How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I was wondering… if I go on vacation for almost two whole weeks and I never Tweet or post to Facebook about it, did it really happen? If I travel through six states, put 3500 miles on the SUV, and never mention it on my blog… was I ever really gone?

And if I go on a family vacation without taking photographs or journaling even one word about my trip… did I actually go?

These are the questions that haunt me as I look back on the last two weeks in which I took a fabulous road trip with my family but consciously decided not to document it along the way. I decided, rather than recording, I’d simply experience. I wanted to be in the moment, not talking about the moment, not observing the moment, not making notes or taking photos of it. I just wanted to inhabit this precious time with my family.

There was a part of me that was a bit anxious. I’m so used to talking about what I’m doing, while I’m doing it. It felt odd to not Tweet “I’m in Yellowstone National Park where a guy got killed by a bear this morning.” I felt a bit discombobulated as I read all the blog comments on my Blackberry each day but didn’t join in the conversation because I was in a vacation state of mind. I felt strange not writing down some of the great things that happened, and found myself narrating everything in my mind as if I were telling it to someone or blogging about it.

It felt liberating and scary all at the same time.

But in the end, it seemed like I’d had a deeper experience somehow. I interacted on a deeper level with my family because I was never stopping to capture something in words. I stayed continuously embedded in the here and now and consequently, I think I enjoyed it more.

Of course I worried I might not remember all the wonderful details that normally I’d write down. But right now I’m thinking that this vacation left a more permanent impression on my heart, regardless of whether details remain in my mind. So maybe it was worth the tradeoff.

As writers (and social networking freaks) we’ve become so used to documenting our reality while we live it. There are so many good things about that. But now I’m wondering whether part of becoming a more powerful writer – and more fulfilled person – is knowing when to put down our pens (and recording devices of all kinds) and simply live.

What do you think?

P.S. I didn’t bring my camera, but the three other members of my family did, and we have 1300 photos to show for it. Here are a few.

Birch Bay, Bellingham, Washington


Old Faithful

Boiling River (yes, it’s hot!)

Canary Spring, Mammoth Terraces

Grand Prismatic Spring

(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Natalie on November 25, 2011 at 5:29 AM

    I like this web blog very much, Its a rattling nice berth to read and incur info . “I have found that if you love life, life will love you back.” by Arthur Rubinstein.

  2. Sophia on October 11, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    Hey, you used to write excellent, but the last few posts have been kinda boring… I miss your great writings. Past several posts are just a little bit out of track! come on!

  3. Aditya on August 11, 2010 at 2:43 AM

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  4. vishal on August 11, 2010 at 1:24 AM


  5. Amy Sue Nathan on August 4, 2010 at 7:05 AM

    >If I comment on your blog without reading the other comments — did anyone else actually have something to say?

    Kudos Rachael for being in your vacation instead of behind a camera or a monitor. I just returned from five days away and although I took some photos, I intentionally limited my lens time.

    I always look better in my memory than in a jpeg anyway. 😉

  6. Tea with Tiffany on August 3, 2010 at 9:52 PM

    >i have some of the same pics you took from our Yellowstone vacation just a few weeks prior. 🙂 loved this adventurous place!

    By the way, great thinking as always.

  7. Bonnie Lacy on August 3, 2010 at 9:15 PM

    >Great pictures! Hope is was a great vaca! And I totally agree with just living for awhile. When we glance down at our paper to write, we might miss the big finish! (Or whatever!) Thanks.

  8. Michelle DeRusha on August 3, 2010 at 9:59 AM

    >I go both ways. Sometimes taking photographs or notes helps me tune in closely to the small details of an experience, to see the gifts I may have missed.

    Other times the camera gets in the way, and I shoot the experience instead of actually living it.

    This happened a couple of weeks ago. The sky was dramatically stormy here in Nebraska. I was clicking away, when my camera battery died. I was forced to put down my camera and really drink in the glorious sky. I mentioned to my neighbor at the time, who was standing on her front porch, "I think this is God's way of making me live the experience."

    Finding the balance, I think, is key. I don't think I've managed to do that yet!

  9. KC Frantzen on August 3, 2010 at 2:24 AM

    >Tusen takk – many thanks.

