Europeans joke they can always locate the Americans on the beach, and not just because we don't sunbathe topless or wear speedos. We're the people on our laptops, tablets, and cell phones – the workaholics who simply can't unplug. In a survey of 2,000 full-time workers in the US, 54% reported feeling guilty about taking vacation time!
This is ironic, considering that, unlike all other developed nations, the US does not have mandated vacation time. France requires at least 30 paid workdays off, not including paid holidays. The U.K. mandates 28 days while Austria, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Sweden, and Norway all guarantee 25. Meanwhile, the US does not require that businesses offer ANY paid vacations or holidays. In fact, According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, 23% of American workers have no paid vacation days and 22% don't even get paid holidays.
So, when an American tells you he or she "needs a vacation," rest assured they aren't kidding.
The Value of a Vacation
Simply put, vacations are good for you. The benefits of taking time off to relax and recharge include:
- Enhanced mindfulness. You are much less likely to "zone out" in an exciting, unfamiliar environment. One study found the impact of a vacation on mindfulness was similar to that of meditation. If you want to be more present, do something different, somewhere new.
- Better health. Studies found that those who vacation more frequently were less likely to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. One nine-year study found that yearly vacations reduced a person’s risk of death from heart disease by as much as 30%.
- Reduced stress. Stress raises levels of cortisol and adrenaline, the brain's "flight or fight" hormones. Over time, stress leads to inflammation, which can trigger a host of health problems. Time away from a stressful workplace is a much-needed break for body and mind.
- Improved learning capacity. Ever had an epiphany in the shower, or while taking a walk in the country? Relaxing situations can enhance brain power. Numerous studies have found links between travel and creativity and learning capacity. Being immersed in a new setting and culture helps make you more attentive and open-minded and inspires you to think differently.
- Better sleep. Sleep improves when you're on holiday. A new bed and new experiences help you detach from your usual sleep patterns and the worries that keep you up at night. If your vacation is an active one, you will also be more physically tired at the end of the day and more likely to enjoy a good night's sleep.
- A more productive work life. Time off from work enhances well-being, increases productivity, and enhances performance.
Vacationing for Your Own Good
Vacations can be a form of self-care in that, beyond offering rest, relaxation, and new adventures, they foster personal growth. Here are some ideas you may not have considered:
A farm stay is fun for the whole family. Helping with the chores is a hands-on education that connects us with nature, educates us about animals and the food chain, and reduces stress. If you ride or would like to learn, you could look into a riding vacation at a horse ranch.
Life's a Beach
OK, so it's not the most original vacation, but there's a reason beach vacays are so popular: The sight and sound of the ocean and the salt sea air have a relaxing effect on us.
A spa weekend is a great option if you'd like to spend some quality time with friends or a significant other. Treatments like mud baths, massages, facials, or acupuncture help you relax. Hotels that specialize in the spa experience tend to feature healthy meals and vegan and vegetarian options, and some feature exercise and yoga classes as well. Some spas are located on or near natural hot springs and are in beautiful natural areas.
If you are a yogi or yogini, your studio may offer retreats. Many such retreats are set in beautiful natural places and some also offer meditation and Pilates.
Hiking in the summer, skiing and snowboarding in the winter. The mountains are a great place to vacation year-round. For great cardio workouts and inspiring vistas, there's no better place than your nearest mountain range.
Test yourself – can you go without email and Google for a day? A week? Leave your laptop at home and go 100% off the grid. Let work know you are going AWOL and vacation somewhere with no WiFi service. If you want to go hard core, bring a bunch of books, and go where there is no TV or cell phone service as well. Disconnect from social media and reconnect with yourself or your travel companion.
This is a solo experience. Are you looking to clear your head? Make a difficult decision? Escape the noise and distraction of the urban lifestyle to find out who you are and what you really want? A silent retreat can be a life-changing experience.
Like to bike? Surf the web for some interesting bike tours. Guided cycling trips are available all over the world, from the Rocky Mountains to the Tuscan Hills. The only caveat is that you need to be reasonably fit. If you're not cycling now, you'll need a couple months to get in bike tour shape.
Put your best foot forward and take a walking tour! You can plan a trip in the US, Europe, or Asia and include a couple of walking day trips or choose an all on-foot vacation. Some guided walking tours will drive your luggage from one hotel to the next so you can get by with a light pack. Walking tours are a great way to learn about a new place while staying fit and strong.
A good choice for solo or couple travel, these types of vacations offer "the best of both worlds." Hang out with wild horses. Work with scientists studying whales. Beautiful places all over the world could use your help and if you don't mind roughing it, you'll learn a lot without spending too much.
No matter what type of vacation you choose, make the choice to take time off and go on vacation – your improved health and peace of mind will thank you for it!
This article first appeared in the May 2023 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.