It had been more than 3 years since Terri and I had taken a vacation lasting longer than about 4 days. I find that if you can’t get away for at least 2 weeks, it doesn’t have the effect of a vacation, one that provides new perspectives and relieves stress. We took a 2-week tour of Scotland and Ireland in 2003 and it was wonderful, but Terri’s mom was traveling with us and was suffering from cancer. She was determined to make her first visit to Ireland and Scotland. The trip was difficult for her and although she tried to remain strong, her body wasn’t cooperating. She ended up in the hospital in Ireland for 3 days and passed away just a few months after returning to the U.S. So that trip was bittersweet for us because Terri’s mom got to see a lot of Scotland and some of Ireland for the first time, but it was also stressful because we knew she was not feeling well. After the tour concluded in Dublin, Terri and I rented a car and visited my relatives Kilkenny and Nenagh. It had been 36 years since my previous visit to Ireland and we vowed that we’d not let that much time pass before we visited again.
In today’s high tech job market, there doesn’t ever seem to be a good time to take a vacation. A high tech worker is expected to be fully engaged, working a full 8 hours (at least) at the office and then conducting conference calls in the evenings along with keeping ahead of the flood of email and maintaining aggressive program schedules. One of our previous CEOs described this mode as ‘Work whenever’ which we interpreted to mean ‘Never stop working’. So in this kind of environment a vacation usually presents a huge inconvenience, especially when you’re in the middle of a project. But if you don’t take a vacation eventually, you can find yourself with your vacation time at its ‘cap’ without being able to accumulate any more until you take some of what you’ve already accumulated. In the spring of 2006, both Terri and I were at our caps, so a vacation seemed like something we really needed to do to get back under our caps. We also felt an intense need to just get away from the hectic day-to-day pace.
Now that there are so many ways to communicate, it’s tempting to take along a laptop or cell phone just to keep tabs on things at work and make sure there are no fires blazing out of control as a result of one’s absence. But lugging a laptop and figuring out how and where to connect in the areas we’d be visiting didn’t seem conducive to the spirit of what we were trying to do, that is, to get away from the stress. So instead of taking a laptop, I provided one of my colleagues with a set of phone numbers where I could be reached just in case there was an emergency. I also took an HP PocketPC, primarily as an experiment to see if it would allow me to connect when I was in the vicinity of an open wireless access point. I had resigned myself that only true work emergencies would interrupt the vacation.
Next time I’ll discuss how we came about to visit so many places in the 17 days we were there along with the logistics of planning the trip.