For a Glowing Vacation, Pull the Plug

Villasimius, Sardinia (Italy) last summer

I have a memory of our vacation to Italy last year that is so embarrassing it makes me both laugh and cringe.

It was a trip to celebrate the end of Enrico’s long medical training.  We had just bought our house, and we had jumped through all sorts of hoops so that Enrico could go back home before starting his new job.

We went to Sardinia, a huge island north of Sicily known for its beautiful beaches. Because Enrico’s mother was born there, the trip was kind-of like a celebration, a pilgrimmage, and a family reunion rolled into one. Looking back, it’s not the cost that I regret. It’s that we didn’t enjoy the vacation to the fullest.  Basically we didn’t act like Italians.

We brought our laptop. During nap times, Enrico and I took turns lugging the heavy hand-me-down laptop down the hill to the main building where we could get online.  We checked emails, I wrote blog posts, Enrico dealt with some paperwork issues.  But it gets worse. We took the laptop to the beach.

Enrico likes to read the news online, so I wasn’t totally taken aback when he wanted to bring the computer to the shore. But then we decided to take a walk along the beach.  The morning sun cast a peachy light, and the bleached sand and ancient tumbled rock promised peace and discovery.

We were the only ones in the family at the beach that early, and Enrico didn’t feel we could leave the computer there, so he put it in its gray padded carrying case and brought it along. The ridiculousness of this act didn’t totally hit me until later into our walk, and here is where I hang my head in smiling shame.

The water was warm and serene so he kept getting deeper and deeper as we walked toward a lighthouse in the distance. At one point I looked over at him and he was holding the computer case by its short handle just above the licks of the waves, like a briefcase.

What Italian in their right mind — what human, for that matter — would carry a computer in the Mediterranean Sea?  At the time I may have worried about the electronic equipment, but now I worry more about the brain equipment.

Me, holding a sleeping Luke at the beach last year

And not just his.  I was just as guilty of not taking a real vacation — even though we were paying for it.  It’s true that just five days before we had moved our family across four states.  It would have been very difficult for me to pre-write enough blog posts and freelance articles to fill that three-week vacation, but I didn’t even try.  I just trudged along as if I had no control over my life.

To be sure, I didn’t see writing as a burden.  In fact, I love what I do, but I now realize how important it is — if even just once a year — to take a complete break from normal daily life and from work.

For so many of us, that daily life is increasingly dominated by electronics.  I’m an at-home mom and a part-time blogger, but I spend several hours a day on the computer, and as my career has grown, my work has seeped into evenings, weekends, even vacations.

So when our week-long trip to meet Enrico’s family in the Dominican Republic was looming, I decided it would be good for me to power down.  It had been longer than I could remember that I spent a week without email, writing deadlines, online news, social media blips and pings, and the constant bombardment of new material to read and process.  Yet . . . why?  As Tim Kreider points out in must-read The Busy Trap, I definitely don’t have one of those essential jobs that are performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book.

Getting my work done ahead of time, and not sneaking into the business center at the hotel, took discipline. But then again so do most good things in life, as I was reminded by re-reading one of my favorite books, The Road Less Traveled.  My reward for giving up the Internet — which had become like a life-jacket for a good swimmer, an indulgent crutch — was huge.

Not only did I fully experience each moment with my husband, my children, my relatives who we see so rarely, but I felt a deep sense of relaxation.  And here is what I had forgotten about living without screens and work — I was given mental and emotional clarity.  Instead of laboring over answers, they came to me.  Big ones, like what life pursuits and actions would make me look back on my life with satisfaction and not regret.

I think this is because when we silence the constant buzz of busyness — whatever form that takes for each of us — we allow the important stuff to rise up.  It’s as if, instead of treading water to stay alive, we stop, lie back, and float.  We look up at the stars. We mute the world through the water, and we listen to our own breathing.

So if you’re feeling at an impasse and you don’t know where to go, if you want to make a change in your life but you don’t know what, if you’re feeling like your life has gotten too frenetic but you’re not feeling fulfilled, then take those questions with you.  But just be.

And especially if you’re a little intense and ambitious, or if the idea of leaving your [favorite digital device] at home feels like giving up wine for a week (ahem), then you need the respite the most.  And don’t think you’re slacking.  Great writers have been known to get their best stuff done while taking long walks, far from their typewriters, because creativity is fueled by daydreaming, by looking at one thing and seeing another.

This morning I am taking the kids to visit my parents in southern Ohio, and that’s just what I am going to do.  I have a few posts scheduled, but don’t let that fool you.  I’m really playing with my children, taking naps, reading books, and taking long walks.

Last year. Petting one of the two animals left on the farm. The other is a cat named Coco.

I know I’ll come back with more insights and more hope.  And I’ll feel good about having really been in the moment with my family.  For having really experienced, as fully as my busy mind can, my trip home.

I hope you can afford to pull the plug sometime this summer, over the weekend, or even for just a few hours. You won’t regret it.

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  • Joseff May 12, 2014, 11:13 am

    I really am looking forward to have a vacation like this. I value my family especially my kids so much and I enjoy every moment I have with them. A vacation with the whole family is definitely a perfect time to enjoy every single moment with them to share everything to them about what really life is. I’m glad I read this post, it inspired me a lot. Thanks for sharing this!

