The art of the do-nothing vacation

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Welcome to The Upgrade, By The Way’s series on travel hacks and hot takes.

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Corporate life is exceptionally noisy. Before most keyboard warriors begin the workday, we’re getting our daily download of podcasts, playlists and drive-time radio. Then you take your seat, and your phone starts buzzing before there’s time to crack your knuckles. Here come the emails, the chats and the meetings - so many meetings.

No one would argue that a desk job is hard on the body. But your brain is another story. When your mental RPMs are close to the redline, you need to get away, ideally to a place where very few decisions are required. That’s why I practice the do-nothing vacation.

In its ideal form, the do-nothing vacation takes place on a faraway beach, the lapping of waves replacing the ping of electronic devices. That soothing sound will be your only tether to reality while you get lost in a book for hours. Your phone is stowed away in a bedside drawer. Periodically you may dip in the sea. The shirts are linen. The drinks are rum. The soundtrack is steel drums.

When your mind is not occupied with deliverables, you’re free to contemplate existential questions. What am I doing? Where am I going? Can I get a little umbrella in my cocktail?

The do-nothing vacation is not about being a bore, ignoring local culture or rejecting adventure for the rest of your days. It’s about giving yourself the time and space for a mental reset. Don’t call it laziness; call it wellness.

Besides, travel planning is too much like work now. I enjoy mocking up an itinerary prospectus as much as the next person with control issues. But there are no documents in the cloud allowed on the do-nothing vacation. You should not require a Power Point presentation to decide on a restaurant.

When you’re traveling somewhere new to you, you may feel compelled to see and do it all. This can be exhilarating, exhausting and inevitably disappointing, because you can do only so much. Something is bound to go wrong. A seasoned traveler expects this turbulence and recovers quickly. But by doing nothing, you’ve removed opportunities to spiral, preventing yourself from becoming your own worst enemy. It’s admirable to appreciate the Acropolis in person. It’s also likely hot, crowded and stressful.

All-inclusive resorts were built for the do-nothing vacation. But it doesn’t really matter how far you’re willing to go or what you’re willing to spend. Want to do nothing? You’re in.

Not a beach person? How about a snowed-in cabin with a roaring fireplace? No budget for travel? Hot summer days were made for doing nothing except curling up in bed with a pile of pulpy thrillers.

This will not be a group trip, because coordinating around friends and family will cause the cortisol to flow. Honeymoons are just the ticket for the do-nothing vacation. The couple that does nothing together, stays together.

If you can’t bring yourself to do nothing, you may permit yourself some physical movement, as long as you’re not logging into a device or hopping on a conference call. Approved activities for the do-nothing vacation include long walks, bodysurfing, bike rides, hacky sack and horse shoes.

If the idea of the do-nothing vacation makes you twitch with FOMO, know this: When you’re done doing nothing, all of your obligations, office gossip and social media discourse will be waiting to greet you as soon as you get back.

Everyone will ask, “How was it?” Then you can look wistfully in the distance and say “Great!” Because you did nothing. And it was just what you needed.

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