Once upon a time before we lived abroad we would take a one week vacation each winter and go somewhere warm. Sometimes it was Cuba, sometimes Jamaica, and sometimes the Dominican Republic. Each place we went was all-inclusive; all you can eat drinks, all you can eat food, all you can pee in the pool.
An all-inclusive vacation is great for leaving your brain in the hotel room as you wander over to the buffet for breakfast, grab a morning mimosa, fill your plate with more food than you’d ever eat back home, slap on the sunscreen, and bake in the sun as the staff bring you your bottomless drinks. Repeat that process for each meal of the day and each day you’re there.
Those vacations do serve a purpose. People work hard and want a week to do and think about absolutely nothing on these vacations. The toughest decision is usually which a la carte restaurant to eat at and when. Or if you want a Margarita, Daiquiri, or beer. I totally get it.
At one point we thought of how neat it would be to own a little piece of tropical paradise. So this prompted us to start exploring early retirement and diving deeper into potential countries we’d want to expatriate to. Now, some people crap on this magazine, but International Living Magazine got us started on that journey. It’s a great magazine that provided some insights into other potential countries to visit and explore. Plus, I write for them occasionally, so you know it must be a pretty solid publication!
During these non all-inclusive vacations we met and talked to many other travelers, expats, and B&B owners. We took in what people were saying, their views of the country – but more important – their attitude. Some people aren’t happy wherever they are, and advice from them might as well be flushed down the crapper.
Add to that, these fact finding vacations were totally different. We wanted to explore different areas of a country as a potential retirement or work abroad spot. Our hamsters had to stay on the wheel to keep the mind moving. We had to be much more alert of our surroundings than you do at the all-inclusive compound. That’s not to say the places we visited were dangerous, on the contrary, but it’s the same in any country in that you don’t go down dark alleys at night, pull out a wad of cash, or flash around your bling (I mean come one, we have $2 cocoa nut wedding rings, if that doesn’t make us a target…)
While living in Latin America we visited numerous cities and small towns. We explored Medellin on bicycles, covered almost all of Panama by bus, and lived in a somewhat rural Nicaraguan home.
Life abroad provided many challenges, but also many opportunities. We fell into house sitting and the chance to travel so we jumped at it. But after almost two years of this lifestyle, we wanted a bed to call our own again. Our last house sit (for now) ended and we turned 40. So we celebrated both our 40th birthdays and our hiatus from house sitting with a week long trip to – you guessed it – an all-inclusive resort…Yay! No more thinking! Brain go bedtime now.
A funny thing happens at these resorts. You become friendly with many people. In fact, some people leave all-inclusive resorts and form life-long friendships with others they met there. Maybe it’s because you’re on vacation having a great time, or maybe it’s being comfortable enough to pee in the pool beside a total stranger as you both discuss sports, politics, and religion.
Traveling abroad puts you in a different comfort zone – rather – it takes you out of your comfort zone. You try to find common ground with other travelers or expats. And you make your best attempts to communicate in the native language (sorry, but dos cervazas por favor doesn’t get you very far when negotiating taxi fare). And you’re really not concerned about peeing in the pool at all.
So what is better, an all-inclusive vacation or an exploring vacation?
In my opinion, neither!
If you want to drop $4000 for a week-long vacation, hey, go for it. I know what it’s like to want to get away and chill. It’s pretty fun too. I love leaving my brain at the door!
Others may see that as a waste of $4000 and would rather live for a few months in a developing country like Thailand, or travelling South America. And that’s totally cool, especially if you live like a local amongst locals.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to vacation.
After this most recent trip to an all-inclusive though, we both realized a week is almost too long for us now, and all we need is about fours days of brainlessness.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that both of these vacations suit a need. A need to get away from your crazy hectic life and experience something – with or without your brain!
Now go sell all your stuff and leave your brain at the door for a day!