    May others follow your lead as you set down the Blackberry also… 🙂

  10. Kathleen Pooler on August 3, 2010 at 12:56 AM


    I love this post! You have hit right to the core of what is important–living life in the moment and being present. The memories you captured will remain with you to be revisited when ever you wish. Putting down the pen or turning off the computer is good once in a while Thanks for sharing your beautiful pictures. They say it all. Thanks also for the reminder of the importance of enjoying life in the moment.

    Kathy Pooler

  11. Anonymous on August 2, 2010 at 11:44 PM

    >If the memories don't escape onto paper or laptop, they stay in your head. And a stray scent or a flash of turquoise will take you back. It's better that way.
    Jenn Fromke

  12. Liz Carmichael on August 2, 2010 at 11:19 PM

    >If only you could have NOT checked your blackberry. For me that would be the perfect holiday


  13. Jan Rider Newman on August 2, 2010 at 8:54 PM

    >Your decision not to document, but to experience, was brave, and I'm glad it worked well for you. I've made the same decision a time or two and have sometimes regretted missing a great photo op. Otherwise, really, the experience matters most to you and the loved ones you're sharing with at the time. As long as you remember, it is documented.

  14. Michelle Massaro on August 2, 2010 at 7:10 PM

    >I 100% agree! The Lord has really been speaking to my heart lately about prying my own fingers from my keyboard to simply BE in my home. Even if nothing is going on and no family games are scheduled, just close the laptop and exist with my family. Oh, it's hard! But so worth it!

    I'm working on cordoning off designated times for computer and writing, and shutting it down the rest of the day. Not always multi-tasking family time with blogging time or whatever the case may be. Our mini trip (2 days, not 2 weeks you lucky girl!) was a chance to kickstart this new attitude and it really helped!

    Glad you had a blessed time with your family. Enjoy those memories! =)

  15. Joanne@ Blessed... on August 2, 2010 at 4:27 PM

    >Welcome Back Rachelle!

    Good for you. I'm highly impressed with your self-discipline. Wish you were close by, you'd be that friend I'd want to do weight watchers with. ;O)

  16. Saloma on August 2, 2010 at 3:17 PM

    >Isn't life all about striking a delicate balance? I grew up Amish, where there were no ways to record/document except through diaries or journals. And you know what? I have a strong memory of the important events of my childhood, perhaps because I wasn't relying on technology to remember for me. By the same token, I don't remember what I looked like when I was young, given there are only a few photos of my childhood.

    From my Amish background, I have determined what is important to me. I choose not to watch television, and rarely movies; I have a cell phone with prepaid minutes, which I never use for IMing and only for emergencies or traveling; and I wear clothes that are comfortable, whether or not they are "in style." On the other hand, I really like having a computer for writing, (which is a desktop and I don't take it on trips, but rather I take a journal and pen), I do enjoy taking pictures, and I have a home with most modern conveniences.

    I've done what the Amish claimed could never be done… I've built a bridge between the culture from which I came and the one I've chosen. I am happy with the balance I've struck and consequently I love my life. The key is that I determine whether I really need the newest technology, or need to follow the latest trend, or whether I am doing it to keep up with everyone else. That's why you won't find me on Facebook (despite much pressure from friends and family), but you will find my website and blog.

  17. Erin MacPherson on August 2, 2010 at 3:10 PM

    >GORGEOUS pics!! And welcome back!

  18. Courtney (Women Living Well) on August 2, 2010 at 2:51 PM

    >Wow! Great pics and I can so relate! My sisters laugh because I always have my camera in my purse and sometimes I'll say – "I think I can blog about that!"

    They know at any minute they could become a part of the next blog post – but when you are writing 5 days a week – everything becomes blog worthy right!!!

    Thanks for sharing this perspective. It is important that we do enjoy the here and now. Thanks for setting a GREAT example!

  19. Sue Harrison on August 2, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    >How glorious!

  20. pathunstrom on August 2, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    >Having returned recently from a similar trip, I must say the 'detoxing' of an unplugged vacation is amazing, and I actually found some time to read some books! My reading being insanely behind, it pleased me to be able to say that.

    In regards to living to improve ourselves as writers, I wholeheartedly agree. Experience only makes us better at conveying life to another.

  21. Bethany from Confessions of an Organized Homeschool Mom on August 2, 2010 at 12:52 PM

    >Bellingham is one of my favoritest places of all time!!! My dad was born there & I still have some family there. Been to Birch Bay, too. Fun for me to see pictures of there (even if you didn't take them!). It's been years since I've been to Yellowstone, but it's absolutely one of God's awesome creations.

