Sandy beach. Mountain lake. Family reunion. Big city. How do you like your vacation?
Consider these statistics:
This year 17 percent of workers took or planned to take a vacation for 10 days or more.
Three in 10 workers contact work during their vacation.
Fifteen percent of workers reported they gave up vacation days last year because they didn’t have time to use them.
As for me and my family, we’ve tossed around the word “staycation” a lot in recent years. A staycation results from economic downturn (read: getting laid off) and from being swamped with obligations (read: no time to plan an actual vacation).
You would think that unemployment would lead to more time to plan wonderfully creative low-cost family experiences. Yet somehow during my one solid year of unemployment I managed to over-commit myself with a whole range of other things.
I think it was an inadvertent psychological response to losing my job. I needed to prove to myself and everyone else that I could still be busy, even if I wasn’t working for pay. As if being busy was the greatest value I could strive to achieve.
When I finally did get back into the wonderful world of paid employment, I was working full-time on top of my commitments taken on post-job-loss. Even if I was lucky enough to afford a vacation, I didn’t have time to take one. (Note to anyone who has lost their job: If I can get a new job, anyone can. Keep the faith, friends.)
Here’s another statistic. Twenty-three percent of workers say they once had to work while the family went on vacation without them. That points to my family’s next evolution from the staycation: taking separate family vacations, as money and days-off become available per person. My son and I take a few days here. The kids and I take a few days there. Does happy hour with my husband count?
Earlier this year my heart nearly broke in two as my husband, Bob, and two kids drove out the driveway for spring break without me. They were on their way to my in-laws, a cross country trip we’d taken together on many occasions, driving that tedious road from the Midwest to New York City.
But this time I couldn’t join them because I didn’t have days off. In fact, I was in the hole with my paid leave. It was my own fault. I’d burned them up going to grad school.
Of course, I insisted that my family go without me. There was no choice. At the last minute Bob reconsidered the trip, feeling really bad. I said, go!
But I tell you, when that dented-up silver Buick pulled out of the driveway, I wasn’t thinking about all the things I’d been wanting to do for at least two years. I wasn’t thinking about sleeping, reading, watching TV, catching up on movies or cooking.
I wasn’t thinking about progressing my book or my essays. I wasn’t thinking about the quiet I’ve longed for, the slowness I’ve craved, the solitude I’d missed since having children. Nor the yoga, biking, or walking I’d wanted to do for so long.
Nor eating while sitting down, taking normal showers, hanging up my clothes, brushing my teeth longer than 30 seconds, or picking up all the garbage on the floor of my car.
I wasn’t thinking about the 100 miles per hour I’d been living for too long and how I would have some so called “down time.”
I was only thinking that I wanted nothing more, positively nothing more, than to be crammed into that unsexy sedan full of stuff on its way to a cheap motel in Ohio en route to Brooklyn, N.Y.
I only wanted to be with my three lifelines. In that moment when the clunky suburban four-door drove away from me, my priorities suddenly crystallized. My husband. My daughter. My son. That’s all I wanted.
“It isn’t normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement.” — Abraham Maslow.
I saw this on my Twitter feed the same day my family left for spring break, and it occurred to me that maybe I was experiencing this kind of “rare psychological achievement.” I finally knew what I wanted — my family — and they were gone.
This truth is sadly known among many of you who have lost a lifeline. You just want him back. You want her back. That’s all you want.
Maybe that’s why a vacation is not just a fun thing to do, it’s vital. It’s a way to remember what’s important and who we love. And maybe that’s why it’s so sad that our vacation resources seem to dwindle more and more.
I hope I’m not sounding preachy because I’m the most guilty of us all when it comes to being unimaginative with time off, or even taking time off at all. And yet I still think it’s so important.
And so I offer below a list of ideas to jump start thinking how we can access a change in our normal routine, possibly even to the point of rest and rejuvenation. I hope you’ll offer your ideas too.
The Mississippi River. A campfire. A road trip. I like my vacation anyway I can get it.
Vacation ideas for when vacation resources are few:
- Hostels: Lodging in hostels is cheaper and more fun because you meet friendly people and get more personal attention from the owners. Find a hostel with private rooms (instead of dorm rooms) and it can be a great way to travel with the kids.
- Megabus: This low-cost interstate bus system with free Wi-Fi offers much potential adventure for teens and parents. The Des Moines to Chicago route is a double decker!
- Grandma’s: Don’t forget the good old-fashioned trip to see the family. Dynamics aside (I’m not a psychologist) there’s lots of value to simply seeing your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. Plus, surely you must be related to someone with a boat.
- Camping: Bring me back to nature. I want a tent, an air mattress, a French coffee press and the wild. Not that I’ve done this, but it sounds so appealing. Seriously, here in the U.S. we have a spectacular network of state and national parks. Pack up the kids and explore!
- Read: This one probably looks like a cop out, but I mean it with utmost sincerity. Whether you can or can’t get away, reading will make everything richer. May I recommend a selection by our incoming U.S. poet laureate, the remarkable Natasha Trethewey, “Beyond Katrina.” It’s an easy read; it will slowly wind you up and launch you into orbit. At least that’s where it took me.
- Family camp: Don’t forget our incredible ELCA network of camps, developed on some of the best land in the country. Located on lakes, in mountains, and among forests, our Lutheran camps offer programs for introverts and extroverts alike. Facilities range from high end to high adventure. My family has loved spending weeks at Outlaw Ranch in the Black Hills.
Source of statistics: Infographic page regarding 2012 vacations on Career Builder’s website.
Terri Mork Speirs is a writer, mother and the communications manager for the Des Moines Area Religious Council. She recently completed a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing.