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Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

Why take a break? Because burnout sucks

In behavior, business, culture, Health, immigration, life, US, work on February 24, 2014 at 4:02 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Playtime matters!

Playtime matters!

Here’s a smart story from the Washington Post about why we all really do need to take vacations:

The image that stands out most in my mind during the broadcast of the 2014 Winter Olympics? The Cadillac commercial with a boxy, middle-aged white guy in a fancy house striding purposefully from his luxurious swimming pool to his $75,000 luxury Cadillac ELR parked out front while extolling the virtues of hard work, American style.

“Why do we work so hard? For stuff?” actor Neal McDonough asks in the commercial that has been playing without cease. “Other countries work. They stroll home. They stop by a café. They take the entire month of August off. “Off,” he says again, to reinforce the point….

Americans are caught up in what economist Juliet Schor calls a vicious cycle of “work-and-spend” – caught on a time-sucking treadmill of more spending, more stuff, more debt, stagnant wages, higher costs and more work to pay for it all…

American leisure? Don’t let the averages fool you, he could say. While it looks like leisure time has gone up, time diaries show that leisure and sleep time have gone up steeply since 1985 for those with less than a high school degree. Why? They’re becoming unemployed or underemployed. And leisure and sleep time for the college educated, the ones working those crazy extreme hours, has fallen steeply.

I agree.

One of the weird things about Americans is their endless obsession with being productive.

A woman I know — who at 33, has already produced three children and three books — has turned this obsession with spending every minute usefully into a thriving career, suggesting multiple ways for us to be more efficient with our time.

I get her exhortatory emails, but just reading them makes me want to take a nose-thumbing nap, or an 8-week beach vacation.

You know what they call the sort of cough that horks up a ton of phlegm?

Productive.

We all need adventures!

We all need adventures!

But visible professional success is seductive — here’s White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett:

She’s out the door at 5:15 a.m.  She arrives at the White House at 5:22 a.m. and hits the gym (where she assures me she watches Morning Joe!) before meeting with the rest of the White House senior staff at 7:45 a.m. on the dot.  She tries to get home before 10 p.m.

“I have to force myself to go to bed and I jump out of bed in the morning, which is a good sign, I think,” she said. “You always have to pursue a career that you care passionately about so that it will not burn you out.”

Would you be willing to work her 13-14-hour day?

I grew up in Canada, and left when I was 30. I moved to the U.S., eager to taste a new country and its culture.

The first major difference? Two weeks’ vacation a year, if you’re lucky enough to even get paid vacation.

In Canada, I felt American — too aggressive, too ambitious, too direct in my speech. But in the U.S., because I also want to take off four to six weeks’ off a year — to travel, to read, to rest, to recharge — I’m wayyyyyy too European. i.e. soft, flabby, lacking the requisite drive to get ahead, gain even more social and professional status and buy tons of more/bigger/newer stuff.

Snort.

Working hard 24/7 isn’t the best way to spend my life. I’ve been working for pay since I started life-guarding part-time in high school. It’s essential to earn and save money, of course. And it’s pleasant to have enough to enjoy life beyond the basic necessities.

But after a certain point….meh.

I work my ass off when I am working. But I bring an equal hunger for leisure and downtime — like many people, I just get stupid and bitchy when I’m exhausted and haven’t had enough time for myself.

I also love to travel, whether back to familiar and well-loved places like Paris, or the many places I still haven’t seen yet, some of them a $1,000+ long-haul flight away: Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Argentina.

A four-day weekend — which many worn-out Americans answering emails 24/7 now consider a vacation — just isn’t enough.

Here’s my friend and colleague Minda Zetlin on 10 dangers of overwork, from Inc.:

3. You suck when it counts.

I can tell you from experience that going into a meeting tired and distracted means you will suck in that meeting. You’ll be bad at generating new ideas, finding creative solutions to problems, and worst of all you’ll suck at listening attentively to the people around you. That disrespects them and wastes their time as well as yours.

4. Your mood is a buzzkill.

The kind of irritability and impatience that goes with being overworked and behind schedule will cast a black cloud over the people around you both at work and at home. If you’re an employee, it will damage your career. If you’re a small business owner, it will harm your business.

5. Your judgment is impaired.

The research is conclusive: sleep deprivation impairs decision-making. As a leader, poor judgment is something you can’t afford. Crossing some tasks off your to-do list, handing them to someone else, or finishing some things late is well worth it if it means you bring your full concentration and intelligence to the tough decisions your job requires.

 When you have downtime, how do you relax and recharge?

A stubborn goat, a shooting star and an empty 175-year-old inn

In animals, cars, culture, domestic life, entertainment, life, nature, travel on September 10, 2013 at 12:58 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Never a dull moment, kids!

