On vacation, how much do you unplug?

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesAs I watched the President's Martha's Vineyard holiday get interrupted by Senator Kennedy's funeral, my mind turned to one of my perennial vacation quandaries -- how much can you really disconnect from work and life while you're away? And do you always want to?

I'm about to head into vacation and I've been in my usual pre-vacation frenzy, working furiously for a few weeks in order to clear the decks enough to enjoy some complete unplugging.

Doing work you love leads to work/life blur, and as an independent worker who works from my laptop, I can work from wherever I am. Which has benefits and pitfalls. I can work in cafes in my neighborhood, at my mother's house by the beach, or at an isolated lodge in the mountains (as long as the lodge comes with reliable Internet access). And most of the year, I live like that. Never disconnecting from work, yet never feeling too burdened by it either. While I often spend a Saturday cleaning out my inbox, I also indulge myself in the occasional Wednesday matinee or Friday museum visit when I can wander in peace because the crowds are thin.

Much as I enjoy this integrated way of working. I start to get fuzzy if I go too long without a real vacation where I take a break from all the technology, go far away (or at least somewhere that feels far away) and let my brain be stimulated by different things. That doesn't mean I completely avoid thinking about work, but I try to do it in more subconscious ways. I ruminate on ideas, grapple with problems that have been dogging me, and often brainstorm with others about where I want to go in my career. And wherever I am, I tend to observe what's going on in the work lives of the people I meet along the way, which is, after all what my work is all about.

Yet for a vacation to feel like a complete vacation, I have adopted a few iron clad rules:

Craft a clear out-of-office message. I've spent a lot of time thinking about out-of-office messages and here's what I plan to do this time. Office, cell and home phones will say that I'm without phone access or the ability to check messages until a certain date (a date that is at least one day after I'm back). I'll write the same thing as an auto-responding email and then add -- and this is the important part -- that I will be deleting all messages on my return and therefore if someone wants to reach me, the best approach would be to contact me on a certain day. While I likely won't delete all messages without scanning first, this kind of message goes a long way in ensuring that people who really need to reach me will try again when I'm back.

Provide special access for key people. There are always a few people on the work and personal front whom I want to have more access than everyone else. So I make sure those folks have a way to reach me and that they are not getting only the automated message. While I want to be disconnected, I also want to make sure that I'm reachable for emergencies I'd want to know about.

Read fiction and memoir, instead of work-related books. This is the only way I can really clear my head.

Limit time on the Internet.
This one is tricky. Because it's easy to use the Internet to read travel articles, download maps, get restaurant reviews and movie schedules, I travel with my laptop and often use it to plan travel logistics. Still, I try to focus on the the laptop as a device for play rather than for work. So I limit time on email. And now, I'm swearing off Facebook and Twitter as well. Let's see how that goes.

Choose postcards over email. While email -- even with photos embedded -- can be immediate, it doesn't have the thrill -- or convey the thoughtfulness that a letter or postcard conveys. So while I might send the occasional e-greeting with a photo, I make sure to remember that slow communications have more impact.

I'd still like to eliminated the pre-holiday insanity, where I spend a few weeks working double time in order to get to the point where I can comfortably leave.

Am I the only who works twice as hard before leaving for vacation in order to create real time off? And is it worth it to do that?

What are your keep-sane rules about disconnecting (or not) while on vacation?

{FYI, I'll be traveling for the next two weeks but I've pre-written a few posts that will appear while I'm gone. I won't be able to monitor the comments in real time, but look forward to catching up on them when I return.}