel.