“Vacationing” and Designing During the Pandemic

This past week was a very strange time to take a “vacation”. I’ve always been in a believer in actually going somewhere when taking time off. That it’s better to get out of your normal environment to do a reset by exploring new places and experiences. Or, at the very least, relaxing in a hotel room in a comfy bed, stuffing my face with takeout, and watching HGTV with zero obligations. But all of that is pretty much impossible right now.

My boyfriend and I had a great trip planned to Portugal during my spring break before my last quarter ever of grad school. We were excited that we got great deals on our flights. One flight we booked with credit card points on Air France in business class after snagging a great deal as we were taxing out from our gate in Singapore to fly to Bali last year. Our return was supposed to be the first leg of a round-trip flight from LHR -> SEA on British Airways in first class, after we found an insanely good deal that would’ve made economical sense given all the mileage points we could count towards getting MVP Gold status on Alaska Air.

My boyfriend, having attended an aeronautical university for his undergrad and graduate degrees, gets really excited to fly certain routes. We were stoked to be able to experience one of the best first-class lounges in the world. It was something worth looking forward to after busting my ass in grad school AND designing and releasing so many features at work in Q1. I really needed a break, a reset, and something to look forward to.

So when we realized our vacation wasn’t happening, and that I’d probably lose $3000 I’d put towards the trip (fuuuuuuuuuu. I’m not rich, people.), I was pretty bummed but also at a loss for what exactly to do. My day to day life hasn’t changed that much at all, especially since I was working from home regularly before. Despite that, it’s still weird.

There’s this strange thing going on right now in a lot of parts of life where on the one hand, you kind of have to go on and pretend life is completely normal (as long as it’s a six feet distance from others). On the other hand, shit’s crazy and I catch myself thinking how can we possibly go on like normal when everything’s so messed up and so much about our society has changed already? How do you cope with that? No one knows. We’re all just trying to figure it out. And probably baking bread with our own sourdough starters.

One thing I knew immediately that the stress wouldn’t reset itself. I had to come up with some sort of plan to not let it all build and cause havoc on my body. So I decided to take my planned time off work anyway, scoped down to a week, because if there was something I could do and had control over, it was removing one source of low-level stress from my life for a short period. Seems weird. It was probably the worst vacation I’ve ever had, but it did give me a lot of time for introspection. In some ways, it was a reset. Maybe not the reset I needed, but at least it was something.

Here’s what I did:

  • I took two trips outside my house. They were thrilling, in the way you’d think obsessively washing your hands and disinfecting every surface of your car is thrilling. One to go to Costco to get a bunch of meat, and one to pick up my farmers market produce box and some beer from a local brewery that doesn’t have the benefit of amazing distribution networks.
  • Came up with a solid exercise plan I followed every day that’s included strength training with a set of 10lb dumbbells and some resistance bands, lots of yoga, pilates, barre, and climbing the three flights of stairs in our house over and over again. It’s taken me a while to get to this point, because making a plan that works with your schedule and energy level is hard. We’re not exercising outside anymore. My boyfriend is in an at-risk group and it’s not worth the risk for us. (We also live across the street from a park and it’s mildly stressful to see people still driving to congregate there.)
  • Cooked every day and shared it on instagram because cooking makes people happy. My boyfriend is happy eating the same thing every day (chicken, brown rice, and steamed mixed vegetables), so it’s definitely a low pressure situation. I enjoy the creative challenge of using what I have on hand.
  • Did some art. I used to do a lot of art before I started grad school. It was awesome and made me feel accomplished. I missed that.
  • Read an entire book all day. I really missed the luxury of being able to start a book in the morning with a cup of coffee and read it straight through in a single day without feeling like I had any other obligations.
  • And here’s some stuff I thought about:

  • I know I’m going to have some sort of existential crisis when I finish grad school because I won’t be working towards some larger goal anymore. I thought a lot about what I want my next big goal to be and how I want to thoughtfully spend that time I’ll get back.
  • That they named it social distancing when it is actually physical distancing.
  • It’s fine to not appear to be doing much. Some of us have already been energy-drained because of physical conditions and need to take all our extra energy to figure out how to not let stress affect our immune systems.
  • Twitter has become even more of a toxic ‘you should’ve done more’ and blame-game shouting match, unfortunately. Even health organizations recommend limiting the amount of time you spend reading the news.
  • It’s ok to feel depressed because of canceled events and vacations. If someone is, it doesn’t mean they’re not equally upset about how this situation has been handled on a national level or how extreme inequalities have been further revealed.
  • Everyone needs a support system for dealing with day to day stress. I started adding 20 minutes of restorative yoga on to the end of my workouts. I highly recommend guided meditation, even if you think it’s not your thing. Or just spending some time laying on the (clean) floor or exercise mat.
  • Everyone needs social interaction, even people who think they’re introverts. I had a hunch this was true, and wish I could’ve done a research study on it. It’s still a good idea to have those virtual happy hours and phone calls.
  • The next time you go to the grocery store, buy some dark chocolate. It’s also full of magnesium which is good for your immune system.
  • I’m sure a lot of people are also feeling the same way: wanting to get some social interaction, wanting to creating something, trying to feel productive, languishing their regular schedules and canceled plans, and possibly actually grieving. So what does this actually mean for a designing in uncertain times? I’ve decided that it doesn’t mean saving the world through design. I’ve decided instead to try to help ease stress a little for everyone by continuing to focus on making tools for remote work and creative expression easier to use. Even though that was my mission before, it doesn’t mean we’re all carrying on like everything is normal. It’s not, but we still have to work and need to create (hopefully something other than thousands of loaves of bread) as a form of our own self-care, and hopefully it’ll help some people destress and not worry about at least a few things in this crazy world.

    I’m always looking to connect with fellow designers and am open to speaking opportunities. Let’s grab a coffee and chat if you’re in Seattle!

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    Two people standing on the outside deck of a Washington State Ferry.