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Don’t get your spreadsheet sandy. Image: Tina Tiller.
Don’t get your spreadsheet sandy. Image: Tina Tiller.

OPINIONSocietyFebruary 15, 2024

Is it really a holiday if there’s a spreadsheet involved?

Don’t get your spreadsheet sandy. Image: Tina Tiller.
Don’t get your spreadsheet sandy. Image: Tina Tiller.

Going on holiday? Ignore your Type A friends and leave the spreadsheet at the office, where it belongs.

“I’ve made an Excel of important camp prep thangs,” read the message, arriving at 2.44pm on December 17, 2023 via Facebook Messenger. “It’s all pretty self-explanatory. Let me know if you can’t open/edit it.” The explanation I needed was why. Why was there a spreadsheet at all, when my only plans included lying on the beach, eating when my stomach deemed it necessary, and making sure I had enough bevvies to bring cheer, rain or shine, at 11.59pm on the 31st?

I do not hate spreadsheets. In fact, one very exciting activity I undertook in preparation for a New Years resolution was making one to see how much (or how little) money I’d have for the “fun” “socialising” and “self-care” rows in it. I liked adding and subtracting the cells, organising the columns and colour-coding the rows. The process of ordering the numbers in my bank account into neat little boxes and making them all add up was deeply satisfying. I’m pretty sure a halo glowed around my head and the bank stuck a gold star next to my name on a hand-written list on a fridge somewhere in the depths of their vaults. 

Spreadsheets have their appropriate applications. And holidays are not one of them. 

Holidays are not for making and following arbitrary rules. That is what we do the rest of the time. Take 9am for example. We all know what it means – it’s the time the social collective (or maybe just The Man) has decided we should be at work, despite the fact that widespread 9am start times mean traffic jams, stress and having to not press the snooze button at least five times a week. Do our brains start working at 9am? No. Do computers suddenly come to life at 9am? No. Are we urgently needed at 9am? Not unless you are a very important person which realistically most of us aren’t and that’s fine.

I wanted to stay in the over-water cabin at Marriott Fiji Momi Bay, but the spreadsheet said no.

During holidays, we get to ignore this nonsensical rule. Instead of following structure, holidays are for doing what you want, when you want. On holiday, I want to lie on the beach till I’m too hot, at which point I’ll decide to swim. I want to read my book till it gets boring, or too dark, at which point I’ll notice I’m hungry and venture out to find food. I might feel fit one day and decide to go for a walk or run, if I feel like it. I want to be free to respond to each and every whim of my body and mind, unhindered by timetables and time in general. 

I appreciate that for Type A friends, having someone completely unwilling to partake in the planning of a holiday must be a total nightmare. Why couldn’t I just open that spreadsheet and officially take on some responsibility? My total disregard for the time spent creating said spreadsheet absolutely ruined their attempts to plan. Rude.

Having Type A (as they like to call themselves, as if the rest of us sane people are a lower grade) friends is not the only way spreadsheets will impose themselves on your holidays. Often, it will be in disguise. Take a tour, for example. It’s a spreadsheet calling the shots behind the scenes. You do not leave the leaning tower of Pisa at 1.20pm because you’ve had enough of looking at it or have taken enough photos pretending to push it over. No. You leave because the tour operator is looking at a spreadsheet that says it’s time to head to the pizzeria, even though you’re not actually hungry. 

There are endless photo opportunities, so why would you ever want to leave? (Photo: Jakob Owens on Unsplash)

Recently, I was lucky enough to be hosted by Marriott for five blissful days in Fiji, staying at two of their extremely bougie resorts. But it is important to note that while this was not a productive time (I sent one email and wrote 700 words of total garbage which you will not be reading), it wasn’t a holiday because there was a spreadsheet involved – one that allocated time to activities, and meant I was occupied from early till late with numerous appointments to attend to each day, on time. Sure, there was fish-house building, tree planting, mangrove restoration, and basket weaving – tactile activities which are relaxing. But it doesn’t count because they were on a spreadsheet.

Spreadsheets, you see, are a tool of neurotic order. They’re fine and even useful when applied to other neurotic orders like money and work, but by abstracting the real world into rows and columns, it’s ruined.

I know there are benefits to planning, for I am no stranger to walking around a foreign city absolutely starving and needing to pee, only to find that the McDonald’s bathrooms are locked. Nor am I a stranger to finding myself at an airport being told by a customs officer that to enter the country I’m supposed to have a way out. But perhaps these are small prices to pay for freedom. 

As it turns out, I could only ignore the existence of the camping spreadsheet for 10 days before a friendly(?) reminder was sent directly @me. When I begrudgingly attempted to participate in it two days before the trip, my name had already been put down to cook dinner on the 30th of December, a night I wouldn’t be there. I told them to get their emergency noodles ready. 

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