The children’s author, Gordon Korman has a very different take on the title “I Want to go Home”. His take is actually the reverse of what the title suggests. It would be great if that was true for me during a recent trip south.
When the winter here in Canada seems to last too long it’s great to find some reprieve by heading south, even if it’s just for a week. Took a holiday recently in the area made famous by Ernst Hemingway. The area we visited claims to have the best beach in the Caribbean. The weather was sunny and sand was white covered with an abundance of seashells. In addition to that the all inclusive resort provided a wide array of food with many items cooked while you wait and complimented with a wide choice of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
This is where I found myself in the middle of February. What’s not to like when one can spend a carefree week in a place where almost everything is done for you. No need to make your own breakfast. Room service makes sure you room is clean and supplies fresh towels as needed. No need to wash dishes, stoke the wood stove, bring in firewood or attend to any other regular home chores.
It’s day three of our holiday and all I can think of, “I want to go home”.
No I wasn’t being ungrateful. I wasn’t having a tantrum about not being in a 5 star resort.
Let me explain. As I’ve pointed out, I was probably in the best place I could imagine for creating a memorable and relaxing holiday. Warm water, incredible sea life, spacious accommodations all as part of an ‘all inclusive’ vacation package. But it couldn’t happen.
A Heads Up
The reminder that my occupational therapist gave me a couple years back came to mind. When you are on a holiday, away from home, that is the hardest place to recover from sensory overload. So make sure you have decompressed and shed any sensory loading before you leave home.
I thought I had shed any build up of sensory loading. So how did I get myself into this fix?
Unplanned Sensory Loading Events
We left Canada in the middle of winter so it wasn’t surprising that the 120 km drive to the airport coincided with the arrival of a winter storm, with snow and freezing rain in the mix. To avoid some of the stress related to getting to the airport we left four hours earlier than originally planned. As a result we missed most of the storm during our drive.
During the six hour wait in the airport we watch the departures bill board, noticing one flight after another being cancelled. When over fifty percent of the flights were cancelled we noticed that our flight was still on the board. We kept our fingers crossed hoping our flight would leave as scheduled.The only hiccup before we boarded was a change in the gate number. Nothing serious.
Once we got on the plane we met with some delays. The freezing rain had made the tarmac so icy that the ground personnel would have been better served had they been wearing ice skates. It took about a half hour for the ground crew to push and bump our plane far enough away from the terminal so we could make our way to the runway.
Once our plane pulled away from the terminal we quickly realized that we were not heading to the runway for take off. Instead we spent a half hour getting the plane thoroughly de-iced. The extra half hour delay was very reassuring.
We arrived at our resort close to midnight, close to two hours behind schedule. We found ourselves in an unfamiliar place. After waiting in line, with people milling all about, we were assigned our room number. After making two attempts to find our room someone gave us clearer instructions.
While the 28 C is something we were looking forward to, the change is too much to deal with when I’m tired. Unfortunately the air conditioner did not work. On day two we knew they had been working on it because there were tools left in our room. It wasn’t till day three that it was finally fixed.
On day three we had planned an off resort excursion. I was looking forward to it. Part way through the day I was beginning to deal with neural fatigue. I was able to manage a couple naps between visiting points of interest. Experiencing fatigue on day three was not a good sign. The fatigue was accompanied by a worsening headache which had already persisted from before we left home. This was very different from my previous two trips south.
Over the next few days I was finding it increasingly harder to find the energy to enjoy simple activities. I was sleeping twice a day for an hour or more in addition to a good night’s sleep. Over the next few days I wasn’t seeing any improvement. Getting a mild sunburn on day two added an unnecessary added sensory aggravation.
Being away from familiar surroundings and familiar routines increases my cognitive demands. Anything new and different takes additional mental energy. I tried to keep everything as familiar as possible. I found myself avoiding most of the food that was being offered. Having something familiar like an omelette for breakfast with fresh bread and cheese worked for me. For lunch and supper I kept it safe by having ham or beef on rice with some bread and cheese. I would usually finish the meal with some very familiar ice cream. I just didn’t have the appetite to try new and exotic foods. New flavours, new food textures all add to sensory loading. Even something as simple as yogurt seemed very watered down so I avoided that. It seemed a shame to walk away from all this great food.
I very much enjoyed one exception… bananas, fried with papaya and pineapple, prepared while I waited and then doused with rum.
Longing for Home
I was experiencing sensory overload a couple times a day. The heat bothered me. The white sands made the glare of the sun too intense. The main dining hall was too chaotic. My internal compass would not adjust to what should be north or south. I would see where the sun rose and set but I couldn’t get it to sync with my internal compass.
Being away from home made it very difficult to find something familiar, whether it’s food, familiar routines, familiar faces etc. It’s being in a familiar environment with minimal cognitive demands that could help reduce the sensory loading. By day four the only thing on my mind was, ‘I wanted to go home’.
Reducing Sensory Loading When Traveling
There were several things that I could have done differently to increase the likelihood of a satisfying and energizing holiday.
- Ensure that my sensory loading is at a minimum before I leave home. In hindsight I realize I started my holiday with too much sensory loading. Often it’s difficult to know where I am on the scale. On this last trip I was too close to sensory overload or the ‘red zone’ when I headed for the airport
- Plan the trip a month or more in advance. Don’t take a last minute travel deal as we did. With reduced mental flexibility I need more time to adjust to new ideas or plans. Last minute changes in plans are particularly difficult.
- When booking a flight include VIP services. It is well worth the minor additional cost. I had decided that after my last flight. The VIP service helped avoid or reduce several factors that could push me into sensory overload. The VIP service means quicker check in for luggage. It also includes a quiet place to wait after arriving at the airport. Snacks are served which helps to maintain my energy level. They personally come and get me when it’s time to board the plane, once again avoiding a lengthy line up.
- Plan a longer stay. (That’s assuming I leave home with minimal sensory loading.) With a longer stay there is time to acclimatize to changes in routine and environment. As things become familiar the cognitive demands are reduced.
- Know who your “go to person” is. When things aren’t in order, such as the A/C not working, it’s good to have it resolved promptly, not 3 days later.
In general I’m usually willing to make do. I’m not quick to lodge a complaint. I don’t expect people to serve me hand and foot when I buy a vacation package. I guess that needs to change. Given my limitations I need to learn to complain loud and hard. Or to put it politely, I must make it a priority to advocate for myself.