Vacations are important. Even if they are spent close to home. There is a science of optimizing vacations, and the detachment they offer. The optimization goes way beyond the trivial “spend less see more” idea into the area of the best experiences for your brain. More reading here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Summer is here
Typically summer vacation is the longest vacation of the year. Europeans often take several weeks off their jobs and spend quiet sunny days in warmer climates. Other nations do not really believe in long vacations and take several months to circle the globe after the university or just after retirement. Young Israelis and travel hackers, go to the most exotic locations where each dollar buys you a lot of excitement. And after the outbrake of COVID19, many people choose staycation or vacation in the home country. You can optimize, but basically, all vacations are welcome.
In the US there are zero mandated vacation days. In some European countries, Australia and UK there are 25+ vacation days per year. At least in the US people take vacations when they want. Koreans work all the time – taking around three vacation days per year.
Studies show that vacations help. Especially, in cardiovascular health and sleep hours. I quote:
If a woman allows six or more years to pass between vacations, she is eight times more likely to develop heart disease. Men who forego their annual vacation times have a 32 percent greater risk of dying of a heart attack… You’re more able to let your natural circadian rhythms rule your bedtime and wake time… For every 10 hours of vacation time taken, productivity improves 8 percent… Vacation-taking workers are also less likely to leave their jobs. This is good news for businesses, as most successful managers recognize that happy employees make for more profitable organizations.
Even reaction times improve as there is no work-related multitasking between people, computers, and communication devices.
It is in the interest of our productivity that we must take a vacation, and it is in the employee’s interest to
Vacations are usually timed one way or another. Here are some popular options:
- Optimizing weather. The weather is not always equally good. Ski season is 2-3 months. Beach season in Europe is 2-3 months. Yellow and red autumn seasons, in New England or sakura season in Japan, are slightly less than a month long.
- Holiday spirit. Every holiday we have extra vacation days that can be used to spend some time with loved ones. Quite often this includes visits from grandparents or to the grandparents, holiday breaks at schools etc. You can use these vacations for any practical purpose, and you can add a couple of days you can take for longer vacations.
- Long weekends. Adding days to weekends generates so-called long weekends. Digital detox and stress reset takes about four days. So to benefit from the health benefits, long weekends might be sufficient. The long weekends are also ideal if your vacation spot requires 3-5 hours of driving or 2 -3 hours of flying.
- Factory vacation. Some big companies and government bodies synchronize the main vacation for all employees. For example, schools do not work during summer and millions of teachers get a vacation. A teacher during the summer has multiple kinds of vacations at home and elsewhere with and without a spouse and kids, but does not really get a vacation otherwise.
- Sabbaticals. Occasionally between jobs, it makes sense to take a long vacation, especially in case of burnout. Universities, armies, and some organizations interested in long-time employee retention allow for a year of sabbatical approximately every seventh year. These years are intended to be used to acquire new education and research specialization.
A vacation does not have to be a long voyage. A four days vacation reinvigorates and detoxes. Long vacations allow for exploration and learning, that cannot be done during the weekends.
During vacations, we can fix or destroy our relationships. We have more time to spend with our loved ones. This means more ways to communicate but also more ways to push each other’s buttons.
- Friendship vs intimacy vs solitude. A vacation of a family with kids is about leisure and friendship, entire family bonding. Without kids, the vacation immediately becomes romantic with multiple opportunities for intimacy. There is also an option of relationship detox, like fishing or hunting vacations – or in my case meditation and writing vacation.
- Dysfunctional relationships prevent personal growth. One of the reasons to choose solitude is the dysfunctional element of great relationships. People are imperfect, and every relationship will have dysfunctional elements. For example, in our family, all of us are overly judgemental. Sometimes it is nice to do wonderfully stupid things without being educated. To do that we take around one week every year, when Anna takes the kids to her parents and spends time with them on a coral reef. I stay at home and joyfully work.
- Therapy and vacation. Vacations can interfere with the processes of personal growth, like meditation or therapy, speedreading training, diet or sports practice. Vacations kind of put a hard stop to the process and then restart the process in a new way. If the process is stagnating, this is great. However, if the process is moving forward, the momentum can be broken.
- New triggers. When on vacation, our triggers are very different from our regular triggers. We are less irritable about the home chores and work pressure, but we have many new changes to try and many new situations to face. I remember on my third vacation with Anna, she (bored to death by having two kids one after another) drove me crazy saying “You are so funny! Please entertain me!” no matter how I felt. This did not happen before or after.
- Extended family. On some vacations, there are extended family members and friends. These people can make our vacation wonderful adding new perspectives, warmth, and funny stories. They can also find new ways to stress, for example by being constantly late or by showing off. And they can also ask uneasy questions about our partners, especially when we are dating…
We are often locked in the circle of the same ideas, trying to do the same thing we failed to complete a month earlier. Usually, there is no better way. Occasionally there is. After a vacation, we come back with a new context, new perspective, and new ways of doing things.
Crazy vacations totally detached from what we usually do often work better improving creativity and reducing stress. Especially this is true for extreme sports lovers, who combine athletic activity, exposure to nature, and adrenaline rush in a new location.
Any activity we do not regularly do may trigger this effect. Some of the best philosophers are demi-crazy people who do not live in the same world as the rest of us. Their unique insights are helpful for all of us.
Rely on nature
I spent about 2/3 of my vacation in the urban landscape. Since I live in a city with 250,000 residents, a city of multiple millions is invigorating. About 1/3 of my vacations I spend in nature.
Here are some benefits of nature:
- People living in rural areas have a 20 percent lower risk of anxiety and a 40 percent lower risk of mood disorders compared to people living in urban areas. A walk in the woods reduces stress and depression.
- Walking a half-mile through a park reduces brain fatigue. Scientists have known for some time that the human brain’s ability to stay focused is limited and the constant noise and demands of living in the city lead to mental fatigue.
- Hospital spaces with a window overlooking green space heal faster than other patients. Since not everyone can have a window with a view, researchers tested what happens when patients looked at pictures of landscapes. They discovered looking at pictures of nature reduced pain and decreased anxiety.
- Spending time on the ocean reduces the likelihood of developing depression and anxiety. In addition to increasing your sense of inner calm, the water has also been found to boost creativity.
In fact, there are many different studies dealing with all aspects of nature. There are common things like lack of noise. And there are special things. The beaches are sunny and anti-depressing, the forests are green and calming, the mountains and deserts are majestic.
Vacations can be used to practice mindfulness. Not just all sorts of walking and meditation.
- Managing expectations. Coming open-minded is much better than developing unrealistic expectations. Places for us are very different from what they appear to be on postcards.
- Express gratitude. Israelis on vacation are grateful at least three times. First when we arrive to a new place, full of expectations and wonder. The second time when we see the places we came to see. This is not trivial: they could be closed for renovation, robbed or burned, The third time we are grateful when we come home because no place in the world is as good as home.
- Be flexible. In Japan, schedules are followed up to 40 seconds, but in India, they are just a recommendation. Many things can and will go wrong on vacation. They should be embraced as an adventure.
- Put down the cameras. Maybe not all the time, but some of the time, simply experience the places and the sights, the people and the cultures. Be there with all your senses.
- Plan leisure. Many people often need a vacation from vacation. Allow some leisure days on longer vacations. Actually, this is the main downside of organized tours: the planners want to fill in all of your time.
- Give the vacation a meaning. If you can… Most of my vacations are thematic. They deal with specific cultures, landscapes, culinary experiences. This is not a must, just a thought.