Maybe it’s the rhythmic hush of the waves, the scent of sea salt, an absence of devices, or the fact that I’ve lived in a landlocked state most of my life, but I’m able to transport my brain to another dimension when I get near the ocean. This dimension is devoid of all anxieties, to-dos, and demands. It wraps around me like a fresh cocoon and settles my nervous system. It’s almost as if my mind (and body) longs for the simplicity of just existing without constant chaos. I like to call this existence “Vacation Brain.”
Vacation brain has been given the opportunity to relax and not think. Typically, there is a lot of planning and organizing that happens to ensure vacation brain is achieved. Schedules are consulted, hotels researched, plane tickets booked, and off to a desired location. The whole intention is to attain vacation brain where the daily stressors of life fade into the backdrop. Unless, of course, you decide to bring children with you; then you can pretty much toss the vacation brain out the window. You might need to settle for vacation breaths here and there. Sorry… give it some time.
The vacation brain I’m talking about arrives when every bit of responsibility is removed from the plate—no work calls, nothing to be submitted, not an email or phone in sight, and definitely no meetings or conversations. In vacation brain land, no one needs to be driven anywhere, and laundry is a forgotten task. The only decisions to be made are what you’d like to eat or drink. Sounds divine, doesn’t it?
Surprisingly, I recently achieved vacation brain status while I was home waiting for a transportation company that would be picking up my daughter’s Jeep to deliver it to Honolulu where she attends college. After much deliberation, we decided that if there is a place on earth where a classic soft-topped Jeep should live, it’s Hawaii—a magical land where the warm ocean breezes intoxicate the soul with a special calm and harmony. I didn’t quite find the peace of the beach in my wait, but that shifted as the day progressed.
The pickup window provided by the transportation company was somewhere between 6 am and 11 pm… pretty much. I was ready and waiting by 8 am, so I decided to throw a load of laundry in the wash, cleared out the junk drawer, and worked on an essay. Ten am came and no call. I food prepped for the week, cleaned out my car, tended to the plants, and folded some laundry. Twelve pm… still no call. I made some lunch, answered emails, revisited my writing project, and played with the dogs. Two pm—no call. I called truck people—no answer, then grabbed a book and sat outside in the speckled shade. Three pm—no call. With my eyes getting tired and everything checked off the immediate to-do list, I wound up just gazing into the distance. Four pm—no call. I officially resigned myself to the wait and high probability I would not be receiving a call this day and literally sat and stared into the woods. Vacation brain arrived.
I became hyper-aware of the bird calls around me. Some were communicating kindly, others arguing with squawks. In the tree over my head, there was a scurry and I looked up. Mama bird and I exchanged glances. She held the space in front of her babes like a sentinel. I wanted to tell her that I get it; I wouldn’t dare disturb her wide-mouthed chirpers, so I got up to give them some space. I recalled an article I read about Grounding or Earthing: “The practice of walking or standing with the earth barefoot in order to connect to its innately healing energies,1” so I kicked off my Birks to walk about our grassy property.
In an almost meditative state, I observed my feet touch the ground and the grass that poked up between my toes. Cool, squishy, inviting. My mind wandered and ideas came flooding. Creative ideas—inspirations for projects and writing I haven’t considered. I grabbed my journal and wrote it all down with extreme vigor before the thoughts disappeared. By clearing my mind of all necessary tasks, I made space for new thoughts and ideas.
I didn’t recognize it then, but I achieved vacation brain without ever boarding a plane. In fact, after doing a little research, I discovered others call vacation brain “mind-wandering” or “zoning out.” Actually, a Harvard Business Review article titled “Zoning Out Can Make You More Productive” states, “Neuroscience and psychology research show that mind-wandering facilitates creativity, planning, and putting off immediate desires in favor of future rewards.2” This is precisely what happened on my day of waiting.
Vacation brain doesn’t have to be found on a beach or some tropical island. It can be attained anywhere as long as you intentionally clear the plate and set aside time to zone out. Sometimes, it might even take waiting all day for a transportation service that never arrives.