I had my nose pressed hard against the glass. So did Beija…and her breath was fogging the window, obscuring my view. The gray sky was somehow the gray-est sky I had ever seen. The improbable mix of the blackest sharp-edged lava and the greenest velvet moss was blowing my mind. I was transfixed for the full bus ride into Reykjavik from the airport.
It makes sense that first experiences are so memorable, but trips are like chips. The first one is a-ma-zing. And you spend the rest of the bag trying to get that salty mouth-rush back.
Why amazing things lose their wow factor
So how is it that on the fourth day of our trip I noticed my brain saying, “ho-hum, another mind-blowing lava field with glaciers in the background”? It is that pesky thing our brain does called “habituation.” It would be completely maladaptive to walk through life with your jaw hanging open all the time. You would be so distracted by life that you couldn’t live it.
Trips and chips are both a series of experiences that involve multiple senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, sound). Your brain processes each sensation and tells you how you feel about it – breathtaking, neat, or meh. Most of you have probably experienced what Michael Pollan calls “the banquet in the first bite.” He articulates how much of the pleasure in eating something comes in the first couple of bites and the ones that follow provide diminishing returns.
But I am investing too much to let this happen!
When you invest in a big trip you are committing time, money, and emotional energy. Most importantly, you are making an investment in your kids and want to wring out every drop of amazing. Don’t worry. Here are things you can do to keep every day of your trip fresh and incredible.
1. Build novelty in to your itineraries, days, and experiences.
Switch it up more than you think you need to and it will keep that sense of wonder present for everyone. There are lots of ways to do this. Here are some:
- Pick several locations to cover over the course of the trip. We planned our Oaxaca trip in Mexico for novelty. We started in the city, hiked from village to village in the mountains, stayed on a farm in a small town, then headed to the beach. Perfect!
- Plan several types of lodgings. One example of this is how I planned our Morocco trip. We stayed with friends in their home, in a tent in the Sahara Desert, in a well-appointed cave, in a few unremarkable inexpensive lodgings, and in a gorgeous riad in Fez. Each one felt so novel and fun.
- Phase activities so you transition every hour or two. For example, in Puerto Rico Beija and I went for a walk through the mangroves looking for birds, stopped by a market, had lunch and people-watched at the beach, and went snorkeling before having a siesta.
- Finally, make sure to engage with people. There is always an energizing surprise in good conversation. Like this one with our singing taxi driver in Cuba or our chicha-making friend Nalia in Peru.
2. Deprive yourself…a little. Hunger is the best sauce.
If every meal were ambrosia and nectar it would be hard to fully appreciate it. When you limit your access to something you build up a little longing and enjoy it more. As the saying goes, “hunger is the best sauce.” Some ways to do this:
- Plan nice meals out for every other day. Fewer restaurant meals also gives you a chance to try street food and visit local groceries and saves money too.
- Book “terrestrial view” rooms and save the grand panorama for outings. This gives you a reason to love the room with a view of the parking lot. See how lucky we are? We get to savor that ocean view so much more when we are outside.
3. Develop a family mindfulness practice of cultivating awe.
Cultivating awe is all about giving your brain space to let everything in. Too much will be too much, but you can probably pull out this strategy once or twice a week without too much pushback. Plan a specific activity where you as a family (or everyone on their own) sit/walk in silence, with the intention of being fully present with what is around you. You should take in all the details as if you were going to write or tell someone absolutely everything – and maybe you could do just that. Even if you do this for five minutes you will soak in so much that would usually just be missed in the clutter of daily experience.
We were intentionally mindful in Bakkagerði, Iceland. Sitting on top of a hill, known locally to be the home of the queen of the fairies, we were completely silent for several minutes turning in a full circle to take in the amazing colors of the mountains, snow, lupine, village, rocks, and ocean. Now I can pull out that 360 in my mind whenever I want it.
Don’t let your brain make your trip less wonderous. Build in the 3 steps.
It isn’t too hard to tweak your trip a little to keep your brain from habituating to your new experiences. Just build in some novelty, deprive yourself a little, and cultivate awe.
For those who follow Riveted Kids, I hope that our hiatus in writing made this post extra-saucy. We’ve been so focused on planning our two Oaxaca summer camps and making custom family journals that we got distracted. Check out both links to see all the fun we’ve been up to. We’re back and ready to share!