Damon Young: Everyone’s vacationing wrong
Yet this lack of experience is why I’m specifically equipped to say that most of you are bad at it. Because I have no vacation baggage. No nostalgia. No longing for a less complicated time. I’m coming in cold and sober, with fresh eyes to assess you and your vacationing deficiencies.
My first official vacation was to Toronto’s Caribbean Caribana festival in 2002. Since then, I’ve been on vacations to Aruba; Deep Creek Lake, Md.; Erie, Pa.; and three cruises. (I’ve also done hybrid work trips to SXSW in Austin (twice), New Orleans, New York City, London, Los Angeles and many other cities. I don’t count these, though, because either I got paid to go or someone paid for me to go. Only purebred vacations matter.)
The propaganda wing of Big Vacation tells everyone that vacations are these reinvigorating and reforming respites. They’re where Stella got her groove back. Where you can find Parts Unknown. Where you’re supposed to eat, pray and love until you finally forget Sarah Marshall. Unfortunately, I have not enjoyed them the way I’ve been told they should be enjoyed. I usually have a good time, but I’ve had a good time at Arby’s, and no one’s circling their calendars for a week-long stay at an all-inclusive Arby’s next May.
I’ve grappled with this vacation angst for years, questioning why they just never felt great to me, and wondering if a combination of writer person brain worms and PTBD (post-traumatic brokeness disorder) made me unable to truly appreciate them. But then, after talking to several people who share my vacation apathy, I had an epiphany: It’s not my fault. The problem isn’t me. I’ve just been lied to.
A true vacation, to me, is a lack of expectations, for a predetermined period of time, in a desirable place you’ve traveled to. We get the last two parts right. We’re great at finding places on the map and then going there. But when we get there, we tend to bring work with us. And I don’t mean the work from our jobs. But new work. Invented work.
“So, at 9 a.m. we’re meeting the group for breakfast. Then snorkeling lessons at noon. At 3 p.m., I got us on the wait list to spelunk at Cave Satan’s Anus. And I found this cute little restaurant on the top of Mount Death. I got us reservations for 7 p.m., but they said we should plan to get there by 6:30, because wolves.”
“According to Yelp, the six-mile hike up the mountain is so fatiguing that it makes you vulnerable to high-altitude wolf attacks.”
If a vacation is supposed to be an absence of work, replacing home work with the vacation work of over-planning, over-scheduling and over-exerting yourself negates the vacation. You are no longer vacationing. Just doing new work in a different place with a better view. (And wolves.)
I have no vacation baggage. No nostalgia. I’m coming in cold and sober, with fresh eyes to assess you and your vacationing deficiencies.
I am not a vacation fascist. If jam-packing a schedule with activities is what you wish to do with your time away from home, knock yourself out. If this is what brings you pleasure and joy, this is an effective vacation … for you. What I’m saying is that there should be space in vacation culture for people (like me) who want to do nothing. Who like having the option of maybe doing things but might just spend four days butt naked in a hotel bed, eating scallops and bingeing “Barry.” I should not be made to feel bad for wanting to literally watch the paint dry in my room. In fact, I should be lauded. I’m subverting the capitalism-inspired American vacation trope of always having to do something — and the social media-fueled dynamic of nothing mattering unless it’s captured by you and witnessed online — and returning the vacation to its purest form where doing nothing is great.
In fact, in the spirit of this essay, I’m done writing now. Goodbye!