June 17, 2008

Vacation, Who Needs It?

[Posted by Crabby]

Photo: art.com

Having just gotten back from a brief New England excursion (which was quite fun but left me feeling very guilty for abandoning the internet for a few days) I got to thinking about vacations generally. I'm a McSlacker so I take way more than my fair share--but I can see I'm going to have to step it up even more to bring up the national average.

Because a vacation poll from a couple of months ago said that fewer Americans than ever are planning to take summer vacations in 2008--only a third!

The New York Times was talking about the depressing phenomenon of "shrinking vacation syndrome" a couple of years ago. A typical quote, by a AAA spokesman: "The idea of somebody going away for two weeks is really becoming a thing of the past. It’s kind of sad, really, that people can’t seem to leave their jobs anymore."

Another vacation survey from a year ago found that a more than half of the employees polled did not use all of their vacation.

There seem to be two issues here: the inability to take much time off work, and the expense and difficulty of traveling anywhere when such precious time is actually secured. We'll just mix these two entirely different problems together because it's easier to pretend it's all one issue. But anyway, the net result is:

Hardly anyone seems to be able to "get away from it all" anymore.

It is the official position of Cranky Fitness that This Is Just Wrong! (And not only because we were just pimping reviewing a book about vacation destinations in order to get a free copy introduce you to a valuable resource).

This "shrinking vacation" thing sucks for many reasons, but one of them is actually related to the supposed topic of this blog:

It is apparently unhealthy not to take vacations!

For example, researchers looking at the Framingham heart study data found that women who took a vacation every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to develop heart problems than those who took at least two vacations a year. (And they controlled for other factors like obesity, diabetes, smoking and income). And another study of men at high risk for heart disease also found that those who failed to take annual vacations were more likely to die of a heart attack.

So quick, go to your boss and demand that you be released immediately! If your boss says no, simply lie down on the floor and have a heart attack. That'll show 'em.

Or maybe not. Time spent away from work but hooked up to machines in the Intensive Care Unit might not be quite as relaxing as a week at the beach.

But even if you can manage to take a vacation without threatening cardiac arrest, it may not even help you recuperate if you don't take the right kind.

A survey of managers found that a quarter of them returned from vacation more stressed than when they left, with a third having spent at least part of their break checking in with the office, often every day. And according to Dov Eden, an organizational psychologist who has studied the issue, "those who are electronically hooked up to their office, even if they are lying on the Riviera, are less likely to receive the real benefits of a vacation and more likely to burn out."

Another earlier study looked at "health-related vacation outcome." Despite the dry language, the conclusions were kinda interesting:

"Recuperation" was facilitated by:
  • Free time for one's self;
  • Warmer (and sunnier) vacation locations;
  • Exercise during vacation;
  • Good sleep; and
  • Making new acquaintances
Exhaustion was increased by:
  • Vacation-related health problems, and
  • A greater time-zone difference to home.
The only tips I have for less stressful vacations are either pretty obvious or possibly not too practical. But what the hell:

  1. Don't go somewhere to impress others; go somewhere you're excited about. It could be camping in your local park or something more exotic. But the further away it is, the more time you need to allow to enjoy it without stress. Those "if it's Tuesday it must be Belgium" vacations are seldom relaxing.
  2. And along those lines, don't schedule every single minute with activities. Chill, dude.
  3. Don't have kids. Or if it's too late for that, figure out how to get at least some time away from them.
  4. Do lots of fun vacation-related exercise--hiking, swimming, biking etc, but leave your ambitious workout plans at home.
  5. Ditch your loved ones. Don't feel like you and your spouse/friend/family have to do the same thing all the time--constant compromise can be frustrating. If Beloved Husband wants to tour the dusty old Train Museum or spend all day on a boat drinking beer "fishing," and you'd rather shop the boutiques, split up for God's sake. You can catch up at dinner.
  6. Find a tour group. On the other hand, are you single and can't round up a friend with the same schedule or interests? Don't let that keep you at home. Tours have gotten a lot less "touristy" these days and are no longer just for the blue-hair set. The internet is your friend--here's one random company, but a few minutes with google will turn up lots of options.
  7. If you can't stay off your office email, stay somewhere without internet access. Even if it means (sniff) no Cranky Fitness for the duration.
  8. Get some sleep. Arrange to have any noisy or obnoxious hotel neighbors arrested or intimidated by local thugs. Failing that, at least complain to hotel management with the hopes that they may do something about it or get you another room.
  9. Come back home a day or two early. Don't wait until the last minute before you have to go back to work. Nothing will erase a relaxing vacation faster than stack of unopened mail, a mountain of chores, a pile of stinky laundry two stories high and no time to deal with any of it.
  10. You tell me! (You guys are much better at this stuff).
(And by the way, thanks to all those who stopped by while I was out of town, and my apologies for not logging on to the internet almost the entire time! But I read some list that said I shouldn't).