    It's a good thing someone else documented your trip, because I'm doubtful it would count other wise (just kidding)! I'm one of those who hates to unplug, but I'm getting ready to at least partially unplug this week. I'll have my camera, though.

  22. Levi Montgomery on August 2, 2010 at 12:20 PM

    >You were in Birch Bay, and you didn't drop by for coffee? 🙂

  23. Liz on August 2, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    >Beautiful post (and beautiful pictures! I was in Yellowstone a week ago and it was wonderful!). I've always thought it strange when I see people tweeting or facebooking about their vacations while they are happening. I think that if you are really enjoying your vacation, then go enjoy it! Don't tweet about it.

  24. T. Anne on August 2, 2010 at 11:24 AM

    >I think family solitude is priceless. Sounds like a wonderful two weeks. I have family in Bellingham and I think it is SO beautiful. And Yellowstone is one of our families favorite destinations. Glad your kids took pictures! Than you for sharing your beautiful family with us.

  25. Teenage Bride on August 2, 2010 at 11:14 AM

    >Gorgeous photos. I have certainly decided to try to live for and in the moment more. I am often times dwelling on the past or envisioning the future. I need enjoy the here and now. Thank you.

  26. Anonymous on August 2, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    >Looks like you had a great time getting away from it all… Where are the hordes of people? How fun!

  27. christa on August 2, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    >I'm sure your family will treasure this vacation as one of those where they had your full attention! And what a gift for you to be able to enjoy your time with them in such incredible God-created backdrops.

  28. Camille Eide on August 2, 2010 at 10:02 AM

    >To unplug and fully engage with the people who make it all matter – I applaud you. Although you were missed. And yet I think the tweeting/blogging world survived in your absence. Somehow. 🙂

  29. Jill on August 2, 2010 at 10:01 AM

    >Good for you! That's the best kind of vacation. Too bad you have to go back to real life, now. That's always tough for me anyway.

  30. Barbara Baig on August 2, 2010 at 9:54 AM

    >Great writing results from having perspective on experiences, not from documenting them as we're in the midst of them. If we're thinking/writing/blogging about experiences in the moment, then, as everyone has pointed out, we can't really have those experiences. If we don't really engage fully with experience–if we're always watching ourselves having them, as our media-dominated culture insists we do–then we lose the experience entirely. I think in general we worry too much that we will forget things we might use in our writing. If we're fully present in life as if happens, then the things that are really important will sink into us, and they will be there for us to write about when we want to. And because we have fully absorbed these experiences, we will be able to write about them more deeply and more effectively than when we blog or write about them as they are happening.

  31. CFD Trade on August 2, 2010 at 9:50 AM

    >Well, without the rest of the world knowing what you are up to makes things more special in my opinion. Somehow, sometime, there are just things I will want to savor without the world knowing about them.

  32. Amy Sorrells on August 2, 2010 at 9:40 AM

    >"I’m wondering whether part of becoming a more powerful writer – and more fulfilled person – is knowing when to put down our pens (and recording devices of all kinds) and simply live."
    Amen, preach it, sista!

  33. steeleweed on August 2, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    >The only way you can prove it happened is to depend on evidence provided by others? I have major philosophic issues with that. 😀

    It does feel peculiar to 'get off the grid' of daily life, but that's what a vacation is supposed to do – 'vacate' our usual concerns. It's always a liberating experience. Y'all seem to have enjoyed it.

  34. Reena Jacobs on August 2, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    >I think it's wonderful to actually take time and live life. A lot of people say writing is a job, but I don't think a lot of writers treat it as such. Instead, it becomes an obsession or addiction. Non-stop thinking, plotting, and doing. Writing should be a part of life, not take over life. IMHO 🙂

  35. Jessica Nelson on August 2, 2010 at 9:11 AM

    >Awwww, beautiful family! So this is kind of like the whole, if a tree falls and no one hears it type thing? *grin*

    I like what you're saying here. I don't know if not writing things helps me experience them more deeply, but I do agree that sometimes we need to stop being the observer and start being the participant.

    Glad you had a wonderful time!

  36. Jason on August 2, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    >Your older (well, taller) daughter looks EXACTLY like you. Cute family… 🙂

  37. John Overman on August 2, 2010 at 8:53 AM

    >Having deep experience with your family is certainly #1 for me. As writers, I think we need deep "in the moment" life experiences to write about. But social networking does allow me to meet and interact with terrific people I likely would not have known otherwise. I think balance is the key.

