Happy 4th of July!
Now, What, exactly, is a vacation? To those companies who offer paid time off, leave, whatever it's called it is time away from work with full pay. How that time is used is entirely up the employee but what, exactly, is a "vacation?" Is it working on the house, planting the spring garden, going to see Grandma, catching up on Netflix or just laying on the beach for a few days?
For most of my adult life I've rarely gotten past the three-week vacation mark in terms of earned time off. I've had to squeeze in trips to visit the family over the holidays as well as weekenders to New Orleans and even London, England just to make it through the year. In each of those with so little time on the ground available to really relax and enjoy both people and place I would always come home as rushed as if it were just another day at the office. Anything in the way of big trips was saved for the end of the year when there were plenty of national holidays to tack on and stretch precious vacation time like breadcrumbs to meatloaf.
When I made it to four weeks I truly had no idea how I would use it all. The income doesn't always match the wish list of places to go and things to see and do, does it? I was actually reluctant to take time off if the only thing I could afford to do was sit at home. And herein lies a huge difference, so I'm told, between Americans and our European cousins where the latter would readily jump at the chance to get away from the office. Americans like me, on the other hand, can feel useless and worried for sitting around the house doing nothing while work piles up and we get behind with each passing day.
I've always maintained that a true vacation is being out of touch with those people, places and things that define both personal and professional life. Visiting the family over the holidays is exactly that, a holiday. Going to Greece for the first time? Now that's a vacation.
A key component of any vacation for me is being physically separated from everyday life but also in this day and age being electronically unavailable. No cell phones, pagers, smart phones, e-mail or internet. There is nothing going on back at the office that can't wait for me to return and I've left explicit instructions for coverage if my vacation coincides with a project deadline of some kind. Until I return, "I know you're on vacation but this will only take a minute," will never have a chance to turn into an hour-long conference call. From the beach. In Rio. With sand in my biscuits.
The longest vacation I ever took spanned three weekends but really added up to about 12 days in Australia and New Zealand. I was ready to come home and more than paid the price for it when I opened my e-mail inbox the following Monday but who goes to the South Pacific for only a week. It almost takes that long to get there (mentally anyway).
A vacation is being able to not think about office politics or projects, about letting go completely without feeling guilty about leaving in the first place. If, that is, you can get it scheduled at all.