7 Things I Learned on Vacation (that I probably should have been able to learn for free)

By Kevin Kilgarriff


Life is full of reminders.  Some are gentle.  Some are pretty harsh.  Sometimes we notice them and hear what life is trying to tell us.  And yet other times we need to be figuratively slapped upside the head by a  giant mouse to even realize that life was in the room trying to have a conversation with us in the first place.  Enter the Family Vacation!

My family and I recently took a trip to the most magical place on Earth.   And no, Michael Jackson fans, I’m not talking about the Neverland Ranch.  I’m talking about Walt Disney World!

It’s hard to go wrong with a vacation to Disney.  The temps were in the low 80’s and we didn’t have a drop of rain.   Now keep in mind that we were travelling from Pennsylvania, in December.  So right away we were coming out ahead.  PA in December isn’t exactly like a scene out of Fargo.  But it’s not exactly sunbathing weather either.


Oh Yah? I hear that Florida is wonderful this time of year, no?

Add to this the fact that not one, but two, snowstorms hit PA while we were away and what you’ve got there is an awesomely timed vacation.  Thank you Mother Nature!  You rock!

So while I was escaping reality and being hated by the rest of the world


See that red blotch shaped like Florida?  That’s where I was.

…I was also relaxing enough to actually listen to what life had likely been trying to tell me every day since my last vacation.  Looking back on the trip, here are Seven (ish) things that I learned while on vacation (that I should’ve remembered sooner…and for free.)

7 Things I Learned on Vacation

1)      All the world’s a stage –

Disney considers any place on their property that a guest can see to be “Onstage”.   Anything that guests can’t see is considered “offstage”.  And if you’re Onstage, you need to be in character.  Whether you’re dressed up as Mickey, dressed up as a Town Crier, or dressed up as a cashier selling Mickey Mouse Ice Cream Bars, if you’re onstage you need to be in character.  And you need to be on your game.  That’s why they call all of their employees Cast Members, because they’re part of the overall show while they’re Onstage.  And that’s why you never see a cast member slouching or with a frown.  They’re playing the part of being nice and helpful.

In real life, it’s hard to always be that nice.  But we should realize that all of the world is a stage.  Someone is always watching, whether we realize it or not.  I’ve always tried to live by the idea that if I wouldn’t want to read about it on tomorrow’s newspaper headline, don’t do it.  Ok, well I’ve alwaysmeant to live by that rule.  I’ve done a LOT of really stupid things in my life, and if social media was around when I was in college…well let’s just say you’d know a lot more about me than you’d probably like to.  Living by the newspaper headline rule is hard!

Regardless (not irregardless or irregardlessly!), we need be careful out there!   If you don’t want people getting a bad impression of you, don’t give them a reason to have one.

2)      It’s always possible to be nice to people.

Disney is famous for its customer service and friendliness.  I actually witnessed a cast member sit down with a guest while waiting in line for the Haunted Mansion and help him do his taxes.  I was very surprised that this person was apparently a Certified Public Accountant AND still found time to walk around dressed as Pluto.  And it was tax season!

Ok, well that didn’t really happen.  But there would have been time for that to happen while waiting in that line.  Trust me.

But in all seriousness, they’re so nice!  You’d be hard pressed to find a cast member without a smile on their face or a kind hello for anyone they see.  And if you ask someone there for help, you actually get help!  And if they can’t help, they find someone who can.

It doesn’t end with the cast members.  The guests are nice too!  Well, most time at least.  Reaching 100% participation is difficult.  But there are a lot of happy people there.  I don’t know if they’re happy to be in Disney, happy to be on vacation, or just happy that they’re kids have no earthly reason to say “I’m bored”.  Whatever the reason, all of the guests actually follow theGolden Rule –  “Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.”  And I refuse to believe that all of these people are actually that nice!  It’s just not possible.  And yet, there they are somehow smiling and holding doors and generally acting like they enjoy life.

