Eko-in temple in Koyasan

Finding your happy place

I’ve written some posts on why I plan for city trips, how we plan with our family and how I make a year plan for traveling. This is sort of a follow-up post on these. With so many places to discover all around the world – how do you find your happy place? And what is your happy place? Is it at home? Is it as far away as possible? I think one of the things I appreciate the most about getting older is that you start to get to know yourself. Over the years, I have also become more deliberate in exploring what I do and don’t like. So here are some of my thoughts on finding my different happy places.

Finding your way

I don’t believe in one happy place. I believe in happy places. And I believe that the best way to find your happy place is to look for it – by trying different things, you’ll eventually find the places and activities you’ll like most. I try to learn from every place I visit, from every hotel I book, from every time I spend traveling. I keep a list of my favorites – I even have a special category for it.

A way to work: Europe and the Middle-East

For a while, I worked for a large international beer brand in New York. It was my first truly international job and at first, I loved it. The vibe of New York, the amazing parties, the enormous amounts of energy, the large group of talented people. But traveling back and forth to Europe for a while, I was getting hit by jetlags more and more. It would be Friday evenings with friends when I would be falling asleep or would have a craving for breakfast.

It just learned me traveling between Europe and the US on a regular basis for business wasn’t for me. So for business travel, I settled on what was my happy place: Europe and the Middle-East.

A way of travel: omakase

I wrote quite some posts about it, but traveling with an open mind, without expectations, really changed my travel experiences.

If you’re unprepared, you’re not planning.
If you’re not planning, you don’t have expectations.
If you’re not having expectations, you will not be disappointed
If you’re not disappointed, it can only be positive.
If it can only be positive, it might actually maybe, possibly, potentially as well be the most amazing and memorable thing you have ever experienced.

You are more likely to end up drinking tea with Bedouins in the desert, to do the haka with Maori in New Zealand, end up bar crawling with people you never met in Tokyo, sharing life stories with drunk Russian millionaires in London and my other amazing travel memories.

So omakase travel, traveling with an open mind and without expectations works for me.

A way of travel: traveling alone as my happy place

Quite early on, I realized how I love to travel alone. I think it was in the time that I was not in a relationship but still needed holidays, that I decided to go on my own. And I actually liked it. And over the years I have grown accustomed to it. The large majority of all my trips was and is solo.

As a solo traveler, it is quite easy to blend in. To rent an Airbnb and discover the town with your host. To just sit in a corner of a coffee bar and observe the locals do their thing. Something that is way more difficult as a group. Because I travel alone, I am more likely to ask a local for tips, ask the waiter to pick the food for you, walk into a random street … in other words, to truly experience destinations the way I like it: with an open mind, open for new experiences. I have found this is way more unlikely together with other travelers.

And interestingly enough and above all, to travel solo is actually not traveling solo. Humans are social by nature. As a solo traveler, it is super easy to join others. For dinner, for a hike, for a night out. In the eyes of others, a lone traveler is seldom seen as a burden – it is way more difficult to join another group as a group or to connect as a couple. And so, the moments I want to be alone, I can be alone, the moments I want company, I got company. This way, I ended up in a Japanese karaoke bar with an Australian lady I just met, hiked parts of the Laugavegur trail with others just to be safe, had dinner with an Australian couple in Yunomine and had a haka speed class in New Zealand.

A way to unwind: multi-day hikes as my happy place

Chilling at a river in Japan on the Kumano Kodo
Chilling at a river in Japan on the Kumano Kodo

It took me a while to find out that the best way for me to unwind was multi-day hikes. For a long time, I had just randomly traveled to places that seemed interesting from a work-perspective (I work as a digital and customer experience consultant): the United States (New York), China (Shanghai, Beijing), Tokyo, Hong Kong. When I was in the latter city and had spent some extra days there, I hiked on a nearby peninsula. I only then realized that one of the most relaxing parts of my holidays there was actually that hike. I realized that I was kinda over city trips. That traveling for a combination of business and leisure wasn’t really my thing.

I had been hiking with my dad when I was young and had been making some weekend hikes with my brother to Portugal, the Amalfi Coast in Italy and the United Kingdom. It had made me realize that these were some of the most relaxing moments of the year. It was a reason for me to start exploring different hikes.

My first one was the Kumano Kodo in Japan. By then I was combining city trips (Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo) with hiking for several days. After the trip I realised that I had been most happy while on the trail. After that, my Iceland trip to the Laugavegur and Fimmvordurals trails already had more focus on hiking. My Jordan Trail trip after was almost fully about hiking – I was actually rather unhappy and bored while relaxing in Aqaba at the coast. My Kilimanjaro trip was just that – hiking Kilimanjaro. The more time on the trail, the more relaxed I get.

I also now tend to choose the trails to build more experience for future trips. Especially recently, during my Kilimanjaro hike, I felt the experience from previous hikes was really paying off. Kilimanjaro itself should prepare me for Annapurna and similar high altitude hikes. Iceland was once meant to get experience for Torres del Paine or Fitz Roy.

So, it has taken me a few years, but I now found my happy place when it comes to holidays. 

A way to connect: family holidays

As a family, over the last years, we have chosen to not travel too far and choose destinations we’re pretty sure we’ll all like. We have found an amazing family resort in The Netherlands called Hof van Saksen with some amazing facilities for kids and families in general.

A way to improve: Quarterly Reviews as my happy place

The idea of being a traveling nomad had been in my mind for more than ten years. Both as part of my continuous effort to both see more of the world and to create the circumstances to get some deep work done – I had recently realized that spending time at the office usually is not my most productive time. I get distracted way too much. After a successful week in Dubai and -more notably- in Dubrovnik, I decided to turn my experiment into a habit. I wrote a separate blogpost on my learnings.

A way to connect: wine evenings as our happy place

It took my wife and me a while to discover what setting works best to make most out of our we-time. After some testing (theatre, shopping together, dinner), it turned out we enjoy spending time in our favorite wine bar (Ona in Gent) most. Minutes seem hours, hours seem days (in a good way). When we finally discovered we loved our wine bar best, for a while we kept changing venues – try another restaurant or other bar – to only discover we were happiest in Ona. So we have spent many nights there now.

How do you find your happy places?

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