I’m a born maximizer: when faced with any scenario, I want to make the optimal decision, every time.
However, I have the self-awareness to realize that my maximizer instincts make me crazy, and I’ve spent a good part of my adulthood trying to cultivate my inner satisficer. (“Satisficer” is a real word: it’s someone who makes a decision once their criteria are met, instead of waiting for the best possible option.)
When we planned our trip, I hadn’t been to New York in over a decade. Will had never been. Lucky for me (and for Will, who has suffered plenty because of my maximizer instincts), it was obvious from the beginning that this would be a satisficer’s trip.
First of all, we were going for work: Book Expo America was the reason for the trip. Even though we tacked on an extra day for just touristy stuff, it’s impossible to see all of NYC in 4 days.
This realization wasn’t sad: it was liberating: we didn’t have time to possibly do it all—or anywhere close to it all—so I wasn’t tempted to try. Instead, I was free to enjoy the time I did have. If we didn’t have time to get to an activity we would have loved to do, we told ourselves that we’d be back. We’d get to it next time.
Here’s a glimpse at what our “good enough” trip to New York looked like:
We looked at a half dozen amazing hotels well in advance of our trip. Unsurprisingly, I was especially captivated by the Library Hotel. I might have been willing to spend out for a unique experience, but was annoyed that rates during BEA were nearly twice as high as any other time during the summer. (Supply/demand, I assume. They know their audience.)
We decided we’d rather spend our money on food and sights than lodging. We ended up at a quiet (and much cheaper) “European-style hotel” (read: no private bathrooms) on a quiet residential street in Greenwich Village. I read about it on a blog (yay blogs!), mapped its proximity to the Strand, and booked a room. Will was nervous about the bathrooms, but it was fine. And the neighborhood was lovely: the residential setting was perfect for our crowd-hating selves, and it was close to good coffee, great food, and the train.
NYC is home to a dizzying number of cultural attractions. We saw almost none of them.
Knowing we had limited time, we made a conscious decision to prioritize seeing the neighborhoods over seeing the sights. We spent 90 minutes at the Met, and 2 hours at MOMA (and we only made it to MOMA because we found an extra half-day when our original flight out was canceled). We slipped inside the New York Public Library and viewed the 9/11 memorial. But we spent the majority of our free hours walking around the city, just taking it in. It almost seemed like we didn’t really do much—but we were doing exactly what we wanted to do.
I read a great tip about minimizing decision fatigue last year: if you arrive in a new city for something like an important meeting, don’t waste your limited mental energy trying to figure out the public transportation system. Just take a cab.
When we arrived at LaGuardia, I was all for taking a taxi. Will pointed out that we’d be taking public transportation all weekend, so we might as well figure it out right then.
We struck a deal: we’d take public transit, but if we were ever exhausted, confused, or lost, we’d take a cab. The trains and buses were surprisingly easy to figure out, and we enjoyed doing it. (The novelty factor at work, I’m sure.) We took exactly one taxi while we were there. I’m glad we took that one, but we only needed one.
Conferences are exhausting, at least to this introvert. I planned accordingly. Aside from some scheduled meetings, I knew I wouldn’t be able to see everything, attend every presentation, or meet every person I wanted to meet.
I also knew that crowds make me hit the wall, and quickly, so we planned coffee (and, er, maybe gelato) breaks accordingly.
I talked to many school librarians whose administrators sent them to BEA solely because of the 50-100 free books they’d get for their school’s collection. Many publishers give books away, and it’s completely possible to snag that many titles.
But I’d been warned about weighing myself down with books—even very tempting not-yet-released books—and our conference motto was don’t take the swag. I didn’t want to deal with shipping; I didn’t want to tote it around the city all day.
This is the stack of books I came home with, minus duplicates. (A few editors offered to ship books to me, which helped.) Will also toted a cumbersome Penguin poster around all day Thursday because I really wanted to bring it home. (If I can’t find a great spot for it, I’m in trouble.)
It’s not nothing, but we didn’t pick up so many books that it cramped our style. I passed on some forthcoming releases that might be fantastic, but that was a trade I was willing to make.
Will and I both tend to stress about picking restaurants, even at home. We don’t enjoy the hunt, and we knew the potential for serious decision fatigue was high. With that in mind, we asked for recommendations in advance from current and past New Yorkers, and got an on-the-fly recommendation when we needed a great place on the Upper West Side.
We ate so much good food while we were there, and even the restaurants we picked on our own in the Village were pretty fantastic.
Our schedule was packed, but we made spending the time and money to eat well a priority. I don’t necessarily mean fancy (one highlight: cheap dim sum in Chinatown), but real meals at the right times. The right food at the right time makes everything better, especially if you’re conferencing and walking twelve miles a day.
For next time:
The sheer scale of NYC forced me to beat back my inner maximizer. It worked so well that I’m thinking about how I can deliberately cultivate my latent satisficer on future trips, no matter the destination.
Hit me with your best tips on “good enough” traveling in comments.