When is a vacation not a vacation? The question may sound like a philosophical conundrum, but for a lot of us, the answer is easy. A vacation isn’t a vacation when it’s so over-scheduled that you don’t return to work feeling refreshed: you feel exhausted, or maybe even more stressed than before you left.
The problem is surprisingly common. One in 10 people say they “can never relax” when they take time off, according to the 2013 Vacation Deprivation survey* by the online travel company Expedia.com. And it’s a safe bet that a lot of those who can relax don’t do it as often as they’d like. Why else would so many people joke, after taking a week or two off, “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation”?
So if you’re making summer plans, it’s a good idea to build some downtime into your time off, whether you hope to take a trip or stay home and tackle a big project like renovating a room. Research has found that making time for relaxation on vacation does more than help to ease pent-up job-related stresses. It can also promote physical and emotional well-being and, by allowing you to pull back from your day-to-day pressures and see them in a new light, foster creativity.
“Relaxing” doesn’t mean that you have to spend your entire vacation swinging in a hammock or drinking piña coladas on a beach at sunset. It just means making sure you don’t spend all of your time rushing from one activity to the next — that you have some open, unstructured time when you can engage in pursuits that will recharge you mentally and physically, whether you prefer creative pastimes like writing and painting or just taking leisurely walks in beautiful scenery.
An easy way to avoid over-scheduling your vacation is to build some down time into every day. If you plan a morning of shopping or sightseeing, allow for a restorative hour or two in the afternoon when you can read, write in a journal, or listen to music you’ve downloaded to a cell phone. If you’ll be spending a day with a lot friends or relatives at a reunion, try to have a quiet evening at home or at your hotel that allows you to do yoga, go for a long walk after dinner, or take a relaxing bath. And don’t feel guilty about making time for yourself. As former marriage counselor Jackie Coleman and author John Coleman wrote on the HBR Blog Network:
“Just as it’s healthy to focus at work — ignoring Facebook and personal email — it’s essential to occasionally leave work behind and make space for life.”
Make sure your vacation is really a vacation. You may be surprised by the traction a vacation with downtime can give you. But you won’t see it til you’re back.
*A hyperlink won’t work here because the survey results are a pdf, but you can see the survey if you paste this link into your browser: http://bit.ly/OneinTen.