So are any of you going to be able to escape for a vacation this summer? Or do you have any thoughts about vacationing generally?


  1. So many people have gotten it into their heads that the world will end if they don't stay on the job.
    Sad that we're losing vacation time.
    Tour groups are great. I've been on a few and you see places, meet people, and someone else is being paid to take on all the problems.
    Generally speaking, you're right that most people wouldn't find ICU relaxing. I did. I was well cared for and by the time I was on my third hospital I was catching up with friends I hadn't seen in a long while and having a wonderful time. It was like a vacation. That said, I'd really rather spend a holiday somewhere else.
    We really have trapped ourselves into believing this nonsense that work is all and money trumps everything. Sad.

  2. It is sad that folks (myself included!) have a tough time taking off work. The world may end without me! :-)
    Actually, I am taking off work but don't plan to go anywhere special. Of course, I have a nice pool in my condo complex AND I live right outside of D.C., so I will have plenty to do and see. I think I will enjoy it immensely - turning off that pesky cellphone, of course!

  3. Sigh. I don't know when I'll be able to take a vacation. My husband and I are hoping to spend the New Year out of the country, but we're not sure we can make it happen. But we have to, don't we? FOR OUR HEALTH!!!

  4. I don't think a vacation is in the cards this summer, but we are definitely going away for a weekend because we have a wedding to attend - I'm so looking forward to a bit of time off work!

    I really do think that vacations help people be healthy - although it might not be obvious at first because of all the food we're usually trying. But I think if you're happier it's easier to be healthy - and certainly enjoying oneself on vacation would make people happier!

    And choosing a destination in order to impress people? Does anyone do that? I've never even considered it!!

  5. The Bag Lady HAD her vacation - a 10-hour road trip (all expenses paid!) - 4 hours each way, an hour at our destination while the Cowboy loaded some equipment, and an hour at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant!

    She hasn't had a vacation in 14 years. It's hard to find someone to take over the chores with the cattle, and more stressful than relaxing, worrying about things not being properly cared for at home.

    One thing we noticed on the road was the lack of traffic.
    Perchance the fuel prices are having some effect on this? Seriously, who can afford to travel?

  6. Great tips! My fave is "ditch the family" ;) My husband and I finally decided this year that after 8 years of using all our vacation time to visit our families in other states that this summer, by golly, we're going somwhere fun. Just for us! We're going camping. In South Dakota. Wheee?

  7. I'm a big fan of vacations, ironically cause my parents never let anyone miss school for vacations or illness (unless you had an observable symptom, and a higher than normal temperature didn't count). In case you don't want to have a heart attack in your boss's office:

    From a management perspective, having employees take vacation leads to lower employee turnover and absenteeism (calling out sick) in addition to improving morale and, to some degree, company loyalty.

    Several of the "Best Practices" employers hold supervisors accountable if the employees don't use their alloted time off. If everyone doesn't use their vacation days, this reflects negatively on the supervisor.

    (I just graduated from college, where I studied this stuff, and most of my HR classes had at least one lecture devoted to the benefits of vacations.)

  8. We don't take two weeks together but the dh and I do take one week each year for just the two of us to go away from it all. We just got back from Navarre Beach, FL - gorgeous. The only thing I would change is staying at a place with no TV. DH has a very hard time unplugging from that and given any opportunity will run back to the room/condo/rental and turn the stupid thing on. For that reason, sometimes it's nice to go to foreign places (where the TV is not in English!) but what with the Euro and all this year it wasn't in the cards. And yes, I do this knowing that I will come back to a desk full of crap since no one covers for me when I'm out. But it's soooooo worth it.

  9. Vacation is one of the reason I really miss living in France. My gosh, we had so much vacation and Holidays! At my current place of employment, taking 2 weeks off in a row would be frowned upon (though we technically are free to do this). Also, one of us taking vacation time leaves our coworkers with a lot more work, which tends to keep us from taking too much time off at once.
    It is hard sometimes to leave it all behind, and I can tell it takes a toll on people.
    I also agree on coming back from vacation a couple of days beforehand in order not to encounter to great a shock.

    I think this is all very symptomatic of American society where so much of one's self worth is determined by how much work he/she can do. Taking time for oneself away from work is anathema. Breakfast is a thing of the past, more and more people eat lunch at their desk, peel themselves off their computer after 10 hrs to go home and compulsively check their blackberry... Sad state of affair...

