I hit the road for one of three reasons:
- to travel
- to tour
- to go on holiday.
The first is what I usually do – taking the time to savor a destination in a variety of ways. Touring is more about seeing the highlights – checking the “must-sees” off a list. And finally, going on holiday is about relaxing.
Like me, I'm sure Solo Traveler readers do all three at some point in time. No one is better than another. It’s important to understand what you need at any given point in time.
Last week I took a holiday alone and it was exactly what I needed.
I camped by myself at Bon Echo Provincial Park on the shores of Mazinaw Lake. I was off the grid. Well, not completely. If I went to the beach and positioned my phone on one certain corner of one certain picnic table in one certain direction, I could get two bars and pick up email. This was important as I had work to do. I have Solo Traveler to attend to and three new books coming out in The Traveler’s Handbooks series this fall – they needed to be moved through the editing process. But I also needed time to relax. My personal life had been very intense this summer with one of my sons getting married and my mom in the hospital. With both stable and the immediate future calm and bright, I decided to find myself a little quiet, even if I had to work part of the day.
So I went camping. I packed up gear I hadn’t used for years, borrowed more from my sons, and headed north. My goal was to have no goals. Of course, that wasn’t quite possible. o, realistically, my goal was to have few goals. And I managed. I worked until 1pm or so each day and the rest of the day I did nothing.
What Happens When You Do Nothing
Doing nothing is a difficult thing to do. I, like most people, have a very busy brain and I spent little time actually doing nothing. What I did was wander, at whim, from one activity to another. (This is far more possible on a solo vacation than one with a companion.) I spent the majority of my day doing nothing. Not working. No agenda. No goals.
- I swam with a loon. Loons can swim great distances under water and as I was swimming the breast stroke along the width of the beach, just beyond the buoys, a loon popped out of the water about 30 feet from me. There is ever only one loon family on a lake which makes this occurrence quite special. Loons are beloved in Canada for their haunting call with repetitive notes and can last many seconds.
I read for seven hours straight. I moved from chair to tent to picnic table and back to the chair but all that time I was reading. I nibbled on cheese and crackers, had a glass of wine and read. I finished Sweet Tooth: A Novel by Ian McEwan. It’s the fourth novel I’ve read of his and I've enjoyed every one – he is one of my favorite authors. And then I started on David Rakoff's novel Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel.
- I discovered that eating is a purely social activity for me. I always knew that food was not a priority on my travels — thank goodness we have Tracey to write on that topic – but I hadn’t realized how little I cared about it until I stopped eating meals. I grazed my way through the week.
- I forecast the weather. Yes, I awoke about 6:30 am and could hear thunder far off in the distance. I got up, rejigged the guy wires on my tent for rain, moved everything to the center of the tent inside and then put up a tarp over the picnic table – something I hadn’t done as the weather person had called for perfect weather the entire week. It was so satisfying to be in tune with nature.
- I experienced the power of muscle memory. There are never four trees standing exactly where you need them when there’s a tarp to be put up. I had three, but a fourth was far out of the way. However, I had extra rope and was pretty sure I’d remember how to join to ropes securely together once I had the two in my hand. Sure enough, I did. The know-how came back to me from the practice for my knot badge in Girl Guides. It’s called a sheet bend.
- I watched a fire for hours. I built a fire every night – often, I’m proud to say, with just one match. And I could sit at that fire, watching the flames, listening to trees creaking in the wind, watching a toad hop across the campsite, and dozens of other small things for hours on end.
- I discovered that it takes at least four days to relax. Yes, the first few days of my vacation were not that relaxing. My brain was buzzing as I did my usual thing of observing what my travels are like so that I can share them properly with you. But, by about day three, I noticed that I was doing little of that. My mind was more quiet. Calm.
Calm. That’s what doing nothing should be about.