A map of Prince Edward County

A map of Prince Edward County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On day two of our vacation, we decided to visit the final day of the Picton County Fair, in Prince Edward County, about two hours east of Toronto.

It was one of those perfect fall afternoons — hot sunshine with a cool breeze.

We saw:

– a lawnmower race (Jason plowed into a hay bale)

– a collection of antique tractors, including one from 1926 and this one from 1953

picton01

– the entries in the flower and food competitions

– some fantastic quilts, embroidery, crochet and hooked rugs

– a huge red $175,000 tractor

– a very stubborn goat who, when it was time to parade around the ring for the 4H contest, dug in his hooves, bleated and simply refused to budge

picton 02

– some gorgeous vintage automobiles, including this one

picton fair detail

Watching the four young girls posing with their goats was fascinating, as they moved, kneeling in the sawdust, from one side of their animal to the other, rearranged their goat’s legs for the best pose, and awaited the judge’s decision.

It takes a lot of poise and training to wrangle a small stubborn beast, and I admired their dedication. In New York, the girls would have been the ones preening and posing, nervously subject to dismissal.

Here, instead, they were in charge.

And we really liked the judge’s decision to hoist the stubborn one and move him into the ring to get on with it, already. He could have left its owner crying at the entrance, but he didn’t.

I loved seeing all the skills people here are proud of, whether growing a 74 pound pumpkin or hooking a rug…I couldn’t do any of them!

It’s humbling to be reminded how little city-folk generally know about how to care for animals or vegetables or fruit or how to create lovely things for your home. Instead, we buy stuff from enormous corporations, most of it made by low-wage labor in some distant Asian sweatshop.

The inn we chose is simply amazing, a square white building built in 1838 and moved to its current location a few years ago in numbered pieces, then re-constructed by a local historian.

20130909093604

A pair of Toronto lawyers have poured Godknowshowmuchmoney into renovating it, to perfection. It’s a little austere, but serene, all in calm, neutral colors: rust, cream, olive, black.

It has only four guest rooms, but we were the only people here for all three nights.

So we had this exquisite place all to ourselves: wide plank floors, some original glass in the windows casting bubbled and swirling shadows, a formal oil portrait in the hallway. I love looking out at the trees through ancient glass, wondering what others were thinking when they did so a century and a half ago.

The only sound we can hear is wind rustling the crisping leaves, blown from Lake Ontario across the street.

The front door handle is small, round, brass — even opening the door transports you to a different time and way of moving through space.

I imagine being a woman of the period, alighting from our carriage, and sweeping in with a wide, bustled skirt to a home with no electricity, wi-fi or telephone.

And the stars here are glorious, the Milky Way blessedly once more visible.

I even saw a shooting star.

Can taking a vacation save your marriage?

In behavior, domestic life, family, life, love, travel on August 4, 2013 at 3:00 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Americans have a great expression — one I never knew growing up in Canada — the “hail Mary pass”, the final-few-seconds of a football game when someone makes the game-winning pass.

I love all the things it encapsulates, and that so-American notion that you can always, somehow, even at the very last desperate minute, save the day from ignominy and disaster.

As if!

Marriage

Marriage (Photo credit: Lel4nd)

Here’s a funny/sad New York Times story about couples heading off on vacations in the hope they’ll save their relationships or marriages:

The humorist Dan Greenburg insisted on taking his wife, Nora Ephron, on an African photo safari in 1972, even though she said they would probably split. When they returned home, she asked for a divorce.

“But I took you to Africa!” he said.

Yes, she said, it was a wonderful time. But she still wanted a divorce.

Harriet Lerner, a psychologist and author of “Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up,” said she has noticed an increase in patients taking such “save-cations” in the last few years. She links the rise of these trips to belt-tightening in the wake of the Great Recession.

“A divorce can be much worse economically than going away for a few days together,” said Dr. Lerner, who is based in Lawrence, Kan.

This piece really hit a nerve for me, having had two of these, both ending in tears and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.

Mine.

In January of 1994, my then-husband and I flew to Thailand for a three-week vacation. It was, still one of the best experiences of my life — spectacular scenery, kind people, delicious food, even a terrifying/exciting mo-ped trip to the Cambodian border. R and I always traveled well together and were able to enjoy ourselves anywhere.

But he was clearly heading for the exit — barely two years into our marriage.

English: Mae Hong Son, a capital of the Mae Ho...

English: Mae Hong Son, a capital of the Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand Русский: Город Мэхонгсон, административный центр одноимённой провинции (Таиланд) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As our plane took off from Mae Hong Son, a town so small and rural that a woman stood beside the runway on her bicycle, I started sobbing as if — it was — my heart would break.

“I’ll never be here again,” I snuffled.

What I really knew, deep in my heart, was – not with you.

My first post-divorce boyfriend, a hottie, (with the same first name as the husand, hmmmmm), was everything my marriage had been missing and, on the re-bound, I fell deeply in love.

