I hate vacations.
Maybe that’s because I’ve never really understood the point of them.
You pick out some destination you’d really like to see—a beach town, a cabin in the woods, a thriving city with lots to do. You book plane tickets. You start buying all the little things you’ll need to take with you. You mark your calendar and start counting down the days until your departure.
You tell everyone at work you’re going to be gone the first two weeks of August. You start turning down meeting requests for that timeframe and asking co-workers to keep an eye on your projects. You arrange for Kimmy, the 14-year-old across the street, to water your plants and feed your dog.
The big day comes. You scramble to get to the airport on time. You fly all the way to your vacation spot. You check into your hotel. You spend the next several days eating rich foods, drinking indulgent drinks, taking pictures of things, doing activities you don’t normally do, and sharing it all on Facebook or Instagram.
Towards the end of your stay, that sick feeling of dread sets in. You realize you’re going to have to go back. So you start trying to maximize your enjoyment of every minute you have left.
What’s the most fun thing you can be doing right now? Is it a waste to sleep in this morning? Then again, what kind of a vacation is it if you have to set your alarm clock and meet a deadline?
Are you vacationing the right way? Has it been worth it?
You head home—full of memories but feeling crushed that you have to go back to your work-a-day life.
You arrive home with less money, lots of unanswered email and mail, and a lot of things to catch up on. More significantly, you feel tormented that you don’t live in the place where you vacationed and can only get a taste of it for a week or two each year—if that.
And this is enjoyable to people? Seriously?
Why most vacations are pointless
No, I’ve never really understood the point of vacations. First of all, there’s far too much sitting around for my taste. I could sit around at home for free. Why pay good money to do it someplace else?
“Ohhhh…..doesn’t this hot tub feel great?” Yeah, for about the first 10 minutes. But then I start thinking, “Oh, I get it….physical pleasure! Great! But at some point I’ll have to get out and do something else.”
“Wow….look at that ocean!” Hmmm….with all due respect to God’s creation, the ocean looks about the same as last summer.
My disdain for sitting around is part of the reason why I much prefer road trips to vacations. At least on a road trip, you’re doing something. You’re steering the car and seeing a variety of terrain. More on that another time.
But my main problem with vacations is something much more fundamental: they don’t solve anything.
You’re exhausted? Your vacation may be a good time to sleep in and do very little. But what happens when you go back to your real life? You’ll probably get exhausted again.
You’re stressed out over your job? Those two weeks in the mountains with no smart phone (if you’re that disciplined) will give you a much-needed break. But you’re going to get eaten alive when you head back to the office and realize how much you missed.
You want to see new places and do things you enjoy? Good for you. But if you confine that to one or two weeks a year, you’re in danger of living like a zombie for 50 weeks at a time just so you can live like you want to for two weeks at a time. That’s a pretty lousy tradeoff.
Are you starting to see my point about vacations? For most people, they don’t solve any problems—they just postpone them.
How I finally managed to enjoy the beach
My disdain for vacations was starting to get me worried. Why am I so weird, anyway? So one day earlier this summer, while my kids were running and playing on the beach, I sat down in a folding chair, pulled out my phone, and started typing into Evernote (which is about the best app I could possibly ask for).
I didn’t even know what I was going to write. But I knew that if I just sat there—in my long sleeves and jeans—I would likely go mad. So I created a new note and started typing away.
What came out was the framework of a new personal schedule for Mondays.
I thought about what time I wanted to get up, what kinds of activities would be most engaging to me early in the morning, and how much time I’d like to allow for a workout and lunch break in the middle of the day. I mulled over how much time I needed for my writing work and how much I’d like to allow for my musical endeavors. I considered family time, prayer time, cooking, errands, and my kids’ activities.
And since each day of my week presents me with different demands and obligations, I customized my Monday schedule to work on each of the other days of the week.
After maybe 30 minutes of furious, clumsy typing with my thumbs, I looked up and realized something: I was enjoying my time at the beach. But it’s not because I was sitting there staring out across the waves.
It’s because I had finally made time to think about my goals, my passions, and my greatest stresses. And I used this distraction-free time to visualize how I wanted my life to go from now on.
Have you ever spent time on a vacation doing this kind of thing?
Look, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty for flying to Jamaica and working on your tan for a week. If that’s your thing, great.
But I present to you the possibility that if you do nothing but lie around for your entire vacation, you’re going to return to work feeling more frustrated with your real life and more helpless to lead the kind of life you want to lead.
Insist on going on vacation anyway? Fine. Try this.
Head out on that vacation if you want. But don’t forget to bring a notebook. And spend some time each day brainstorming about how you want your life to go when you get home. What are the activities—and who are the people—who suck up your energy and give you the most stress? How can you minimize these factors?
What are the areas of your life you’re neglecting? What are the bad habits you’ve fallen into?
What are the things you love most? In what ways do you want your life to have changed by next year’s vacation?
Don’t come home without a list of changes you can implement right away. They don’t have to be big things—you can vow to start flossing every night, spending 20 minutes each morning reading a great novel instead of the newspaper, speaking up more in meetings, or cooking ahead for the week on Sunday nights. And your list can absolutely be scrawled on a cocktail napkin.
The most important thing is to use your vacation as an opportunity to reboot your life so that it’s a life you want to return to when your week in the Poconos has run its course.
N.B. I wrote this article on a deck chair while my kids splashed around in the hotel pool. And you know what? I feel great about that.