When traveling in different countries, I live by one rule: that this is not the last time I'll find myself in this country. This fundamental rule relieves all stress that one might feel when scrolling down the list of monuments, tourist traps, photo friendly sights, and activities.
On a recent trip to Brazil, in the heat of the World Cup and with tickets to three games myself, I found myself hardly believing that I'd ever have the opportunity to witness firsthand a moment in history just as unique. World Cup aside, Rio de Janeiro has plenty to hold you for weeks - Christ the Redeemer, Copacabana beach, churrascarias (steakhouses), and an endless line of clubs and block parties. Tack on the frenzied mayhem of the World Cup and your itinerary starts to look plump.
Leave it up to the Brazilians to keep you stress free anyway.
Two blocks off the shores of Ipanema, three friends of mine and myself found ourselves blowing through two volleyballs and one soccer ball in one week. Of the 30 or so hours we spent on the beach, only 2 of them were spent actually sitting down. We went to the same sandwich and juice bar - sometimes up to four times in one day. And on one celebratory birthday of mine, I woke up to an acai bowl with birthday candles emerging from the purple slush.
We saw Colombian striker James Rodriguez score from outside the box, just eight rows back from the pitch. We watched France take Ecuador out of the tournament, and we witnessed Belgium's textbook excellence well before the US Men's National Team did. And when we weren't watching games at Maracana Stadium, we watched them in expat bars (long live Tio Sam), hotel televisions, and along the flanks of the beaches in crowds of uniformed tourists hunched over coconuts.
In BJ Novak's short story collection One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, he brings to the reader the character of a dead grandmother in Heaven who spends her time watching Frank Sinatra perform live each night. Novak's idea is to create a world with infinite time and then ask the reader what they would do with that infinite time.
The grandmother's response to this question:
"'It's funny, isn't it?' said Nana. 'You have infinite time here, and there are infinite things to do, but you still don't end up doing much of it. You do what you love most, over and over"
I don't have a particularly long list of places we visited or activities we did. In the end, we went to a handful of neighborhoods: Ipanema, Copacabana, Lapa, Santa Teresa, Gavea. We didn't even see Christ the Redeemer up close. I snapped one photo from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain and we drank in the streets of Gavea.
The rest of the time, we we played beach volleyball and watched the World Cup. Over and over.