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Is it just me, or is the usual summer vacation a bit counter-productive?

Yes, there’s a certain romanticism to chipping away at your list of the 936 World Heritage Sites.

Yes, there’s a duty to socialize with the family and friends who otherwise haven’t heard from you since their Christmas card of acknowledgement.

Yes, it’s fun to regale colleagues with your adventures upon return, delaying for another twenty minutes (or sixty) the work you were so desperate to escape in the first place.

But over time, you have to admit your vacation fails to do the one thing it was designed for: to help you relax.

I get it.  I have the habit of returning from most of my vacations early, even my honeymoon.

The problem isn’t that I didn’t enjoy my 10 minute camel ride in Giza, complete with picture-taking opportunities in front of the pyramids.  My travel companions aren’t bores (I love you, honey!).  But I eventually realized three important things:

  • 5 continents and 17 World Heritage sites later, and that gnawing feeling that I’m not worldly or learned enough about history hasn’t gone away
  • Batching relationships into one or two short trips a year doesn’t make the guilt of not keeping in better touch go away
  • Working like a mad woman for months prior to a vacation doesn’t help me relax

You need a vacation to recharge from the stress of your job, but then you need a vacation to recover from your last vacation.  The exhaustion of that vicious cycle is killing you and your productivity.

But what can you do about it?

Before you crawl back to work in despair, check out this list of 10 ways to really relax this summer.  You probably won’t be able to implement them all right away, but even if you manage just one or two, I guarantee you’ll feel better than you have in years.

1. Take more vacations.

By only taking one or two vacations a year, we put a lot of pressure on those moments to be perfect.  And in the process, they become very stressful.

It sounds counter-intuitive, especially if you’re already feeling overworked and overwhelmed, but you’re more likely to relax if you take more frequent vacations and dial down the expectations on each one.  And the more relax, the more productive you are when you return to work.

2. Pick up the phone.

According to Gallup, trips to visit family are the most likely to result in a feeling of exhaustion.  And no wonder.  We’re often trying to fit a year or more of connection into one or two weeks.

Prioritize your top 10 relationships for the year and then find a way to interact with them year-round.  Pick up the phone.  Write them a letter.  Or send them a gift from your relaxing vacation with a big smiley face.

3. Get more adventure from your daily life.

Sometimes when we’re tired of playing it safe in our real lives, we look to our vacations to spice things up.  The problem is that the quest for adventure edges out the relaxation you so desperately need.

An easier solution is to shake up your daily routine, and save your vacation time for more relaxing activities.

Try finding support for a creative idea you’d like to launch at work.  Join a band or make some street art. Sign up for my everyday courage challenges. The possibilities are endless (and fun).

4. Get outside.

We spend too much time squirreled away indoors, isolated from the ecosystem we’re a part of.  Few things are as good at reminding us how small and insignificant most of our problems are than taking in a good dose of the outdoors.

5. Need sleep? Take a staycation.

Surveys show that most of us sleep less on vacation than during our daily routines.  In theory, a staycation–a vacation from work without the travel–should solve that problem.  But it’s easy for workaholics to get lured by regular work triggers.  You check email. You do laundry and clean dishes.

With a bit of planning, you can make your staycation every bit as luxurious as your vacation, for a fraction of the price.

For the period of your staycation, hire a maid to come once or twice a week.  Go out to eat or enjoy the fabulousness of a personal chef.  Install some software on your computer that prevents access to your email (or the internet all together).

6. Focus, savor, return.

If we’re not careful, our vacations become a list of destinations we need to tick off the list instead of places to immerse ourselves in.  We feel like we have to “see it all,” because without saying it, we don’t intend to come back.  The goal is not to get your picture taken in front of every major monument, but to be present and savor wherever you go.

7. Plan for transitions.

You want to get a start on things (and save a few bucks), so you schedule the 6 AM flight to kick things off.  When you come home, it’s Sunday at 8 PM and you  have to go back to work the next day.

Instead, plan in transitions.  Leave later and come home early, so you can ease back into your routine over the weekend.  Yes, you’ll have less time at your destination, but you’ll be a lot more rested.

8. Extend your deadlines.

When you’re a workaholic by nature, this one is hard.  It’s not one I’ve mastered, but I’m getting better.

The truth is, nearly all deadlines are arbitrary.  So where you can, extend some of those deadlines around your holiday instead of trying to meet them all before you leave.

To avoid worrying about all the things you’re not accomplishing, map out what needs to be done on your return, with a reasonable estimate of when you’ll finish it.  Sometimes the incessant worry is due more to poor project planning than true urgency.

9. Stop treating your vacations like work.

Many of us over-plan and over-extend on vacation.  If you must make a schedule, try planning only one activity a day.  If that means you miss something, go back to tip #6.  Better yet?  Skip the schedule all together, which will make planning easier and the vacation more spontaneous.

