The last holiday I took wasn’t especially fun or eventful. At no point was anything breathtaking or stunning or thrilling. I can’t recall taking any photos. The food was simple, the wine cheap. It was a trip I took with my Grandma, a gift for her 92nd birthday. It was just the two of us. We didn’t go far and we did very little.
When Grandma accepted my gift of a trip, she didn’t know where we were going because I wasn’t sure myself. I only told her we were taking a trip. I’d thought about somewhere warm, maybe a beach and sun. A lengthy road trip was a possibility, somewhere out west. As trip-architect I felt responsible to plot a vacation that would be memorable, amusing, refreshing and unique, something we would return from feeling beneficially altered.
The idea to stay home for a vacation, the staycation, isn’t new. I was familiar with the concept when I decided we would try it. Some time around 2008 the (mildly annoying) term started popping up in newspapers and magazines. Economic concerns, fluctuating currencies, rising gas prices, all made staying closer to home an appealing option for travellers.
The common denominator for most staycations is seemingly this desire to be transformed from an inhabitant to a tourist, to get the voyaging experience without the expense and icky airports. This version, that there’s much to discover where you live if you’re willing to discover it, or something, is a weirdly construed version. It lacks variety for how to derive worth from the holiday-at-home.
The staycation also has a second strain with a different nucleus, and different potential. Its value is in staying home and not becoming a tourist. Its indulgence/advantage isn’t how much money is spent or saved, but delighting in uncluttered time. This, the doing little, or nothing at all, can be a viable and beneficial end in itself. This is a more realistic and accessible version of the staycation, something closer to the real thing.
But there is a prevailing difficulty with doing nothing. It’s aligned with our cultural desire to be busy, even (paradoxically) during leisure. This time of year particularly, in the summer months, it seems everyone wants to get away somewhere, to have a holiday, but a productive one. Even if that productivity is simply being somewhere new or seeing something new.
It’s not unrelated to the accepted mentality that glorifies motion versus repose. Many of my friends have taken up running. Even those who don’t particularly enjoy it. They feel that the sacrifice is worth it, that they are doing good. Walking, say, is dull in comparison and deemed insufficient. The exercise equivalent of a staycation is a leisurely but lengthy stroll.
Shawn Micallef, author of the forthcoming book, The Trouble with Brunch: Class, Fashion and the Pursuit of Leisure, explained that, “the word ‘vacation’ means something kind of big, either a big relax (on a beach) or a big attraction (a theme park or a big museum) – but there’s a whole lot of value in doing subtle things ... exploring the details that might never make it onto a postcard or brochure.”
The fear is that nothing will lead to nothing. At some point on my trip with Grandma, we both understood what was happening. We hadn’t really gone anywhere but it was still a trip. The rhythm was one of comfort and ease. We could talk about ideas and memories for long stretches, divagated conversations we’d never been able to have before in daily existence. It offered a mindfulness that is hard to find when fully occupied with life.
This kind of reduced, undesigned vacation can be done with others, in a group, or alone. Hustling off somewhere new, with a strict diligence to accomplish, makes time speed up or at least our perception of it. This becomes more noticeable and easier to invert when the course of a day is left wide open, when there is less concern for the possibility of boredom. Days become longer. Inertia, even in a familiar setting, even during a long-anticipated summer holiday, can be a constructive and gratifying extravagance too.
Iain Reid is the author of the critically acclaimed comic memoir One Bird’s Choice, which won the CBC Bookie Award for Best Nonfiction Book. He was named by The Globe and Mail as a top-five Canadian writer to watch.