What is a “Holiday” for a Full-Time Traveler?

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Can a full-time traveler or digital nomad take a holiday? What does a holiday look for somebody with barely a fixed address to begin with?

On discovering that I’d be traveling back to my home town of Toronto for a visit and to attend the TBEX conference, a friend of mine said “Thank goodness you’ll be taking some time off. You deserve it!

I often hear variations of this comment, especially when it comes to traveling back to my home town.

But it doesn’t really feel like a holiday. In some ways, visiting family and friends – although social and enriching – is hard work, especially when I try to juggle it with the ongoing (and relentless) requirements of the travel blog industry.

Then again, I’m not sure I really know what a “holiday” is any more, given my lifestyle. In some ways I’m always on holiday; in other ways I never am.

What is a holiday for a digital nomad? That's a tricky question to answer. In some ways we are on permanent vacation. In (many) other ways, we never are. #digitalnomad #remotework #fulltimetravel #longtermtravel #travellifestyle #TheProfessionalHobo

This post was originally published in 2013. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

Holidays of Old

Before becoming a full-time traveler and digital nomad, holidays were simple. I applied for time off work, chose a desirable destination (usually somewhere warm to escape the Canadian winter), and used a vacation planner to create a trip that would require as little thought or stress as possible.

All-inclusive vacations were ideal for this; in my former years, I enjoyed all-inclusive vacations in Mexico (a few times), Cuba (a few times), and even the Mediterranean.

I’d spend the first few days defrosting and decompressing, and by the last half of the week I’d be rested enough to make an excursion or two before retreating back to my few precious remaining hours of simple resort life. It was over all too soon, but I was happy to take whatever I could get.

Although hard-core travelers might balk at this and suggest that all-inclusive vacations are poor excuses for seeing the world, they served their purpose from a “holiday” point of view:

  • I had time off to relax
  • I didn’t have to think about anything or worry about travel logistics
  • My meals were prepared, and drinks served at will
  • I had a change of scenery to let go of stressors at home
  • I got to “discover” a new place
  • Not a lick of work was done
  • I didn’t return from my holiday needing another holiday to recover from a busy travel itinerary

The 3 Types of Holidays for Full-Time Travelers and Digital Nomads

hard at...work?

If you’re always on the go, experiencing a travel lifestyle that many would equate with “holiday” life to begin with – but you’re also concurrently always working – what constitutes a holiday?

1. Digital Detox

Turning off the computer is certainly a holiday from work. But unto itself it’s far from a holiday; my forced digital detox while recovering from a head-on collision was far from enriching or relaxing.

Likewise my time offline while riding the Trans-Siberian train for a week in 2011 left me twitching by the end at the very thought of how much catching up I’d have to do when I eventually arrived in Beijing.

Then again, these are relatively universal concerns, especially for entrepreneurs; if you take time off work, there’s likely to be a backlog awaiting your return. (I simply don’t cope well with this.)

For me, simply switching off the computer isn’t a true holiday. There needs to be something more. (Or less).

2. Traveling Without Recording

If my business is to travel the world and record my experiences (through writing and video), some might suggest a holiday would be to travel somewhere and NOT record my experiences. To leave the camera behind, and stop mentally constructing posts about what I’m doing.

There’s something to this. When I choose to forget about how I’m going to translate my current travel adventure into a post or video and relinquish myself completely to the moment, I often relax more (and have a different experience).

But isn’t this odd? Isn’t a holiday something to be remembered? Photographed? The first thing most traditional holiday-makers do is whip out their cameras, write in their travel diaries, and thus “enjoy” their chosen destination.

3. Traveling Without Moving

There is a certain pressure on any travel blogger or travel writer to actually get out there and experience something to write about.

