Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Away without work

I have declared many times in the past that I am going to leave for vacation deadline-free.

But I’ve never really succeeded.

And I’ve always managed to rationalize it.

“The great thing about being a freelancer is that I can work from anywhere,” I have said many times. “I don’t even tell my editors I’m going on vacation, because I want them to keep thinking I’m available any time they want to give me an assignment. I don’t want them to fall out of the habit of calling me because I told them I’d be out of town.”

“And besides,” I’ve said, perhaps sometimes unconvincingly, “it’s nice to know I’m earning money while I’m vacationing.”

But at times, it hasn’t been so great at all. More than once, I’ve been assigned the dreaded “July 4th round-up” while spending a late-June week in Colorado. The July 4th round-up involves contacting the 53 cities and towns covered by my regional section of the Globe and finding out what each one has planned in terms of public activities for the 4th of July. Once I’ve reached all 53 towns and nailed down the details of their Independence Day observances, I then merely have to write a few paragraphs of witty or reflective text to weave them all together.

I’ve interviewed epidemiologists from airport gates and football players from downtown coffee shops. I skipped a rafting trip with my family last year so that I could write about a film festival. “It’s fine,” I always said. “I’m lucky to have a job that’s so portable.”

Lucky, maybe, but what was really lucky was that I never had to finish up all my work before I left town. Because even though I was never the type in high school or college to hand in papers late or request extensions, I never seem to quite get to any kind of absolute endpoint with my professional assignments.

I’d even tried travel writing: turning a vacation into a business trip by writing a travel story about my destination. “It will be great,” I insisted to my husband. “I’ll get to interview random people on the street and storekeepers and tour guides. I’ll earn a big check for this trip, and a tax write-off.”

All of that happened, when I scored a travel-writing gig, but what it really did was, in fact, turn a vacation into a business trip. Not only could I interview fellow travelers and tour guides; I had to. Even when I wanted to just enjoy my family and the scenery and being away from work. Because I never exactly was away from work.

But this time it’s different. All four of us are traveling unplugged, unrechargeable, and unconnected. We’re motivated not by any ideological resolution to get back to nature but by the high cost of international roaming charges and wireless charges at our destination. We can’t afford to be connected this vacation. So the plan is that we won’t.

I don’t care about missing out on email or Facebook. What worried me was the thought of being compelled to meet all my deadlines ahead of time.

But I planned it out. I had six articles due when I realized this. I had six days left before departure. An article a day. That was math even I could do.

And meeting each daily goal as the days went by felt like a huge accomplishment. I had no choice. If I fell behind, I’d miss deadlines altogether. And I’ve never done that in my entire freelance career.

I’m almost there. Five days in; five articles in. One more to go. I haven’t written it yet, but I will. And I’ve forewarned all my editors that they cannot come back to me with questions or fact-checking because I won’t be here. If they thought it was curious that it was the first time in almost ten years I’d admitted to taking a vacation, they didn’t say so. They just urged me to have a great time.

And I think I will. Traveling work-free is a new concept to me, but one I think I’ll like. I guess I’ll find out. Just as soon as I finish that sixth article. Then I’m all caught up with work and ready to go.

And if I miss work too much, I can always work on a travel story about our destination. I have a theme all set, after all. Work-free travel.

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