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Hey You Stressbuckets: Take a Vacation Already!

take a vacation

Did you take a vacation recently? If so you’re doing better than most Americans.

I listened to a depressing story on NPR’s The World yesterday about the worsening vacation deficit in America. My idiotic countrymen and women are actually taking fewer vacations now than at any time in the past. This is despite the fact that unemployment has dropped drastically during Obama’s tenure. The trend is ugly because my fellow countrymen were not taking a lot during the recession either. It keeps getting worse.

Not even a simple majority of Americans surveyed by Allianz took a vacation at all in the past 12 months, much less took a real vacation of two weeks or more that the rest of the civilized world considers standard. What was especially galling about that radio show I mentioned was that caller after caller gave the same annoying rationalizations we hear all the time to justify this behavior:

“I have too much to do at work.”

“Nobody else can do my job so I can’t leave.”

“I can’t afford to go on vacation.”

“I haven’t been at this job long and need to prove myself.”

“I only work part-time so I don’t get paid vacation.”

That last one kills me. You work part-time but you can’t take time off? Go camping. Rent a state park cabin with three friends. Go stay with relatives for a few days. Rent out your place through Airbnb or Vrbo and go stay in someone else’s apartment with the proceeds. Sounds like you need a change of scenery to stimulate a dose of creative thinking!

vacations stimulate creativity

Where the great ideas come from

There’s been a surge in the number of us working as freelancers now and we’re getting close to full employment in the USA. Combine this with much more enlightened “life balance” policies from many of the biggest employers and it should be getting far easier to take time off. But when people have a job, they’re worried about losing it or looking bad. When they lose their job and get a fat severance, they still don’t take a proper vacation, even though that would be the ideal time to do it right. As this archived article in Outside pointed out, “A seasoned traveler learns quickly that the limiting factor in adventuring is not money but time. You may not have another six-month or yearlong hiatus until you’re hip-breaking age.”

So it obviously goes beyond what’s happening in the real world and instead illustrates that most of the resistance is…in your head. Your employer would be fine with you taking time off to recharge and probably expects it. You’re the one thinking you shouldn’t.

Are you an assembly line robot, or a creator?

Here’s the thing: we need real vacations. There’s a whole mountain of studies showing that creativity, innovation, and problem-solving are far more likely to happen when someone is refreshed and well-rested. There’s also a load of brain research showing that rebooting your brain by breaking out of a routine and seeing new things does wonders for your cognitive ability. How many of those people downing energy drinks and doing manic workouts they track obsessively could be in better health and perform better on the job just by dialing back the piled-up stress?

If you’re the logical type that needs to be convinced by science, there are strong research-backed assertions on a few things that will support the argument to take a vacation:

  • Buying experiences makes us happier than buying things, especially in the long term.
  • Travel strengthens relationships. Couples who go on vacation together regularly are more likely to respond positively to questions about their relationship.
  • A study from Purdue University found that when families vacation together, they had stronger relationships and reported more closeness.
  • When we make unfamiliar, non-routine choices, it releases dopamine in our brain.
  • A study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that employees who never took a break from their e-mail suffered worse sleep, higher rates of health problems, and ironically, more absences from work.
  • Decades of studies have shown that moments of insight or creativity usually come when there’s ample time and space for daydreaming—not while sitting in an office cubicle.
  • There’s a clear link between frequent vacations and better health, especially for men at risk of heart disease.
benefits of vacation

A doctor’s wellness prescription

I know I’m shouting in the wind against idiotic cultural norms that (so far) the younger generation hasn’t managed to turn around on their own. For a lot of historic reasons that in some cases date back a couple hundred years, this “land of the free” is home of the perpetually overworked. It’s a stupid badge of honor to work late hours, be sleep-deprived, bite off more than you can chew, and skip your earned time off. Even if you’re not really getting jack squat accomplished.

Take a Vacation for the Sake of Your Sanity

Screw the unhealthy peer pressure. If you think really living your life is just working all the time doing repetitive tasks so you can buy a nicer car to sit in traffic in getting to that job, there’s probably no hope for you until you snap.

When you do snap, come here for help in planning your year-long trip around the world or moving to a more sane country. When you travel abroad, you’ll find most people view a life of slaving away 52 weeks a year to be the sign of a person who is not really living.

Take a vacation already! You’ll be a lot better off if you do.


Thursday 20th of August 2015

Historically, Puritanism and the power of management over employees due to an emphasis on production for the wealthy -- now more than ever. The "Protestant Work Ethic" does not help, though that does not stop Germans and the Brits from taking long vacations due to their humanistic social contract. In the U.S. working hard--which usually just means being at work and commuting ever longer hours--is a considered a virtue with almost religious overtones. Isolationism is also a longstanding trait, with that being reinforced by images of violence outside U.S. borders that are aimed at paralysis of the masses. Never mind that violence in the U.S. itself is quite often far more extreme than in most parts of the world, which is also designed to keep the workforce working longer hours and conforming, not venturing about the world.

Recently, for those working for others, the sense of job insecurity has never been greater, real income has gone down, and even when not at work, you are expected to be available online for the most trivial matters that are usually the result of bad management, understaffing, and mismanaged deadlines -- or the use of implicit and explicit threats to employees that everyone can be replaced, so you better work harder and be more conformist than the next person...

In sum, this is an unparalleled period of Orwellian fear-mongering in which travel is considered not just a luxury for the wealthy who pay our wages, but a subversive or sinful act.

Even Obama, with his vast international experience, has had relatively little success in encouraging others to buck the trend and travel, despite his background and attempts to develop notions of being an international citizen. In fact, it is Obama's very background as an multi-national citizen that has been the source of his demonization by many.

Let's hope the younger generations break free from the chains and see the world more than their parents, that the 30 and 40 somethings enjoy life in their prime as they continue to incur debt in any event no matter how much they work, and that the boomers with more disposable income continue to explore the world in search of less expensive and more interesting places to live!

brad Rutta

Wednesday 19th of August 2015

What an interesting article. It seems crazy that we think we can't take time off, but I can see this happening in the very office where I work. And even I haven't taken more than two weeks off at once to just travel and have time to myself. However, this article definitely makes me rethink that. Thanks for sharing!