In some ways I reflect back on my time in Switzerland as a holiday. Not because I took any time off work – in fact, I spent many hours daily at my computer. But because the accommodations were so comfortable and my responsibilities so few, I allowed myself the time to simply “be” in Switzerland – and I coined it traveling without moving. When I wasn’t working on my computer, I watched movies, enjoyed a regular fitness routine, slept in, cooked lovely meals, and read books. It was like my own all-inclusive resort (minus the housekeeping and culinary services).

I still generated quite a bit of material on the experience; but given my two months there I “conquered” very little of the country, surprising many onlookers who assumed I’d be criss-crossing the country many times over.

Once again, this is somewhat contrary to the “holiday” concept; I worked, and I didn’t really go anywhere. And yet, it felt like a holiday. (Of sorts).

Combined Holiday Elements

Given the above three criteria – which each lend an aspect to how a digital nomad’s “holiday” might differ from the norm, a holiday for me is quite opposing to the traditional view. I want the ability to stay on top of work if I wish, but I also want to escape the mindset of having to translate my experiences into something readable or viewable, and relieve myself of the perceived obligation to see and do as much as I can.

And in keeping with the realities of a “holiday” structure, I also don’t want to do this perpetually. It’s nice as a break, but I also enjoy aspiring, inspiring, and sharing. And with a “holiday” and refreshed batteries, I can crack-on again with new motivation.

My Friend was Right

The more I apply the ideas above, the more I realize my friend is right. My time visiting with family and friends is the perfect holiday for a digital nomad travel blogger like me. I have time to reflect on my travels and lifestyle, get a little grounding and context in my life, and since Toronto is my home town I have very little to write about “immersing” into this familiar place.

It’s a Mindset

Sometimes a simple mental shift can be as much of a holiday as anything else.

While “relaxing” in Switzerland, I took to the mountains one day. I had no intention of documenting my solo climb, but I had so much fun recording and editing the video of my experience that it was pure, unnecessary, unadulterated fun. In fact, most of my posts from Switzerland were borne of similar experiences.


Does a Full-Time Traveler Deserve a Holiday?

Does a full-time traveler or digital nomad even deserve a holiday? Living the dream life of so many people, working (often part-time) from the comfort of whatever scenic vista lies beyond, and experiencing the world head-on hardly begs the need for a break.

At least, not the traditional idea that most people hold as a vacation or holiday.

Such are the joys of lifestyle design.

What constitutes the perfect holiday for you?

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20 thoughts on “What is a “Holiday” for a Full-Time Traveler?”

  1. We’re getting married in September and I’m puzzling over exactly this. I’m pretty sure we could get an elaborate sponsored honeymoon- but it would be a working honeymoon. I need a break. Only have three years of traveling and blogging I’m really not sure how to turn that part of me off. I think I may agree with you that an all-inclusive minus the computer might be the answer.

    • Steph – I would certainly agree that a sponsored trip won’t be a honeymoon or holiday – unless they’re aware that this is your honeymoon and are prepared to leave you alone! But being rushed from one attraction to the next in the standard style of a press trip certainly doesn’t sound relaxing.
      Good luck finding the perfect fit….and congratulations in advance! 🙂

  2. After you posted about your non-travel/staycation/experiement, I wondered what I really wanted from a “vacation.” I decided napping, reading, maybe some meandering walks, and having someone else clean the place is all I’d really need to relax… And maybe a little sunbathing (even in the yard) and a visit to an ice cream shop to make it feel like a special occasion. I guess subtracting can be more important than adding, given the North American go-go-go lifestyle…

    • Jeca – Sounds like a pretty nice vacation to me! The all-important question, however, is: can you relax to that extent and do what you describe above at home? I know for myself, that when I’m “home” I can’t quite get out of my daily routines (and out of my head!) enough to let go and relax. (I always see something to do and it bugs me until I deal with it).
      That’s why a change of scenery is often what people crave – even if they never leave the resort!

  3. I think a “holiday” is simply” a change in one’s routine,” whatever that routine is. It’s the same reason people from the city want to go to the countryside; and, people from the countryside want to go to the city. Everyone deserves to have a break in their routine, the monotony!

