Once upon a time, working from home was the dream. I would have freedom and flexibility. I could craft my schedule as I desired and be my own boss. I envisioned having a designated writing desk that overlooked a bustling cityscape, complete with never-ending French press coffee and a stack of periodicals that I actually had time to read.
And then I started working from home.
My expectations were a little…off. I should note that I don’t work from home full time. I have a day job in Washington, D.C., that requires me to be in an office four days a week. I have a great team and enjoy the work, but balancing my 9-to-5 with my schedule as a writer and consultant is tough. My early mornings, evenings, and weekends are almost entirely set aside for freelance projects. Put another way, I spend a lot of time at home.
I’ve always associated the concept of home with a personal sanctuary. I grew up in a humble, two-bedroom house. Our space was small, and my space was even smaller. Regardless, it was essential that I make it my own: I stuck those glow-in-the-dark stars and moons onto the ceiling of my room. I taped up pages that I’d ripped out of my favorite fashion magazines. And you better believe I squeezed a bright blue blow-up chair in there sometime between 1998 and 2000.
I like to think that my interior design skills have improved since then. And while I believe I have created a clean, cozy, and inviting home as an adult (thanks, Marie Kondo), I never really considered the effect working from home would have on my so-called sanctuary.
For starters, it’s less a sanctuary and more a place that reminds me that I have work to do. I still get nice and comfy on my sofa, bundle up in a fleece blanket, and binge watch Queer Eye like the best of them. But my laptop (and, even worse, my desktop) give me some serious side-eye the whole time.
So often, before I know it, I’m knee deep in spreadsheets, calendars, and project management apps because when you run your own business, there is literally always work to do. I go to bed stressed and wake up stressed. My bed used to be my happy place. Now it’s just where I try to switch off for the day.
Not being home—even though it was just a couple miles away—gave me permission to finally hit the off button.
Near the end of last year, as I rapidly approached burnout, I decided that I had to get out of my apartment. Otherwise, I was never going to stop obsessing over my workload. It also happened to be my birthday month, which is pretty much the only excuse I need to spend what I would ordinarily consider exorbitant amounts of money on myself.
My proposal to my fiancé went a little something like this: Let’s “waste” away a weekend at a buzzy, hip hotel in a neighborhood on the other side of town. Their flagship restaurant had been getting rave reviews since its opening, but—like with everything else in my life—I let work get in the way of ever making a reservation and checking it out.
Now, we had the perfect excuse. We were hotel guests and could easily saunter down to the restaurant from our room. The meal lived up to the hype, and we stayed up until 2 a.m. (!!!) drinking overpriced cocktails alongside off-the-clock lobbyists and Capitol Hill staffers.
The next day, I proceeded to stay in our absurdly soft king size bed for approximately seven hours. At first, shame and a sense of urgency began to creep in. Surely I should actually—oh, I don’t know—get up and do something? Didn’t I have an email to reply to? An invoice to submit? A story idea to flesh out?
Yes, yes, and yes. But not being home—even though it was just a couple miles away—gave me permission to finally hit the off button. I left my phone plugged into its charger for hours without checking it. It was the most liberated I’d felt in months. Every time I thought about climbing out of that unbelievably comfortable bed, I reminded myself that I was intentionally taking this time and spending this money to rest. When thoughts about my workload began to creep in, I immediately countered them with, “The only job you have right now is to not be obliged or committed to anyone or anything other than yourself.” In other words, your job is to switch off. When I reframed my thinking in this way, everything changed.
It reminded me of a time I was in therapy and had a revelatory breakthrough: Sometimes, self-care is doing nothing. Yes, yoga classes are great. Mani/pedis are great. A glass of wine is great. Going to a movie is great. But you know what else is great, especially for us perpetually burnt out millennials? Doing. absolutely. nothing.
The key, of course, is to not let the guilty feeling that you should be doing something (and at all times) consume you. Getting out of my home environment played an essential role in making that sense of guilt less palpable. And once that happened, I became more comfortable with the idea of spending a whole day in bed, literally doing nothing other than channel surfing and talking to my fiancé (when I wasn’t sending him on snack runs to local coffee shops—God bless that man). While having him around to pick up food and chat about the trending news of the day was a pleasure in and of itself, I can definitely see the appeal of a completely solo staycation.
“We’ve noticed an increase in women taking staycations, especially with other women for a ladies weekend or even alone just to get away,” says Sarah Abelsohn, marketing manager at Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa in La Jolla, California. “Women are feeling more empowered to travel alone. They understand that taking time for themselves and unplugging is necessary and important for maintaining a work-life balance.”
“Anything I do for myself—like a weekly blowout—is really done to save time so I can work some more. It’s paramount for my sanity to take a staycation.”
That’s what Kerry Gillick-Goldberg has done every year for the past four years.
“I take an annual staycation after my final client event of the season at the end of October,” says Gillick-Goldberg, a public relations and marketing professional. “I take two days to de-stress, have a massage, get my hair done, and not think about being a wife and mother. I actually invite my husband for a dinner date and then make him go home.”
Like me, Gillick-Goldberg has workaholic tendencies that can be hard to tame and control. Her staycation is her conscious attempt at finding a way to “truly relax.”
“I tend to work a lot, and anything I do for myself—like a weekly blowout—is really done to save time so I can work some more,” she explains. “I think it’s paramount for my sanity to take a staycation. I’m only 30 minutes from home and can be available in case of a true emergency. And since it’s so close by, I have absolutely no guilt.”
As a single mother working from home, Christina Towle says that staycations help her mix up the boredom that can come with an everyday routine. She lives two hours outside of New York City and frequently plans staycays at Loews Regency Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
“I can go to their in-house spa and gym, walk to Central Park, and go to Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorfs to shop,” Towle says. “On top of the fun, there is also business I can do, like planning meeting with clients and using the hotel’s business center. And it’s an extremely cozy hotel so it feels homey.”
Admittedly, I’m not the best at shopping around for deals. Including food, drinks, and valet parking, my escape weekend cost about $850—more than a spa day or shopping spree to be sure, but less than your typical full-blown vacation. (This time of year—a.k.a. the dead of winter—if you don’t live in sunny locales, you can find discounts on many luxury hotels. John Maibach, managing director of the Loews Regency, says that January is a particularly popular month for staycations. “There’s about a 10 percent increase of New Yorkers staying with us this year compared to last January,” Maibach shares. “Typically, January is a quieter month in New York overall. This gives locals the opportunity to take advantage our special offers and packages that are not available all year round.”)
Although I’m budget-conscious, I’m willing to spend on staycations because I know the return on investment: I’m paying for an escape, both physically and mentally, that will force me to slow down. I may not be able to jet set to an exotic locale every time I need to get away. But I can definitely get lost in a sea of crisp white sheets for an entire weekend. And these days, that’s honestly the only escape I need.
Mekita Rivas is a multicultural writer, editor, and content strategist based in Washington, D.C. She frequently covers culture, style, travel, and wellness.