Childhood memories road-tripping to visit my aunt and uncle in California bring back such happiness. Mom, our ever-present teacher, relied on the road atlas to plan frequent stops at historical markers, national monuments and other points of interest along the way. With a magician’s sleight of hand, she somehow managed a secret hiding place within the crevices of the Buick, to timely reveal a box of Cracker Jack, a dot-to-dot picture or some other special treat as the two-lane roads grew dreadfully dull to my sister and me. Picnics along the roadside would break the backseat monotony and draw our attention to a landscape someone else called home. A change in the Zip code refreshes the inner child within us all.
Vacation is about going “there”… transporting us away from “here.” With vacation cancellations skyrocketing these past weeks, so has disappointment—the yearning for memories not yet experienced, the uncertainty of when “here” can be replaced with “there.”
In today’s world, the health benefits of vacationing are increasingly important. As the lines between work and home life have blurred—the result of longer workdays and constant connectivity—it’s become all too easy not to disconnect. But taking a break is more than escaping the day-to-day reality of life or sipping a beverage poolside. A vacation is a prescription that strengthens relationships, boosts mental health, improves productivity, lessens heart disease and creates genuine happiness.
A vacation state of mind triggers our senses to move from a surface-level “here” mentality to a better understanding of our overall sense of place. It energizes each experience and enriches our daily lives before, during and after we travel to “there.” Beyond the valuable days absent of routine, vacation can be segmented into three distinct frames of well-being: Prepare – Participate – Process.
Frame #1: Prepare
Pre-trip planning boosts anticipation, which allows us to enjoy the sights, tastes and sounds of new surroundings even before arrival. According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, just planning or anticipating a trip can make you even happier than actually taking one. By reading novels, watching documentaries, and exploring new recipes or fashions from a desired destination, we are allowed to dream. There is psychological wellness in these details, with our brains not only learning, but latching on to something concrete and pleasing.
Frame #2: Participate
When we do finally leave “here” to go “there,” planning is put into action. Before heading out the door, here are three suggestions to maximize a healthy experience:
- Agree to put down the technology and avoid needless distractions.
- Slow the pace of conversation and actively listen to others before speaking.
- Let go of any habitual needs for control which hinder your freedom to be fully present.
Taking time off is a long-term investment in your mental and physical health. Vacation is meant as a healthful tonic.
Frame #3: Process
Often as vacation winds down, the journey from “there” back to “here” can create post-vacation blues… even before our bags are unpacked. One way to beat back the blues is to spend money on experiences rather than material non-essentials. Hire a fishing guide, take a cooking class, enjoy live music… these kinds of experiences build a savings account for future “here” conversations. Relive your experience with family and friends, create a vision board for a future trip, or recreate a favorite dish you enjoyed while traveling. Then simply repeat the three frames—Prepare – Participate – Process—and envision your next vacation.
Though studies show Americans taking vacation days are up slightly, many unused vacation days are still left on the table. Consider it a privilege to break up your routine. Bottom-line: vacation is healthy. Enjoy what you experience and develop a vacation state-of-mind lifestyle, beginning now! PM
Mary Ardapple Dierker is an integrative wellness strategist and health coach. For more information, visit coreviewcoach.com.