Short answer? Be bored.
Because of the nature of my job, it’s sometimes difficult for me to take time off. But when I do, I really feel like I’ve earned it. I never feel like I can take time off and just stay at home – that would feel like time wasted. I’d spend the days looking for reasons to get out of the house, maybe checking work e-mails from time to time or even calling into check that everything was okay without me. I’d binge-watch anime, or spend hours in coffee shops working on some writing project. Then I’d get to my final day off and feel like I’d done nothing with my time.
But when I plan actual holidays, where I go away and stay in a hotel, I get bored. I’m useless at sight-seeing – alright, I’ve walked to the thing, looked at it, taken a photo, what’s next? – and if I’m travelling by myself I have less motivation to do fun things like boat trips or aquarium visits, because I get self-conscious about being the lone weirdo on their own.
So I end up back in my hotel room in the middle of the afternoon, binge-watching anime or working on some writing project, and thinking I could have saved myself a ton of money by staying home to do the exact same thing.
I think part of the problem is that the things I find relaxing (watching anime, writing, reading fic) are the kinds of things I got scolded for doing as a teenager. Where my younger sister was the social butterfly, always out with friends, I preferred solo activities that required little interaction with actual human beings. I had a few friends back then, but we lived in the middle of nowhere and it was tough to go places alone – I had to walk a couple of miles just to get to a bus-stop, or cycle if the weather was decent – so staying home to read or watch TV was easier. But my very socially active parents somehow saw that as a failing. Not recognising the symptoms of depression I was showing even at thirteen, I was told repeatedly to turn off the TV, put the books away, go out, put myself out there, stop being lazy and stand-off-ish. The implication, I felt, was that not being social was somehow being a failure.
Which means that even now, the things I want to do, the things that make me happy, are the things I associate with failing at life. They feel like time wasted, even when they’re the things I do to relax and switch off from what is sometimes a very stressful job.
I feel like I ought to be outside, enjoying the sun (I hate sunny weather), visiting new places (what am I supposed to do when I get there?), and doing stuff. Even though I would much prefer to be inside, working on a writing project, reading fanfiction, or watching anime.
When I booked this particular weekend off from work, I’d originally planned to go to Hyper Japan. I’ve been to the winter event a couple of times and loved it. But then I realised that I’d be in London in the summer. I find London stressful at the best of times, but dealing with London (and the tube, and the train stations, and the streets) in hot weather and with luggage in tow is about the least relaxing thing I can think of. So instead I planned a short break to a seaside town on the east coast. That’s what people do on holiday, right? Go to the seaside, eat chips and ice cream on the seafront, go to arcades to play slot machines, buy tacky souvenirs, go on boat trips.
Well, I tried that. I got bored. I think I’m just not wired for ‘normal people’ activities.
Maybe if I was holidaying with someone else, I’d have someone to make fun of the tacky souvenir shops and outdated arcades with. But I’d still need time to myself – I’m not someone who feels relaxed with other people around.
Holidays, sometimes, feel even more stressful than being at work.
Last summer, my parents booked a family holiday to the same place in South Wales we always used to visit when my sister and I were kids. The idea was to recreate those old family holidays, but this time with my sister’s husband and their daughter as well. I hadn’t had a holiday like that with my family since I was fifteen – more than half a lifetime ago. I hated that place as a teenager; all my memories are of getting sunburned at the beach, walking around tacky souvenir shops, trying to find somewhere that served vegetarian food and having to settle for chips and peas because vegetarianism hadn’t yet reached the British seaside in the early ‘90s.
I wondered if I’d find a new appreciation for it as an adult. Maybe I’d be able to enjoy long days with nothing to do, or be able to go off on my own to explore places with my camera and sketchbook.
But no. The place that bored me as a teenager still bored me as an adult. I had enough factor 50 to prevent sunburn, but not enough mental fortitude to deal with long days with no wifi. The souvenir shops were still tacky, and no one appreciated my photo collection of tacky souvenir shop fronts. The heatwave made walking anywhere almost unbearable, so the only time I could explore with my camera was during sunrise and sunset (stunning photos, though). Any time I took out my notebook or my pencils and paints, I had to deal with a family member’s questions about what I was doing and had I considered leaving my job to do arty stuff for a living. None of that was my idea of relaxation.
I think the next time I go away, I’ll rent a cottage somewhere, take my laptop, and spend the whole time doing nothing but reading and writing. I’ll call it a writer’s retreat, to satisfy any nosy so-and-so who asks what I did on my holiday.
I don’t need sight-seeing, or sunshine, or tacky souvenirs. I just need to do the things that make me happy and help me relax. Even if they do make me look like a massive nerd who can’t have normal holiday fun. It’s my holiday, and I’ll write if I want to.