Over the past decade, we've seen a major dip in the prioritization of vacations. After the financial crisis, our work-life balance system was pretty much thrown out the window. As a result, Americans are taking way less vacation time than they accrue. If this is you, you may have struggled with trying to pack your infrequent travel plans with a myriad of activities. Understandably, you want to make the most of your time off. What you really should be doing is almost nothing. The one thing you should avoid doing over your next vacation is overbooking, and here's why.
Before I get into why doing the bare minimum during your time off is an absolute must, let me just relive the last vacation I took for a minute (*cue flashback*). I got back about a week ago, and this particular vacation was especially sweet. It was my honeymoon. My new bride and I spent our down time along the shores of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota. We scheduled a few activities ahead of time (never more than one a day), but mostly left our agenda wide open. We filled our time with book-reading, impromptu hiking trips, soaks in the hot tub – it was absolute bliss. Now back at work, I'm not being dramatic when I say I feel like a new woman. And I believe it's in part because I used my vacation as an actual vacation – I relaxed. This is something that we frequently mess up, myself included. It's tempting when we're traveling to want to take advantage of every activity, every sight, and every event – because we don't get to travel as much as we'd like to. While you may be tempted to plan a vacation that will supplement your Instagram account for months to come, don't. Here's why overbooking your next vacation is NOT a constructive way to spend your time off.
It's Called a Vacation for a Reason
The word vacation is derived from the Latin word vacare. Translated, this word means, “To be vacant, to be free, to be empty.” Got it? Empty. Your vacation is going to do you no good if you pack every day full of activities. You may even return back to work more tired than when you left.
You Could Lower Your Blood Pressure
Taking a leisurely vacation will help prevent heart disease. And it'll lower your stress hormone levels. And potentially make you lose weight! The list of vacation-derived health benefits goes on and on, as illustrated in a study done at the University of Pittsburgh's Mind-Body Center. This study also suggests that people who participate frequently in leisure activities (including vacations) are more likely to have a large support group and are less likely to be depressed. Relaxing vacations are scientifically-proven to be good for you.
You Won't Set Yourself Up for Disappointment
Let's say you're planning a long-weekend trip, and you fill every hour in your agenda with planned activities. And then it rains. A lot. Instead of feeling relaxed (like you should), you feel disappointed. You feel let down, like you've missed out on an opportunity. Even when the skies clear up, you're only able to do half of what you had planned, and you head back to work with a cloud of FOMO over your head. If you allow for your vacation plans to remain flexible, then that rainfall won't be as big of a hit. Who cares if it's pouring outside? You were going to snuggle up and do a puzzle, anyway.
Focusing on reprieve rather than activities also means you can take a vacation no matter the time of year. I just got back from the North Shore of Lake Superior. In Minnesota. In the middle of February. It snowed every other day, but the closed off roads didn't stress me out. They just made me feel better about staying in my sweatpants all day.
You'll Perform Better At Work
There's a lot of science behind why taking respites is beneficial to your brain. As it turns out, we actually perform better at mental tasks when our brains are given a break. Your brain needs downtime to fully digest things it's trying to process. Have you heard of shower thoughts? It's what happens in our brain when we're forced to shut off everything and everyone else while we're in the shower. Our brain uses that downtime to sort through problems, to-do lists, solutions… it's time our brain needs to decompress. We're allowed clarity when we can give our minds room to clear out.
Your Relationship with Your Partner Will Improve
Without a docket full of activities to distract you, you'll be able to be present with your partner. The task of adhering to a schedule and coordinating plans requires a lot of work. Often, when more than one person is involved, it can turn stressful. Take the stress out of the equation and just enjoy each others' company. Being in a new environment also helps you form new memories about one another.
Overbooking your vacation robs you of relaxation. It's fine to give yourself a little bit of schedule, but try not to overdo it. Even if you can't afford to get away for a few days, it's important to take time off work. If you can squeeze in a staycation, do it! You might need to fight harder to claim space to relax, but your body, mind, and spirit will thank you.