The Art of Doing Nothing

Article & Photos by Noreen Kompanik

I‘m here in San Diego getting a pedicure for our upcoming trip to Mexico. I glance up at the television where our local news station is reporting some shocking statistics – a whopping 62% of workers check in with the office at least once or twice a week during their vacation. These “workations” as they call them literally means people are taking work with them on vacation. How is this vacation?

Usually my and my hubby’s trips are a mix of outdoor adventures coupled with a few days of rest and relaxation tucked somewhere in between. A fall resulting in a major injury curbed my travels for a while. Most of what I could handle then was only weekend getaways to nearby locations.

Cabo San Lucas and La Paz, Mexico was my first real vacation after having had surgery earlier this year. We desperately needed to unwind and chill. So the plan was to take it easy and go slow. It was on this trip that something happened to change our future vacations. We learned about the “art of doing nothing.”

Unlike our international friends, learning this trick doesn’t come easy. It’s just not in our American DNA. So, it takes a tremendous self-discipline and determination on our parts to achieve success. We almost have to practice it to make it perfect. But once mastered, the rewards are endless. Here are key elements we found to make this art an important part of our vacation experience.

Avoid Old Travel Habits…
Like checking in at the airport and realizing your luggage is overweight. When we pack too many “to do’s” into a vacation and fill up each day with activities, the vacation becomes overweight. We end up returning home feeling like we need a vacation from our overbooked vacation.

Go easy on the plan and leave room for spontaneity. On our most recent trip to the Virgin Islands, we heard that our resort sponsored nighttime kayaking in see-through kayaks ringed with powerful LED lights. See-through kayaks create a window into the nocturnal underwater world of the Caribbean. From this vantage point, you can see coves teeming with colorful tropical fish, stingrays and sea turtles. Many of the guides who lead these excursions are marine biology students at the University of the Virgin Islands. The adventure was relaxing and memorable for our party of four. This wouldn’t have happened had our trip already been overbooked.

Learning to Unplug
If you do the same thing on vacation you do at home, then you’re not really on vacation, am I right? Turn off the television; don’t check your email and social media pages a hundred times a day. Is it easy? Not at first. And it may work best in increments. I’ll explain.

Where in our mind’s mental image of a perfect tropical vacation in paradise does the television fit in? With our

TV turned off in the evening, we fell asleep not to the blaring of a late night show, but rather to the soothing sound of waves gently rolling onto the shore, and the scent of night-blooming jasmine wafting on the ocean breezes. After all, isn’t this why we came?

Our next attempt at un-plugging was to leave our iPhones in the room when we went down to the pool or beach. Instead, we each took a good book. It was surprising to note how much more in touch we were with our surroundings. We noticed the tide coming in as the waves crashing on the rocks got closer and closer to our lounge chairs and felt the soft sea spray on our faces. We paid attention to how our toes felt in the sand and watched the pelicans and blue-footed boobies dive into the ocean for fish. And, we saw whales breaching and spouting in the distance. We hardly even looked at our books with all the natural wonders happening around us.

By not being afraid we’ll miss something in the world of 24-hour news and social media demands, what we don’t miss is the real life connection to our slice of paradise.

Don’t Be a Slave to a Schedule
We’re slaves to our schedules in our daily routine, so why do this on vacation? By choosing fewer activities with definitive start and stop times, we found it decreased the stress level of our trip.

For example; while we booked a delightful sunset cruise, traffic getting to the marina was backed up due to an accident. By the time we arrived at the port (just barely making the sailing time), we were stressed, and it took a while to relax, unwind and just enjoy the cruise. Too many of these type occurrences can put a damper on a vacation.

Building in such activities as visits to a local beach, hiking or driving to a nearby historic town allows for more breathing time. You get there when you get there- and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

As one wise gentleman told us in in the infinity pool overlooking the Sea of Cortez “The only times I’ve looked at a clock on this vacation is to find out if it’s happy hour yet or the time of sunset.”

Get to Know the Locals and Go Native Having a memorable vacation doesn’t have to cost a fortune by booking scheduled activities and tours solely through the concierge. On a trip to Zihautanejo a few years back, we met a local on the beach with a tattered photo album who offered us a trip in his boat to a remote island for snorkeling where his friend would cook up a shrimp and lobster feast afterward. We took him up on his offer and it was such an incredible experience, we agreed to another trip to a local bird sanctuary. The cost of both of those trips including the food came to less than we would pay for one trip through the
concierge. And, we got to places other tourists don’t even know about.

In Kauai, too much rain during the week made it impossible for us to hike the island’s famous Na Pali Coast. A local told us about the Lithified Cliffs on the island’s sunny side. That spectacular relaxing hike ended up being one of our favorite activities of the trip.

One waiter in Maui shared information about a local secluded beach where we snorkeled and swam with sea turtles.

And in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, on a shop owner’s recommendation we wined and dined in a 10,000-year-old cavern surrounded by a kaleidoscope of rock formations. And we dived and snorkeled in one of the area’s most beautiful cenotes.

Bottom line, locals know the place they live best and if you friend them, the rewards are almost indescribable. One bonus to these activities is that in many countries, time frames can be a lot looser or even non-existent. Our son joked in the Virgin Islands that nothing ever happened on time as everyone seemed to be on Caribe time. So, if you’re vacationing in a laid back culture, follow the locals lead. “Go Native” to leisurely experience the things they routinely enjoy with the added benefit of feeling like you are no longer on the clock.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
A key part of mastering the art of doing nothing is to let go from the world of high-tech living and just go with the flow. We’re so accustomed to modern conveniences and tight schedules; we often have unrealistic expectations for our vacations, and expect everything to be perfect. No modern convenience is an absolute necessity. If the power goes out or you temporarily lose hot water, laugh it off and chalk it up to a small price to pay for your little slice of paradise. If your sail gets cancelled due to a storm, look for the rainbow instead and re-group later. There are work-arounds for everything. Try to embrace the rule to “not sweat the small stuff” and its accompanying corollary “it’s all small stuff.” Believe me, you’ll enjoy your vacation a whole lot more with this laissez faire attitude and the freedom it carries.

Reaping the Benefits
For those not ready for total immersion like we were at first, add these fundamental elements a few at a time. Once you’ve done it, you’ll find it gets easier each time. As a result, these are some of the perks we’re glad we’ve garnished:

We no longer take vacations, we enjoy and cherish them.

We get to know one another better. And the same goes for vacationing with other family members and friends.

We’re much more in tune with our surroundings.

We live for the moment and remember those special times be it a spectacular Hawaiian sunset, snow beginning to fall in New York City, or magnificent views from our dinner table in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

We treasure the unexpected delights – those things that were not on our “To Do” list yet wind up being the most memorable and most enjoyable.

And we return from our trip mellow, relaxed and contented because what just happened is that we truly had a vacation.

American novelist Anne Lamott once said “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes….Including you.”


Noreen L. Kompanik is a Registered Nurse and published freelance travel writer and photographer based in San Diego, California. Traveling with her husband, children and grandchildren is her absolute favorite pastime. Her articles include inspirational writing, sustainable, healthy living, family travel, history, wine and food. She is a member of the International Travel Writers and Photographer’s Association and International Food and Wine Travel Writers Association. She maintains a Facebook page What’s In Your Suitcase? where readers can find her published articles.



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