What if they actually carried that behavior home with them?  What an amazing concept!  If we acted the way we do on vacation, every day of our lives, it would be like every day is a vacation.  Why let work, home or school piss us off so much that it completely ruins our day when we have the ability to say, “Screw you bad mood!  I’m going to be nice today!”  Take that thought and run with it.  You’ll be glad that you did.

3)      Sometimes you have to do a little work to get the best point of view


I snapped this photo while I was in Disney.  It’s a pretty awesome view and the sky looks amazing.  But I had to work for it!  I had to walk up four stories to the top of the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse.  No, this wasn’t exactly majorly difficult.  But I did have to do it with a daughter that could care less about anything I tried to point out to her about “how people used to live.”  Try doing THAT and see if you think it’s difficult.

It was, however, a reminder that sometimes the best point of view isn’t just naturally right in front of us.  Sometimes we have to work at finding it.  Sometimes we have to think about things and do a serious self-evaluation to determine whether we’re looking at things correctly.  Our vision can be clouded by our emotions and it’s up to us to determine whether we’re making it impossible to see the forest through the trees.

4)      It’s always ok to be a kid, no matter how old you are!

If you observe any random family that’s on vacation, there’s one thing that is often going to be part of the overall picture.  The parents have big smiles on their faces and they’re allowing themselves to be a kid again.  They’re allowing themselves to experience the vacation and not just make it about doing something nice for the kids.  And that’s an important part of life.  We need to allow ourselves to let go and have fun.  We need to feel small again and gaze at the wonder of what’s possible in this world.

I know there are some parents reading this saying, “He must not have any kids” or “He’s a few cards short of a deck.”  Well, first of all I do have a daughter.  And I won’t argue the second point.  But I’m still right about this one!  It IS possible to let go, have fun and still keep the kids happy.  It may take some rearranging of your thoughts and maybe having to climb a little higher in your mind to get the best point of view.  But you can be a kid again, and I highly recommend it.

4a)  Life goes on without me…

During the days leading up to my vacation work was crazy.  I spent half of my time doing my job and the other half trying to set everything up so that someone else could step in and do my job while I was away.  And for the first few days of vacation, I kept checking emails on my phone to make sure that everything was going fine and checking to see if anyone had any questions that only I could answer.  And surprise, surprise…there weren’t!  My work was getting done…and I wasn’t even there!  Amazing!

The fact is that, in life, we aren’t nearly as important as we think we are.  That’s not to say that we’re not important.  We’re incredibly important.  But seriously, the human race as a whole has a pretty gigantically inflated ego.  I’m talking “C-Lo Green’s head” inflated!  It’s pretty huge.  Right now at this point in history, we’re the predominant species on this planet.  But we’re not the only species.  And it’s a very simple fact that without any of the other species on this planet we could potentially be pretty screwed.  This planet is chocked full of symbiotic relationships.  If a species were to suddenly disappear off of the face of the earth, there’s another species that would end up being affected, and maybe eventually wiped out because it depended on that now defunct species.  And then another species would be screwed because that species is gone.  And so on and so on until the human race is wiped clear off of the earth because there aren’t any dust mites left on the planet causing a chain reaction that wiped out our food supply.  It’s a horrid story that I’d just as soon not have to experience.

4b) …but life is still better and easier for others with me.

A funny thing happened when I got back from vacation.  I found out that I was welcomed back with open arms!  Sure all of my work got done without me.  But they were happy to have me take my work off of their hands when I got back.  Because no matter how well anyone else can do it, the fact that I’m there doing it makes other people’s jobs easier, and even possible.

We’re all important to someone in some way.  Whether it’s at work, at home, at the grocery store or anywhere you might be during your day, we’re all important to someone.  Just like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, if you weren’t alive then someone’s life would be changed for the worse.  Everyone is a major part of someone’s universe.  Everyone has someone that is happy to see them after they’ve been away.  Everyone makes a positive difference in this world.  Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that the world would be better off without you.  You’re flat out wrong.

