Fields rolled out before me in undulating waves of emerald green. Lambs quite literally frolicked in my path. I was in England and I was on vacation. It was the spring of 2009. I had no deadlines, no pressing assignments, no phone interviews scheduled. I have not seen the likes of it since.
I’m going on well over five years without a real vacation. I can trace the start of this trend to exactly when I became a full-time freelancer. I tell myself it’s just part of the freelancing lifestyle…and it is. In exchange for working at home and having clients I’m thrilled to write and edit for, I have to give up some things. Like vacations. My contracts don’t have time-off clauses. If I’m not working, I don’t get paid.
I’ve done some traveling since 2009, but my work always travels with me. I pack it up right alongside my portable pillow and extra socks. I journeyed to California with my mother to visit family. I worked the whole time. I drove Route 66 to Chicago with my husband. My articles and deadlines rode along in a laptop in the back seat. I checked and answered my email from a cellular-enabled tablet when I wasn’t driving. I sat up in the evenings in kitschy motel rooms and typed away as neon glowed through the front window.
There’s a reason why vacations are such an ingrained part of our modern workplace vernacular. They’re supposed to be a time to get away, to recharge and refresh yourself so you can come back stronger and plunge back into your work with new vigor. But if you can’t ever really get away from it all, then you have to find other ways to achieve this sense of renewal.
As much as I loathe the term “staycation,” there’s something to be said for stealing a day, or even just part of a day, for yourself. I take the occasional Friday off. Usually, that means just a Friday afternoon. Even if I’ve only managed to relocate into the kitchen to get away from my home office, I make sure to spend that time working on an important for-me project, like writing a series of (as yet unpublished) mystery novels with my mother or making habanero-raspberry jam. Or both. Turns out these two activities go quite well together.
When I do travel, I let my clients know in advance and often I work out a reduced workload during that time. It’s a matter of striking a balance between giving me time to explore or relax and setting aside enough writing time to keep a decent flow of articles and assignments moving along.
At this point, I’m not sure what I would do with a real vacation. If I truly had no deadlines and nothing to turn in, I would probably get antsy, check my email gratuitously, generate headlines in my head and feel my fingertips dance across the QWERTY line-up on a ghost keyboard.
I sometimes feel wistful about my days on staff at a magazine, with vacation time accruing. But I wouldn’t trade the cat on my lap, the home office and my freelance work turning out stories about 3D-printed dog prosthetics and comet landings for anything else. If it means my vacations are all working vacations, then I’m okay with letting the hum of car wheels on the highway and the creaking of a train on the tracks meld with the clicking of my keyboard.