I spent the last two weeks in Europe. Germany to be exact, and to be more precise, Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen, with jaunts to Paris and Munich. It was a dream holiday, spent visiting, and touring with, our German daughter (an exchange student who lived with us two years ago) and her family. With 16 days of vacation behind me, here is what I learned:
1. I have very resilient kids. We walked, a lot. According to my iPhone health app, we walked between 8 and 12 miles per day. And my kiddos (ages 7 and 9) went along for the ride, with very few complaints, all things considered.
2. I know the answer to the question, “How many steps does that church tower have?” We climbed Sacré Coeur in Paris, Notre Dame in Strasbourg, St. Peter in Munich, and the Perlach Tower in Augsburg, and each has 300 steps (give or take). A few pointers. Yes, the views are worth it, always. And, if the bell tower happens to be a working bell tower, the bells are loud (especially, as was the case in Augsburg, when you summit at high noon).
3. Europe is basically one big pastry shop. If it wasn’t for the fact that Europeans walk everywhere (see #1), they’d all weigh 400 pounds from the immense amount of carbs they consume in pastry form. Then again, when those pastries are les macarons at Ladurée on the Champs-Élysées, you don’t really care.
4. Every restaurant should be equipped with a playground. And I’m not talking about a McDonald’s playland, but a bona fide playground that will genuinely entertain the kids while the adults enjoy their meals. Such was the case at the biergarten we visited outside of Munich with our hosts’ family and friends. Also, the world would be a better place if we more often embraced the notion that the language of play is universal.
5. The Eiffel Tower is always beautiful. Yes, it’s touristy. And, yes, it’s magnificent, at day or at night, from the top, from the bottom, or from a distance.
6. The best part of vacations often are unplanned. Whether it’s an expected drive through an Austrian Alps lake, an impromptu classical music dance party in a Munich garden, or a photo-bomb that wasn’t meant to be videoed in slo-mo.
7. German beer is awesome. In this case, bigger really is better.
8. German BBQ is the real deal. One half of our hosts, Michael, loves to cook American barbecue. And he can slow-cook some damn fine fall-off-the-bone ribs. I had to travel all the way to Germany for some of the best barbecue I’ve ever had. Yes, we also ate schnitzel and sausages, and, yes, it was awesome too.
9. Europe is easy to navigate, even if you only speak English. Yet, by the end of our fortnight I had gained enough confidence to navigate shops and the grocery store on my own, more or less in German. Also, we found the Parisians to be extremely patient with our French and English, as long as you started with a “bonjour” and showed an effort. My daughter, on the other hand, was more than happy to show off her 4 years of French by ordering food in restaurants, asking for help, and even making confession at Notre Dame, all en français. Quick tip: If you’re driving in Germany, “Ausfahrt” means “exit”; it’s not the most popular city name in Germany.
10. Fast is fast, no matter where you are. I love the no-speed-limit German autobahn, and the 190 mph TGV we took to Paris. Very cool to travel that fast on land.
11. Gracious hosts and good friends make everything better. I was so worried that our European vacation could not live up to the hype I had built up in my brain. I’m happy to report it blew the roof off the expectations. I was sad to leave Germany after an awesome two weeks, and could have stayed much longer. Thanks Michael Jung, Karin Jung, Alexa Jung, and, of course, our German daughter, Zarah Jung, for being amazing hosts and tour guides. While all of the experiences, sights, touring, and eating were great, the best part of the trip was getting to know the rest of the Jungs better. Thanks again for everything. We will miss you, and we can’t wait for our next adventure.
12. Employees need vacations. I’ve always been a strong believer in vacations. The past two weeks convinced me of their need for all employees. I will return to work recharged and rejuvenated. You should encourage your employees to take vacations and do the same. How do you accomplish this goal?
- Make a meaningful vacation benefit available for all employees.
- Do not permit employees to roll-over unused vacation days. This benefit, should be use-it-or-lose-it. Otherwise, you risk employees not using it on an annual basis.
- Allow employees to disconnect while on vacation. A vacation will not achieve its therapeutic goal if employees are required to check in via email or participate in conference calls. If your workplace is not sufficiently cross trained, and your employees are not team players, to permit this level of disconnection, then you have bigger problems you need to address.
- Set an example from the top. How many of your executives and managers say, “I haven’t taken a real vacation in two years.”? If this is the case, you need to take a step back, relax, and book some bona fide time off, ASAP.