Why I Love Them
GIVE ME A BEACH vacation anywhere, and I’ll be blessedly happy sprawled on a lounge chair, a salty breeze ruffling my hair. Doing nothing restores the body and soul in this era of nonstop tweeting, and to those who find it tedious, I say this: I’m fine checking out from civilization for a week, with nothing to do beyond summoning a polite, brawny waiter to fetch me a glass of chilled Viognier. Why aren’t you?
After all, that’s the point of getting away: To cleanse your mind of irksome “notes to self” and halt the habit of checking email anxiously just to delete all the spam. On my ideal beach vacation, there are no restaurants to research, no hiking or kayaking exertions to perform, just hour upon restful hour feeling the sauna-like warmth of the sun and letting my mind wander. I’ve never heard of anyone injuring a limb while reclining, but I have read about the dangers of zip lining and parasailing, two activities I’ll never do. Volcano walking, whatever that is, has never been on my to-do list.
Lackadaisical travelers take note: Do-nothing beach vacations are much in demand, said
founder and luxury travel consultant at Atlanta-based Epperly Travel. Ms. Epperly has been fielding requests from unambitious honeymooners and business professionals alike wanting to relax and recuperate. “There are also multigenerational vacationers—older couples who’ll bring kids and grandkids along for a milestone event yet want to get their hang time on the beach,” she said. That makes sense: For me, heading off to an ocean-side cabana after a wave goodbye is like hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign on a hotel-room door.
My Robinson Crusoe leanings first manifested long ago. As a young girl in Los Angeles, I learned how to finagle a ride to Leo Carrillo beach in Malibu. I’d stretch out on the hot sand, my body slick with Johnson’s Baby Oil, and my mind at rest, no algebra problems to solve, no Spanish verbs to conjugate, with only the latest Nancy Drew mystery to peruse.
Through the years, I’ve duplicated those halcyon days in fancier locales, minus the baby oil and “The Clue of the Broken Locket.” Last year, I went to Guadeloupe with four other moms on a family-free getaway. In no time, we were dozing on the Plage de la Caravelle under a palm tree. One day we took a boat to another beach where we feasted on grilled lobster and chilled rosé seated at a picnic table wiggling our toes in the water. I’d found my surf-and-turf soul mates.
Unless you’ve landed sans all possessions on the “Lost” island—one of my favorite fantasies—you can always finish that book that’s been languishing on your bedside table. Virginia Woolf wrote: “Sometimes I think heaven must be one continuous unexhausted reading.” I’d only add “on a lounge chair at a Turks & Caicos beach” to describe my idea of heaven, even if it were hot as hell.
Why I Hate Them
EVEN AS A CHILD, I saw beach vacations as punishment. I may not have had the words to describe their stultifying sameness; the way one hot, dull moment inexorably follows another in an endless loop of crushing boredom, but that didn’t stop me from voicing my displeasure all the same. My parents, as much creatures of the beach as Gidget and Moondoggie, loved nothing more than to roast on the sand for days in Miami or Jamaica, after positioning me safely in the shade of an umbrella with my beach bucket and shovel. “I’m bored!” I would cry out in desperation, 10 minutes after they’d settled onto their towels. “Then go dig a hole to China,” my father would say, tipping his plastic eye shields back just far enough to cast me an exasperated squint. “And pick us up some moo goo gai pan!”
As I grew older, I wondered if the beach might be an acquired taste, like backgammon or Roquefort. I admit I’ve been teased on more than one occasion by the seaside’s gauzy promise of bliss: Palms swaying in a salt-scented breeze, bronzed bodies perfumed by tanning oil. But, for me, it’s a promise that’s never been kept. The do-nothing beach vacation is invariably exposed for what it is—a chimera created to sell spiced rum and Mexican beer, a fantasy as elusive as the oasis is to the parched desert wanderer. I’ve chased it from Canouan Island in the Grenadines to Hawaii’s Big Island. Each time, I’ve been seared pink and left with nothing more than a persistent dullness of mind and sand in creases I didn’t even know I had.