  • cassandra goode March 8, 2014, 12:45 am

    You can never underestimate the sheer joy of truly being present in the moment. We only get so many of them — really important to pay attention to each one. I personally LOVE taking a break from my real life when on vacation; I think it’s critical for letting me be my best self. Thanks for reminding us about this.

    • Amy March 11, 2014, 10:23 am

      Hi Cassandra,

      You’re right — it really is about being present in our reality, instead of looking somewhere else for something more exciting.

      Take care,

  • Kyle August 23, 2012, 12:29 pm

    It’s hard to do because of the way that most people live their lives now-a-days. But let me tell you that there is nothing more free then unplugging just for a few days from the world. Does your mind and body some good!

    • Amy September 5, 2012, 1:00 pm

      Hi Kyle,

      I agree — it’s a mind and body, and soul, experience. And yes, it is harder to do nowadays, but that makes it even more important that we do.

      Take care,

  • Christine August 7, 2012, 1:11 pm

    I just found your site and I love it! Can’t wait to read more…It is such a relief to know that others share the same values. I also have enjoyed reading the comments. I look forward to more posts!

    • Amy September 5, 2012, 12:59 pm

      Dear Christine,

      I’m so happy you found us, and that you are on the same wavelength! I agree that it is so reassuring when you find someone saying the same things you have always thought, but maybe never vocalized, because you thought you were the only one.

      I’m sorry it’s taken me a while to get caught up on comments after my vacation and back-to-school. Normally I’m much faster in responding, and I hope you will continue to stop in and say hello when the spirit moves you.


  • Clare@doingitsimply August 6, 2012, 7:57 pm

    One of the most memorable times we ‘unplugged’ was on our honeymoon nearly 10 years ago. A good friend of ours lives in a rural area just on the outskirts of our city and she was going away for a week the day after our wedding and offered us her house for a bit of a break. The first night there we ordered in pizza and watched TV and for some reason I just found myself getting more and more annoyed! The next morning I suggested to my husband that we should go for a drive for the day, without taking any CD’s or turning the radio on in the car, and just let ourselves enjoy the countryside and each others company. At the end of that day we felt so at peace! We didn’t put the TV on again while we were there, and we didn’t even put the stereo on (we’re music teachers, for us that was BIG!) and, in fact, we extended our stay by two days because we were enjoying the peace so much! We haven’t done an unplug of this scale since, but we try to apply the same principal in small doses during our week if we are starting to feel stressed out or overwhelmed (but not at the moment! Too many exciting Olympic moments! There may be a great unplug after that though…). Thank you for writing about this subject Amy and I hope you have a relaxing break!

    • Amy September 5, 2012, 12:57 pm

      Dear Clare,

      I loved hearing about your honeymoon, which by the way, sounded very frugal (staying in someone’s house, and all).

      I was intrigued that you even decided to turn off music. Radio yes, because the commercials are annoying, but CDs too. I can see how restful and ear-opening it must have been to start tuning your senses into the music of nature, the sound of wind rushing past the car, and obviously, the sound of each other’s voices.

      On our trip home, my husband and I talked almost the whole time, and it was great. We don’t often have that intimate space to communicate, learn about each other, and figure things out together.

      Thank you for this reminder,

  • Sara Tetreault August 6, 2012, 1:23 pm

    Amy, I love the visual of your husband carrying the laptop along with you on the beach! Honestly, it makes all the difference in a vacation if you can be unplugged and present. There’s a huge difference in our interaction level when kid’s aren’t texting and parents aren’t checking e-mail, etc. I like the break while on vacation and I”m glad you’re taking one. Safe travels and enjoy the time off! :)

    • Amy September 5, 2012, 12:53 pm

      Dear Sara,

      You were the one who inspired me to take the unplugged break! When I saw that you were leaving your laptop at home when you went on your 3-week trip to Spain with your family, I was impressed. For a blogger who posts every day, that is such a huge feat that I knew you must have thought it was worth it. And you were very right!

      Thank you for having the courage to show the way,

  • Sharon August 6, 2012, 10:17 am

    Amy, I love this post (am a huge fan of yours!).. When I booked a cottage at the beach this summer, I purposely picked a place without wifi or TV..with a teenager and 5 yr old (and myself, to be perfectly honest), we needed to be unplugged..everyone had cell phones but they were minimally used..we had great days at the beach, lots of game nights (we love board games and brought 5 or 6)..really wonderful family time!!

    • Amy September 5, 2012, 12:51 pm

      Hi Sharon,

      You were so smart to find a cottage that was not not hooked up. I think they are harder and harder to find these days — so much so that some of the most expensive hotel rooms are the ones that DON’T have Wifi. Funny that we’ve gotten to that point.

      I love that you all really enjoyed your screen-free time with beach play, games nights, and lots of together time. It’s so restorative for us individually and as families.

      Thank you for sharing your story,

  • Stefanie August 4, 2012, 11:07 pm

    You can never underestimate the sheer joy of truly being present in the moment. We only get so many of them — really important to pay attention to each one. I personally LOVE taking a break from my real life when on vacation; I think it’s critical for letting me be my best self. Thanks for reminding us about this.

    • Amy August 4, 2012, 11:10 pm

      Dear Stefanie,

      Thank you for further encouragement to take a break, from someone who clearly knows what she’s talking about. I like hearing your perspective — about being your best self. I couldn’t agree more!

      Thank you for telling us,