An Actually Restful Vacation

Plus summer reading recs

Ximena Vengoechea
5 min readJun 17, 2022
woman riding on vehicle putting her head and right arm outside the window while travelling the road
Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash

Hi friends, it’s me again! Welcome back to another edition of Letters from Ximena. Last month, you may have noticed that I missed sending our regular monthly newsletter out. Mea culpa! The month flew by thanks to a much-needed vacation to the Bay Area, where we used to live. It was our first trip since the pandemic hit, and our first with our son.

People warn you that traveling with kids, it’s no longer a “vacation” — it’s more a “family trip” or a “relocation,” they say. I’d been told not to expect to relax on our vacation, and I’d made peace with the idea that travel would inevitably be more difficult with a toddler than without.

But honestly, although I found myself tired throughout our trip (I did a lot of napping), I also had a great time, and I did manage to relax. It was my son’s first time on an airplane, and watching his excitement made packing a gazillion activities totally worth it. When we got to the Bay, we caught up with all the friends we’d left behind when we relocated to Santa Fe early in the pandemic. We were welcomed into homes new and old, met kiddos who had sprung up like beanstalks and others who were plump and juicy and fresh as a caterpillar. The kids played and the adults chatted and it all felt very, very normal for once. We took walks around lakes, picked flowers in gardens, hiked in the forest, ate well, and explored local playgrounds. It all felt pleasant and light and easy and good.


This was also the first trip in many years (like, many years) where I did not sneak work into the edges of vacation. I had packed my iPad to do some drawing for my next book (a compromise to not bringing my laptop and working on edits) but truly, I needn’t have bothered. I was able to truly unplug and just be on vacation for once.

I’ve been thinking about what did it — how I, a compulsive productivity machine, managed to finally peel away from the to-do list and just chill for a bit. Is it because I’m getting better at resting, thanks to all the research I’ve been doing for my next book? Is it because I have a kid now, and there’s simply no such thing as sneaking work in during a family trip? Probably a little bit of both.

In part, I think it also helped that our ambitions for the trip were realistic — not too high and not too low, but somehow just right. Although we had a packed itinerary catching up with friends, the visits themselves were very low key. We didn’t visit every museum in sight or eat out at all the top spots; none of that felt necessary because we weren’t tourists in a new place. Our trip was more a homecoming — a way to say goodbye to a place we’d lived for seven years, and had one day, quite unceremoniously, simply disappeared from, one wildfire season and a pandemic ago. Going back to a familiar place, with familiar faces, made it easy to take it easy.

Balance was our other saving grace. We loved staying with friends, and also having a few nights on our own. We were flexible on bedtimes but strict about nap times. We explored new places but also went back to familiar haunts we know and love. We saw lots of friends but also had some downtime just as a family. Our winning formula was a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B.

Of course, no trip is perfect. There was at least one meltdown over lunch and another during a long car ride — and not just by the toddler ;) We caught a stomach bug from one of the many kiddos we met on the trip, which thankfully didn’t last long. One of us got a surprise COVID diagnosis on our last day, which quickly pulled us out of vacation mode. Still, we did okay — more than okay, really — and we’d do it again. The experience made me feel that much more confident — and excited — about traveling with the little guy in the future. It also made me even more eager about a return to normalcy, like I can almost (almost!) see the pandemic in the rearview mirror.

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Summer reading

No vacation is complete without a good book (or two, or three). Here are a few books I’ve enjoyed recently.

  • This Time Tomorrow, Emma Straub. I devoured this one. Family ties, New York City vibes, teen nostalgia, and time travel?! This might be my favorite Straub novel yet.
  • Lessons in Chemistry, Bonnie Garmus. Elizabeth Zott is unabashedly feminist and I am here for it. Set in the 50s and 60s, the writing is cinematic, with a voice distinct from a lot of contemporary fiction — in a good way — and is filled with flawed but lovable characters. At one point, I even surprised myself by crying. It’s already been picked up by Apple TV and Brie Larson.

I’m getting through my stack of books quickly these days, so I’d love to know hear any recommendations for what to read next!

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Some nice Listen Like You Mean It coverage lately:

  • You can now listen to audio lessons from my book on the Knowable app! Here’s a snippet. If you’d like to hear more, you can take a listen here without having to download the app.
  • I was interviewed for Die Ziet’s online news platform — you can find that here, in German

💌 As always, the best thing you can do for me is share this edition of the newsletter, or others you enjoy, with your friends and coworkers. Thanks for being here and for sharing the love. I hope you’ve got at least a few days of downtime planned this summer (ideally, more!) and that they are restful. 💌



Ximena Vengoechea

Writer, UX Researcher, Author of The Life Audit ('24), Rest Easy ('23), Listen Like You Mean It ('21).