THE PLACE: Your backyard grill.
THE TIME: Late afternoon, the first day of your family staycation.
SPOUSE (happily calling out): “HONEY, WHERE ARE THE STEAKS? GRILL’S READY! … Honey? … Honey, what are you doing on your cell phone?”
YOU (from indoors): “Sorry, sweetheart. Answering a work email. They’ve moved our project deadline up a week and Bob needs my help.”
SPOUSE: “In case you haven’t noticed, the kids are getting out of control because they’re getting hungry. I need your help, too.”
YOU: “I know, I know, and I’m sorry.”
SPOUSE (rolling his or her eyes): “How long will you be? “
YOU: “Unfortunately, no telling.”
SPOUSE (his or her own temperature now risen to “broil”): “Can’t you tell him you’re busy?”
YOU: “Sweetheart, Bob’s my boss. This project is extremely important.”
OK, maybe this is you and maybe it isn’t. But the truth is not enough Americans realize that vacations are just as important as making the boss happy. In fact, sociologists tell us vacations are even more important. Study after recent study connects vacations—actual time completely away from work—with improved health, mental outlook and overall job performance. But sadly, many Americans ignore the data.
Time magazine reported in 2015 that not only are U.S. workers taking less vacation time, 61% of those who do get away from the office perform various job tasks remotely—write emails, take calls, and more. Unlike literally every other developed nation, the United States does not require use of paid time off (PTO). Given job pressures, Americans find it the lesser of evils to interrupt vacations here and there and ensure “keeping up” than to fall behind. In many cases, it’s justifiable behavior. But it isn’t fair to you. And it’s a key reason that travel vacations are better than staycations.
Not only are bosses not required to respect your vacation plans, some are happy to take advantage of your guilty feelings. This may also go for some coworkers and clients. And frankly, for these opportunists, “Nah, I’m not doing anything special, just taking a staycation” is practically code for “Call me if you need me.”
Given all that, what’s the surest way you can remove yourself from this predicament? By removing yourself physically, of course. Leisure bloggers and others who advocate staycations argue this is as simple as unplugging your laptop, tablet and smartphone, activating your “office” voicemail and email replies, and basically going Howard Hughes on your coworkers. But it’s not that simple.
If you live in the city of your workplace, chances are you’ll run into a coworker or client over the course of your time off—maybe at church, maybe at the mall or grocer. The conversation will turn to work, and the next thing you know, you’re plugged back in and racing through spam to catch the email you’ve missed. That’s because down time, one of the virtues of staycations, can also be one of its vices. Does the following internal monologue seem familiar? I probably should check in on the project … Nah … No, I probably should … Nah … Well, OK, but JUST THIS ONCE.
And the next thing you know, you’re trading emails with Bob, and your spouse is in the backyard heating up faster than the Weber.
That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Your time with your loved ones is precious. Promise yourself you’ll do everything possible to protect it. Unplugging is fine, but the best way to resist work while on an alleged vacation is to remove yourself geographically from your normal routine. That’s one of the big benefits of vacation travel compared with staycations.
Imagine how much easier it is to ignore a project update email when you’re getting your first glimpse of Mount Rushmore than when you’re in the middle of a tedious kitchen table game of Monopoly.
Have you tried to text while barreling through Colossal Curl at Water Country USA or plummeting 140 feet aboard the Hades roller coaster at Mount Olympus? The Wi-Fi is probably spotty at best in Indian Echo Caverns. Your teleconference would be out of the question with your phone mandatorily switched to vibrate on a Myrtle Beach golf course. It’s simply much easier to “get away” when you get away. Who’d want to play phone tag with a client when the return call could come at the instant you’re pointing your cell phone camera at Anna and Elsa hugging your little girls.
Imagine instead being present in the moment at all these wonderful places. Imagine the memories you create and share. Those are the true benefits of vacation. Those are the moments you live for, that put you in such a positive state of mind when you do return to the workplace, rested and ready to be more productive than ever.
Granted, sometimes staycations are the right choice for you. Maybe you’ve planned to paint a couple bedrooms or attend the kids’ local weeklong soccer tournament.
But if you have no such obligations, think travel first.
And if you do choose a staycation, keep it to yourself at the office.