The art of the non-escapist getaway

by Kristin on January 18, 2011

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo of me and the pup taken by Jason

We just spent the weekend in another world.

Well, it was only a four hour drive away, it was still cold, and we did all of our own cooking and dishes. But it was still a change of scene—an adventure!

We stood on the frozen waves of Lake Michigan, surveying a starkly beautiful landscape that included no other human life as far as the eye could see. We remembered what silence sounds like, and how stillness feels when it envelopes you. The girls pretended they were Arctic explorers, and I imagined what it might feel like to stand on another planet. Then we all cozied up by the fire back at the cottage, playing board games and drinking tea and cocoa.

It was hardly an extravagant or tropical getaway (it was colder and snowier than home), but it was a true getaway. Sometimes that’s all it takes to refresh you in significant ways.

What’s the difference between an escape and a getaway?

It might seem like the words “escape” and “getaway” are synonymous, but I think they definitely carry different connotations. In movies, “escapes” are harrowing—they leave you shaken, weak and just grateful to be alive. Getaways, on the other hand, seem glorious and exciting. They make you cheer, filling you with fist-pumping energy and optimism, ready for whatever is next.

In the days leading up to our little trip, I kept referring to it as a “getaway” rather than an “escape.” I started wondering about my choice of words. Was I trying to hide the escapist’s desperation that undoubtedly lay behind our plans for the weekend? I can’t deny that I wanted to escape the trappings of home for a few days: the stacks of mail, the obligations, the kid schedules and taxiing, the clear 3G network signal always calling to me from the phone in my pocket.

The annoying thing about “leaving the stress behind” is that all of those things inevitably seem to be waiting for you when you return home. That’s something you can generally count on when you try to escape, whether via travel or a massage, exercise or alcohol: The things you most wanted to distance yourself from are still there.

With the right method & mindset, getaways are good

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be healthy to put some distance between yourself and those centers of stress. It just depends how you go about it—both in terms of method and mindset. I have to ask myself if I’m gravitating toward something destructive or something that builds me up, like laughter, a healthy friendship, exercise or rest.

And I need to examine whether I’m seeking it with the hope that all of my problems and stress will magically disappear while I’m away, or with the hope that I will feel refreshed and able to face life with new energy and a healthier perspective when I return. My friend Lisa put the distinction like this: Is it more about what you’re turning away from, or what you’re turning toward?

I think my sense of things upon arriving home last night is a good sign that I had just enjoyed a getaway, not indulged in an escape. Here’s how I expressed it in a tweet:

home after a weekend away. all the work & stress are still here, but it looks different—less ominous. #newperspective

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  • tara – scoutie girl

    I think part of this message is that it’s important to concentrate on building things (relationships, responsibilities, careers, etc…) that you don’t WANT to escape from.

    Getaways will always have their place. We will always want a sense of adventure or otherness. But escapes are the result of living in/with something we DON’T want.

    Great post!

  • Kristen Sloan

    I had a similar getaway experience this weekend. After a stressful two weeks, it was wonderful to get away and just be with friends. When I returned yesterday, I felt rejuvenated and ready to tackle what’s ahead. Sometimes we need a break from the routine to keep us feeling new.

  • Linda B.

    A chance to get away really can help change perspectives. I have a crazy 70+ hour a week job that I love but can be exhausting. I make it a point to try to go down to the beach and stare at the waves for awhile every week. It’s amazing how a couple of hours even can refresh me and help me focus again on the fact that God is still bigger than the other things that crowd my life, and I’m ready to face the bizillions of people I see on a regular basis.

  • Ron Simkins

    Great reminder Kristin. Turning toward and turning away from are both important, but a getaway toward sure is more productive than an escape from So, in addition to thanks for the reminder; also glad you had a good “getaway” yourself. – Ron S

  • ed cyzewski

    I wonder if you need an escape if you delay your getaway too long. :)

    That actually sounds like a typical vacation for us. Sometimes just breaking a routine to go somewhere else and to have nothing in particular you need to do can be very relaxing. That’s why I enjoy visiting my in-laws in Vermont. We sleep in, XC ski, eat dinner, do dishes, play a game, read some books, etc. It lets my brain go into neutral for a bit, which seems to be exactly what it needs.

    I’m so glad you got some time away and, as always, I’m glad you shared your perspective. I find that we often don’t need too much–i.e. we don’t need to go to the Caribbean in order to have a successful getaway.

  • Debbe Perry

    #newperspective: I find that not only physically renewing, but spiritually renewing. In fact, I believe miracles are changes in perspective. Love the blog!

  • Kristin T.

    tara, I hear you. We need to look critically at our lives, take stock, and make changes so our lives end up having a lot less stress and ick we want to escape from. But even good lives filled with good things can get old and stale, I think. We need positive ways to shake things up and help us see things in new ways, even if it doesn’t involve an actual getaway.

    Kristen, I’m so glad you were able to get away. Conversation and laughter–especially with close friends you don’t see often–can be the very best sort of respite.

    Linda B., I think it’s key that you said you love your job but it can be exhausting. I bet that’s the case for lots of people and situations. Parenting is a great example–you love your kids but they can be exhausting. It’s good to acknowledge that we need breaks from good things, not just bad things in our lives.

    Ron, as I wrote this post, I couldn’t help but think about your understanding of “repentance” as involving two intentional actions: the turning away from one thing and the turning toward another, more life-giving thing. I’m glad you stopped by and saw that connection, too.

    ed, yes–it’s important to schedule getaways like preventative maintenance, lest they turn into emergency surgery. Your in-law’s home in Vermont sounds lovely. Can I tell them you sent me? :)

    Debbe, in so few words you’ve given me much to contemplate–especially this idea that miracles are changes in perspective! I wonder, do you think the miracle is able to occur *because* of the change perspective (like our perspective is a gate, otherwise holding the miracles at bay), or whether the change in perspective itself would BE the miracle? Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Jennifer

    Lovely, thoughtful and intentional. Just like you. In the words of the great introspectionist, Tina Fey, “I want to go to there.” Not the escape, but a return of the sound of silence. Good news is often it doesn’t take a 4 hour trip. Sometimes it’s just turning off the noise and sitting. Still I love that your return to the “noise” came with a new perspective. Key here is your willingness to think about your word choice, their implications and then your decisions to act upon them. Loves.