Lonely Planet Writer

How to plan a do-nothing vacation

In some circles (and if you’re reading this, you probably fall within the demographic I’ve envisioned), vacation-related travel has taken on a new disposition in recent years. Whereas classic vacations were mainly about enjoyment, relaxation and entertainment, increasingly vacation goals are more hectic and even productive. Strict do-nothing vacations have fallen out of favor, being replaced by a schedule full of cultural immersion, adventure activities, mind-expanding experiences and other distractions that don’t lend themselves to supine positions and single-celled reading material.

As a freelance travel writer, I’m particularly sensitive to this phenomenon; the pressure to turn every trip, no matter how insignificant, into one or more travel writing assignments makes sitting still for a couple hours a heroic act of willpower. Even before my unlikely career path materialized, as an American with sadistically few vacation days, any time I left home my impulse was to maximize every waking moment. Sure, I’d submit to an hour or two on the beach, but only after hours of pulse-quickening busyness. Of course there’s nothing wrong with this vacation style, but everything in moderation, my friends.

This person looks like they've got the hang of do-nothing travel

Obviously, engineering a do-nothing vacation isn’t difficult if you’re willing to make a few concessions. With a single phone call or a few mouse clicks you can arrange a suitably low-impact journey on a cruise ship or have a tinted van waiting at the airport to shuttle you into a fortified, all-inclusive resort and, voila!, doing nothing (and decidedly substandard eating) has been achieved.

But what precautions should those afflicted with chronically itchy feet take for successful do-nothing vacations in more natural surroundings? Based on my recent experiences, I’ve compiled the following tips:

Tip 1: Choose your destination wisely
Pick a destination that’s lovely and special, but boring as hell. I recently pulled off a spectacular do-nothing vacation in the pleasingly lackluster environs of Granada and San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua. Paradoxically, if I’d attempted a do-nothing vacation in Prague, I’d have probably hated myself - or been hated by friends and colleagues. (Probably both.) If at any time during the trip, you feel the urge to walk more than 200m all at once, you’ve chosen poorly. If the destination has more than two guidebook pages devoted to it, you’ve chosen poorly. If you ever say to yourself 'Huh, I wonder what that thing is over there,' you’ve chosen poorly.

Tip 2: No technology allowed
Leave all tech that allows access to work at home. Laptops are indisputably wonderful little entertainment boxes, but most of us also have work-related or work-accessible content on our laptops and that is do-nothing vacation sacrilege. Bring an ebook reader, a phone, even a smartphone to if you absolutely have to stay in touch, but any device with a trace of work content must be left behind. Also, people especially prone to Twitter and Facebook distraction should be strip-searched by a professional for access devices before leaving home.

Tip 3: Dress for a do-nothing outing
Don’t bring fancy clothes. If you bring fancy clothes, you’ll want to wear the fancy clothes, which means you’ll want to go somewhere fancy, which means a lot of fancy prep time and fancy behavior and fancy etiquette and this is already sounding like far too much effort. Going out for a decent meal while on a do-nothing vacation should not entail any preparation more rigorous than walking the dog. Here’s a good benchmark: any restaurant that won’t seat you while wearing a tasteful Simpsons t-shirt is probably too much work. Also, no hiking shoes. Hiking is to a do-nothing vacation as whiskey and Red Bulls are to a serene, civilized evening in Bangkok.

Tip 4: What to bring
Your do-nothing vacation destination should have, or you should bring along, at least four of the following components/paraphernalia: swimsuit weather, hammocks, body of water (pool, ocean, lake), lots and lots of towels, reasonable food within 200 meters of your bed, cocktails in primary colors within 100 meters of your bed, a vista that’s better than most TV shows, and a large variety of reading material in the following genres: humor, adventure, sci-fi, teenage wizards, biographies of people who didn’t die in an especially tragic way, superheroes being awesome, and horny vampires.

Tip 5: Words to watch out for
Whenever anyone utters the following words/phrases, they need to put a dollar into their companion’s cocktail fund:

  • 'What time is it?'
  • 'Overslept'
  • 'Pants'
  • 'Should'
  • 'Hard Rock Café'
  • 'Work'
  • 'Work out'
  • 'Too much'
  • 'Too late'
  • 'Too early for [insert alcoholic beverage]'
  • 'Too fattening'
  • 'Too drunk'
  • 'Too naked'
  • 'The economy'

Do you have any do-nothing vacation tips to add?

Leif Pettersen is a Lonely Planet author, freelance travel writer and polyglot. He's visited 47 countries (so far) and can be found @leifpettersen.