Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How to Plan a Mindful Vacation That Can Change Your Life

Do you always think about what you need from a vacation?

Word association: When you hear the word “vacation,” what is the first picture that pops into your mind? If you’re like me, you picture a beach or a far-off city. The reality, however, is that vacation can be whatever you need it to be. The “staycation” is a good example how people are now giving themselves permission to define vacation in broader terms, a reflection of the fact the modern life has become so harried, traffic-intense, and dependent on electronic devices that the idea of staying in your home and sitting still is somehow a novel concept. Beyond the “staycation,” there are other options for vacation time that can meet emotional or physical needs you might not even be fully aware of.

In my own life, I never thought about what I needed from my time off until I got older. My vacations in my 20s and 30s always shared a similar theme: exciting cities or relaxing, beach-oriented locales. As I’ve gotten older, however, I have had to become more thoughtful – more mindful – about what I might need at that particular point in time. Do I need rest? Do I need zany fun? Do I need something different - to see sights that are totally new and different? Do I need the comfort of some place familiar?

If you ask yourself these questions already, good for you. You are in touch, at least to some degree, with your emotional and physical needs and you plan your time off accordingly. But if you’re like many people, you may typically find yourself relying on the same vacation ideas year after year and you may not give a lot of conscious thought to what your emotional or physical needs happen to be at that particular point in time.

One type of vacation you may not have tried before is one that is class- or challenge-based. A terrific trend these days at hotels and resorts can be found with the proliferation of exercise or other classes or groups that are available to guests. A morning yoga class or guided hike are activities that you can increasingly find at resorts, while you probably wouldn’t have found meditation or yoga classes at the same types of places years ago. For men and women who can afford a vacation splurge, there are all-inclusive resorts that offer scores of classes that enrich the mind and body. One example of such a place that I have visited, Miraval in the Arizona desert, lets you unplug in the most healing way: put that cell phone away; take a mediation class or go to see the psychic; eat amazing healthy food that is all included; spend time with horses or try a challenge course where you climb a 50-foot telephone pole in a safe, protected harness. For those who can’t afford a splurge, there are more affordable other options. A colleague of mine talks about the healing and mindful orientation of the all-inclusive Capon Springs resort in West Virginia which offers a handful of mindful classes to soothe your mind and soul. In addition to resort options, there are retreats and workshops offered nationally that help people heal, challenge themselves, or get inspired in specific areas: dealing with grief; getting over a divorce; awakening passion; or even taking on rigorous physical challenges to boost self-esteem.

When most people think about vacation, they probably don’t envision themselves going to two or three exercise classes per day, or trying a class or activity that perhaps scares them emotionally or challenges them physically. My suggestion: The next time you plan a vacation, consider first asking yourself what you need most from your time off. Do you need rest, or do you need emotional or physical stimulation? Next, if you are ready to go outside of your comfort zone and to try new emotional or physical challenges, consider some of the options I reviewed. The benefit of trying new activities – especially ones you normally would would never do – is that stretching yourself emotionally and physically can sometimes also help you break old, unhealthy patterns of behavior. The best way to induce change is to inspire yourself by trying new things and reminding yourself that change is possible mostly when we remove ourselves from the safety of our long-established daily routines.

The ultimate point: No matter what type of vacation you plan, make a commitment to unplug from electronic devices on your time off. A study from MacKay and Vogt (2012) found that men and women actually increase the amount of time spent on electronic devices on vacation compared to when they are at home. If you unplug and try new activities that challenge you, your mind and body will thank you later.


Kelly MacKay, Christine Vogt. Information technology in everyday and vacation contexts. Annals of Tourism Research, 2012; 39 (3): 1380 DOI: 10.1016/j.annals.2012.02.001

More from Seth Meyers Psy.D.
More from Psychology Today