  38. sharonbially on August 2, 2010 at 8:33 AM

    >What a beautiful family! And good for you for not documenting. I maybe be a writer and a social media addict, but I turn off every screen on the weekends and when I'm on vacation. That way, my brain does the documenting on its own, letting real images and events blend into my imagination. The upshot: a more tranquil moment and much more fodder for stories and new ideas!

  39. LaylaF on August 2, 2010 at 8:28 AM

    >You have a lovely family. Hold them close to your heart. And yes, you did the right thing to "be here now" with them.

  40. Katt on August 2, 2010 at 8:22 AM

    >I'm willing to bet you will talk about this vacation for years!
    Spending time, just being, is so important, especially with family.
    And you hit on one of my favorite places on earth.
    I was a lucky child to spend every summer from 3months old to 15, at Birch Bay.
    And as an adult I try to get there at least once a year, just to settle my soul.
    I'm going soon, for a whole week and I'm not even taking my laptop.
    I hope you feel as rejuvenated as I know I will be.

  41. Susan Bourgeois on August 2, 2010 at 8:19 AM

    >I think you did the right thing. I think it was smart for two reasons. These are precious moments in your life. You shouldn't feel you have to share them with anyone but your loved ones. At times like this, your loved ones should not have to compete with anything pertaining to your work.

    Think about it. Imagine how many opportunities you might have missed on vacation had you chosen to write instead of sharing this experience fully with your family. It would not have been the same and it wouldn't have been a great example for your children. I feel that strongly. We have raised two adult daughters and one adult son.

    It's times like this where we simply have to break away from the electronic devices that rule our everyday lives. It's times like this where we need to take the time to re-connect with our family and nature.

    I think it goes back to what you mentioned last week. It's important to allows ourselves a certain degree of quiet in order to create thoughts or memories that can last a lifetime.

    Sometimes re-connecting can also be accomplished by doing simple mundane tasks as you mentioned last week.

    Right now, as I write this simple comment, there's no noise in my home except for the low buzz emitting from my computer.

    I think we should aim to disconnect from outside noises or distractions as much as possible for our sake as well as our loved ones with every opportunity that comes our way.

    This is a great time in your life. It goes by very fast. It's important to soak it all in every single day of your life. It's wonderful that all of you now have two special weeks of your life together to remember forever.

    It's also great that your loved ones took 1,300 pictures. Memories fade and pictures help captivate our experience at special times like this in our lives.

  42. Marla Taviano on August 2, 2010 at 8:07 AM

    >Gorgeous pics. Welcome home!

  43. Diane on August 2, 2010 at 7:59 AM

    >I plan to document my vacation but not via facebook/twitter. My kids love to have a scrapbook to look back on and relive the memories. And I love to make notes about the crazy things that happen to us along the way.

  44. Katie Ganshert on August 2, 2010 at 7:55 AM

    >Those pictures are GORGEOUS!! I missed your tweets, but I think the tradeoff is worth it. I went to summer camp with 90 junior highers last week. Three and a half hours away from home. No cell phones. No iPods. No technology of any kind for these kids. It's like they turned into kids again, and had enough quiet to hear God speak.

    I know I need to get better at finding this balance. My mind is constantly writing and observing. I wish there was a switch I could turn off.

    Thanks for the reminder, Rachelle! Glad you had a special time with your fam!

  45. Kelly Combs on August 2, 2010 at 7:41 AM

    >The first photo we have of my first born child is when she was 3 days old. It wasn't that we didn't bring the camara, we were just SO in the moment, we forgot to document it.

    I think we do FB, tweet, etc too much. To the determent of our "real" relationships sometimes. Good for you for living in the moment! I hope it was a wonderful time for all of you.

  46. Heidiopia on August 2, 2010 at 7:28 AM

    >Agreed, Rachelle! I'm still new enough to blogging/tweeting/facebooking that I don't have much trouble stepping back when I'm enjoying my family time. This is a great reminder for me, though, to maintain that balance. Looks like you had a great trip!

  47. Penelope on August 2, 2010 at 7:25 AM

    >Beautiful pic of your family!! What an amazing concept–just experiencing and not documenting. Lovely!

  48. Julia on August 2, 2010 at 7:17 AM

    >You can't fully experience something if part of your brain is busy recording it. Some things (many things) are meant to be absorbed before being digested.

