These days I don’t like saying that I am taking a vacation or going on holiday.
Firstly, these days, there is the expectation that if we go on vacation or a holiday, we are necessarily going somewhere. Taking a vacation means vacating our home to some other place, regular or exotic. Going on holiday serves as an escape from the daily and domestic.
The further away we are from our home, the more different our daily schedule differs from the usual; the more of a vacation or holiday it is. Taking a vacation and going on a holiday are collocations so closely associated with leisure travel they have become similes for it.
When I say I am going on a holiday but staying home, I feel pitied. As if staying at home was a waste of vacation time. As if I am not making the most of it. So strong is the association between holidays and travel.
That brings me to my second reason. I resent the way our holidays are shaped to conform to the present economic paradigm: treating it as a scarce moment that we should be productive about. Productivity implies value. The presence of value injects an economic dimension into how we vacation. The economic dimension demands that we get as much ’value’ out of our holiday as possible.
How do we get a sense of value? By seeing, doing and accomplishing as much as possible. Visiting recommended must-see places, documenting places visited, food eaten and people met, purchasing must-buy souveniers, spending exotic food and drink, and so on. The highlights ought to be carefully curated and shared on social media, of course, if not it didn’t happen.
If we did not do all that in addition to going somewhere, we would not have wrung full value of the vacation ‘experience’. This idea of maximizing our holidays results in the commodification of our vacation. It changes the efforts we invest in our holidays to a different kind of work. During holidays, we ‘work’ just as hard to enjoy and get ‘full value’ out of our holidays as we do work. Which is ironic.
Lately, I prefer to say I am taking time out instead of taking a holiday or going on vacation. Because to me, taking time out is about not going anywhere. It is not to escape the mundane, domestic and daily but to broaden and deepen my experience of it. And the only way to do that well is to waste my time, to not spend it productively ticking off a list of things to do.
So taking time out is to savour the opportunity of not being productive, to be frivolous with my time. It is to bask in the luxury of spending time unproductively and not telling anyone about it. It is to let the day pass by unaccounted for, unrecorded and unfettered by work appointments. It is to resist the fear of missing out and do the things I really want to do, instead of feeling beholden to do.
Taking time out means I have more time to spend on things I couldn’t do on a regular working day. I can take my children to the mall during the day. I can spend more time with my family at meals. I can hang out with my friends. I can hit the malls on weekdays, avoiding the weekend crowds. I always find it fascinating to observe the type of people that can hang out at malls during weekdays.
It also means I have more time to do things I ordinarily wouldn’t. If I spend half an hour to forty-five minutes reading a book on a working day, during a time out, I can spend two to three hours. If I spend fifteen to twenty minutes at breakfast with my wife before I head to work, on a time out, I spend a full hour and run errands with her after instead. On a working week, I count my time to write in minutes; during a time out, I can spend hours.
In doing so, taking time out allows me to experience and savour the ‘other life’ i.e., the life I may have lived if I didn’t spend it working for most of the day. That experience allows me space and time to recalibrate my thoughts, approach and expectations of life.
Not going anywhere during a time out allows me to deepen my experience of the mundane. It blesses me with opportunities and material to turn the mundane into magical moments. I have more time to observe, appreciate and savour my existence and that of others.
These days, a meaningful vacation or holiday for me is time and opportunity to savour life’s offerings deeply, and meaningfully; to delight in the company of people I like, and without having to feel the need to be going here and there and documenting it to feel productive about the whole enterprise.
A holiday is not meant to be productive, but to savour the need not to be productive.