Mistake! He was deeply ambivalent about anything permanent, and his Jewish parents weren’t thrilled he was dating someone named Kelly.

He dumped me, then came back. We had a glorious summer, and then a romantic, lovely weekend in Martha’s Vineyard in September. Then he dumped me again.

WTF?!

Gentlemen — ladies — do.not.ever.do.this!

If you really pretty much already know you’re only going to break someones’s heart into tiny little shards, do not mislead them first with some misguided notion you’re letting them down easy by taking them to a gorgeous spot that only encourages fantasies of a shared future.

Have you ever tried this tactic?

How did it turn out?

Va-ca-tion!

In behavior, cities, culture, domestic life, family, Health, life, nature, travel, urban life, US, work on August 3, 2013 at 12:08 am

By Caitlin Kelly

If you live or work in the United States, vacation is a taboo word for many people — their employers don’t offer paid time off and/or they just can’t afford to take any.

Or they’re such workaholics they can’t bear the thought of missing a call/email/client meeting.

The typical American workplace offers a measly two weeks off each year. As someone who runs at a very high speed, and who loves to travel, taking time off whenever I want and can afford to is one of the reasons I stay self-employed.

I tend to work at a pretty intense pace. The harder/faster I run, the more downtime I need to recharge and come back at it, hard, with gusto — not weary resentment.

The seal of the United States Department of Labor

The seal of the United States Department of Labor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apparently, the tide is turning, says The Wall Street Journal:

The two-martini lunch may be extinct, but another perk common to yesteryear’s workplace, the two-week vacation, is making a comeback. No longer limited to students, honeymooners and retirees, drawn-out holidays are finding converts in overachieving professionals.

“It used to be that Americans did the drive-by vacation,” breezing through major tourist attractions, said Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel, an upscale travel agency in McLean, Va. “They’re not doing that anymore.” Her company has seen a 25% to 30% increase in longer holiday bookings over the last year, she said.

Plenty of Americans have a hard time taking vacation at all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about a quarter of private-industry workers didn’t get any paid time off in 2012. And some who have holiday packages are loath to max them out, for fear of seeming dispensable in a still-shaky economy.

The lack of American vacation time strikes people living in many other nations — Australia, Canada, much of Europe — as weird indeed. But here, where affordable health insurance is tied to your job, and you’re scared to lose both, going anywhere for very long feels too risky to many people. (Talk about a capitalist culture!)

I try to take off six weeks a year, or more, if possible. My trips are rarely exotic or costly, but I desperately need to get out of our apartment, where I work alone all day, and our (lovely) town where I’ve lived for 24 years.

I need new scenery, new experiences, foreign accents, adventure!

Our recent two-week trip to Arizona was perfect, even with temperatures that could soar to 100 by noon. I saw old friends, made new ones, did a bit of work, bought some pretty new clothes, took lots of photos, read for pleasure, lay by the hotel pool, did a long road trip, stayed in a funky hotel, stayed in nature for five days.

The best part?

No computer. I didn’t touch my laptop for five full days, which made me feel like I’d been gone for a month, not merely five days off the net.

I came home blessedly and gratefully refreshed, ready to pick up the traces again.

Our next vacation is planned for two weeks mid-September.

We had hoped for Newfoundland, but are doing some planned, costly renovations instead. Luckily, we now have a tent and sleeping pads and a car that will accommodate our sports gear, so even a two or three-hour drive in any direction can take us to somewhere fun and new — the shore of Long Island Sound in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, even as far as Delaware.

Here’s an unlikely essay, in yesterday’s The New York Times, from an American employer who actually gives his first-year employees four weeks off. Hire me, dude!

More than ever, we live in a culture that overvalues the ethic of “more, bigger, faster” and undervalues the importance of rest, renewal and reflection. I preach this lesson for a living, but I, too, can get so passionately immersed in my work that I intermittently forget to apply the lesson to myself.

A growing body of evidence suggests that more overall vacation time – intense effort offset regularly by real renewal — fuels greater productivity and more sustainable performance…If you’re in any sort of demanding job, it makes sense to take at least a week of true vacation every three months…

The United States is the only developed country that doesn’t mandate employers to provide vacation time. Most companies do provide it, but often stingily and insufficiently.

To my fellow leaders: Two weeks isn’t enough if what you’re seeking from your people is their best. Is there any doubt, for example, that the greater the demand, the more frequent our need to replenish and rejuvenate? Demand in our lives is rising so relentlessly that I’m beginning to believe even four weeks of vacation a year isn’t enough.

