Sunday, May 20, 2012

Been on vacation lately?



Enjoying the view from our apartment deck on my recent 3-week trip to Greece


Please excuse the lack of posts on PracticeBalance, but I have just returned from a long vacation... the first in at least 4 years and the first of (hopefully) many similar vacations. I had hoped to post this during my trip, but my current lack of blogging skills rendered me unsuccessful (this should change thanks to my new Ipad app!)

When I say "vacation", I don't mean a trip to the spa or a couple of days in the mountains... I mean a REAL vacation. One that allows you to separate yourself from your many roles and responsibilities at work and at home. One that affords true relaxation, a complete "reset". Of course, if you're currently completing professional training, your vacations are more truncated and prescribed than you would like. But eventually you will be finished with the current hoops you're jumping through, and you will have the opportunity to take a longer period of time off (especially in between training and permanent work in your profession). Unfortunately, most people do not take advantage of this opportunity either in between jobs or at any other point in their lives.

Check out this infographic from Good magazine for the sobering details.  Multiple sources report that 36% of workers don't take their allotted vacation time each year. And this article from Fast Company about the possibilities of unlimited vacation points out the reality that 30% of people who take vacation plan to do work during their leave.

From personal experience and further research, I have found that a REAL vacation affords a more creative and productive return to work. On many such occasions, I have come up with new solutions to work dilemmas or personal productivity problems that previously had plagued me! I'm not saying that short getaways are not beneficial; in fact, this NY Times article discusses a Dutch study of thousands of vacationers. Most of the happiness derived from the subjects' vacations centered around mere anticipation of the trip, and length of time did not correlate with increased happiness. However, to really experience a nice "reset", certain conditions usually need to be present:

  • Significant length of time.  I have found that three weeks, especially for any destination that is across numerous time zones, is ideal. However, two weeks could work too and longer could be good, depending on the trip.
  • Simplified locale without a lot of logistics.  De-stressing may not be possible if your trip involves numerous transfers, hiring of cars, time-constrained guided tours, etc. Aim for a single location, ideally without the need for complicated transportation to activities. We tend to gravitate towards trips where we don't have to rent a car or drive around too much. Take advantage of public transport and enjoy the chauffeured ride! 
  • Lots of activity (non work-related).  Incorporate a hobby, sport, or service into the vacation that blends down-time with busy-ness. Vegging out with an umbrella drink at the pool is good, but it's hard to do for 2-3 weeks without bringing your mind back to work. However, the epiphanies about your life that can occur on a long vacation will come while you're busy doing something else.
  • Opportunities for rich social interaction.  It's no secret that we learn things about ourselves by observing others. Taking the time to self-reflect via journaling about the people I meet or things I see while traveling has really helped me to cultivate that rejuvination we all seek when on vacation.

An example of what I'm talking about here is my recent vacation to Kalymnos, Greece. It was three weeks long, and while it involved hours of traveling to and from the destination, we essentially stayed in one small town in one studio apartment for the entire time. Once we arrived, we walked to all activities during the entire trip. Yes, you heard correctly - no rental scooters (ubiquitous there) or cars! We organized our days around rock climbing at the nearby crags, preparing our own meals with local ingredients, and forays to the beach on non-climbing days. The small size of the town and quaint nature of the European pensions afforded us much social interaction with fellow travelers, not to mention the fact that we met and befriended other climbers from all over the world.  It was a near-perfect vacation... but I can honestly say that at the end of it I was excited to go home. And right now I'm anticipating my return to work in the OR tomorrow! Mission accomplished.

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