Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Living Life in Vacation Mode

I've taken on a new Life Purpose.  Or should I say I've returned to an old one?

"To live life like a child:  to delight in learning something new every day, to treat each person as special, and to share myself without reserve."

One powerful way of waking myself up to this possibility is asking myself the question:  How can I live in "vacation mode" all the time?

I doubt that vacation mode is everyone's key to the Good Life, but it always has been for me.  As much as I've enjoyed the rest of life, my most exciting times have been on vacation, or planning for one, or recalling one.

For me, a vacation is not a time to lie around a pool with a drink in my hand.  I like to do things on holidays:  learn a foreign language – I'm conversant in three so far – get trained in orienteering in the Queensland rainforest – memorable! – or bike from Venice to Florence – coming up this year.

While creating my all too brief 2010 holiday plan, I took on a project to see if I could bring more of holiday mode into everyday living.  So I'm looking for the holiday differentiators:  what works on vacation, and could it work the rest of the time?  I've come up with a few so far.

Do only one good thing every day.

I learned this one a number of years ago when my wife and I took sabbaticals and spent half a year slowly wandering around Costa Rica with our two boys, then nine and twelve.  We moved base every week or three, and spent the time exploring the vicinity, largely by bus and on foot.  During our first month or two, we often planned to experience two destinations in a single outing.  Good project managers that we were, we thought we were being efficient with our time-and-motion studies.  Eventually we learned that we got more out of each excursion if we didn't plan a second stop.  Instead of keeping one eye on a watch, and sometimes missing a great opportunity because we had somewhere else to get to, we could really enjoy our single focus.  If an opportunity opened up, we were free to pursue it.  Some of our best adventures happened this way.  So we made it our holiday rule to try to do only one thing a day.  And to make it a good one.

Talk to people for no reason.

Until recently, I hadn't seen how crucial this was to holiday mode.  During day-to-day life, most of my conversations are about getting something done:  work is full of task-focused talk;  home life conversation is often about chores or finances or kids;  even interactions while out are often centered around commercial transactions.  But on holidays, I just talk to people because they're sitting next to me.  Or just to "practice my Spanish", another excuse to talk for no reason.  Even talking to my wife or my family on vacation is often richer;  we took to planning a holiday with the boys because we knew we'd end up talking more than we do at home.  Now when I'm on vacation, I make a conscious point of talking to more people more of the time for no reason.

Live with less material stuff.

I've got a great home and it's full of useful things, things that mean something to me, fascinating books, great music, computers, coffee-makers, clothes for all seasons, and even mementos of various vacations.  Still, there's something liberating about leaving it all behind.  When we went to Costa Rica, we ended our lease and put the entire contents of the house in storage.  Four large bags for four people was all we took for six months away.  Then, twice in the first two months, we shed half of it;  some we only picked up again on our way home.  For four months, we lived out of two bags, and had a great time.  Now we're going to see if we can do three weeks in Italy with only a carry-on bag each.  I feel "enlightened" just thinking about it.  There are compensations for traveling with less stuff.

Go outside even when the weather isn't cooperating.

When I'm sitting at home, and it's raining, or perhaps just cool and overcast, it's tempting to put off heading outside.  The couch beckons, ... or the computer.  On holiday, I don't let the weather keep me inside.  A vacation is too short to wait a day for the sun to shine.  Ignoring the bad weather pays off.  It's rarely as bad as you expect – and if it is, then it's bad enough to be exciting.  Like getting caught in a downpour, or fighting a gale.  Or experiencing a thunderstorm first hand, one of my favourite vacation pastimes even as a young child – when the weather was cooperating.

Travel with friends and family that you enjoy being with.

That's another holiday principle that should have been obvious.  I plan vacations with people I like.  That's one reason I love vacation time.  If I'm holidaying with strangers, I leave the plan loose enough that we could part ways if we had to.  So far, I can't recall ever needing to.  Even an obnoxious stranger can be easier to take when you're traveling with friends and family whose company you enjoy.

Have sex any time of the day.

Somehow, this seems to be more likely on a holiday.  Must be something about being open to the current moment.  Or not trying to do too much in one day.  Or having less stuff to worry about.  Or going out in the rain.  Or traveling with someone you really love being with.

So now I have my assignment.  From now until my next scheduled vacation, can I be content to do one good thing every day?  Talk to people for no reason?  Live with less stuff?  Go outside even when the weather isn't cooperating?  Spend more time with people I like?  Enjoy some afternoon delight?

Sounds like a vacation to me!


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