Vacation Maximization, Part 2: Seven Ways to Make the Most of Your Vacation

by Shana Montesol Johnson

Your vacation is coming up – you’ve figured out how to manage your email while you’re away so you can actually enjoy a break, and you’re looking forward to some relaxation.  Yet you remember coming back from your last vacation feeling exhausted rather than rejuvenated.  Here are 7 things you can do to make the most of your vacation.

1.  Slow down before you go.

In the days and weeks leading up to a vacation, we are often running at full tilt, working over-time to get everything done before we depart.  It then takes us several days of vacation time to fully decompress and begin to relax.  If you can plan your work accordingly, try to actually slow down your pace before you leave for vacation – you will avoid spending the first few days of the break simply recovering from the mad dash to the finish line.

2.  Plan your vacation with individual needs in mind.

When you have kids (as I do) vacation plans are often determined by the interests and needs of the little ones.  This is understandable.  Yet if possible, try to include something for everyone in your vacation itinerary, even if that means splurging on a babysitter or taking turns with your spouse caring for the kids.

3.  For expats: Differentiate between “vacation” and “home leave.”

When you live overseas, your vacation is often combined with a home leave, so the time may be taken up with visiting as many relatives as possible and running interminable errands.  While I would never suggest that an expat give up their annual trip to Target or Costco, it’s also a good idea to try to incorporate into your home leave some “vacation”-type activities that will relax and rejuvenate you.

4.  Rest.

Don’t try to jam pack so much into your vacation – seeing all the sights, visiting multiple friends, dragging the kids to all the relatives’ homes, trying every restaurant in your travel guidebook – that you lack time to rest.  Make sure your vacation includes down time to sleep, lie in the hammock, take aimless walks in nature, sit on a bench with a book.

5.  Leave your worries behind.

If you spend your vacation time fretting about what might be going on back at the office without you, you have wasted a precious opportunity.  Joe Robinson, author of Work to Live, suggests, “You have to unpack before you pack.  Put together an unpacking list of the stuff that has no business going with you.” These could be worries about your job, stress related to workload, anxiety about your relationship with your boss, concerns about your family, etc.

6.  Go somewhere new.

Exposing yourself to an unfamiliar environment and new experiences can help you gain new perspectives on your everyday life, according to Adam Galinsky, professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.  This explains why a “staycation” is not as refreshing as a trip away.  “Not just taking time off from work, but actually getting away from where you live is really important, because that’s the only way that you can achieve that perspective,” Galinsky says.  Ah, so that explains why I often have epiphanies and can generate more ideas when I am traveling!

7.  Find the sweet spot of leisure.

Sitting on a beach for two weeks with a fruity drink in hand may sound like Shangrila to some (and torture to others).  Paradoxically, “vegging out” may not be the most rejuvenating way to spend your holiday.  Geoff Godbey, a professor of leisure studies (who knew there is such a field!) at Penn State University says that to be most satisfying, leisure should resemble the best aspects of work: it should provide you with challenges, skills and important relationships. He also points out that there is a hierarchy to leisure activities, starting with a search for diversion, moving up to a search for pleasure, and, at the top, a search for meaning.

And don’t let the dread of returning to work and hundreds of unread emails spoil your vacation – next week’s post will give you some strategies to cope with that.  In the meantime, I’m off to enjoy my own vacation in Bali!  Woohoo!

How do you make the most of your vacation? Please share your tips in the comments section below.

Photo by Sara DeWitt

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