What makes for a terrific vacation? How can we maximize our use of precious vacation time? Are long sojourns better than short trips?
Many of us have personal responses to those questions, likely based on our own experiences. One especially memorable vacation (good or bad) can fix our opinion about the ideal break. And if money and/or time happen to be in short supply, any vacation may look like paradise.
Researchers weigh in
Drake Bennett, writing for the Boston Globe, assembled advice from psychologists and economists about what makes for a good vacation:
For example, how long we take off probably counts for less than we think, and in the aggregate, taking more short trips leaves us happier than taking a few long ones. We’re often happier planning a trip than actually taking it. And interrupting a vacation — far from being a nuisance — can make us enjoy it more. How a trip ends matters more than how it begins, who you’re with matters as much as where you go, and if you want to remember a vacation vividly, do something during it that you’ve never done before.
Anticipation and memory
For many, the best parts of a vacation may be in anticipating and remembering it, while the vacation itself poses frustrations and glitches. Bennett reported on a study of vacationers who were asked to record “emotional inventories” of their trips:
…(T)he respondents were least happy about the vacation while they were taking it. Beforehand, they looked forward to it with eager anticipation, and within a few days of returning, they remembered it fondly. But while on it, they found themselves bogged down by the disappointments and logistical headaches of actually going somewhere and doing something, and the pressure they felt to be enjoying themselves.
Americans and vacations
Should we be taking the topic of vacations this, well, seriously? At least for Americans, the answer is yes. We take much less vacation time than our counterparts in Europe and other parts of the world. In some nations, paid vacation time is a legal right. Our workaholic culture is regarded by many as unhealthy and misguided. It’s the less attractive flipside of our willingness to dig into work and get the job done. Google the phrase Americans vacation time and you’ll get countless hits to surveys, studies, and analyses on this phenomenon.
The Great Recession has only made things worse. Obviously for those who have lost their jobs, “free” time may be in greater supply, but accompanied by the stress of unemployment and much less disposable cash. For those fortunate to have jobs, the pressures to do more with less and to demonstrate one’s value to the organization are making it harder to get away. (For a related observation, see my post, “The Masochism Tango” at Work.)
Overall, Americans are not too good at the work-life balance thing. Economist Juliet Schor’s seminal work, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (1991) documented and analyzed how Americans are spending a lot of time at work. It triggered a wave of research and commentary that continues to this day.