Where Writers Get Ideas: What Do You Do on Vacation?

Emilie in St. Thomas

I’m on the high seas today, taking a holiday after finishing When We Were Sisters.

Here’s a blog I wrote after another trip almost exactly two years ago, and I thought you might enjoy a second look. I’ll be back next week with new tales to tell.


Let’s take a little quiz.

Do you drive through a new town and:

  1. Pay complete attention to road signs, because heck, you’re on your way elsewhere
  2. Look for familiar shops and restaurants in case you have a few minutes to enjoy yourself
  3. Examine architecture and look for historic buildings
  4. Imagine what it’s like to live there

When you’re on vacation do you mostly:

  1. Visit the tourist attractions
  2. Enjoy the boutiques and nightlife
  3. Revel in whatever nature has to offer
  4. Drive or walk through unfamiliar neighborhoods to see what you can learn about the town and its inhabitants

I won’t go on.  Of course you know where I’m going, right?  Even on vacation many of us revert to type.

If we rush through life to get to the next destination, then on vacation we’ll probably rush from one place to the next.  We will have our itinerary planned and most likely we won’t deviate.  Those folks are the number ones among us.

If we heavily learn toward hunting and gathering and appreciate a good meal and a good time, we will probably look for shops, familiar and unfamiliar, to see what’s a bargain or brand new for us to purchase.  And in the evening once the shops close, we might hunt and gather a little fun and a few good memories.  Those folks are our number twos.

If scenery, either natural or man/woman made brings us peace and joy, and if we marvel easily over the accomplishments of others or of nature?  Those folks are the number threes.

But if we drive through neighborhoods, or on unfamiliar highways, and wonder about the lives of the people we pass, even the ones zipping by in cars or sixteen-wheelers, if we yearn to hear the history of a place, who settled it and why, how it grew and what it’s hoping for in the future?  Those folks are the number fours.

The writers.

A slightly heavier me (the photo attests) got back from my cruise last week with a mountain of laundry, a lot of paperwork on my desk, and a happy smile.  I also came back with lots of random thoughts.

For instance:

  1. Suppose a passenger were sitting on her balcony minding her own business and a body floated by.  What would she do?  Not to mention who was the “body,” why was it there, was the person still alive, could a rescue be attempted, who would hear the person’s final words if they expired afterwards, and if foul play was suspected, was the foul player on board?
  2. What if the heretofore happy passenger was now worried that said foul player KNEW she’d heard the victim’s last words and wanted to be certain they were never repeated.
  3. Why does the port authority require identification for individuals driving through the gates to the ship, but a parking garage shuttle didn’t have to show identification for any of its passengers.  Could a terrorist use that to his advantage?
  4. What would happen to a passenger who was robbed in a foreign port and left with no identification?  And what if that person strongly resembled someone the local police had been looking for?  And . . .

There’s no right or wrong way to BE on vacation.  Many of my fellow cruisers were thrilled to visit the multitude of Caribbean jewelry stores so that they could avoid paying duty and taxes on their purchases.  Others reveled in the most strenuous shore excursions, scuba diving through shipwrecks, climbing mountainsides.  Still others had carefully researched where to go, what to see, and never dallied at the markets or docks.

Then there was me.  When I wasn’t wondering about murder on the high seas I spent the trip wondering what it was like to work on a ship, and what my steward went home to when his time on board was finished.  What did his family look like?  Did he make adorable little lobsters out of beach towels for his children?  Was our wine steward working her way up to a higher position?   And why did the captain and most of his top crew members come from Greece?  Were they from the same island?  Is this a family biz?  What does this do to a marriage?

Are you a 1, 2, 3 or 4?  Or a mixture?  Since I’m a 4, I’d love to know all about your vacation personality.  We fours want to know everything.  After all, there might be a book in it.


  1. Marilyn Seitz on January 28, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    Oh my…..I find that I do a little of all of them except number one and the nightlife…..I guess I’m a mixture. I don’t just imagine what it’s like to be the other folks…..I usually actually ask them about their lives if I get a chance. Fascinating!

    • Emilie Richards on January 28, 2014 at 4:42 pm

      If I asked everything I want to know they would put me away, I’m sure. You have clearly learned the polite boundaries, Marilyn.

  2. Marsha on January 28, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Cute picture of you and if you gained a pound or two, it doesn’t show.
    Your busy little mind sure wasn’t on vacation…wow, the questions running around in your brain! While I also would be curious about the lives of the people making the cruise ship function the way it does (hey…now, there’s a good book in the making!), I would never wonder about floating bodies.
    I’m thinking there’s a dark side to you…don’t turn into a mystery writer on us, Miz Emily!
    It sounds like you and your husband had a great time…I’m glad for you. I’ve never been on a cruise and don’t think I can convince my stay at home husband to go on
    To get back to your question, I guess I’m more of a 4 than anything else but do like to go to museums and places of interest…not just the tourist stops, although shopping for bargains is fun too.

    • Emilie Richards on January 28, 2014 at 4:41 pm

      If hubby won’t leave home I noticed a number of women in groups, and the ones in the room next to us left their husbands behind in Toronto and had a blast. Just saying. . . That way you both get what you want, right?
      A number 4, huh? Sounds like you’re a bit of all of them, and that’s a good thing, too.

  3. Lorraine Thacker on January 28, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    Love this conversation, I agree with earlier comments, think I’m a mix. To Marsha, she sort of is a mystery writer. Have you read any of the Ministry is Murder series? Love them, they make me laugh! Also, I have a wife of a cousin who takes a cruise every year with her three sisters, love that they stay connected and do something together that their husbands would not be interested in.

    • Emilie Richards on January 29, 2014 at 1:20 pm

      I’m afraid you can’t take the mystery writing out of the writer, especially when a situation lends itself so well to ideas.

  4. Terry Guerra on January 29, 2014 at 4:01 am

    Hi Emilie,

    When I read #4, it was me! Took a cruise in 2007 and wondered about the lives of the crew. One hostess was a beauty pageant winner and very gracious. The servers all juggled different positions on the ship and it was fun seeing them in all of their different “hats”. One day some of the crew were having a Farewell party for one of them who was transferring to another cruise ship.It was interesting to talk with them about where they were from, their families, and how often they got to go home.

    First excursion was a horseback ride on the beach, check that off of my bucket list! One of the excursions we booked was cancelled so we took that day just to walk through the town and see everything, and enjiy lunch on the beach.

    Glad you had a nice time Emilie!

    • Emilie Richards on January 29, 2014 at 1:20 pm

      Sounds like you made great use of your time, Terry.

  5. April on January 27, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    I am a mix between 3 and four, if I am on my own. If I am on a trip for family togetherness I just focus on that!

  6. Kate on January 28, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    My husband’s father was a 1, and so I had to retrain him to be a mix of 2 and 3. Now we Geocache while travelling, which gives us a bit of 4 as well.
    My son worked on a cruise ship last winter, as a member of the medical crew. He was fascinated by the way all the people in a certain job were from the same country. On his ship, the operations officers were all Italian.

  7. Kate on January 28, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    My husband’s father was a 1, and so I had to retrain him to be a mix of 2 and 3. Now we Geocache while travelling, which gives us a bit of 4 as well.
    My son worked on a cruise ship last winter, as a member of the medical crew. He was fascinated by the way all the people in a certain job were from the same country. On his ship, the operations officers were all Italian.

    • Emilie Richards on February 1, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      I did a galley tour and listened as chefs and cooks were introduced. The vast majority were from Jamaica. The executive chef was, too, and perhaps he hired accordingly? No complaints about the food, that’s for sure.

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