I finally realized why I like to travel so much, and it’s not half as exciting as I thought. There really is one overarching reason, and it’s so simple and in a way sad but those of you who are raising families will understand and perhaps even validate me here:
I only have to do one thing at a time.
See, when I’m at home I’m never doing one thing at a time. Here’s what one Chanukah night found me doing.
Dash into laundry room while loudly announcing to my kids that I’m in the laundry room and no one may bother me. Begin to wrap Chanukah presents while catching up on listening to voicemails. Remember that I need to defrost the fish for dinner. Figure fish can defrost while I wrap and wouldn’t that just be efficient. Dash out of laundry room while loudly announcing that I am no longer in the laundry room but no one may peek into or enter the laundry room. Place fish in bowl of water. Remember that I might as well cook rice while fish defrosts, both happening while I wrap. Do it while simultaneously spying on laundry room to ensure compliance. Fish and rice humming along. Back to laundry room. While wrapping remember that I wanted to make latkes. Call my daughter (who’s in the next room but I’m not risking leaving the laundry room again) to ask her to peel the potatoes. Field questions about said potatoes while wrapping and rice and fish happening.
So mostly this is the story of my life. There is a lot to do in a short amount of time and I want to do it all well. I double and triple up and delegate and sometimes it works and sometimes I drop the ball but either way, all this multitasking is exhausting. As the verse in Ethics of the Fathers sums it up: The day is short and the work is much.
But when I travel, no one expects me to to multitask, ever. On my work trips no one talks to me when other people are talking to me or fails to notice that I’m on a phone call and just dives in with a brand new conversation. My meals are a PART OF THE SCHEDULE instead of something that gets shoved in somewhere between carpool and errands. If I’m lucky.
Doing one thing at a time feels positively luxurious to someone in my stage of life. Unitasking is an elusive dream, something that exists, I imagine, for retirees or singles living alone or maybe other people who are not me.
Which is why I cannot fathom why people buy WiFi on airplanes. As much as I embrace technology, and I love it, and I think it’s so cool and amazing and I use it to the fullest, I love being inaccessible. I love planning what I’m going to do on my flights: read, write, pray. One at a time.
My expectations are low and my satisfaction is high. So I miss my family when I travel and I miss my home. But I do not miss subdividing my brain into more compartments than I can count. These are my luxuries and I’ll enjoy them unapologetically.
To me, that’s a 5-star vacation.
Shabbat is the one time of week when I rarely multi-task. There are so many things that are off the table for me and with the limits of choice the joy of unitasking comes back in to the picture. When I had a houseful of small children, I was still faced with this issue, but even then, I simply can’t do laundry, cook, do anything on my phone, run errands. Maybe the model for Shabbat shouldn’t be “you can’t,” but rather “you get to not worry about that.”
Now that’s vacation.