Should Creatives Go On Vacation?

I’ve never been one for going on vacation.

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A glance at this family artifact says as much — my brother with an adorable grin; me, sour.

It wasn’t the wind in my face, the sun in my eyes, or the sand in my suit: I just wanted to go home. Home to the midwest. To my boring, regular life.

My parents begged me to relax. To enjoy the time away from stress and tedium. But how was sitting on the beach any different? It was its own little microcosm of monotony. I felt like I was delaying the inevitable. Putting off for tomorrow what could have been done today.

Going on vacation, setting aside time to “check out,” felt deliberately negligent. I was avoiding the important things I would eventually have to take care of anyway (those important things 10-year-olds must do). So why bother in the first place?

As I get older, vacation time becomes increasingly scarce, and thus, increasingly valuable. With just two weeks a year to get away (for the foreseeable, working future), I have to make those days count. At least, that’s what my girlfriend, an unapologetic travel-lover, tells me.
Given the choice, I’d most likely throw away my 10 free days at home. Doing stuff around the house, running errands, drinking coffee, writing, playing video games. Boring stuff. Simple pleasures. That feels like vacation — doing what I like to do while the rest of the world is busy working.
But I’m writing this article 30,000 feet above the Atlantic, after spending an exciting, action-packed week in Berlin and Amsterdam. A week of picturesque canals (and nearly getting run over by bicycles). A week of history (the fall of the Berlin Wall still feels recent in Germany). A week of walkable cities and public transportation (something we’re sorely lacking in the midwest). And a week of currency that just makes sense (different bill sizes and colors for differing monetary values). So much for staying home. For simple pleasures. For boring stuff.

I’ve always heard that creative people need to travel: to experience new cultures, get outside their comfort zone, and come home refreshed and ready to tackle new projects. But I’ve also heard that creative people need a routine and habits in order to be productive and consistent.

These two pieces of advice don’t play nice.

Vacation is the absence of routine. To fully embrace its restorative power, you have to stop thinking about your creative work. Otherwise, what kind of vacation is it? You’ll either spend the whole thing working — carrying out your routine in a new setting — or not working (and stressing about what’s not getting done).

It’s the trap I found myself in this past week.

I did my best to embrace the mentality I rejected in my youth — to be fully present and enjoy a new experience. To try not to worry about the work I was deliberately ignoring. To consciously not write this blog post until I got onto the airplane.

And for the most part, I was successful. Almost too successful. So much so that I considered not writing this article at all. I thought about reposting something old, writing something less substantive, or making an excuse involving vacation and labor day.

It didn’t come to that, but the fact that it almost did is troubling. I’ve written a new blog post for 117 weeks in a row, and nine days out of my typical creative routine almost undid it all.

Some creatives can spend time away and come home fresh, excited to take on new projects. I’ll be coming home happy but exhausted (and ready for a vacation from my vacation). We were so busy exploring everything the two cities had to offer that there was little time, energy, or space left for creativity.

I’ve discovered that routine gives me energy. Travel expends it. Both are important aspects of the creative process.

It reminds me of Newton’s first law of motion. When I’m in motion, I’ll stay in motion. When I’m at rest, I’ll stay at rest. It’s just the kind of creator I am.

And knowing that, I’ll be sure to give myself a little push on the way home.


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