5a) Good things come to those who wait…and wait…and wait…

If you’ve ever been to Disney, then you know a thing or two about waiting in line.  It’s rare that you can walk up to a ride there and get right on without have to wait at least 20 minutes.


“I think I see the front of the line…Nope, nope.  It’s just a door to the next section of the line.  We still have 50 minutes left.”

But Disney recognizes this and they make every effort to make that wait enjoyable.  The entire ride, from the start of the line to the moment you step off, is themed.  Sometimes the line is every bit as impressive as the ride itself.  They set up the story that the ride is telling and hopefully put you inside the story itself.  But if you don’t pay attention, or stand there complaining about the wait, you’ll miss half of the attraction.  Sometimes the line can really be considered part of that ride and waiting in line can be just as enjoyable.

Just as in life, if we stand around wondering when something good is going to happen to us, we’re missing half of the ride.  Life isn’t a series of big moments.  It’ mostly a series of small moments with some big ones peppered in here and there.  And the small moments outweigh the big ones by a hell of a lot.  But we typically find ourselves focusing on those big moments and not paying attention to, or even enjoying, the small ones.  We need soak in the parts of life that we encounter every day and realize that every part of our life was designed as “part of the ride”, from the moment we get in line to the moment we disembark.  Don’t find yourself missing half of the ride!  Pay attention to the life around you!

5b) …but waiting isn’t always necessary.

Sure even with the way Disney Imagineers designed their rides so that the lines are more enjoyable than you might expect, it’s so easy to stand there wishing the line went quicker.  You inevitably wish that you could get to other rides sooner and have other experiences.  Enter theFastPass!  Disney allows you to get Fast Passes for certain rides.  The Fast Pass ticket will tell you to return at a certain time and you’ll end up waiting in a much shorter line.  If you use them wisely, you can get in probably twice as many rides while you’re there.

So how do FastPasses equate to real life?  We’ve got our own FastPasses, that’s for sure.  And I’m not talking short cuts or cheats.  I’m talking about taking action and taking control of your life.  Because sometimes waiting around for something to happen can become paralyzing and you’ll end up never doing anything because you’re waiting for life to come to you.  But if you grab hold of that fast pass, you can make things happen.  You can take action and be the cause instead of the effect.  Make your own big moments.  You still get to enjoy the waits in between.  But the waits will be shorter.  Plus, knowing that you made the big moments happen will make them that much more enjoyable.

7)      Sometimes you just need to kick back and relax –

Vacations can get pretty hectic.  Sometimes you’re spending every moment of every day trying to fit in different activities.  Otherwise, you’re thinking about how long you have until you need to be at the next activity.  Or whether or not you’re going to have any time in between to fit in that visit to the Sea & Air Museum (Hint: you don’t… because the rest of your family doesn’t want to).

But sometimes you just need to chill out.  Sit by the pool.  Lay on the beach.  Hang out on the balcony, drink a beer and enjoy the breeze (you have time for that right?).  If you don’t do this, your vacation is going suck.  No matter how many things you fit in, you’re never going to feel like you actually were on vacation.  How many times have you come home from vacation and said these words… “I need a vacation from my vacation!”

The same goes for the rest of your life.  Most of your time is probably spent running from activity to activity, thinking about how much time you have to get to the next activity and whether or not you’re going to have time to get to sit down and watch any of the games on Sunday (Hint: you probably don’t…but you should!).

If you don’t take that time to kick back and relax and do something for yourself, your life is going to suck!  Certainly you’ll fit in plenty of activities.  But if you don’t sit back and take it all in and enjoy the world around you, then you’re never going to feel like you actually lived.  You’re going to look back and say “where did my life go?”  Do yourself a favor and have a good answer when you ask yourself that question.

In the end, it cost me some good money to be reminded of these things.  And by no means am I saying that you need to hop on a flight to Orlando to be reminded of them yourselves.  I’m saying that we shouldn’t need to spend any money to be reminded of these things.

These reminders are all around us every day.  You don’t need to go away on vacation.  Just take a vacation in your mind every once in a while.  The results could be extraordinary!


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