Revisiting the meaning of vacation

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In the summer months, I often reflect on the idea of “vacation” — what it is, what it means, and what it has come to mean in our culture.

Vacation means “to vacate” — to leave, to get out of here, to get away from your daily setting and responsibilities. We get a different perspective on life when we get away from our daily routines. Fortunately, the growing popularity of the stay-cation has allowed even those in a tight financial situation to enjoy the benefits of ‘getting away.’


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Vacation implies that you aren’t working. You are taking a vacation from work

At times, I have been bad about taking work on vacation and working throughout my time away, but I attempt to limit it to long car rides to and from the destination. I have heard of some business leaders who weave work and vacation together throughout the whole time, partly to be able to count the costs as a business expense. But their families often feel they never fully have their dad’s or mom’s attention.

Another aspect of going on vacation is to do something refreshing and rejuvenating. This takes different forms for different people. My preference is to be in and around nature. So we typically go to a lake, the woods, the beach or mountains. (Going to Disneyworld would not be refreshing for me!)

But it also means, not running at such a fast pace on vacation that you come home exhausted.

In the past, this was a problem for me as I often tried to leave as early on a Friday as possible and return as late on a Sunday as practically feasible. But in doing so, I stressed out my wife — who had to prepare everything for everyone, including me, and had to do all the cleanup, too. Thankfully, I think I do better on the pace issue now.

Going on vacation doesn’t mean only doing what the kids want to

Our child-focused society, and misguided goals of giving our children a “happy childhood” and “building memories” leads to a distorted view of vacation. It is supposed to be fun, all the time, for the kids. And it becomes the parents’ responsibility to make sure the kids are having fun.  Talk about a disaster. Absolutely, kids should enjoy part of the time. But being a family includes considering others and what they like to do. So, “today we are going to an art museum because that is something mom enjoys.” Taking turns, being exposed to new activities you wouldn’t normally choose, and being patient while someone else enjoys their favorite activity is part of taking vacations with others.

Going on a vacation isn’t a competition with your friends, co-workers or neighbors

Where you go, how long you stay, and what you do isn’t a competition with others to see how successful you are in life. There is growing pressure to make sure your vacation is ‘Instagrammable’- to exhibit instead of unplug. The amount of enjoyment and refreshment experienced on a vacation is not directly related to how much money you spend or how many likes you get. The value of a vacation comes from your own sense of contentment, gratitude, enjoying the moment, and having positive interactions with those around you. Think of the opposite, and we can easily visualize a “bad” vacation — feeling anxious & uptight, wishing you were somewhere else, and constant bickering with others. Not a fun time, even if you are at a luxurious resort on the Riviera.

As you prepare for and go on a vacation this summer, think through these questions:

  • What would be rejuvenating for me? for my spouse? or my kids?
  • How should we pace ourselves, that will help the time not be hectic and tiring?
  • What do we need to talk about as a family before the vacation to set appropriate expectations for everyone?

Enjoy the time you have with family and friends “vacating” for a while!

This article first appeared on Appreciation Blog.