The most basic aim of a vacation ought to be restoration – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

A recent national survey of 977 people, published in Vanity Fair magazine offered some funny, and not so funny, statistics about Americans on vacation:

— 90 percent said they’d try to help a lost tourist

– but 21 percent (cheap bastards!) never leave a tip for the daily maid service for their room; luckily 29 percent said they leave $3 to $5 a day

– not at all surprising, only 1 percent said they prefer to travel by bus; 50 percent said car and 39 percent by plane. Only 5 percent (!), which is very American, chose the train — by far my favorite! But American train service is costly and atrocious compared to that of many other nations.

English: The Long Island Sound steamboat Rhode...

English: The Long Island Sound steamboat Rhode Island (1836). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you able to take vacations?

Where do you like to go?

What do you like to do when you get there?

Here’s a helpful list of suggestions of how to enjoy your time off, from one of my favorite blogs, Apartment Therapy.

Related articles

Metro, boulot, dodo — ras-le-bol!

In animals, behavior, domestic life, life, love, travel, work on May 13, 2013 at 12:04 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The French say it so much better, as usual — subway/train, work, sleep. (Enough already!)

That’s what “normal” life too often devolves into, a steady and numbing routine that continues unbroken, sometimes for decades.

The past 10 days’ break have been a blessing indeed, with a deliciously indolent rhythm of eat/sleep/repeat. Shop, visit a museum, see friends, read for pleasure, sit in the sun on the dock and listen to gulls squawking. Just slooooooooooooow down to whatever pace is ours alone.

Both of the friends we stayed with, both long-married couples with empty nests, are people we’ve known for many years, welcoming and gracious hosts who fed us well and stayed up into the night talking. Both have cats and large, affectionate dogs who would come and nose us awake in the silent mornings.

The husbands get along beautifully and the women, like me, love to make stuff, whether sewing or art or calligraphy — one is a fellow writer and the other is a graphic designer who teaches and runs her own firm. She helped me make this amazing bag with fabric I bought years ago in Toronto and a vintage watch face I found in Richmond and attached with a button — with a $ sign! — she just happened to have in her stash of antique buttons.

It’s the perfect bag for a freelance writer: time, words, money.

cattibag

It was deeply refreshing to just not have to do anything. (That’s not entirely accurate, as two of my editors wanted more work on two stories I thought were fully tied off, but you ignore clients at your peril.)

This week back home in New York is a bit of the usual whirlwind — meeting a friend in from San Francisco Tuesday for a drink, an event at a local library for my book “Malled” on Wednesday, and Thursday night will join a group of New York Times staffers at a trivia contest — we won last year, so it’s time to defend our title against The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and a room filled with ferocious journalism competitors eager to prove who’s smartest.

It will be the usual blur of meetings, calls, emails, pitches, errands, follow-ups.

The silhouette of a large saguaro stands at su...

The silhouette of a large saguaro stands at sunset in Saguaro National Park on the east side of Tucson, Arizona. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But next Saturday we fly to Tucson, Arizona for two more weeks where Jose will be working long days teaching the New York Times Student Journalism Institute. I’ll be giving a lecture on freelancing, but the rest of my time there is pure rest and relaxation. I’m hoping to hike the Grand Canyon again — the last time was June 1994 — alone, as last time. I can’t wait to go horseback riding through one of my favorite parts of the country.

Our time off has let us feel human again, not just weary industrial cogs in machines moving far too quickly. We laughed a lot and slept deeply.

Have you been able to take a break recently?

Did it help?

An award, a long drive…and a breather!

In behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, life, work on May 2, 2013 at 12:32 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Time for a break, my dears!

This evening, in D.C., I’ll be receiving an award for my cover story — ooooh, glamorous! — in Arthritis Today, about what it was like to stay active and athletic, despite 2.5 years of constant left hip pain, before I had it replaced in February 2012. Here it is, if you’re interested.

Hip dysplasia with arthritis

Hip dysplasia with arthritis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ll stay with friends in the area and I have a business meeting and then we drive to coastal Virginia to stay with friends of my husband, from when he was a photographer in the White House Press Corps for eight years. Jose is the photo editor of the New York Times business section, with six meetings every day, responsible for finding photographers all over the world to shoot assignments for the section’s stories. So he, too, is very ready for a break.

Location map of Virginia, USA

Location map of Virginia, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eat, sleep, read, repeat! The only writing I plan to do is blogging and working (a bit) on my book proposal, hoping to finish the damn thing so I can send it to my agent.

It’s been an insane few months, and while I’m grateful indeed for a steady freelance income, I’m fried. Last week I had four stories due in four days and attended two all-day conferences, where I learned a lot, especially about social media.

In addition to which, I’m pitching ideas to people almost every single day and following up those pitches — and chasing payments that are always late.

I did get a terrific email from someone I met recently, introducing me to a potentially hungry new market, the BBC’s website, which actually pays well. Yay! So I have that to look forward to when we get back.

