Traveling to Just Be
I let out a big sigh, one that is out of gratification, rather than frustration, as I lay the book I'm reading on my chest and lean my head back on the chaise lounge. I reach out for my iPhone, but then pull my hand back before I've had time to do anything more than see what time it is (and read that it's over-heating). I follow this cycle for the next couple hours, not out of necessity, nor boredom, but rather out of habit. "Sir, do you need something?", a young woman holding a notepad and tray asks me. "Yes, as a matter of fact. Two more rum and Cokes." I let out another big sigh, but don't reach for my phone this time, but rather just lie my head back, taking this moment in, the sound of crashing waves, the smell of Hawaiian Tropic lotion, the sight of sailboats cruising by, the feel of sand between my toes, and the taste of salty air in my mouth (coupled with the lingering taste of rum).
By day three, I've learned to leave my phone behind in my hotel room altogether. No one needs me. There's not something that I'm missing out on. There's not a problem that I can solve that can't wait. As far as I'm concerned, it's just me and this beach on the Caribbean island of Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos. The trip, just a few weeks ago, is the third of its kind that I've taken this year and the sixth in the last couple years. I plan it weeks in advance, although sometimes not booking until just days prior, with little, if any planning. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, text, guidebooks, Yelp, and work all stay behind. It's a trip to disconnect (sometimes solo, sometimes with friends), so that I can better connect with myself and the world around me.
Clarity of mind means clarity of passion, too; this is why a great and clear mind loves ardently and sees distinctly what it loves. ― Blaise Pascal
As much planning goes into a work trip - picking up guidebooks, reading magazines, looking at reviews, researching hotels, emailing tourism boards - the opposite is true of these quarterly unplugged trips. I don't pick up a guidebook, research restaurant and hotel reviews, or even tell anyone about where I'm going (my best friend didn't even know where I was going this last trip). I just go, and be. Most of the restaurants I ate at and things that I did in Providenciales were from two sources, the cab driver during the 30-minute ride from the airport to my hotel, and from my own wandering around. Did I miss some things? Certainly. Yet there's something immensely satisfying about the unknown and simply traveling to just be, without any fixed itinerary, plans, or someone telling me where to go.
Like Kip sang in Napoleon Dynamite, I love technology. It's the basis of my career. I've met some of my best friends as a result of Twitter. And some of the funniest moments of my weeks are from watching cat videos on YouTube or seeing celebrity memes. Yet while all this requires me to look down, I strongly believe that life is meant to be looking up. So every quarter, I have a "look up week". This idea came from a Delta Sky Magazine article I read a couple years ago about play, in which author, speaker, and former Philadelphia 76ers trainer Kevin Carroll talks about his one "look up" day per week. Carroll states, "I have one 'look up' day per week. I spend more time looking up than looking down. It allows me to see new things from new eyes." While I've come to practice this myself, I've put a new spin on it with these quarterly trips.
Without great solitude no serious work is possible. -Pablo Picasso
Since returning from this most recent trip, I've finished the first episode of a web video series I'm working on, gotten something of a promotion from one of my clients, and in general have had what is the most productive, happiest, balanced, and holistic summers I've ever had. Can I draw a direct line between me taking that time off from life and the current state? No. I'm of the opinion, however, that these unplugged trips like this give me clarity, wisdom, and refreshment that nothing else does. Are these trips imperative to life? No. Are they necessary for the quality of life I desire? Absolutely. I am convinced that I'm the best version of myself when I'm traveling and upon immediately returning.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. – Steve Jobs
Should you take a quarterly trip like this? I don't know. That's not what I'm telling you to do. For Americans, it's not exactly easy taking four weeks off when many people don't get any more than two weeks of vacation time. And it's a big time and financial investment (I often take these trips during off-season travel periods to save money). However, I am telling you to re-consider how you use your time, because time is all we have. Yes, there's another dollar to be made and another task we could always be doing to advance the greater good. However, I'd rather be lying on my death bed saying that I spent too much time playing and not enough time working, than working too much and not enough time playing. Work hard, play harder.