The Work Vacation

I am toying with a new concept, namely The Work Vacation.  Pick some exotic locale and bring your laptop.  Write your book and blog as usual.  Go out every now and then to see some sights.  In essence seeing sights replaces the time at home you would spend doing chores and taking care of family.

I find the idea of The Work Vacation appealing.  I am convinced many people don’t find their vacations that much fun in the first place.  ("What are vacations for anyway?," I can imagine Robin Hanson’s voice echoing in my head.)  People are losing the feeling of flow, and of accomplishment, from their workplace.  Often they argue more with their spouses when together all day.  They feel stress at coping with regular decisions and unfamiliar languages (of these, only the loss of work and flow describes me, I might add, but that is significant).

Perhaps many people take vacations for social reasons, to accommodate their spouses, to signal what kind of person they are, for memories, or to check countries off a list.  A Work Vacation would accommodate (some of) these motives to considerable degree.

I love Indian cities, but if only for reasons of air pollution, I don’t want to spend most of the day outdoors running around.  And many interesting and worthwhile parts of India don’t have many tourist sites but are still worth a bit of time.

Natasha finds the concept of The Work Vacation deeply distressing.  First, it suggests I can leave home without abandoning work.  Second, it implies it is permissible to work on vacation.

Surely the Coase Theorem can solve these problems.


I've been toying with this idea for a while now. I would love to take up my wife's suggestion of spending three weeks or more in Newfoundland, but as the sole owner/programmer of my business, I don't think there's any way I can go without working for that long. Since the the primary goal of such a trip would be to listen to/hang out with/learn from/play with Newfoundland traditional musicians, and that's mostly an evening/nighttime experience, it's entirely reasonable that I might squeeze in some full days of work there during the trip. Thanks to a powerful laptop machine (that I'm already doing most of my work on) and wireless internet that's finally common enough I think I'll be able to get on-line from the larger cities, this seems like a pretty practical compromise.

I used to live and work in San Francisco and now find that when I return, I am not happy just sitting around seeing the sights. However, if I network with my old work connections (and friends) poke around some real estate and essentially ape the life I use to have there, I feel much better about the trip.

I like going to warm places, but I last 30 min on a beach before I'm bored (2hrs if there are waves to play in).

I think vacations are best for long term strategic thinking. I'm not getting bothered by day-to-day calls and rush problems, but I always bring a notebook to take notes for ideas. I check email, but only respond to those that absolutely need it (and then only late at night).

Wait... you're not supposed to keep working while on vacation?

While there are personal situations where the Work Vacation is a Good Thing (tm), there are a number of situations where it seems likely to fail.

"Dear, please take the kids and find something to entertain them. I'll be staying here at the hotel and working on chapter three today..." seems like an excellent step towards a divorce. For several years we vacationed in places where for a portion of each day there was someone whose job it was to see that the kids had a good time without their parents.

Any of "I think I'll spend the afternoon painting the lobby here at the hotel," or "I'll drop by the slaughterhouse and knock off some of the local livestock," suggest that there are people and professions for whom the Work Vacation is viable and those for whom it is not. I am pleased that my professional work has lent itself to it, although I generally limit myself to a couple of books and stack of paper rather than a laptop.

I think the Work Vacation is most troubling to those who bring elaborate escapist expectations to a trip (enabled by the cruise industry and all-inclusive resorts.) For those who think it interesting to get a feel for the rhythms of a place, The Work Vacation actually deepens the experience because one can spend more time away. My routine now is built around cafe/local newspaper in early morning, 3-4 hrs of work, museum/historical site, reading about local history/architecture in cafe or park, nap, hour walk around city at 6PM, and a live gathering (music, sport, pub) in the evening.

Someone famous once said that for him "work is more fun than fun"--a line that resonates for those of us who find our work mentally stimulating,

My $.02

Firstly everyone needs unstructured recreational time now and again - just to recharge. Thing is, most people don't really need two whole weeks of just that.

"What are vacations for anyway ?"

Is a question that seems to betray a lack of interests apart from work - nothing wrong with that if you are genuinely into what you do, unless it also indicates stress and a lack of a wider perspective.

Make plans for your vacation and keep them - when it all starts to feel like work, put your plans on hold and have some unstructured leisure. When that gets too much go back to your plans.

If your plans turn out to be inappropriate, change them. After all, you are on holiday.

But, what does this say about economic theory.
In standard models, work gives you disutility; you'd avoid it if at all
possible. Work is just a means to accumulate consumption goods.
But you are essentially saying that theres some "subsistence
level" of work, so to speak, that gives you utility
("fulfillment", flow) in itself, independent of consumption.
Food for thought, indeed.

I did exactly this during our last inlaw-visit to China. But we did go out - and ditch the PC - for several days. But I've been in Shanghai so much that there isn't much to do there anymore during the day after a week or so - Shanghai is a city of the night...

My boyfriend and I are perpetually on a Work Vacation.

My first reaction to this idea was "no way". But of course, after a moment I realised that I do this already. I'm an academic librarian, and I love visiting other libraries and university campuses when I'm on holidays. I see them as being just as culturally important to me as art galleries and museums. And my husband equally likes visiting them - he's an academic.

I found it so much easier when I took my laptop on a two month trip to the US last year, and yes I did keep up with blogs, conference and professional committees I'm a member of, etc. It took away some stress as I knew I wouldn't have to play catch up when I got back. However, I did not keep up with my work email which was a deliberate decision.

I'm back in the US and Japan from next week and have been debating whether to take the laptop again, I'm leaning towards yes. If only because it gives me another excuse to spend time sitting around in cafes all morning drinking coffee.

Yep, that's what I do at the cottage--wake up early and put in a half to two thirds of a working day before the sleepier members of the crew even get out of their pajamas. Then afternoons and evenings are for goofing off. I'm not sure it would work as well (or at all) with overseas travel to unfamiliar places, though -- concentration would be a problem, I think.

The ModalWife and I have done this for years; 2 hours or so of work per day makes everyone's schedule fit better. Especially if you're jet-lagged!

My rule of thumb is that mundane work == a no-no on vacation. Vacation time is for CREATIVE stuff, like starting new papers, fooling around with stuff, and doing "work" that otherwise would get crowded out with quotidian work. It's like a mini-sabbatical; no deadlines, just time to think.

For those saying this is not an option for tradespeople--you are very wrong.

In my community (which is part of a multi-national and nationwide, but fairly small, community), most men are in one of the trades. One of the commonest "vacations" is to go to another community and work, often on a volunteer basis. For example, when I was building my house, various friends and family members came (for time periods from a day to a week) and helped on my house; that was used as an opportunity to visit family and friends, see sights, etc--very like what Tyler is describing.

I am not totally against the concept of work vacation because I took my laptop with me even on my Alaskan fishing vacation. But keep in mind that it's still a vacation and work doesn't any longer come first.

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