10. Ask yourself what you need to relax.

I think one of the biggest mistakes well-intentioned family members make is to drag their loved one away to a resort and then sever ties with the office.

I realized that, as a workaholic, the solution was not to “just stop working.”  In fact, having the time and space prior to a vacation to focus on my work without interruption is just as important as the vacation itself.

Planning my ideal vacation

My first step was to get organized.  I extended some deadlines (tip #8) and committed to taking another blogging sabbatical as I did last year.  This will be my last post for the summer.  I’ll start up again in September.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be working all summer.  The next step is to start my vacation with a work retreat.

I want a week where, during the day, I can work without interruptions from people coming to fix the bathroom or having to do the laundry.  In the evenings, I want my husband home at a reasonable time, so we can all eat together without feeling rushed.  I want to be home and sleep in my own bed with my cats.  I am most at peace when I’m taking a staycation (tip #5).

Then, after a blissful week of doing what I love personally and professionally, I’ll be able to psychologically let go and enjoy some nature (tip #4).  I’d like to take a cruise through the fjords of Norway, peeling off to go hiking and kayaking.  Other than our flights in and out, there wouldn’t be a schedule or anything at all that we needed to see beyond the splendor of the scenery around us (tip #9).

So that’s what we’re going to try to do.

My ideal vacation is certainly different than yours, but I found that planning for relaxation led me in a very different direction than in previous years.  My vacation doesn’t need to be a stand-in for my self-worth or my relationships and it doesn’t need to impress anyone. I just need to honestly recharge my mental and emotional batteries.

If I’ve done it right, when I return to blogging and my business in September, I won’t feel overwhelmed or behind on my work.  And that means I’ll be in a better position to create, be adventurous, and nurture my relationships the rest of year, including my wonderful relationship with my readers and clients.

In fact, that doesn’t just sound like the ideal vacation.

It sounds like the ideal life.

Question: How do you plan to relax this summer?

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30 Responses to The Workaholic’s Vacation: 10 Tips to Really Relax

  1. As a recovering workaholic, I have no official vacations planned. However, I’ll have plenty of relaxing moments this summer…

    • Wandering through the neighborhood on walks with no destination in mind

    • Breathing in the scent of fresh cut grass from my porch swing as I glance up from my laptop to wave to a passing neighbor

    • Taking long naps in my backyard between moments of gazing at shape-shifting clouds

    • Stopping to smell the roses as I putter in the garden

    • Jumping in my car, picking a direction and driving with no expectations and my only intention to discover something new on my journey

    Jennifer, your vacation plans sound perfect. I love your idea of taking a week to immerse yourself in the bliss of what you love to do—letting your creative energy flow without interruption. I’m adding that one to my list.

    Enjoy your summer!


    • Thanks, Lori! I like your list too. My daughter is enrolled in a day camp this week, and it gives me an opportunity to walk home through the large park near our house. I was reading some scientific studies that show more exposure to nature naturally relieves stress and calms anxiety. So far it appears to be working. So simple, and yet so effective!

  2. Jen, congratulations on creating a summer vacation that suits YOU! It sounds fantastic. I really appreciate this list, and will refer to it again as I think about / plan future vacations for me and my husband. :)

  3. …oh, and I plan to relax this summer by giving myself permission to explore my new hometown (!), get to know new people, and look forward to more frequent vacations (see #1) including an overseas adventure sometime this year. :)

    • If you go on an overseas adventure, you MUST come to London. Everything else is negotiable. :)

  4. Jen, this is so timely! I just returned from a week and a half vacation to see family in CA. You are so right that family visits tend not to be all that restful because we spend so much time ripping, running and catching up. Happily, I did build in two days of transition which helped me enormously.I’ve also scheduled (something I’ve not done in years)a second week of vacation this summer. We are headed to the South Carolina coast where we’ve rented a lovely house on a lagoon. The plan? No plan! Just sun, surf and a glass of wine. I have to say that my European friends and colleagues got it right taking most of August off. We Americans need to get with the program. Vacation (or should I say Holiday) is essential to our quality of life and well being. Wishing you a great summer holiday.

    • “The plan? No plan!” Seriously, this is the best. And I love built in transitions. We did that this year too and it helped sooo much.

      It is interesting seeing the cultural differences regarding holidays, now that we’re here. We definitely take a lot less time off, and mostly it’s self-imposed. I hoping a bit of the European ideals rub off on us. :)

  5. You had me at “cutting your honeymoon short.” That was very funny and, mostly, because I can entirely relate. I’d like to think I know better—that overworking and underplaying is a recipe for stress, insomnia, moodiness, hypochondria, lethargy, overeating, underachieving, and overall crabbiness. But, I do it anyway. I’m learning though…and your article helped remind me to get back on track. Thanks.

    • So glad to hear someone else can relate to that! LOL.