In May, I’ll be speaking locally about my book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” and in June doing a panel with three other freelancers, which I proposed, with Gorkana, a public relations group in New York.

The challenge of working for yourself is that no one ever gives you a raise or a bonus. They almost never say “Good job. Thanks!” because they’re too busy and our business just isn’t one for a lot of back-slapping. So I asked one regular client for a raise, and she’s giving me a 20% boost. It’s only an extra $200 per story, but I’m damn glad to have it, since so many places simply refuse — even after decades at the same rates — to offer more.

The good part of working for myself is that I can take off whenever and wherever I choose, as long as the bills are paid. So I’ll have these 10 days, come back to New York for a week, then head to Tucson, Arizona for two weeks, where Jose is teaching The New York Times Student Journalism Institute. If you’re a college student studying journalism, join the Hispanic Journalists Association, stat! You do not have to be Hispanic…if you are chosen for the Institute, you’ll get two weeks’ working with NYT staff, a stipend and an all expense paid trip to Tucson.

I’ll still be blogging here, so stay tuned.

Do less, slowly, and take more breaks — but can you?

In behavior, business, culture, journalism, life, urban life, US, work on February 11, 2013 at 1:49 am

Now there’s an un-American sentiment!

A 2011 poll found that Americans had left 9.2 unused vacation days that year.

Time Selector

Time Selector (Photo credit: Telstar Logistics)

With a recession still in play for millions who would like nothing more than the chance to work 40 or more paid hours per week, working less is a privileged notion, a message meant for those of us lucky enough to have jobs, or freelance work.

It’s also a difficult-to-impossible luxury for people whose jobs come in shifts that require seven to 12 hours of non-stop work: cops, nurses, public transit workers, cabbies and firefighters, to name a few. One taxi driver I spoke to in Montreal, a man of 42, this week told me he works 70 hours a week — and barely makes $700 for his trouble.

From The New York Times:

THINK for a moment about your typical workday. Do you wake up tired? Check your e-mail before you get out of bed? Skip breakfast or grab something on the run that’s not particularly nutritious? Rarely get away from your desk for lunch? Run from meeting to meeting with no time in between? Find it nearly impossible to keep up with the volume of e-mail you receive? Leave work later than you’d like, and still feel compelled to check e-mail in the evenings?

 More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

I admit, I heartily agree. I do all of these:

daytime workouts

short afternoon naps

longer sleep hours

more time away from the office

longer, more frequent vacations

while also being very aware that many people — like the millions working retail jobs, for example — enjoy zero flexibility in when and how they schedule their time. When I worked the 1-9pm shift during my time as a sales associate at The North Face, (the subject of my book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail), our “dinner” break might be ordered at 4 or 5pm.

And, with job security a hopeless fantasy, many office workers are simply too busy, or too scared to be seen “slacking off”, to even leave their desk for a meal, let alone head out for a walk, bike ride, yoga class or the gym during their workday.

I’ve stayed freelance for the control it gives me over my daily schedule and yearly activities. I just took two weeks away from my home/office in New York to visit Ontario and Montreal, and spent three of those days working.

Thanks to wi-fi and my laptop, and my work, I can basically work almost anywhere. After a grueling full day of interviewing people for a Times story on Wednesday, I came home and finished up an email interview, a quick turnaround of 500 words for a new client, at 10:30 that night. So much for Montreal nightlife!

I’ll be in D.C. for a few days in early May, and probably visit Jose in Tucson in late May where he’ll be teaching. We’ve planned a two-week trip to Newfoundland in September. That’s already 5 to 6 weeks’ vacation planned for 2013, with a break for me every three months or less. Whenever I pull in a decent income, the first impulse I have — paradoxically perhaps — is to take some time off, to travel, to see some art or ballet or theater to re-boot my creative juices and simply enjoy life.
Time me

Time me (Photo credit: mrlins)

Also from the Times article:

Along the way, I learned that it’s not how long, but how well, you renew that matters most in terms of performance. Even renewal requires practice. The more rapidly and deeply I learned to quiet my mind and relax my body, the more restored I felt afterward. For one of the breaks, I ran.

I’ve noticed this in my breaks as well — even a full 24 hours fully devoted to one’s own schedule of amusement can prove extremely restorative.

My final day in Montreal could have been a frenzy of rushed shopping or sight-seeing. Instead a friend from the 1980s when I worked there at the Gazette joined us for lunch. We reminisced for more than 3 hours. I then went for an exfoliation, an hour of bliss and eucalyptus-scented steam, and Jose and I went to a terrific and lively new restaurant, Hotel Herman, for dinner. The joint was jumping. We sat at the central bar and bumped elbows with fellow diners, one of whom was a museum curator from Chantilly who showed me a photo on her cellphone of her horse, Kalinka.
Our Montreal meals usually lasted 1.5 to three hours. Just not rushing was a great relief and deep, unaccustomed pleasure for two journalists who have been working to deadline since our undergrad years at college.
We’re back home now, a little broke but sated and refreshed.
How often during your day do you take a break?
What do you do to recharge?
Do you take vacations?

