I sat in front of my computer, staring at the pages and pages of notes I’d already taken. Planning always came easily to me. I’m the kind of person that likes, that needs order. My brain feels like a trash bin, full to the brim and dangerously close to just spilling over. If I don’t try to structure the chaos, there’s no way I get anywhere. But this was supposed to be different. Planning a vacation – a relaxing vacation no less – wasn’t supposed to give me anxious heart flutters. I look at the ridiculous amounts of open tabs on my laptop. Yelp, Tripadvisor, several travel blogs. My fingers itch. I want to slam the laptop shut, but I hate being unprepared. I sigh, flex my stiffening fingers and continue writing down restaurant recommendations. I need a vacation, I think to myself. And a vacation from vacation planning.
Four days before my vacation begins, I remember it. Actually, I don’t remember. Google Calendar does. The notification startles me, as most things do lately. „German Wings flight to Lisbon Airport….What is this?“ My heartbeat quickens. Of course, the relaxing vacation I desperately needed. In all my work, I had forgotten about it. I laugh at the irony.
When we arrive in Carcavelos, a little seaside town twenty minutes outside of Lisbon, it’s raining. My mother is frowning. „If this doesn’t stop soon, I’m gonna lose my mind“, she tells me. I shrug, staring out of our hotel room window. I can see the ocean, grand and blue and endless. I don’t care if the rain stops, I realize. I just want to sit here and look at the ocean. For the first time in months, my shoulders relax down.
The rain doesn’t last. We spend the next day in Lisbon. My FitBit says we walked 23 kilometers. We spend the evening drinking wine and having a cheese plate in a cute restaurant while nighttime falls all around us. The streets of Lisbon are lively. „I haven’t seen a single woman in high heels.“, my mother notes, surprised. „Yeah.“ I breathe in the rich, humid evening air.
We spend the next day at the beach in Carcavelos. It’s Friday and more and more locals come spilling in. The beach is beautiful; the sand is white with a reddish hue and so fine that it flows between my fingers like water. The ocean is ice-cold despite the temperatures. It doesn’t seem to bother anybody but us, children and grown-ups alike frolic in the open water without a single care in the world. I spot teenagers surfing. It looks like a lot of fun. I’ve always wanted to learn to surf. I make a mental note to google surf schools in my area when I get back home. „As if you have the time for that“, a voice in the back of my head sneers. I decide to ignore it. I peak at the overfilling bag we brought from the supermarket next to our hotel: various fruit, sugary drinks, sweets, chips…I don’t usually snack when I’m at home, especially this unhealthily. It’s paprika with hummus and rye chips all the way for me. I pull out the package of cheap macarons I bought from a tiny, adorable bakery along the way and bite into the first one gleefully. Pistachio, my favorite.
We switch to one of the many beautiful beach-side bars and restaurants a while later. My mother and I share a salad and a pizza. Now we’re just sitting there, looking out onto the ocean. I picked two books to bring to this vacation: „Carry On“ by Rainbow Rowell and „Princess Academy“ by Shannon Hale. I love to read and try to do it as much as possible. But since I’m usually too busy (or just too exhausted) to sit down and do it for a few hours at home, I get in a few pages wherever I can. Public transport, on my lunch break, sitting at lunch at university…For me, vacations are these huge pockets of time where I don’t have to worry about missing work or „not doing what I’m supposed to do“. I can just give myself the freedom to do something for myself. And reading is the thing that soothes me the most. It never feels like wasted time (except for the one and only time I abandoned a book in a local book closet – see you never, Roseblood!) and I take things away from it that sustain me for a long time, even if it’s just entertainment or even inspiration for my own writing. I open up „Carry On“ with that same old giddy feeling in my tummy. This is it, I think. For once, my brain turns off.
I return from my vacation with two books down on my to-read list and a notebook full of ideas for my writing projects. I got bit by a monster bee and my feet are bruised from walking around Lisbon so much.
I’m getting back to work tomorrow and all the stress and anxieties of daily life will come knock-knock-knocking on my door the second I enter my apartment. But you know what? I feel fine. Because I have an escape in travel and I’m grateful. Sometimes, life feels too much – in moments like these, all I can think about is far-away places where I can just explore and not think of my responsibilities. As people like to say, „self-care isn’t just Lush bath bombs and face masks“. Sometimes it’s finding something that calms the violently trashing waves that are your thoughts. Travel gives me a more open, child-like state of mind and I hold on to that mentality when I sit around my office, feeling the muscles of my shoulders harden from stress. There’s no „not good enough“ when traveling, no „not working hard enough“. It gives us the freedom to explore not just the world, but also ourselves. I am so grateful to be fortunate enough to be able to travel. I wouldn’t want to miss the things I’ve experienced, the things I’ve seen, tasted, smelled…for the world.