The Fine Art of Doing Nothing, From an Antsy Pants Traveller

The author learns the fine art of lazing on a beach holiday in Costa Rica.

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, 2011

“There’s a cacao farm close by,” I said out loud, highlighting the listing in my Costa Rica guide book, “and a sloth sanctuary. What should we see first?” My classmates and I were at the glorious Playa Cocles beach in Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica, a bay with soft, pale gold sand, a swathe of emerald green water and just the right amount of sun. My friend peered up at me quizzically from her beach blanket, and said, “I am staying right here. The only thing I am getting up for is a piñacolada.” With that she returned to her novel, leaving me to my devices.

I reluctantly laid out my beach towel and looked around me—another friend was juggling with a couple of kids she had befriended at breakfast, tourists were swimming or sunning themselves, rum-laced drinks were being bandied about, while I sat, hugging my knees, wondering: How is this a holiday, if we are doing nothing?

A long, detailed itinerary has been a mainstay of almost all my holidays, every day planned out meticulously: places to be ticked off, monuments to be seen, botanical gardens to be explored. An endless stack of things to see and do. My family and I have spent almost every summer travelling to a hill station, tea garden, historical site, steadily making our way through that carefully planned itinerary. Straight out of the hotel after breakfast, and back only in time for dinner. Exhausted but giving ourselves a pat on our backs for having left out nothing. When I started travelling with friends, we followed the same pattern.

And here I was, taking a long weekend in November away from my climate change studies, to do… ummm… nothing at all. I grumbled—I wasn’t a beach person, I couldn’t even swim, what am I supposed to do now. Seeing that neither of my friends were being particularly helpful, I gave up. I laid back on my towel petulantly, pushed up my sunglasses and began reading Amitav Ghosh’s latest, the one book I had hauled all the way from India with me. As I read about opium trade and weary travelers, I felt the stress of the past month—crammed with academic reading, visa woes, and homesickness—fall away from me. Every few minutes I would gaze at the Caribbean Sea, and think, I could get used to this.

Since then, I have learned to slow down and take in the sights, to hold precious one stunning vista over checking off five view points from the list. I have spent half a day sketching in Dambulla in Sri Lanka, lingered over copious cups of coffee in Monteverde, watching humming birds flit from one feeder to another; and skipped a boat cruise in Switzerland because I couldn’t tear myself away from Pablo Picasso’s “Girl with a Boat (Maya Picasso)” at the The Rosengart Collection in Lucerne.

And it was all right. That frantic fear of missing out (FOMO, if you must) didn’t tug at my backpack. Getting my money’s worth from a trip wasn’t about squeezing every minute with sightseeing, but about enjoying that moment. Holidays are now more languid, they are about spending time with my loved ones, decompressing, and savouring each day.

As for Puerto Viejo, we spent the rest of the weekend taking long walks, chancing upon deserted beaches with blobs of moss-covered rocks in the water, and eating ice cream at sunset. Holidays don’t get better than that.

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