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Why Taking Vacations Is Hard

When my mother died earlier this summer, I went back to the U.S. for two weeks and cleaned out her apartment. Most people wouldn’t consider...

Image: Chen Mizrach via Unsplash

When my mother died earlier this summer, I went back to the U.S. for two weeks and cleaned out her apartment. Most people wouldn’t consider clearing out their mother’s apartment a holiday. Trust me, it wasn’t.

And yet, I came back feeling like I didn’t deserve another break, even though – after her death and five months of lockdown – I was completely burnt out. My daughter pleaded with me to take a vacation in Europe while it was still possible and still cheap. (American friends who can’t even travel to the next state right now, apologies for what is to follow…)

I said yes, even though it felt wrong. We went to Venice and Malta for 10 days. I’d not been to Venice in 22 years. But with the most amazing walking tour book EVER in my hand, it was like discovering the city all over again. Meanwhile, I couldn’t even place Malta on a map before we went there. Now I’m completely au fait with the island, including the likes of the proverbial Blue Lagoon. (Paging Brooke Shields…)

Needless to say, that trip was the best thing I did this summer. It was fun, culturally stimulating, and totally relaxing. I bonded with my daughter and enriched my understanding of the world. (Top tip on Malta? Don’t eat the horse. Or the rabbit liver…ahem.) Lord knows when – in the current environment – I’ll be able to travel again.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is me. Work was slower than usual this summer due to Covid. That – ironically – created more time for a vacation. Lord knows there have been many summers over the past 15 years where the best I could muster was astaycation, a micro-trip, or no vacation at all. And yet, I felt that on some level I didn’t “deserve” to go away this summer.

Moreover, as an American with that firmly ingrained notion of “two weeks of vacation per year” lurking somewhere in my subconscious, it seemed like I’d already clocked my time when I went to the U.S. This, despite all the research telling us why vacations are actually good for productivity.

And let’s face it. When your work mantra is “more,” rather than enough, taking a vacation will always feel wrong.

But on the principle that if you want to change your life, you need to actually practice being your future self, I took the plunge and don’t regret it at all. I think about that trip every day. In fact, now that work has ramped up considerably, I firmly believe that trip is helping to fuel my energy.

How about you? Have you ever struggled with taking vacations? How did you cope?

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  1. KimS September 11, 2020 at 4:15 pm #

    I have experienced the same as you. We took a two week beach vacation. We’ve never taken two weeks together. Due to Covid, my husband and I both had vacation we had to use. I will say I feel like I was extremely burned out and for the first time ever, I didn’t even open my company email at all. It was very relaxing and I realized that I really needed that time off…as in really off.

    • delialloyd September 11, 2020 at 4:32 pm #

      Good for you Kim! So great to leave email untouched.

  2. Howard Baldwin September 12, 2020 at 8:04 pm #

    I feel your conflict, Delia.

    I have a freelancing colleague in Montreal who takes four weeks off every summer and heads up into the Laurentian Mountains. She’s trained her clients that phone and e-mail coverage is spotty, so they don’t try to contact her. The whole concept amazes me.

    My modus operandi when we went to Hawaii was to get up early (Hawaiian time), deal with client e-mail while my wife was still sleeping, and then enjoy the rest of the day. There was the time, however, when we got a call from security informing us that one of the guards was standing outside our door with a Fedex package from my office (the do not disturb sign was on the door, so he was afraid to knock). I had to spend the rest of the day proofreading the issue (I was the executive editor at the time) and then sending corrections back to San Francisco.

    The only time I really unplugged was in Italy by accident, because the WiFi in Venice and Florence was so bad. The first time I was able to connect was in Lufthansa Business Class on the flight home–and what do you know, my clients had actually registered that I was on vacation and none of them had e-mailed me!

    I must say, though, that the strangest client call I ever got on vacation was in a box canyon in Utah near Monument Valley. Still can’t figure out where the cell tower might have been.

    All in all, I’m just happy to be retired. No more client e-mails at all!

  3. delialloyd September 13, 2020 at 3:35 pm #

    Love these examples, Howard. I know that a lot of people who do the first thing you describe – i.e. use early morning to deal with email/pressing matters and spend the rest of the day relaxing. I don’t think it’s a terribly strategy, when necessary. There is a huge cultural divide on this, BTW. In the UK it is considered absolutely vile to contact someone when on holiday (I’m sure that’s true in Europe as well.) Whereas in the US I was always getting pinged about things…Given my own make up – which is always to be “on” – I am definitely in favour of the British/European approach. Though as you say, retirement makes it even easier!

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