There are many different forms of vacation available to us that often end up not feeling like a vacation at all. For those of us living in New York away from home, we tend to use our annual vacation days to fly home, more often than not for Christmas.
While I can’t speak for everyone, I know I’m not alone in thinking that particular trip doesn’t feel like much of a vacation at all.
Going home can be more hectic than being here. There’s tons of people to see, places to visit, groups of family and friends to catch up with, all in a short space of time while cramming in a string of traditions that can’t be given up in the place of a little relaxation.
The pace of life here can be so insane, and so fast, that we don’t realize how overwhelmed we are at any given moment in time. We become accustomed to five or six hours sleep, to buying small amounts of groceries because we tend to need to eat out more often than not, to doing laundry only when we have run out of every single clean garment.
We get so used to leaving the house in the morning and not getting back until 12 hours later that we forget we’re only supposed to be gone for eight. We find it so normal to come home and instantly fall into bed, we forget that there’s supposed to be something called “down time.” We become so attached to our laptops and phones that our eyes stop taking in what’s surrounding our screens.
What I find most common, especially among my generation, is the inability to entirely switch off, to willingly go off the grid, turn off all screens, and actually take time off work. To not check emails “just in case,” to not set up an “out of office” even if it’s just for a day or a long weekend, and to do so without feeling guilty. We become so addicted to being at work, being available to work and being fully ON, that we forget the importance of switching off.
This weekend, for my 27th birthday, I went upstate with three friends in order to switch off, even if it was just for three days. We set about finding a cabin in the woods, ideally one where, from inside looking out, you could only see trees and snow. We settled on a tiny town right outside New Paltz which was remote enough without being six hours north of the city, and packed our bags.
As is always the case with going upstate, the drive north is one the part where you start to feel the grip of the city slip away. As you start to see buildings and highways fall off the skyline, the horizon is suddenly replaced with trees and farmland that strangely reminds you of home. The cityscape rapidly becomes the countryside, the air begins to clear and your eyes adjust to seeing things without the lens of city smog.
With our boots crunching through the snow, and sun pouring through our wooded surroundings, we arrived at a beautiful renovated barn at midday on Saturday afternoon, and barely moved a mile for the next three days. Laptops were left behind, and phones were only used to let our parents know we were alive, and take photos of what unfolded around us.
We were in apple orchard country, blessed with late spring weather, in a small 1800s town that was covered in a sparkling blanket of snow. It was the perfect place to unwind, to fill our lungs with fresh air, to sit underneath what felt like an Alpine sun, and to fall in love with the feeling of standing very, very still.
Over the course of the weekend, we took short walks to various farms and vantage points overlooking valleys of apple orchards. Rows and rows of spiked, gnarly apple trees, bare and glittering with frost, lined the landscape that was dotted with picture perfect houses, and that rumbled with industrious trucks motoring softly through the winding roads.
Our conversation took on a similar sense of being outside the real world. No one mentioned he-who-shall-not-be-named, and no one was subjected to that feeling we’ve all had for months of waking up in the morning and checking your phone underneath the safety of your blankets to see what he has done next. Almost as an unsaid courtesy to each other, we just didn’t mention him at all.
And yes, it’s important to be informed and aware, but when it becomes so draining, tiring, and emotionally exhausting, the joy of checking out of political discussions for a few days is not something I expected to be looking forward to so much.
We talked about families, futures, hopes and aspirations. We talked about times we had been in towns similar to the one in which we were staying, how nice it must be to settle out of the city, interesting places we had traveled to or seen, places we would still like to travel to and see. We barely even touched on the dreaded topic of romantic life, but stayed on topics of interest and ease.
Coming back to the city last night, we reluctantly packed up our few belongings -- having only traveled with simple clothes and no cosmetics or fancy attire -- and rolled back out of the tumbling hills of the orchards, and into the glowing skyscape of the city. I got the same, familiar buzz that I always do when I come back to New York, a buzz that feels like a congratulatory reward for being able to survive, and in fact thrive here at all.
But with it was a sense of being ready to tackle it from a new perspective -- from a place of rest, refreshment and rejuvenation -- a sense that I didn’t have after two weeks back in Ireland. It made me realize, once again, the importance of taking a real vacation, even if it’s just a couple of days.
There is an undeniable importance in taking a real vacation from your work life, your home life, your family life, all of it. I know I’ll be taking this kind of a break -- and again, and again -- and I recommend we all do the same.