Out of Office

You’ve had enough. A rough week at work rolled into a rough five months. It’s time for a vacation. You put in your PTO (Personal Time Off), book the AirBnB, flights, car rentals, look up the best bars and restaurants in the area. It’s time to escape the rat race of Monday-Friday nine to five and breathe fresh air.

Is there a better feeling than the first sip of a cold drink upon arrival? You finally get to your destination, set your bags down on the floor, kick off your shoes and stinky socks and gulp back on a cold drink. You earned it.

I recently took a trip with some friends to Fire Island, an island with no cars that’s only reachable by boat. It’s roughly 1,000 feet wide at most points, with the Great South Bay on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. You can walk from the bay to the ocean in about seven minutes, but most people prefer riding their bikes, a.k.a beach cruisers.

It’s silent. Without the constant hum of cars, stoplights, streetlights, and ambulances it feels odd. The fact that water is always within a 180-degree view is beyond satisfying. Lauren and I wake up each morning before the rest of the couples, throw on a sweatshirt to combat the slight morning chill, and take a long stroll on the beach. Waking up like this requires no coffee to get started. Kicking cool sand on your feet, stepping into the cold Atlantic Ocean, waving to neighbors doing the same, and playing with dogs who run up on you while their owners shout for them, “Dixon get back here! I’m so sorry, he’s not normally like this.” Oh, it’s quite alright, we say.

We have a natural discussion about the random things in life. Are we happy? What do we want to do in the next year together? Do we want to buy a house on Fire Island? The travel is too annoying we think. But… then again, maybe?

The ocean air is good. What’s stopping us from doing this every day? Money? Probably. I’m writing this as I look out my Queens apartment window to view the beautiful Manhattan skyline. Below me is a subway, parked cars, a restaurant, bank, spa, barbershop, a phone repair shop, pet store and the other kind of Subway. Cars honk and police sirens blare hoping to get through the Midtown tunnel one second sooner than the car beside them.

Travelling allows an escape. That walk on the ocean wouldn’t feel as good if it weren’t so freeing compared to the typical morning we’re used to. That’s the bittersweet-ness of travel, isn’t it? It has a short shelf-life and you know that. You can’t just lie on a hammock on the beaches of Mexico for the rest of your days, can you? Who knows, maybe waking up with a fresh view of the ocean, the mountains, or the great wide open never gets old. I don’t want to think it could. Maybe people who live in the mountains long for that vacation they took to Manhattan, marveling at the hustle and bustle of the city below them – wishing they could live the city life for a change. I doubt it, but people are strange. Everyone wants what’s not available to them. City people want the wide-open land. Farm folk want the big city. It’s a cliche as old as time but it speaks to human nature.

Something in us knows when we need vacation. Either you plan it for February or March knowing the weather will be undoubtedly be shit, or you take a random week off in July to unwind in the sun somewhere local.

Vacation, holiday, whatever you want to call it – it’s a refuge that doesn’t come around quite as often as it used to. Companies now boast of unlimited vacation days and flexible work-from-home time, but it sounds better in theory than in actuality. We’ve been working from home for the last three months and it’s… OK at best. I’ve had unlimited vacation days, and if you have too you know the guilt associated with taking off too often. It’s not really “unlimited” per se. There are guardrails and unwritten rules; side glances and water cooler gossip about Jane taking off a whole month to go to Bali AFTER already taking three weeks for her honeymoon… The drama is palpable. Freaking Jane…

Then there’s the actual type of vacation you want to take. Are you more of a doer or a do-nothing-er? Working hard or hardly working? Would you rather lie on a beach for eight days or hike the national parks, ride ATVs, and go bungee jumping? Domestic or international? North or South? East or West? Have you been there already? Has he/she been there already too? Who cares?

I found that I can’t really do the relaxing vacation, at least not well. I still need to explore. I can’t just wake up and immediately lie face down on a beach towel and bake. My skin won’t allow it. I need change, new things, exploration. New sites, new food, new interactions. That’s the joy of travel for me.

Soon enough it’s back to the office, or wherever that work gets done now. Your coworkers ask “How was it?!“, “I saw your pictures, it looked unbelievable!” You smile and laugh, maybe tell a quick tale. They show their jealousy while complementing your tan and simultaneously complaining about the weather someplace else. The same routine is run through in the next few meetings throughout the day. Eventually, they stop asking and you stop telling. Tuesday comes around and work needs to get done. You’re back into it, like you never left. You throw up a belated Instagram post and the memory lives on in the digital world, timestamped and captioned.

Then it’s back to the TPS reports, and another few months until you can reset your OOO message for a quick and needed escape to someplace else. We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.

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