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Vacation Is a State of Mind

Taking a daycation might help us hold onto that feeling.

Key points

  • Taking time off from work benefits our mental and physical health, but many of us are reluctant to do so.
  • It is unlikely that an occasional vacation is enough to offset the stress of our daily lives .
  • Planning “daycations” could improve the quality of our daily lives and our more traditional vacations.
Source: NarStudio/Shutterstock

Americans place a great deal of value on work. We describe ourselves in terms of our occupation, fail to use our allotted vacation time, and put a lot of faith in the belief that if you just work hard enough you can improve your life. This belief is so ingrained that many of us take work with us when we are off and we don’t use all of our vacation days. When we do plan vacations, we work so hard figuring out how to meet our ongoing obligations at home and work that by the time we leave we are wondering if it is even a good idea. Once we are on the trip it takes a couple of days to relax and get into a vacation mindset and it often seems that the time passes too quickly.

When we get home we face piles of laundry, emails, and unpaid bills. If the trip goes well, it can offset all of these hassles. If our travel was disrupted by weather, travel delays, or interpersonal conflict, we may come home even more tired than we were before we left. The bottom line: Hoping that a trip will compensate for the stress we feel throughout the rest of the year is a high-stakes gamble. Essentially, we pile all of our holiday eggs in a single basket and are upset when some of them break.

What if we tried to capture some of that vacation feeling in a less all-or-nothing way? Could we figure out a way to take a “daycation” every few months throughout the year? This would not be a day when we lay around the house procrastinating on the things we don’t want to do. Instead, it would be an intentional mini-vacation. To do this we would have to figure out what we want this break to feel like. If we are bored, or unchallenged in our daily lives we might seek novelty or adventure. If we feel overwhelmed by the demands of work, childcare, or other obligations we might be drawn to opportunities for peace and quiet. If we find our routines unfulfilling, we might choose to learn something new or to do something to help others. But figuring out what we want to do is only the first step in this process.

The second step is to figure out how to achieve our goal. Before we go on a traditional vacation, we spend time figuring out when to go, working out a budget, and creating an itinerary. We let people know that we will not be available for routine activities and give ourselves permission to focus on what we want to do during the trip. To plan an effective “daycation” escape we need to identify a specific day, mark it on our calendars, and resist the impulse to let other obligations supersede our plans. Then we need to put our energy into researching activities in our own city or town. What museums, outdoor activities, or restaurants would be new to us? Are there things we have meant to do, or do only when we have out-of-town visitors? Chances are that most of us have been too busy working to fully explore our own communities. Once we identify things we are interested in we need to work out when they are available, make reservations as necessary, and plan the day the same way we would for a longer trip.

In some cases, we may not even need to leave our own homes to enjoy a “daycation.” One of the joys of traveling for me is spending time sitting outside, with a good book. Although I could do that in my own backyard, I rarely do so because of my need to get things done. But what if I put a moratorium on catching up on those routine activities, refrained from checking email or social media, and purchased or prepared food ahead of time so I wouldn’t have to cook or clean? The only thing keeping me from lounging on my own deck is my internalized sense that I need to be caught up on everything else before I take time for myself. Of course, your own backyard is not a novel vacation destination, but too often it is our own thoughts and assumptions that drive us to feel we need to work all the time. In the process, we don’t build in enough time for self-care and end up feeling exhausted and burned out.

As with most things in life, it is hard to change patterns and habits, and we are enmeshed in a culture that values productivity at all costs. That doesn’t mean this is an effective or healthy strategy. Although we live in an incredibly prosperous era, more Americans than ever are struggling with stress, anxiety, and depression. While our ancestors also valued work, their external environment was very different than ours. Many worked hard physically, which wasn’t necessarily good for their health, but they didn’t have to contend with an endless onslaught of electronically generated noise or pressure to live up to unattainable expectations. Often their religious beliefs required them to engage in a weekly day of rest, a practice that has been eroded in our 24/7 culture.

The reality for most Americans is that we need to reverse the pattern by getting more physical exercise and reducing our mental load. And, as much as we enjoy our vacations, a week of escape per year isn’t enough to do that. While a “daycation” won’t replace the experience of traveling to a new or beloved destination it might make it easier to pass the time between those events and might even convince us that in the end vacation is a state of mind.


Time Off and Vacation Usage. U.S. Travel Association.

The Importance of Taking Vacation Time to De-stress and Recharge. Brain and Behavior Foundation.

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