As it turns out, my aversion has a simple, scientific explanation. “A beach vacation is difficult for people who are always in a mode of doing and planning,” said Dr. Marc Wittmann, a research fellow at Germany’s Institute for Frontier Areas in Psychology and Mental Health and author of the book “Felt Time: The Psychology of How We Perceive Time.” “With nothing to do, you’re exposing yourself to yourself. That’s what boredom is: You’re bored with yourself and in need of distraction from yourself. An active vacation provides that distraction, so you’re not aware of the passing of time.”
Which explains why the more museums, restaurants and ruins I can cram into a day, the lighter (and more virtuous) I feel. Action-packed vacations offer another benefit, Dr. Wittmann said. “Studies show that if you spend a week at the beach doing the same thing every day, your memory shrinks that time retrospectively, while the duration of an active vacation expands when you recall it, because you’ve experienced so much.” In other words, the well of memories we make slurping oysters in Left Bank cafes or exploring the temples of Angkor Wat is deeper than the one made at the beach; we can return to it repeatedly before it runs dry. Why choose anything else?
ISLANDS OF NOD // Five Destinations in the Caribbean and the Bahamas Where You Can Excel at Doing Very Little
Petit St. Vincent, Petit St. Vincent
A private island resort in the lightly touristed archipelago of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Petit St. Vincent augments its castaway vibe with room service and a 4,500-bottle wine cellar. Accommodations—22 stone-and-wood cottages and two-bedroom villas designed by Swedish architect Arne Hasselqvist—lack televisions, cell service and Wi-Fi. Guests make requests by hoisting a flag up a driftwood flagpole (yellow for service, red for privacy). Basic pleasures are the name of the game—kayaking, practicing poses in one of the two yoga pavilions or hopping on the resort’s 49-foot sloop to find an even more secluded spot for a private picnic. From $1,200 a night, petitstvincent.com
The Other Side, Eleuthera
In the Bahamas, about 50 miles from Nassau’s cruise ships and mega-resorts, Eleuthera consists of little more than gentle hills, low-lying pineapple fields and empty white- and pink-sand beaches. The resorts here tend toward upscale simplicity. The year-old Other Side inn, for example, has just nine guest rooms—three beachfront tents with hardwood floors, three hillside “shacks” with expansive water views, and three kids’ huts. Activities are mostly limited to checking out the nearby sea turtle habitat on paddleboard, swimming in the seawater-filled pool or mixing cocktails in the honor-bar tent. If you’re dying for some more action, Harbour Island is about five minutes away by boat. From $550 a night, ontheos.com
Snorkel the underwater sculpture park in Molinere Beauséjour Marine Protected Area, tour a spice plantation or stroll the candy-colored capitol, St. George’s—or not. You’d be hard-pressed to find a crowded patch of sand in Grenada. Even on its most developed beach, the nearly-two-mile-long Grande Anse, the resorts are low-rise and low-key. Laluna, owned by an Italian fashion-industry insider, has just 16 cottages and seven villas tucked on a nearby hillside that slopes down to a private beach. All rooms come with open-air bathrooms, plunge pools and four-poster beds draped with mosquito netting. Laluna offers daily yoga classes, massages in the spa and not much else. From $545 a night, laluna.com
Park Hyatt, St. Kitts
Until last November, the big draw on St. Kitts—where much of the land is protected as natural areas—were its outdoor diversions, such as wreck-diving, hiking to the crater of a dormant volcano or walking the grounds of the centuries-old Brimstone Hill Fortress. But since the 126-room Park Hyatt opened last fall, less enthusiastic trekkers can opt to make use of the resort’s sea-facing private balconies, two pools (one for families and one for adults) or the on-property Miraval Life in Balance spa, which offers everything from an anti-inflammatory after-sun facial to a Vasudhara treatments that combines floating in water with Thai massage. From $500 a night, stkitts.park.hyatt.com.
Curtain Bluff, Antigua
Diving, golfing, sailing, hiking and tennis are all available on Antigua. You can also spend days hopping from one white-sand cove to the next (islanders insist there’s a beach for every day of the year). If you like to be coddled while sunbathing, linger on the two private beaches at the all-inclusive Curtain Bluff, which just underwent a $13 million renovation. The resort has a laid-back but elegant tone, and though it offers sports facilities (including a putting green, squash court and dive center) many guests simply park themselves in a hammock for the duration, after stashing their offspring at the all-day kid’s club.From $700 a night, curtainbluff.com.
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