Community//

Why I Struggle to Take Vacations

Why we often need to give ourselves permission to take time off.

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Image: Chen Mizrach via Unsplash
Image: Chen Mizrach via Unsplash

When my mother died earlier this summer, I went back to the U.S. for two weeks and cleaned out her apartment. Most people wouldn’t consider clearing out their mother’s apartment a holiday. Trust me, it wasn’t.

And yet, I came back feeling like I didn’t deserve another break, even though – after her death and five months of lockdown – I was completely burnt out. My daughter pleaded with me to take a vacation in Europe while it was still possible and still cheap. (American friends who can’t even travel to the next state right now, apologies for what is to follow…)

I said yes, even though it felt wrong. We went to Venice and Malta for 10 days. I’d not been to Venice in 22 years. But with the most amazing walking tour book EVER in my hand, it was like discovering the city all over again. Meanwhile, I couldn’t even place Malta on a map before we went there. Now I’m completely au fait with the island, including the likes of the proverbial Blue Lagoon. (Paging Brooke Shields…)

Needless to say, that trip was the best thing I did this summer. It was fun, culturally stimulating, and totally relaxing. I bonded with my daughter and enriched my understanding of the world. (Top tip on Malta? Don’t eat the horse. Or the rabbit liver…ahem.) Lord knows when – in the current environment – I’ll be able to travel again.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is me. Work was slower than usual this summer due to Covid. That – ironically – created more time for a vacation. Lord knows there have been many summers over the past 15 years where the best I could muster was astaycation, a micro-trip, or no vacation at all. And yet, I felt that on some level I didn’t “deserve” to go away this summer.

Moreover, as an American with that firmly ingrained notion of “two weeks of vacation per year” lurking somewhere in my sub-conscious, it seemed like I’d already clocked my time when I went to the U.S. This, despite all the research telling us why vacations are actually good for productivity.

And let’s face it. When your work mantra is “more,” rather than enough, taking a vacation will always feel wrong.

But on the principle that if you want to change your life, you need to actually practice being your future self, I took the plunge and don’t regret it at all. I think about that trip every day. In fact, now that work has ramped up considerably, I firmly believe that trip is helping to fuel my energy.

How about you? Have you ever struggled with taking vacations? How did you cope?

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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