7 Things that Happen When You Do Nothing

My campsite in the Hardwood Hills section of Bon Echo Provincial Park.

My campsite in the Hardwood Hills section of Bon Echo Provincial Park.

I hit the road for one of three reasons:

  • to travel
  • to tour
  • to go on holiday.

The first is what I usually do – taking the time to savor a destination in a variety of ways. Touring is more about seeing the highlights – checking the “must-sees” off a list. And finally, going on holiday is about relaxing.

Like me, I’m sure Solo Traveler readers do all three at some point in time. No one is better than another. It’s important to understand what you need at any given point in time.

Beautiful Mazinaw Lake.

Beautiful Mazinaw Lake.

Holiday alone.

Last week I took a holiday alone and it was exactly what I needed.

I camped by myself at Bon Echo Provincial Park on the shores of Mazinaw Lake. I was off the grid. Well, not completely. If I went to the beach and positioned my phone on one certain corner of one certain picnic table in one certain direction, I could get two bars and pick up email. This was important as I had work to do. I have Solo Traveler to attend to and three new books coming out in The Traveler’s Handbooks series this fall – they needed to be moved through the editing process. But I also needed time to relax. My personal life had been very intense this summer with one of my sons getting married and my mom in the hospital. With both stable and the immediate future calm and bright, I decided to find myself a little quiet, even if I had to work part of the day.

This carved rock is a tribute to Walt Whitman.

This carved rock is a tribute to Walt Whitman. It reads: “Old Walt – 1819-1919 – Dedicated to the democratic ideals of Walt Whitman by Horace Traubel and Flora MacDonald. – “”My foothold is tenon’d and mortised in granite. I laugh at what you call dissolution and I know the amplitude of time.”

Solo camping

So I went camping. I packed up gear I hadn’t used for years, borrowed more from my sons, and headed north. My goal was to have no goals. Of course, that wasn’t quite possible.  o, realistically, my goal was to have few goals. And I managed. I worked until 1pm or so each day and the rest of the day I did nothing.

This is blueberry season in Northern Ontario. This is a classic roadside stand.

This is blueberry season in Northern Ontario. This is a classic roadside stand.

What Happens When You Do Nothing

Doing nothing is a difficult thing to do. I, like most people, have a very busy brain and I spent little time actually doing nothing. What I did was wander, at whim, from one activity to another. (This is far more possible on a solo vacation than one with a companion.) I spent the majority of my day doing nothing. Not working. No agenda. No goals.

What happened?

  1. I swam with a loon. Loons can swim great distances under water and as I was swimming the breast stroke along the width of the beach, just beyond the buoys, a loon popped out of the water about 30 feet from me. There is ever only one loon family on a lake which makes this occurrence quite special. Loons are beloved in Canada for their haunting call with repetitive notes and can last many seconds.
  2. "From the incomparable David Rakoff, a poignant, beautiful, witty, and wise novel in verse whose scope spans the twentieth century" Amazon

    “From the incomparable David Rakoff, a poignant, beautiful, witty, and wise novel in verse whose scope spans the twentieth century” Amazon

    "One of the Best Books of the Year": San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times

    “One of the Best Books of the Year”: San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times

    I read for seven hours straight. I moved from chair to tent to picnic table and back to the chair but all that time I was reading. I nibbled on cheese and crackers, had a glass of wine and read. I finished Sweet Tooth: A Novel by Ian McEwan. It’s the fourth novel I’ve read of his and I’ve enjoyed every one – he is one of my favorite authors. And then I started on David Rakoff’s novel “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel.
  3. I discovered that food is a purely social activity for me. I always knew that food was not a priority on my travels — thank goodness we have Tracey to write on that topic – but I hadn’t realized how little I cared about it until I stopped eating meals. I grazed my way through the week.
  4. I forecast the weather. Yes, I awoke about 6:30 am and could hear thunder far off in the distance. I got up, rejigged the guy wires on my tent for rain, moved everything to the center of the tent inside and then put up a tarp over the picnic table – something I hadn’t done as the weather person had called for perfect weather the entire week. It was so satisfying to be in tune with nature.
  5. I experienced the power of muscle memory. There are never four trees standing exactly where you need them when there’s a tarp to be put up. I had three, but a fourth was far out of the way. However, I had extra rope and was pretty sure I’d remember how to join to ropes securely together once I had the two in my hand. Sure enough, I did. The know-how came back to me from the practice for my knot badge in Girl Guides. It’s called a sheet bend.
  6. I watched a fire for hours. I built a fire every night – often, I’m proud to say, with just one match. And I could sit at that fire, watching the flames, listening to trees creaking in the wind, watching a toad hop across the campsite, and dozens of other small things for hours on end.
  7. I discovered that it takes at least four days to relax. Yes, the first few days of my vacation were not that relaxing. My brain was buzzing as I did my usual thing of observing what my travels are like so that I can share them properly with you. But, by about day three, I noticed that I was doing little of that. My mind was more quiet. Calm.

Calm. That’s what doing nothing should be about.

A very unusual sunset.

A very unusual evening sky.

Mushrooms that I can't identify. Perhaps others can.

Mushrooms that I can’t identify. Perhaps others can.

Again, I can't identify it.

Again, I can’t identify it.

A pine bow in the morning light.

A pine bow in the morning light.


  • Joseph Weaver


  • VerticalSea

    Just terrific. Just thinking about that fourth day is relaxing. Thank you!

  • Magpie

    I’m reading this right now from my room in Paris. I’ve been backpacking in Europe for seven months, and once in a while I take a day off. Yesterday I wore myself out with my touring (Paris is bigger than I remember). I decided to have a “lie in,” as the British say. I’m watching a marathon of Project Runway downloaded on my iPad. Fortunately, I have plenty of time in Paris so I can spare a day.

  • http://www.kellymacdonald.org/ Kelly

    Doing nothing turns out to be difficult doesn’t it? But when you do nothing it feels like you are wasting time. But things that recharge us are not wasting time. I have to keep reminding myself of that.

    I love Ian McEwan and I have Sweet Tooth in the lineup. Glad you enjoyed it!

  • HTC Desire 601 GPS

    You tend to over think when you happen to do nothing. Your mind travels far and imagine and hope the things that you want and need to achieve. http://www.backcountrynavigator.com/

  • Hank Miller

    Best to meet your inner self, great share

  • http://bestofthephilippineislands.weebly.com/ Monnette

    For city rats, doing nothing, indeed, has become a luxury.

  • Alexa Clark

    Sounds like a wonderful time.