Define “vacation”

In behavior, domestic life, life, travel, urban life on January 31, 2013 at 2:10 am

As we were preparing to leave New York for two weeks’ vacation — visiting my Dad in Ontario, doing a NYT story in Montreal with some leisure time there as well — everyone at Jose’s job was making fun of him.

“North, in winter? You’re heading north?”

Take a Vacation!

Take a Vacation! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, yes. Packing hats, mitts, boots and lots of warm clothing is pretty normal for us. In our 13 years together, we have yet to take a beach vacation, mostly because Jose does not swim and money is usually too tight. (Although we did squeeze in two two-week trips to Paris in 2007 and 2008.)

Our last really big trip was three weeks in Mexico in May 2005, far too long ago. It was completely wonderful in every way: we visited Mexico City, Queretaro, Patzcuaro, Oaxaca and Cuernavaca, where I lived when I was 14. We even went back to my old apartment building there — totally unchanged.

Vacation, these days, is often a time to simply eat, sleep, read for pleasure, repeat.

Jose’s job, as a photo editor for  large daily newspaper, means six meetings every day and answering hundreds of emails. By the time we take some time off, he’s whipped. My workdays are a blur of email, calls, pitching ideas, following up with editors, reading and writing.

My perfect vacation means getting off the computer, out of the car and never touching a telephone. It’s also a blend of city excitement and, when possible, some spectacular natural landscapes.

Day One of this trip meant a lot of sleeping. I read an entire book, ‘Rules of Civility”, something I have no time and less attention for at home; it’s set in 1938 Manhattan and is a good read. We played Bananagrams with Dad and his partner, and Jose took a terrible photo of me gloating when I won.

Our plans include time in Toronto and Montreal, for shopping, some good meals, seeing friends and (yes) some business meetings for me as well. It’ll be a mix of the familiar — lunch on Queen Street, upscale at Nota Bene or low-key at Prague, where the schnitzel is plate-sized and amazing – and exploring some new-to-us spots.

Last time in Toronto, in June 2012, we tried, (and didn’t enjoy), the oh-so-trendy Thompson Hotel. This time we’ve voted for the Hotel Ocho. It’s…interesting. It’s hilarious to be in a place where every single person is about 12, O.K. maybe 26. Every time we step into the lobby, they all look at us in puzzlement: “Old people, why are you here?”

We’re also here facing two pieces of Canadian currency history — the new polymer $20 bill, (which is hideous and even has the wrong maple leaf on it), and the end of the penny next week as legal tender; it’s been costing the Mint 1.6 cents to produce each penny.

We’ll be in D.C. for a few days in early May when I go there to accept a writing award, and in Arizona and New Mexico in May/June. Our big trip this year will be two weeks in Newfoundland, and I’m eager to finally visit Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO Heritage site since 1987.

I’m dying to visit many more spots, from Japan to Buenos Aires to Croatia, returning to Paris, London and Istanbul, to canoeing in the Arctic. I live to travel and would happily spend almost every spare penny on it. The endless challenge is making enough money to be able to go far away and really relax — when every single minute not working, freelance, means not earning income.

When you go on vacation, where do you like to go?

What do you enjoy doing?

Breathing again: 14 ways to calm down and recharge

In behavior, domestic life, life, travel, urban life, women, work on September 30, 2012 at 12:11 am

My shoulders have dropped. I’m breathing deeply.

I’ve really enjoyed a blessed two-week respite, even while still working at the computer almost every day for a few hours.

These things helped:

Long evenings with dear old friends, people who have known me at 15 or 25 or 40, who remember and pay attention. I love having a long history with people, watching them grow (up) as well. A deeply shared history is comforting to me.

Being outdoors in warm fall sunshine. Went for a really long hike this afternoon at Warsaw Caves, (thanks to Ontario reader Susan F. for her blog’s inspiration!) and loved seeing all the mushrooms, sniffing the pine needles and coming home worn out.

Physical activity. I took my first golf lesson, biked, walked, went to the gym.

– A vigorous 90-minute massage. If I were rich, I’d have a massage every week.

Silence. The only sound at my Dad’s house is the haunting and lovely echo of passing trains.

Taking photos.

– Buying a new mini sketchbook and pocket-size watercolor kit. Remembering to make art.

– Being able to walk into town and to the local cafe. Not driving all the time!

– Making a roaring fire and listening to it crackle, then watching the embers glow. We don’t have a fireplace at home.

Reading for pure pleasure, not work or for staying up to date on all my projects.

