Posted by: kshayes513 | August 22, 2009

The Traveling Worldbuilder on Vacation

I’m back from a long weekend at a lake in New Hampshire, during which I never thought once about blogs, email, TV or even a newspaper.

A little slice of summer. Photo: K HayesWe in Western society assume vacations are an essential part of life. But the concept of taking time off from work and daily life, is relatively new. I’m guessing it started with the very rich, who for the past couple of centuries took themselves, their families and their servants away from the heat and diseases of the cities in the summers, to the lake or the mountains or the shore. And gradually the idea trickled down to the working people, until annual vacation time has become a standard job benefit for Western workers.

The ancient Hebrews came up with the notion of a weekly day of rest several thousand years ago. The Sabbath probably wasn’t originally about being pious; but was a humane way of making sure that the powerful gave their employees, slaves and draft animals a rest every few days, instead of working them to death.

In medieval Europe, the commoner’s holiday often took the form of a pilgrimage or a trip to a major trade fair. Both gave the traveler a chance to get away from home, see new places and faces, and either make money or earn spiritual merit. While a nearby fair might be an annual trip, it was as much work as play for the tradesman. A pilgrimage was often a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

While we think of traveling and sightseeing as a natural form of vacation, in a low tech society the idea of travel for relaxation was simply nonsense. Travel on bad roads or no roads, or by sea in frail wooden ships, was strenuous, uncomfortable, so slow as to be very tedious, and, occasionally, deadly. Next time you plan a trip, think how willing you’d be to go if you had to walk the whole way, carrying your luggage!

And if your low tech characters find travel just as hard,  start thinking of what other ways they might have to relax and “get away from it all.”

Sound of Thunder coverIf you’re building a high tech world, the more developed your society’s transportation technology, the more fun your characters can have with travel through space and even time (see Ray Bradbury‘s story A Sound of Thunder for a classic time travel vacation.*)

Or go in a completely different direction.

We did without the notion of formal vacations for thousands of years. Maybe people in your world can do without it, too. What kind of culture is so structured that people don’t really need to take a holiday? Is that a utopia where everyone has a job they love?  Or one where little work is needed?  Some anthropology I’ve read says that hunter gatherers in a thriving tropical environment only need to work about 3 hours a day to gather or make everything they need. Life’s a beach!

Or do your people have completely different ways to rest and renew their spirits? Maybe their travels are in some astral plane, not a physical one? Maybe they hibernate for a month? The possibilities are endless!

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