      I can tell you that, so far, this method is working brilliantly. Our family vacation to Norway was the best we’ve ever had. Memorable, relaxing, and a lot of fun. I’ll have to post some pictures on the Facebook page.

  6. Oooh, I like the sound of getting a cleaner during the staycation. I live in a holiday resort so there are beautiful beaches and national parks on my doorstep but I just like to get away and explore when I can.

    I do incorporate points three and four in my daily life – that keeps me happy and healthy.

    Totally agree with points six and nine but but my advice is always to just visit one place, hang out there as long as you can and enjoy it. There’s really no point in dashing around trying to see and do everything because when you get home you’ll find you can’t remember off of it anyway.

    Taking time to just hang out torch new people and meet the locals is so important and those funny people we meet strange experiences I getting lost are always the things we remember most.

    Happy holidays!

    • You live in a holiday resort? Now I’m really going to come see you!

    • On
    • June 21, 2012 at 5:19 am
    • Chris Lappin
    • Said...

    I think I need to print this off because I can so relate to all of this! There’s too much to comment on so I won’t even start.
    Just to say thanks, have a fabulous time and see you back here in September.

    • So far, so good, Chris. Norway was amazing. I think it may be the first vacation where I started to relax within the first day and didn’t feel I needed “a vacation to recover from my vacation.” I’m starting to think that, at least for me, more outdoorsy places to vacation, rather than big name attractions, are a good fit for what I need.

    • On
    • June 22, 2012 at 3:44 pm
    • William Veasley
    • Said...

    Jennifer: Thanks for the awesome advice! I like a lot of the points that you mentioned. I am going out of town in less then a week from now and I need to treat it like a vacation and not work. I plan to take my computer with me, but I will not be online very much. I will probably just get on to check emails and the occasional comments I might recieve.
    I would consider myself a workaholic. I love to work hard because I love the rewards that come from it, but I have to learn to better balance my life.

    Best wishes,
    William Veasley

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    • On
    • June 25, 2012 at 4:08 pm
    • Grady Pruitt
    • Said...

    One thing I realized from my own recent vacation is that I need to start taking some “photo trips” by myself. I’m one of those people who likes to take pictures, and I feel like I’m having to rush myself just to be able to keep up with everyone else. Then I have to rush my own enjoyment of the scene.

    I’ve also noticed that many of the trips my wife plans tend to be “road trips”. We never stay in one place long enough to really enjoy it. It’s something I’ve brought up and would like to try and change a little. I like getting to see all the different places, but at the same time, the constant “on the go” feel of them makes it hard for me to feel relaxed.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • It’s a great point, Grady. Sometimes we have very different expectations for a trip. It’s good to get those out in the open (first, we have to be aware of them ourselves) and find ways to compromise.

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    • On
    • July 12, 2012 at 12:03 pm
    • marsha
    • Said...

    I must admit that I used to be guilty of filling every moment of a vacation with activities. Like you said, I am in work mode enough as is for my job at Dish, so I am slowly learning that kicking back in the hotel is not a bad thing at all. I kept this in mind on my last vacation to California, and it couldn’t have gone better. Instead of hustling my family around like some sort of drill sergeant, we found ourselves soaking up all the amenities the hotel had to offer. In fact, one night of our vacation was completely dedicated to staying in. We ordered room service, built a fort out of the millions of pillows on our beds, and put on a movie. We have the free Dish Remote Access app that allows us to connect to our TV at home through our sling adapter, so we didn’t have to pay the expensive rental fees to order a movie through the hotel. The experience taught me that no tourist trap is better than being waited on with delicious food and relaxing with my family.

    • I know exactly what you mean! While we were in Norway, we’d plan just one activity a day, then spend the afternoon watching the Olympics on TV. Many times, the TV watching as a family (something we never do at home, since we don’t own a TV) was more fun.

  9. This is great. My husband and I were just talking about the need to really relax – and we just got back from “vacation” – visiting family. I love your tips. thanks for a great post. blessings, Amy

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  11. This is good stuff…! Please, can I translate it to Danish and move it around for a few friends in dire needs?

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    • On
    • July 30, 2014 at 1:24 pm
    • Rick
    • Said...

    I’m quite bad at having an overfilled vacation. Mostly, my vacations are motorcycle trips, camping or motel. I generally don’t plan anything other than an overall route; I let the day-to-day inform me of what I’ll be doing and seeing. If I’m really good, I’ll tie in a gathering of some sort (rally, etc.) in which I don’t have to go anywhere once I’m at the destination. It’s all in: people, food, workshops, etc. When I travel internationally, I tend to find one or two things in an area to focus on, then let serendipity do the rest. Oh, and 99.99999% of the time, I do not check any work-related things. No e-mail, no calls, nothing. Maybe I need to work harder at being a harder worker!

    • Sounds like you’re doing just fine to me, Rick. Keep leading the way! (in a spontaneous, leisurely fashion of course!)

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