A change is as good as a rest, or so we are told. The time I spend in San Miguel de Allende each winter is proof of this: I work while I am there, but the change of pace, beautiful scenery, agreeable weather and a different cultural setting bring me home feeling restored and full of energy to continue working.
My work is intense, in both subject matter and quantity. For most of the year, I spend four to five days a week on the road. I usually work six days a week, often for more than 10 hours a day. I say this not to sound selfless: I love my work and have trouble tearing myself away from it.
I always slow down in the summer, with very little work travel and shorter work days. We sometimes rent a cottage for a couple of weeks, so all our kids and grandkids can come together, but we like time at home, too. My partner is a gardener and, for me, summer is the perfect time to cook with all the fresh, local food that surrounds us.
However, staying at home or even renting a cottage means I don’t really take a break from my work, so this year we decided to go on a road trip. It would be a true holiday; two weeks away from home, work and other responsibilities.
As we planned our trip, I contemplated what it would feel like to be out of touch with my work for so long. I decided that, even though anyone emailing me would receive an automatic response that I was on vacation, I would check once a day just so I would not be overwhelmed by a brimming inbox upon my return. But no work, I told myself and my partner.
I let colleagues know well in advance that I would be away, wrapped up essential work and made a to-do list for my return, then set about packing in earnest.
One of the problems with travelling by car is that it is too easy to toss in everything you think you could possibly need, so by the time we left home a little over a week ago, our car was packed tight with gear.
That gear, I have to admit, secretly included some work. What if, I reasoned to myself, we hit bad weather and were confined to our quarters for days on end? What if I got bored with the books, magazines, games and other activities I had brought along? What if, what if, what if.
The first two days, I was attached to my phone. Sure, I was using it to research possible travel attractions and to check on the weather ahead of us, but I was also staying in touch with work colleagues. My excuse was that we were awaiting news about a grant, but even once I read the good news email about that, I found myself answering other work correspondence.
All of that came to an abrupt stop when we arrived at our day three destination – a cabin in a national park where we were booked to stay for two days and nights – to discover there was no internet access.
Oh well, I thought, what’s a couple of days without the internet? After all, I told myself, I am on holiday. Nothing is so important that it can’t wait for a few days.
Those thoughts carried me through the first evening and night, but by the next morning, I was on the side of the highway, desperate to find even a fleeting connection to the outside world. My lack of success made me a very unpleasant companion for the next few hours, as I was forced to admit to myself and my partner the extent of my dependence on the internet and the resulting constant connection to my work.
A hike, both longer and more arduous than it sounded in the guide book, (or perhaps the constant swatting of blackflies and mosquitoes) helped clear my head. By the time we returned to our cabin, I was content to turn to my book for a few hours in the afternoon and then to be thoroughly trounced at dominoes by my partner.
Over the next few days, I became increasingly relaxed about not connecting with work. My work email checks have been limited to half an hour once a day. I have found myself sleeping better and longer, with fewer fretful hours awake in the middle of the night. I have been content to move at a slower pace than usual. There seems to be plenty to do each day without my needing to pull out the work I brought along.
However, if we hit a rainy day or two . . . . .