why I don’t go on vacation

Just after we returned from Greece, I wrote this in the first pages of a new moleskine.  I’ve been pondering it since then, as we have had visitors, as we talk about the trip, as we look ahead to school in a few weeks.

We used to call this time of year summer holidays.

That meant climbing cherry trees, gnawing at corn-on-the-cob and sliced watermelon, roasting briny oysters until they pop and sizzle, listening to the Beach Boys and Lynyrd Skynyrd, going to the lake on a whim for the afternoon, bickering with my brother, riding our bicycles to the corner store to buy a brown paper bag of penny candy (which actually cost somewhere between 2c and a nickel).

Now, people tend to call it summer vacation.  And it is scheduled to the nuts.

Our time off is rarely referred to as a holiday anymore.  Is it because holiday is a contraction of two words: holy day?  Everyone knows how very secular our culture is and how we don’t force religion or holy on anyone, anymore, ever.

Oops.  My snark is showing.  And that is not what I want to say about this.

Checking an etymological dictionary helped me focus what I do want to say about this.

Vacation: to be empty or at leisure

Most of us can relate to the leisure part – we crave days without schedules and expectations.

But I look at the word, and words with similar roots, and I reach this conclusion.

I do not want to vacate my life.  I do not want to go on vacation and have empty days.  I want something more intentional than that.

Holiday: sacred, holy day

Delving further, I see that holy is derived from a root word, with variants in many languages, meaning whole.

Holidays are sacred times.

On holiday, I seek to become whole again, to relax, play, and replenish.  It is a time to refill the well of my creative life, when I give my body and mind and spirit time to heal from brushing up against the sharp edges of everyday life.

Sometimes my holidays are slow and contemplative.

After an ectopic pregnancy landed me in the hospital (quite a few years ago), Ed and I returned to Kauai.  We did nearly no exploring – we had been there before. Instead, we spent time holding hands, watching the waves, and reading by the pool under an umbrella.

The weather was not stereotypically beautiful that trip – the days were often overcast, and many rain squalls came through during our time on the beach. We didn’t run from this: we weren’t going to get wetter, and the rain was warm.

(This did, however, influence our choice of location for our summer wedding on Kauai a few years later.)

The clouds and rain matched my sombre mood; surrendering to the grey skies was healing in a way that a week of solid sunshine might not have been.

During that trip, we visited a heiau, the sacred site where ritual hula is taught. This expanded the notion of holiday for me, but you don’t have to visit ancient sites to hold your holiday time sacred.

The time given to your own wholehearted self – to healing the wounds of living in a culture that does not value sensitivity and honesty, or innocence and play – this time is sacred.

This time can help make you whole again.

A holiday can be a time of leisure, without being empty.  The time with fewer responsibilities and commitments can free up energy to look inside, to shine a light on our larger hopes and dreams, to remember who and what is most important to us, to be sure we are nourishing what we hold most dear.

This is vital to our whole-ness.  This is sacred time, indeed.  This is a holiday.

Other holidays are for travelling.

When we wear comfortable shoes, ride local buses (maybe with goats!), and stay in small pensions with tiny kitchenettes; when we eat local food and practice local customs, experiencing daily life in a way that may be inconsistent with the comforts and conveniences we are used to; when we pit-check our shirts half-way through the trip, shrug, and put them on anyway; when we have to think about whether there will be toilet paper available – this is travelling.

Back to the etymological dictionary:

Travel(ling): a journey

The root of the word is travail (French for ‘work’), from the toil of travelling in olden times.

While the mechanics of travel are certainly easier, and faster, it can be work to be that far from our ordinary lives.  It can be work to make ourselves understood in a foreign tongue, to process all the new sights and new ideas.

Travelling stretches us.  Travelling forces us out of our known comfort zone. And travelling can help us be more grateful for the many blessings in our lives.

In another way, this can make us whole again.

The trip to Greece with Kristina was very much a travelling trip.  Some of the toil was of our own making.  We learned even from this.  And I can hardly wait to tell you more about it

Until then, you could check out this post by Nomadic Matt – he perfectly describes some of the wonders of travelling.


  • As I read this post, the font became a bit blurry. Where are my glasses?? Oh wait, that didn’t help. Is my computer crashing? Hey what is that salty taste—oh damn it’s tears.
    It is only words but you have an amazing talent of putting them together in a way that allows me to take mini journeys. And for a few minutes there is a direct connection between my optical nerve and my heart.
    Thank you for this norurishment. I will definitely remember that what me and the fam are doing is taking a holiday.

    • These words have ME teary. This is the best thing my writing could ever do – make that connection. Thank you for letting me know. Thank you SO MUCH.

    • Thank you for your visits and comments, Katie. I haven’t written about the trip here, yet, but there are pages and pages and pages of journal entries and over 1,500 photographs to parse – I aim to bridge the gap between journalling and story-telling. (I read that phrase recently, and really liked it, but cannot recall the source. The internet is a BIG place.)

    • Thank you for your comment, Sarah. I’m such a word geek, I enjoy these meanderings and research. It always thrills me to learn that others find interest there, too. We are finally seeing some summer weather, and are revelling in it, at a time when the rest of the country is begging for some relief. We’ll have our share of rain and cloud again, soon enough. Happy September to you, also!

  • absolutely wonderful post sister.
    i mostly do not want to vacate my life either. I adore my daily journey as well as planned traveling journeys, as well as glorious restful, restorative, relaxation holidays.


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