What I Learned From My First Unplugged Vacation In Two Years

Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Relaxing in Blue Lagoon during my recent unplugged vacation in Iceland.

As a consultant or freelancer, there’s an incredible amount of freedom in terms of the where and when of your work. As a result, it’s often surprisingly hard to take a fully unplugged vacation. Many of us are only paid for time worked or results delivered, and because we can often take our work with us anywhere, it can be pretty hard to fully “get away,” even on a so-called getaway.

I’ve spent more than a few working vacations where I’m partly on vacation, and partly working. I actually really like working vacations. For instance, while on vacation in the Bay Area earlier this year, I was also able have a productive business meeting with a local client and as well as get other work done at the San Francisco office of my local Boulder coworking space, Impact Hub. I really enjoyed that trip, but even a semi-working vacation is a very different kind of experience than a fully unplugged vacation. There is some relaxation, but never the fully “off” feeling you get when you unplug completely.

This great New York Times article on the importance of vacation highlights research indicating that that even before we experience signs of fatigue, it’s important to take fully “off the grid vacations” to reset our brains. It turns out we’re biologically wired to take pauses from the constant influx of information, both work-related and otherwise. Many startups are starting to offer unplugged vacation as a perk, and some even make them mandatory in order to keep talent feeling fresh. (Source) This makes sense from a business perspective, as “several studies have shown that people who work overtime reach a point of diminishing returns.” (Source)

Last week, I took my first fully unplugged vacation in two years: a 6-day trip to Iceland. While soaking in geothermal hot springs, hiking mountains, visiting glaciers, volcanos and lagoons, spending quality time with my partner completely off email and iPhone, I put all of my energies towards two tasks: adventuring and relaxing. I came back feeling renewed and more ready to solve problems for my clients than I think I would have if I’d taken a semi-working vacation. Maybe it was placebo effect, but I really did feel a “brain rest” that’s been fueling me now that I’m back in Boulder.

The ‘net is littered with stories of Tim Ferris-types who’ve moved their business to paradise, or who are on a full-time global travel spree, all while maintaining a successful consultant business. As I mentioned before, that’s great if you want to constantly be half-working, half-vacationing. And garden variety semi-working vacations are still great. But for me, taking a week off in Iceland showed me that it’s really important to take unplugged vacations, even if you don’t feel you need them. Even though I didn’t feel “burnt out” before I left, I feel remarkably refreshed upon my return. In terms of the business that I usually take with me on trips? One of my clients had one of the best weeks ever in terms of visitor traffic and user acquisition while I was gone, in great part due to the content, social and ad setup I’d put in place the week prior to leaving. With ample planning, you can take a fully “off” vacation, and you can likely feel confident it’s going to make you happier and more productive upon your return.

If you’re thinking of taking an unplugged vacation, and can find a way to make it work, I really recommend it.

I’d be curious to hear in the comments if others prefer semi-working vacations, or those of the unplugged variety? 

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