by Judith Fein
Some people I know, when they are really stressed out, take an afternoon, evening or full day off. The next day, they are back to work. Others kick it for a weekend, and then dive back into the daily routine on Monday morning. I’m flipping through my mental rolodex of friends, associates and family and, to my horror, I realize that I don’t know anyone who really takes vacations.
I am sorry, amigos, but five or six days are a break, an experience, a change of scene and pace, but not a real vacation.
A real vacation is at least two weeks. And even better is a month. This is a startling idea in the U.S.A., where most people are afraid to take off more than a long weekend because they may lose their jobs. This means we are certifiably nuts in the U.S.A. Are we born to work, stress, eat, shop, have sex and then croak? Will we actually take our cell phones and laptops with us to the grave, so we can check the headlines on After Life News or shoot off one last post-mortem tweet?
Talk to people from Europe (they will call it “holidays” and not “vacation” in Britain, but I swear it means the same thing). Ask folks from South America. They get time off from work. Off from work. Not a few days here and there where their nervous systems hardly have a chance for a good yawn, and certainly not a real rest.
Here’s the truth, friends. It takes several days to get one’s head away from home and office. And the head starts its whirring a few days before the end of vacation. So that’s 4-5 days where you’re not really on vacation—let’s call it pseudovacation or ersatz holiday. It takes time to travel to a destination, so let’s add on another day to each end. We’re now up to a week. With that under our belts, we’re now READY to start the vacation when, in fact, you’re probably already home and back to the grind.
Vacations or holidays are not just about getting away, although that’s the part that makes us smile. They are also about giving up on being productive.
If you were the kind of kid who came home from school and your parents asked, “What did you accomplish today?” you have probably spent your life accomplishing. If your parents never asked you, you most likely invented the question all by yourself. Vacation and productivity do NOT go hand in hand. Actually, they cancel each other out. At work, it’s good to be productive. At home, let’s say you’re remodeling or cleaning out the garage; it’s fine to accomplish that. But on vacation, all you have to accomplish is listening to the waves or slowing down enough to watch the sun plummeting over the hills at day’s end.
It is not easy to take a real vacation. You can expect to have anxiety or depression or guilt around it. There will likely be panic about all you have to accomplish before you go and after you get back. Fine. There’s a place for panic. Let it be. Smile at it. Doff your baseball cap. And continue doing what you are doing: planning for authentic, bona fide time off.
Your vacation may be spent in Bali or Brazil, or it may be closer to home. It can be a combo of travel and stay-at-home-with-electronics shut off. The “where” is less important than the “how.” The “how” involves taking your feet and stepping off the treadmill. For real.
Perhaps you’ve been wanting to get the meditation habit. A vacation is a good time to start. Or yoga. Get a mat and go for it. Whatever sings to your soul is the melody of vacation.
The other day I was in the post office and asked the two gents behind the counter how much vacation time they have each year. Besides all the holidays, one gets 3 weeks and the other a month. When they told me this, everyone on line started to “oooh” and “aaaah.” I wonder if they decided, then and there, to make out applications to work for the P.O.
It’s your life. Your nervous system. Your body. Your spirit. They are screaming for vacation. It doesn’t have to be expensive, luxurious or even exotic. But it has to be the thing most people long for and fear: prolonged down time, where renewal and regeneration can take place.
Judith Fein, an award-winning travel journalist, speaker and filmmaker, is co-founder of http://www.YourLifeisaTrip.com She lives to leave, is always working, and needs a real vacation.
photo by Ellen Barone.