by Tracee de Hahn

Travel can be vacation. And more.

I love to travel—not work travel where every minute is scheduled, and you drop into bed at the end of the day exhausted—but vacation travel.

Sounds good, right? Alone on a deserted beach with nothing to do but watch the waves and pick a lobster for dinner. Walking, walking, walking through a new city while clutching a list of museums and their opening times. Sitting on a fishing boat, waiting hours for that first nibble.

This is your brain on vacation

For me, time away from routine sets the mind free. I see connections that didn’t exist before. A few minutes into “a relaxing vacation” and all I want to do is write. When I should be exploring a new place, I want to find a café and write. Why not? I’m exploring new places in my mind.

This is part of the reason I was drawn to writing mysteries—lots of “what ifs” when you are in an unfamiliar place. I had the great fortune to live in Europe for several years. In Venice, Paris, and for more extended periods, in Switzerland. This was my introduction to café life. It was also my introduction to glamorous hotel lobbies, trains and trams, boats traveling between city destinations, people speaking incomprehensible languages, and, once, an actual mob hit in a restaurant.

Note: A very rare occurrence in Venice, but it did happen while I was there. Let me repeat that this was so rare that it was inconceivable. The diners glanced around at each other, and kept on eating. Probably frozen in place, but also certain that they weren’t the target and that it wouldn’t happen again. It didn’t.

The unfamiliar lets the mind wander (or go crazy). Venice is one of the safest cities to live in. However, during a heavy fog,  every footstep you hear on the stone pavement of a narrow calle feels like the lead up to a kidnapping. Or espionage. Or a terribly romantic adventure.

Petit drame of the café

It is the same with people watching from a café in Paris. Why did the woman wearing the terribly expensive fur coat get on a city bus: Is she leaving her husband? Making a dead drop? Fleeing the law?

This can frighten any unsuspecting friends. This fall, in an outdoor café in Porto, I asked my lunch companion what she thought about someone near us being shot from a distant hill. Fortunately, my friend is retired from an “unmentionable” job; she glanced around and said the old castle is a much better place for a sharpshooter. And she was right. From there we were off and running with “what ifs.” (Keeping our voices low so the police weren’t called.)

Out of my daily life, I see the extraordinary in every action. Once, in Luxembourg, an elderly very well-dressed woman slipped a briefcase to her much younger similarly well-dressed male lunch companion. In my mind, it was a case filled with cash to be safely stashed. Actually, based on my eavesdropping, that was probably exactly what it was. My mystery loving mind took this to the Nth degree—and the pair were obviously involved in something nefarious. It couldn’t be an aging aunt giving her nephew a gift. No way. And the “what ifs” were off and running….

The Swiss connection

When I started to write the Agnes Lüthi mysteries, I knew they had to be set in Switzerland. I’d seen enough and heard enough while living in Lausanne to believe that although it is a remarkably safe country, that doesn’t mean crime is nonexistent. In fact, it is more interesting crime! Crime based on deep history, long feuds, and clashes of tradition. (You’ll have to read the books to learn the particulars….)

A vacation state of mind

I continue to travel to recharge the creative sparks. Not simply for the stories starring Agnes Lüthi, but for all my stories. The creative process takes discipline, but it also needs time and space to re-charge. Stolen moments while “on vacation” can be the spark you’ve been missing. Didn’t JK Rowling famously write the outline for the Harry Potter series while stuck on a delayed train? Proof that “vacation” doesn’t have to mean a fancy beach or European city. Vacation is a state of mind. Vacation is a break from routine. It is stolen time when ties are cut to our usual noise. No way to do the dishes or shop for dinner or return calls or check email.

If you’re planning a vacation take a notebook small enough to fit into your pocket (or to slip into a waterproof bag if you’re fishing!) and jot down those snatches of ideas. If you’re on a stay-cation, walk or drive outside your normal routine. What happens if you sit in the lobby of a posh hotel and pretend you’re waiting for a meeting?

No time for even a few days of stay-cation? Grab those moments anyway: Take your coffee break in a different place, walk a different path, refuse to check your smartphone while in transit, listen to different music on your headset at the grocery store. Change stimulates ideas. You will see things differently, hear things differently, encounter different people.

Result: Creative process re-charged.

And if you had a great time “away,” that’s an added bonus.

How do you get away? Let’s chat on Facebook.


Tracee de Hahn at Career Authors

A well-timed murder by Tracee de Hahn at Career Authors

Tracee de Hahn was born in Missouri and grew up in Kentucky, later spending several years in Europe. Her time in Switzerland was the inspiration for the Agnes Lüthi mystery series published by St. Martin’s Press / Minotaur Books. The first book, Swiss Vendetta, published in 2017, was followed by A Well-Timed Murder which Publisher’s Weekly called “an intriguing sequel…. Dynamic setting and fascinating glimpse into the Swiss watchmaking world.”