What is Annual Leave For

Travel.

Right? I mean, what kind of free days would they be if you were to stay in your apartment/house? “Oh, you poor thing! What terrible circumstances led you to take annual leave and staying at home? Were you sick?” The only excuse could be Corona Lockdown. But else: Travel, travel, travel!

That’s how I would do it too. Until this year.

I planned a 3-week holiday starting on August 1st. At the time, I could have traveled (the travel limitations were modest). But I thought that all these changing colors marking countries “safe” or “dangerous” and possible travel restrictions would add unnecessary stress. Plus, the first half of the year somehow led me to try the “Everything Differently” approach. So I thought: Why not? Let’s go travel-less!

Okay, but since ever before, I would always travel, I had to ask myself: “What can I substitute travel with?”

To answer it, I had to ask another one: “What is it that travel does for me?”

What Does Travel Do for Me

I sat down and wrote the following:

  • Disconnects me from everyday life
  • Cleans my schedule and gives me space for doing new things
  • Lets me stay close to cool cafes and restaurants (in the city I’m visiting), so I don’t need to use public transport
  • Provides aesthetic stimulation (galleries, museums, architecture)
  • Offers exotic food (things I have not tried before)
  • Lets me sit in a cafe without understanding anything being said there

Maybe I could have come up with more, but these were the things on the top of my mind. How could I achieve them during my 3-week break-from-work in other ways than by travel?

Disconnect

Is there a way to disconnect without travel? Hmm… I could just go offline for 3 weeks… Where’s the big deal in that?

Clean my schedule

If I know I’m on holiday for 3 weeks… I can decline all invites with the explanation that I’m on holiday. Why should it matter I’ll be enjoying a holiday from home?

Cool cafes close by

When I lived in Petriny at the edge of Prague, yeah, that was difficult; but having moved recently Letna, lucky bastard me… There’s like 30 cool cafes in walking distance! No need to travel.

Aesthetic stimulation

Are there any galleries, museums, or noteworthy buildings in Prague I haven’t visited yet – or to which I have not paid enough attention? Yeah, like all of them! I could spend a whole day just in the National Gallery right across the street from my place… They don’t have my favorite “Las Meninas”. Still, wouldn’t spending time among the Czech art collections increase my appreciation of world-class masterpieces the next time I get to Madrid, London or New York?

Exotic food

There are hundreds of restaurants with various cuisines in Prague. But what if I tried to cook something myself? That would be truly exotic!

Not understanding people in a cafe

Okay, not that easy to replicate in Prague (unless I go to Sapa, but that’s far away and not that cozy)… I’ll give this as the one only travel can fix for me!

This is how it worked out

On August 1st, I wrote an out-of-office message not only for my work email, but also for my Gmail and for my Facebook (which I posted as a profile picture). I cut myself off from the world while in my own apartment better, than in Philadelphia, Kuala Lumpur or Norwegian Hardangervidda.

I cleared my calendar of any appointments. I declined all invites, saying that I’ll be on holiday (except for one, will explain later).

Often, I would start my day in a cafe nearby, like I would when on a city trip.

I crisscrossed Prague walking, paying attention to the picturesque streets and unusual places of interest (such as the water towers, and there are quite a few!). I even bought the book 111 Places in Prague that You Shouldn’t Miss (and crossed 18 off the list) and an annual ticket to the National Gallery. If you’d like to accompany me for a gallery visit, let me know! Besides having the ticket, I live next door!

One evening, when I had nothing to do (remember, I was offline for 3 weeks), I opened that brick-of-a-book, Tim Ferriss’ “4-Hour Chef”. I discovered a magical page “Around the World in 44 Flavor Combinations”. The next day, I went shopping for spices and herbs – and for the rest of the holiday, I would have scrambled eggs for breakfast – each day with a unique country-specific seasoning. Culinary exploration with minimal carbon footprint!

I was not surrounded by people whose language I would not understand – but hearing Czech during my holidays was quite an exotic experience too.

Takeaways

When I returned to my standard workday routine, I was not just rested. I built up new skills (eggs of 44 flavors!). I expanded my knowledge of the city I live in (isn’t that more useful than expanding knowledge of a city I’ll likely never visit again?). And after more than 10 years, I liberated myself from all phone-app induced interruptions. After deleting all messaging apps from my phone on August 1st, I have not installed them back. No Messenger. No Gmail. No need to check my phone every couple of minutes.

Yes, travel is nice.

But maybe now – with all the uncertainties connected making it annoying, a hassle, or downright impossible – perhaps now is a good time to ask yourself this question:

“What is it that travel does for me?”

“How might I get that by other means?”

Who knows. Maybe you’ll find something better than travel.


Note: I mentioned there was one invitation I accepted. My friend Zuzka invited me to spend time with her friends in a wellness resort on the outskirts of Brno. When she wrote this to me, I thought: “Wow, that’s something I would never do. Let’s do it now!” It was great. Thanks Zuzka!