What I Learned from Taking a Month Off

AugustA few months back, I wrote a post setting out my intention to take August off this year. As a freelance communication consultant, my work tends to come in chunks, and I knew August would be relatively quiet. But I’d never taken a month off in my entire life, so the prospect felt very scary.

The ostensible idea behind this move was to set aside some time to write. But I was also—like everyone else—burnt out from being in my home for 18 months and felt the need to get outta Dodge.

Here’s what I learned by taking a month off:

Vacations are important

Americans are notoriously bad at taking vacations. 2021 was different. I remember seeing an article entitled something along the lines of “Why Americans will all be French this summer.” The implication was that, finally, Americans would be taking August off.

I also used to struggle with taking vacations. The HR Department at my old company had to call and remind me that the five weeks of “holiday” granted each employee were either “use it or lose it.” It took me a while to clock this. (Ditto the whole concept of “TOIL” or “time off in lieu,” which is a UK policy wherein you get time back for work that you do on weekends. It took me about two years to wrap my head around that one…)

But after years of watching my British friends and colleagues organize their work schedules around their holidays, instead of the other way round, I finally got with the program. That’s a good thing. Research shows that vacations improve productivity, lower stress and contribute to overall mental health.

So I’m thinking of making this August off thing permanent. I don’t need to necessarily go away. I’d be perfectly happy to sit in my garden (British term for “back yard”), sipping low-alcohol pale ales, or decluttering the house.

Make Your Vacation Guilt-Free

Once you’ve made the commitment to take that time off, the next trick is to make your  vacation guilt-free. By which I mean, enjoy the time. It won’t come back. And don’t beat up on yourself if you don’t do everything you intended while you were away.

I had foreseen spending a good chunk of every morning writing while I was travelling. Reader, I didn’t. I did write a bit, but mostly I used my morning writing hours to sleep…or to travel.

I had good excuses. I was still organizing my mother’s memorial service right up until the very last moment. I was also prioritizing seeing friends and family on this holiday, some of whom were elderly, ill, and/or living in remote locations . But the truth is, I could have made more time for writing. I simply didn’t. And that’s OK.

Which brings me to my second source of guilt. Normally on a family holiday, we do lots of cultural things. We go to museums, we see shows, we go on walking tours. We really try and drink in whichever country we’re visiting. But this wasn’t that kind of trip. I spent most of my time meeting people for coffee, meals, or drinks, or jumping on whatever plane/train/automobile would get me to my next destination.  And that’s OK too. Because I had three weeks over there instead of my normal two, I was able to reconnect with all sorts of people from my past I might not have otherwise seen.

The Value of Exploration

The other thing this trip did was to remind me of the value of exploring new places. In New York City, I used my down time to take some very long walks to discover new corners of  Manhattan. One friend loaned me her flat in the Financial District (aka “FiDi” for those in the know). I realized that, at least when it comes to the Big Apple— with all due respect to Billy Joel —I’m actually a downtown girl.

I also went to a remote corner of Mexico I’d never been in before. I spent a lot of time in Mexico when I was in my 20’s. But this was a completely new vantage point from which to take in the Sierra Madre. I literally saw the country differently.

On my way down from New York to DC, I jumped off the train in Philadelphia to have coffee with a friend. There, I realised that—like many people who grew up in the metropolitan New York area—I’d never really taken Philly seriously. It’s a city filled with art museums, cool neighborhoods, and hands down the best coffee I had during my entire stay in the States. (And we all know how much I value a good cup of coffee…) I will definitely be going back.

I came home to a mound of work, which I’m still making my way through. But taking the month off was totally worth it. I’m already looking forward to next August….

Image: Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Write a comment