If you want to un-plug and take a short vacation from work assignments, AND, keep the brain stimulated, try taking some flight lessons.
Even if you don’t think you will ever get a pilot’s license, taking a few lessons will find a new way to spark an outside interest.
When some colleagues returned from a short week with the family at the beach, and said they did not get enough relaxing time while on vacation, I suggested this for the next “short” vacation. The lesson lasts an hour, and follow-up research lasts months.
Why not, this is what a colleague did for me, and now I find a way to spend an hour every month.
Don't forget, we can justify any hobby...
On past family trips, we have done the Kennedy Space Center thing and the Greenfield Village/Henry Ford Museum thing (it's Greenfield, not Deerfield Village Brian, tsk tsk...).
At the time you posted this story, I was on a very non-engineering vacation, just my wife and I, in an island paradise. But as we were hiking through the very wet, rain-forest side of the island, I started noticing and commenting to my wife about the very low-tech and very effective way in which irrigation ditches were used to distribute water to the drier parts of the island.
I got one of those looks that seemed to say "can't you ever just turn off the engineering part of your brain?" I guess not...
While on a business trip to Milan, I got a day's vacation because the appointments on that day got cancelled. Luckily I was booked to stay at a lakeside hotel on the outskirts of Milan , in a small sleepy town called Belgirate.
That whole day I spent on a bench at the lakeside at the base of ALPS, the sun was soothing and I had a John Grisham's novel to read.
That one day looked like a long leisure vacation to me and by the time it was time to take a taxi for the airport, I was fully rejuvenated to take on the busy work schedule back in the office
I believe every travelling business person should keep a day off during his/her business tours to enjoy such leisure
For a fun change of pace, I did go camping over this Labor Day weekend. The fun part started when a fellow camper found that the drain system on her mini-motorhome had been knocked off en-route to the camping. She did get a quote for repair from a local outfit: 3 days to fix it and they had no idea what the cost would be. I thought that the task would be interesting and volunteered to do it. She purchased the materials that were obviously missing and the job took me about 3 hours, and her cost was about $37. She was quite happy, and I got to work with some materials that I had not used before, so I learned a bit. What a great get-away.
Maker Fair in the Bay area followed by a trip to the Computer Museum in San Jose. I've been going to the Embedded Systems Conference at the convention cent just down the street from the museum for a number of years but have never managed to find time when I was off duty and the museum was open.