Today is the first day of my vacation. I have gone nowhere.
Everything is going according to plan.
Once upon a time, I used to think that I had to “make the most of my vacation”. This meant that the first day of vacation was a travel day — assuming that I didn’t hit the road the moment I left the office.
The end of the vacation was the same: get home, be in the office the next day. Or even the same day.
Anything else, the reasoning went, was a waste. If I had ten days, and was going to Austria for my vacation, then spending any less than ten days in Austria was a waste of my vacation time. Right?
The usual result of this old principle was a stress-filled vacation. It featured frantic last minute packing, causing both the stress of last minute packing and the stress of trying to find the inevitable forgotten item in the middle of the night in a strange location. It featured races to catch a flight after work, or early morning trips to the airport. Rushed connections.
It meant being wound up and unprepared to enjoy myself on arrival at my destination.
And when I returned?
Without time to unpack, I’d head right into the office completely jet lagged and exhausted from travel. I would show up in wrinkled clothes, as there was no time to iron clothes before or after my trip. There would be no time to buy groceries. I would come home in the evening after the first day back in the office, only to find my luggage waiting to be unpacked and strange smells coming from the garbage or fridge, because they got missed when I left in a rush.
Strangely enough, trying to make the most of your vacation time seems to be the easiest way not to do so.
Today, I do things differently. I’m on the first day of my vacation, but am still at home. I’ll pack at a leisurely pace, and make sure that when I return from my vacation I don’t come immediately into an environment where there are chores to be done. There will be no dirty dishes or rotting garbage on my return.
Tomorrow is the second day of my vacation, and I’ll be traveling.
That’s all. Just a day to get to my destination. No need to wake up early or arrive late. No anxious checking of the watch as I head through security at the airport. I have all the time in the world.
When I reach my destination, then, I’ll be two stress free days removed from my hectic day-to-day life, and ready to relax. I won’t be stressed out and burnt out from trying to reach my destination.
I’ll already be enjoying my holiday. (I’m already enjoying it now.)
The return trip is similar. A travel day. A day off before returning to work.
My bags will be unpacked, laundry will be done, groceries bought. There will be no fallout from my vacation lurking for me at the end of my workday.
And did I mention that my first day back at work is a Friday? And that it’s actually a work-from-home day? That’s another trick.
People who know you have been on vacation and don’t see you in the office on a Friday think that you’re still on vacation. They don’t interrupt you. They don’t expect you to deliver anything.
This gives me a chance to get caught up. By the end of the day on Friday, I have read my email and talked to anybody I need to talk to in order to understand what has happened while I’m away.
And then I log off, and enjoy another two days off thanks to the weekend.
I’m still relaxed from my holiday — the first day back after an easy return schedule will not have raised stress to pre-vacation levels. And when I get back on Monday and people realise I’ve returned, I will know what’s going on; I won’t have missed a beat.
So I’m purposely “wasting” a number of vacation days. I’m at home today. I’m home for a full day before going back to work — and “wasting” an extra weekend I could have spent away by not spending that one extra day on Friday.
But it’s the best use of them – vacations with wasted days are much more effective. They provide a true break from day-to-day life stresses, and let you return to your life afterwards with less stress.
That’s why every vacation should include an unvacated day or two.