Not everyone has seen the Northern Lights near the North Pole, or trekked in the San Pedro de Atacama, far away in Chile and said to be the world’s driest desert.
Yet, at a recent dinner in Singapore with friends of a friend, just about half the table had. Moreover, all except me knew Bhutan well enough to discuss their favourite lodge to get away from it all.
Maybe those gathered were exceptional globetrotters. But living in a small country such
as Singapore inevitably makes travellers out of many of us.
The June holiday has become something of a ritual, especially for those with school-going children.
This is the time to go beyond Bali, Bangkok and other nearby favourites. Such short breaks refresh on the principle that a change is as good as a rest. A month’s leave can offer something longer, further, more.
My best June holiday in recent years was actually in May. I stayed in a villa by a lake in Italy, where I would write long into the morning, then walk in the gardens and on the paths. When the heat built up, I would dip in the cool water, then write again until my sunset glass of Prosecco.
This idyll has inspired me to recreate the experience annually. As it doesn’t have to involve a villa by a lake, what then are the essential ingredients for a rewarding break?
Tour packages offer convenience and seemingly good value, and certain items, such as toilet paper, are best bought in bulk. But not your ideal holiday. Not unless your ideal is to wake up to someone else’s schedule and have so many sights programmed into your itinerary that your time is reduced to a
checklist of must-dos.
Schedule. Checklist. Must-Do. Such words describe a typical day at work. Approach your holiday differently.
Many Americans and even more Europeans take up to a month off, especially in August. That seems indulgent to most Asians but it takes time to wean yourself from the Blackberry and other work addictions. In today’s world, time is a true luxury. Give yourself that gift.
With perhaps four weeks off work, some would tour exotic, far-flung locations. But others may prefer a cabin in the hills or a shack on the beach.
There should be sufficient amenities but not six-star opulence. Bereft of butler service, you may end up chopping firewood and washing the dishes. But in undertaking mundane tasks, doing things you don’t normally bother with, there can be simplicity and mindfulness – time and space to unwind and refocus.
Let your holiday offer a half-time pause in your game plan for the year. It can even lead to a half-time change in your life.
Try a long walk. Not just an hour around a park, but days of travelling. Go, by foot, across the Iberian peninsula. The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrim’s journey that takes weeks, even months as there are different routes to choose from, before ending at a magnificent cathedral in Galicia.
Also known as the Way of Saint James, it is not an experience solely for Catholics – but any seeker on his or her own path.
You can arrange to stay in a fancy hotel but a friend who has walked the road gushes about sleeping in a dorm, washing his own clothes, and carrying a backpack. To some, this may seem mere nostalgia for the ol’ Europass holidays they took as students. But to him and others who have walked the route, the journey is more than physical.
Some return and switch careers to do something that is more meaningful and rewarding, albeit less remunerative. Others come back to the same jobs, only with renewed commitment.
Another holiday goal should be to savour the moment. In our city, on the equator where the seasons and daylight hours do not change, years can slip by unnoticed.
Use the holiday to mark the time, especially by sharing it with someone who matters.
My mother is quite sedentary these days. I remember our last trip to the hills of Bali a few years back. My son, now 17, will not always have time for me, nor will my knees always be able to keep up with him, as he grows up and I grow sideways. It’s best to holiday with those you want to be with, and do it now.
Your June vacation can present opportunities to learn and satiate your curiosity about things. If you love food, this is the time to do more than binge at Michelin-rated establishments (and post photos on Facebook afterwards). Learn to cook. Visit markets to see the lives of those who grow the produce, and the links from farm to table.
If food is not for you (are you really Singaporean?), follow the early English travellers who went to Greece and Rome to learn about the classical world. Or else immerse yourself in the history of Myanmar, from Bagan to the decrepit-magnificent colonial buildings in downtown Yangon. Beyond our small island, there are broader horizons and deeper understandings.
When you begin such a holiday, take at least three things. A laptop is always handy. It is, however, already too much a part of our work routine, and software and hard drives can fail. So take a journal and a pen.
The journal can serve as a memento for many years to come (especially if you pick acid-free paper). Use a fountain pen, and it will record not only what you write but the way you do it. Your handwriting will show when the words are scribbled faster or slower, where you press harder and which sentences you scratch out and which were correct from the start.
The second thing will be shoes. If you walk the Camino, choose a pair carefully as sturdy comfort can soften each step along a rocky road.
If you hang around a villa, you may prefer buttery-soft, slip-on loafers. But these can also be memorable, whether classic tan Guccis or else indigo or ochre suede.
The third item for your ideal holiday is scent. You don’t have to permanently put aside your favourite but be open to a new cologne or perfume. We know – from Proust’s profundity to a hotel’s signature scent wafting through the lobby – how vividly smell can anchor our experiences.
These things remind me of my experience in Italy. Now, when time allows – perhaps a weekend morning – I daub on Acqua di Parma Colonia, put on those shoes and sit down to write, with that same pen in a new journal (with the old one at hand to review the drafts from those days).
In today’s time-and-attention-short world, use your holiday to seek out choices that allow reflection, companionship, and learning.
June can be more than just a few days away from the routine. A luxury can be utterly necessary and mean more than a month.