sunday life: how to really have a holiday

This week I have the holiday you have when you’re not having a holiday

Salt Water Pool

On Friday, there I am, in Bali, on holiday, having a pedicure. Which is kind of the bourgeois equivalent of getting Bo Derek braids. Two hours and 15 minutes later, there I still(!!) am, having a pedicure. Sujatmi, the all-smiles Balinese girl attending my toes, couldn’t have gone slower without going backwards.

Being the Bourgeois, Uptight Westerner with A Week Off (a BUWWO?) that I am, such a protracted scenario would normally see me commit hari kari. I’d be a mess, fretting about all the nasi gorengs I could be eating and the white beaches I could be strolling. Everyone else is having The Perfect Holiday, is what I’d be thinking, while I’m bloody-well having my calluses scraped at glacial speed.

But on this occasion I remain calm. So much so that three hours later when the polish smears everywhere and sand granules get mooshed into the tacky mix I laugh. Why? Because this holiday I’m having the holiday you have when you stop trying to have a holiday.

Holidays are hard. And operate to some freaky Murphy’s–style laws. You don’t get sick all year, but get the flu the moment you flick on your annual leave auto-reply. You over-pack, but a cold snap sees you wear the same long-sleeved outfit the entire week. You hang out for the break all year, but when you’re actually on it, you can’t appreciate it. It’s like having a massage (which is the bourgeois equivalent of a henna tattoo) – when you finally have one you can’t relax into it because you’re anxiously anticipating it coming to an end. That, or you’re too busy micromanaging the therapist’s pressure point technique.

Yes, holidays are damn hard, particularly if you’re a BUWWO. We’re so used to controlling every iota of our lives, we can’t go with the holiday flow and take rest; it’s too violent a gear change. I know someone who, off for a “relaxing break”, divided the island of Kauai into quadrants, with corresponding activities to be completed in 1.5 days per quadrant. But when the car broke down leaving her stranded poolside at a tranquil resort she went into meltdown.

Then there’s Perfect Holiday Syndrome, which kicks in around day two when we realize our sojourn is not resembling the Country Road catalogue we thought it would (handsome couples beachcombing in comfy knits and eating barbeque prawns from lime green platters). Being around other holidaying folk (and the laid-back Balinese) only compounds things. The contrast exposes our own attachment to expectations and inability to chill. Which hurts. It really does.

As my work mate Clint, just said to me over the phone, we often need a holiday to get over a holiday.

But what if, dear reader, we skipped the first holiday? If we didn’t over-research accommodation or cram in five stopovers in as many days? And instead cut straight to the restful, go-with-flow holiday? Well, this week, that’s precisely what I did.

This entailed three steps I gleaned from a range of self-help sites. First I minimized decisions and options. At every turn I took the simplest path, letting circumstances dictate. I had to go to Bali for a wedding, ergo Bali was my holiday destination. (Ideally I would’ve stayed closer to home, minimizing airport drama and carbon miles.) Then I reduced my aim for the trip to this: to rest. And rest only. I left my surfboard at home, even my ipod. I took running shoes, but fate stepped in: I forgot to pack the innersoles. I didn’t visit temples; I got massages.

The second step was to relinquish control. I usually Google the bejusus out of a destination. This time I asked my friend Sam who knows Bali well to book accommodation. I didn’t even ask the name of the place. I just rocked up. Then, for the entire 10 days, I didn’t look at a map and went with whatever suggestions were planted before me. Harvard psychologists found recently that the happiest outcomes emerge when we defer to the advice of others who’ve “been there, done that”, rather researching a decision ourselves. They also found we tend to overestimate our enjoyment of experiences we so pedantically research. This “affective forecasting” sees us cruising for a bruising letdown. Hence, Perfect Holiday Syndrome.

Which leads me to the final step: once there, expect nothing. And see what happens.

FYI…I spent part of my holiday in Canggu at Desa Seni. Thought I’d share some pictures of the place. It’s an eco resort for people who don’t like resorts…the pool is salt water, the huts are rustic and decked out in the most eclectic manner, plus the gardens are pretty much an intricate latticework of organic vegetables tended all day with love. Eighty per cent of the food from the kitchen is made from produce grown on the property. Also, it’s a yoga retreat and they have some amazing teachers pass through. The yoga studio is set in the middle of the garden and butterflies join in the asanas. As I say, I truly do recommend the place…and I haven’t been paid to say so!

Rumah Wisnu


Salt Water Pool

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