Why Can’t I Go on Vacation Like A Normal Person?

Why Can’t I Go on Vacation Like A Normal Person?“No matter where you go, there you are.”

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

I’d like to go on vacation. I really would. Here’s what I imagine: You fly in luxury and comfort to someplace gorgeous. You lie around, get pampered. Mentally, you’re free as a bird, not a worry or a care in the world. You sleep as long as you like. Eat what you want. Drink. Of course, you drink. You just lay back on some comfy lounger and relax in a total state of bliss. That’s what vacation is, right?

I have never had a vacation like this.

Mainly because I have to bring myself with me.

When I was a kid and told my dad (an engineer) that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, he was very clear that this was a terrible idea. Writing, he asserted, is not a job. As my twentieth novel is about to publish, and I have been a full-time professional writer for more than twenty-three years, I am here to tell you that he was correct. Writing is not a job. It’s a calling. It’s a vocation (not to be confused with “vacation”). Most writers are born and not made. Our minds work a certain way. And, at least in my case, it never stops working that way, even when I’m supposed to be relaxing.

I’m just going to say it. I don’t get relaxing. I mean–what is it? I understand presence and meditation. That I can do. But just lying around and having someone hand you a Mai Tai on a tray while you soak up the rays in your new bathing suit–my brain can’t handle it. It’s always going to create a story, and a dark one at that. While other people are enjoying their down time–I’m thinking about tsunamis, and how my daughter could be abducted, and who is that creepy guy and what the heck is he looking at, and where are the exits. It’s not just an occupational hazard. My brain worked this way to begin with. It’s, in fact, probably why I write thrillers.

When I was growing up, I don’t think my family ever really took a vacation. We traveled. The early part of my life was spent in England and the Netherlands, and so we traveled around Europe visiting museums and castles, churches and places of historical interest. There were no resorts or amusement parks, no luxury hotels. Back in the US, my father’s idea of a fun trip was to visit civil war sites and tour battlefields asking endless questions on a simmering field in the blazing heat of summer. Gettysburg sticks in my mind. He also liked feats of engineering like bridges and dams, aqueducts. Lots of questions about those, too. Maybe once we went to the Jersey Shore. Still, I don’t recall chilling on the beach. I think I watched The Exorcist on the motel television and was essentially scarred for life. Why my parents thought it was okay for me to watch it is not clear. My mother, it should be noted, has no memory of this.

All I’m saying is that good vacationing was not modeled for me as a child.

None of this changed when I met my husband, an adrenaline junkie and an adventure travel enthusiast. Here are just a few of the things we’ve done: We trekked the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu, floated down the Amazon River, canopy walked in Costa Rica, rafted down the Rio Grande, lava tubed in Iceland. Let me just say this about our “vacations”–when I come home, I am happy to be alive and vow to never travel again. Of course, I do travel again. And again. Because–the world.

Recently we went to the Azores. I know. Where are they Azores? I’m not telling you because I don’t want you to go there. It’s that nice. This is the closest I have come to relaxing on vacation–lots of spa treatments. Until. We were headed to hike the rim of a volcanic lake–because of course there was a volcano. But it was raining so hard that we turned around. On our way out we came across an abandoned hotel. The dark, towering behemoth was covered in graffiti and surrounded by multiple signs like PERIGO (that’s DANGER btw) and other obvious Portuguese warnings like NA ENTRE, clear in any language to STAY OUT. So, of course we parked the car and decided to go in. Not my finest parenting hour. I wonder what our daughter will remember about her “vacations.”

During the pandemic, we decided to take a socially distanced vacation to Blue Ridge Georgia. We rented a gorgeous cabin, and intended to hike, cook, and just chill.  When we arrived, we were awed by the natural beauty of this part of the country, and blissfully hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail. We brought our groceries from home, cooked, made a fire in the fire pit and roasted smores. Sounds nice, right?

It was.


I just couldn’t stop wondering about the door locks. The code–did everyone who rented the cabin get the same entry code? Or was it changed every time? When I was sitting alone on the porch in front of the outdoor fireplace (gorgeous–relaxing for anyone else), a bearded older man, with a head of long gray hair and baseball cap rode up the drive in a Gator and informed me that sometimes he “looked in” on the property for the owners. “That’s nice,” I said. “Thanks for dropping by.” He drove off without another word. I thought about that old guy–a lot. And wondered what he’d meant exactly by “looking in.” The place was much bigger than we needed because it was the only cabin left the week we wanted to rent–and my daughter’s room was a little too far from ours. And it was quiet. And it was really, really dark–no other houses around for miles. Exactly what we wanted. A secluded cabin. It actually slept more than six. It was more like 8. You see where I am going with this, right?

And it got me to thinking–at 3 AM–about this whole vacation rental thing that we’re all so into these days. And the prevalence of security cameras and how everybody has them now. And how even the most sophisticated surveillance equipment–visual and audio–is very cheap and some of those cameras are so small.  (Go ahead. Look it up.) You could really put them anywhere and the people you were watching would never know. Unless they were totally paranoid and looked around, and maybe if you did a good job, not even then. But who would do that? Who would look for cameras in a gorgeous luxury vacation rental? Who wouldn’t just kick back by the fire and read a book? Ahem.

It wasn’t just that little adventure that was the inspiration for my twentieth novel SECLUDED CABIN SLEEPS SIX. A few months later we rented another place to vacation with my extended family–said Mom and Dad of Gettysburg and Exorcist fame–a stunning property with multiple structures, this time in Asheville. My brother, my niece and nephew, were also supposed to join but a covid scare kept them away and lots of drama ensued. So as most people know–unless you’re one of those weird people who actually gets along all the time with your wonderful family of origin–this was not exactly a vacation either.

My point is that instead of peaceful retreats that might have been restful for anyone else, maybe even you, they were inspiration for my twentieth novel. A thriller. About a brother and sister who take a much-needed long weekend away with their spouses, best friend and her new boyfriend. They are out in the woods, and their “host” is a little too present. And a storm is coming. Cell phone service is spotty. And there’s someone lingering in the shadows with an appetite for a certain kind of justice. What could go wrong?

That’s what most of my vacations are–basically fodder for my overly vivid imagination.

So maybe someday, right? Maybe one day I’ll visit someplace so restful and relaxing that I won’t have one single paranoid or catastrophic thought. I won’t experience any personal encounters that will get me thinking about people and what they’re capable of, and how crazy and out of control life can be sometimes, how just a single choice can upend your whole existence, and–what was that noise coming from the basement?

But then what would I write about?

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