  49. Richard Mabry on August 2, 2010 at 7:15 AM

    >You did exactly the right thing. I have a love/hate relationship with social networking anyway, and I appreciate someone who can take a hiatus to enjoy family time. As for photos,I've heard it said that an American is someone who will drive a thousand miles to take a family picture in front of his car.
    Welcome back.

  50. Susan Helene Gottfried on August 2, 2010 at 7:06 AM

    >This is why I look forward to camping and other things these days. Enforced no Internet and nothing to do but live. I love these chances to slough off the day-to-day life and step outside the grind.

    Good to see Yellowstone looks as amazing as it did when I was there in the Winter of 07-08. I'm itching to get back.

  51. Emily Marchman on August 2, 2010 at 6:54 AM

    >It's not a vacation if you keep working. I'm glad you took time to relax and enjoy the moment. I did the same on my vacation this summer and I think it was one of the best ones ever. I've come back extremely refreshed!

  52. Wendy Paine Miller on August 2, 2010 at 6:49 AM

    >Cheers for putting down the pens on vacation. Like your point here.

    ~ Wendy

  53. Buffy Andrews on August 2, 2010 at 5:55 AM

    >For those of us who can't live without computers and others tools of our trade, unplugging can be downright painful. But it's also liberating in many ways. I think the key is to know when to unplug. Family always comes first. Unplugging and being with your family refreshes your soul and mind. I'm glad you were able to do this. And I'm sure that your family was, too. BTW, you have a lovely family. Blessings, Buffy

  54. Bali villas on August 2, 2010 at 5:52 AM

    >i'm thinking the same like you..

  55. A. Grey on August 2, 2010 at 5:43 AM

    >Great post! With it being summer and all, I was just talking with a coworker about going places and vacations. She remarked that she'd never seen a picture of me anywhere doing anything. I had to stop and think about it, but she's right. I have hardly any photos of me 'out and about' because I'm a confirmed hermit, and when I hit the road for something, I'm all about that experience and living in it, since I normally go nowhere… the result is that I never think about documenting the time I'm having because I'm too busy enjoying the time I'm having… which is both good and bad in its own way.

    Glad you had a great time! I would love to go all of those places…

  56. Jody Hedlund on August 2, 2010 at 5:05 AM

    >Glad you had a wonderful trip! Sometimes our families need us to be completely involved in the moment, so that they know how important they are without having to compete for our attention. Missed you, though! 🙂

  57. Sharon A. Lavy on August 2, 2010 at 4:58 AM

    >Here I was feeling bad for you not having pictures to treasure of your vacation, especially this one where you bonded so well with your family.

    What a relief that someone still took pictures! So you have the best of both worlds. And so does your family.

    God Bless!

  58. Eileen Lunny on August 2, 2010 at 4:48 AM

    >Thanks for sharing the insights you gained by becoming "unplugged". I am currently in my third week of a TV detox and I am experiencing that same sense of greater presence and a deeper connection with my family and myself. I joked at the end of my recent "check in" blog that maybe I will do the computer next. Your post has given me more motivation to consider doing this. I spend far more time on the computer than I do watching TV so the gifts and awarenesses should be greater!

  59. Creepy Query Girl on August 2, 2010 at 4:24 AM

    >awe, I totally get what you're saying. My parents spent a weeks vacation here and instead of enjoying the moment, they were so worried about getting pics in front of all the Paris monuments. It can really take away from 'experiencing' the moment. Looks like you had a great time!

  60. PK on August 2, 2010 at 4:05 AM

    >I totally agree. It's important to learn to disconnect and be invloved in the moment… especially with the fam. Everything else can wait during those precious, short-lived vacations. And I think we become better writers for it. It's therapy for the soul.

  61. Marja on August 2, 2010 at 2:54 AM

    >Sometimes a picture can say more than a thousand words Rachelle, your vacation looks wonderful, say no more 🙂

  62. kea on August 2, 2010 at 1:36 AM

    >Thank you for bringing that up. I'm on a week (or two) hiatus from my blog and have the same feelings. We've become some well documented as a FB culture, but when does the deeper thinking take place? Are we ambitious (and conceited) enough to think that we are thinking deeply everyday when we blog and tweet and fb? I'm glad to see you're experimenting with not documenting. Next step: not reading other people's communications, getting out of the loop. I just might try it.