Being a travel writer/editor/blogger presents an interesting conundrum. For most people, a trip is a vacation, a chance to get away, to escape work, to forget about the responsibilities awaiting you at home. For travel professionals, it’s work. Not in a bad way, mind you—I will never, ever take for granted how fortunate I am to work in this industry—but it is work, nonetheless.
In 2012, I boarded a plane a total of 19 times, heading to and from cities such as Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver, Moncton, Las Vegas, Denver, Havana, Veradero and Puerto Plata, as well as landing in connecting cities in between. Toronto’s Pearson International Airport is like my second home sometimes—I know every pub and coffee shop in Terminals 1 and 3, and am a master at dashing through security in record time.
With the exception of one, every one of these trips had an assignment or conference attached to it. Even if the trip started as a vacation, somewhere along the line I was hit with the idea for an article, and before I knew it, I was darting away from my friends at the pool to interview a store owner or scribble down notes or snap photos of the scenery.
It seemed I simply couldn’t travel for the sake of taking a vacation. A vacation meant travel and travel meant work. Until now.
This past week, I threw it all away and spent eight days being as much of a sloth as I could in Rio San Juan, Dominican Republic (at the Grand Bahia Principe resort, to be precise). It was a girls’ week away with my childhood best friend, an annual New Year’s tradition we started last year after both of us had experienced a particularly rough autumn and needed to escape.
We arrived at night, and as the bus took us in the darkness from the airport in Puerto Plata to our resort in Rio San Juan, my mind churned with ideas of what story I could tell. A photo essay on the history of Santo Domingo? An adventure tale of ATVing through the jungle? A review of a meal at a roadside cafe?
In the morning, we scoured the excursion offerings, but couldn’t settle on what we wanted to do. I was overwhelmed and, frankly, burnt out from a year of assignments, deadlines and plane rides. Picking an activity was impossible when the lure of morning runs on the beach and afternoons by the pool was just so appealing. I pushed aside the brochure and instead we ordered cocktails at the swim-up bar. We would decide later.
Later never came. We declared that in our week away from work, we didn’t want to have to be anywhere at a specific time. We wanted to do nothing and just be as we were in that moment: in the sun, on the sand, oblivious to the day and time. You know, I can’t even remember the last time I let myself do that.
“I’m a traveller, not a tourist.” It’s a phrase that travel writers/editors/bloggers embrace wholeheartedly. We are the people who travel to see the culture, the people, the life beyond our own borders. We avoid resorts and find the unmarked trails. We get lost on purpose. And we document. We write, we photograph, we video, we tweet and post status updates to Facebook and Instagram and we live the adventure through our own work, drafting in our heads as we experience.
I had lunch with a friend today who joked that with my career, spending time in the office should be my version of a vacation since I’m always working when I’m on the road. His analogy made me laugh, but also made me think about what constitutes a vacation for a travel writer. Can we ever just be on vacation, without working?
I admit that I spent my week in the Dominican Republic as a tourist. And I say this with a tinge of guilt, as though I have somehow failed. I would have moments in which I scolded myself for not blogging or updating my social media accounts or taking better photos instead of the quick snapshots posted here. I wondered what I would write about once I came home. But then I would breathe and take in the warmth of the sun and force my brain… to just… stop.
I can’t remember the last time I let myself do that.