As I was en route home from last week’s trip to Bonaire, a Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela, I stumbled across Time magazine’s article, “Save the American Vacation.” It’s not a new topic. This time last year, USA Today ran a story on countries with the most vacation days, leading with this unfortunate fact:
“The United States is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation.”
And we’re not only behind the EU when it comes to vacation. We’re behind every industrialized nation:
Clearly, America has bred a culture of non-vacation.
And my own family was living proof. My dad was a business owner, so vacationing just wasn’t something we did when I was growing up. Sure, I went away to summer camp, but we didn’t plan getaways as a family. As a result, it took me until late in my adult life to finally begin to understand the importance of not only setting aside the time and money to take a vacation, but also how to actually benefit from the time I spend away from the office.
Last October, for the first time in a decade, I took a real vacation on my own. I went diving on the island of Bali, and I remember feeling uptight nearly the whole time. I wasn’t able to turn off the constant vigilance and attention to detail that dominates my business-owner brain. If the internet at the hotel was down, I felt panicky. If plans fell through, I felt like I’d failed. I stayed focused on the next item on the agenda and what I was “missing” at home. It wasn’t until the very last day of the trip that I felt able to exhale and take in where I was, who I was with, and the sheer experience of what I was doing.
Earlier this year, I was diving in Palau with a wonderful dive master named Eddie. Before each dive, Eddie would say, “Remember, diving is not swimming. Look up. Look down. Look around. And most importantly, have fun.” It seems basic, yet most beginning divers are so focused on a destination—on the agenda—that they forget that the reason for being there isn’t to achieve, but to simply let go. We spend most of our lives striving to do more, in school, at work, even in our social lives. But vacation is perhaps the one time we can truly forget about doing and just accept what happens day to day, moment to moment.
So how do we get there?
The Time article focuses on the need to take time for vacation, but clearly no government policy is going to help make that happen. Just like planning for retirement, it’s up to each of us as individuals to actually make it happen, and that takes planning—for both time and money.
Decades ago, back when people actually walked into the bank building to make a deposit and we all had “passbooks” for our accounts, Vacation Clubs were popular. Basically a layaway plan for the holidays, some community banks and credit unions still offer this simple way to budget every month to prepay for your time off. According to surveys by Visa, AAA, and Money Magazine, most Americans spend about $1,600 on vacation (I’m guessing that number is higher in Southern California). By saving just a little over $30 a week all year in a dedicated account, you could easily have at least the bulk of a vacation paid for. Then it’s a matter of planning the actual time to get away, which for many of us is the biggest challenge of all. But by planning now, you will not only set yourself up for success, but you may also be able to completely let go once you do get there. The benefits? There are lots of studies that show regular vacations help reduce stress, increase creativity, and strengthen family relationships.
No wonder all those other countries make it a top priority!
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