The Vacation Un-Wrapped

It was a year or so after my brother and brother-in-law had died. I had stopped drinking and dealt with my health problems. I still had some time off work, so I decided to take a trip. I packed up my gear and left on a ten-week solo motorcycle odyssey through the eastern and southern United States, and down through Mexico and Central America — seven countries before returning home to Ontario. I could write a book about my experiences and perhaps I will someday.

For present purposes, what is important is that during those long hours of riding I did a major reassessment of my life. I didn’t do it intentionally, and wasn’t even conscious of it. But I was much better prepared for the massive changes of the ensuing years: the departure of my spouse, my kids growing up and leaving home, leaving my secure job and moving to Ottawa.

A few years later — new spouse, stepchildren, new career — life was good again. We took a three-week family vacation, leaving our work, house renovations and all the normal hustle and bustle behind. We didn’t even think about that stuff while we were away, and we had a great family time.

But the day I started back to work I knew instantly that I would be leaving my job. Three months later I was in a new job. Within the year, my wife too had left her job and was back at University. Eight months later we moved again, and I started a new business in Toronto.

Six years later I took a nine-day solo vacation. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I knew something was afoot. This time, it was a spiritual transformation.

Others have shared similar stories of unexpected change and transformation during or following a vacation.

What do these various vacations have in common? They share several characteristics we can learn from.

1. Each vacation was undertaken with an intention to get away from the day-to-day and just enjoy ourselves. We had no plan to ponder problems, plan future work or rehash issues.

2. The vacations were made up of present-time activities. I was there, present with the road, not mentally back at work. Or we were having family fun, without thinking about the future or the past.

3. The vacations were entered with no intended outcome beyond getting away and doing something enjoyable and fun. There was no intention, for example, to come up with a five-year plan or to heal old wounds.

So why did vacations with no intended outcome, no discussion of change, and generally no analytical thought, lead to such profound change?

The answer is in the question. Profound changes occurred precisely because there was no thought, discussion or intention other than being present and enjoying the vacation.

At your core you know what you need for you. Underneath all the hustle and bustle, you know what you need as a couple. The paradox is that you cannot get your answers by pursuing them. Life changes are not a matter of analysis. They are of a deeper, more spiritual nature.

You cannot force answers to those deeper questions about life. You can only allow them to come. But the vacation as I’ve described it — present time fun, no analysis, and no intended outcome — is the perfect venue for letting answers to life’s big questions emerge on their own time.

And that is why vacations can be so rejuvenating.