Brad Feld

Back to Blog

What’s A Vacation?

Mar 23, 2008

Last week, while on vacation, Fred Wilson wrote a post titled Working on Vacation.  It began as follows:

The title of this post sounds like an oxymoron. But it is a fact of life for me and probably many of the people who read this blog. The idea of a ‘get away from it all’ vacation is a romantic notion that I cannot seem to achieve as much as the Gotham Gal and my kids would like me to.

Later in the post he says:

My friend Brad Feld does ‘go off the grid’ for one week a quarter every quarter. I’ve asked him how he does it and I honestly can’t see myself pulling it off. I wish I could.

Fred is referring to my quarterly vacation (which Amy and I refer to as Qx Vacation) that I first wrote about in my post Discovering Work Life Balance.  In this post, I talked about five habits, including Spend Time Away.

Spend Time Away: Amy and I take a week long vacation each quarter (which we fondly refer to as “Qx Vacation” depending on which quarter of the year it is) where we completely disappear.  No cell phone, no email, no computer, no conference calls – my assistant knows how to find me in case of an emergency; otherwise I’m completely unavailable for the week.

Fred’s post acknowledges his struggle with the concept of a complete disconnect for a week.  Coincidentally, his post appeared on the first day of a 10 day "downshift" for me.  We subsequently had a twitter exchange about it and – after pondering Fred’s post for a few days (since I’m in downshift mode, I didn’t feel any urgency to react to it), I formed some thoughts about the definition of a vacation.  I came up with five different categories.

  1. Spend Time Away: This is a complete disconnect for at least a week.  I have been doing this four times a year since 2000 and view this as a key part of my existence on this planet.  It gives me a week to catch my breath, rest, spend time with Amy, explore new things, and clear my brain.  I’ve felt completely invigorated every time I’ve returned from spending time away.
  2. Go Dark Weekend: When I find myself feeling burned out, I do a go dark weekend.  I turn off my computer and cell phone at 6pm on Friday night and don’t turn it back on until 5am Monday morning.  I cancel anything that is scheduled for the weekend and just do whatever I feel like doing.  This is usually a once a quarter event; occasionally more frequently depending on how busy I am.  I’m considering doing this around each of my marathon weekends also.
  3. Excursion: This is what Fred was just on.  It’s a vacation to a neat new place with your immediate family and possibly some friends, but there is still structured work time.  In Fred’s case, he scheduled 90 minutes early in the morning for calls and tried to be disciplined about only checking his blackberry during "down time."  I was in Scottsdale at the Phoenician from last Friday until Tuesday for my dad’s 70th birthday – I’d put this in the same category.  I spent lots of time hanging out with my family, running, playing tennis, eating, and sleeping late, but I kept on top of my email, had a few scheduled calls, and was available for important things that came up.
  4. Downshift: This is what I’m currently on.  Amy and I are at our place in Keystone for a 10 day stretch.  We’ve got plenty of friends coming and going so there’s lots of social time.  I’ve got a chunk of phone calls scheduled each day (10am to noon) but no board meetings, no in person meetings, and lots of random thinking / reading / chilling out time.  I’m completely available for important things, but I’m not initiating anything substantive this week.
  5. Visit: We all know this one – it’s the infamous family trip where you go visit your parents / relatives or they come visit you.  It’s a key part of life, but you often return more tired then when you departed.

I find myself regularly taking vacations in each of these categories and realize that when the expectation of the type of vacation is set in advance (mostly with Amy, but often with other people we are with) the experience is much more satisfying and relaxing for everyone.

I’m sure there are plenty of nuances to each of these categories (or possibly different categories) – please weigh in if you disagree with my categorization or have any to add.