  10. Oh I WILL be taking a vacay no doubt, but it will be closer to home and we are taking a long weekend instead of a whole week. I like to have some vacay days left in case I need a "me" day when I can sneak away and do WHATEVER I WANT. Having time alone to shop and pamper myself is my idea of a perfect vacation!

  11. A new job opportunity! Local Thug, LLC. "On site intimidation at a moment's notice, or ordered in advance. Hourly or by the job."

    (Yes, sound sleep would be a vacation all on its own.)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  12. I think there's also the fear that if we're away from the desk for two whole weeks, people will learn to get by without us and there won't be a job waiting when we come back.

    I agree with Charlotte -- when you spend /every/ vacation dutifully visiting relatives, it ain't no real vacation.

  13. Seconding what Alice said. For some reason, Americans see vacations as a sign of weakness. Part of our macho culture I guess. It's somehow better to slave away at a job until you die 2 weeks after retirement. There, that showed the world how dedicated I am. Not for this cat (me), at least!

  14. I"m with you on the taking an extra day off before you go back from a holiday.
    I tend to have very active vacations and it's nice to have a day to get back, put stuff away and sort of sink back into homelife before hopping back into work and life...
    But then I love camping/hiking and outdoor festivals, so I usually need a day to put everything away and washa week of camping dirt of myself and all my kit. :)

    Splitting up for things is a brilliant idea...my hubs and I used to feel like one of us was missing out sometimes when we compromised...so we suually take a day to do "our thing" separately and enjoy it more and have lots to talk abotu later. I don't know how pwople holiday with other couples...the comprimising would get complicated. I'm far too picky and fussy to try and find someone who'd like what I do all teh time :)

  15. Ah, vacation! I will be leaving next Friday for the beach!

    But I do feel guilty. Because I'm trying to graduate and right now I have such a hard time taking a single day off that the thought of falling a week behind is giving me a minor panic attack. I don't think that's a good thing. Maybe I need a vacay more than I thought!

  16. If we are suggesting vacation outfitters, try the Adventure Cycling Association, (www.adventurecycling.org). Reasonable prices for bicycle camping vacations, some supported and some self contained. A terrific group!

  17. I use all my vacation days, but mostly it's used up by a day or two here and there. Somehow, there never seems to be enough vacation time to go around (and I get 3 weeks).

  18. I liked the study that mentioned that it takes a few days before you really relax and get into vacation mode. The trouble with 3-day weekends is that by the time Monday rolls around I'm just starting to get into the loaf mode.

  19. My wife and I are taking a week to hide out in the mountains of western NC. There is some very wise advice in this post -- I think it's one of the best Cranky Fitness posts I've read. Can I live w/o my laptop for a week? Hmmmm. I don't know but this has really caused me to consider that option again. Thank you.

  20. Can't wait til my vacation to Rome later this summer:) And it is so very healthy to take a bit of time off! Hurray.

  21. I always try to also take the day off on the Monday follwowing the trip. That way i have that day home alone (husband back to work and kids back to school) to relax, take a nap, etc. Sometimes, that's actually my favorite day of the entire week.

  22. ha! no vacation for me due to summer school. although my dad and i might go visit my pregnant (!!!) sister in august between summer semester and fall semester.

  23. One of the stresses of vacation isn't so much thinking the office can't function without you but thinking of how much work will stack up in your absence. It totally sucks to come back all relaxed and happy and find yourself working 60-hour weeks to get caught up.

    I was SO glad to be able to go on vacation between jobs this year. It was a huge treat to know there wasn't a huge pile of work waiting for me upon my return!

  24. My biggest hurdle to getting a relaxing vacation is family obligations. Usually all of my vacation time is used up making trips back to see the folks on major holidays. And while I do love my family, relaxing really isn't what those "vacations" turn out to be.

    That being said, I am traveling to Maine in July for a whole week on an island with no internet access, no television and basically nothing to do except enjoy the sea and the woods (and knit...I must knit like the wind)

    I think the US needs to institute the British tradition of Summer Holiday, where business close and make everyone go home.

  25. The best vacations, IMHO, are the ones where you can take your time getting there, not have an itinerary, can walk places, do fun things, eat good food, meet nice people, and just explore.
    And having a nice, comfy place to stay helps, too.
    And not being available to your boss and/or colleagues.

  26. screw that. im taking next friday off FOR NO GOOD REASON. im going to try and plan a camping trip with some friends, but if it doesnt pan out, im going to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

  27. Three DAYS to relax, Merry? When I read that study I shook my head and said "You poor souls." (And by the way--don't diss Mondays. They were my Day Off for seven years.) Give me three hours and I'll be blissing out, going "I don't have to do Anything tomorrow! Anything At All!"

    Mary Anne in Kentucky, relaxing on...3!


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