    • Agreed! A change in routine, and a change in mindset.
      Whoever said “a change is as good as a rest” knows what they were talking about! 🙂

  4. I actually just finished a 3 week ‘vacation’. I have only been a nomad for 15 months but after 4 months of intense work (12-16 hours every day) on launching a new blog I felt I needed some ‘offline’ time. It was actually hard for me to get offline. I LOVE working on my blog and I missed it during those 3 weeks (sad? yes!). But I think its a good thing to have a break every now and then so you don’t burn out, no matter what industry you are in. And now, after 3 weeks break I am super energized and ready to go!

    • Hi Nicole,
      Wise words! I cringe at the aspect of being offline for such a time (as I too, love my work online, and I also don’t enjoy the inevitable catching up that happens)….but after the first few days of “withdrawal”, I think it’s a great thing for all the reasons you say.
      I look forward to seeing you take over the online world with your renewed energy! 🙂

  5. Oh man Nora, you hit the nail on the head with this content. I think I relate most to a holiday akin to your time in Switzerland. For me, not having a crazy travel itinerary or mountains to climb. Some simple creature comforts, good food, lots of books and no time constraints. That is my holiday.

    • Hey Tiffany – I’m so glad this piece resonates! It kind of came out of nowhere for me….I just started ruminating and writing on the concept, but I ultimately wondered if anybody would relate. Cheers!

  6. honestly, holiday for me is when I am at home for months and without going anywhere..traveling is jus normal for me.

    • Hey John – Interesting! Again I think a holiday is much more about a change of routine and mindset than it is about anything else. Cheers!

  7. Hey, Interesting article, i recently found myself trying to get into the ‘holiday mode’ on a break from living in South Korea to Vietnam!,
    to be honest it took me almost a week to unplug and tell myself its ok to be a tourist now!
    I think i felt a bit guilty for leaving and traveling the world is just the norm for us i guess, but when you tell others your going on ‘holiday’ from your normal expat life, those “back home” as it were must be a little green!?.

    but any how i had a blast the following 2 weeks chilling out around hoi an non stop eating! 🙂

  8. Nora,
    Both of the most relaxing vacations I ever had involved having no internet access, although it drove me crazy at the same time. The first was at a backpackers “hotel” on lake Atitlan in Guatemala. No WIFI, no internet, actually no electricity (they handed you a candle when you checked in) 2 minutes of solar heated hot water (a hose strung out on the roof). But it was so relaxing lying in a hammock looking at the lake. And the owner was a gourmet chef who offered wonderful dinners for a few bucks. The only way to get there was by boat across the lake.

    The other was on a cruise which prevented me from using my laptop (since I was too cheap to pay their exorbitant connection fees) so I only checked email at Internet cafes at ports of call. Which was a nice balance… relax, prepared meals, entertainment, check email occasionally.

    • Hi Tim,
      Funny that it was both relaxing and stressful! But you’re right; once you let go, it can be quite relaxing – especially if the scenery fits.

  9. Whether in my teaching career or working as a freelancer and entrepreneur, I wholly relate to the scratching feeling during time off of all the work that’s piled up. Can’t seem to shake that one yet! During Christmas this year I took 3 days to do a puzzle, eat, and rest. It’s the first time I felt “rested” in more months than I’d like to count. Thank goodness for stat holidays!

    • Hi Tara,
      Indeed it is a bit of a paradox – it’s important to take time off to get some real rest and be productive, but it’s hard to rest when there’s work to do!

  10. I completely relate to this! I agree that it’s all about your mindset–if your goal is to relax, it’ll probably be a more relaxing trip. It can be hard to set boundaries when the lines in your life get blurry.

    • Hey Amber,
      Absolutely! I wrote this article quite a few years ago, but I must admit work-life balance continues to be a moving target, given that travel is both work but also fun and a lifestyle choice.

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