This may seem like a very strange title for an article. After all, a vacation is supposed to be... a vacation. The title seems to imply that we should strive to make our vacation, somehow strategic or productive. In a way, that is what I am suggesting, but maybe not in the anal-retentive way you might have first guessed.
I write this during a week of my vacation, because I have a weekly writing quota so I don't disappoint my loyal newsletter readers. I could have run a repeat article, or I could have written the article before I left, but since I had already decided to write something about vacations, and because I do like to write, I decided it might be best to write about vacations while on vacation.
Vacations are important to our mental, physical and emotional health. They provide us a chance to relax, change our perspective and reconnect with parts of ourselves that we might misplace during the daily routine. Some people travel great distances, others stay closer to home. Some like to relax on the beach and others choose more active, scheduled vacations. This article isn't about those choices - you know what type of vacation works best for you. Rather, this article is meant to help you enjoy and benefit more from the vacation, regardless of where you go, or what you do.
Think about how you got there. Most people spend a huge amount of time thinking about, planning, and preparing for their vacations. And they get a tremendous amount of work done in the few days (hours?) before they leave. In other words, when it comes to vacations we are all good project planners and time managers. This experience of planning and preparing is the first lesson we can take from our vacation. While you are on vacation reflect on how productive you were in the days leading up to your departure. You will find lessons you can apply on other days to help you be more productive - and therefore give you more time during your regular life for leisure and relaxation.
Start when you leave. I have heard people say things like, "I need a two week vacation, because it takes me 4 or 5 days to start enjoying the vacation." To this sentiment, I simply ask "Why?". Resolve that when you are on vacation, you are there. Don't tell yourself it will take 2 days or 1 day to "get relaxed." Relax already!
Immerse yourself. Whether you are sitting on the beach, on a tour bus or walking through a local shopping bazaar, be there. Experience the things around you. Be in the present moment. Even if things aren't going like you planned, if the water is cold or it is raining, be where you are. Vacations are huge anticipation machines. We build them up in our minds until there is almost no way the real thing can compete with the image. Immerse yourself in what it is. Be present and enjoy it, regardless of what happens.
Recharge. Academic institutions have known for a long time the value in spending time in a new situation. That is why sabbaticals are a part of the lives of faculty members in much of the world. Sabbaticals are, in some ways, like long vacations. A vacation puts us in a new environment, changes our routine, and gives us a chance to recharge our batteries. This quote from the book I read on this vacation states it better than I can:
"You have to think more like a fish than a man and look for the slack tides and the pools and eddies in life so you can catch your breath and reflect on the good moments."
- Jimmy Buffett in A Salty Piece of Land
Learn Something. No this isn't like homework; I'm not suggesting you send me a report on "What You Learned on Your Summer Vacation." But I am serious about learning something. Learn something in a museum. Learn something from the local people or customs. Learn something about the tides. Learn something from someone in the seat next to you on your flight. As humans we are most alive when we are learning, and vacations should be no exception.
Make memories. Vacations are a wonderful way to expand our experiences and to create memories. New memories will enrich our lives both now and in the future. They also serve as the spawning ground for new ideas and insights that we may benefit from in all areas of our lives. After you make the memories, capture them. Record the events in your journal, purchase postcards, take pictures. These activities will help preserve those precious memories.
Take them. If you stay at work without vacationing because you are "indispensable, but are never fresh and always burned out, what have you gained? Besides that, research says that people that take vacations live longer than those who don't. I don't think I can make a more compelling argument than that.
If you have already taken a vacation in recent months, think back on it and see how many of my suggestions you followed. If you have an upcoming vacation, I encourage you to consider my ideas, and apply at least one or two of them to that vacation.
All of these suggestions will help make your vacation more valuable, more entertaining and more fun. Plus, the vacation itself will help you live longer.