Unplugging. Staying off the computer (somewhat!), no TV and severely limiting my consumption of radio, newspapers, magazines and the web.

– But…also listening to the radio in French, Radio-Canada. I really miss hearing and speaking French.

Sleeping  up to 11 a night hours as needed. Plus naps!

– Bathing in a deep cast-iron tub by candlelight.

I’ve loved making a thermos of tea and heading back to bed just to read a good novel; (I never read fiction.) I read “All the Pretty Horses”, Cormac McCarthy’s award-winning 1992 book. It’s amazing.

I’ve also treasured the luxury of a lot of space, a house with two floors, two staircases and four bathrooms, as I live and work in 1,000 square feet at home.

But I’ve really valued silence — deep, thick, uninterrupted silence.

I did an eight-day silent Buddhist retreat with my husband in July 2011, (which I blogged about here, if you’re interested in the details), and it changed me for good. I would never have chosen it — he did! — and the enforced silence was instructive indeed. We communicated by Post-Its, hand signals and a few whispers in our room.

Mostly, though, we just shut the hell up. Here’s my story about the retreat from the  November 2011 issue of Marie Claire magazine.

That time away taught me how much energy it takes just to be social. From the minute we wake up to the minute we fall asleep, most of us are also on a timeline, or many — responding to the needs and schedules of our kids’, our pets’, our partner’s, let alone our own, socially, spiritually, physically and professionally.

So these two weeks, most of it spent quietly alone, have been something of a retreat. (My October is insanely busy, with 10 of 30 nights already booked with social or professional engagements.)

We all need to retreat, rest, relax. Yet it’s radically counter-cultural to just unplug and be alone in silence.

We all spend our days, and our nights, talking/reading/listening/watching/interacting/emailing/tweeting — and wonder why we end up so worn out.

How do you recharge?

Ten important lessons you’ll learn by traveling alone

In behavior, cities, culture, life, travel, urban life, women on July 30, 2012 at 12:01 am
GranBazar Istanbul

GranBazar Istanbul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I enjoyed this column in The New York Times about the distinction between tourist (arguably incurious) and traveler (insatiably so):

For the most fortunate among us, our travels are now routine, devoted mainly to entertainment and personal enrichment. We have turned travel into something ordinary, deprived it of allegorical grandeur…Whatever impels us to travel, it is no longer the oracle, the pilgrimage or the gods…We urgently need to reclaim the etymology of restlessness — “stirring constantly, desirous of action” — to signal our curiosity toward what isn’t us, to explore outside the confines of our own environment. Getting lost isn’t a curse. Not knowing where we are, what to eat, how to speak the language can certainly make us anxious and uneasy. But anxiety is part of any person’s quest to find the parameters of life’s possibilities.

I’m intrigued that every single day — for three years or so — readers of Broadside seek out my post about women traveling alone and whether X place is actually safe.

Kids, nowhere is safe if you’re stupid or careless! If you insist on drinking heavily/drugging/wandering off with total strangers to their (lockable!) home or vehicle and/or at night and/or dressing sluttily, seriously...

Would you take those risks in your home neighborhood?

It’s provincial and dumb to assume X is dangerous only because it’s unknown to you, and “foreign.” You’re missing a whole pile o’ world out there!

I took my first solo flight, from Toronto to Antigua, when I was about seven. I traveled alone through Portugal, Italy, France and Spain for four months when I was 22. Since then, I’ve chosen to be alone in places as far-flung as Istanbul, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia — and Los Angeles.

Ironically, I’ve only been the victim of crime at home, in Toronto, Montreal and suburban New York.

Some lessons I’ve learned you might find helpful as well:

A passport is a mini magic carpet

Once you have it in hand, literally, you can go almost anywhere. I’m still awed by the power of one small document to open the world. Which is maybe one reason I so love (yes) all the Bourne movies, where Jason Bourne always has a collection of passports and identities. So cool!

A current, detailed map is a wondrous tool

I’m old school. I have, and adore, the Times World Atlas, which weighs a bloody ton. I love flipping through it and dreaming about where to go next. I have maps of all sorts of places I haven’t even gone yet, like Morocco, but which allow me to study them at leisure and think about what I’ll do when I get there. Maps offer lots of intriguing possibilities and ideas for exploration.

Don’t play it too safe

Yes, you need to stay healthy and un-molested. But it doesn’t mean sitting at home terrified to leave the cosy and familiar boundaries of your town/state/province/country. Travel to a place that’s really challenging is an excellent way to discover what makes you deeply uncomfortable — and why.

When in Rome….

Do your homework and dress respectfully, paying close attention to local customs and taboos. I didn’t look a man in the eye in rural Portugal for three long, lonely weeks. Nor in Istanbul. I knew the rules, and played by them. There’s no ego battle involved, no need to “prove” that your country’s ideas are better. You’re in their world for a while, and it works just fine for them. In a global economy, we need to remember this, every day.

