Musings from vacation

Couple of decades ago, I worked in UK for a bit . The biggest challenge for me was getting used to the relaxed pace of a 35 hr work week after the 60 hour regular weeks in US that I was used to . I think our manager spent more time with us at Pubs and horse races than at the office . Strangely instead of taking life easy – I really longed to go back to US with the faster pace .

Then came a stint in Germany – where work was all about efficiency . When the work week is 40 hours – it literally means you spend every minute of those hours focused on work . Very little small talk etc – which was usually limited to lunch time in the cafeteria. In fact I hardly remember seeing anyone take their lunch to their desk there . Also – I got used to the idea of employees negotiating for more vacation and better company cars and willing to sacrifice their cash compensation . Vacations were sacred and no one generally thought of work during their time off – and practically very few would be available even on phone after work hours during the week unless it was an emergency . There were clear boundaries between personal and professional lives .

US workplace generally had a culture of very long hours when I entered the workforce. As a young associate – it was a badge of honor one earned by showing up before the bosses showed up and leaving after they did . And the execs did not slack either – often pulling very long hours themselves . Sacrificing vacation for work was another “badge of honor” thing from my past – which took various forms from not taking any vacation some years to checking in on work while on vacation . I am not at all proud of any of these – I wish I was smarter to not do it .

This week – I took my daughter to UK and Italy for a vacation . The last time she left our home town was just before the pandemic hit – when we had taken a week in a London and Paris . She will be off to College next month and this was a daddy-daughter thing we had planned for a while and were eagerly looking forward to . The last time just she and I traveled together was 12 years ago 🙂

I more or less succeeded in staying present and not worrying about work – with maybe six work emails and a couple of slack messages in eight days . All of those could have waited for me to return next week – but I will give myself a B- for an improved performance from past vacations 🙂

I have been in several European countries over the years for work – and occasionally on vacation as well . The difference from a work trip to a vacation trip is significant in all aspects

1. I realized how much I depend on my EA for booking travel – she makes it all seamless across flights , cars , hotels and so on . Researching and getting through all of that myself was both fun and stressful . Thankfully, the experience of a few million air miles does come handy in terms of knowing must-do and must-avoid items

2. I enjoy food a lot , as does my kiddo . The work trips generally don’t leave a lot of options for trying out the local food options to the extent I would love to . Well this time – I think we had almost all the stuff we wanted to 🙂 . The standouts were the lunch at an organic farm in Tuscany, Pizza in Naples, and the dinner at Dishoom in Kensington .

3. The sights to see – it’s actually pretty pathetic that I hardly spend any time to stop and smell the roses when I am on work trips . Usually I walk from the plane to a cab and my eyes are on my phone the entire ride . A cabbie in Paris was once so annoyed that he would stop at every landmark on our way to my meeting to make sure I appreciated his city 🙂 . NY is perhaps the best example – I go there several times a year for work , but I love to go on a double decker bus with my wife and daughter and watch this amazing city from the eyes of a tourist . We totally made amends on that front – weather was hot , and we walked more these last few days than any one week in recent history . But we loved every moment of it !

4. Water ! So I have always had a big problem with spending $$ on bottled water . Even when I travel for work – I don’t drink the $5 bottle of water in the hotel room. I would go buy water from a convenience store for cheaper . Well – all that changed upside down this week in Italy . It was so hot that we were finishing two bottles an hour throughout the trip . By the time we were driving back to the airport – I briefly considered opening a shop for selling just bottled water in Rome 🙂

5. Skechers shoes are life savers ! I knew from past trips that there will be a lot of walking involved and the decision to put a pair of Skechers on was perhaps the single best decision I made . My legs are sore – but I know how much worse it could have been !

6. Everyone in Italy seems to be a Formula 1 driver . My original plan was to rent a car in Rome and drive to Amalfi coast from there . Lucky me – a client of mine talked me out of it last week when I had dinner with him . Best advice ever – I wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip if I had to deal with the stress of driving south .

7. The heat wave and the Taxi strike ! Italy had been cursed with a heat wave for the last few months and I think we caught the peak of it . First week of July seemed worse than the last week of August . To add to the misery – there was the taxi strike in Rome to protest against Uber . Uber is twice as expensive as regular Taxi when I checked . And it seems taxi drivers spend 200K euros to get their license to operate – a situation similar to what happened with the taxi medallion owners in NY . The result of this was that we ended up walking a lot more than we planned to . By the last day – we could navigate the city quite well without a map , and I think I can swear decently in Italian now 🙂

8. The quality of tour guides we got – that made a huge difference ! They were courteous to a fault , throughly professional and had a great sense of humor . Their knowledge of history is stunning to say the least, and their pride in it is heart warming . I was curious what they thought of Mussolini – and it was clear none of them cared for that time in history . I think this is the best I ever experienced so far anywhere in the world . I also left Italy thinking this might be an area that INDIA could do better about tourism .

9. Cash is still king . I generally don’t carry cash with me when I travel and I regret it every time . This time was no exception . The exchange rate losses alone could have funded the expense on bottled water 🙂 . Credit card acceptance is much better now compared to the past – but for tipping , buying water and eating an ice cream on the street , you need a lot of small change . Even the cabs had notices that they prefer cash !

9. What did I learn from this trip ? I think the biggest learning for me is to slow down and smell the roses along the way . I admire the general culture of Italians – over the weekend, they drive to a small village and take it easy . When they eat in a restaurant – they take their time to enjoy their wine and their meal . No one is ever in a hurry unless they are driving 🙂


Published by Vijay Vijayasankar

Son/Husband/Dad/Dog Lover/Engineer. Follow me on twitter @vijayasankarv. These blogs are all my personal views - and not in way related to my employer or past employers

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