The 20-Minute Vacation

Marina laundry rooms and lounges are great places to find free books. If you’re willing to look hard, underneath the stacks of paper-back murder mysteries and romances, there are literary gems.  That’s how I found Life of Pi and Love in the Time of Cholera, for example. And, somewhere in between, there are books like Judith Sachs’ 20-Minute Vacations: Quick, Affordable, and Fun “Getaways” from the Stress of Everyday Life.  In a book store, it would probably be in the self-help section. It is neither frivolous nor profound, and I have largely forgotten the contents of the book itself, but the guiding principle has stayed with me and formed the basis for self-rejuvenation in the midst of my dizzying life of homeschooling five children on a boat.

I was reminded of this book today when I lay prone in the darkened yoga studio, rhythmically and deeply breathing incense-infused air. One of the principles of that practice is to be “in the moment” or “fully present.” And, I have found, that if I can simply find, say, twenty uninterrupted minutes, I can tune out frustrations, chores, noise, and stress and focus completely on relaxation. In essence I can take a twenty-minute vacation and return to previously-scheduled, organized-chaos feeling refreshed. The principle in Sachs’ book was similar: we have limited time on this planet, so we must make the most with what we have. We must not take our lives for granted, and we need to give ourselves some undivided attention, especially when many demands are placed on us, so that we can live thoughtfully, joyfully, and intentionally. And, thankfully, this only takes twenty minutes, which is about all I can find these days.

Sachs’ book seemed to be written for the modern American working woman: someone who spends a lot of time working in an office or commuting, struggling to balance work and family time. Two things I realized when I read her book were that I don’t fit that category, and that many of the things she lists as possible ideas for mini-vacations are things I consider part of my “job:” playing a board game, rolling down a hill, creative cooking, reading poetry, swinging at the playground, stargazing, playing with Play-Doh, kneading bread, writing in my journal, and reading to a child. On the one hand, it makes me feel lucky to have such an enviable job, but on the other, I have to be even more creative to find refreshment.

This idea of taking a twenty-minute vacation has completely transformed my day. People are always asking me how I do what I do, and assuming that I have more patience than the average person. The truth, however, is that I don’t always do it well—I do snap at the children, I do feel overwhelmed and underprepared, and I do need to take a step back sometimes to prevent myself from feeling trapped or burned out. If I find that I’m getting upset about little things, I know it’s time to take a vacation. Sachs makes more than 100 suggestions for ways to reduce stress and enjoy life more, things like the “beach getaway”—sitting with your bare feet in a basin of sand under your desk on your lunch break, or touring a world-famous art museum from your computer. I don’t actually remember most of her recommendations, but her book got me thinking, and I’ve figured out how to carve out my own mini-vacations.


Some of my favorite getaways include:  lying in my hammock between the hulls of our boat in the afternoon sun, brewing a good pot of afternoon tea, reading for pleasure in my cabin while Rachel takes a nap, turning the music up loud and dancing with the children, going to the marina to take a hot shower, watching the sunset from my favorite perch on the arch while drinking a glass of wine, going kayaking, taking a walk on the beach, sewing a quilt square, taking a Yoga class, getting a pedicure, and listening to music by candlelight in the cockpit after the kids are in bed.

Anyone can afford this kind of vacation. It doesn’t take money, and it doesn’t take much time. It takes a measure of creativity, and a desire to build more of what you love into your everyday life. Real vacations are wonderful—a change of pace and scenery, a time to make memories, and a way to shake things up. But when you can’t take a long trip, you can always find a way to escape for twenty minutes to relax and find refreshment.