Dream really big, then find a way to make it happen

My Dad’s current partner is 77 and such an inspiration to me. Just before she met my Dad, she had committed to move to Mongolia and work in the Peace Corps; luckily for all of us, she picked my Dad. There are many avenues to creating, and funding, a domestic or foreign travel adventure: a fellowship, grant, temp on contract jobs, fruit or vegetable or tobacco-picking, farming, volunteer work, missionary work, finding work aboard a freighter or cruise ship, study abroad, au pair jobs.

The world is filled with kindness

Sappy, huh? I would never have seen this as clearly had I not taken the terrifying risks I did to venture off alone. I met some British Reuters reporters in Madrid who suggested I look up their freelancer in Barcelona, a German woman married to a Briton. In my two visits there, she: let me take a bath (it had been months of showers only); lent me her typewriter so I could write and sell some stories; paid for a cab to her home when I was really sick and broke, arriving from Italy by train late at night, and lent me her weekend home. This from someone I barely knew.

Being alone is work

It means you’re the only one in charge of all it: where to go, where to stay, where to eat, when to leave and how to get there. You have to change currencies and languages. If you get sick, you’ll have to find a doctor or hospital or pharmacy and explain the problem — something I’ve done in French and Spanish, sometimes in tears. I once had an allergic reaction, alone in Istanbul, that I thought might kill me; I’d totally forgotten I’m allergic to dust and mold, and had spent a wonderful afternoon looking at old rugs in the Bazaar. Every time the dealer flipped the pile, a cloud of it was filling my nostrils…I could barely breathe or swallow all night. Eating alone, especially in good restaurants, is another challenge; I always take a book or magazine, and I usually sit at the bar, where conversation is easy and often fun.

How capable you are! (or not)

Once we’re on the road of responsible (sigh) adulthood, with student loans and bills and a spouse and/or children, the challenges are often financial and emotional, but routine. Travel, by forcing us into unfamiliar surroundings and dealing with dozens of strangers whose motives we don’t know and may find confusing or opaque, forces us to up our game and sharpen our wits — never a bad thing! Trusting your intuition can save your life. Being resourceful is like lifting weights; you have to actually put things into motion to see results!

Total strangers will really like you

Seems obvious, right? Not if you’re shy or your family or work has been confidence-sapping. I’ve been amazed and delighted and grateful to find, and sometimes keep, friends in the oddest of places, whether standing in a post office line in Antibes or at a conference in Minneapolis or sharing a truck for eight filthy, tiring, crazy days with Pierre, a trucker who spoke not one word of English. I did that journey, from Perpignan to Istanbul, to write about trucking in the EU. We couldn’t shower for eight days, and one day — a sunny, windy day in March in some Romanian or Bulgarian parking lot — I begged him to help me wash my (short) hair, which he did, pouring water from a jug he kept in the cab while I lathered up. It’s been the most life-changing of choices to fling myself into the world and find, every single time, that I am often met with open arms. You don’t need to cart along the usual security blankets and identity markers: the right school(s), family, skin color, cultural preferences or clothing. Just be your best self.

The natural world awaits

Travel by canoe, kayak, dinghy, bike, mo-ped. Lace up your hiking boots. Take binoculars, tent and sleeping bag, backpack, camera, pen, sketchbook, watercolors and your willingness to be there, un-plugged. The happiest five days of my life were a trip I took, alone, to Corsica in June 1995. I rented a mo-ped down at the port in Bastia, and zoomed around La Balagne, the northern end of the island, reveling in the impossibly gorgeous fragrance of sun-warmed maquis, sleeping in lovely small hotels at the sea’s edge, riding (shriek!) through a pelting rainstorm wrapped up in only in a couple of garbage bags. I stopped at the Deserts d’Agriate, gaping in wonder at the moonscape before me. I have no photos. But oh, the memories! Here’s my Wall Street Journal story about it.

Bonus lesson:

Do something you normally do at home, or have always wanted to try, that makes you really happy.

Alone, I took a ballet class  in an 18th-century studio in Paris, a watercolor class in Mexico City, danced to live blues at Harvelle’s, a club in Santa Monica, ate some great barbecue in San Angelo, Texas, bought textiles in Istanbul and went horseback riding — through L.A’s Griffiths Park at sunset, galloping along snowy train tracks in the Eastern Townships and through arroyos near Taos. When you’re out there all alone, it’s comforting to do something familiar that you enjoy, but somewhere new.

Here’s a wise and helpful blog post from a couple who have been traveling fulltime for more than a year, with their seven lessons learned.

Here’s a great essay from a young woman at Salon about her experiences of travel alone, and why (I agree!) every woman must do it.

What’s a solo travel moment you enjoyed?

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